December 2, 2013
What makes Blow Pops the most coveted of the lollipop family? (At least, if you were elementary school-aged me in the early '90s.) The bubblegum center.* Without the gum, it's just a fat, boring lollipop. Chewing on bubblegum not encased in a hard candy shell just isn't the same. It doesn't leave you with the heady sense of accomplishment**, of victory, that only comes from licking and crunching your way through a thick layer of candy to uncover more candy.
* If you're curious, as I was, here is the patent for "Method for making candy with gum inside."
** My list of childhood accomplishments is very, very short.
How does this relate to shaved ice? Barely. But pretend I came up with a better comparison than what I'm about to tell you. (And pretend with each passing second you're not inching closer to your death. And pretend there is a box of corgi puppies outside your door waiting to let loose in your home and trample you with more cute fluffy butt action than you could ever dream of OH GOD IT'S AMAZINGGUUHHH.)
Bad shaved ice is sort of the opposite of a Blow Pop. The outermost layer is where the party is—a party of syrup-soaked, toppings-laden bites—while digging deeper into the ice mound reveals a center of...ice. Crunchy bits of unadorned ice due to meager and/or ill-distributed toppings.
This is how you do it right:
Thanks to Tai Yi Milk King (臺一牛奶大王)—a famous old-school shaved ice shop that's been serving Taipei since 1956—I now know one sign that I'm about to dig into a good bowl of shaved ice: when it looks like a toppings bar puked on it. Vigorously. In this case, the toppings bar hacked out a hefty mound of homemade glutinous rice balls, sweet red beans, and sweet mung beans dripping with thick condensed milk. Crunchy, soft-n-chewy, starchy, milky-n-gooey—this pile has it all, with hardly any naked ice ruining the party. The way nature intended.
Looking like vomit isn't a requirement, of course. Here's another bowl of shaved ice more thoughtfully heaped with ripe mango chunks, probably less ripe slices of strawberries, and condensed milk.
November 5, 2013
- Clockwise from top left: Breakfast at Cup and Saucer, Economy Candy, pastrami sandwich at Katz's Deli, and pumpkin eggnog pudding at Sugar Sweet Sunshine.
Do you like sandwiches? Pudding? Cake? Candy? Then let me be your guide. Because that's all I'm going to feed you.
This itinerary represents my favorite places to bring out-of-towners to on the Lower East Side for a morning and afternoon jaunt. "Favorite places" does not equate to "best places," but they are, in my humble opinion, consistently good, unique, and won't break the bank. These places aren't all meant to be eaten at in one day (but you can try; more power to you). Pick and choose what sounds best. You'll probably feel disgusting by the end of it, but it'll be worth it.
October 23, 2013
Last year, I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in over 15 years. And I did it...for love.
Or, more specifically, I did it because it was the first time one of Kåre's visits to New York City coincided with Halloween and I thought it'd be a shame if he didn't experience the one day a year where it's acceptable to wear silly costumes in public and gorge on fun-size candy*. Someone's gotta guide him through the labyrinth of American customs. And that someone is me. By default.
* Alas, Kåre still hasn't fully experience Halloween because Hurricane Sandy put a damper on last year's festivities, among other far more important things. We had fun wearing our costumes to a few parties the weekend before Halloween.
We dressed up as characters from our favorite cartoon, Adventure Time, because nothing else would've been acceptable. Nothing. Kåre dressed up as Jake and I dressed up as BMO. If you're not familiar with BMO then
get out of my face watch some videos and learn. LEARN:
...Actually, you may not have learned much from those videos. But maybe you can at least see why BMO is my spirit robot.
Never having made a costume before, I did a bit of research into different kinds of BMO costumes. They mostly come in full-body BMO or simpler BMO-with-head-popping-out-the-top. Deep down, I really wanted to go full BMO, but I knew I wasn't ready for that jelly. A well constructed full-body costume was too complicated for my amateur skills, and even if I could make one it would give me the double whammy of low visibility and mobility in dark and/or crowded spaces. ...And it would make it harder for me to stuff food into my face.
So I went the simple route of BMO-with-head-popping-out-the-top and added interchangeable face parts to make it less boring. It's not 100 percent true to BMO's design, but it's close enough.
October 20, 2013
- Rise and shine!...euh. This is the view from the balcony at my grandparent's place. It's considerably nicer looking when the sky doesn't look like it needs a hug.
