Friday, December 14, 2012

Porto Vista Hotel in San Diego's Little Italy District

On a spontaneous "I-Need-To-Be-Anywhere-But-Here" trip to my brother's place in Irvine, California, I made myself a mini vacation to San Diego to get away from it all. Online, I booked a couple week nights in Porto Vista Hotel. Last time I visited San Diego was during a massive convention with no time to visit elsewhere in the city (unless I wanted to pay a transport/tour fee). Little Italy was one of the places I wanted to see, which is why I decided on this hotel.



Porto Vista Hotel is located one block east of India Street, the main street for the heart of Little Italy. Booking through Orbitz, the hotel has a 3-star reviewer rating and came with a nice price for my Thursday-to-Saturday getaway.


At the moment, I'm writing this blog post the morning after the first night of sleep, and while I can comment on how nice my sleep was, the truth is that I've been sleeping in my brother's tiny one-bedroom apartment on a very old and saggy futon sofa. After 4 nights of kinks in the neck and waking up every 2 hours, any "real" bed looks inviting (no criticism on my brother -- he had no idea I was coming down). The moment I walked into room 503 assigned to me, I plopped myself on the king-size bed and took a nice long nap like I hadn't slept for a week, which is not so far from the truth. It's a very comfortable bed with a soft mattress topper and surrounded by lots of pillows.

I got to observe the room more closely after I finished my catch-up sleep. Every room comes with a wall-sized retro California gal black and white photo mural... a nice artistic touch though a little bizarre when you wake up to a big face on the wall. However it does give me ideas about a having a mural back home at the house as another alternative to buying wall hangings.


The TV is pretty small and has the basic channels. I noticed no bonus movie packages which is fine for me since I barely spend anytime with a TV when I get a hotel room. But it may be a disappointment to other guests. I haven't ventured the fitness gym yet or their restaurant since my first call upon arrival (after the nap) was to have pasta in one of the world-class eateries in San Diego's Little Italy. (And trust me it did not disappoint!)

The bathroom is spacious... so much so that it is almost a waste of room. But when you are using it, it feels great!! I'm not a big fan of the toilet design with the flush button so far back that you either do a chicken fight with it hopping on one leg, or if you are more adventurous, can lean your head over towards the toilet bowl to press it with your fingers (yuck!). The toiletries are clearly meant to deter you from taking any home, though I'm sure many guests will still try. The ambiance is pleasant and has an updated old-world feel to it with the granite walls and flooring. I like it over the cramped porcelain decor you typically find in hotel bathrooms.

The bonuses in the room are wonderful. Free personal wireless internet for each room (they give you your wireless code upon check-in), a fridge, microwave, complimentary tea and coffee with the coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, inroom safe, lots and lots of room for unpacking your clothes and belongings, a work desk, pleasantly large sized mirrors, chair and ottoman, a small walk out balcony, and aesthetically pleasing wood furniture decor (I'm a bit of a sucker for the cherry wood color).



I tried the complimentary hot breakfast this morning, served daily from 6am-9am. That was an "interesting" surprise. All you can eat scrambled eggs, roasted potato bites, bacon, and sausage rounds, and a complimentary coffee, tea or water. Evidently missing is the juice (or fruit of any kind for that matter), breads, or sweets. If you want toast, its $3. They don't offer oatmeal or cereal, but I assume there's other paid options as well. So while it's nice to wake up to some hot food in the morning, and sit by wall-to-wall windows in a pleasantly chic dining room, I'm not sure this food is what will provide me with the nourishment I need to walk around sightseeing for the day. I'm headed to an Italian cafe tomorrow morning for some REAL breakfast!! (I say this while chomping on an apple I bought last night just in case breakfast didn't pan out... wise foresight on my part I would say.)

For the price I'm paying, which is around the same or less than Travelodge or Best Western, this is a far superior choice. But I feel like I'm in a 3-star hotel that attempts to provide some 4-star luxuries to compensate the absence of other standard hotel amenities (clearly for the purpose of saving maintenance costs).

