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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Eger and Sirens Valley - Hungary: Floral? Fruity? Woody Notes? What Notes?

Everyone keeps asking if I plan to get drunk for New Year's Eve. Drunk? I don't get drunk, I just get really buzzed. ;)

I had my vodka and Red Bull/foam party/clubbing until 7 a.m. for a week straight in Ibiza moments. But that was quite a while ago. For the past few years, it's been a pretty quiet New Year's Eve at home with the usual assortment of family and friends. We do go through quite a bit of liquor though, largely wine and champagne.

I'll be the first to admit I don't have a very sophisticated wine palate. Those floral, fruity, woody notes you're supposed to detect in wine? Totally escapes my tongue. Most of my wine is bought from Trader Joe's, because they describe what the wine is supposed to taste like and because I can get some pretty good stuff for under $5. If the wine ends up being a miss, I just cook with it and I didn't waste much money trying something new. I like white more than red, sweet rather than dry. I even went really ghetto this year and bought a clearance $2 wine in a box from Target. I have high hopes though because it's made with moscato, chardonnay, and chenin blanc grapes. Heh.

So while stocking up my wine cabinet, I found this bottle of Egri Bikaver (Bull's Blood of Eger) at TJ's.

Hungary 8

Bull's Blood is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and several other Hungarian red grapes. But my all-time favorite is the super-sweet white wine Tokaji Aszu, Tokaj is the name of the town and Aszu the method for making the wine.

My favorite travel memories are the unexpected. I mean, if I said I had good wine in France, that's expected. I think in most people's minds, France = wine. But good wine in Hungary? A whole valley of caves where the Huns hid from the Turks and have since been turned into wine cellars? Now that's a story.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cinnamon Rolls

Did a little baking this morning. This cinnamon roll recipe is adapted from the back of my package of Red Star brand yeast. It's a good basic recipe that seems very forgiving (I forgot about the eggs until after I had already kneaded and formed the dough and it still turned out fine). I substituted half the flour with whole wheat flour, omitted nuts, and made maple instead of coffee icing.

Cinnamon Rolls 1

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fosselman's Ice Cream Co. - Alhambra

Fosselman's Ice Cream Co. - Alhambra 1

Butterfat makes ice cream rich and creamy. At Fosselman's Ice Cream Co. in Alhambra, they put 16% butterfat in their ice cream. That 16% means their ice cream is considered "premium." Butterfat gooooood.

Fosselman's has been in business since 1919, and at the Alhambra location since 1941. It is located off the main drag of Main Street, on the opposite end from the car dealerships, and next to Wells Fargo. The third generation of Fosselmans have taken over the business. Fosselman's Ice Cream Co. still seems as quaintly old-fashioned as before. Ice cream is still made in the back. The owners are often in the shop, still scooping out flavors to customers. Signs are still hand-drawn and hand-written.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sweet Corn Tomalito

Updated from the archives August 18, 2008:

Sweet Corn Tomalito 1

These sweet corn tomalitos are similar to that scoop of corn stuff you get on a corn husk at Chevy's. You know, the corn thing with the cactus-shaped tortilla stuck in it? Or you can serve them as patties and all fancy with salsa and sour cream sauce like the sweet corn cakes at Cheesecake Factory. Sort of like a Che Bap (Vietnamese Corn Pudding) without the coconut milk. I think they're technically a Tex-Mex side dish, but anyway, if you like corn as much as I do, they're good.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Cooking Christmas Colors: Insalata Caprese and Baked Goat Cheese with Pesto and Tomato Sauce

Merry Christmas everyone!

I made a very Christmas-y looking salad and appetizer last night. Or I guess any other time of year, it would be Italian colors. :P

Insalata Caprese

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Updated from the archives October 15, 2010:

Sometimes in updating new photos, recipes get tweaked just a bit too. Mostly, I hope that the directions are more clear now. My old picture of chili wasn't as horrible as some of the early pictures for other recipes. Nonetheless, both picture and recipe improved from a little updating.

Previous commentary below the picture.

Chili 1

My refrigerator is bare. Except for a pot of leftover chili. But the nice thing about chili is that it tastes even better the day after.

