Friday, September 5, 2014

Paris, France and not Paris, Texas.

I took another extended leave away from the blog again. During that long unannounced leave a co-worker resigned, we hired a new person who is currently being trained, and I took a little vacation to Paris.
We went in August, and to be very honest I was actually a little disappointed. Perhaps it was because it was August and it was filled with tourists (myself included). Perhaps I have this inflated image of the city of light in my head. Perhaps I was expecting a little too much. But my general impression was that many Italian cities were more beautiful than Paris.
Walking the cobbled street of Paris
One thing I was very pleasantly surprised by was Parisiennes in general were very nice to my sister and I. I don't speak a word of French, neither does my sister. We had gotten three phases from our guide book to overuse on our trip (bonjour, merci, si vous plait, frequency of usage in that order). And we got by okay. At one point as we were trying to locate Marché Bastille (on a gloomy and rainy Sunday morning), a very nice gentleman actually walked up to us and asked whether he could help. And then he walked us to the market.
Lovely dog at Cafe de Flore
Another thing that I certainly was not disappointed with was the food. Parisienne butter just tasted better, and along with baguette brought just about anywhere in the city. Croissants, palmiers, caramel, jams, everything was pretty darn good. Even their fries. I actually looked up why french fries taste better in France and found that they sometimes use fat from beef or duck to fry their food. No wonder.
About the title of this post. I saw this poster in metro stations all over the city while I was in Paris, France not Texas.

P.S. Completely random thought. I just realized yesterday that John Green from Crash Course is the same John Green who wrote The Faults in Our Stars, of which movie I also saw the poster of everywhere while I was in Paris.
Photo credit: thetexastheatre

Friday, September 27, 2013

Vacation Time!

Leaving for Thailand with a few friends for the long weekend. Looking forward to some relaxing beach time, reading, recharging, and lots and lots of food. I don't think my vegetarian diet is going to be able to keep going for this duration. We'll see how strong my will is, and how delicious Thai cuisines look. Will report back when I come back.
Have a nice weekend!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Rice Cake

I love rice cake. I've loved them ever since I was a little kid. Now let me be clear, when I say rice cake I don't mean the crunchy kind that is a poor substitute of chips. I mean the kind made from glutinous rice, the sticky, chewy kind. They come in both sweet and savory kind in a few different Asian cuisines. Japanese likes to roast theirs and then put them in azuki beans sweet soup as dessert.
Azuki bean soup with mochi
Or alternatively they dip them in slightly sweet soy sauce and wrap them in seaweed as snacks.
Mochi wrapped in seaweed
Korean likes to cook them in a sweet chili sauce.
Korean rice cake
I am certain many other cultures use glutinous rice in various manner, including in rice cake form. The above are just the ones I am familiar with.
Then there is the Chinese New Year standard, steamed sweet rice cake cut up into little rectangle and then pan fried. I love those. They're sweet, gooey goodness. Not exactly good for me and definitely not a health food item, but they are really delicious.
CNY nian gao
There is also the savory type, stir fry with Chinese cabbage, shitake mushroom, and pork.
Stir fry nian gao
Even the regular rice cakes are not something you would find in the healthy food aisle. They are high in calories, made from refined glutinous rice flour, and difficult to digest. But what can I say? I just love them. So I eat them in moderation.
I stir fried some carrots with garlic, added in some tomato and then a couple tablespoons of Korean rice cake chili sauce. Then I filled the pot half full with water and let it came to a boil before I put in the Korean rice cake. The rice cake only takes about three minutes to cook and soften. Just before I turned off the stove I added the baby spinach in. 

