Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

I usually don't make resolutions because I consider the entire year ripe for self-improvement. Also I can't remember them past Jan. 2.

But change is good (and large bills are better), so in the spirit of David Letterman's Top 10 list, I will now share my Top 10 Resolutions for 2011.

Resolution #10: I will keep the jokes about writing "2010" on my checks to a minimum. No one finds them amusing.

Resolution #9: I will jot down the names of books that I really enjoyed reading, so the next time I inform someone I am an avid reader, and they ask what I've read recently, my mind won't go blank and I won't appear to be an idiot/liar/dementia candidate.

Resolution #8: I will avoid offering unsolicited advice and I highly recommend that you do the same.

Resolution #7: Floss daily. Oh, wait, I already do that -- RESOLUTION COMPLETED! (It motivates me more to cross at least one thing off the "to-do" list.)

Resolution #6: I will stop asking my children and husband, "Are you really going to wear THAT?" when I already know the answer. The husband will change if it's for work; for any other occasion, he'll laugh as if I made a funny. The kids will look at me, mystified, as if they no longer speak English. Needless to say, they will continue to wear THAT.

Resolution #5: I will stop making Wal-Mart jokes. This one's gonna be hard to keep.

Resolution #4: Speaking of shopping, when going to Costco and Target, I will only buy the necessities on my list, no matter how good a bargain something is. However, this resolution is null and void during the month of December and in the event that something really is a good bargain.

Resolution #3: I will eat healthily to reap the benefits of a nutritious lifestyle and set a good example for my family. However, if I do end up having junk, I'll wait until the kids go to bed so I don't set a bad example (or have to share).

Resolution #2: I will not wait until Super Bowl Sunday to ask of football fans, "Who's playing again?"

Resolution #1: I will not cringe at the thought of hot yoga. This one's gonna be hard to keep.

What are YOU resolving to do in 2011?
(Note: Thanks to the sharp-eyed readers with fully functioning brains who pointed out the year discrepency in my original post. Apparently when I'm tired I forget what year I'm in. So here's an addendum to my resolutions: I will not blog when brain-dead. Happy New Year!)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jook for a Cold Winter's Day

Last weekend my husband roasted up some delicious Cornish game hens. After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we were left with a few carcasses that still had attached to them a lot of delicious, hard-to-reach meat.

What to do with them? A hot bowl of jook immediately came to mind, prompted, I'm sure, by the cold winter weather that has hit the Northwest. Jook is a Chinese rice soup/porridge that consists of some very basic items: rice, liquid and any meats or vegetables that the cook wants to throw in there.

In Seattle, you can find jook (also called "congee" in some areas) at the more authentic Chinese restaurants. Some restaurants will offer it during their weekend dim sum service, pushing a large pot of plain jook around on a cart with bowls of sliced green onions and other accompaniments offered on the side.

There's no one correct way of making jook. When I was little, my mom would fill a large stockpot with rice, water, ground beef and finely shredded carrots, and feed the pretty, orange-tinged product to my toddler sisters. It was a nutritious, teething-friendly dish.

With my jook, I threw the game hen carcasses into a stockpot and added two cups of jasmine rice (short-grain white rice makes for a smoother consistency, but I only had jasmine on hand and it worked fine), two cups of water, about 6 cups of organic chicken stock, and three carrots, shredded. I simmered everything for about an hour (some of the liquid I added near the end when the jook looked a little dry), removed the bones/cartilage while leaving in the meat, and added a little soy sauce and pepper.

The resulting warm jook is flavorful, comforting and has a pretty carrot-orange tinge to it, just like my mom's concoctions. We've eaten it for breakfast in lieu of oatmeal, lunch, dinner, snack, etc. There's no wrong time to eat jook. Even my kids (who claim they don't like restaurant jook) have had a few bowls of this.

This would work really well with some white pepper and a few salty peanuts sprinkled on top, but we enjoy it plain, too. I think the big pot of jook will disappear soon, and then it'll be time to roast more birds.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heavy Heart

Some good friends of ours are going through hell right now. There is something wrong with their son and they're going through a ton of testing. The diagnosis doesn't look good and, if he does end up with the condition the specialists suspect, there is very little they can do for him and survival is very slim. One of the parents works in the medical field so the process has been less chaotic for them than for someone unfamiliar with the system; however, all that knowledge is little consolation right now.

