Sunday, January 23, 2011

...somewhere in NYC

When it's cold outside, my brain freezes. I have no idea where I was when I ate this sandwich. I didn't even go for the sandwich; I went for the coffee. I couldn't feel my fingers through the fur-lined gloves I was wearing. My friend and I decided to stop for some food along the way.

Appropriately, this sandwich is called "The New Yorker". It has bacon AND chicken! And Russian sauce to give it some zing. The White Chocolate Mocha saved my fingers. All is well.

-- Michelle

Loving the beanie AND the panini.

Arequipe from Colombia

One of my wonderful suitemates brought back a lil' treat from Colombia. I didn't know what "Arequipe" was, but she said it was a sweet dessert.

Isn't it cute???

Turns out, Arequipe is caramel. I "googled" arequipe and found out that the term for "caramel" in Colombia is "arequipe," but it's also known as "dulce de leche" in other Spanish-speaking countries.

-- Michelle

Buca di Beppo

Hey guys, Michelle here!

Here's the last meal in S.F. before heading back to New York City! Ever been to Buca? If not, you should. They have a delicious lemon chicken dish as well as a green bean platter.

Denica's Pastry Cafe and Taco Lounge

Despite having a food blog, I don't actively search for food joints. I seek out people who seek food. This method works because my friend found a restaurant that serves both pastries and tacos. Notice how neither of us ordered pastries or tacos?

Marvel at the fluffiest pancakes I've ever eaten!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy New Year!

I don't believe in following New Year's resolutions. I believe in $5.oo cakes.

-- Michelle

The Fab M4 celebrate Crystal's birthday dinner in Ktown

Remember the Youtube video Steph posted months ago of LiAnn and Brenda at Manna in L.A.'s Ktown? Everything from the grill went straight into our mouths via chopsticks.

Crystal's birthday dinner at Kang Suh in New York City's two-block Ktown was unique in that...I ate as daintily as possible.

Manna it most certainly was not. At Manna, good friends paid waiters to douse the birthday boy or girl with beer. Guests leave the restaurant sopping wet from head-to-toe.

At Kang Suh, the waiters cook the meat for you -- even though the food is perfectly within reach. After all, the stove is right there...built into the table.

I also learned a different way of eating. When I swiped a piece of cooked beef straight from the stove and popped it into my mouth, my Korean-American friend (Hi, Jane!) tried to stifle her laugh but couldn't.

I asked myself, "Where are my manners?!"

First of all, Manna is not Kang Suh. L.A. is not New York. Let the culture war continue. Just because I can pick up a slice of beef and gulp it down in L.A. does not necessarily mean I can act similarly when put in a different situation.

Second of all, I can learn a lot from going out to dinner at a Korean restaurant with a Korean-American who lives and breathes the culture. Take advantage of it! Jane shared some traditions of Korean culture with us. She mentioned people usually eat their dishes by scrunching its contents into a compact lettuce wrap. The trick is to sprinkle enough filling in the lettuce wrap to eat the whole thing in a single bite.

This method of eating keeps people from creating messes, and it's also considered more polite. It's considered extremely rude to eat with food dropping from the wrap to the plate -- especially in front of older individuals.

I only recently heard of the phrase, "portion control." After five messy and undignified attempts to chew without dropping any food onto my plate, I downsized and adjusted to this new style of eating.

The real accolades go to Ana and Crystal, for mastering both the mini-lettuce wraps AND chopsticks in one sitting.

Crystal: You're cheating! You're supposed to make sure you eat the whole thing.
Me: I'm trying! I'm trying!

Look at those plates of food! Mmmm.... Kim Chi, bean sprouts, lettuce, beef.....

As the blog title states, we celebrated Crystal's birthday with her! The meal was only half the story. The other half involved serious karaoke -- no liquid courage necessary -- featuring Crystal's vocals and Mike's dance skills. A great way to finish the night and shake off the anxiety of 2010's final exams!

-- Michelle

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back to December

Taylor Swift might have regretted December, but I thought it was a pretty great month while it lasted. Here are some highlights:

This isn't any old buffet complete with fresh dinner rolls, Kahlua pork, and Spam's my mom's birthday party. She turned...a very significant age...and my dad and cousins decided to throw her a HUGE bash. They invited all of her close friends and our family. Most of the food is home-cooked, meaning that my dad actually cooked for my mom. This is a nice switch on our usual tradition. :)

The Famous Cookie Weekend. My friend, Caitlin, from elementary school has been hosting "Cookie Weekend" at her house for at least five years now. I didn't make any of these. I ate a lot and decorated even fewer. I'm no artist--so I just ate them to save myself the annoyance of taking pictures of half-decorated cookies.

