In Search of Snacks

Searching for snacks in my parents’ house is an adventure. There is no shortage of healthy food. Fruits and vegetables abound in the fridge, and there is usually a pot of homemade soup or congee on the stovetop. However, my dad delights in subverting my mom’s dietary saintliness with occasional visits to McDonald’s and purchases of candy and potato chips.

"Pop" chips, cuz my pop got 'em. Get it? Yeah, I'm ashamed of myself, too.

My mom is equally sneaky when she finds any caches of junk food. She has befriended half of the families within their neat little condo village and will insist they accept gifts of random snack foods when she goes to visit them. Since many of her visits last 5-10 minutes and consist of her pushing food items on them and then hurriedly rushing off to her next errand, I have to assume she amassed this network of friends solely to crop dust my dad’s junk food all over town.

As a countermeasure, my dad maintains secret stashes in unexpected places. On the second day of my visit, I discovered a small pile of snack-sized bags of Doritos nestled behind a large unopened burlap sack of white rice in their basement. I gleefully seized a bag and munched happily until I was down to the last chip.

In the distant background, my mom caught sight of the bright red-orange bag and approached quickly. “Where did you find that?” she asked, right as my dad walked around the corner. His face morphed into a trio of very round O’s. I didn’t want to become a part of their junk food war so I regressed into an uncommunicative sullen teenager. I tossed the last Dorito into my mouth, crumpled the thin foil bag noisily, and shrugged. Surprisingly, the tactic still worked after all these years. I walked away unscathed.

The least helpful storage system ever.

Even when the snacks are sanctioned, it can be a bit of a quest. My parents have taken to using large metal canisters from a candy called Almond Roca to store a vast array of food items which are not Almond Roca. Somehow, I experienced a pang of hunger on the third day of my visit. I’m not sure where I found time in between the meals (my parents eat like Hobbits, elevenses and all). I came upon their collection of tins in my search for something to nibble on.

The first tin I opened contained pretzel nuggets. I ate a handful and moved on. The second tin held coconut flavored egg roll pastries (not the fried egg rolls that you would get at a Chinese take-out restaurant, but a wafer thin cookie rolled into a cigar shaped that crumbles deliciously into your mouth when you bite it) and several pieces of individually wrapped fun-sized* Snickers. I ate one of each and moved on to the third tin. This one contained a bag of uncooked red beans.

At this point, I looked around for the hidden camera. Somebody had to be punking me. To this day, I have not tasted a single Almond Roca. But I hear they’re great.

*After pondering the small snack/fun sizes of the Doritos bags and Snickers, I theorized that my dad had taken to buying those versions to make them easier to hide from my mom.

A Week with My Parents

Five minutes back in the city after a week away, and I found myself talking to a stranger on the subway. The suburbs have rubbed off on me! Serendipity being what it is, I came out of the convo with a recommendation for an amazing new bakery in Soho and (hopefully) a new foodie friend. God, I love this city!

The dining room CHANdelier (I’ll give you my puns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!)

Seven days with my parents was the perfect amount of time. No matter how much time passes, I’ll always be their little girl. I’ve come full circle from wanting to escape that label to understanding how lucky I am to be so loved. This week, I ate dish after dish of home-cooked meals and took the time to ask my mom how she made each one. She’s so prolific that it got confusing! We dined on marinated spare ribs, sauteed eggplants, boiled turnips (white AND green, so festive!), garlicky shrimp & bacon scramble, pan fried ginger tilapia, and a parade of homemade soups, each a recipe handed down through Chinese history to cleanse or restore the body. It’ll take some time to write everything up, but I definitely want to share the love.

Between bouts of eating and sleeping as I pleased, like I reverted into a newborn, I told them about all the things that I’ve learned from my time in the startup community. My dad and I actually debated the virtues of various marketing techniques until my paltry Cantonese vocab stunted the discussion. Thinking back to all those petty, stompy-footed teenage demands to “treat me like an adult,” I was astounded to find out that I had finally earned that right. Feeling our relationship evolve in this way was so rewarding that it was, at times, emotional.

In a way, I was meeting my parents for the first time as an equal (an equally strange adult, that is). I found myself watching their daily routines, things that I had grown up with and taken for granted, and noticing the minute details that make my mom and dad so very unique. I found myself scribbling notes madly to capture all the new (old) things I was finally seeing. Because, with this new awareness came the bittersweet knowledge that I can no longer take them for granted, and I wanted to save every sweet second possible. Below are a couple quick sketches of life with my parents. I hope that you enjoy getting to know them just a little bit.

