Sunday, December 04, 2011

Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia

One of my favorite pre-baby trips last year, was my "couples only" trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. My husband and I loved Canada. We loved the crisp Canadian air, which was punctuated with the perfumed fragrance of tulips and hyacinth. We loved the sweeping and majestic views of the ocean from the Stanley Park. We loved learning about the history and the art (including the intricate and towering totem poles) of the native peoples. Another one of our favorites? Granville Island. If you are visiting Vancouver, one thing you "must do" is head off to the Granville Island Public Market, which is chockful of boisterous vendors who sell a vivid array of seasonal produce.

The "goods" available at Granville Island Public Market, however, are not limited to fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can purchase things such as antique baubles from a public market jeweler, or mountainous pot pies with craggy and buttery pie crusts from a local baker.

And since it's Vancouver, you know they are going to sell seafood at the market! On the recommendation of our Canadian-phile friend, my beau and I purchased a few sticks of maple syrup salmon (an amusing combo of two quintessential Canadian ingredients). The salmon was a little tough and cloying for my taste, but the freshness of salmon itself was stellar--the quality of salmon in Canada is unparalleled.

Another place you must visit on a stop at Granville Island, is Sandbar, a restaurant on the island where my husband and I enjoyed a early pre-dinner meal after a small lunch. Since we were planning on attending a wedding that evening, we only ordered a few beers and a 1/2 order of their mussels in a coconut curry sauce (a great option for someone who wants the "taste" and not the cost of a full meal). (If you are budget-conscious, I would also check out their happy hour specials.)

The uncutous, fleshy, and rotund mussels burst in our mouths like delicate seafood balloons, releasing creamy and mouthwatering innards. The milky curry sauce was perfectly sweetened and seasoned, not too ethereal, not too heavy, and had the perfect balance of subtle coconut aroma.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but Vancouver and Granville Island are definitely worth a visit!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Working Eater Series: Fage (Extraordinarily) Good Living

I first discovered Fage Greek yogurt when introducing my then six-month-old baby boy to solid foods. My refrigerator has been stocked with at least one container of Fage yogurt ever since. Therefore, when I heard about the Foodbuzz contest sponsored by Fage, I leapt at the opportunity to openly praise a product that I already love.

My typical use for Fage yogurt is swirling a heaping and lustrous tablespoon of the ambrosial milk product into Sammy's baby food. (And I seriously do this daily, no joke.) Based on the advice of his pediatrician, I have learned that full-fat Greek yogurt can provide infants with necessary nutrients (especially calcium) and beneficial cultures that help in digestion. In addition, Sammy loves the decadent and rich textures imparted by the yogurt. With Fage, I think my little Sammy might grow up into a modern-day Zeus!

However, Fage yogurt is not just for my son, but also for me. As a working mom, I often don't have the time to splurge on certain luxuries of life (especially calorie-laden desserts). And yes, I am really trying to lose my pregnancy weight! Therefore, I turn to Fage Greek yogurt (which possesses health benefits that surpass that of regular yogurt) as a delicious alternative to sour cream and whipped cream. Dipping strawberries into a viscous and pleasingly unctuous yogurt? Yes, please! It does not hurt that as I enjoy Fage yogurt, I can imagine myself luxuriating in ancient Greece, gazing at the chiseled columns and statutes of gods or Olympians which scrape the blue sky. Or, I love dreaming that I am sitting with my feet dangling the warm and pristine Greek waters as I watch the bubbling sea foam lapping against the fishing boats. Finally, I love imagining that I am listening to the teachings of Socrates in a palace rich with history. As evidenced by Fage's yogurt, Greeks knew (and know) how to enjoy the "good life" by balancing healthy eating with daily activities. No wonder the ancient Greek empire had such success. And with the help of Greek yogurt, I hope to sculpt my post-baby body in statuesque form!

Here is my favorite way to enjoy Fage yogurt. In its simple, pure, and satisfying form, and slightly perfumed with honeyed sweetness.

Greek Yogurt With Ripe Figs, Toasted Almonds, Honey, and Blackberries
1 7oz container Fage yogurt
4 ripe figs, washed and sliced
1/2 cup of blackberries, washed
1/4 cup almonds, toasted
2 tbsp honey, warmed in microwave for 20-30 sec

In two pretty glasses, divide the yogurt and gently top with the yogurt with the fruits and almonds. Then, drizzle the honey over the yogurt, and enjoy!