And because I knew my mom would soon be stocking my fridge with Christmas Eve dinner leftovers. Mmm. Venison ribs, venison tendon Chinese herbal stew, pork belly stir-fry, pork ribs, cold venison and pickle platter. My offerings included two Salt, Pepper, Lemon Basic Baked Chickens with roasted red, white, and purple potatoes, Insalata Caprese, Baked Goat Cheese on Pesto and Tomato Sauce, and Sweet Corn Tomalito patties.

Friday, December 22, 2006

On British English, Spotted Dick, and Kalonji Seeds

J.K. Rowling revealed the title of book 7. Yippee. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

I've got both the American and British versions of the Harry Potter books. Why? Because the first few American versions changed some of the British English and foods to make it more understandable to American kids. Sigh. Really, does everything need to become Americanized?

As the Harry Potter books became more popular, the American version was released at the same time as the English edition so much of the British English stayed.

Isn't it more fun to read about "snogging" instead of kissing? And imagining a Hogwarts treasure trove of good eats such as treacle pudding and spotted dick? :)

P.S. Kalonji seeds are also known as black onion seeds. Although they're not really black onion seeds either.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Food Choices, Fu Lin Chinese Restaurant, and Burrito-sized Eggrolls in Salzburg

One of my closest friends enjoys visiting me because she says she always likes my "food choices." And she doesn't like other people's choices? Apparently we have the same taste buds and empty pocket books. So she always leaves happy with a full belly that she didn't have to pay much for. I didn't really understand what she meant until after I had several outings with another friend. I always left our meals feeling dissatisfied because I knew I could get much better for much less. That's the way it usually goes for restaurant recommendations. The tricky part is finding someone whose taste sensibilities are quite like your own. And so, upon someone else's recommendation, I decided to try Fu Lin Chinese Restaurant in Montclair. There were several reasons for this. I love quirky food stories and it doesn't get better than a Korean chef who was raised in China who opens a Chinese restaurant with a secret menu of Korean delicacies. It's easy enough to find good Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Outside of it? That's another matter. Fu Lin is just southeast of Montclair Plaza, on the south side of the freeway, across from a Costco. Since the parking is in the rear, most people enter through the back. The interior was surprisingly spacious with an entrance area with the requisite large fish tank. There were red booths along the walls and tables in the center. With only three tables of people. None of them Asian. Uh oh. Not a good sign. I began to suspect very Americanized Chinese food. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean, I have my Panda Express moments. Although I have to admit, I haven't actually eaten at a Panda Express in several years. We were served a complimentary pot of tea, fried chow mein noodles to dip in mustard and sweet and sour sauces, and kim chi. The kim chi made me think maybe my suspicions were wrong. I ordered eggrolls, deep-fried garlic shrimp, and Korean sweet and sour beef (which is supposed to be from that aforementioned secret hidden menu). What I got was, well, Americanized Chinese food.
The eggrolls were mainly filled with cabbage, and a small amount of meat that was pretty much negligible. The sweet and sour beef had the standard cornstarchy sauce and was crispy when it was served, but became quite soggy by the end of meal. The deep-fried garlic shrimp tasted slightly sour, as if the garlic came from a jar. I wanted to like Fu Lin. Partly because someone liked it enough to recommend it. And partly because the waiters were very attentive and the service was very good. I felt like the stereotypical white person in a Chinese restaurant who misses out on the good food because they can't read from the Chinese menu. I perked up when I saw two Korean couples enter. They spoke to the waitress in Korean and I arched my neck to see if they somehow managed to get something from that secret Korean menu. But alas, their fried rice and soups didn't look all that remarkable.
The $23 bill came with orange slices and this very "charming" piece of gum.
It wasn't a total loss. I'm sure I'll eat the leftovers. And the dining experience at Fu Lin brought chuckles as my brother and I remembered our drive across Europe during the summer of 2002. We had just picked up our cousin from Hungary and stopped off in Salzburg, Austria, birthplace of Mozart and home to "The Sound of Music." Down the street from our hotel was a Chinese restaurant and my cousin insisted we have dinner there that night. Surprisingly enough, she said the Chinese food in Hungary is really terrible. Really? We didn't think Chinese food in Austria would be so much better either... As you can see from the picture below, the eggrolls were burrito-sized. We actually had to eat them with a fork and knife. And they were filled only with cabbage. The peking duck was breaded and fried. But my cousin was happy to have some semblance of Asian food. And our Chinese waiter was happy to see other Asians, even though we couldn't speak Chinese and my cousin could barely remember her high school German.
So thanks Fu Lin, for reminding me of some good times. Americanized or Austrianized, as long as I've got a food story out of my experience, I'm happy too. Fu Lin Chinese Restaurant
9645 Central Ave.
Montclair, CA 91763 909-398-1088 And if you're ever in Salzburg and want to try burrito-sized eggrolls, you can go to this restaurant ==>.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Banh Kem Dua (Vietnamese Coconut Flan)