I've always been a late sleeper, the kind who, without the shackles of an alarm clock, would naturally wake up sometime after noon. Few have attempted to wake me up early; it's like trying to wake up a heavily breathing sack of potatoes.
Except my dad. Many of my Saturday mornings as a kid started with my dad knocking my bedroom door, then—before I had a chance to answer—opening my door and announcing that it was 8 a.m. or some other too-early-for-Saturday hour, and thus time to get up. I'd respond with a moan of non-compliant acknowledgement or, more likely, pretend I was still deep in sleep, and continue on my potato sack ways.*
*If you're a child of the '90s in the US, you may be thinking, "But if you slept in late, that means you missed watching Saturday morning cartoons!" Truly the biggest downside to sleeping in. Many Saturday mornings started with my pajama-clad self blundering down the stairs, making a beeline to the TV in the family room, only to catch the last ten minutes of Beakman's World (one of my favorite shows), signalling the end of the kid-friendly Saturday morning line-up. I'd continue watching because as a child of the '90s it was my duty to lap up as much TV as possible (also, my family didn't have cable TV and this was pre-internet boom and I had nothing else to do because SUBURBAN LIVIN').
This is not how things went down during my vacation in Taiwan. Because I was staying with my dad, that meant waking up by 9 a.m. every morning, and because I'm an "adult," that meant not ignoring his wake-up calls and shoving my head back into my pillow.
And I'm glad my dad made me wake up early. Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten to try the breakfast shop near his house.
I've never been much of a breakfast eater because I like sleeping more than I like eating. But if I had lived near a Taiwanese breakfast shop growing up, maybe I would've felt compelled to wake up for breakfast. Because...
- It's like the Chinese equivalent of a basket of baguettes in France. Sort of.
DEEP FRIED CRULLERS (youtiao)! And...
August 19, 2013
You know that feeling you get when you're lost at sea for days, and you can feel your innards shriveling up as the life drains out of your malnourished body, and you've held out on killing your shipmate and eating him because he's one of your most loyal and trustworthy friends, but, hm, on second thought, he's looking pretty beefy and surely doesn't need all that thigh muscle? And just as you're about to go in for the kill with your bare, adrenaline-powered hands, you see a light in the distance. A beacon of hope that says, "Cannibalism, you'll just have to wait." You've found civilization. You're saved.
That's sort of how I felt when I first came across Indessert. Without the starvation and hopelessness and deranged lust for flesh, but with the rapturous excitement that great things I hadn't expected were coming my way, accompanied by internally screeching, "OMG OMG YAY!!!@#!@" repeatedly. I was just really happy Chinatown finally had a dessert shop. So happy that I've been to Indessert nine times since it opened in March (and two of those visits happened last week).
What's so great about Indessert? Let me count the ways:
- It's not another bakery, ice cream shop, or froyo shop (although I wouldn't mind another ice cream shop). They specialize in tong sui—Cantonese desserts like black sesame paste soup, red bean paste soup, sweet potato soup, mixed bean and taro soup, and other sweet soups made with coconut milk or ripe mango purée. They also do shaved ice, waffles, tofu pudding, and other Asian favorites. There are tong sui shops in Brooklyn, but none of them are as convenient for me to go to as Indessert because...
- It's a ten-minute walk from my office.
- They have ample seating in a comfortable, non-garish environment. You don't get much of that in Chinatown.
- They're open late—until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. That may not be notable in other food-heavy neighborhoods, but Chinatown is pretty dead after 10 p.m. and doesn't offer much in the ways of fun late night hang-out spots.
July 29, 2013
Some people think I must keep up with the latest food trends and restaurant openings in New York City because I work at a a food website. To that, I say, for the most part, not really—I'd rather watch this video of a baby alpaca falling asleep on a continuous loop (a truly inspiring combination of music and film, that is). I'm not saying I don't care about anything that's new—I care if it's awesome—but I'm more interested in places that have stayed in business for years upon years/decades without the help of any Internet buzz.
Like Classic Coffee Shop. This cozy, sandwich-centric lunch counter on Hester Street has been open for 37 years. It's a 10-minute walk from my office. And I only ate there for the first time three months ago. I fail.
