Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joyeaux Noel

Restaurant in Paris' Chinatown

Well, I'm off to France for two weeks to spend the holidays at my husband's family's country cottage and Brittany, and then spending five glorious days in the city of lights. Much of my activity in the country will focus on fire gazing, cheeze tasting and rummikub playing, as well as playing tour guide to my parents, who will have to adjust to the culture shock of being in the land of no Chinese people. But, there are some culinary intersections between the French and Chinese--for example, a love of duck, fruit sauces, sweet pastries and fresh seafood. I'm racking my brain to think of more.

And of course, I plan on visiting the Chinatown in Paris for the first time. Having never been there, I did some investigating on Chowhound to see if it's worth it to scope out a good Asian meal there, or if I shouldn't squander my limited meals and stick to the food the French do best--their own. I got a mixed bag, so I'll report back on whether one of the world's culinary capitals can do Asian dishes justice without sacrificing spice, freshness and flavor. Until then, joyeaux noel!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Holidays = Cute, stupid toys!

With the holidays afoot I've been making amigurumi and felted stuffed animals and ornaments at a feverish pace! If you're looking for some ideas too, check out this book, Plush You! It's full of absurd, sordid and goofy animals and unidentifiable objects that will delight everyone on your list (well everyone that counts)! Get it on Amazon.

And check out the drumsticks on the Plush You blog!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chilly apple? Put on a jacket!

Fall is here and in Washington state it means a plethora of fresh, local organic apples. So celebrate your apples by giving them protective covers that protect them from the germs and denting forces in your purse! I've made apple jackets using a simple circular crochet technique, (like starting an amigurumi project) which just involves making a chain of 5, joining to make a loop, and gradually increasing your work to meet the apple's widest part, then reducing again. I simply measure along as I go. Add a cute button, a felt leaf and you're all set!

Cranberry ginger Chutney

If you're thinking of a way to Asia-fy your Thanksgiving Day meal without quite turning to Peking Duck and chopsticks, consider this recipe! I've made this a couple of times now, and I really like how this combination of tart cranberries, sour vinegar and hot ginger and pepper! If you're buying frozen turkeys now that they're on sale, give it a try! Sorry again for the late post. :-)

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 large Bosc pear, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

How to:
Stir sugar, cider, and vinegar in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chutney thickens, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; cover and chill. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.) Makes about 3 cups.

Ghoulish lychee treats!

Ok, so I'm a bit late on this post, but I just had to share my favorite Halloween party treat: lychee eyeball salad! I discovered this one 4th of July as I was sharing my red, white and blue fruit salad with lychees, blueberries and strawberries, and blueberries started falling into the holes of my canned lychees. People started crying out in horror, the little soft fruits so resembled eyeballs. Wrong holiday, so I revived it for Halloween! Since blueberries are sometimes out of season on October 31 and you often have to get evil non-organic blueberries from New Zealand, I wound up using evil grapes from California for this year's batch. I put them on a bed of black cherry jello, which mimics the look of coagulated blood quite nicely.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Best ever peanut sauce

Peanut sauce can remain elusive to some--there are so many variations, some people claim they've never found exactly the right combination. Well, stop here, my friends. I've been using this peanut sauce recipe for years, and it's just the right combination of salty, sweet and spicy, although it does give you very garlicy breath afterwards. I just recently starting using real sichuan peppercorns in it, which leaves you with a slight tingly feeling in your mouth. If you don't like that feeling, just use your favorite hot chili pepper. This sauce can be used for hot pot (huo guo) or with noodle salad.

Sauce ingredients:
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns or peppers of your choice
3-4 garlic cloves
2 tsp. chopped ginger
4 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp tahini
1/3 cup strong black tea
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
4 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp wine vinegar
2 oz sugar
1 tsp chili oil

"Spring Wind" Noodles Recipe
Mix all sauce ingredients in a blender or with a handheld mixer. Chill.
Boil water, cook wheat, udon or egg noodles al dente. Sprinkle with sesame oil to prevent stickiness.
Add grated carrot, scallions, chopped cilantro, bean sprouts and cucumber. For extra protein, add some deep fried tofu or grilled chicken.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Order in the restaurant!

A 14-dish feast at my relatives' house in Shanghai. No rice necessary, mind you.

Sometimes I think Chinese restaurants are some of the most democratic of restaurants, I know, ironic given the motherland's political leanings. But Chinese restaurants will basically serve you anything you want, as long as you like it and want to pay for it. Unfortunately, this has led to the prevalence of very inauthentic, yet popular food. For example, if you want to pour soy sauce and vinegar all over your baozi, or ask for ice for your tea, they'll do it for you. If you ask the waiter at your French restaurant to serve your pate with ketchup squirted all over it, you can expect a few raised eyebrows.