Updated from the archives November 30, 2013:

This old recipe needed a much more appetizing photo, so I'm using the flan my youngest uncle's wife made and brought to my Thanksgiving dinner. I added bits of crushed ice on top, just like how my mom serves it.

Original commentary and recipe below the photo.

Happy Thanksgiving 8

Flan is a super-simple dessert that's very easy to make. There are only three ingredients, four if you want the coconut milk variation. And it's a good way to use up milk or eggs, whichever is closest to expiring.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kilt Shortage?

OK, I'll make this post slightly food related by first stating my deep love for Scottish chocolate whiskey, deep-fried Mars bars, and Shortbread Cookies with Lavender. Now that that's out of the way, did everyone see the article about a kilt shortage for Scottish soldiers? There's only enough kilts for one out of 15 soldiers. I dunno about you, but I'd have a hard time going commando in another man's fatigues. Now, I know these days most Scotsmen wear boxers underneath their kilts. But many also stick to tradition and wear nothing. Nothing.
Kilt Shortage?
Heh. I feel like I should reveal why he felt so compelled to show me his Scottish lion tattoo. But I'll leave that up to your imagination. Now do ya'll know why I love Scotland? ;) Photo taken on the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2003.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Roughcut of Sushi/Dimsum Quilt

I laid out my quilt blocks to get a sense of what it'll look like. Not bad.

I can't do math so I used to just guesstimate how many blocks I could get from a fabric. Not such a good strategy when I'm using fabrics I got from thrift stores so there's no way I can run back to the store and get more if I run out. Case in point. Those longer side blocks? I needed 97 of them. I cut 90. Then with lots of strips about 1 to 2 inches wide, I managed to cobble together the remaining seven. But it's not gonna be a pretty sight.

So either be good at math, or use an online quilt calculator like lazy old me. :)

For a closer look at the fabric prints, click here.

Salt, Pepper, Lemon, Basic Baked Chicken

Look at the crispy skin.

Salt, Pepper, Lemon Basic Baked Organic Chicken 1

And moist breast meat.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pho Ha Vietnamese Restaurant - Pomona

Rainy weather = soup. And no other soup hits the spot like a steaming bowl of pho.

Apparently everyone else felt the same way. There was a small line of about half a dozen people waiting for a seat at Pho Ha in Pomona.

I was pretty surprised actually. I mean, this is the Inland Valley. Why would anyone opt for Vietnamese food outside of Little Saigon? But hey, not all Vietnamese Americans live in the OC.

There's a small cluster of Vietnamese restaurants, a fairly large grocery store, and other businesses around the intersection of Indian Hill and Holt in Pomona. It's been nearly a decade since I've eaten at Pho Ha. This used to be an occasional lunch spot when I worked out here a long, long time ago. I remembered it as bare-bones. And that the pho was so greasy that a dribble on the table had congealed by the end of the meal.

That's not the case anymore. The restaurant has now expanded into the shop next door to double its size. The walls are a warm, muted autumn orangey-brown. The customers ranged from a large Mexican family to a mixed group of mechanics to Claremont college students.

The best part was that my bowl of pho had a light, clear broth that was still very flavorful without being overpowering. So good that I even slurped the broth after eating what seemed like a never-ending bowl of noodles. Seriously, Pho Ha gives you quite a lot of noodles.

No grease dribbles this time around.

The regular bowl is $4.85, extra large $5.35. I have no idea why there's no size large. I ordered the #3 with rare slices of steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe. I love me my tripe, but was sad that there wasn't very much of it. The steak was thinly sliced and perfect. The tendon was nicely chewy without being fatty at all. Or maybe I'm confusing that with fatty brisket, which wasn't fatty either.

