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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pandan Mini Cupcakes with Coconut Flakes, Hainanese Chicken Rice Mix, Belacan Chicken Wings, Thai Green Curry Paste, and Instant Rendang Mix

Pandan Mini Cupcakes with Coconut Flakes 1

I finally got around to trying the Pondan Pandan Chiffon Cake Mix, which sells for $3.99, that I received from Asian Supermarket 365. I was debating whether to make a cake when lil' sis suggested I make mini cupcakes instead. We used store-bought white frosting. Lil' sis frosted them and sprinkled the toasted coconut flakes. Bite-sized goodness. The coconut flakes nicely complemented the green flavor of the pandan. I was at a loss for descriptive phrases. How would you describe pandan?

Pandan Mini Cupcakes with Coconut Flakes 2

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Top Thai Restaurant - San Dimas

Sometimes in all this talk about blog rankings and pageviews, what gets lost is why I started a food blog in the first place. Armed with a battered Canon SD110, I set out to highlight some of the mom and pop restaurants that didn't receive much, if any, coverage. Not the latest "trendy" food. Not the restaurants located in culinary paradises like the San Gabriel Valley, Little Saigon, and Koreatown. Just the small ethnic restaurants in average places.

Top Thai Restaurant - San Dimas 1

Top Thai Restaurant, located a block away from the Western-style downtown of San Dimas, serves up good Thai food. While that doesn't sound like high praise, it really is when you think of the culinary wasteland that is the Inland Valley and Inland Empire.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How to Cook Jasmine Rice

How to Cook Rice 1

Planting rice. Photo taken from the train on the way to Sa Pa, Vietnam, summer 2005.

I missed my mom's home cooking so much when I first left for college. Though my mom often cooks my favorite dishes when I go home, what I missed the most after that first semester was eating a bowl of plain white rice. Sure the school cafeteria served their version of Asian food, which also included rice, but it just wasn't the same.

Normally, I buy a 10-lb sack of Three Ladies brand rice for about $5. That lasts me a good six months. Now, I only see the 20-lb sack and it's about $20. Crazy! So when the price of all imported rice doubled earlier this year, I decided to experiment with other brands. I bought a 20-lb sack of California brown rice for $10.99, figuring I might as well try eating healthier. But it just didn't give me the same satisfaction in texture, chew, or taste. I mean, I like brown rice occasionally, but on a daily basis with Vietnamese food, I gotta have Vietnamese jasmine white rice. Then I tried various other smaller bags of American long grain rice but it tasted dry and crumbly. In the end, I couldn't take it anymore and bought the 20-lb bag of Three Ladies jasmine rice for $20 after all.

How to Cook Rice 2

Rice fields in my dad's village in south-central Vietnam.

So then I started thinking about words in Vietnamese to describe rice. There's lúa to describe green rice stalks in the fields like what you see in the above pictures. Cơ'm is young rice. Gạo is uncooked rice. Cơm is cooked rice, and also the same word we use to encompass any meal.

"Con, ăn cơm chưa?" ("Child, have you eaten rice yet?") My aunties and uncles often ask me in lieu of "How are you?"

There's also:
Cơm tắm - broken rice
Cơm rượu - rice wine
Rượu nếp - glutinous/sticky rice wine
Nếp - uncooked glutinous/sticky rice
Xôi - cooked glutinous/sticky rice

I typed rice into VDict.com and got some more:
lúa chưa xay - unhusked rice
lúa xay rồi - husked rice
bột gạo - ground rice
lúa chiêm - summer rice, or dry season rice
lúa mùa - winter rice, or rainy season rice

Then there's other kinds of rice like red rice and black rice. And rice dishes such as desserts, porridge, chicken rice, tomato paste rice, and fried rice.

Needless to say, rice is a central part of Vietnamese, and many Asian, cuisines. Remember that scene in Fifth Chinese Daughter when Jade Snow Wong's family buys the year's worth of rice? They took samples from various vendors, analyzed the grains, and then placed their order for the entire year. My family doesn't get quite that fanatic. My mom does buy her year's supply during Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year), when the new crop comes in. She'll call and remind me to stock up too. So while I don't have any special tricks to choosing rice, I do have some tips.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pineapple Fried Rice

I think this recipe has been sitting in my queue long enough. During a photo clearing frenzy, I must have accidentally deleted the step-by-step photos, so I'm using the photos from my Fried Rice Yang Chow-Style recipe. Just pretend the gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in the photos are green onions or cilantro, OK? Well, unless you want to substitute the green onions in my recipe with gai lan.