Although proprietors at American Chinese restaurants may subscribe to the freedom-loving, make money style of doing business, the interests of the diner are more aligned with the socialist ideal. Because meals are eaten family style, the interests of other diners must be taken into account. When sitting down for a Chinese meal, people often instinctively delegate an "orderer," usually the person who has the most standing, and people expect that he/she will take care of their eating interests.

You may think I'm joking, but ordering is an art. I hate it when I eat out with a bunch of people who don't understand this, and end up with two noodle dishes, a rice dish and no soup. Or two chicken dishes (because they both sounded so good) and no seafood. It's not rocket science, but balance is key. The basic idea is you want to balance carbs, red meat, white meat, seafood, vegetables and soup. People who get a bit more nuanced say you should balance yin foods (like mushrooms, seaweed and duck) with yang foods (like chili peppers, ginger and chicken). The idea of taking other people's interests into account may be a new concept for some diners, since it may seem like a foreign concept to forego a favorite dish for the sake of the balance of the entire group. Which brings us back to the eternal debate between valuing the individual or society, or west vs. east.

Next time you're at a Chinese restaurant, try thinking about balancing the universe with your humble dinner, and harmonizing yin and yang in your stomach. You could try something new, just don't get all woo woo about it. ;-)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Who cut the fruit?

Consider me crazy, but I like to cut my fruit. Whenever anyone bites into an apple, pear or plum, I sort of wince because the act seems so barbaric. I'm also imagining all the painful little pieces of apple that get caught in my gums, festering until I can relieve them with a heroic piece of floss, and the juice squirts that often unintentionally end up in your neighbor's eye. Keep in mind that my theory is that Asians by and large cut their fruit into neat little shapes and portion out the pieces to friends and family (or sell in plastic bags and cups on the street), while Americans, with their strong, horse-like teeth, bite into fruit whole, perhaps as a habit of eating food while "on the go," while walking down the street, on the bus and at their desks.

I'd like to start a fruit-cutting movement. Fellow Asian Americans, next time you want to share some fruit with your co-workers, cut it up. Hopefully they'll notice how smoothly the fruit glides off their tongues, and will appreciate that you shared your apple with them at all. And if you're expecting guests from abroad, cut your fruit--I'm sure they'll appreciate the sentiment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One can never have too many nonsensical tote bags

I love Engrish. It's often hard to remember the best nonsensical English found printed on goods sold in Asia, so why not have something unforgettably emblazoned on your tote bag, which, by the way, you can use to replace those pesky plastic bags that have been crowding the space under your sink? One of my favorite engrish phrases: Beautiful day. Birds feel at ease. What do you like? Which actually makes perfect grammatical sense, but is just so innocently random.

Mod Cloth offers these affordable bags, and a lot more. I like them. Read more hilarious engrish at www.engrish.com.

On a side note, I hope engrish.com's supply of good examples doesn't dry up with Beijing's recent attempts to stamp out poor english in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics. Read the story here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chinatown Coffee--An Acquired Taste

Well, I'm off to New York for a few days to visit my family and spend some time in Manhattan's Chinatown. I love the steamy, greasy delis, bakeries and noodle shops that abound there, and the hot, sweet coffee they serve. By now they should be selling a lot of mooncakes--I'll report back on that! These cups are such a witty reminder of those iconic Chinatown coffee cups, and now they're forever memorialized in porcelain, for those of the New York diaspora. Now that I live in Seattle, the land of coffee snobs, I'm looking forward to slurping down a cup of too-sweet, non-gourmet Chinatown coffee.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fun with felt and fauna

And as if you didn't need another reason to learn Japanese, these felt patterns of cute woodland creatures are now available at reprodepot.com. I don't know how to felt, but I think some of the cutest figures are made out of the stuff. I did once try to felt an iPod case by showering with it every day, but that ended up in a lot of pink fluff getting stuck in my drain (and minor mate irritation). Shows what you get for trying to conserve water! Anyways, these kits come with felt, but you can also buy it affordably at fabric.com, in case you want to make a whole warren of bunnies, or a whole gang of squirrels. By the way, did you know that squirrels are solitary creatures, therefore there is no name for a group of squirrels? Amazing what you can find on the internet.

Pouch kit! Dictionary required.