With Fage, I am confident my family will be on their way to living the "good life."

Disclosure: As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Foodbuzz 24X24: Red Egg and Ginger Party

My husband, mother-in-law, and I threw our firstborn a traditional Chinese red egg and ginger birthday party when he turned one this past week. I am sure you are wondering, "What is a red egg and ginger party?" Red egg and ginger parties are typically celebrated at the one month mark of a young child's life. During the ancient times, when infant mortality rates were high, if a child survived to the one month mark, it was a sign of great fortune and an event worthy of a big family get-together.

The one month milestone in a child's life is a significant occasion for all families, and this milestone is marked by a huge celebration in Chinese culture, where family and friends plan a banquet and meet the new baby. Also, a mother was expected to rest for one month so that she could recover from the physical stress of labor. During such parties, relatives prepare large stockpots of nutritious ginger soup, as ginger has warming (yang of yin/yang) properties to help the mother heal and help increase milk production. The ginger soup, as well as a rice wine and pork trotter soup are strongly believed to help nurse a new mama back to health after childbirth. Also, boiled eggs, representing fertility and life, were dyed red (the luckiest color in Chinese tradition) and gently massaged onto the baby's face. Legend has it, that the egg would increase the fertility of newborn child, guaranteeing a sizeable family. Also, during these parties, instead of birthday presents, the baby and the new parents are given red envelopes (hong bao).

In ancient times, at a red egg and ginger party, the family would formally name their newborn and also shave their baby's head for good fortune. Although we didn't carry out all of the traditions of the red egg and ginger party, we tried to carry the theme throughout our baby's party. That meant dressing him up in a formal outfit and serving Chinese party foods!

As the day approached, however, we realized that our menu was a little too ambitious, so we ended up getting a little help (i.e., ordering frozen dumplings, jungzi, and soy sauce eggs from nearby San Francisco restaurants and shops). We have a little baby, so a little "help" is necessary for throwing a party! The party menu included (see descriptions below, with three recipes):

Chicken and Napa Potstickers with Soy Garlic Dipping Sauce

Soy Sauce Eggs (soft boiled eggs marinated in a bath of soy sauce and mirin--for a good recipe, click here)

Shrimp Fried Rice (just add shrimp and frozen peas to my old recipe)

Vancouver Japadog-Style Hot Dogs with Asian-Fusion Topping Bar (for the kids, with wasabi paste, Japanese mayo, caramelized onions, and nori slivers)

Oranges (which symbolize good fortune, prosperity, and longevity in Chinese culture), Boiled Eggs Dyed Red, and Fruit and Veggie Plates

Chinese Tamales, or jungzi

Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken and Pine Nut Lettuce Wraps
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely diced (best to cut if partially frozen)
2 cup carrots, peeled and finely diced (depending on size of carrots, about 5)
1/2 cup green scallions
1/3 cup of pine seeds, lightly toasted in pan for a few seconds until fragrant
2 tbsp of corn starch
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of canola oil
1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 head of lettuce, washed, with leaves separated

Heat the oil in a frying pan until shimmering. Add the carrots and cook until they have started to sweat. Meanwhile, combine the chicken with the soy sauce and corn starch, and then add it into the pan, stirring constantly. Then, add the scallions and fry until the chicken is cooked through. Then, add the pine seeds and serve in a bowl next to the lettuce leaves, or assemble the lettuce wraps for your guests.

Refreshing Chinese Cucumber Salad
2 or 3 seedless English cucumbers, washed and cut into 1/2 to 2 inch strips (almost as if julienned)
1/2 bunch cilantro, cut into 3 cm long portions
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp canola oil
2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Combine all of the liquid and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Then, combine the sauce mixture with the cucumbers, cilantro, onions, and garlic, until coated. Let the salad sit for at least 30 mins before serving.

Gingered Carrot Cake Mini Muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups (about 1 lb) shredded carrots
1 cup (4 oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) finely chopped crystalized ginger
chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, ground ginger, nutmeg, and 1 tsp salt. In large bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, butter, and sugars 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in pineapple with its juice and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts, raisins, and crystallized ginger. Spoon batter evenly into cupcake tins with lined with cupcake wrappers. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for mini muffins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

For the games, we invited the children to blow bubbles outside with bubble wands and had an arts and crafts station for the children to color and cut out their own Chinese dragon masks and paper lanterns. Check out the link here for the FREE dragon mask template we used. We bought wooden sticks online for them to use as the mask holders.