My mom has been growing this ivy for 5 years. It’s hanging down from their second floor balcony!

Dinnertime Talk

While eating, my mom jumps up to call a friend as if remembering something vitally important. She squints at the large buttons on the cordless phone and pushes each number with purpose. I assume her friend answers because my mom starts speaking in her telephone voice, which is at least 10 decibels above normal conversation volume. The sound traverses the room and rebounds off the perfect white walls of my parents’ newly built townhouse.

As I tune in to her side of the conversation, she is telling the friend that a particular sauce, of soy sauce and scallions in hot oil, would be delicious on a batch of pickled turnip strips that she had dropped off earlier that day. Knowledge imparted, she hangs up without much warning. I’m used to this, having been effectively hung up on many times in the past, when she decides that everything has been said and forgets the formality of a goodbye. For my mom, a phone call is an action item, not a leisurely activity.

Before I finish chewing the bite that I had just placed in my mouth when she left the table, she is back and laughing at how slowly I eat.

Karaoke and the Neighbors

My father loves to sing karaoke. They have a complex system, complete with speakers as tall as small children, woofers and sub-woofers, whatever that means, and four or five control panels with more tiny switches and knobs than I’d imagine a spacecraft would need. This system is set up in their basement where it is ice-cold and, for some reason, where a full family room and formal dining room are also set up. It looks nice but, even on the hottest day in the deepest part of summer, it feels like the inside of a walk-in freezer. So my dad dances while he sings to stay warm, flicking the cord of his golden microphone every so often to avoid tangles and to show me how it (it being showmanship) is done.

For five of the six nights that I was home, my dad sang karaoke loudly and late into the night. Some days, he sang and danced in the morning to “get the blood moving” when he woke up. Since my parents live in a semi-detached townhouse, and the machine is flush against the one connecting wall, I wondered what the neighbors thought of this habit. They never seemed to make a noise, but I saw their cars parked out front regularly so they were home often enough to witness this ritual.

I started to theorize that they were ruthless kidnappers holding hostages next door and only showing up to feed them enough to keep them alive. In which case, I hope that one day a kidnapper will be careless enough to drop or leave his cell phone within reach of the most intrepid hostage, who will then be able to describe the loud Chinese songs filtering through from the neighboring condo. My parents, being somewhat of a Brangelina-style celebrity couple within the local Asian community, would quickly be identified as the melodious background noises in question, thereby guiding the police to the townhouse in time to rescue everyone. My dad would be a hero!

Of course, the other option is that the neighbors are gradually building up a passive-aggressive grudge against my parents and will one day retaliate by putting a microscopic scratch on the side of their prized black BMW. It is the one thing my mother fears most. I’m more inclined to believe the kidnapper scenario though. Mainly because the neighbors drive a black SUV and a large white van, both with tinted windows. Quite incriminating.

And to All a Good Morning!

Merry Christmas and Happy CHANukah!!

I’m spending a glorious week with Mama and Papa Channypants to revert to a gurgling, pampered baby. Expect loads of food pics and maybe recipes (sometimes, what Mama does just seems like magic and I don’t want to break the spell) when I’m back.

In the meantime, I wish you and yours the very best. Stay warm, smile a lot, and take naps. You now know the secrets to my happiness.

Home(made) for the Holidays, Part 2

Christmas is coming early this year (and Hanukkah is right on time)!

I’m traveling today to visit my beloved mama and papa for a full week. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had that luxury, and I’m so happy. The anticipated daily schedule will be: sleep, get fed, be taken shopping, get fed, nap, get fed, sit in dad’s massage chair, sleep. Books are getting packed so I can lie to myself about “getting caught up” on my reading list, but it’s really to lend authenticity as I pass out in the massage chair with one folded open on my lap.

Before I go, I’m sharing one of the cookie recipes promised in Sunday’s drool-inducing post. These are Swiss butter cookies with a really light hint of citrus. I’m thinking about adding some candied lemon rind on top to kick the citrus up a notch next time.

