Saturday, December 9, 2017


I just wanted to take a moment to sit here and be truly thankful.  I take pictures almost every day, so I am incredibly, if not overly, accustomed to casually exercising gratitude.  But pictures make everything look so perfect, when in fact it's no secret that married life is far from "perfect."  As time goes on in our still-young relationship, it gets unfortunately easier to point out each other's flaws and to blame one another for things that don't go right.  We've both got headstrong, stubborn personalities, so of course it's never been easy to meet in the middle when we disagree.  And the vicious cycle goes like this: the more time you spend coexisting with someone, the more stubborn and unforgiving you become around him or her...because naturally, you've begun to take each other for granted.  We've been there already--it happens between family members, roommates, best friends, coworkers.  We easily take another person's love and loyalty for granted, and nitpick our way through our days.  So, Thanksgiving comes around every year to remind us of the grand scheme of things.  There's really so much to be thankful for.

I might not show it enough as we go about our days in a blur, but I have so much warm-fuzzy-teary-eyed gratitude for our life together and how it has shaped me.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be with each other and to serve one another endlessly.  I am thankful for the opportunity to bicker and to fight (endlessly too), because it shows that we don't fear each other's judgment and it gives us a chance to try to be better versions of ourselves.  I am thankful for having a partner who is willing to drive anywhere, learn anything, and cook anytime for our family and friends.  Wes inspires me to be more generous, more informed, and more reasonable; less guilty, less rigid, and less worried.

While I do have mixed feelings about blogging a bunch of standout good times, I am thankful for the ability and opportunity to blog at all.  I get stuck on how blogging can be seen as annoyingly flaunting or unnecessarily putting my wonderful life on display, but when it comes down to it, blogging is a healthy practice.  It's not every day that we stop to reminisce about those good times and to make an effort to record what we can while we still remember.  With only gratitude on my mind and nothing else, I share a random collection of recent photos from this summer that resonated with me.  For this post, I picked only photos of places close to home / at home rather than the ones from our travels or major culinary undertakings.  Due to lack of time to keep updating, I've only chosen to blog the big events mostly, but the small triumphs of each passing day deserve recognition as well.  So that's what this post is for.

Family time doesn't happen often, but I've come to appreciate just simply being with them and to stop feeling bad about not seeing everyone enough.  Here, my sister planned a lighthearted picnic at the park near our home in Irvine.  My brother happened to be back from USAFA and we hadn't seen him for months.  Wes got the sausages going (both American and Taiwanese sausages), and everyone played whiffle-ball in the grass.  I felt like a kid again, and it was great fun for everyone, even my mom, who took a swing at it.

Mother's Day with Mama Chiu, at Al Tannour.  We were supposed to bring food to my Grandma's, but just as we were about to pick up some food at Sam Woo, Ah-Ma was rushed to the ER.  She was unable to get up from the ground due to a severe bout of gout in her leg.  Al Tannour is an Iraqi restaurant next to the hospital in Anaheim - thankfully, the delicious food lifted our spirits and my Grandma was admitted to the hospital that night.  We went to visit her after official visiting hours and made way too much noise...but it was worth it to see her smile.

Mother's Day with Mama Wong, at New Fusion in Arcadia.  Wes's dad treated us all to a suckling pig, crispy skin and all.  I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights at these Hong Kong style banquets when we first started dating.  Now, it's a tradition that I embrace wholeheartedly, even if it's gotta be late at night after 10 PM, for the deals.

Then, we went back the following weekend to the same place try their HK breakfast.  It was honestly maybe only my second time eating HK breakfast, much to Wes's horror.  We usually don't get up early enough, but I remember that on this morning in particular, I had to get my car maintained and Wes had gone to Kaiser early to get his vaccinations for Peru - a milestone moment for this guy who still fears needles.  So, I guess he deserved some good childhood comfort food for finally growing up!

Fourth of July was another fun-filled family gathering.  Wes smoked turkey legs and beef ribs - they were so fragrant and juicy.  My mom couldn't keep her hands away!  This was before Wes divorced the smoker and married the charcoal grill.

Wes's dad is a certified massage therapist (his experience is written all over his hands), and he gave me a deep tissue ankle and calf massage because I was going through ankle tendonitis.  It was longer and more intense than I expected, and I couldn't believe that he would be willing to do this for me.  Everyone was busy laughing, but I could tell that he was working so hard.  He has also been suffering from aches and pains throughout his body.  The pure generosity of the Wongs humbles me every time.