I'm listing this recipe under Thai because I was inspired by the pineapple fried rice I had at Top Thai Restaurant in San Dimas. Except their version had curry powder and cashews. I added Spam to balance out the sweetness of the pineapples. Hmm. Spam and pineapple, should this fried rice be filed under Hawaiian instead?

Pineapple Fried Rice 1

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Giving Credit: The Right Way to Link, Copyright, and "By," "Inspired," and "Adapted"

Let's get these definitions out of the way so there's no confusion. This is how I interpret "by," "inspired," "adapted," and copyright laws.

If I made someone else's recipe in its entirety or with minor modifications, I link back rather than republish the recipe on my blog. Example: Turnip Cake.

Mango Chicken 1
Mango Chicken.

If I saw something and then made something similar, but did not go from a recipe, I'll say I was "inspired." Example: Mango Chicken.

If I used someone else's recipe as a starting point, but made substitutions, I'll say I "adapted" the recipe and link back. Notice I don't do it half-assed by saying I got it from "here." I provide the name of the blogger and/or the blog and a link to the appropriate page. And I placed the link in a prominent location below the recipe title. Example: Gaeng Kiaw Waan (Thai Green Curry with Thai Eggplants).

Notice in all of the examples, I used my own photos, wrote everything in my own words, and linked back to the appropriate page with the full name of the website or blog. Just because something's available online doesn't mean it's free. And no, using someone else's photo or recipe and providing a link back isn't always enough. I observe these courtesies because I know how much work goes into creating each post and want to be respectful of the blogger. I also like playing within the confines of the law.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, all works published after January 1, 1978 are held under copyright protection until the creator's death plus 70 years, regardless of whether or not a copyright was filed. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 further requires that Internet Service Providers (ISP) remove the copied material when notified of a copyright violation. Now, whether you can enforce these laws might require an attorney, but those are your legal rights. There are Spam Blogs (Splogs) that will steal your photos and content, run ads, and hope to profit from your hard work. ProBlogger has the steps he took when someone stole from him in, "What to Do When Someone Steals Your Blog's Content - Blog Plagiarism." Lorelle on WordPress has more detailed information on "What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content."

Just because something's online doesn't mean it's free.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Posting: Frequency, Topics, and Accuracy

Lil Sis Birthday Bash 1

"You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, via PlainLanguage.gov
Sure you like to eat, but how often do you think you can talk about food? Every day? Every other day? Every week?

When I started, I wrote a few posts, then my blog languished for months and months because I couldn't figure out what I really wanted to write about. When I finally started to blog regularly, I discovered there were just so many topics I wanted to write about that even though I post every day, my queue got longer and longer. This is partly because I photograph everything. The more photos I had to work with, the more topics naturally presented themselves.

But mostly, I'm able to post frequently because I threw away those rigid parameters that I thought I had to have in order to maintain a food blog. Though I mainly blog about food, every once in a while I post about gardening or quilting or other musings. The gardening connection is obvious, the quilting not so much. Sure, it was a Sushi and Dim Sum Quilt, but the key is that I keep myself from being bored by varying my topics. Don't worry so much about what you're supposed to say, and just say it. It took almost two years of blogging before I even got around to writing a proper "About and FAQ" page.

So just write.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Picking a Name: Be Clever, Original, and Memorable

Bun Cha Nem Ran 2

Bun Cha Hanoi Nem Ran (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork Patties and Egg Rolls)

You want to be original. Sorry, Wandering Chopsticks is already taken. ;) But seriously, a clever name will generate hits. Initially, that's how people found me. They might have noticed my name in comments or linked on someone else's blog and clicked on over. Having a clever and unique name also means it's memorable. If someone stumbled upon your blog, liked it, and forgot the exact link, they might remember enough to Google your name and find you again.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (Liu Fang Yuan (Garden of Flowing Fragrance) Chinese Garden) (Spring) - San Marino

Rather than write yet another post on Chinese food for the end of the Beijing Olympics, I thought I'd offer up something else about Chinese culture. According to Wikipedia, there are 17 aspects to a Chinese garden, including architecture, walls, water, small individual sections, and use of feng shui in choosing the site.

