Friday, December 14, 2012

!@#$% non-Asians say to me Episode 3

So, last night I went to our office Christmas party--which was in our building. I did NOT like the food but when you order from Safeway, can't expect much. This sounds sad but I stopped by my apartment complex Christmas party just because I was hoping they would have better food. I had to find something to cancel out the bland dinner I had (It's never good when food comes from the same color wheel) where there weren't even any vegetables. Most of the food was gone at the second party. But I at least got some salad and spinach enchiladas. Unfortunately I ended up sitting down next to some 50-something year old dude named Tony, who was leaning a little too close into my personal space.

Tony: "Are you the one who's always working out next to me in the gym room?"
Me: "No. I work out outside."
Tony: "Oh. Too bad."

A few sentences after that...
Tony: "So, what ethnicity are you?"
Me: "Chinese."
Tony: "My last girlfriend was Korean."
Thought going thru my head: "Who cares? What does that have to do with anything?"
Tony: "She was actually half Korean and half Nebraskan. She was high maintenance."
Thought in my head: "Is Nebraskan an ethnicity?"
What I said: "Sorry?"
Tony: "I once had a Chinese girlfriend. I met her in Kualalumpur."
Thought running thru my head: "Did you have to give your credit card number?"
What I said: "Oh."

Anyone who knows me, knows that if I'm giving monosyllabic answers, I am NOT having a good time. Despite all that *scintillating* conversation, when I got up with the excuse of getting a drink, Tony said "Be sure to come back and sit here. I think you're cool." Blech.

Monday, November 26, 2012

True Sis-mance

I was griping to a girlfriend on the phone the other night. She's one of the best listeners I know and never makes me feel like I'm imposing on her. For a second, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I blurted out "Will you marry me?" Of course, I was joking and for those of you who don't know me, she's a regular girlfriend. I'm straight like someone who just got the pants scared off them. But I was thinking, if as little girls, we can sport those broken heart pendants that together, say Best Friends Forever, why can't there be something like that for when we are grown women? Especially if the hetero girlfriend is someone who's always there for you, gets your humor and helps you get back up when you fall. And why do guys get a special word like bromance? Why can't girls have one? Or is this just a gender thing? Girls are always thought of as being all BFF-ish _ wanting to talk about their issues and hug it out. And hey, there are worse people for me to combine incomes with. Can we have commitment ceremonies for best gal pals? Please?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A day to be 'free'

Sundays are my Saturdays. So sometimes it's hard to find stuff going on because all the festivals and special events are usually Saturdays. :\  I have easily allowed many a Sunday to go by without having anything to show for it except a butt print in my sofa. Yesterday as the clock struck one, I said "Damn it, I will not waste the afternoon by watching whatever crap TV is on." So I heaved myself off the papa san and decided to go out--but only doing stuff that was free of charge.

Stop #1: Rio Salado Audubon Center
I have never been here in all my years of living in Phoenix. For some reason, I always thought it was super-far. Turns out, it's only a couple miles from the heart of downtown. It came to my attention through my friend Taz. Walking around here, you do feel removed from the city despite being able to see the high rise buildings in the distance. The center houses photos of flora and fauna native to the Southwest, a learning area for students, a gift shop and other displays. Outside, you can navigate an interpretive trail or read up on fish and plant life around a habitat. It's definitely bike-friendly and they offer a lot of free programs.
For more info:

Stop #2: Micro Dwelling (For more info:
At the bottom of my purse, I found a flyer I got the day before at the Arizona Local First! Festival. A man in his 80s was handing them out and my friend Jim thrust one into my hand. What stuck out in my memory is that this was free.So, from the Audubon Center, I drove over to 50th Street and Camelback. About 10 "micro dwellings" or homes smaller than 600 square feet are on display through the end of December behind the Shemer Art Center. These sustainable structures are truly impressive. They are all partially constructed of material from the scrap heap. Some have furniture so you can see that they could be liveable spaces. The most popular by far was this wooden micro dwelling that also serves as the most awesome treehouse.

There's actually a section on the lower half that contains a chalkboard for kids to draw on. This was crawling with children a short time before I took this photo.