They know that I'm available should they need anything. For now there's not much we can do other than wait. Gotta go give my kids a hug now.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cooking With the Queen of Improv

One thing I dislike about being a busy mom (wait, "busy mom" is a redundant term, right?) is the fact that I don't get a lot of time to try out new recipes, let alone go shopping for special items that I normally don't stock in my bulging pantry. So when I see a recipe I like, I become the Queen of Improv. Sometimes the results are delicious; sometimes they're comically bad. Fortunately, they're often good enough to cancel out the bad.

I was inspired by reading this great article in Sunday's Seattle Times about cooking with local seasonal produce. The article includes a great recipe for Farfalle pasta with pine nuts, currants and kale. It sounded delicious and, as we do not eat kale on a regular basis, I marched down to my local grocers to pick up a large bunch of organic kale. I was surprised by how reasonably priced it was, about $3 for a HUGE bunch.

Of course, I was so busy with other "to-do's" that I didn't manage to pick up the rest of the ingredients. So tonight, during a busy weekday evening, I decided to do the Improv using substitute ingredients I already had. I used chopped walnuts instead of pine nuts, raisins instead of currants and (the biggest difference) spaghetti noodles instead of farfalle (or bowtie) pasta. I also used more garlic than the recipe called for, as our family subscribes to the "if-four-cloves-are-good-then-six-is-better" school of thought.

"What's for dinner?" the kids asked.

"Spaghetti with kale, garlic, walnuts and raisins!" I announced, with just the right amount of enthusiasm - enough to try to get them excited but not enough to make them suspicious.

Silence. "Um, that sounds interesting," said my son cautiously.

The results? It was delicious and the whole family enjoyed it. The toasted walnuts and thin slices of sauteed kale gave a nice crunch to the noodles, and the raisins' sweetness balanced the kale's peppery bitterness quite effectively. I believe some family members went back for seconds and both kids asked me to make it again. Ding, ding, ding -- WINNER!

One of these days I may try to find time to follow the recipe exactly so it'll look as pretty as the Seattle Times photo below. Until then, I am still unashamedly and unabashedly the Queen of Improv.

Photo from The Seattle Times

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Most Amazing Mom

A friend turned me on to this this amazing blog post, in which a mom discusses her preschool-aged son's experiences dressing up as Daphne from "Scooby Doo" for Halloween.

What a ballsy woman she is to allow him to be what he wanted to be and to stand up to the judgemental comments other parents made. I am amazed by how threatened people can be by something that goes outside of THEIR concepts of "normal." People, it's a preschool Halloween party, not the Pride Parade. Wish they had kept their mouths shut. As the saying goes: Opinions are like assholes - Everyone's got one, and they all stink. (Or something like that.)

I remember being very sad when my son learned about "acceptable" gender roles. He loved the color pink until kindergarten, when he informed me that it was a color for girls. He also gave me a listing of which toys were for boys and which ones for girls. Why do we teach boys that it's NOT acceptable for them to play with dolls, yet it's okay for girls to play with toy cars? (And as the parent of both a boy and girl, I'm glad girls have a lot more leeway with "acceptable" toys nowadays, but I don't think it's fair that this doesn't work both ways.)

Just because a little boy wants to dress up as a girl doesn't make him gay. I have never worried about my son turning into a real pumpkin, Teletubbie, skeleton, clown or Darth Vader.

And if the little boy in the blog turns out to be gay, so what? As a mom, I would prefer that my kids be straight, if only for the reason that life is so much harder when your private preferences cause you to be shunned socially and banned from legally marrying. However, if I had to pick between a gay adult child who was emotionally healthy and had happy monogamous relationships versus a straight adult child who slept with everyone and ended up on a "Girls/Boys Gone Wild" DVD, guess which one I'd pick?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!

It is impossible to escape Halloween when you have two kids, so in the spirit of "If-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em," each year at this time we eat way too much candy, carve faces into pumpkins and scare ourselves silly with movies we love.

I love movies that combine horror with sick humor (see my previous post about Leprechaun). My current favorite is Zombieland (see movie clip above), a 2009 release about four eccentric individuals who have to band together for survival after a zombie infestation has left the U.S. looking like a Michael Jackson video.

College student "Columbus" is neurotic and has managed to survive by following a hilarious set of rules, such as "cardio" (stay in shape so you can outrun the zombies), "double tap" (when you shoot a zombie, shoot it a second time just to make sure it's completely dead), "fasten seatbelt" (because you never know when you'll get into an accident driving away from the zombies) and "don't be a hero" (self-explanatory.) He encounters "Tallahassee," a free-living wild man on a quest to eat a Twinkie before the last batches on Earth go bad. They eventually encounter "Wichita" and "Little Rock," two crafty sisters who are bent on survival at all costs and not looking to team up with anyone.