Huntington (Chinese Garden) - San Marino

Liu Fang Yuan, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, opened 3.5 acres of the Chinese garden in February. Artisans from China had been working on the garden for more than six months. It's the first classical Chinese garden in California, and when completed, at 12 acres, will be the largest in the country.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Noodle World - Alhambra

Can you see the Bob's Big Boy statue?

Noodle World - Alhambra 1

Fast-forward four years to pick up where I last left off. After I left Sweden, HH and I continued to text message each other while I was in Europe. We chat online fairly regularly too. Or well, I should say we chat when I'm online, but I rarely log on these days. When he hadn't seen me online for a while so that he could tell me he was coming into town, he text messaged me instead. I didn't get the message. Text messaging overseas? Not always reliable. Just sayin.'

Anyway, so in May when HH was passing through town, he had one night free to meet up for dinner before he had to fly to the east coast. He was jet-lagged and coming down with a cold when he showed up at my door. He'd been staying with a friend and couldn't go to sleep at his friend's place so he took a nap on my sofa. Well, it wasn't three naps like during our trip to Helsinki, Finland, but I think I can safely say I literally bore him to sleep! :P

By the time he woke up, it was late and all he wanted to eat was salad. Hmm. Hong Kong cafes are usually my late night option and I can safely say I've never ordered just a salad at any of them. Then I remembered Noodle World was open late and a Thai papaya salad sounded just the thing right then.

I rarely dine at Noodle World since they moved to the old Noodle Planet location, which obviously used to be a Bob's Big Boy. Something about the acoustics and the ambiance of the current location makes me feel like I'm eating in a cafeteria. Plus, lil' sis doesn't care for the food, so we're always eating elsewhere.

The owner is Thai and I pretty much stick to the Thai items on the menu. Actually, I only like two dishes here -- the Thai papaya salad and the Thai beef salad.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tallinn - Estonia: A Two-Night Cruise and One Day

Remember this scene of Hotorget (Haymarket) from my Stockholm post? C'mon, we're gonna catch the bus from here to the port for another cruise.

Stockholm, Sweden 30

Near the end of my stay in Sweden, HH said he had to go to Copenhagen, Denmark, for yet another business trip. So on a whim, I stopped off at the Tallink office to ask about overnight cruises to Tallinn, Estonia. Only $40 USD for a round-trip cruise ticket?! It was for a berth in a 4-person cabin but at that price, I booked it on the spot. The same ticket now would cost $140 USD off-season, and $180 USD high-season.

His trip ended up being canceled, but he couldn't go with me anyway because he had to work. So I went alone and it was a bit...lonely traveling by myself. I'm used to traveling by myself to places, but once there, I've always had someone to travel with. Especially since my frequent travel companion is Norwegian girl cousin, and I'm alone when traveling to meet up with her.

Anyway, so I was all by my lonesome :( and the Tallink boat was definitely not as luxurious as the Silja line to Helsinki, Finland. A small cafeteria, a small gift shop, and supposedly a small nightclub that I never checked out. I think there was supposed to be a buffet too but it wouldn't have been fun to pig out by myself. Plus, HH wasn't around to peel my shrimp for me. (He loves shrimp and on the Helsinki cruise, piled his plate high. I just wanted a few, so he peeled my shrimp for me. What a gentleman!) Anyway, that was it for things to do on the boat.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Choosing a Blog Host

Bun Bo Hue 29

I met up with a bunch of other food bloggers tonight at a dinner sponsored by my advertiser, Foodbuzz. Recap to come!

Apparently, several of the bloggers were quite interested in my "How to Start a Food Blog" series. And judging from my stats, so are many of you. I've been working on this series sporadically for the past 5 months. It's a compilation of everything I know, or rather everything I think I know. There's a total of 14 topics or chapters planned, technically 15 if you count my intro. Please let me know if you'd like to see something that I've missed. And other bloggers please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong and/or to provide your input as well. To increase your anticipation, I'll include the "chapters" at the bottom of this post.