Maybe it was the rainy weather, or the morning of Christmas shopping, but this was a seriously satisfying bowl of pho. Not a drive out from OC bowl of pho. But definitely a coming back from Vegas along the 10 freeway, or coming back from outlet or mall shopping, bowl of pho stop.

The menu features 110 items from hu tieu (rice noodle), mi (egg noodle), bun (vermicelli noodles), banh hoi (steamed vermicelli noodle sheets), beef stew, rice plates, stir-fries, vegetarian, and specials. But when a restaurant is named after a particular dish, take their built-in recommendation and order that dish.

Pho Ha Vietnamese Restaurant

695 N. Indian Hill Blvd.

Pomona, CA 91767


Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress

After I finished my apple tree quilt, my little sister immediately snuggled underneath, rubbed her hands over the flannel bits, and just nested. That's why I make quilts. My little sister then insisted, several times, that I show off her quilt. She made this when she was in high school. It's a Chinese Sunbonnet Sue pattern we modified from Sunbonnet Sue Patterns.
My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress 1
Here's a close-up. Cute huh? Sooo cute. So ooh and aah accordingly and I'll pass along compliments to her. :)
My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress 2
I've only made three quilts. All smaller lap quilts. So I like to leave them on my sofa and armchair for snuggling underneath when I'm watching TV or reading. So cozy. I don't much care for mustard yellow, browns, and other dark colors that are popular in country-style quilts. Most patterns are just too complicated for me. I like using up my scraps, which come from hemming various pants or covering photo albums. I love working with the small floral prints in calico. I like to vary textures and add in velvet or flannel. I gravitate toward pastels, mainly blue, pink, and lavender. But some fabrics make quilting just so much fun. Like this Parisville print from Michael Miller below. If I ever go to Paris again, I'll use it to cover my photo album. And then use the leftovers for a quilt. But for now, I just like looking at it.
My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress 3
This sushi print is leftover from pajama pants I made years ago.
My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress 4
I made dim sum pajama pants too.
My Little Sister's Quilt and a Work in Progress 5
Are those the best fabrics or what? I've got enough pieces left over between the sushi and dim sum prints, that if I interspersed them with another fabric, I could make another quilt. I chose a cream-colored solid fabric with some flowers embroidered on it that's neutral enough the sushi and dim sum prints will stand out. But this project has been languishing for years so it may remain a work in progress for quite a while.

Friday, December 15, 2006

About This Blog

While I'm a completely open book in real life, somehow opening up my personal life to lurkers and strangers online wasn't comfortable for me. So when I decided to blog, I figured it'd be just about food and just that. But I was too lazy to take photographs because I was busy eating, darn it! So the blog languished for months but I still continued to look at other people's food pictures. Then I figured, OK, I can add in recipes and make it a chronicle of what I eat instead of an actual proper food review blog. Then I figured if people write about food, they must blog about gardens and I sure need gardening tips and ideas. And if people blog about food and gardens, surely they blog about their quilting?

And what did I discover from all my blog surfing?

Dude! That I mentally aged about 50 years.

Seriously, all I could think about was getting a little cottage where I'd plant fuchsia cosmos to spill over the white picket fence. And a brick-lined path in the back where I'd section off squared plots where I'd plant more flowers and vegetables. And then at night, I'd curl up and work on making quilts.

And when I told my little sister this, she laughed out loud and said, "Oh my god, when did you turn 81?"


So I decided this blog would be dedicated to things that give me comfort -- food, gardening, quilting. One of my friends said I'm a one-trick pony. But it's a good trick. I introduced her to good eats. Before we became friends she had never tried...well, pretty much everything. And another long-time friend was so giddy to visit me a few months ago because she knew I'd feed her and feed her well. And while I like my food, and like taking friends to good restaurants, and like sending people my extensive list of restaurant recommendations, I didn't want to take something I like and turn it into a chore.

So the end result is this hodgepodge blog. No mouthwatering food descriptions. My mind doesn't think that way. If I say it's good, trust me, it's good. No obsessive chronicle of where and what to eat. I don't have the budget or energy for that. I tried keeping a separate gardening blog but I don't compartmentalize my life, so I didn't feel like sectioning off my blog. And because I'm Vietnamese-Chinese, I think all roads lead back to food and family anyway.