So yeah... this summer marks the first time I had to see the doctor for an orthopedic issue.  It was like when I developed eczema.  I felt so broken and embarrassed, especially when I was hobbling around work with a trekking pole as a cane every single time after a weekend of hiking.  Although it hampered the amount of hiking I was capable of, which really sucked because Wes would be down to go,  having this happen made me appreciate every hike that I accomplish now so much more, and it taught me to cherish my physical ability and take care of myself more.

Inspiration Point was another big milestone - we have never been brave enough to do it.  This was both of our first 10+ mile hike, and it was definitely so worth it to go past Echo Mountain to be here, looking through these telescopes.  This started an entire summer of hiking madness!

Making monetary investments into hiking felt sort of bad at first, until I realized that accumulating more gadgets and gizmos was the ticket to winning Wes's favor for the sport.  Trekking poles made me cringe at first, but they were the magic wand that made Wes start hiking more.  He actually loves using his trekking poles more than he loved buying them.  And as for me, they helped greatly with the ankle.  Moral of the story: don't be so stingy, let the guy buy his toys, and maybe by default he'll fall in love with your hobbies and have a great time.

Now for an investment that made Wes cringe, initially: a mirrorless camera.  I actually felt that this would be good to have for hiking - we used to do hikes with Wes's DSLR and that thing was friggin heavy.  Wes was very picky about which mirrorless camera to get, and eventually settled on the Sony RX1.  So he's been bringing it on all of our hikes and following me around with it.  It's a big-ticket item, but I don't regret it one bit.

That f2 lens though... so sharp, so fun.  Lots of new plant pictures, and bug pictures, and acorn pictures, and pictures of me throwing leaves and blowing feathers into the air.  We also have a super cute video of a chipmunk (Wes named him Philip) eating a corn nut that we left right in front of the camera lens.

We're pretty amazed that this camera can take such great night photos too.  Wes played with the settings before our trip to Peru to familiarize himself.  These were two of the photos that he took - one from the top of Echo Mountain and the other from Almansor Park on the Fourth of July.

So, by now Wes is just crazy in love with hiking with his trekking poles, new boots, lightweight stuff-able jacket, and nifty new camera.  He even went so far as to suggest hiking at night to beat the heat, lol.  So, we went up to Echo Mountain at sunset a few times.  It was a whole new world up there at night.  So interesting and we felt like fresh adventurers on the same old hike!  Happy that Wes suggested this - now it's on our rotation of things to do when we're in for the night - mwahaha.

Also wanted to mention that lugging around extra weight in the form of food is always worth it for us.  We are self-proclaimed foodies, and so we make every eating experience a wholehearted one.  Luckily, eating is something humans do every day.  Taking pictures of eating is not so normal, but now I have these quirky photos of our go-to hike bites everywhere we go!

Banh Mi Che Cali at the top of Echo Mountain at sunset

Another glorified banh mi shot, at Echo Mountain again.

Goldstein's Bagels at the Icehouse Saddle

Subway at the Watchtower, Sequoia National Park

 Homemade sandwich with all of the parts packed separately and reconstructed, at Big Pine Lakes

Claro's Italian sandwiches, Icehouse Canyon to Cucamonga Peak trailhead

Can always look forward to breaking open a bag of exotic snacks.

I've been trying to be more intentional about using that right brain to create tangible things out of good memories.  Photographs are somewhat tangible, but not as usable as these rock magnets that we randomly stuck magnets onto.  The rocks are from Zion, North Fork (Wes's bachelor party in 2015), the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Iceland.  It's fun to see every day on the side of our fridge.

We volunteered for the second year in a row at the Special Olympics of Southern California Summer Games.  We were not enthusiastic about getting out of bed, but once we got there, we were so thankful that we came.  Wes took photos and I was a "cheerleader" at the finish line with our volunteer friends from last year.  The best part is that all of the athletes instantly wanted to befriend us too!  It's always a real heartwarming experience to go.

I love that Irvine is right in between San Diego and Pasadena.  For Father's Day, we brought home a ton of yummy food from the Korean market (including some bomb fried chicken) and my parents spontaneously moved the dining table out into the backyard - I never would have thought of that!  Their spontaneity is more and more apparent nowadays - not sure if it's always been that way, or if I'm only noticing it more now.  Either way, I'm grateful for such chill parents and the way they've always fostered that adventurous spirit in us kids.

Andrew was telling us about his recent trip to Sequoia with his own family, so we randomly decided to do a day-trip there.  Wes was a major trooper for driving there and back on the same day.  It was a fully packed day - we saw the giant Sequoia trees, we experienced an oncoming thunder storm at the top of Moro Rock, and we even saw our first bear together!  It was a great moment - we were filled with fear, awe, and respect.  Now, Sequoia's on our rotation of nearby getaways too!