The idea for this entire show came from Patrick McCue, a Phoenix firefighter who loves to build stuff in his spare time. He had been pitching this idea since 2000 but it's only come together for the first time this year. His brother Terry, also a firefighter who builds, helped him organize and build one (a firefighter named Terry...yay!). This is theirs:

Patrick and Terry said they plan to move this into a warehouse after the show and use it as a place to meet with clients, visitors, etc.

When I first arrived, I saw that elderly gentleman who first gave me the flyer. Turns out, he's Pat and Terry's father, LOL. Gerry and his wife Marge have been longtime advocates of historic preservation in Phoenix. They are also an entertaining pair in their own right. In fact, after talking with them, I got an idea of something to add to my next travel story. :)  After speaking with them, I got to chat with Terry and Pat. Pretty soon it was time for the show to close for the day. As I got ready to go, Pat and one of the artists, Hector _ who also works part-time at Pizzeria Bianco _ invited me to join them for dinner. So, this would lead to an impromptu stop #3...

Stop #3: The Garage
The Garage bar and restaurant, which is at the corner of Bethany Home Road and 16th Street, used to be an actual automotive garage before it became a place to dine. I found out Pat actually did a lot of refabrication of everything from old signs to old tires to a plane propeller for the restaurant's decor. So, everyone in a management position there knows him. Pat got there last because he was saying hi to people. As soon as he got to our table, he didn't even say hello. He said "How would you like to go to the men's room with me?" I thought he was making a weird joke but no. Pat beckoned me and Hector. He said he had something to show us. We go into the restroom and he starts pointing out all these framed metal objects he refurbished and how he did it. The best part: A poor innocent guy walks into the restroom to see all three of us gathered by the sink gazing intently at the wall. I tried to explain but five words in, the guy just said "It's no problem. I can go anyway" and shuts the stall door behind him. If I wasn't red, I should have been.

Show and tell didn't end there. Luckily, the wait for our food was hastened by Pat having us stand in the center of the restaurant so he could point out other stuff on the walls and even one of the columns. The whole thing was pretty interesting. I'll never look at The Garage the same way! LOL. Once we started eating, I got to hear all kinds of funny stories about his firefighting--one of which involved horse urine. was a great conversation that also yielded some future stories I'd like to pursue. I can't help but think this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't decided to go be more exploratory. Here's the lesson never hurts to get out more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A tree as a reminder

You know how you have that moment when as a kid where you realize for the first time, the world can suck? It's not always a sunny place where people play nice and behave and consider whether their actions have consequences.

While I've been in Sunnyvale visiting with family, I went jogging and passed this tree outside my old elementary school, Ponderosa. This tree reminds me when that moment happened to me. I remember when this tree was planted. I was in 5th grade. My classmates and I gathered out here for a ceremony on Arbor Day 1989. The tree was planted to honor the memory of a classmate, Ricki Saxon, and her mother and her 9-month-old brother. All three were killed in November 1988 by a drunk driver. I still remember the day my 5th grade teacher broke the news to the entire class and I was completely taken aback. You get used to seeing all your classmates every day. It was hard to imagine that I wouldn't see Ricki again. I didn't know her that well but we had played together during recess now and then with other girls. Even then, you could tell with her long, wavy brown tresses and her face with just the right number of freckles, she was going to be a magnet for boys. She seemed like the perfect, all-American girl. She was also the daughter of a Girl Scout leader and, if I remember correctly, she liked to dance. It's hard for me to believe that it's been 24 years and I'm now older than her mother was when she passed. I remember as a kid, thinking about how there were these kinds of monsters out there who could take one of our schoolmates away forever. The fact that it was because a man made a stupid error in judgement made it even more senseless.

When I was in 5th grade, nobody ever told me much about the man behind the wheel, except that he had sustained a broken leg. Well, today, I still didn't know much. So, I went into journalism-mode and did a public records search on the man after finding some old newspaper briefs on the collision. Back then, he was a 23-year-old mechanic who was also an alcoholic. His friends that night tried three times unsuccessfully to stop him from driving. His parents had spent thousands of dollars in the past trying to treat his alcoholism. Nobody it seems prevented him from going on the road that morning and killing three people. In the end, he was sentenced 15 years to life in prison. But, in my records search, I turned up a man with the same name and right age currently living in a house in Sunnyvale, not too far from where my parents live _ something I can't help but be perturbed by. Part of me wants to knock on his door and ask if he thinks about what he's done every day and is he living life as someone who stops and thinks about his actions first. But I know it's not for me to ask.That would be for Ricki's family.