We also played Ni Hao, Kai Lan on the television, so that the kids could learn some Chinese and learn about Chinese culture with a fun and popular cartoon.

We also handed out party favors in red Chinese take out boxes (board books, kazoos, bubbles, and red envelopes with chocolate coins), so the kids kept busy and entertained. See the picture way above, to see the contents.

For the decor, we reused our wedding banner, set up Chinese umbrellas, and also folded origami tigers and dragons from the Canon website. Check out the Canon site for the FREE patterns and templates, here. Warning: The patterns are beautiful and complicated!

Also, we printed labels for our water bottles for an extra personalized touch. Check out Gynnn Wasson Design's blog for the FREE water bottle templates we used.

We also decorated a centerpiece with red envelopes.

Thanks for joining me at my party! I hope you learned a thing or two about the red egg and ginger party, a traditional Chinese celebration which is as important of a holiday as Thanksgiving or Christmas for some families. Hey, any even where the entire family gets together to enjoy a feast and meet the new addition is good in my book!

Friday, September 16, 2011

In My Opinion...

As a featured publisher of Foodbuzz, Foodbuzz often sends me emails about their "Tastemaker Program," where they send free food samples to bloggers in exchange for honest feedback (and a blog post or two). Since I was trying to get back on the blog wagon and increase the frequency of my posts, I excitedly signed up for products from three companies: (1) Ghiradelli, (2) Kikkoman, and (3) Sargento. I actually purchase products from this companies on a regular basis (especially Kikkoman), so I was pretty confident I knew what I was dealing with. I enlisted my mother-in-law to be my wing-man (or wing-woman) and partner-in-crime (or partner-in-tasting). We tasted five products: (1) extra dark chocolate, (2) chocolate squares with roasted almonds and sea salt, (3) ginger-soy karage coating for fried poultry or fish, (4) muenster cheese, and (5) swiss cheese.

First, as to the chocolates, both my mother-in-law and I shared the same sentiments. The bitter extra dark chocolate had a rich and potent cacao bean flavor. Because we prefer milk chocolate, we enjoyed the lighter and milkier chocolate squares with the ethereal flecks sea salt and mini shards of almond. The salt intensified the richness of the chocolate, and the crunch from the almonds gave the creamy candies nice texture.

We will definitely purchase the sea salt-flavored Ghiradelli squares in the future, when this stash runs out. (The stash may or may not have already run out. Okay, who am I kidding, the stash already ran out the day I received it!)

Unfortunately, the disappointment of bunch was the Kikkoman karaage coating. Throughout my life, the only soy sauce product my family has used is Kikkoman. I honestly believe their soy sauce is the best Asian sauce on American shelves. It is dark, slightly transparent, and rich in luscious umami flavor. The burnt caramel-colored and liquid ebony sauce is painstakingly distilled and beautiful to behold. Therefore, based on my experience with their soy sauce, I was expecting the same for the karaage coating.

To its merit, this karaage mix makes cooking fried karaage chicken very easy. The box says it is ready in five minutes, and it truly is. All you need to do is empty the seasoned flour in your own bag (no bag is provided) and dredge some chicken or fish pieces in it. The coating did an awesome job of keeping the chicken juicy, ultra-moist, and flavorful on its own. However, I was really-really-really put off by the taste. They overdid it with the ginger flavor, so much that it reminded me of Pine Sol or household cleaning chemicals.

My mother-in-law agreed with my assessment.

Finally, as for the Sargento cheese, Foodbuzz asked us to compare sliced Sargento natural cheese
with processed cheese. So I purchased my favorite brand of processed cheese and Sargento's muenster and swiss.

I toasted a few "everything" bagels (with onions, rye seeds, sesame seeds, and more), placed a slice of each kind of cheese on the bagels, and then microwaved the cheese for 30 seconds in the microwave. I wanted to see whether the cheese could stand up to the powerful flavors of the bagel.

My mom-in-law and I were pleasantly surprised. We thought the cheese was "delicioso" on the bagels (I also fried some eggs for the bagels) and particularly liked the sharp twang from the swiss. It goes without saying that Sargento's natural cheese beat out the radioactive orange, high sodium processed cheese (although I do admit that I love that salty and perfectly meltable orange stuff, just as I love cheese in can and cheez whiz).