Which takes me to last summer in Vietnam. Now, being a South-Central Coast Vietnamese-Chinese I've got inherent biases in my food.

  1. No com ga Hai Nam (Hainanese chicken rice) will ever taste as good as what I can get at home. Seriously. It's pretty much the only thing we Hainanese are known for. And while I know the technicalities of making the dish, it still doesn't taste like my mom's or my aunties'.
  2. Banh xeo. Forget that wok-sized yellow crepe that comes by way of Saigon. In my neck of the woods, banh xeo is about six inches in diameter, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and a whole lot more flavorful.
  3. While eggrolls are known as cha gio to Southerners and nem ran to Northerners, we call it cha ram and we only stuff it with shrimp and scallions. Anyway you called it or stuffed it, I was all over it.
  4. Nem nuong. That grilled ground pork patty wrapped in rice paper that everyone clamors to Brodard for? Easy peasy. The secret is using honey instead of sugar. I've been at the restaurant when they get buckets of it delivered. The owners are from an hour south of my hometown in Vietnam. I've been making nem nuong since I was a child. That crunchy eggroll wrapper they put in the middle? That's just how we South-Central folks eat it. We toast our rice paper too. I can't figure out how to make their dipping sauce though.
  5. And like a lot of Southerners, I think the food tastes a lot better down South. For example, every morning I ate pho for breakfast. (Pronounce pho as if it were a question because that's precisely what this ? accent makes it sound like.) In Saigon, pho comes with a plate of basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili paste, hoisin sauce. The only greens in a Hanoi bowl of pho would be some scallions. While pho originated in Hanoi, the pho that's served in America is heavily Saigon-influenced. That's because historically, the South has milder weather and a better growing season so herbs were more plentiful. These days many Hanoi pho restaurants will offer the condiments and herbs too. But many others feature traditional Hanoi-style pho, no herbs and a much, much lighter broth. So light that if I spilled droplets on my T-shirt, it left absolutely no grease stains.
I also think Vietnamese-American food beats any food I had in Vietnam. Basically because we're a rich country and can afford to put better ingredients in our food. The exception is fresh fruit. Oh man, that's a whole separate post because I went crazy taking pictures of fruit trees -- jackfruit, durian, rambutan, lychee, longan, green coconut, dragonfruit, and others that I don't know the names of in English.
And buying the fruit in a sterile market here is simply not the same.
The picture below is Ha Long Bay, in north Vietnam. You may recognize it from the film Indochine. Or in the more recent Amazing Race. Majestic limestone cliffs. Floating village. World Heritage Site. Pretty. Pretty.

The villagers are so at home on the water that if you look closely, you can see this woman row with one arm and one leg while eating a bowl of noodles with the other arm. Man, all that effort just to get to my junk to sell her wares. So, of course, I had to buy some fruit from her.

Below is the Can Tho floating market in the Mekong Delta in south Vietnam. If you look closely at the poles, you can see which fruits or vegetables the sellers are featuring that day. Man, if I could figure out how to upload my video of this it would be awesome.

Close-up of a boat with dragonfruit.

If you want to see what it looks like inside, I also grew dragonfruit in my garden this year but it sure wasn't a crop like that.
Anyway, while the fun part of traveling is the people I meet and the sites I saw, eating good food and seeing good food, enhances the experience greatly. So expect a smattering of food/travel-related posts as well.
Seems like I get the most hits from people searching for Vietnamese recipes, San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants, and doughnut bread pudding. Is this because, so far, that seems to be all I blog about? Or do I not have anything else to say?
And now that I've said a little more about me, please delurk and tell me a little about you. I'll make it easy and simple.
How did you find me? Why do you come back (ie. what do you like)?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Apple Tree Quilt

