Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lonely Adventuring in Lone Pine

It’s funny to think that when we went on our first trip to Mammoth in February of 2014, we thought that it was going to be a dreary 6-hour drive through the boonies, passing cities with thrilling names like Lone Pine and Big Pine.  But as it turned out, the entire drive was full of these I-wish-I-had-my-camera moments.  There were lots of cool and random things to stop by and discover.  A few points of interest that we've pulled over for so far were Manzanar, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Pine Creek, Bishop, Convict Lake, and other roadside vistas and restaurants.  We've barely scratched the surface of what other odd and interesting landmarks line the Highway 395 – ghost towns, a wind farm, rock formations, hot springs, quirky museums and shops.  It is great that there will always be something new to see, and that the drive to Mammoth can be an adventure in its own right.

The Alabama Hills is a collection of strange and rather sinister rock formations at the base of the Eastern Sierras in the Owen Valley.  I saw that it was only 10 minutes off the beaten path, right in Lone Pine.  I had to use the promise of four-star Yelper-reviewed barbecue as leverage to bargain for a mid-drive hike.  Unfortunately for us all, there was no barbecue to be had, as the pit was closed for the season (but why??).  Well, just as I thought, Wes was willing to see the Alabama Hills anyway, barbecue or not.

 Perhaps the best thing about this place is that if you weren’t looking for it, you would never know that it was there.  It was even more magical because very, very few people were there.  It's just so random of a place, and so small.  I realize now that natural wonders are everywhere, not just in the national parks.  It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, with eyes wide open.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chilling in Iceland (Part 5): Road Trip on the Southern Coast

Iceland is truly a legendary place to go--now. It has been eight months since our return from this faraway land of astounding landforms, happy humans, unadulterated food, and just endless stretches of solitude. It's tempting to think that the place hasn't changed since we left, but we learned--and saw--that glaciers lose 11 billion tons of ice a year, the Silfra fissure widens by 2 centimeters a year, and the ice caves can retreat 100 meters over a summer and essentially disappear in too-warm conditions. Despite feeling like the wind could knock us off our feet, that the icy roads could overturn our car, that a wave could engulf us, that a glacier could swallow us, or that our toes had disappeared into frozen oblivion, we are nostalgic of Iceland and what our experience traveling there felt like. Overall, we felt refreshingly insignificant and became very aware of our coexistence with the forces of nature. We were just talking about how we still get the chills (literally and figuratively), thinking about the stuff that we saw, especially on the day that we took a roadtrip into the Southern Coast.

Aurora Borealis in Skaftafell

Reynisdrangar, the basalt sea stacks of Reynisfjara

Gardar, cliff of basalt columns at Reynisfjara


Glacial tongue of Solheimajokull

At the top of Skogafoss
Anyway, this blog post is the second to last one in this long Iceland trip series (finally!).  We took two days out of our week-long stay there to go on a roadtrip across the scenic Southern border of the country, following the one and only freeway Southeast.  So, here are the details of that day-long road trip, and all of the feels that came with it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Operation Pasta Extrusion

Another kitchen contraption somehow made its way into our place... Hello, KitchenAid Pasta Extruder.  I didn't want it to have the same fate as the poor sausage grinder, or the hapless tortilla press or cream whipper, so as soon as it arrived, I asked my friends to come over and help make use of it.

Between bites of meat, cheese, fruit, smoked trout dip, and fresh olive bread, we somehow got four batches of pasta dough made.  (Bread and pasta dough recipe to follow.  No recipe on the trout dip, we forgot to take photos of it, haha)

Then, we (seven girls) all crowded into the (tiny) kitchen and made everything from bucatini to ravioli.  We were quite literally rubbing elbows in there!

Somehow, we pulled it off.  The joint effort of all party attendees resulted in five delicious pasta dishes.  The best part was everyone's enthusiasm (or fear?) about getting hands on, as depicted in their facial expressions.  Operation pasta extrusion was a success!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What He Cooked for My Birthday

I must be getting old because I've already started saying things like, "No presents or I'll kill you," or "Don't take me anywhere fancy because I don't want to waste money."  Despite my bitter old Chinese housewife inclinations,  Wes still made sure that this birthday was a memorable one.  He came back early from work on a Tuesday and cooked things that, if seen printed on a menu at some restaurant, I'd order right away.  These things were: (cheeseless) butternut squash risotto with broiled prawns, rack of lamb, haricots verts with tomato and mushroom, and (gasp) matcha doughnuts - that is, both glazed with matcha AND filled with matcha.