Lately I've been eating tuna melts every chance I get, and Classic Coffee Shop's ($5.50) is my favorite so far. Instead of the mountainous open-face sandwiches I'm more accustomed to, this place keeps it simple: a closed sandwich made with well buttered slices of rye griddled to an even dark brown, two slices of melted cheese, and a reasonable amount of creamy tuna salad. You've got crisp, gooey, and creamy in every bite—no fork and knife required and no excess tuna splodging out the back.
June 30, 2013
The first time I visited my friend Tristan's childhood home in Louisa, a small town in central Virginia, back in 2006, I was intimidated by the prospect of meeting his dad, David. I don't remember what Tristan told me about his dad to fill me with fear, but David wasn't like any other dad I'd met before. He seemed to be the opposite of my dad: a straight shooter, a bit gruff with hints of jokey, sage, humble, not exactly reserved but not chatty either, impressively mustachioed. We didn't talk much; I mostly watched from the sidelines as he picked on his sons. (Good entertainment, that is.)
My most memorable exchange with him during the trip came the morning I was leaving. Before getting in the car with Tristan, I spotted David sitting on a chair on the front porch. I moseyed over to give David a goodbye hug; in return, I received a warm, intimidation-obliterating hug, the kind that made me realize David was, in addition to everything else I already mentioned, a big ol' teddy bear of a guy. A teddy bear with an impressive mustache. If David had been testing me during the trip, the hug made me think I had passed. He definitely passed my hug test.
David Jones died of a heart attack on May 30. He was 66 years old—he should've had a few more decades of peaceful farm living to go. If there's to be a silver lining, judging from the full-capacity turnout at his funeral and the heartfelt speeches given by family and friends, he lived a full, happy life.
Even though I didn't know David very well, his death has rattled me more than any other. It took me a while to realize the sting of his death isn't just a product of his absence, but the devastating effect it has on the family who lost a husband and a father. David and I may not have had much in common, but one thing I'm sure about is that we loved the same family. There's no other family besides my own that I'm closer to than the Joneses, and it's hard to imagine any other family could take that role. During the few days before and after the funeral, thinking about the pain they were all going through—Tristan, his younger brother, Fletcher, and his mom, Kris—would send me into tears. Realizing I'd never see David again just felt cosmically wrong.
I headed down to Louisa about a month ago for David's funeral. From 2006 to 2011, I visited the Joneses' home once every year. (Regretfully, I haven't blogged about my trips there since 2009, although I doubt this surprises anyone because I'm the embodiment of slow.) I wish it hadn't taken David's funeral to get me down to Louisa for the first time in two years, but I'm grateful I got to see old friends and be a welcome presence, even if I couldn't do much to help besides be there. (Tristan's childhood friend Nathan, on the other hand, is a saint. He flew in from California, gave a moving speech at the service, and was an all-around dependable, comforting friend. Tristan better stay friends with him forever and beyond.) This most recent visit just cemented the status of the Joneses' home as one of my favorite places on earth. The Jones family is a uniquely warm, welcoming, fun family, with the house, farm, and animals to match. I'm incredibly lucky to know them.
In remembrance of David, I'm recounting some of my favorite places and activities from my visits to Louisa over the last seven years. They're mostly not related to David, but I'll fondly remember him as a part of every visit.
June 2, 2013
Norway, here I come! For the fifth time! A number of visits previously reserved only for cities possessing Disney theme parks or my grandparents, now expanded to include the city where my boyfriend lives.
I've been to Bergen so many times that, for better or worse, I've grown comfortable spending my vacations there as a useless heap of laziness. I've seen most of the tourist spots; I've hiked along Mount Ulriken, which I'm still surprised didn't result in me passing out or rolling down a rocky hill (or one then the other); I've been pushed closer to death than I'd prefer by eating hot dogs; I've witnessed the natural splendors of a fjord from a boat filled with more Asian tourists than I'd ever seen anywhere else in Norway; and eating out isn't a priority when my friends can provide me with such great home-cooked meals (also, I'm cheap and eating out is mostly expensive). Of course, I haven't done everything; there are some big gaps in my trips that I hope to fill someday, mainly, I have yet to experience the national pastime of skiing and I've never been to a local concert (the latter really irks me because a handful of my favorite musicians are from Bergen, but I'm never there when they're performing). But overall, my main reason for visiting Bergen is to see Kåre and hang out with our friends.