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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Building Traffic: Participate in the Community and Respond to Your Stats

Fessenjan Roast Duck 1
Fessenjan (Persian Roast Cornish Game Hens with Pomegranate-Walnut Glaze).

There's a reason I left building traffic near the end of my series. I think it's far more important to build up your blog properly by setting certain standards such as being accurate, linking the right way, and giving credit where it's due. Once those aspects are in place, the quality of your content will shine through.

So how do you go about getting noticed so others can see that content?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Jewish Honey Spice Cake

Honey Spice Cake 1

L'Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year to my Jewish readers. All three (?) of you. Actually, I really had no idea it was Rosh Hoshanah. :P

I had been craving honey cake for the past week without really knowing why. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, you see. Perhaps it was my inner Jew calling out to me? What? I'm not Jewish?! ;)

In middle school, my science teacher was a concentration camp survivor. I remember during one of the Jewish holidays she talked about her experience, even rolling up her sleeve to show us the numbers tattooed onto her arm. Then she shared the most amazing honey cake I had ever eaten in my entire life.

Years later, I still fantasize about that cake. I've tried other recipes but they never tasted as good as my memories.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blogrolling: Will You Be My Friend?

Che Bap 1
Che bap (Vietnamese corn pudding with tapioca pearls and coconut milk.

One of my college friends and I often joke about when we first met. We were in the same orientation and felt the other person might make a good friend, but without a class together, there was little opportunity to strike up a friendship. That didn't happen until the next semester, when the casual conversations in class eventually developed into friendship. She later told me she wanted to be friends that first day, but she thought asking, "Will you be my friend?" would have sounded lame.

Similarly, you don't want to ask if someone will link to you on their blog. It's actually considered bad blog etiquette. I always feel like when I say these things, I need to back it up with another blogger so that you won't think I just make this stuff up. So yes, while I've always felt this way, I'll defer this rule of blog etiquette to Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. In her blog roll, Kalyn explains why she lists certain blogs such as whether they link to other blogs, if the blog is of interest to her, and if it's a blog that she tries to keep up with regularly. I think most bloggers share her philosophy.

Other than that, there's no rule about who or how many to list on your own blog roll.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Design: Layout, Navigation, and "Above the Fold"

I'm going to talk about newspapers for a little bit so that you can understand how that translates to blog layout.

Nguoi Viet 2
"Have Computer, Will Write."

Think of a traditional broadsheet newspaper. That's the long page you see, in the picture above, that has to be folded in half to fit in news racks. All newspapers have a header. Sometimes below that there's a quick index that tells you what's in the newspaper that day. There's often a big picture with the lead story of the day, or at least a nice photo so the top half of the page looks good. And a headline with the lead story of the day.

In newspaper design, there's the concept of "above the fold." The top half of a newspaper is what you see in news racks or on your doorstep. Obviously, newspapers want to place the catchiest photos and headlines in order to grab your interest. This is especially crucial when you can get the same information from other newspapers, so why should you choose them?

How does this translate to blogs?

When you initially click on a blog, what do you notice? Is it the masthead? Index? Headline? Photos? You want your best content out there. People are lazy. I am lazy. You have 1 second to get someone's attention. Maybe you have 3 seconds. If your header is so big that I don't even see the content at first glance, if the layout is so busy that I can't find what I'm looking for, if your photos aren't compelling, if you have so many gadgets on your page that it takes more than a few seconds to even see the page, you've just lost me as reader.

So let's break this down into each part.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Photos: Photography Tips, Storage, and Watermarking

It's lovely that everyone was impressed with my stats but they're really quite modest. While I'm celebrating nearing 90,000 hits this month, Elise of Simply Recipes gets 4 to 5 million hits a month!

Hmm. Maybe I should downgrade my stats from "modest" to "pathetic." This is what I use. And yes, that's my messy kitchen in the background. Just showing you reality folks! There's harsh overhead florescent lighting at night and little natural light during daytime.

How to Start a Food Blog - Photos 1

I was amused when I noticed that someone had searched to see what type of camera I use. My photos are adequate for food blogging, but any nice photos were shot purely by accident. I can't afford a nice camera, don't understand what aperture and F stops are, and am much more concerned about improving my writing than my photography.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Your Online Identity: Blogging Interactions and Comment Policies

Angkor Thom 19

The past week has been a very interesting week for the blog. My Alexa ranking broke the 200,000 barrier. Five days of 3,000+ hits, 30 hits shy of 4,000 on September 18, and finally more than 4,000+ hits on September 21. That averages out to almost a thousand more a day than normal. Guess everyone's been fascinated by pomegranates, loofahs, 100 Vietnamese foods, and sprouting potatoes.