Being surrounded by Little Italy definitely helps to overlook some of the downgrades and makes my stay worth it.

Now it's off to the world famous San Diego Zoo for the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Genius of Glenn Gould

I can hardly explain the utter facination I have of the artistry of Glenn Gould. Somehow, the interpretation hits me in my soul and changes me somehow when I hear him play Bach's Goldberg Variations. I suppose this is why it takes 32 short films to attempt to capture the many facets of his genius. I am so grateful that I am able to witness such an extraordinary mind. I found the film on YouTube and am so grateful since my old video tape is no longer of use to me.




To watch Glenn Gould in color perform Bach's Goldberg variations (and some short documentary prior), take a look at this:




Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Joyce Yang


Okay, I admit, I'm a little biased. She's my neice, and her mother, my cousin, is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. It explains why Joyce Yang exudes self-confidence and personability whenever you spend time with her. She is wonderfully down to earth.

I remember only passing memories of her when she was younger. She was only 10 years old when I remember her plunking out at breathless speed Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" from one of her Suzuki books at one of my cousin's home. No one thought anything of it, but if you paid attention, you could tell that even in the absence of musical maturity, her technique was clean, even and balanced. There aren't many 10 year olds that I know who have that kind of precision and delicacy in their playing. I proceeded to play the same piece right after, and though my cousin pointed out that mine definitely had more musicality than her, I was 20 years older with a music degree in hand. She would be lapping my talent in a mere 6 years.

Stardom really took off when she competed in the twelfth Van Cliburn International Competition in 2005 -- arguably the biggest music competition in the world. When it was all over, she was the youngest contestant to compete and win the Silver Medal. During the competition, she even said "I think I can beat most of them, but not the Russian." She was right. But that doesn't diminish the fact that she was clearly first place in audience preference. Since then, it seems like she is never in one place for very long. Her tour schedule is year round and makes it very difficult to nail down any personal time for herself.

I remember the first time I went to see her play in November 2006. It would be her New York debut with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece of choice would be Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme by Puccini" and what a way to introduce herself to the city that she makes her home. The moment the piece started, the first thought I had was, "Wow, this is going to be played fast!" After the performance, chatting with Joyce, apparently the same thought went through her head as well. But Joyce rose to the occasion, and played crisp and exciting, just as the piece should be played.

Watching Joyce on stage, I realized why audiences love to see her play. There is something about the way she reaches into the music and lives in each musical moment. You can see it in her face, her gestures, her body language. You live every moment with her. And always sporting some of the most beautiful dresses, you can't take your eyes off her for even a moment. When you watch Joyce play Rachmaninoff, you live with Rachmaninoff for that time.

When I heard she had learned my favorite concerto of all time, Rachmaninoff's 3rd in D Minor, I was jumping for joy. But I don't think I'll get to hear her play it live anytime soon, so the YouTube clips from the Sydney Opera House a year ago will have to do for me.





I remember staying at her Manhatten apartment with a friend during a trip to New York. I almost didn't dare touch that beautiful Steinway piano filling half of her living room (almost!). She did take a moment to grace us with an excerpt of a Schumann piece she was learning. I asked her once, "Can your neighbors hear you? Do they ever say anything about the noise when you practice?" She said, "They've never complained to me." I suppose not. Having a world-famous pianist practice in your apartment complex, you might as well save yourself money on iTunes. You're getting the best right through your walls!

Click here for reviews on Joyce Yang.

Click here for a sampling of her available music on iTunes. Don't miss her interpretation of Liebermann's "Gargoyles" on her debut album Collage. Or if that is too modern for you, check out the riviting Sonata in D Minor, K 141 by Scarlatti and any of her Cliburn performances.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jimmy's Place!

Tucked away in the corner of the shopping plaza on North Road and just south of Austin Street in Burquitlam, a little diner jewel called Jimmy's Place serves up fresh meals with a price that will make you want to dis the McDonald's situated just a block away.

When you enter, you are immediately greeted at the door with a Korean smile. Yes, Korean-owned! As a Korean, I had to immediately bow in politeness. It's just reflex!