You’ll need:
4 eggs
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/8 cups butter, left out of fridge on purpose to soften
1 dash of salt (possibly a pinch)
4 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 egg yolks

Whisk eggs and then mix sugar in thoroughly. Add butter and salt (much easier if the butter’s soft, we learned the hard way). Once that’s all blended well, slowly add in the flour and zest til it’s all incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 325. Grease cookie pans or (trick I just learned from my mad scientist friend) pull out the oven rack and cover in foil. Super smart! Just umm, make sure you have the rack right-side up when you do this, so it slides back into the oven when you’re ready to bake (again, we learned the hard way).

When the dough’s ready, flour up some flat surface and roll it out to 1/4 inch thickness. Use an insane amount of cookie cutters (my friend inherited a lot of random cutters, and we had fun trying to figure out some of the shapes).

seriously, what ARE some of these?

Beat the two egg yolks (poor yolks) and brush the tops of all the cookies. Bake for 15-20 mins, until you see the edges start to turn that delicious golden color.

We had a lot of fun making these, and I hope you do too!

Only in New York!

Every year, I vow to have a less crazy December, and then December rolls around. Maybe it’s time to face facts. I not-so-secretly love to run around like a madwoman during the holidays!

On Tuesday, I went to the Roger Smith Hotel to donate toys via Tweet Drive and chill with fellow startup-aholics. They partnered with Pop Chips and SCVNGR for the event, so I spent a good part of the evening munching on yummy air-puffed chips and completing challenges like posing with one of the donated toys. The app was a great ice breaker and made meeting new people easier. Check out profesh party pics by talented photog Jesse Lash. Try to spot the one where I’m feeding Dora the Explorer a gin & tonic!

On Saturday, I visited my genius supermodel scientist friend (seriously, it’s like she took all the good genes) for a day of baking and bubbly. It was nice to put her years of laboratory training to good use in the kitchen. We made two different types of cookies, a light citrusy butter cookie and a lush rich cinnamon sugar cookie. I’ll post more photos and recipes as soon as she translates the Swiss cookbook instructions for me.

After I finished baking, I packed fresh warm cookies to bring to a dinner party (in a fancy duplex penthouse!) hosted by my genius supermodel designer friend (my goodness, I seem to hang out with a lot of genius supermodels). She made an amazing melt-in-your-mouth lasagne and a fresh arugula tomato salad. Paired with copious amounts of red wine, pink champagne, and views of the city skyline, it was one of those nights that affirmed why I love New York so much.

Ooh, holiday tip: champagne in a can is an awesome alternative to bring to a dinner party if you know other people are bringing wine. It adds an extra layer of festive fun. We all cooed over the extendable bendy straws (which were pink!) and danced around feeling like hipster Marie Antoinettes. Let them eat cookies!

Home(made) for the Holidays, Part 1

‘Tis the season for a surfeit of holiday parties and dinners to “catch up before we travel.” Everybody I know is in a spiraling frenzy of events and indulgence. Maybe we’re just getting it out of our systems before it’s time to live up to next year’s resolutions.

To balance out the bacchanalian wining and dining, I’ve been hitting the gym (gym says “ouch”) and cooking healthy grub for the rare meals at home. In this post, I’m sharing how to make homemade chicken broth and using it to make a hearty lentil soup. It’s soup-er easy! (Wait, don’t leave!)

Before I dive into the (very simple) instructions, let me say that Mama and Papa Channypants are very amused whenever I mention that I cook for myself. There’s one story that they tell to this day about the time I decided to fry an egg by myself. Apparently, I filled the frying pan with an inch of oil, turned the burner up high and then screamed when it made a sizzling sound when I cracked an egg into it. Then the pond of oil caught on fire. Like, great leaping flames of fire.

Savant that I was, I then dumped a cup of water into the pan to put the fire out, which made the flames go higher since the oil could float on top of the water. (Don’t worry, we still had a house at the end of this story.) At some point, I managed to turn the burner off before deciding to stop, drop, and roll on the kitchen floor. I don’t know why, it just seemed appropriate. Thank goodness there was no YouTube back then. So yeah, I get why my parents say it’s “cute” whenever I mention cooking. But geez, it’s been 20 years since that happened. I wish they’d give me another chance.

Ahem. Flash forward to present day when Shirley is an awesome home cook (hold your applause until the end, please).

It is insanely easy to make your own chicken broth, and once you have, the packaged stuff will never be good enough. You can make a lot and freeze it if you want something as easy to use as opening a can. Martha Stewart has a tip for freezing it in ice cube trays, so it’s easy to portion out when a recipe calls for a bit of broth. Oh, Martha!