If I happen to be out for a run when visiting home, I do like passing by the tree. I enjoy seeing how tall it's become. As much as it reminds me of the first time I felt like our school was a sad place, I like that it makes me remember Ricki.  I like to think that maybe she knows all these years later, even her classmates that didn't know her that well haven't forgotten her.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A conversation with my Uncle Kin

I had the fun task of writing about a subject near and dear to my heart for work _ my family and their cooking. Writing about myself for work was weird. Here's what happened...I made Chinese barbecue pork using my family's method _ paper clips _ and I thought it would be funny to tweet the photo to The Associated Press food editor. He got a kick out of it and I wondered if he realized I was an AP employee, not just a follower. So I tweeted to him "if you ever reference this, I want contributing credit!" So I got an email a few days later asking me to call him. There I am in between covering news conferences on a shooting when I decided I had time to call him. He suggested I write a personal essay about this paper-clip technique but through the prism of our family traditions in the kitchen. My Uncle Kin, who is back in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the top cook in the family and the brains behind that method. With this essay coming out, there may be other Chinese families out there who will say they've been doing barbecue pork the same way, but none of them have someone in their family who likes to write so... :p

But beyond asking about his recipe, I had a chance to interview Uncle Kin like I would anyone else.
(Me starting our phone interview: "Let's keep this professional, OK Mr. Woo?"  That didn't last very long). I had the chance to try to see him as not just my uncle. And I learned a lot of cool stuff for the first time just from our hour-long chat.

_New fact #1: I was a terrible 11-year-old kid compared to my uncle.
Uncle Kin told me he started cooking at age 11 because he saw how hard my grandparents were working. They were new immigrants living in San Francisco and putting in long hours. My grandma worked at a garment factory and my grandfather was helping out a relative's business, a gift shop. They both came home pretty late and my uncle thought it would be nice to help out and get dinner started. He would make dinner for the entire family at least a couple nights a week. Let's see...when I was 11, I remember asking my mom when she came home "what's for dinner" and "when are we eating?" I might as well have been pounding a fork and knife on the dinner table.

_New fact #2: My family once co-owned a restaurant.
So, apparently sometime in the 1950s, a deceased relative left my grandfather a restaurant in what is now San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood (SOMA). It had one of those cheesy names you'd expect for a Chinese restaurant _ Golden Harbor _ yet it was American. They served burgers, grilled cheese, etc. It was very popular among retirees--mostly Caucasian. This was ironic given my grandfather, according to Kin, could barely boil water.

_New fact #3: My uncle had 10 times the responsibility I ever had at age 15.
In junior high, Uncle Kin started helping out Golden Harbor. He says that's where he picked up how to cook American fare. By age 15, he was overseeing the entire dinner shift if the head cook was off. Let's see, when I was 15, I was meeting friends at Denny's or Carrows to eat semi-crappy American food or doing homework after school. I don't know if someone had offered to teach me to cook, would I have been interested. Plus, no Jamie Oliver back then to make food prep look cool. My uncle helped run that restaurant for more than seven years until my grandfather passed away.

For my cousins, here are some quotes from my interview with "Mr. Woo":

"The funny thing is after I cook a lot of food, I don’t really feel like eating.When other people invite me for dinner, I usually don’t lift a finger to help them. I just sit back and enjoy. There’s a certain satisfaction in hearing other people praise your food."

On people calling his char sieu "paper clip pork":
"That’s a good name. I should have thought of that. It sounds more interesting than char siu. It doesn’t sound as delicious but it’s a very interesting name."

On being a true foodie in Chinese culture:
"When I was working at a company, we took this Caucasian secretary out for dim sum. She said 'Can you order me some sweet and sour pork?' I said 'absolutely not, I’m Chinese.'"