Jimmy's Special Burger

I assembled the burger together and took my first bite. The balance of all the flavors was perfect. But what was most evident was how juicy and flavorful the meat was. It was as if they took a wad of fresh ground beef, patted it flat on the spot and slapped it straight on the grill. It tasted as if it were as fresh as could get -- and it was absolutely delicious!

I took a bite of one of their fries and thought I had gone to french fry heaven. Light and crispy on the outside and the potato on the inside feels like it's melting in your mouth. It was the freshest and most delightful fry I had ever sunk my teeth into. No salt, so you can add as much as you please. For me, I always prefer none, so I was dancing for joy inside.

I knew I had to come back to try their famous breakfasts. As I left out the door with a friendly farewell from the staff, I noticed on the sandwich board outside that breakfast is served all day. Woohoo! My favorite meal for lunch.

Everything Omelet

A few days later, it was time to try the everything omelet. The large plate that they use came virtually covered with food. I could barely wait to dig in. I threw on some pepper, and then realized I had forgotten to snap the photograph!

At initial glace, the huge side of hash browns, covering half the plate and at least a full inch thick, drew my first bite. Just like the french fries I had before, this was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Oh my word! Jimmy's Place has figured out how to fast fry the perfect potato sides! Again no salt or spices. Just pure potato goodness. Yes, I'm in love.

I then helped myself to a bite of the omelet and found that the texture wasn't fluffy or rich like an omelet should be. Not your standard omelet that is flipped in half like a pocket and given a chance to rise to get that fluffy goodness.

In terms of the combination of ingredients they added to the eggs, it made me decide that having everything on your omelet is not necessarily the best. It's like my distaste for food buffets where you eat japanese, mexican and italian all in one meal. By themselves they may be great, but put together, it's a distasteful mess. Jimmy's everything omelet is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. But I wasn't as impressed as other reviewers. For me, the hash browns saved the dish.

I look forward to going back many, many times and getting to know the staff and owner there. It is a friendly little place to have that cheap date, read a nice book or get your blogging done.
For the full review, visit somionfood.blogspot.com.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yuk Gae Jung

I think Yuk-Gae-Jung is easily my favorite Korean soup of all time. Comforting when your cold, sick, hungry, depressed... it solves it all for me!

It does take a lot of time for the flavors to simmer and meld together. The first time I tried, it felt very labor intensive. But now after making it several times, it feels easy, like second nature -- just like any favorite recipe you have. The nice thing is that you can make lots and save yourself cooking for the next couple of days. So it all works out. :)

It tends to be a little bit of an oily soup, especially on the top, but you can cut down the oil if you wish. Just make sure you roast the pepper flakes really well if you use less oil.

I first learned to make it from Maangchi a few years ago, but since then, I've really modified it quite a bit to fit my preferences -- and I think I finally have my own personal family recipe! I'm happy to share it with you.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs beef flank or beef brisket
10-12 cups of water
1+1 tbsp of salt
6+6 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp beef stock or dashida (korean style)
1/2 cup +2 tbsp of hot pepper flakes (kochu garu)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp sesame oil
one good handful of fresh bean sprouts (kong)
1 cup of soft/boiled fern sprouts (kosari)
8-10 bunches of green onion (full bunches, not single stalks -- yes, that much!)
2 eggs
japchae noodle (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Into a large stock pot, put in water, beef, 1 tbsp salt, and 6 crushed (not minced) garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour.

2. You can buy already boiled kosari at the korean market. If you have dried ones, boil it in water at the same time as your beef stock so it is ready when the stock is done.

3. After one hour, remove the beef onto a plate and throw away any large garlic cloves left in the stock. Add 6 minced garlic cloves and bring to a gentle boil (medium-low heat). Add another tbsp salt and the beef stock. (I add beef stock because there is no bone in the meat to give the stock extra flavor).

4. Once the beef has cooled down. Slice the beef into 1/4 inch thick strips across the grain. If the beef is too wide, just divide it into 2 or 3 pieces before you start slicing. Add the beef to the pot.