Then I'm going to take a bit of a break from this series and finish up a bunch of other dangling posts. What can I say? My non-blogging readers aren't interested in this blogging stuff. They just want to see pictures.

Before you begin blogging, take a look at various food blogs and compile a list of what you like or don't like about each one. Is it the photos that pulled you in? The writing? The design? Then look at the little things that might make a difference in ease of use. How are subjects organized? Is there a navigation bar? Are categories in lists or a tag cloud? Are archives easily accessible? All these things factor into how easy it'll be for you to use your blog, and how easy it will be for others to access your content.

Then decide which platform you want to use. The biggies are: Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, or Typepad? Do you want your own domain name? Most blogging programs will now register and host you for about $10 to $15 a year. Do you want ads? Blogger has Google Adsense built in and allows ads. WordPress does not officially allow ads. I've seen some blogs add them anyway so it is possible, but technically that's illegal and I prefer to play by the rules. You can get around that legally if you register your own domain name. Typepad costs money but has a reputation for good tech support if any issues arise. ProBlogger.net posted about the pros and cons of various blogging platforms. I suggest signing up on several of the free sites, play around a little, see which format works best for you before committing to one or the other.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On Blogging and Food Blogging

Blood Orange Granita 1

If you're only interested in having a blog to record what you cook and eat, and maybe sharing it with a few people, then this post is not intended for you. Keep your blog private or password protected and turn off comments.

However, if you plan to make your blog public and/or to participate in the blogging community in any way, this post might be useful. If you plan to write about recipes you make, recipes you discovered from other blogs, restaurants you've dined at, restaurants you've discovered from other blogs, or anything else you want to post. Or if you plan to comment on blogs or want people to comment on your blog. Basically, if your blog is online and public, read this.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Start a Food Blog... Or What I Wished I Knew When I Started a Food Blog

Banh Mi Xiu Mai 1

When I started Wandering Chopsticks a little over two years ago, I had a clever name and not much idea of what I was going to do. My initial posts were not terribly interesting, neither written with much personality nor photographed with much flair. Gradually I became more comfortable with being online and allowed more of my personality to show through my posts. As for the photos, I learned to use the macro button (that's the little flower symbol if you have a Canon), increase my ISO for low light situations, and turn off the flash. In between, I learned a whole lot more than I expected about blog rankings, bounce rates, SEO (search engine optimization), and how to conduct myself online.

There's plenty of advice already out there such as "Top Five Tips for Building Blog Traffic" by Christine.net who interviewed Elise of Simply Recipes, "How to Make Your Food Blog Popular" by The Amateur Gourmet, and "Foodblogging Do's and Don'ts" by Delicious Days.

Some blogs and bloggers are big on design, others photography, and others recipes. Personally, I'm a fan of good writing, useful information, and simple layouts. The one unifying aspect of all of the above is content. If you don't have content that someone else wants, your blog is not going to be successful. Since I've received several requests for advice on how to start a food blog, or blogging in general, I thought it would be useful to do a series on what I think is important in creating a blog, conducting yourself online, and navigation tips to measure your "success."

Obviously, success is relative. So at the risk of sounding immodest, I declare my blog moderately successful. Otherwise known as, why should you care what I have to say and how am I qualified to say it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Easiest Blogger Hacks: 3-Column Template, Favicon, Label Cloud, and Navigation Bar

I added new photos and updated my recipe for sweet corn tomalitos in case you missed it the first time around.

Sweet Corn Tomalito 1

More importantly, do you like the redesign? I finally, finally found a hack that made it easy for a non-techie like me to figure out.

I've Googled and tried various hacks, only to screw up my format and revert back to the original. The lovely Amy of Nook and Pantry sent me several links that she used in her redesign. I tried multiple times and only succeeded in screwing my format yet again.