When I said I find bonding time making "paper clip pork" with my mom:
"A family that bends paper clips together stays together."
_This leads me to fact #4: I come from a family with really corny humor...something I continue to run away from.

All in all, I highly recommend everyone "interview" someone in their family. Try to see them as more than just their family title relative to you i.e. aunt, uncle, mother, father. It's a sure bet you will learn something that will surprise you and you will definitely be richer for it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Crack (Pie) is not Whack

Earlier this month, I decided to be ambitious and continue making non-cupcake desserts. I know, weird right? I just got a recipe book for Momofuku Milk Bar, which is based in New York City. It's owned by famed chef David Chang but run by Christina Tosi. In March, Christina taught a two-hour lesson at the Biltmore on the making of chocolate chip layer cake. But I opted for my first solo foray to make their signature Crack Pie. Supposedly it's so yummy and addictive that that is the name Milk went with. The recipe calls for something like 8 egg yolks. Fortunately, my co-worker gave me 24 eggs recently from his urban chicken coop. Score! It also calls for this brand of European butter called Plugra because it contains 82 percent butter fat, as opposed to 80 percent in grocery store brand butter. Not to sound "political," but it's all about that 1 percent! I have to confess, I misread the amount of butter and added twice as much. Gulp...guess you could call it the "Paula Deen" technique.
Crack Pie crust is basically an oatmeal cookie recipe _ butter, brown sugar, sugar, oats, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, flour. This separate crust is what makes this pie kind of labor intensive. Once your giant cookie is done, you have to crumble it and run it through a food processor. Then you knead melter butter and you have enough to line 2 pie tins.
The filling was pretty easy, thankfully. Egg yolks, sugar, light brown sugar, milk powder, corn powder, kosher salt, butter, heavy cream, vanilla extract. The hardest part was getting the corn powder. I forgot that it's basically getting freeze-dried corn and running it through a processor. I stupidly went to AJ's Fine Foods and asked if they had corn powder and the clerk was like "Never heard of it." Once I went home and re-read the recipe and went "Aaaaah," I went to Sprouts market. The clerk there led me to the freezer section where she said "Nope, don't carry it." I wanted to say "Obviously as 'freeze-dried' doesn't mean keep frozen." Anyway, I found myself driving at 9:30 at night to Whole Foods for the elusive kernels in the name of now a true mission.
After all this work, you divide the filling in between the two pie crusts. The filling is pretty custardy/toffee-like.
Then you bake them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then another 5 minutes at 325. It took a lot longer for mine; I'm pretty sure it was from my butter error. After the pies cool, you put them in the freezer for a minimum 3 hours. Luckily, freezing is the must-do step. According to the book, freezing is the "signature technique." When you're ready to serve it, you have to let it sit in the fridge for an hour. Then you can break into what is supposed to be a dense and gooey plate of addictive pie. In some ways, this was quite a bit of work. But with a name like Crack Pie, I couldn't pass it up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

!@#$% non-Asians say to me Episode 2

So, this past Sunday, I had to go to Tucson and spend the night to cover a breaking story on a 6-year-old girl who was possibly abducted. When I was finally allowed to sign off the first day and go look for lodging, I went to the nearest decent hotel, Embassy Suites.
As luck would have it, they have a complimentary breakfast buffet. So Monday morning, I wait outside the dining room for them to open at 6 a.m. (I had a 6:30 a.m. news conference to get to) They open the doors and I'm like the second customer. I of course say hello to the staff.
There was this old man with glasses, a hotel employee. English wasn't his first language. Not sure if he was Eastern European or something else. Anyway, he's standing by the door like a greeter. So of course I say "Good morning" pretty clearly. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice some movement. I'm like "What's he doing?" The guy is BOWING to me. I didn't get it at first until he said "O-hi-O." Oh boy....then he says "Aren't you visiting from Japan? Or are you from China?" I almost yell through gritted teeth "PHOENIX!"
Seriously, don't people get that it's a bad idea to assume that kind of stuff? I don't know if my press badge around my neck somehow made me look more "foreign." Must be my 'slanted' eyes.