However, home isn't necessarily a place we want to "get away" from either.   This summer, we spent almost every night cooking good food and eating outside on our patio, on the table that Wes built last year.  There's nothing like these quiet summer nights, and I wouldn't trade any of it for a fancy dinner out.  I'm so grateful that Wes and I have an indoor, everyday hobby that we can always fall back on: cooking.  Anyway, I just flipped through my phone and found some random dinners that I decided to snap a photo of - the most photogenic ones are the ones that Wes took the time to plate all cute.  I guess the things that drive me insane are the things that keep him sane.

Japanese feast, inspired by Wes's day of working in Torrance.  His company sponsored the sashimi.  Cucumbers artfully arranged by he-who-has-too-much-time.  Then, coincidentally our neighbor Jeff happened to be free, so we invited him over and he contributed a plate of black sesame string beans!  Thankful to have great friends as neighbors - always love hanging out with our favorite Canadians.

Korean feast that Wes cooked for my brother when he was staying over at our place.  He even made all the banchan like an ajumma would.  The pan-fried kimchi dumplings in the middle were an impulse buy from me...they were sampling them at the Korean market and I fell into the trap.

Another Korean food feast - Wes was on a Korean food kick this summer.  He made bossam from scratch, and also banchan!  We bastardized the meal by adding some beef tendon into it, though.  That Chinese side of us just had to come out.

So, speaking of Chinese, we had gone to this new restaurant, Simmer Huang (which isn't worth it, in our opinion).  Wes threw together a catfish steampot with his own riff on the "secret sauce" that they use there.  I thought that ours was way better, honestly.  But it was still worth it to eat at Simmer Huang with our friends who we hadn't seen in a while.

We even made a Mexican-inspired meal on a whim - Wes saw them rolling out fresh tortillas at Baja Ranch Market and we bought a 50-pack (because it was a better value than the 20-pack, duh!).  Anyway, he made taquitos and they turned out pretty awesome.  He even roasted his own tomatillos to make the green salsa up there.  I made the soup - the summer corn was really good in there.  I also sliced cabbage that he didn't eat.

We also got into making our own lule kabobs.  Pre-marinated ground meat is sold at the Armenian Market near us, so we'd pick some up, scrunch it onto some grill sticks, and make all the sides.  I've gotten pretty familiar with making hummus, labne sauce, and lavash chips.  Still just the girl making the side dishes, though.

Wes is so random sometimes... he wanted to have his rice readily available, so he unplugged the rice cooker and brought it outside to sit beside him on the bench.

Leftovers night, wtf ftw!  We had really random leftovers, like mackerel sashimi, kabobs, and raw vegetables.  I made lavash chips and lentil hummus for the first time in an effort to tie it all together (but that mackerel is just........).  Curious how this weird mishmash somehow still looks photogenic in the correct light.

I post this because it's a milestone: we found a cheese that I actually enjoy.  It's a sheep's milk feta that they used at Friends and Family, a sunny little bakery-cafe in East Hollywood where we met Sophia's boyfriend (who also doesn't really like cheese) for the first time.  That was fun.  But anyway, Wes was so excited that I was eating cheese there that he called the restaurant to ask what cheese they use in their "hippie sandwich."  Total Overheard in LA moment, there.

Wes even successfully attempted to make Vietnamese whole roasted catfish (ca nuong da don).  Everything was just as good as the restaurants, except that he bought the wrong vermicelli noodles.  haha.

But then sometimes he does really weird creepy stuff like this: salmon head in our rice cooker.  The worst thing was that he didn't warn me before I popped it open.

After we returned from Peru, we attempted to cook our own Peruvian meals at home because we missed the food (this is arroz verde con pollo).  We found Peruvian ingredients (aji amarillo! huacatay sauce!) at Baja Ranch Market.  Those potatoes and avocadoes don't compare to the ones we ate in Peru, though.

Here's another Peruvian-inspired meal, mainly because we had a lot of leftover arroz verde.  It looks super weird, but it's stewed pork with that huacatay sauce and potatoes, which turned out to look kind of like dragon eggs sitting in blood.  Perfect, because it was also the night of the Game of Thrones finale.

Aaaaand still another Peruvian inspired meal, because we were craving the Peruvian fried rice (chaufa) rotisserie chicken (pollo a la brasa), and chicken soup (aguadito).  That might have been one of our favorite meals out there, the one that we did not plan at a restaurant that we did not know even existed in a town that we weren't sure that we liked.  Of course, we ended up falling in love with Urubamba. Anyway, that's a story for another time.  Clearly, the food of Peru was amazing.