As my blog increases in traffic, so does my interaction with readers and other bloggers. I've received some really lovely emails from readers this week such as raves after trying my recipes (I always love getting that kind of feedback. :P ) and a woman who's using some of my recipes to woo a Vietnamese man. The most touching email came from a reader who had recently lost her mother and is using my recipes to cook for and to take care of her father. Earlier, I had also received an email from a reader who lost her mother when she was young, so she's learning how to cook Vietnamese food from my blog. Gosh, I don't want to sound like I'm bragging. It's just, I'm so incredibly touched that my side hobby has turned into something that's become such a part of several people's lives. Thank you.

Those moments are much appreciated as I deal with some of the headaches that come with blogging.

So that's what this post is about -- how you want to be perceived online, how and whether you choose to respond to comments, and how to interact with other bloggers. Again, I just want to reiterate that this is merely my opinion of how I chose to and continue to conduct myself online. This is by no means the only way. I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Cravery - Tustin (Closed) and Live On the Go Redux

When Irving Berlin wrote:

"Sisters, sisters
There were never such devoted sisters,...
...Know that not a thing could come between us...
...Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister..."

He surely wasn't thinking pot pies and an online ordering service could come between two sisters...

The Cravery - Tustin 2

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tomato and Avocado Salad

Cousin Q's mom sent over some cherry tomatoes. While I happily snack on cherry tomatoes plain, I was in the mood for a very simple salad.

Tomato and Avocado Salad 1

I'm really not much of a lettuce salad person. I'm much more a chopped salad with chunks of flavorful vegetables person.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scentimental and Double Delight Roses

On the first day of autumn, I'm offering up my two favorite roses and their blooms from this past summer.


Scentimental Rose

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farfalle with Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Corn

Farfalle with Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Corn 1

So of course, I can't show you how to make Oven-Dried Tomatoes and then not have a recipe. This was just cobbled together from what I had on hand. If I had bacon in the fridge, I definitely would have added it to this recipe, but it worked really well as a vegetarian dish because of the concentrated flavor of the oven-dried tomatoes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How to Make Oven-Dried Tomatoes

When I saw that Vicki of A Work in Progress made slow-roasted tomatoes earlier this summer, it reminded me that I really needed to make some to tide me through the cold SoCal winters. Brrr. Sometimes it gets down to 60 degrees you know! ;)

Oven-Dried Tomatoes 1

Oven-drying tomatoes uses the same principle as how to dry herbs -- low temperatures for a few hours. Some people only halve or quarter the tomatoes, but I like mine in bite-sized pieces so I can easily add them into pastas. Plus, smaller pieces means faster drying time. I also like the tomatoes still a little moist with a bit of chew.

I made several batches. Some I simply seasoned with salt. One batch I drizzled some olive oil, and added ground black pepper and oregano, before popping the tomatoes in the oven.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pasta Pomodoro (Italian Tomato Pasta)

Another of my simple summer pleasures is pasta pomodoro (Italian tomato pasta). This pasta works best with fresh tomatoes and basil. I like them roughly chopped so I can still taste the freshness of the tomatoes and basil leaves.

Pasta Pomodoro

Thursday, September 18, 2008

BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato) Sandwich

While a BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato) sandwich is good at any time, it's especially good during the summer with fresh tomatoes off the vine. Take advantage of tomato season before it's completely gone.

BLT Sandwich

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes

Two years ago I planted five different kinds of tomatoes. I harvested maybe two. Giant caterpillars, we're talking the size of my fingers, munched on everything.

This year, I bought two "Arkansas Traveler" tomatoes, an heirloom variety that's supposed to be heat tolerant. The tag said they're "mild-tasting, pink-skinned tomatoes."

Tomatoes 1

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Banana and Coconut Frozen Yogurt Popsicles

The entries have started trickling in for the COCONUT round of Weekend Wokking, hosted this month by Ivy of Precious Pea. Did you see my entry of Banh Dua Nuong (Vietnamese Coconut Tartlets)? If you've got a recipe featuring any type of coconut, please come play!

