Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Who Let the Squirrels Out?

It started with birding, but quickly morphed into photos of any and all wildlife within the perimeter of our property.  The variety is actually quite astounding!  Wes used his telephoto lens to capture action shots of birds, bugs, cats, and plants through the Spring and Summer months.  Our favorite animals to observe were definitely the squirrels, though.  They are so cute, agile, and quirky.  There's nothing like seeing one hop from tree branch to roof like a superhero, observing a hungry pregnant squirrel going at a freshly picked orange, or enjoying the sight of young squirrels (quite possibly her pups) playing raucously early in the morning.  Wes insisted on making rainbow colored ladders for the squirrels to play on using scrap wood in the garage, which I thought was sort of ridiculous.  We made them anyway and they look cute, whether the squirrels actually make use of them or not.  On the hot days, Wes would turn on the sprinklers to spritz the grass and make it cooler for them, since we noticed that they like to lie in the grass to cool off.  For fun, we would leave oranges around to see if they would take them.  The squirrels provided a daily perk to look forward to and their surprising behaviors never ceased to amaze us.  Sometimes, it just comes down to noticing the simple things in times like this.  If we weren't home so much, we may never have known of this circle of life occurring right in our yard. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Adventures at the Wong Campground

Since we couldn't go anywhere this year for our anniversary (for a variety of reasons), we still made the day special by setting up camp in our back yard.  I was really craving an outing into nature after much time being cooped up inside.  We pitched the tent like we always do, blew up the sleeping pads, made a camp fire, and played games.  It was totally corny, but how often do two adults get do this?  We cheated a little bit by making it okay to use the bathroom and the kitchen!  We went on a familiar hike earlier that day in the Angeles National Forest, which was a great getaway that offered fresh air, sprawling mountain views, and no crowds.  I was worried at first that this year's celebration would be dull compared to the past ones, but of course it never ends up being dull unless you see it that way.  We felt fortunate to have been able to do something different for our five-year wedding anniversary, even though we stayed local.  In light of current events, this day was epic in its own way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Indian Food

We have always told ourselves that Indian food was something that we could not possibly fathom making at home.  It seemed too difficult to identify what spices would go into dishes with such complex flavors.  Plus, nothing can replace that hot, fluffy naan, fresh out of a tandoori oven.  Due to this crazy pandemic, we ended up having to figure it out when the craving for Indian food hit.  After our first attempt, we became totally addicted to cooking Indian food!  It was not actually that hard, and most of the ingredients were things that we actually had already.  Like with Chinese cooking, garlic, ginger, and onions are the holy trinity of flavor (green onions for Chinese cooking, regular onions for Indian cooking).  While I am used to tossing garlic into the pan first and using green onions as garnish towards the end, I noticed that with many of these Indian recipes, you would saute the onions first and then add the garlic after.  While Chinese cooking involves a lot of wet aromatics such as rice wine and soy sauce, Indian cooking incorporates dry spices that enable the food to take on more of a char.  Once we got the hang of a few recipes, we were able to create our own dishes using non-traditional ingredients such as salmon and zucchini--just stuff that we had sitting around in the refrigerator that we felt would be fun to Indian-ify.  Ah, and we did make our own naan from scratch!  It was tasty and definitely much more straight forward than I thought it would be, though it truly does not compare to restaurant naan.  I've recorded all of the recipes that we made across three meals here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Revisiting My Roots in Taiwan

Even though I was not born there, I almost automatically use the word hui 回, "return to," when referring to traveling to Taiwan because that is how my parents have always phrased it.  I have only had the privilege of making that trip a handful of times in my life, and each time has been different and special in its own way, with memories that I can still recall clearly.  However, Taiwan was becoming more and more of a distant "home" to me as the years went by, and even my dad had not been back in almost 20 years.  It was this thought of losing that part of me that urged me to ask my mom if I could join her when she returned for Chinese New Year in 2017.  She had been going back almost every year after us kids went to college, so she was at first confused about my sudden desire to come along.  Surprisingly, my dad also tacked on, and before we knew it, he and I were on a plane bound for Taipei!

This was my first time experiencing the Lunar New Year at my grandma Po-Po's place , and though I didn't know it then, it was also my last chance to spend quality time with her.  Wes did not come on this trip, and insisted that I take advantage of this rare opportunity to be 100% immersed within this side of my family.  I totally indulged in being a Chiang grandchild again, sleeping with my aunts and mom in Po-Po's bedroom, eating everything they put in front of me, and tagging along everywhere they went.  My complete lack of control was a refreshing and nostalgic way of experiencing Taiwan.  I brought my honkin' DSLR camera and took some pictures, mainly focusing on Chinese New Year traditions around the house and capturing my Po-Po at some of her favorite local spots.  I am so glad to be able to look back on these more recent memories of her and to have been able to feel close to my Taiwanese roots again.  My mother was worried that I would get bored, but everything we did felt significant in some way, whether it was something as mundane as picking up the dry cleaning with my aunt or as unique as sharing in Po-Po's delicious cooking on New Year's Eve.  