I was resigned. I could live with a 2-column format, but what I really wanted was to install a navigation bar below my header. Thanks to Julian of The Beginner's Blogging Guide, I was able to convert my basic Blogger Minima to a 3-column format, install a tabbed navigation bar, and install a favicon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ca Tim Nhan Cha Tom (Vietnamese Eggplant with Shrimp Paste)

Ca Tim Nhan Cha Tom 1

We're celebrating the EGGPLANT for this edition of Weekend Wokking, as chosen by last month's host, Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok.

I was washing my dishes and lost track of time so the eggplants became oversteamed and lost all their lovely purple color. I had made these before and simply pan-fried them instead of steaming and also pan-frying them, but I can't manage to find those photos.

Shrimp-stuffed eggplants can sometimes be found at dim sum restaurants. In my previous attempt, I was trying to recreate a similar version that my ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother) had taught me long ago. I could have sworn all she had me do was pan-fry them, but when I did that, the shrimp paste wouldn't stick to the eggplant. So remembering how nicely the various veggies came out when I made Yong Tau Foo (Chinese Stuffed Tofu) because I steamed and pan-fried them, I did the same here.

You could certainly serve with a bean curd sauce like I did for the yong tau foo, but I was lazy and simply drizzled bottled sweet chili sauce on top.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chinese Eggplant Salad

Chinese Eggplant Salad 6

Eggplants are just so vibrantly purple. The only problem is that they cook up gray and mushy. :( But that's OK, I can work with that.

This recipe was something quick and easy that I threw together while I was preparing the other eggplant for another dish. I'm not even sure if it's really Chinese except that I dressed it simply with Chinese ingredients - a few drizzles of soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, and sesame oil. It's probably more of a side dish than a salad, but Chinese eggplant side dish doesn't sound very appealing. So Chinese eggplant salad it is.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Insalata Caprese Sandwich

Years ago when my brother and I road-tripped across Europe with Norwegian girl cousin, we often grabbed a quick snack between driving to the next country. One day we did a long haul from Sorrento, Italy to Vienna, Austria. So I stopped off at a little shop to grab some sandwiches for the road. Ciabatta bread, ham and cheese, and insalata caprese. Oh man, those simple sandwiches were the best ever. The sun-warmed tomatoes, the soft mozzarella, the scent of basil.

Instead of making my usual insalata caprese salad, I decided to turn it into a sandwich instead. For just a moment, bite by bite, I was reminded of Italy again.

Insalata Caprese Sandwich

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coconut Milk, Coconut Powder, and Coco Rico

Coconut milk and coconut juice are important ingredients in several Vietnamese and Thai recipes for curries or braises. Although I do sometimes cook with coconut flakes, that's mostly for dessert so it's not a vital pantry staple for me. The three products and brands that are essentials in my kitchen are Chaokoh coconut milk, Chao Thai Brand coconut cream powder, and Coco Rico, coconut-flavored carbonated soda.

Coconut Milk, Coconut Powder, and Coco Rico 1

I like Chaokoh because it tastes creamiest and is reasonably priced, anywhere between 59 cents to 79 cents a can. I've tried a few other brands and just didn't think they tasted as creamy. Also, Chaokoh is very popular so it may sometimes be found in American grocery stores. I'd love to try the boxes of fresh coconut milk I also see on the shelf, but they cost several dollars for the equivalent of the 79 cents can of Chaokoh.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thai Purple - Alhambra

I can't believe it's been a decade since I moved to Southern California. My move coincided with the opening of two places -- the J. Paul Getty Center and Museum and Thai Purple. Not that I'm putting them both in the same category. Just sayin' the two events happened around the same time, so they're linked in my memory.

This was before the movie theater opened across the street so there was little reason to notice the front of the restaurant if you drove along Garfield Avenue. Notice that sign on the far left corner? Pad thai Tuesdays for $3.99 all day.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 1

Anyway, so before the movie theater opened across the way, I found and always entered the restaurant from the back. I don't even remember who I was with when we first noticed the grand opening sign and decided to try it. But entering through the back always made me feel like I was in the "know." Remember that scene in Goodfellas, where Ray Liotta entered that club through the back, through the kitchen? Kinda like that. Except you don't have to grease any palms, unless you want to tip the free valet guys in the parking lot.