There is some wickedly funny dialogue and situations in this movie, including a hilarious cameo by a celebrity who plays himself. This flick definitely gets your adrenaline up as you are torn between the tension of watching the main characters try to avoid getting eaten and laughing hysterically at the same time.

What scary movies do you like?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My New Fight Song (Warning: Potty Humor!)

I should not find this song amusing at all, for I have traveled the world, lived many adventures and cultivated a sophistication that makes me a legend in my own mind. However, Hawaii song man Jimmy Borges does sing about "nuts," and that makes giggle.

Kukui High School is a fictitious school that has been referred to in the new "Hawaii 5-0" series. The Kukui is a nut that has many useful applications, among them lamp oil, medicine and necklace adornment.

Capitalizing on this new development, someone created a new Kukui High School Web ("Home of the Fighting Nuts") Web site, accompanied by its own Facebook and Twitter page. Me likey! It's like the high school I always wanted to attend, full of funny people and alumni who are, like me, simply nuts.

Seriously, it's also really fun to see how many site visitors post comments and enjoy sharing their pretend "memories" of the old alma mater. It's also another example of how the Internet can create community and liven up people's days.

I don't think I remember my old high school song, for which I am very ashamed. So I have decided to adopt the Kukui High version. Any school song that includes the line "Raise your nuts up to the sky" is one that I can remember and, therefore, fully meets my musical criteria.

In fact, I think they should update a few classic songs with that line, just to liven them up and make them more memorable. Here are a few selections:

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear [insert name here], RAISE YOUR NUTS UP TO THE SKY.

Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way, but he waved goodbye, saying "Don't you cry," RAISE YOUR NUTS UP TO THE SKY.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, when the winds blows, RAISE YOUR NUTS UP TO THE SKY.

You get the picture.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Did Someone Say 'Bacon?'

Blame it on a lack of imagination, but I have never once taken a bite of delicious chocolate and thought, "You know this needs? BACON."

Thank goodness more creative minds than mine work at Vosges, which created Mo's Dark Bacon Bar, a combination of 62 percent dark chocolate, alder wood-smoked bacon and alder wood-smoked salt, according to the company Web site. (There's also a milk chocolate version, which I haven't tried.)

It's a very intriguing idea, combining the the sharp sweetness of dark chocolate with the smokiness of the bacon and the light tingling from the salt.

"I don't taste the bacon, but I taste the smokiness," said a friend/guinea pig who was offered the first bite. I concurred, but upon further sampling (and for research purposes only, I consumed the rest of the bar myself), I could also pick up the crispy texture of the bacon, which was just assertive enough to make its presence known but not overpowering.

It's pretty yummy, but with a $7.50 retail price, it's not yum-yum enough to be a regular part of my chocolate repertoire. Not when I have a Frost Doughnuts, with its awe-inspiring Smokey Bacon Maple Bar, just minutes from my door.

As you might have deduced, I have quite the liking for bacon.

Bottom photo courtesy

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm Somebody Now!

In the 1979 comedy "The Jerk," there's a scene in which Steve Martin's country-bumpkin character move to the city, gets a job delivering phone books, discovers his name listed in a book, and shouts, "I'm somebody now!"

That is exactly how I feel being featured as September's Commenter of the Month on the most excellent of blogs, House of Annie.

(On a side note, my dear husband, the Silent Swede, was very amused when I broke the news to him. "I don't actually comment on blogs THAT much," I explained defensively. "Sure," he said, and went back to chuckling in his Silent Swede way.)

I mentioned House of Annie last year in this post but want to tell you again how much I enjoy this blog! Married couple Nate and Annie capture their culinary adventures as they cook and eat their way into your hearts. I started reading their blog when they lived in California and it has only gotten spicier (literally) and more adventurous now that they live in Annie's native Malaysia. The photography is outstanding (and makes me a little ashamed of the stuff I snap with my iPhone) and the writing is descriptively fun.

It's high-quality food porn. In fact, should you happen to stand outside my home office window and hear me moaning and muttering, "Oh, that's SO good," and "Please, don't stop," chances are I'm visiting House of Annie.

Turns out that Nathan is from my home-turf of Hawaii. He and Annie met while students at the University of Hawaii, my alma mater. Their blog's August Commenter of the Month, the awesome Ben from Cooking With the Single Guy, also is from Hawaii. We Hawaii peeps are all over the place and we rock!

Well, they rock. I'm still working on it.

Thanks for the shout-out, Nate and Annie!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Show Me the Asian!