Po-Po and my mom

Katie, Aunt Nancy, and me

Aunt Kathy and my mom

Rachel, Katie, and me

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Karen

And how could I ever be bored around so many talkative, opinionated, and spunky women?  Aunt Nancy is the eldest, Aunt Kathy is next, and then my mom is the youngest of the four Chiang children.  We call their brother Jiu-Jiu, and he is possibly the most gentle and compassionate of them all.  My cousins who were there were Rachel (Jiu-Jiu's daughter) and Katie (one of Aunt Kathy's daughters)--many others like my sister were in America and unable to join.  So basically, the men were outnumbered and I appreciated that the Chiang house seemed to be perpetually dominated by women's voices.  My grandpa, Gong-Gong, passed away ten years ago, but even when he was alive, he sweetly catered to his wife, daughters, and son with grace and wisdom.  I wish that I had known him better.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Five Years Married

It's our five-year anniversary today.  Looking back at these photos has never made me feel so emotional before.  It could be from feeling socially distant from all of these loving friends and family members.  But I think that it's mainly because it hits me how much we have changed in the last year.  We are no longer as carefree as we were when we said our vows and danced the night away.  Everything that day looked so predictable and fun, so perfect and happy.

It was on this day last year that I surprised Wes by announcing our first pregnancy, under the same tree where we had our "first look" on our wedding day.  We were celebrating our fourth anniversary by returning to Descanso Gardens, our wedding venue, after a long day of unpacking boxes and working with the electrician.  Moving into our newly-bought home was hard work, but we were so full of hope for the future.  Wes never shed a tear (not even at our wedding), but he had to wipe tears from his eyes when I told him that we were expecting a baby.  I had no idea that the ensuing twelve months after this day would bring so many more tears.  But the hard year ahead also brought a deeper level of empathy and trust into our marriage.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Chinese New Year: A Celebration of Togetherness

Chinese New Year was the last time that we had a family gathering at our place.  Little did we know that it would be impossible to do this again... indefinitely.  We traditionally host Fourth of July, but who knows if the coronavirus stay-at-home order will be lifted by then?

It was around Chinese New Year that the virus first gained attention in the media.  At the time, it was largely dismissed as a virus no more harmful than the flu.  My sister was handing out wedding invitations for her May wedding still.  We were exchanging everything from food, to hugs, to lucky money (cash, the germiest form of currency!).   I remember going to three different markets to get groceries for our Chinese New Year feast, and how "crazy" we thought the Asian markets were around this big holiday.  The definition of a chaotic supermarket has now been blown out the window.  Thinking back, our world has shifted so much since then.

I wanted to go back and relive that fun day.  It was our first family gathering since officially moving in.  The house was full and bursting with laughter and our oven was jam-packed with the many dishes that we had cooked ahead and were keeping warm.  People drove for miles to get together, bringing more goodies to share.  It was hectic getting everything onto the table while taking photos and entertaining, but I remember it being a good kind of hectic.  I miss having guests come by.  Sometimes when we cook great meals for ourselves during these days, I wish that we could have shared them with loved ones.  For now, all we can do is to share virtually.

I hope that we will get to see everyone again soon.  Thankfully, we've got technology to video-chat and my family already has a group text, but to share a physical space (without having to be six feet apart) is still an irreplaceable experience.  Also, food is our mutual love language.  On the final days before the stay at home order, we visited my parents and my mom insisted on cooking dinner for everyone to eat.  On Wes's birthday, about two weeks into the lockdown, his mom dropped off a box of homecooked food on our front doorstep.  We are really looking forward to bringing everybody together for a hearty feast to celebrate when it is safe again!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Facing our Pizza Fears

Confession: we have PTSD from making pizza.  It is the one thing that we irrecoverably failed at in our kitchen a few years ago.  The shame and heartbreak from that unfortunate incident still burns to this day.  The failure was multi-staged.  We couldn't figure out how to stretch the dough, it kept springing back in on itself.  Finally, we decided to just top it anyway and try to bake it.  The toppings looked great and concealed the half-flattened crust, so we allowed ourselves to hope again.  Alas, upon attempting to slide everything onto the pizza stone inside of the oven, our pizza skidded in its tracks, tripped, and turned into a quesadilla.  That was, an inedible quesadilla, because the dough never did quite cook all the way through.  The most pitiful part of this story is that the pizza dough wasn't even handmade...we were using a Trader Joe's pre-made dough!  What should have been totally foolproof was our worst nightmare.

So... pizza has been the last thing on our list of things to make for ages.  We've had some success with making it on a grill during a group trip to Bamfield, Canada, but somebody else had made the dough and flattened it for us.  Wes pre-grilled it, then we topped it, and he grilled it again with the toppings and removed it one piece unscathed.  Still, it didn't seem worth reattempting on our own, until the pandemic hit.  Maybe we were craving some suspense in our lives, a much-needed adrenaline rush after weeks of being stuck inside.  Maybe others on social media had made pizza successfully and I was getting FOMO.  Whatever the case, we tried again and triumphed!  There are no photos from the first attempt because we were too afraid to document another round of pizza-fail, but we did it again.  This second time, we made an olive and anchovy pizza (we love anchovies!) as well as a Peking duck pizza.  We had leftover Peking duck from one of our takeout dinners, so why not try to imitate the famous CPK one? The results were fabulous for both!