The back entrance faces the parking lot on 1st Street.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Uppsala - Sweden: Birthplace of Celsius

We couldn't linger long amongst the burial mounds of Gamla Uppsala (old Uppsala) since we still had to hit up "new" Uppsala. If you liked the rune stones at Sigtuna, you're in for another treat.

I revert back to good old Rick Steves' Scandinavia again for information. Scandinavia's first university was founded in Uppsala in 1477. Famous graduates included Carl Linnaeus and Anders Celsius. The university's library houses the Silver Bible (Codex Argenteus), so named because it was written in silver ink in the 6th century. It contains a 4th century translation of the Bible into the Gothic language.

Below is Uppsala Cathedral, which contains the tomb of King Gustav Vasa. The two spires are 400 feet tall.

Uppsala 1

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Chung King Restaurant - San Gabriel

Since I'm on this Beijing Olympics tangent, did anyone else get choked up when Sichuan earthquake survivor Lin Hao marched in the parade of nations? In case you missed it, when the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan province on May 12, the 9-year-old was trapped with 30 classmates. Twenty of them did not survive. He managed to climb out, and despite a broken arm and head injuries, went back in to save two other classmates. Then he urged everyone to sing until they could be rescued. He lost both parents in the earthquake, and afterward walked with his sister for 7 hours until they reached safety.

What does that have to do with food? Not much. I don't often talk about current events, but gosh, I still get teary-eyed whenever I see replays of that moment. So it's a bit of a stretch, but let's talk about Sichuan cuisine. Also, spelled Szechwan and Szechuan. The preferred spelling now is Sichuan, so that's what I'll go with.

Chung King Restaurant - San Gabriel 1

According to Wikipedia, Sichuan, located in the southwest corner of China, means "four rivers." The four styles of Sichuan cuisine are separated by location - Chung King/Chongqing (Ah, understand the significance of the restaurant's name now?), Chengdu (Where Ma Po Tofu (Chinese Pockmarked Old Lady's Tofu) originated.), Greater River (Yangtze), and Lesser River (Jialing).

Sometimes I'm not quite sure why some things stay in the queue for so long. I've been going to Chung King Restaurant in San Gabriel for several years now after reading Jonathan Gold's review in LA Weekly. Come to think of it, this is one of the few restaurants that I actually tried after reading his review. I'd driven past it many times before and watched it change ownership and didn't think much of it. Must have been his descriptions of the ma la, the mind-numbing spice, from the use of real Sichuan peppercorns.

My first visit was with my brother, actually, most of my visits here are with my brother. He's one of the few people I know who sometimes gets spicy cravings. So that's when we hit up Chung King.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Chinese Food from Xinjiang -- Beef, Horse, and Chocolate and Yogurt Raisins

Chinese Food from Xinjiang Beef, Horse, and Chocolate and Yogurt-Covered Raisins 1

Since it's 8/8/08 and the opening day of the Beijing Olympics, I thought it was only fitting to showcase the diversity of Chinese cuisine. Can I count Xinjiang as my X? Or does it fall within Chinese cuisine? I guess it counts as part of Chinese cuisine since I don't divide any of my ethnic cuisines but list them by nationality. But then if I subdivided Chinese cuisine into Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghai, Xinjiang, etc., I'd have to do that for all cuisines. The thought of that gives me a headache.

So instead, far better that I go with my original thought and show you the diversity of Chinese cuisine. Xinjiang, or rather the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, lies in the far northwestern corner of China. This large area is sparsely populated with 45% ethnic Uyghurs, 41% ethnic Han Chinese, 7% Kazakh, and other minorities. Xinjiang is also where the Tarim mummies were found. The mummies were controversial for their European and Central Asian features such as lighter skin and reddish-brown and blond hair.

My brother recently came back from a 10-day horseback riding trip in Xinjiang, along the Kazakhstan border. (I suggested he do a series of guest-posts of his trip for the blog, but he hates to write.) He brought me some edible souvenirs. Starting clockwise from the chocolate and yogurt raisins, horse sausage, dates? (Can someone identify the bag of dried stuff?), and Xinjiang beef. He said there was camel but it was sold out.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

WC's Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef) by Hong P.

Man, sometimes the reader's version of my recipe looks even better than my version. This edition of Readers Cook WC Recipes comes courtesy of Hong P. of Secret Garden Studios.