While many of my friends and family would swear that I'm from another planet, I'm actually Asian-American, having been born to two people who hail from mainland China. I think if you turn my parents upside down, you might see the "Made in China" stamp imprinted on the soles of their feet.

There are some Asians who try to downplay their heritage and act as "white" as possible. They're called "bananas," which means they're white on the inside and yellow on the outside. Needless to say, this is usually not a term of endearment.

I believe there were probably phases in my life during which I was banana-like, as I tried to navigate the social hurdles that many children of immigrants go through as they try to find their place in a new society. But one of the benefits of being in your 30s (okay, 40s, dammit) is that, as I get older, I JUST DON'T GIVE A RIP about what other people think of me.

Being Asian is actually kind of fun now. In addition to all the obvious stuff, like being able to order off a Chinese menu, you can get away with telling certain ethnic jokes and pretending not to speak English if you don't want to bother with those pushy kiosk people at the mall. Rest assured that I am very selective about playing the Asian card. I haven't used it to get out of any legal scrapes, nor do I pretend to be good with math and computers. But I might do both, if necessary.

I've been enjoying some awesome sites that discuss being Asian. One of them, Disgrasian, is thought-provoking and funny. The others just make me laugh my butt off. I hope you check them out. You don't have to be Asian to you enjoy them. But if you ARE Asian, you get better service and fresher postings. (Shhhh ... Don't tell the non-Asians.)

kevjumba - The video shown above is from kevjumba, a site in which thoroughly American Kevin and his thoroughly Asian dad share their cultural and age differences. There's some good-natured trash-talking between the two, but the obvious affection (and bemusement) they have for each other is very sweet. BONUS: They are also a team competing in this season's "Amazing Race!" When they introduced this team during last Sunday's season premier episode I nearly screamed like a little girl-groupie.

Disgrasian - Jen and Diana, the creators and co-authors, blog about current events and culture. Learn more about the Asians they like (musicians, civil rights leaders) and the Asians they boo (Tila Tequila). It's relevant and really funny. When I grow up I want to be like them.

The Busy Dad Blog - Okay, this isn't really a blog about being Asian. But creator and author Jim is Asian-American and is way too funny with prose and video as he highlights the adventures of parenting. Non-parents would enjoy this blog, too. The night I nearly fell out of my chair laughing as he demonstrated how to determine the trajectory of flying poop in his daughter's crib using forensics techniques commonly seen on "CSI" was the night that I realized that this was a blog I MUST bookmark.

My Mom is a FOB and High Expectations Asian Father - Yes, I can relate! This is what Asian-Americans discuss when complaining about their parents. You MIGHT have to be Asian to find the humor in these two sites, but maybe I'm wrong. Non-Asian peeps, let me know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Magical Mochi

Before photographing my homemade mochi, I had planned to artfully arrange the pieces on a pretty platter and set it somewhere with great lighting before taking a shot. Then I left the room and, when I returned, the mochi fairies had taken off with nearly half the batch, so I was left a few lonely pieces in a Tupperware container. And the constant battle between aesthetics vs. real life continues.

For the unfortunate few who don't know mochi, it's made of rice flour mixed with some type of liquid and has a slightly chewy, sticky texture. In Japanese culture people will get together for mochi-pounding rituals, which can take hours and is quite physical. A lot of places that sell mochi commercially roll it into balls with sweet bean filling in the middle, while other bake it. My niece and her fellow Seattle Pacific University co-conspirators have even found a way to microwave the stuff and roll it into their own creations.

I can't get enough of the stuff, having grown up eating it in Hawaii, where the mochi supply is plentiful and you can even buy packages of it at some drugstores (next to the sushi and Spam).

With all respect to all those crafty college mochi-nukers, I believe I have the easiest mochi recipe EVER, which I got off the Aloha World Web site. Simply titled "Coconut Mochi," submitted by Keoki (mahalo, Keoki!) it involves very basic ingredients mixed together and a quick bake in the oven. The hardest part is waiting for it to cool off so you can cut it into pieces.

You can find the recipe here. For my batch, I also added a few drops of green food coloring for the pretty-factor. Also, if you've never used mochiko (rice flour), check the Asian-foods aisle of your supermarket (or your closest Asian supermarket, if you're lucky enough to have one) and look for it in a small box.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kaiten at the Mall

There aren't too many decent culinary selections at your typical suburban mall. I could get a greasy slice of pizza or a hot dog on a stick. Or, as I live near an upscale "destination village-style" mall, I could also pay for overpriced, badly cooked, faux-Chinese fare, flanked by a bunch of stone soldier that the corporate offices purchase by the boatload.

