I too, eat America

Samut Sakhon, Thailand: February 2011

Sing to me, O America, a meal song. Of fast food joints draped in neon light, or fryers still hissing. Sing to me of the slow drip of ketchup from the stained red bottle. Sing to me of mall food courts—of burrito shops beside sushi beside pizza beside hot dogs. I will sing to you the song of the expatriate.

I will sing to you of the expatriate living in a small town in Thailand. Of the endless homogeny of cuisine. I will sing a song of rice, grains and grains clumped on the end of a spoon, mingled with vegetables, with the nascent taste of meat stirred in. I will sing to you of woks hissing on open stoves, cleavers falling with steady thwacks, of plastic plates and metal cups, of blocks of ice chopped by hand with the silver blade of the machete. I will sing to you of kao pad gai, of khai jeow moo, of pad thai my plaa, of caffe yin on the dull blue mornings before the sun has fully risen.

O America, can you know the taste of butter? You eat it every day. I will tell you of the taste of butter after weeks and weeks of none. I will tell of its slow seep into the bread, of my knife’s slow dance over the surface, spreading it thicker and thicker. I will tell you of the rich, heady, salty, pure yellowness of it on my tongue. I will tell you of the Fall mornings that taste conjured, the sound of toast springing from a toaster so suddenly sorely missed.

O America, can you know the taste of cheese? Of pizza? Of hamburgers? Of chicken strips, battered in eleven secret herbs and served with French fries? Can you know the taste of pot roast, meat melting in your mouth? Of salt, of pepper? I can tell you of spice—chili flakes redder than setting suns, oils that flare and flame on the tongue. I can tell you of walks, choking on the passing sharp zing of a pepper thrown into a pot, of crying on sidewalks amidst billowing steam, a ragged tearing in my throat. The sudden, brilliant need for water. For ice. For piles of soft white rice to pull the taste. For cucumbers, as green and pale as new grass.

I will sing to you of my old spice cabinet. Of the rows of glass jars so neatly contained. Of cinnamon and nutmeg that fell in brown clumps. Of oregano—hanging in the air as I crumbled it into a pot. Of black pepper and olive oil, grainy and slippery on a slab of raw meat. Of flavors wide and diverse as the people who brought them, who cultivated them on the turf of countries far from you…Sing to me, America! Of diversity.

My dreams are haunted by America. In my previous trips abroad, I learned the ups and downs of my country from afar. I learned the way Europe sees it, the way Asia sees it, how rich countries see it differently than poor countries. But in Thailand, I surprised myself by becoming patriotic. In a country where diversity is a rarity, the range of America—from people to cities to food to opinions—became something fresh and beautiful, something that I can acknowledge I took for granted before. At night I dream of city sidewalks, of brick brownstones and Califonia stucco. I dream of cacti and salt flats and red rock and forests. I dream of sand and pine trees and snow drifts and maples. I dream of color spectrums. Of celebrations that toast Dia de las Muertas and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Independence Day, riots of color and song.

I miss the homeland because I miss variety, and while I toast to Thailand’s harboring me here for lo these seven months, for introducing me to so many spices and dishes and people and ideas, it will be good to be home.


Travel Guides for Design Snobs

Ever wish you could find a travel guide that had as much personality as the place you were visiting? Sure, Frommers and Lonely Planet have plenty of solid information, but they’re not very pretty too look at. I recently stumbled across the London-based Herb Lester, which produces some of the most gorgeously illustrated, cheerily written city guides I’ve seen.

A little about them, via the Herb Lester Associates website:

“We research, write, print and distribute travel guides to the world’s great cities. We seek out the well-used and much-loved, and enjoy the extraordinary as well as the everyday. Old bookshops and new coffee shops, park benches and dive bars, hat shops and haberdashers: this is the world according to Herb Lester.”

So not only do a get a comprehensive guide to your locale of choice—off-the-beaten paths included—you also get what are essentially beautifully-wrought maps that could easily be framed and hung on the wall once you return from your trip.

In other words, happy shopping.

Images via herblester.com


Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

The Guardian had this image of a diver at the South East Asia Aquarium on Sentosa in Singapore, and I couldn’t resist sharing. It’s fun, wacky, and something I’d love to see in person…or you know…do in person. Hope you all have fun finding eggs today, whether they’re underwater or not!