He made my recipe for Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef). Umm, typical guy, very few words. I guess I'll let it go since his photo makes my recipe look really enticing, eh? :)

Bo Luc Lac by Hong P

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Blog My Blog 2


Does anyone know how to fix a corrupt camera card? I'm pretty sure it's the memory card because I switched with my old camera and it still won't download. Upload? I switched cords too and it still doesn't work. I used the cheap 16 MB card that came free with the camera and it downloads on both cameras just fine so that's why I think it's the memory card. I get a "communication error" message. The corrupt memory card is a Kingston 2GB memory card if that means anything. Cameras are Canon SD 1000 and SD 110.

The homecooking I can replicate easily enough but there's photos of a Korean cafe, two Vietnamese restaurants, a Taiwanese noodle house, Hong Kong cafe, Indonesian restaurant, and Thai restaurant that I hadn't gotten around to downloading yet. :( Man, I just realized I eat out too much. If no one knows how to fix it, I might try something ghetto like taking a picture of the viewscreen of one camera with another camera. It'll be blurry but at least you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about because I can't afford to revisit all those places so soon. Or maybe it'll just be another year before I accumulate enough photos again to post about those places.

August 7, 2008 Update: Yay! Thanks for the card reader suggestion Oren Mazor! Canon tech support also said the same thing. Love Canon tech support they're the best. My old SD 110 screen went purple and they fixed it for free and paid for postage too. Anyway, I went to Target and spent $4.99 on a USB card reader and managed to download all my photos. Yay!

Without cheating by clicking on the picture, can you name this city?

Tallinn - Estonia 26

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) - Sweden: Beowulf and Burial Mounds

Just slightly north of Sigtuna, lies the archaeological area of Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala).

Though it wasn't that far away, HH was tired and wanted to take a break when we were only 2 km away. I so wanted to get there before the visitor's center closed. I pleaded. He was tired. And we ended up driving into a ditch, which required a nice passerby to stop and push us out. Eek!

We eventually made it and were greeted with this sight.

Gamla Uppsala 1

From the 3rd century A.D. onwards, Gamla Uppsala was an important religious, economic, and political center for the pagan Svear tribe, where Sverige (Sweden) got its name. The Swedish kings of the Yngling dynasty lived and were buried here. Gamla Uppsala was even mentioned in the Old English epic poem Beowulf. There's a walking path around nine large burial mounds, with English descriptions.

According to the Wikipedia section on Beowulf, an 1874 excavation of the mound of Eadgils, a semi-legendary king of Sweden, revealed confirmation of parts of the Beowulf story. In Beowulf, he gained the throne by defeating his uncle Onela. The excavation showed that around 575 A.D., a man, dressed in a suit of Frankish cloth with golden threads, was buried in a large barrow on a bear skin with two dogs and rich grave offerings. The offerings included a Frankish sword decorated with gold and garnets and a tafl game with Roman ivory pawns. There were four cameos from the Middle East which may have been part of a casket. All in keeping with someone of wealth and importance.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Blogging Courtesies: Questions, Comments, and Credit

Just a quick note: I've added a poll to the top of my sidebar to see what you would most like to see on the blog next. I find it easier to blog in bunches as I can bounce off of the previous post. The topics were drawn from a quick scan of my photos. If there's something you'd like but don't see on the list, just drop a note. I might have it somewhere in my queue. Please vote just once. You can click on more than one topic. I make no promises that I'll actually post in the order of what is most popular, but I might be persuaded to do so if there's enough interest.

The navigation bar has been moved to below my Foodbuzz ad until the poll closes at the end of the week.

Day 31 Note Cards
Thank you cards
, from the last time I was annoyed with the "internets."

I know I've said it before, but I just want to reiterate that my archives have recipes and restaurants subdivided by categories. Other topics are all sorted as well. Or you can use my searchbar. Or click on any of the tags.