Get a 1-1/2 lb chicken breast with the bone in (or a whole chicken if you want some serious flavor). Rinse the chicken (always rinse, sometimes there are bone fragments from the butcher cuts) and place in a large stockpot. Fill with water to about 3 inches from the top. Cover and bring to a boil on high heat. Turn heat down until the water is just simmering heartily. My mom put it beautifully: the water should look like a chrysanthemum.

She explained why. If you boil the water at too high of a heat, you’ll lose a lot of it to steam. If you turn the heat too low, you’re just giving the chicken a warm bath, not extracting any flavor out of it. So, simmer like a chrysanthemum for 90 minutes or more. Then you’ll have a beautiful chicken broth.

Notice I didn’t mention salt. That’s because I don’t add any until I’m ready to drink the broth or cook with it. It’s a personal preference, like choosing to cook with unsalted butter. It gives me a lot more control over the taste of the final dish.

Onward to lentil soup! You’ll need a few cloves of garlic, lentils, carrots, celery, and an onion. Peel & chop it all up. I like to sauté the garlic in a little bit of peanut oil (emphasis on little bit, do not repeat my Lake of Fire mistake), toss in the holy trinity of carrots, celery, and onion, and add salt and pepper. This step makes all the flavors bolder. If you don’t have the extra time, pan, or desire, you can just toss everything right into the stockpot full of broth. It’ll still be yummy.

Before tossing in the lentils, make sure you sort through for small stones that the processing machines don’t catch. I usually pour the bag out onto a cookie sheet and do a quick visual check. Then rinse in a colander and add it to the broth with the veggies.

After that, it’s just like making the broth: cover, bring to a boil, and then bring it down to a chrysanthemum simmer (I really hope this becomes a new saying, my mom is a poetic genius) for 20-25 mins. Towards the end, I taste test and add more salt and pepper as needed. That’s it! You have a giant pot of delicious, healthy soup to warm you up for the holidays.

Got a bowl full 'a love!

These Magic Moments

Somewhere between studying the tiny brush strokes of a Seurat up close and dancing on top of a bar at 3am, it hit me. I’m having the frickin time of my life!

I think I’ve done well as a community manager because I love taking care of people. Even before I worked in startup land, friends would come to talk out problems with me. Amateur therapy sessions followed by hearty home-cooked meals can solve most anything!

The last couple of weeks have been a revelation because I’ve finally turned that attention to myself. If something sounds interesting to me, I try it. And I find so many things interesting.

Skillshare is a major enabler for my binge. So far, I’ve taken classes about branding, content curation, building partnerships, biz dev (what we cool kids call business development), and SEO. I learned a lot and also realized how much I already know. Some of my experience just needed some context. A class about making ice cream without an ice cream maker is coming up soon, too. The plan is to make a special peppermint holiday flavor!

MoMA is another source of inspiration. A very dear friend gave me a membership for my birthday this year, and I have been taking advantage of special members-only hours to view exhibitions without being bumped by enthusiastic tour groups. The picture above is a close-up of a Seurat. I love practically smushing my face into paintings by him and Van Gogh, to the chagrin of the security guards. Even though their techniques are very different, their works still hold tangible traces of their dedication and passion. I look at the thick slabs of paint in a Van Gogh and almost touch the extreme emotional range that led this man to cut his own ear off (don’t worry, I’m not interested in trying that out).

Lest you think I’m only doing classy stuff, please know that I am giving partying some serious attention as well. Last night, I celebrated a friend’s big three-oh at Crown Vic in Billyburg (what the cool kids call business development, I mean, Williamsburg).

The night was pretty epic! In between copious amounts of whiskey (Johnnie Black on the rocks, please), I got to pretend-drive a tractor, listen to an impromptu bluegrass session, and dance on the bar with the bartender. No, I didn’t fall off the bar, and yes, we are BFFs now (what we cool kids call… oh forget it). If you look for the bottle opener in the picture above, you’ll get an idea of their sense of humor there.

By definition, a binge is anything taken to excess, so I know I can’t keep this up. And honestly, it’s only fun to be selfish once in a while. I still want to take care of the people I love and work hard to build things that make me proud. I’ll just indulge a little while longer and invite you guys along for the ride. Beep beep!