Photo credit:,,,,

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat penne with portobello mushroom. Pardon the dishes in the background.
I am a pasta person, I always have been. It's tasty, it's easy, and most of the time it doesn't take much time at all. When I was feeding four hungry college students with a limited combined budget, it's also cheap and filling.
I am a little particular about pasta. I don't really stray away from the brands that I know are good. Back in the US I used to get Barilla. It was readily available, reasonably priced, and was pretty good quality. Nowadays I've been using De Cecco. It is a little harder to find, and they don't always stock all the varieties at my supermarket. I like that they do have some slightly more unusual shapes and have all kinds of short pasta. My favorite is this one. My friends told me they look like little cocoons of butterfly, my mom actually told me once as I was eating my dinner that they looked like maggots (thanks, mom!). I like it because it's good with all kinds of sauces. And also because it is short and easy to cook in a sauce pan so I don't have to dig out that tall pasta pot. I know that pot is somewhere in my kitchen cabinet, I know it, my kitchen isn't that big. But I just can't find it for the life of me.
I've never contemplated switching to whole wheat pasta. It was probably because of this article I've come across years prior. In the article it basically explained why everyone should eat more whole grain and how people can do it by including whole wheat pasta on their menu. At the end of the article there was a taste test section where they compared multiple brands. I distinctly remember words like gummy, bitter, and gritty. I thought, how wonderful, and promptly forgot all about whole wheat pasta. Not that it was very difficult to do, since there aren't that many choices here in Hong Kong. Truth be told, I didn't even notice they were there until I went looking for them this past weekend.
Why am I reconsidering now? Since I've been trying to stay on the vegetarian diet, eating whole grain is more important than before. That and I am actually paying more attention at what I am eating and what they are doing to my body. With that I should at least give it a try mindset, I went to the supermarket this past weakend.
Whole wheat spaghetti is easiest to find. De Cecco has one, Waitrose makes one as well, and there is another brand there called Alce Nero that also carry a whole wheat spaghetti. There were literally two choices beside that, Waitrose offers a fusilli shape while Alce Nero in penne. I have tried some Marks and Spencer pasta before, and they were awful. Crumbly, cooked unevenly, tasted limp, and they were just regular pasta. So I was a little wary of pasta from England, even though Waitrose is not Marks and Spencer. Perhaps I was judging unfairly, and maybe the Waitrose fusilli is in fact very good. But if that is the case, I wouldn't know, since I went with my gut and got the Alce Nero Penne.
I think that the whole wheat pasta market has expanded quite significantly since that article I read years ago. I also think that the quality has vastly improve since then. The whole wheat penne cooked in about the same amount of time as regular pasta. I pinched one san sauce and it actually tasted pretty good. I made a sauce with shallot and portobello mushroom, then I added fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese on top. I almost couldn't tell that it wasn't regular pasta. It was slightly bit wheaty in flavor, and just a little bit less starchy than the regular kind. If I am being honest, I still prefer the regular pasta, but if I have to eat the whole wheat variety? I really don't mind.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Breakfast Granola

I went to a family dinner on Saturday night. It was a long and tedious affair. It almost always is. Relatives that I haven't seen for months and have no common interests in all gathered in a crammed and noisy Chinese restaurant. The food was mediocre, and it was always the same restaurant because apparently some of the extended family members know the manager there. I was there on time at seven o'clock, and my mom and I didn't leave until past eleven. Foods came sporadically, and since I am trying to stay on my mostly vegetarian diet I didn't eat most of them. I was also still on my weird schedule and was almost falling asleep for most of that time, even though I knew that would happen and actually bought a soy latte from Starbucks along with me. (That tall soy latte was my solace for a while, until it went cold and empty.) So I went home feeling pretty miserable and dead tired, and I went to bed as soon as I could managed.
This morning I woke up because I was hungry. I laid in bed, half awoke, wondering to myself whether I really needed to eat. Or perhaps I could just roll over and go back to sleep until I have to work this evening. After about thirty minutes of unsuccessfully trying to convince myself I don't really need to get up and put some food in my stomach, I finally gave up and faced the reality that I wasn't going to get more sleep before satisfying my growling stomach's high-handed demand. I rolled out of bed, padding around my tiny kitchen with the giant fridge that was always full of what mom thinks she needs but hadn't actually use in months, and tried to look for something quick and easy so I could just get back to the more important thing, sleep. I almost always have yogurt at home, and for some reason I can't quite recall I bought this container of fresh figs a couple of days ago. Fresh figs are a bit expensive here in Hong Kong, on par with the more perishable berries like raspberries and blackberries (not blueberries, for some reason they are very cheap). So I decided to take inspiration from many online bloggers in the past few weeks and had fresh figs with yogurt and granola. The granola was store bought, and was a mix of two different brands because I just couldn't decide whether I wanted what is familiar (the one with raisin), or to try the one with pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds. The yogurt wasn't tart enough to need honey, the figs was sweet and wonderful, and I really quite liked the new granola as well. It was just what my stomach needed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Last Day!