We took Stephen to Rosaline, a fancy Peruvian restaurant, for his birthday.  I guess our tastebuds were STILL reeling from the trip and we wanted to try out an upscale American take on Peruvian cuisine.  Aside from a few splurges during the trip itself, this was probably our only "fancy" meal in a long time.

To prove my point about how unfancy we've been about food, here's another milestone: we discovered that the 99 Cents Only store by our place (literally walking distance) has PRODUCE.  I thought they only carried crappy ziploc bags and canned foods.  So now we go all the time.  I even bought treatment supplies that I could use at work.  And YES, blueberries, artisan greens, a sack of white potatoes, green cauliflower, a sack of squash, asparagus bunch, and bagged spinach for only a dollar!  The avocadoes and bell peppers were like... two bucks?  Win Win Win.

Oh man, and who would have thought that we'd be watching baseball on TV?  The Dodgers went to the World Series this summer and I guess we somehow got sucked right in, maybe thanks to Sophia's boyfriend and Lindsey.  We made a bunch of different dinners at home (never ordered out) to eat while watching the games (we didn't miss a single one).  One of these dinners constituted this whole roasted chicken that Wes slapped a Dodger's hat on from when we actually went to a game (which was a boring game).  One time we even went to Walmart to try to buy the Dodger dogs, but alas they were sold out.

Another one of these dinners was this glorious seafood feast that Wes cooked on his new favorite kitchen toy, the charcoal grill.

Yeah it looks so gourmet, but this meal was actually pretty cheap because the lobsters, the clams, and the prawns were all on clearance at the Chinese supermarket.  And there's our backpacks sitting in the middle of the living room floor - we had just gotten back from going backpacking for the first time at Henninger Flats, where we actually watched one of the other World Series games!

In fact, these are the other meals!  I bought a sketchbook to try to make myself draw more (less screen time, more paper time), but only two pages have been used thus far...

So, my beloved Ah-Ma was experiencing some pretty serious knee problems during the summer, and she ended up having it totally replaced.  I spent some of my Friday mornings with her in Stanton, since I had Fridays off during summer school.  One day, she had taught me how to make Taiwanese sticky rice.  She wouldn't let me leave without a huge tub of it.  So we had sticky rice for dinner, supplemented with some trusty greens and two favorites from the Sam Woo takeout counter: fried shrimp and roast duck.  I treasure both the time that I got to spend with Ah-Ma one on one, and also the satisfying, yet simple meal that Wes and I got out of it later the same day.  I wrote down the recipe - for another blog post.

A few days later, we all got to spend some time with my Ah-Ma at her apartment for my uncle's birthday.  She wasn't able to walk far or get into cars easily, so we brought over some of that great Iraqi food.  Now it is one of my uncle's favorite places to go, and my grandma still talks about the tannour bread.  We were so shamelessly loud in her apartment, but it was a happy racket that I am proud of creating!

The Wongs are pretty ratchet too.  I love that we're always shamelessly ourselves even in public.  For Madison's birthday, we all went to Souplantation.  It was Wes's dad's first time at Souplantation, and he said that it'll be his last...

...cuz his idea of a legitimate buffet is THIS ^
Golden Hibachi for Father's Day with all the crab claws, oysters, crawfish, chicken wings, gyozas, and Mongolian barbecue that he could eat.

Speaking of whom, this adorable little bean just turned four!!  Wes took these photos as part of her annual birthday photoshoot.  She loves to play and she's got the leg bruises to show for it, but Stephen kindly asked Wes to photoshop those out.

I don't have a lot of pictures of our friends because we're too darn old for group photos now, but these are a few moments that remind us that we are surrounded by such great people and we are thankful for every person in our lives, even if we only see each other a few times a year.  These times are so very precious, and they always seem to revolve around the thing that brings people together: a good feast.

Finally, I'm ending with a few photos from Thanksgiving Day, 2017.  Hosting this fat group of fifteen was, of course, a daunting thought, but it went so smoothly thanks to family members who can just roll with it and to the Wong brothers, who are the meanest cooks around.  Some day when we have a "proper" house, we'll look back on these photos and think of how endearingly cozy it was to do it in our apartment, with the bring-your-own Asian stools and all.  I am thankful that we have a comfortable place to live and entertain in, even if it isn't that big.

That last selfie was when everything was in the dish washer and the floors had been swept, the tables folded up, and the leftovers boxed and frozen.  We, the hosts, sat down to the last piece of apple pie that Wes dissecretely stowed in the oven while everyone was taking their leftovers to-go.  

While putting together this longggg blog post, we just ate the last two pieces of pumpkin pie that were frozen from our Thanksgiving feast.  It all came full circle, like 3.14.  Excuse the corniness.  Anyway, Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!  And let's all be thankful that there are finally no more leftovers to eat.

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