Kanpai! to Kirin (Sponsored)

IMG_6151I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

My college roommate moved to D.C. at the end of last summer, and while I didn’t envy her at all during the winter, the pictures she’s been posting lately of the Japanese cherry blossoms have certainly kindled a longing to revisit the capital. Though I probably won’t make it up there this spring, I put together the next best thing, thanks to Millennial Central and Kirin beer (who coincidentally is the sponsor of the National Cherry Blossom Festival)—that next best thing being a night of Japanese food and drink.

Now ya’ll I know I’m a big fan of both beer and travel, and one of my favorite things to do when I get to a new country is order a pint, can, bottle, or bucket of the local speciality. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to trying both Kirin Ichiban and Kirin Light. So how to round out the menu and make a meal out of it? Luckily Kirin has partnered with celebrity chef, Candice Kumai (of Top Chef fame) to share recipes and pairing recommendations. While I got a few of Candice’s favorites in a little booklet, if you follow Kirin’s Facebook page, you’ll recieve a continuous stream of special recipes that go well with the beer. (I highly recommend you do so—the recipes I got were positively drool-worthy!) But first, the beer.

Kirin Ichiban

Kirin Ichiban is a full-bodied, malty beer with a smooth flavor and clean finish. Kirin is one of Japan’s oldest breweries, and the homebrewers among our little group were fascinated by the first-press brewing process. (If you click the link there’s a hypnotic animated gif showing demonstrating how it works). My boyfriend really liked the bold, clean taste the Ichiban, which perfectly complemented our gyoza and avocado rolls.

Kirin Light

Let me preface this with the fact that I am normally not a light beer drinker. Most light beers I’ve had have been really watery, tasteless concoctions that aren’t worth the 65+ calories you’re saving by drinking them. The same cannot be said of Kirin Light. It surprised me by being my favorite of the two—incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and a welcome relief from the spice and bold flavors of the dishes in our food spread. I can easily see it becoming a cookout or poolside favorite when the weather gets hot.

What did we drink it with?

IMG_7208Gyoza: As you can see in the pics below, we ended up with quite a spread. We started with Candice’s recipe, “Mom’s Homemade Gyoza.” I have a HUGE weak spot for gyoza, and making it from scratch was kind of a dream come true. The flavors blended together perfectly, and Candice’s method of “freaming” (half frying, half steaming), left them gyoza mouthwateringly soft on top and nice and crispy on the bottom. They literally flew off the plate.

Avocado Rolls: Candice also provided a recipe for Maki Sushi Rolls, which I’m sure are delicious. I can’t eat fish though, so my poor dinner party was deprived of that certain goodness. Instead we compromised and made avocado rolls—all of us newbies at the sushi rolling technique. Once we did our first roll, we were addicted…as our mountain of cut sushi can attest! The salty flavor of the nori wrapper, the tartness of the rice and vinegar, and the buttery smoothness of the avocado were a perfect match for the malty flavor of the Kirin Ichiban.

Siracha: Our dinner party guests are big siracha fans, and since the beer is so light and refreshing, I thought it would pair well with the fiery kick of the Asian chile sauce. (Man, was I right). Our guests brought over a bag of siracha popcorn to tide us over while we finished cooking. Siracha popcorn + beer = addictive! As a special treat, I tried out a recipe for honey siracha wings that I found on The Comfort of Cooking. WOW. They were another overwhelming hit with the party, especially when followed up with a sip of Kirin Light.

Before we set into the meal, we toasted each other and the season with the traditional toast: “Kanpai!” which literally mean, “dry your glass.” Easy to do with a beer like Kirin, that’s for sure!

Holi in Slow Motion

Holi was celebrated just a few weeks ago, and in my wanderings around the webs, I found this awesome video of the celebration in slow motion. I’d never heard of Holi before last year, and I find it a really beautiful way to engage with the community and herald the warmer temperatures. Variable posted this video right after last year’s Holi, and it’s a gorgeous take—reminding us all to soak in everything we can and live in the moment.