Presenting: my Apple Tree Quilt. This took about three weeks to complete. Sporadic applique for the first two weeks. 100 percent handmade. No machine piecing for any of it. So this week was spent exhaustively piecing it all together. It was worth it though because some of my strips weren't quite lined up. By sewing it by hand I could pinch in a bit of the lavender gingham so it ended up relatively even. I only had enough of my apple buttons for the first patch so I used red buttons for the rest. I had the cutest flower buttons for the window boxes too. And by interspersing the little house and apple tree patches with plain ones, cut down on the amount of applique I would need to do. I also liked this effect because each appliqued patch stands out more. I put a lot of work into each patch so darn it they better be noticed! Go here if you want to see a close-up of each appliqued patch. I'm not sure I like the terrier lavender flannel. At the time I was thinking little houses needed little doggies. Oh well, it's done. This is a crib-sized quilt so approximately 45 by 60 inches, a nice size for a lap quilt. I lined the back with lavender flannel and it was sooooo soft and comfy to work with that I fell alseep with it over me when I was basting. Summer is too hot to work with fabrics but winter is perfect for quilting. And yes, I sign my initials into the lower right corner like all artwork. ;)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Oregon Will Always Be Home

Isn't this picture gorgeous? This is somewhere around Tillamook. My mom said there was a really pretty beach with majestic rocks rising out of the water reminiscent of Ha Long Bay. So my cousins and I decided to just drive around looking for it. We found this little town overlooking the beach.

If I lived in this little cottage by the sea, I'd sit out in my garden every day to look at this view.

Oregon Coast 1

I used to go home to Oregon for Christmas. But now that all my siblings and I live in Southern California, it's just easier for my parents to come down. And though it's more convenient not to have to travel, there's just something about going home for the holidays that I miss. But really, the holidays are about spending time with your family.

Which reminds me of this past summer when my siblings and I decided we would all go home for a week. My daddy was so happy to have everyone together that he bought a family-sized tent and planned a camping trip at the beach.

My dad is an avid fisherman. Every weekend. And sometimes in the middle of the week if he can take off from work. When fishing season rolls around in the spring, he's giddy planning out trips to the Pacific Ocean, Columbia River, Snake River.

I remember waking up at the crack of dawn so we can get to the coast before the tide comes in. Then with a homemade pipe and plunger, my dad would scoop out a long tube of sand. Little sand shrimp would crawl out and I'd scoop them into my bucket to use as bait.

I never did learn how to fish. Although, I did catch three eels when I was 8 years old. I tied the hook and fishing line to a stick I found on the beach, got someone else to put the bait on for me, and stuck my "fishing pole" into crevices between rocks. I just can't believe I managed to catch anything with that method, much less three eels. But hey, this method also works for catching crawfish.

Fishing wasn't just because my dad enjoyed it. Those first years in America were tough. We needed the fish to supplement our food supply. But those fishing trips also represented spending time with family.

So, of course, with all of us in Oregon for a week last summer, off to the coast we went.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose

What's blooming in December? Not much. My garden is looking very unkempt. It's a sad state when some of the weeds are taller than my trees. Granted my fruit trees are only about 3-4 feet tall but still... Anyway, my bougainvillea is growing like gangbusters up my gazebo. It was about 2 feet tall when I bought it last fall.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 1
I've got one gladiolus blooming from bulbs I planted in the spring. Some mold had gotten into the bulbs so I wasn't sure if any were viable so I'm happy I've got at least three.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 2
My chili plant sure is pretty. It's quite spicy too.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 3
This mandevilla vine was planted by my mom when she came to visit last summer. It's growing like gangbusters too. In front, is a Chicago Peace hybrid tea rose also planted by my mom. Tea roses are the types often used for bouquets because they have long straight stems and very large blooms.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 4
As you can see below, I'm trying to train my other mandevilla to grow up my drain pipe. The Ramblin' Red climbing roses have stopped blooming. The only other bit of color are the red geraniums I have in terra cotta pots in front of my entrance.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 5
This is a close up of my Peace hybrid tea rose. Also planted by mommy. Can you tell which color combos we like best? Mom likes pink and yellow. I plant red and fuchsia.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 6
A small branch of my bougainvillea broke off while I was trying to train it around the gazebo. So I put the flowers in a small vase. The thin petals are rather crepe paper-like. Hence, their name in Vietnamese is bong giay (Vietnamese paper flower). Heh, we're so imaginative.
Bougainvillea, Gladiolus, and Chicago Peace Rose 7

Monday, December 04, 2006

My Grandma and Her Recipe for Muop Tom Xao (Vietnamese Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry)

Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry

I only cook loofahs one way -- my grandma's way. Yes, this is the same loofah you can dry out and make into a sponge to scrub yourself with in the shower. But it's also a squash that's so naturally sweet it needs little else to make its flavors come through.