Monday, April 09, 2012

!@#$% non-Asians say to me

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am used to seeing a lot of diversity and being one of a throng of Asians. Not until moving to Phoenix have I encountered so many misfires/faux pas from people when it comes to ethnicity. Some of it is people honestly trying to be nice but just being clods. Some is because people are just ignorant jerks. I've decided from now on, I'm going to document these occurrences and call it the title you see above.

The most recent encounter was earlier this month. I just started covering the Arizona Legislature. So, I had go get a badge to walk around freely in both chambers. I went to the House of Representatives security desk to fill out the paper work. As I was doing this, the white security guard said something to me that mind as well have been gibberish. Think the unseen teacher in Charlie Brown's class. I just looked at him completely puzzled. He said "You don't speak Korean?" WTF. Do these people not realize how rude they sound? I'd tell him to stick to English but he doesn't seem to be doing too well in that department.

Paper Clip Pork/Char Sieu

Char Sieu or bbq pork is something you can find in just about every Chinatown deli or your big box Chinese supermarket. I am not sure how they cook them. But in my family, just about everyone has been taught to cook the marinated pork in an oven, not an actual barbecue pit or oven. My uncle's method of using paper clips seems to work best. Yes, paper clips. They're not just for paper anymore. ;) To my family, there was nothing weird about that. Anything that is a vehicle to well-cooked food is fine with us. I didn't realize how foreign this sounded until I came to Phoenix and explained it to people. Then I thought, "OK, yeah, that sounds kind of weird." So, here among my Phoenix friends, it's referred to as "paper clip pork." Or in the gossip circle as "clothespin chicken." Talk about lost in translation. Anyway, it's a very easy recipe that I'm more than willing to share.

You will need:
1 jar of hoisin sauce (go to any Chinese market)
1/3 cup of sugar
2 tsps. of curing salt
A little bit of white wine i.e. Chablis
pork shoulder butt roast (somewhere between 3-4 pounds)

What you do:
Rinse off the pork butt roast and let it drain for a bit. Cut into sizeable length-wise slabs, maybe about 1/2-1 inch thick. Depends on what you prefer. Empty the hoisin sauce jar into a large bowl. Pour in the sugar and salt. Pour a little bit of white wine into the bottom of the empty jar and shake the jar around to rinse out the hoisin remnants. Pour that into the bowl. Stir the marinade until it seems like the sugar has been distributed. Put all the pieces of pork in and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for approximately 48 hours. It doesn't have to be exactly 48 but definitely more than 24.

Fast forward two days later...time for the paper clips. First, make sure one oven rack is at the top-most level. Then preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take out one clip for each piece and bend both ends so that you get a hook on each end. Once the oven is ready, take some oven mitts and slide both racks out. Put a tray lined with tin foil on the bottom rack. This will help catch the drippings. Pierce one end of a paper clip into a piece of meat. Try to do it in a thick part to ensure the pork won't fall off. Use the other end to hang the meat from the top rack. You may have to bend the clip end to make it more rounded. The paper clips basically are a great way to make sure the meat cooks on all sides in a consistent fashion. The next step is very important. PUSH BOTH OVEN RACKS BACK IN AT THE SAME TIME. Otherwise, you will have a very messy oven flecked with marinade drippings. Cook in the oven for 45 minutes.

Once it's time, they should look nice and red.

If the ends aren't crispy and tinged with black already, you can try setting the oven on broil for 2 minutes. When the char sieu is ready, slide the oven racks out at the same time. Use a pair of tongs to take down the pork slabs. You can cut one open just to make sure it's cooked through. Let them cool down before you take the paper clips out. And then you're done!

This cut of meat is more fattening. So, each piece is not meant to be consumed by one person like a pork chop or steak. Rather, you should cut up on slab into little slices. You can serve slices with rice and vegetables. You can throw them in with a slew of vegetables to make a one-dish meal. You can dice them to add some flavor to a batch of fried rice.

If someone like myself who prefers baking can make this, then there's hope for anyone. Also, I'm happy to show anyone in person how to do it. The only thing I want in return is that you have to teach me something _ a recipe, taking pictures, learning how to tie the Windsor knot, etc Basically, teach me something new. Impart knowledge on me. There's always an appetite for that.