This well-decorated gingerbread man and fish are Adriana's handiwork. I might have eaten them, too. I definitely didn't take any home with me. I ate enough for my whole family.

I met up with my friend, Lauren, for dinner in our neighborhood. Afterward, we went to this locally owned coffee shop that I didn't know existed around the corner from my house. Clearly, I'm no local! It has a really eclectic vibe with plush armchairs that don't look the same and a single employee making the drinks and collecting the cash. Solitary bookworms, noses pressed in worn paperbacks, gave the joint a pretty cool aura of San Francisco...yuppieness.

Do people still use the word "yuppie," or is the term, "hipster"? Whatever. All I know is that when we started talking loudly and obnoxiously in a way that only old friends who haven't seen each other in a while can, I felt hostile glares emanating from the other patrons who were miffed at being jolted from their literary reveries.

'Tis the season!

Ghirardelli Chocolate Fudge Brownies. From the box. Made by me! I can bake! Yay...I can mix and pour in addition to eating a whole lot. I wasn't going to blog about Dim Sum. I have it so often with family that I overlook it. It's like going to school; expected and sometimes hum-drum...but I can't do without it. Shu Mai and chicken feet typically find their way to our table, thanks to my family's booming voices. Egg custard, Singapore noodles, and a variety of other dishes whose English names escape my memory at the moment are also customary.

My family sits down for dim sum very often. It's a ritual that my grandfather appreciates even though I may not be so excited about it. It's a cultural thing I can't turn down. Plus, what keeps the grandparents happy keeps the parents happy, so I can't complain!

Weekend dinners at the house are also rituals that my family has come to expect. When my mom isn't hosting dinner, it's really weird. We don't know what to do with ourselves. It usually means everyone has dispersed for the evening to have dinner in smaller groups, and that's really unheard of. Luckily, this picture doesn't depict that! I'm not trying to boast about my cooking skills (mainly because they're limited). I'm trying to prove that I have some cooking skills.

One of my uncles always asks me, "What did you cook for us tonight?" My usual response is, "Nothing, but I set the table and will serve dessert." After being asked the same thing a million times, I'm hell-bent on documenting everything I cook so that he knows for sure that I'm not some lump hanging out in the kitchen while my mom, grandma, and older cousins do all the work.

SF's Largest Holiday Sugar Castle on display in a hotel in the Union Square area. I wonder if mini replicas of Harry, Ron, and Hermione can be found here?

-- Michelle

India Garden in the Bay Area

In this suburban enclave of the SF-Bay Area, I was surprised to find genuinely scrumptious Indian food. BUFFET-STYLE. This place is really good even though it's nestled in a quaint main street that has ample parking.

I took my friend here for lunch on her birthday (she chose the venue, obviously). I didn't care where we went; it was just fun to catch up with her. It's funny how food can link people together so easily. Good food determines the quality of the meal, but good company makes the outing that much better!

-- Michelle

Cruise Cuisine

Tour of the kitchen where chefs work their magic.

Make your own pizza.

Every night, the ship serves an Indian dish. Yes, these plates are both mine. No, I'm not hoarding them for myself; I'm sharing them.

For once in my adult life, I'm early for something! No one else has arrived. Of course, the event I'm early for would be dinner.

One of many desserts. I forget what the reddish one is. The middle one is a rich, thick, chocolate, fudgy cake. In any case, I finished only the chocolate cake anyway. After having an appetizer and three shared entrees, the biggest dessert I could eat was this small thing.

Lobster night!!! This plate of food looks large, but it's just right. Everything swims in butter.

Banana cream pie. Not a fan. I'm sure it was tasty to someone else.

Panko-incrusted fish.

Roast beef sandwich drenched in au jus and mustard.

Two-for-one coupon to Johnny Rockets pays off.

Chocolate mousse and FLAN!!!

Make-your-own-salad bar.


Theme of the Week: Indulge

Although Steph and I created a food blog, I'm often confused as to whether or not I want to frame my posts with an emphasis on food or travel. Travel experiences inevitably come with food -- everyone's gotta eat -- but food doesn't necessarily involve traveling.

Now that I've returned from a gargantuan, floating apparatus marketed as a utopian paradise for food lovers (a cruise ship) where 24-hour food service is practically expected, the line between traveling for the sake of exploring unfamiliar ground and traveling for the sake of expanding my waistline have become very blurred indeed.