You can make this cute pouch at home if you're willing to invest some time in wrestling with the Japanese instructions. But I think it'd be a good investment, since these would make great and affordable gifts in a pinch. It looks like you can use plain old cotton broadcloth for these (although barkcloth would probably make them a bit sturdier), in which case any of the fabrics on reprodepot would be great candidates. It looks like you don't need that much fabric to make one of these, so you could even use some of your fabric scraps, making this a very economical project. Of the list of supplies needed, the only one I don't have is an awl, and I'm embarrassed to say I don't really know what an awl is. Of course, the thing lends itself to 'awl' sorts of jokes. Sorry, y'awl probably don't want to hear that. Okay, I'll stop.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Riding the bunny wave

When choosing the image that goes on my desktop, I often choose something artsy, cute, and vaugely offensive. I'm not one for putting a big picture of my cute family up there (although I do keep those pics safely tucked away in a drawer. They somehow offer more satisfaction when they're encountered by surprise.). So the images by Kozyndan are perfect for me--and they also offer posters, coloring books and t-shirts through their website, Kozyndan.com.

Their artwork often depicts Japanese and American street scenes, animals doing strange things and extremely detailed panoramics that will give you a "where's Waldo" type experience, often throwing in walruses, record players and businessmen wearing schoolgirl outfits all in one chaotic scene. Some of these prints may come in strange sizes, so you might have to spend some dough with custom framing, but they are on the whole extremely affordable, at around $15 not including shipping.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

All Look Same?

I've always loved taking the All Look Same test--determining from a roster of 20 faces, which are Chinese, Japanese and Koren. This test always forces people to put their money with their mouths are, when they proclaim, "I can always tell the difference between different Asian people!" Yeah, right. Just take the test, sucker! Now All Look Same has a test for food! I did much better on this test, although a couple tricked me, like this one. I got it wrong, but it does look mighty tasty. Does anyone know what this is, and how do I order it at a X restaurant? Sorry, to find out if it's Chinese, Japanese or Korean, you'll have to take the test.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Papayas--Live on Video!

When I lived on the east coast, I often despaired over not being able to find fresh green papaya regularly in the supermarket. Now that I'm in Seattle and they have bins of freshly grated green papaya at Southeast Asian grocery stores like Viet-Wah, it's easy to take this luxury for granted. Som Tam, or green papaya salad, is one of my favorite Thai foods--it's so light and simple, yet hard to duplicate the real thing. This site is great because it shows you videos in English for a lot of popular recipes. This video shows you how to grate a green papaya by hand, if you are more industrious than I am, and assemble the salad. It is tricky finding exactly the right grater for this, though. Trust me, I have a drawer full of graters that do everything but julienne into thin strips, the result of experimental shopping. And another thing, for this recipe you can increase or decrease the amount of shrimp paste you use, depending on how funky you like it. The increased funk factor makes it a bit more "Lao style," but if you aim to please everyone you may want to reduce the funkiness a little bit.

Salad Recipe: Green Papaya Salad
1-4 fresh Thai chilies
1 garlic cloves
3 cups shredded green papaya (watch video: Shredding Green Papaya)
1/2 cup sliced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
3 tablespoons squeezed lime
1 tablespoon palm sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp (optional)

Using the Thai / Lao Mortar & Pestle Set, crush chilies and garlic until they are separated. Add the rest of the ingredients in the mortar. Using the pestle to crush and a tablespoon to stir, mix all the ingredients in the mortar. When the sugar and shrimp paste are dissolved the papaya salad is ready to be served.

The Thai & Lao Food video shows the traditional method. Some Thai / Lao restaurants toss all the ingredients into a large bowl. In my opinion, for an authentic texture, the tomatoes need to be crushed in a Thai / Lao Mortar & Pestle Set.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Crocheted Bacon: The Light Side and the Dark Side

Well, I may be revealing myself as a total freak with this post, but I truly think bacon is a force--of love, joy, comfort, friendship and community. But like the Force, it has a light side and a dark side. The light side revels in indulgence without a care in the world! The dark side is of guilt, heart disease and zits. So that's why I created my crochet BLT with two different faces--a happy one and a dark one.

I love crocheting food. I love the utter uselessness of this object. Even stuffed animals are somewhat useful--you can cuddle them, playact or display them proudly in a glass case (for those QVC types, that is). This BLT just sits there, perfectly useless; the most you can do with it is mime eating it--which is rather fun.

Here's my pattern--for projects like this I usually use washable acrylic craft yarn, or whatever's laying around, with my trusty pink metal 2.75 mm crochet hook. For bacon, I used a rusty orangey brown color and a light beige for the fatty bits. Inserting the wire is optional, depending on your desire for bacon shape variability.