The last day of my 7-day vegetarian diet challenge, and I totally overslept. I got up a whooping hour later than I should and jumped out of bed. I was going to make peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast, but scratched that, no time. Instead I pulled the tub of greek yogurt out of the fridge and grabbed a banana and ran out of the door. Work was busy as usual, although it was better than yesterday. So I was able to steal a moment and made myself a coffee and chowed down a couple pieces of pita chips I keep at work just for that exact purpose. I ate that last bit of yogurt with the banana and oat bran for lunch. It was fantastic. Greek yogurt is probably the reason I would have to be at least a lacto-vegetarian.
For my last meal on the challenge, I decided to make a rice bowl.
Rice, veggies, soy cause with shallot, and natto.
Natto is basically fermented soy beans, it is sticky and smelly, and is kind of an acquired taste. I was first introduced to the unseemly brown beans by this manga, and then through a Japanese friend of mine I finally tried it in college. I liked it immediately, it was a little salty, a little bitter, but not unpleasant at all. I seem to be in the minority, however, since even some of my Japanese friends won't eat it. It was cheap and also very easy, cooked some rice and put it on top and it was lunch or dinner. When you live in a dorm room with very limited kitchen access, easy is very important. Once I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment I was cooking for four boys and myself, so I didn't eat of natto then. It wasn't particularly hard to find in Hong Kong, but I've kind of forgotten about it by then. So it wasn't until about a year ago when I came upon a discounted package of it (discounted because it was nearly expired, apparently Hong Kong people don't care for it). They mostly came in package of three little Styrofoam boxes with soy sauce and mustard included. I ate them all within the week, much to the disgust of my mother who wrinkled her nose and told me it even smelled revolting. Until the new Japanese supermarket opened about a month ago, the supply of natto at the other supermarket in my area was sporadic and unpredictable. Now, I know where to find them if I want them.
The whole rice bowl idea came from having natto in my fridge. I thought I ought to add more vegetables to the meal, so I cooked up some carrot, cucumber, and pumpkin. Just in case it tastes bland, I made a little container of dressing with diced shallot, sweet soy sauce and sesame oil.
To assemble the rice bowl at work I heated up the brown rice and the vegetables, mixed the natto with its pack of soy sauce and mustard and scooped it out on top of the rice.
Rice and mixed natto
Then I dumped the container of vegetables on top of it.
Not the best looking rice bowl
And if you think the natto sounds odd, and it didn't look very tasty in the picture above. Just wait... it get better.
Yum, sticky, smelly, natto rice bowl.
This is what it looked like all mixed together. Not the best looking food around, is it? But it was quite good in my opinion, but then again I do like natto. I added some hot chili oil to it and promptly finished the bowl. I like this rice bowl idea.
With this, my challenge comes to an end. I am feeling pretty good about finishing the challenge with only one slip up. I didn't miss the meat too much and I almost never went hungry in the past week. I didn't actually weigh myself before I got started, but I can tell I've lost weight. My body is slimmer and leaner, and I didn't feel like I needed the meat to function. My eating habit definitely had gotten better because of this. I am more conscious of what I am eating, the balance of vegetables, the need for lean protein and carbohydrate. It is definitely limiting at times, when occasionally I would think about some of the food I would normally eat and then suddenly remembered 'oh, right, can't eat this now!' Am I going to continue with my vegetarian diet? Probably not a strict one. Living in Hong Kong made it quite difficult to avoid all meat product, especially when I am out with family and friends. I will, however, continue to pay close attention to what I am eating on a daily basis.


It's hard to believe that it's been twelve years, so many things had happened between that time. But we still remember. We will never forget.