All in all, I'd say my mother-in-law and I had a pretty fun time bonding over our opinions about these new products, and would now buy a few of those products for ourselves on a regular basis. Have you tried these items? What do you think of them? And yes, you can now call me a "sell out."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Have You Heard That One About Pizza? It Goes Like This...

Some of us associate the oddest, most humorous memories with certain foods. Pizza is one of those foods for me.

Example: May 28, 2004. AMC Theatres on Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California.

I remember it clearly. It was opening night of the blockbluster disaster flick, Day After Tomorrow. That evening, the silver screen audience was principally populated with residents from the nearby nursing home and the moviegoers were abuzz with excitement. Before the movie began, we excitedly watched the previews when I suddenly heard my beau whisper loudly into my ear.

"What is that smell?"

I faintly detected an oniony odor wafting in my direction.

Upon looking up, about two to three rows ahead, I saw a feisty gray-haired woman with her head buried in an open Styrofoam take-out container. I surreptitiously craned my neck upward and peered over her shoulder to view the contents of the container. I was amused to see that her container was heaped to the brim with a mottled orange ball of stringy chow mein noodles and sweet and sour chicken that was so radioactively red, it looked like the molten tip of a branding iron. Awe-struck and secretly jealous, I chuckled softly and feigned exasperation. "She has some guts," I muttered to my beau.

I then heard a rustling commotion and using my peripheral vision, I spotted a cluster of eager seniors huddled over a popped-open lid of a large cardboard Costco pizza box. Not to be outdone, they had snuck a whole pizza into a movie theater! Now those folks had guts to the N-th degree! In my heart, I immediately bowed in deference to them. If any human was worth worshiping, it was these cheapsters! I vowed to myself that one day, I would sneak an entire pizza box into a packed theater. And let me tell you, that day, will be the pinnacle of my achievement as a human being!

The moral of the story, is that one should have no shame when it comes to eating pizza. One of my favorite places for "shameless pizza eating" in the City of San Francisco, is Pizzeria Delfina. They serve pies there that are guaranteed to leave even the hardiest, most-resilient of adults in a garlic-induced stupor.

Pizzeria Delfina specializes in authentic Italian pizza: the kind with blistered, charred, and crackly edges and a supple interior. The kind with melted blobs of mozzarella and crushed tomatoes reeking of freshness. The kind that will make you wanna bring a whole pie into a movie theater! The pies of note at Pizzeria Delfina, are the classic Margherita and two, off-the-menu specials: (1) the Purgatorio and (2) the Gricia.

The Purgatorio is a traditional pie slathered with a spicy, tingly hot tomato sauce base which the chefs spike with red pepper flakes and layer with Romano cheese. The shavings of Romano will melt away on your tongue like salty flakes of snow and provide the perfect counterbalance to the entire pizza pie. However, the best part of the pizza is not the cheese, but the oozing and gooey sunny-side eggs, that spill forth on the pizza face.

The Gricia is made with guanciale (apparently, pig jowl) and panna cheese. This pizza is decorated with wispy tendrils of spring scallions and topped with a puddle of warm cream poured directly within the concentric circle of crust. The entire pie is sprinkled with crushed black peppercorns, which provide a spicy contrast to the creamy pie.

And hey, I would be willing to risk shame and ostracization in a movie theater for these fellas'! (I am an exhibitionist, what can I say.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Favorite Toys (Not Necessarily My Son's)

As a new Mother, I am always on the prowl for kid-friendly toys and foods. How about combining the two? I found these toy sets on my last trip to IKEA a few months ago, and I fell in love at first sight.

The IKEA Duktig soft toy breakfast play set:

The IKEA Duktig soft toy fruit play set:

The IKEA Duktig soft toy vegetable play set:

The IKEA Duktig soft toy dessert play set:

These toys are made of non-toxic fabric (plain felt) and are surprisingly detailed and innovative--there are velcro strips to make the lettuce leaves attach to the lettuce head and similar velcro strips on the banana peel and sandwich fixins'. The bacon is sewed just right, so that there are tiny ridges and ripples in the fabric. Without a doubt, these are my favorite toys in my baby's toy chest.

My son still prefers scrap paper and my cell phone to these toys, but I feel like these IKEA items were an awesome investment. They bring a smile to my face every time I see them!

In addition, I also discovered these tutorials for adorable for felt foods via Pinterest! These may require more investment than a mere purchase at IKEA, but they are cute nonetheless.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bandwagon Jumper

What do you call someone who waits in line for more than two hours for lunch-time sushi?

Dumb as a rock?