Bread (you'll need 4 of these):
  • ch22, sc for 3.5 inches.
  • After 3.5 inches, sc in first 11 st, turn work
  • dec 1, sc 9, dec 1, turn work
  • continue until you have five st left in your row.
  • sc all the way across, bind off.
  • insert hook in second set of 11 sc, repeat decreases as above, bind off.
  • ch 4, sc in each row until it fits all the way around your bread, measure as you go.
  • Sew on eyes and stitch on mouth with embroidery thread and needle.
  • Line up two white halves, attach crust to one side of your bread.
  • Fill loosely with poly-fill
  • Attach other side of the bread.
  • ch 30, sc all the way across.
  • join darker color, repeat
  • join lighter color, repeat
  • join darker color, 2 dc in each st, bind off.
  • insert flower wire into the middle of each piece, so that you can form it in the shape you want.
  • ch 5, join to make a circle with sl st.
  • ch 2, 2 sc in each st
  • ch 2, yo, pull up 2 puffy stitches
  • pull through, ch 3, skip 2 st
  • yo, pull up 2 puffies
  • pull through, ch 3, sk 2, repeat until you reach your desired size, connect with sl st.
  • ch 6, join with sl st.
  • sc in each st once around
  • 2 sc in each st. once around
  • dc in each st. for 4 rings
  • 2 dc in each st, repeat until desired size is reached, connect with sl st.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Iced Jasmine with an Add-in

As a non-coffee drinker, I love tea. But sometimes, I realize, you’re not all that into the hot, steaming, stick in your teeth kind of traditional Asian tea, especially on a hot summer day! So I developed this recipe that infuses some of my favorite flavors—jasmine and mint, with plenty of room for improvisation. I think jasmine would also taste amazing with some springs of fresh lemongrass, or ginger, which is also incidentally great for certain types of colds. I have two of these vintage type Chinese thermoses—they’re glass on the inside, so conveniently don’t leach those nasty hormone-altering chemicals we’ve been hearing about from plastic, and they’re so darn pretty. And they keep things hot/cold FOREVER. Literally, I stored tea in one of these for a cold October picnic in the park on Autumn Moon Festival, and the tea was still hot the next day. Only thing is, since the cork is usually covered in a t-shirt like material, be sure to dry it out on your windowsill after you use it, to prevent molding. I got mine at Van China, my favorite Chinese dime store on East Hastings in Vancouver, next to the Ovaltine. Everything they sell there is at least 20 years old, and covered in a thin layer of dust, but where else can you snap up vintage Asian flower arranging accessories and little glass horses for pennies? And Canadian pennies at that. I hope they never go out of business.

Jasmine-Mint Iced Tea

2 teaballs full of loose leaf fragrant jasmine tea OR 2-3 bags of jasmine tea

Sugar syrup or honey, to taste

2 sprigs of mint leaves

Mix sugar syrup by boiling one cup of water and stirring in 1 cup of sugar, let cool.

In a large pot, boil 4-6 cups of water, then plop in your tea and turn off the heat. When the water turns a rich brown, take out the tea bags and put in your mint leaves or lemongrass stalks. Let cool.

Strain out the tea and herbs, stir in your sugar syrup or honey, to taste. Add in a bunch of ice cubes and stir.

Transfer to your pretty thermos and take to your next summer party!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Twinkle Twinkle

Okay, I'm not usually one for knitting sweaters. In fact, I find knitting anything other than squares and rectangles a little challenging; my hats often turn out bulbous and uneven, but wearable nonetheless. But I was in So Much Yarn in Belltown yesterday and was absolutely enchanted by this book by Wenlan Chia, a Taiwanese fashion designer (check out Wenlan's Fall 07 collection here) turned knitter extraordinare. Twinkle's Big City Knits seriously made me want to make a sweater, even in 97 degree heat, people! The photography is beautiful and, okay, I wouldn't want to make EVERY pattern in there, but it's just head and shoulders above some of the other outdated ugly patterns in the knitting world (you know what I'm talking about). The sweaters are made of chunky yarn that don't take forever to knit up, so when you make a mistake --that's when, not if--you don't have to curse yourself and rip up the whole thing. I'm in love with the mohair shrug and Balthazar vest. So if you're a new knitter and want to get started now so you'll have something to wear in time for fall, you can get it here on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Live Tilapia, Yummy Tilapia

Help me! Blub blub blub.

Next time you're hankering for some fish for dinner, get it live! This fish literally is so easy it only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and cook. It’s good for a weekend dinner, since you can go get your fish during the day and it’ll still be fresh for that evening without having to freeze. Be sure to ask them to clean it for you, unless you are adept at scraping gills and gutting while the fish is flapping around on a table (I am not). Tilapia is also one of the more environmentally friendly fish to choose, since the farms are located inland and aren't susceptible to escape and pollution. Find out more at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program.