Rita of Pink Bites' entry of a tropical parfait featuring mangoes, toasted coconut flakes, and frozen yogurt reminded me of these banana and coconut frozen yogurt popsicles I had made earlier this summer.

Banana and Coconut Frozen Yogurt Popsicles 1

This recipe started out as an attempt to recreate Thai caramelized bananas with toasted coconut flakes that I made years ago. But my bananas were too ripe and fell apart. So I added in some plain yogurt and was going to make my Homemade Frozen Yogurt with it instead. But then I forgot about it in the freezer so it solidified. Added all the events together and a light bulb went off. I let the mixture melt, filled my popsicle tray, and made these banana and coconut frozen yogurt popsicles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Paternal Grandfather's Death Anniversary Dinner

I'm so used to taking pictures of everything these days that I do it automatically, even when I don't think I'll use the photos. And really, haven't you seen enough death anniversary dinner pictures? In case you missed it, my post about ancestor worship and death anniversary traditions.

Then I realized that banh khot (Vietnamese savory mini pancakes) was a new addition to my family's usual banquet spread.

Ong Noi's Death Anniversary Dinner

Since this follows my recent 100 Vietnamese Foods to Try list, I figured I'd go over some of the foods.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid-Autumn Mooncakes

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone!

I showed you the fruit and nut version of mooncakes last year. This year my oldest uncle's family gave me the lotus and taro paste versions with egg yolk inside. The white "snowskin" mooncake was made by my oldest uncle's wife. The little taro bun was bakery-bought. It's actually quite pretty but I'm saving close-ups for a separate post.

Mooncakes 1

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sangria with Red Wine

Sangria 1

Where did summer go?

I feel like I need to crank out all my summer seasonal postings before the weather turns cold.

I rarely drink alcohol, but one day in late July I was positively fiending for sangria. I have no idea why. I just had to have some cold, sweet, rich red wine and munch on some wine-soaked fruit. The hot weather forced it on me. It was too hot to cook. Too hot to do much of anything but drink cold, flavorful fruity wine.

So that's what I did.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sprouting Potatoes? Homegrown Fingerling Potatoes!

Homegrown Fingerling Potatoes 1

I had some potatoes that had sprouted after I had forgotten about them. Instead of tossing them into my compost bin, I remembered a post from last fall when Zoey of Perennial Passion planted sprouted potatoes and got a mini-harvest of baby potatoes.

So that's what I decided to do. I just had plain old russets.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

100 Vietnamese Foods to Try

Vietnamese Top 100 Foods to Try 1

A month ago, Andrew of Very Good Taste started the Omnivore's Hundred, a high- and low-end list of what he thought every good omnivore should try at least once in their life. Then "100" lists started popping up all over the blogosphere.

Slash Food created 100 Must-Eat American Foods.
Helen of Food Stories joined in with The British One Hundred.
Diana of Appetite for China suggested 100 Chinese Foods Before You Die.
Just Hungry has 100 Japanese Foods to Try.
ZenKimchi chimed in with 100 Korean Foods You Gotta Try.

And if checking off lists is your thing, House of Annie has compiled a Big List of "Things You Must Eat" lists.

So of course, I had to jump in with my own list.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chili Peppers and More Tuong Ot Xa (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce)

It's almost time to harvest the chili peppers. Some have turned red here and there, but not all of them yet.

Chili Peppers 1

Here, I'll zoom out a little so you can see.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

No Turtle Doves, Agapanthus, Desert Rose, Gardenia, and Jasmine

Since I really don't have a garden anymore, here's what was growing on my front porch back in July. I totally forgot to update ya'll on the mourning dove, also called a turtle dove like in the Christmas song. Remember when I showed you the bird in the bush?

No Turtle Doves, Agapanthus, Desert Rose, Gardenia, and Jasmine 1

Well, the bird did eventually leave the nest and I managed to catch a photo of the egg. And then...nothing! The bird disappeared for a week and the egg stayed unopened. Then the egg disappeared completely too. I don't know what happened! :(

Monday, September 08, 2008

How to Make a Loofah/Luffa Sponge

I've given you a recipe for Muop Tom Xao (Vietnamese Loofah and Shrimp Stir-Fry) so I figured it was time I showed you how to make your own loofah sponge.