Per Wikipedia, “Holi is a spring festival also known as the festival of colours and the festival of love…Holi celebrations start with a Holika bonfire on the night before Holi where people gather, sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colours, where everyone plays, chases and colours each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight.”

Taipei in Photos: Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Hey, remember that time I went to Taiwan? Yep. Me neither. And no, it wasn’t an Asian blowout weekend a la The Hangover II or the result of a few near-brushes with death on a tuktuk that all but erased the memory. In fact, given that we were only in the country for about nine hours, I’m not even sure it fully counts as being “in” Taiwan.

Nine hours? That sounds like a layover, you might say. #Nailedit. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport offers a free half-day guided tour for any passengers with a layover longer than seven hours. There are two options, and you have to double-check the visa requirements of your home country (Americans, you’re in the clear), but all in all, it’s a great way to see a hint of the country—and it sure beats twiddling your thumbs at the airport all day!

You can get a decent bit done in seven hours, including (but not limited to): touring temples, watching woodcarvers, a smidge of shopping, trying chicken feet (!!), and making friends with other travelers who share your bus.

Since it’s Chinese New Year, I thought I’d celebrate by remembering our seven hours in Taipei. Happy new year everyone!

Awesome Office Spaces

Well, it’s freezing here in Atlanta today, and I have serious office envy for anyone who isn’t stuck in an icebox of a building like I am…which may be why this recent article from Buzzfeed on gorgeous start-up office caught my eye. Whether they’re here in the States, in Europe, or in Asia, these offices are bright, homey, and make working there look a helluva lot more fun.

My favorites on the list?

Draugiem in Riga, Latvia

Greenery in the office? Giant chess pieces? Let’s do this.

Migo in Manila, Philippines

They have cubicles that look barns and a sunken couch. Where can I apply?

Homeaway’s Office in Austin, Texas


Google’s Dublin Campus

So many colors and patterns…how could you not be inspired?

Mojang in Stockholm, Sweden

Excellent deployment of plaid.

(via Buzzfeed)

Memories of Samar: Typhoon Relief for the Philippines

Three years ago, I sat on a rooftop in Catbalogan, Samar, with my boyfriend, my grandmother, and her sister, singing a karaoke song about a place you go when times are rough and the people who can help you move forward. Back then, David and I were two backpackers on an expat adventure, stopping in the Philippines to meet my extended family for the first time.

During that trip, we spent a week in Catbalogan, where my grandmother grew up. It coincided with the fiesta, and the city was draped in colorful flags. My grandmother led us on a tour of her hometown, including a local school, where the children swarmed around us—bright-eyed and curious. We attended mass with the community, we danced the cha-cha in their living rooms, we listened to their histories. We spent an entire day traveling from house to house to house, sharing in the festivities. Every family welcomed us with wide arms, sharing their feast (so much lechon!), their music, and their stories, and we left each one with a strong memory of everyone’s generosity, hospitality, and kindness.

I’m sure many of you have seen the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Entire towns throughout Samar have been completely demolished, and many have lost their lives—including one of my uncles. The rooftop where we karaoke’d no longer exists, and many of the good people we shared the fiesta with have lost everything they own. Tacloban, a capital city of nearly 220,000, has been almost completely destroyed and left in ruins after the typhoon struck. While there are on-going relief efforts, only minimal amounts of water, food and medical supplies have made its way to the most desperate parts of the country.

In an effort to help those affected by this tragedy, my family and I have created a fundraising event. All donations will go directly towards providing immediate relief for communities in Western Samar. You can rest assured that all proceeds will be used to purchase basic necessities, including:

  • food
  • medical supplies
  • clothing
  • transportation to safer areas
  • burials

Many people have been displaced, losing their loved ones, their homes and their state of well-being. It’s essential that we help them begin to rebuild—to regain a sense of normalcy and reestablish their communities. If you’ve already made a donation through the Red Cross or another relief effort, thank you. If you haven’t, please considering donating—a few dollars can truly make a huge impact during this time of need. You can check out our fundraiser here. 

There are many great causes and global organizations looking to provide relief for the Philippines. We would personally like to thank you for your support and ask that you keep all those affected in your minds, thoughts and prayers.