Live tilapia (1-2 lbs)


Lemongrass, minced

Sea salt

Cilantro or Thai basil

Sweet chili sauce like this

Eat me! Yum yum yum.

Wash the fish thoroughly. Rub some sea salt and lemongrass into the body of the fish. Make a few incisions along the body, and stuff with slices of galangal and scallions.

Steam in a steamer over a wok until the flesh is opaque. This will vary depending on the size of your fish, but it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so. When it’s done, top with fresh cilantro or sweet basil leaves, and serve with sweet chili sauce in the bottle, or some soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions if you want to do it more Chinese style.

My fish wouldn’t fit in the whole steamer, so I cut off the head (I know, so barbaric!) and steamed it in the second level of one of those bamboo steamers. But ideally you should cook it with the head on because it will be moister. The best parts are the belly, tail, and cheek. Yum! Good with white jasmine rice and some greens.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Scallion pancakes with ginger dipping sauce

When I was living in Shanghai and Taiwan, I loved to get a scallion pancake as a snack, even though they can be, as one friend put it, "the greasiest thing you'll ever eat." But they don't have to be. And a little grease never hurt anyone. The recipe that follows isn't some family tradition passed down to me ever since I was a child, helping my mom roll out the dough by hand. Her method is to take them out of the plastic package in the freezer and slap them in a wok. But I've found this recipe is really simple, makes an appetizer that pleases everybody, and only takes a little bit of time. Oh, and one must-have for your pantry is the Zhenjiang black vinegar--the flavor is a lot deeper and not as sharp as the white or red stuff. When I went to Zhenjiang (sometimes spelled Chinkiang), I was struck by the over-abundance of auto body and car parts shops there, strange for a town where so few own cars. In fact, it was here that I saw two guys (unsuccessfully) try to haul a car engine on the seat of a bicycle. Here's a picture of a more successful venture:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup sliced scallions
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/2 cup ginger dipping sauce, recipe to follow

In a bowl, sift flour. Slowly add water in a steady stream while mixing with a wooden spoon. Keep adding water until a ball is formed. With the same procedure, one can use a food processor with a metal blade. Let ball of dough >relax for about 30 minutes and cover with damp cloth. (I often skip this step without any serious consequences)

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a thin rectangle. Brush on oil mixture, cover with scallion and season with salt and pepper. Carefully roll dough like a sponge cake. Cut into 4 pieces. Take one piece and twist 3 times. Make a spiral out of this and roll again and flatten to achieve a 5 to 6 inch pancake. In a medium-hot non-stick pan, coat with canola oil and pan sear both sides until golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve immediately with dipping sauce.


1/4 cup thin soy sauce
1/4 cup Chinese zhenjiang black vinegar
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Amigurumi chihuahua!

I love amigurumi--the Japanese are freakin' genius for inventing this crochet technique. It took me a while to figure it out, mostly because I was trying to decipher these books that have their instructions only in Japanese. You can get those in the craft section of Kinokuniya. This is one my earlier attempts, a white chihuahua named Pilar Maria, since I made her on election night when our senator, Maria Cantwell won a decisive victory. She eventually got turned into a Christmas ornament and she's currently living on the upper West Side in Manhattan. I didn't follow a pattern for this one, just adjusted as I went along.

Pink birdies and honeycombs

I couldn't resist getting these fabrics from reprodepot. They make fabulous prints, usually the cheapest ones are the reproduced ones in cotton broadcloth. Their imports and barkcloth are a bit more expensive. I love the geometric/organic nature of the honeycomb fabric, a Japanese import by Etsuko Furuya--I'm going to redo my couch pillows with that one. I'm planning on using the birds to make a cute pink apron, using some of the raspberry colored cuorduroy I already have for the waist and tie. Rickrack on the pocket anyone? I probably won't get the stuff for a month, though! Curse slow ground delivery!

Fan Chinese Laundry Soap

I love the look of this Chinese laundry soap, from my "gu xiang" or old hometown, Shanghai! Apparently they still make it there. I'm such a fan of simple, old packaging that's eco-friendly too--just wax paper here, no plastic. We'll see if it smells good too!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

That's Amasian!

Definition--am*asian: A combination of amazing and Asian, meaning anything that is amazingly kick-ass, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping or squeal-inducing that has an Asian influence or provenance.

This blog is dedicated to amazing things that you can do at home to make your life happier, more fun and just plain better. I'll bring you ideas on home decorating, crafting, cooking and eating (two separate things, mind you) as inspirations come in! So be sure to check back soon for amasian eye and brain candy.