Taking the time to read through, write down, and ask Wes about his experience with these recipes has made me truly appreciate all the hard work that he put into these dishes.  I don't think that I would have had the patience or the time-management skills myself to pull this off, but maybe if I write down these recipes for the future, I'll be able to set aside a whole day to recreate everything!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hatch Chili Bison Burgers

Burgers--one of those things that you could either pay two bucks or twenty bucks for, and be perfectly happy in either scenario.  But if you could make them at home, even better.

Our last attempt at homemade burgers was inspired by hatch chili season and supermarket ads. While it's no secret that I obsess over the Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, Wes likes to stealthily browse Bristol Farms ads.  I can barely contain myself when I see something that I like in the Fearless Flyer (like that pumpkin bark that just came out? mine).  Wes almost never mentions anything as he silently folds up his fancy Bristol ads and sticks them into the trash.  Then, one day in early September, he texts me that he wanted to swing by Bristol Farms for some on-sale organic grass-fed hormone-free sustainably-farmed bison meat.  Okay, I was intrigued.

At the time, we had just bought some bright green hatch chilies, as they were in season.  Wes grilled them up a few days prior and we had them in the fridge for things like guacamole and Mabo tofu - yeah, anything that needed a kick got the hatch chili treatment.  So, when we decided that we wanted to make bison burgers, chopped hatch chilies went right in.

Thank goodness the burgers were good, because we were grilling and eating them during USC's first game of the season.  Like the copious amounts of sides that I had made, we just couldn't get through it.  The game was horrible.  So bad that we had to walk to AU79 to get some redemption tea.

Now, let's get right into the meat of it. (haha)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pizza, Tacos, and the Milky Way (Part 2 of Our Trip to Canada)

Bamfield, Part 2!  We were treated to even more beautiful sights and delicious feasts.  I wondered initially if we would get bored out here in this small town, but of course that would never happen with Paulina, Jeff, and friends.  We had to say goodbye to Melissa and Wade, but a new group arrived and they were quite the foodies!  Ayren, Earl, and Carolyn made our fifty pounds of food look like nothing.  Paulina had designated Monday night as pizza night and Tuesday night as taco night, so we all came prepared.  Nobody really knew what anyone else was going to bring, but everything came together like it had all been pre-planned.  Generosity was aplenty, and we left with our hearts, bellies, and memory cards very, very full.  (Part One here)

 In addition to being total food enthusiasts, almost everyone photographing all over the place; we must have had at least five geeky sets of camera gear.  Nobody cared when I stopped/stooped/climbed to grab shots of everything.  When a fish was caught, Wes and I went crazy, running down to the dock with our cameras.  Even at night, the photos didn't stop.  It was fun to all be out in the cold with three tripods set up, on a beach that we could not see, taking pictures of the Milky Way while the moon was still down.  It was also totally excusable to climb onto a chair to take aerial shot after aerial shot of our amazing dinners.  And who would be able to resist stopping to zoom in on the family of neon yellow mushrooms growing by the trail??  Anyway, with great people, great home cooking, great hiking, and great scenery, we got more out of this little place than we ever would have expected.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bamfield, eh? (Part 1 of Our Trip to Canada)

"You made it!" The exclamation held just a hint of incredulousness and what sounded almost like relief. Paulina was all smiles as she emerged from the picturesque red house at the top of a long, metal ramp leading down to the wooden dock where our water taxi dropped us off...and 50 pounds of edible freight. Somehow, our one harmless cardboard box of apples morphed into an amassment of local foods: locally caught fish from Port Alberni; a sack each of potatoes, onions, and avocados; eight ears of peaches 'n cream corn; two burly loaves of bread; fancy little indulgences from the Coombs Country Market (cheese! anchovies! chorizo! maple smoked trout tidbits! ketchup chips!!), and five bottles of Wes's obligatory cold brew. When we found out that groceries, convenience stores, or even restaurants would be pretty much nonexistent where we were going, we (happily) spent the day collecting food along the road. Anyway, after getting through 77 km of dusty logging roads (with no GPS) and overcoming the somewhat bewildering process of hailing a water taxi, we finally arrived to our final destination: Bamfield.

Bamfield, a quaint community on the Western edge of Vancouver Island, is the very image of a storybook fishing village. Idyllic clapboard houses couched in forested shorelines, old white chunks of driftwood parked against rocky beaches, boats and yachts bobbing in the inlet, and the occasional otter or whale... it's a place that retains so much old-world charm because it is literally so far away from other forms of civilization. As of 2011, its population totaled 155.

This is a very special place for our neighbors, Paulina and Jeff. They were married here five years ago on Brady's Beach (pictured above), and we were so excited to be invited to celebrate their anniversary with their family and friends this year! Also, the idea of getting to explore this lesser-known region of Canada was both appealing while at the same time intimidating. It is sometimes referred to as the "virgin coast," because the only way over is via logging road or a ferry ride from another small town.