Like all grandmas, mine made culinary wonders that really can't be duplicated. Her specialty was banh nam, sort of like a flat Vietnamese dumpling except with rice flour, shrimp, and pork wrapped in banana leaves. No one else's tastes as good. And four years after my grandma is gone, I still can't eat it without crying. So I don't.

She also made banh it la gai, a mung bean-filled black rice dumpling. The black dough is made from nettle leaves that have been boiled and pureed until darkened. I can still picture my grandma sitting on the patio plucking the leaves while she planned all the treats she'd make for her family. Instead of taking a break to cook lunch, she asked me to make a simple loofah stir-fry for her. She claimed it was the best she'd ever eaten.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Updated from the archives March 15, 2009:

Doughnut Bread Pudding 1
There's a scene in Linda Howard's "To Die For" when Wyatt (who's a cop) makes Blair's recipe for Krispy Kreme doughnut bread pudding. The cops had been so nice to her after an attempted murderer cut her brake line that she decided to thank them with a different take on the stereotypical doughnuts.

Now, I don't have too much of a sweet tooth but it doesn't take much for a craving to take over my brain. Picture the scene with big, hunky Wyatt in the kitchen beating condensed milk and cinnamon, and pouring it over sugar-glazed doughnuts to bake, while an injured Blair sits on the side giving him directions. To top it off, even though it's a simple recipe and he now knows how to make it, he asks her to make it for him for his birthday each year -- thereby implying that he plans to be with her year after year. Awww.

Anyway, the recipe was included in the sequel, "Drop Dead Gorgeous." This is my variation.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Food, Family, and Etiquette

My cousin had a conference near my house and came to spend the night Wednesday. Though she had just gotten off work and was starving when she called, she saved her belly to have dinner with me (Chili's three half-racks of babyback ribs). And on Thursday after her conference was over, she came back to my house and we had dinner again (Top Thai Restaurant in San Dimas for green curry and pad kee mao) before she went home. My family bonds through food. Sure we do other things together, but our primary mode of bonding is centered around food. My cousins who shared one bowl of ramen and a ground chicken bowl between the two of them? They had already eaten at home before inviting me out to eat again. When I'm visiting my parents, I catch up with friends during the day or late at night but I always come home for dinner with mom and dad. Thus, dinner equates to family time. It was at the dinner table that my mom drummed in certain manners.
  1. Contrary to the title of my blog, I would never let my chopsticks "wander" at the dinner table. Even appearing to choose the choicest morsel for yourself is rude.
  2. Eat whatever is served. If you're hungry, eat. But never ask what's for dinner and determine whether or not you're eating based on what's being served.
  3. Always serve adults with two hands. Let the oldest person eat first.
  4. Never arrive at a dinner party empty-handed.
  5. Meals are always shared family-style.
These manners stick with me into adulthood. And actually, my closest friends and I share similar feelings about food. We eat off each other's plates. We order food we know the other person will like so everything can be shared. My pet peeves are going to eat in a group and one lone person insists on ordering something that can't be shared. This is aimed at picky eaters and not those with religious or health restrictions. Or the guy I went out with only once because he didn't like to eat anything. Or people who throw dinner parties and dictate what guests will bring or eat. I have horrible memories of a dinner party in Paris where the hostess literally scraped the crusty cheese on the sides of a lasagna pan to serve me. And then when a pan of fresh lasagna came out, she stood by the table asking people not to take any if they've had a helping already. My "scrapings" were considered a first helping so I didn't bother going for "seconds." As it was, the guests felt too chastised to eat anything else. Food can reveal a person's generousity or lack of. Food can be a central point for family and friends to bond. Food can make or break relationships. Yes, I am that serious about food. I'm not a food snob by any means. But I can't date someone who doesn't like to eat, I can't befriend someone who doesn't share, and I don't like going to dinner parties where I'm told what to bring and what to eat. When I hostess I make plenty of food for everyone. If guests bring something, that's extra, but I don't plan on guests to supplement a meager offering. And if I run out of something, I run out. There's always plenty of other foods available. Below is a photo of a typical lunch with my family in Vietnam last summer. No matter what we did or where we went, we always came home to share lunch together. A few greens, a few meats. Good, basic food is a wonderful opportunity for families to gather. It shouldn't be used to be divisive. What are some of your food pet peeves?