Recently, I've been getting more and more emails from people who don't bother to do any of the above. What seems like a quick email that you shoot off to ask me something still takes time out of my day to answer. While I like hearing from all of you, it's frustrating to be continually hit with questions that can easily be answered if you either A) Googled B) Used my searchbar or C) Clicked on my archives. Multiply that by several emails every day, or questions in comments. Add in the amount of time it takes to sort through my photos, upload them to Flickr, watermark them to prevent sploggers from stealing my content, all before I even get to blogging. After I post, I still have to answer comments and sort the new post into its appropriate category and subcategory so you can find it more easily. So please use the archives, they took hours upon hours over the course of months for me to create, organize, and maintain.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Suon Kho Xa Gung Toi Ot (Vietnamese Braised Pork Chops with Lemongrass, Ginger, Garlic, and Chilies)

Recipe and photos updated from the archives June 20, 2014:

Suon Kho Xa Gung Toi Ot 9

Do you like your pork firm or tender?

My mom likes it firm and that's the only way I had ever eaten pork growing up. Then about a decade ago, my friend DP stayed with me when she moved out to California. For that week, I'd come home from work with the yummiest homecooked meals. The only dish I can remember her making were these braised pork chops that were so incredibly tender that I became an instant convert.            

So when lil' sis recently requested pork chops, I said I'd make some with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and chilies. But instead of grilling them, which is the more popular method, I braised them for almost an hour, until the pork chops were as tender as the memory of my friend's dish.

That's the funny thing about food memories. While many of my food preferences are based upon my mom's cooking, I have very distinctly different tastes from her. I like more tartness, more garlic, more tenderness in my meats. Another friend cooked pork chops by salting and boiling them for several hours until they fell part. That didn't sound very appetizing to me at all. But that was how my friend's mom always made pork chops, so that's how she made them.

This recipe is pretty similar to my recipe for Ga Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass) except I like to substitute honey for sugar when braising. I think it adds deeper flavor notes since it's simmered with fish sauce for so long. Braising also eliminates the need to marinate the meat since the flavors will be concentrated as it cooks.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Love Actually Mr. Bean: Banoffee Pie, Flapjacks, Ginger Bears, Kendal Mint Cake, Twiglets, and Worcester Sauce and Prawn Cocktail Potato Crisps

When I first started blogging I just wrote.

I didn't reveal very much so my posts had little personality. I wasn't sure whether this was something I wanted to continue. I obviously didn't have any readers. I didn't tell anyone I knew about it at all.

I can't remember when or how the rest of my cousins found out. I think the questions started when the camera came out. Then came the mass email to all the cousins. Some are regular readers, a few comment, and of course, cousin Q started a food blog too. Some of my cousins' friends are lurkers; a few are lurkers who later found out the blog they've been reading was actually their friend's cousin. Did you follow those trains of thought? :P

As for my friends, I remember emailing some of them the link when I posted my recipe for Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) simply because some had asked for other recipes before. As far as I know, only one friend actually reads my blog on a regular basis, a few others read it sporadically.

So who am I writing to when I blog?

Sometimes I'm writing just for me. Casting a net and pulling in a few readers. Like real life, I tend to let others initiate contact. Somewhere between the comments about food, a conversation starts, and sometimes it evolves into friendship. Which is how Oanh of Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon came into my life.

I love you Oanh! Evidently, she loves me too. When I proposed a food swap, I wasn't expecting such bounty. You can read Oanh's post about what I sent to her in "The Joys of Blogging."

Sorry, you don't get to see what's written on the other side of the card. :P But wanna see what's under the plastic bubble wrap?

British and Oz Food 1

Friday, August 01, 2008

Sigtuna, Sweden: More Rune Stones Than Any Other Town

Sigtuna, Sweden 12

Ever the gracious host, HH had set up a cot for me, cleared a shelf in the bathroom, and lent me his extra cell phone. I was an excellent houseguest too! Even though I already bought him presents, at his request, I also went to Banana Republic to buy him several shirts and a very expensive pair of slacks (I told you he was a clotheshorse!). He kept trying to pay me for them, but I refused since I was staying with him for so long and because I figured it'd all even out in the end. I'm nice like that.

Though we only saw each other after HH came home from work each evening, I didn't want to wear out my welcome. I know how exhausting it can be to entertain someone every night. And even if I'm not specifically entertaining them, it's nice just to have my own space or downtime after coming home from work.