The best part of the first half of our trip was hanging out with this bunch (pictured below). Our new Canadian friends showed us how to fish, how to catch crab, how to spot edible berries and plants in the wild, how to build a fire, and basically how to be a badass survivor. It was inspiring that this all seemed to come so easily to them. We like photographing and trekking through nature, but they showed us how to appreciate the great outdoors in a very up-close and personal way. Also, we learned to seamlessly incorporate the Canadian term: eh? into our daily oral language.

We took so many pictures, so I had to make another post for Part 2.  Yup, a lot can happen in a small Canadian town!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Ecuadorian Feast in Pasadena

I went to Ecuador! It was an adventure that put me completely out of my element in many, many ways. It took a week to get used to not disposing of toilet paper into the toilet, three days to fully figure out the long commute to my volunteer work site, two days to become accustomed with showering in weak, lukewarm water (until we ran out of gas), though I never quite got used to the inadvertently racist catcalls and hiking at high altitudes. Despite being somewhat lost and confused in the beginning, it took me no time to dive into the food scene—I was eating things that could have potentially made me sick to my stomach, from day one. There was so much to try and so much cultural exposure that I gained from simply stepping into a restaurant or stall for lunch and talking to the people there. Eating out and buying food to cook in my kitchen was fulfilling, both viscerally and spiritually.

Many times, food came to my rescue. Admittedly, I very rarely know where I am, even in my own hometown. My sense of direction absolutely sucks. So, you can only imagine what things must have been like in Quito for me on my own, with no 3G and no English to be heard or seen. I used my gluttony as a compass. The Spanish school was just past this little stall with the cups of slivered green mango sticks and bagged nuts. Plaza Foch was in the direction of the brightly-lit Union Bakery (a favorite place to grab freshly squeezed orange juice and maracuya gelato). I needed to be facing Texas Chicken (a fried chicken chain store which serves your average pollo with menestra and rice) when exiting the bus stop on the way home. When I was totally disoriented looking for my apartment on my first day off on my own, the faded, familiar-yet-foreign pictures of Chinese dishes plastered to the windows of the downstairs chifa (Chinese restaurant) were what guided me home. The smells of bubble gum told me that I was in the right side street when walking to work after getting off the bus—the daycare center was across the way from Quito’s largest chicle factory. 

I also spent some time living in the home of an Ecuadorian family, and the women there showed me how to make several traditional dishes.  I was so excited to share what I had discovered and learned to love in Ecuador when I got home.  Luckily, I found an awesome Ecuadorian food blog with tons of recipes for food that I had eaten.  Thanks to Laylita, the blogger, I was able to make a few things here in Pasadena! 

So, after a few nights of eating American food after my long hiatus, I dragged Wes into helping me prep for a big Ecuadorian feast. He not only made a rotisserie chicken (pictured above) just like the ones I had seen spinning in the windows throughout Ecuador, but also accompanied me on my crazed search for achiote spice and tomate de arbol, chopped up a rock-hard yucca root, and assisted with the deep-frying and smashing process of making patacones.  

We had my parents over for almuerzo, followed by scratch-made chocolate fondue. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone enjoyed the food, and we had just enough left over for another dinner!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lamb Burgers, Salmon, and Ribs, Oh My!

Two years ago, we invited our families over to our apartment for the Fourth of July.  It was pretty major - we were freshly engaged and it was the first time our parents were hanging out.  Whether our folks would get along was the least of our concerns, though.  Our minds were on multiple racks of lamb, a few pounds of chicken wings and short ribs, skewers, hot dogs, and four or five side dishes.  We were more nervous about making sure that our food would taste good.

This year, we decided to undertake this project again.  Wes had accumulated a few more shiny new kitchen toys and was itching to play with them.  He even bought a new Roomba on Craig's List to replace our broken one and set it to work (using gadgets to get tasks done must be his way of compensating for being a guy who loves cooking and cleaning).

On the 3rd of July, we made our rounds, hitting up Costco, Armen Market, Sprouts, and Vons; and then we prepped whatever we could.  Wes seasoned and formed twelve burger patties while I boiled and chopped three pounds of potatoes.  It was fun and therapeutic - the calm before the storm.

Just like with Thanksgiving, it isn't a proper family feast if there aren't mounds of leftovers to go around.  All of those take-out boxes that my mom refuses to throw away end up getting put to good use here.  But even after everyone got what they wanted, we had enough food to last us through two outdoor concerts at Descanso Gardens that week.  In fact, there might still be a lone burger patty sitting in the fridge...