Pretty close. The answer is "me." I am the punchline.

If you don't get the joke, after reading this post, you will.

At the beginning of this year, my husband and I noticed an explosion of Facebook activity about this new lunch place in the Financial District dubbed "Sushiritto." We had never heard of it, but around 20 of our friends did, and they touted it as the next big thing to hit San Francisco. However, none of these friends had personally tried the food there. Pretty much, they just saw long lines there and wistfully tweeted pictures of the line and something to the effect of, "Must be good! I want some!"

Since I was gainfully on maternity leave at the time, my husband decided that if anyone had a few hours to spare to wait in line, I did. Plus, I have told you before how my husband feels about long lines at eating establishments. So he dropped me off to pick up lunch there while he went to go run some errands in the City with our newborn in tow.

I would like to say this was the "wait of the century," but that would be a gross understatement. I am sure you know how long lines at amusement parks are. At the half hour mark, you are losing steam, but you believe you can keep going. By the time one hour has passed, you are too invested to leave the line. At that point, you convince yourself that "the worst part of the wait is over." At the one and a half hour mark, you tell yourself, "Oh what the heck, I already wasted my day, I might as well continue waiting." And as I waited in line, that is what I told myself. And like lines at the U.S. Post Office, it literally did not move an inch.

Given the pace of the movement of the line, I have no idea how I ended up at the front, but more than two hours later, I did. And since I was starving, half-conscious, and wholly belligerent, I ordered four of the items on the five item menu: the Three Amigos, Latin Ninja, Mamacita, and Crispy Ebi rolls.

As I checked out, the cashier rang up the total as ~$40. At first, I suffered a quick bout of sticker-shock, but because I had waited over two hours for those lil' mutha-effers, I made myself believe that it would be worth it. As I paid for the meal, my husband rushed in with our crying newborn and furiously asked, "What took you so long?" I shoved the rolls in his arms and stormed off to the car.

With a crying baby in the background, we gulped down the rolls in the car (I was so hungry, I could not be bothered to chew and there is no real seating area to eat at in Sushiritto, as it is just a take-out place). At that point, I woefully realized I could not taste a difference between Sushiritto's rolls and Americanized rolls from any ole' sushi joint. Basically, the rolls were like California rolls with one or two extra bells and whistles. Not even like a California roll on steroids, but like a California roll on a GNC herbal supplement. At one point, I tasted something that reminded me of Thai curry (I believe the mango in the Latin Ninja or the plantain and Sriracha combination in the Crispy Ebi roll), but I was too angered by the fact that I had waited two hours to even care.

To quickly recap our meal, we ordered the "Three Amigos" roll, which is sizeable sushi roll made with tuna, salmon, hamachi hiramasa (Japanese amberjack yellowtail fish), avocado, yuzu tobiko (fish roe seasoned with yuzu citrus), asparagus, cucumber, shaved red radish, scallions, and wasabi mayonnaise. Apparently, the "three" friends, are the three different types of fish.

We also ordered the "Latin Ninja" roll, which was made with salmon, mango, avocado, asparagus, daikon radish, Meyer lemon, pickled red onion, cilantro, scallions, and a ginger serrano sauce. The punchy cilantro leaves, the creamy mango and avocado elements, and the fiery serrano oils brought a punch of Latin flair to the Japanese roll.

The third roll we ordered, was the Mamacita Roll, which was made of tuna, Japanese gourd, Shiitake mushrooms, avocado, cucumber, scallions, daikon radish, tobiko (fish roe), crumbled rice chips, and Mexican kabayaki sauce.

Finally, we also ordered the Crispy Ebi, which sounded to be the most innovative roll of the four. The Crispy Ebi was made of tempura shrimp, melted pepperjack cheese, shredded crab, plantain, avocado, cucumber, and Sriracha crema sauce.

Now that you are at the end of this post, I am sure you are thinking, "Gee, I sense bitterness." Honestly, the rolls were pretty good and had it not been for the wait, I would have had liked this place much more. Indeed, my husband (who did not wait in line) went back with his brother and sister-in-law! Check out his sister-in-law's take on Sushiritto here. Also, the menu has undergone a dramatic overhaul and I heard that the lines have died down too, so if you are around the area, you might check it out.

Well, I can't say that I didn't learn a valuable lesson from this ordeal. Sushiritto helped me to realize that there is great value in having a "quicky" every now and then. "Quicky" meaning "quick lunch," that is.
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