How to Make a Loofah Sponge 1

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How to Eat a Pomegranate

I've been waiting months and months since the pomegranate blossoms started showing to bear fruit. Finally! Pomegranates are in season! These yellow pomegranates are the sweetest ever. No tartness like the red variety.

Pomegranates 1

I only have about half a dozen fruit on my tree, nothing like my second-youngest uncle's pomegranate trees.

I thought eating pomegranates were rather self-explanatory, but I guess not. Twice now I've seen people trying to eat this with a spoon. Well, you can, but usually after you've removed the seeds from the peel.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Blog My Blog 3, New Feeds, Vote For Me, August Poll Results, and Advertise

Quick test of how long or how thoroughly you've been reading this blog, name the original post this photo appeared in. No cheating!

Oregon Coast 1

Did you guess correctly?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Banh Dua Nuong (Vietnamese Coconut Tartlets)

Banh Dua Nuong 1

Here, if I put the coconut tartlets in these cupcake liners, will they look like they came from a bakery?

Banh Dua Nuong 2

When Marija of Palachinka, host of the Weekend Wokking eggplant round-up, chose coconut for the October challenge, I knew this recipe no longer had an excuse to sit in the queue.

Back in January, one of my college friends was in town. Funnily enough, I was flipping through The Best of Nicole Routhier when I saw her recipe for banh dua nuong (Vietnamese coconut tartlets). I didn't bother with her recipe, I knew I wanted to try using my basic Shortbread Cookie dough as the basis for the tart crust and then winged the coconut topping. My friend loves coconut, so that gave me a good excuse to finally try this recipe. My friend loved them and ate one right away. Since I packaged them in my cute little box from Kiki Bakery - Alhambra, she even thought they came from a bakery.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cocary Shabu Shabu BBQ - Monterey Park

As pictures come up on my Flickr photostream, I sometimes wonder what made me upload them at the time. Since I tend to think in thematic groupings, but actually write based upon whim, the pictures and subsequent postings can seem a little disjointed.

For instance, I thought about posting a different Chinese restaurant every day for the duration of the Beijing Olympics to show the diversity of Chinese cuisine. While I have enough pictures in the queue to do so, I did not have the stamina to sort and edit those photos, nor the wherewithal to actually do the writing.

And thus, Cocary Shabu Shabu BBQ in Monterey Park sat forgotten for the duration of 200 photos.

Cocary Shabu Shabu BBQ - Monterey Park 1

I seem to hit restaurants in the late afternoon, after the lunch rush and before dinner. There were a handful of other diners and just me, the oldest '87, her oldest sister and her baby. We just missed the 3 p.m. cut-off for lunch discounts of 20% off the total bill.

There's actually two Cocary locations, a little diagonally across from each other, and both located on Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park. This is Cocary Shabu Shabu BBQ, the newer location, on the west side of the street, just south of Garvey Avenue. The old location is just north of Garvey in an aging strip mall and bills itself as Cocary Bar-B-Q Restaurant. Got that?

Cocary is a cook at the table Chinese grill and hot pot. At the back of the room are huge refrigerators where you choose from various meats and vegetables. Plates start at $1.29 and go up to $2.99. There's also a corner near the counter to serve your own free rice too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tropical Fruit Cocktail Delight

Tropical Fruit Cocktail Delight 1

This is another of my quickie "non-recipes." A "non-recipe" because I'm really just opening cans. But hey, even if I used fresh fruits, it would still only be a matter of chopping them anyway.

I'm not sure what other people would call this. It's just something that my family threw together as a quick dessert or cool-down snack during the summer. The "delight" in the name comes from one of my college friends. During one of our VSA (Vietnamese Student Association) movie nights, we served food to the non-VSA guests. I don't remember what was served. Come to think of it, I don't think I was there because I had a night class. My friend, in retelling the story, said the guests loved the dessert so much they kept asking him what it was called. So he came up with tropical fruit cocktail "delight" because it sounded catchy. And so it is.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to Eat a Jackfruit


Jackfruit 1

Photos taken at the San Gabriel Superstore - San Gabriel. Can you tell how big it is? Jackfruit is the largest tree borne fruit in the world and can weigh up to 80 lbs.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Party Like White on Rice Couple

As I was saying, I brought the pandan mini cupcakes to White on Rice Couple's dinner party. And like this post, I was late to arrive.

I was greeted by Sierra.

WoRC Party 1