A staple of successful cruise experiences, in my experience, are the cruise staff. My family often remarked, "This trip is fun for us, but it's no fun working on a cruise ship."

On a somewhat low note, I feel ambivalent about cruising for reasons that are unrelated to this blog. This was not my first cruise, and it will not be my last. I'm glad I have been on enough ships to see the staff more as people and not invisible hands like I did as a child.

I come from a family that indulges by cruising. Travelers can book a hotel, restaurants, excursions, and entertainment for a reasonable price and not have to worry about where to stay, what to eat, where to eat, what to do. Whereas each restaurant, each excursion, and each entertainment venue would charge separate fees in other places, cruise ships compile them. Gratuities for the fine dining Head Waiter and Assistant Waiter, and the room-cleaning staff are not included until the very end of the trip.

What does this rant have to do with food? In my opinion: everything.

Let me rewind a bit. Pre-cruise, many travelers are stressed out, overworked, and in dire need of a vacation where they can get away from it all.

On a ship, phones are OFF. Communication with people other than fellow passengers, cruise staff, tour guides, and locals at ports-of-call can be limited. Whatever people want to do, they can. Feel like ice skating? Strap on a pair of skates. Want to try surfing? That's what the simulated surfing platform is for. Go zip-lining across the ship. Go rock climbing and glance out at the ocean when you reach the pinnacle. There's so much to do on the ship that the experience can, ironically, be overwhelming. For one week, cruise-goers can do also relax by the poolside, melt away their worries in the hot tub, temporarily forget they have children by schlepping them off to cruise-run activities programs onboard, and remember what it was like to be children, themselves.

What does this imply? It means not having to make the bed in the morning because the friendly cleaning personnel does it instead. Not only do the workers make the beds and clean those tiny bathrooms every day and night, they make charming animals out of pristine, white towels and place milk chocolates wrapped in the company insignia next to them every night before bed.

To me, the luxury of cruising also means having food available at all times whenever and wherever passengers desire. Fine dining and casual dining are popular options. In addition, cruise ships have specialty restaurants like steakhouses and Johnny Rocket's, ice cream stands and poolside bars, "sidewalk cafes" and pizza joints, to name a few. Depending on the size of the ship, the size of the staff varies. The employees cater to the passenger's every need from serving food to collecting dishes, and they do it all with a smile on their faces week after week, group after group, and months after months.

Perhaps they're the ones who are exhausted. It's hard to say.

An integral part of the cruise ship experience is the Head Waiter and Assistant Waiter because the passengers see them every night for dinner. To them, my family could have been simply another group at their table passing through for one week of culinary decadence. To me, I really liked this team in particular. They got along really well together, and when they mesh well together, it appears as if the job seems to be less of a chore. When this happens, the formal and professional cheerfulness they display may transform into genuine smiles instead. I kid you not, the cute-but-slightly-nervous Assistant Waiter cracked a joke on my last night. Maybe he finally felt comfortable enough to let my family see how funny he could be.

I'm really impressed with how the waiters can remember our names. They even remember exactly what drinks we ordered on the first night and to consistently have it on the table before we arrive every night. Case in point, the Assistant Waiter switched an iced tea and an iced tea lemonade on our table because he remembered that my aunt preferred one while my grandmother preferred the other. Don't ask me which one, because it's a mystery to me. They look exactly the same. This begs the question, would have known the difference in taste, anyway???

Pictures of food to follow. It's 3 AM, and I still feel like I'm on a rocking ship about to drift into a deep slumber. Good night!

-- Michelle

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tofu and Mint

Hey foodies! Steph here.

Let's be real. As a novice chef (if even that), not every dish is going to come out picture perfect. Heck, a good chunk is going to come out pretty fugly. Case in point, today's dish.

Let's set the scene. I run home. It's 10:00 pm, I haven't had dinner yet, and I have a lot of work to get started on. And of course, the only food I'm craving is the fried tofu my mom has so artfully mastered.

So I open up a box of tofu, throw it in an olive-oiled pan, and start frying. Then, remembering the delicious bale/head? of chard I bought on Sunday, I cut up a leaf and throw that in. Wait 5 minutes. The tofu is now waterier than it was before, and has turned pink. I panic, and call my mom. Oh...the tofu has to be dried first?

The mother's hotline

I try to make the most out of the sitch. Drain the watery oil soup, and add some chicken. And voila!

Yeah, I know. It ain't the Miss America of food. But it got the job done. Also, taking a few tips from some Persian friends south of Wilshire, I added two sprigs of the mint bought on Sunday to a cup of boiling water for some refreshing mint tea!