Fortunately, our mall also has a Blue C Sushi, a local chain (Yes, I said chain!) that offers sushi kaiten-style, on a rotating belt. You just grab the dishes that you want when they reach you and, at the end of your meal, they tally the number of dishes and colors (each color indicates a certain price) to determine the damage. Servers will bring you special items such as miso soup, beverages and anything that's on the menu but not available on the belt. I'm sure it's not "authentic," but the chefs yell out greetings and the food is tasty, quick and reasonably priced. And personally, I find that a lot more appetizing than that hot dog on a stick.

Today I ordered miso soup (note the big western-style bowl with a SPOON), pretty standard stuff, a little salty but very warm and comforting on a rainy Northwest day. To its left is a shrimp tempura roll, very nicely done with the shrimp still retaining its light and crispy tempura coating and the rice cooked and cooled to a really good texture, one that has enough stickiness and tenderness but also has a bite to it.

One of my favorites, the eel nigiri. A great thing about kaiten is that you can eyeball the food before you decide whether to select it. Is the eel size to your liking? Is it grilled to the proper brown hue while still retaining a slight sheen of moisture? Then, yes, I shall select you today, for here at the kaiten, I make the decisions, damnit!

Behind the eel is spinach gomai, two compact towers of cooled blanched spinach sitting in a nice shoyu and sesame glaze. I like to break up the spinach towers with my chopsticks and just dredge it all in that delicious, slightly thick sauce.

I tried a new dish today, the flying fish roe gunkan, which was comprised of a big serving of roe on top of rice. You can't tell from this photo, but the roe was bright bloody red; it was so beautiful I decided to call it dessert. While I loved the contrast of textures (the crunch of fish eggs with the chewy stickiness of the rice), the roe didn't have the clean briny flavor I've become accustomed to with roe. It was a kind of muddy briny flavor and tasted like a combination of salt water (good) and dirt (bad). I'm still glad I tried it, though.

Do you ever eat at the mall? If so, what do you like? Be honest!

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Favorite Holiday

This coming Wednesday, you'll find me celebrating my favorite time of the year, a day so anticipated by many that it even beats Christmas and even the annual February white sales: Back-to-school time!

Our district's summer vacation begins and start late, so I know there are many parents across our great nation who have already commemorated this special day, swept up their tinsel and returned to their normal lives.

Every summer begins the same way: Miss Thang and Junior Rocker (who, at 13, is now old enough to shed the moniker of Pre-pubescent rocker) are overjoyed by the much-needed break from busy school and extracurricular activities. They are full of plans to hang out with friends, learn new hobbies and use the time for improvement. Junior Rocker announced he planned to go for a run every day.

Soon the plans fall by the wayside and I end up trying to get my part-time work done while also wearing a variety of other hats, such as:

Food-Chain Supplier -- (Them: "We have nothing to eat." Me: "I just shopped at Costco." Them: "But I don't like any of these foods.")

Julie McCoy, Activities Director -- (Me: "Time to get off the computer/TV/iPod touch/DS." Them: "But there's nothing to do." Me: "You have a ton of friends who live in the neighborhood and it's a nice day. Go get them and play." Them: "But that's too haaaaaard."

Pushy coach -- (Me: "Weren't you planning to run every day?" Junior Rocker: "It's too hot/cold/rainy/looks like rain. And I haven't practiced trombone yet." Me: "So when are you practicing trombone?" JR: "As soon as I'm done with this game."

Less you think of me as an unfeeling workaholic who dumps her lonely children in an attic for several months and forces them to find entertainment in a piece of string, I will have you know that I drop whatever I'm doing to take them places. I buy water balloons. I offer to chaperone small parties of children while they run around the back yard, screaming, dripping Otter Pops and irritating the dog, and by the end of this magical time, all kids are ACCOUNTED FOR and STILL ALIVE.

It's not all dark clouds and complaints: I've enjoyed having my kids home. Truly. No trip to Vegas could overshadow the joy of a lazy afternoon spent with my kids while eating ice cream, swimming, or going berry-picking. It's been FUN, FUN, FUN, but I'm ready for a break from all that fun now.

If you'll excuse me, I have decorations to put up before Wednesday and maybe bake a celebratory pie. I wonder if Hallmark has any event-appropriate card I can send to other parents. While I'm sure they don't have anything for back-to-school festivities, maybe a card stating "Congratulations on your parole!" or "Hope you find peace" could be appropo. Thoughts?