5. In a fry pan, heat the olive oil and sesame oil on medium heat (dont use high heat or you risk burning your pepper flakes). Add 1/2 cup red pepper flakes and stir about 1 minute. The red color should get just a little darker and richer. Add the red pepper flake mixture to the pot. (Try not to breath in too much when you do this... the heat may hit the nerves in your nose and knock you back a bit! haha). Add 2 tbsp red pepper flakes directly into the pot to restore some of the spiciness. If you like really spicy yuk-gae-jung you can add even more. (Roasting removes the spicy heat and brings out flavor. If you add more flakes directly to the pot, you can add back the spiciness that you lost in the roasting process.)

6. Chop the kosari and all of the green onion into 2 inch pieces and add to the pot with the bean sprouts.

7. Scramble the eggs in a bowl. When the soup has a very gentle boil, pour the eggs into the soup. DO NOT stir the eggs into the soup or your soup will start to look cloudy. Just let the eggs fall into the soup and let it cook on its own.

8. If you like some noodle in your soup, you can add it at this time. An alternative is to boil them separately in another pot, rinse them thoroughly and add it to the individual bowls when you serve (so you don't add any extra starch to the soup).

9. Simmer the soup for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice and a smile. :)

Approx 8-10 servings.

Let me know how yours turns out, or what kind of modifications you made to fit your personal preferences. Ma-shi-gae-deu-say-yo!!! :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Dirty Rice

So for a while now, I've been wanting to try a recipe for dirty rice. I've looked at a number of recipes -- some healthy and some not so healthy. Some that resemble more like jambalaya, and others that have every part of the chicken in there except the actual meat. And I thought to myself, "Wait a minute, I know how to cook. Lemme give it a whirl." So I did a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants attempt at dirty rice, and now I'm a fan.

The idea of dirty rice is to take whatever is available in your fridge, and put it together in a meal. It's the freshly made "left-overs" meal that's made when you want to make sure all the parts of the bird are used.


I have a 10-inch super slide pan with a lid. If you don't have one, you can do this in a sauce pan. Just make sure it has a lid that fits.

So here's what I did this time around:

Ingredients:
1 chicken breast
3 cups of water
3+3 cloves of garlic
1/2 +1 tsp salt
2+2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium sized onion
1/2 of a red pepper
1/2 of green pepper
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp tumeric (just because i know it's good for you)
pinch of nutmeg (cuz i like sweet nuttiness)
1 cup of uncooked rice (i used regular sushi rice)
1 cup of other veggie (carrot, peas... i happened to have asparagus lying around)

Instructions:

1. Place chicken breast, 1/2 tsp salt and 3 smashed garlic cloves in a pot of the water. Boil and then simmer for a good 30 mins.

2. Mince the other 3 cloves of garlic, and dice the onion, red and green pepper, and any other veggie you decide to use. Then go check your emails or something until the chicken is done boiling.

3. Remove the chicken and place on a dish to cool down. Remove any larger pieces of garlic or what's left of it. Save the stock.

4. Heat 1/2 tsp of olive oil in the pan and fry the garlic and onion until the onion is cooked and translucent.

5. Rough chop the chicken breast. It should be falling apart by itself as you chop it so make sure you have relatively good chunks in there. Add it to the onion/garlic mixture along with the peppers and veggies. Fry up until the veggies are just starting to cook.

6. Add the paprika, tumeric, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and uncooked rice. Add one more tbsp of olive oil and toss around until the spices are incorporated and the rice has a chance to roast up a bit.

7. Add 2 cups of the chicken stock to the pan. Cover and simmer on medium low for 20-25 minutes. (basically when the rice is cooked, it's ready).

8. Taste, and add more salt (and pepper) if needed.

Serves 2 meals, or 4 side dishes.

What I'm going to try next time:

a) chicken on the bone (for a richer stock)

b) adding chorizo or some chili pepper for more flavor zing.

c) stir once during the 20 min cook (the bottom got quite brown by the end, but when i stirred it around, the rice looked more "dirty" so i was still ok with it).

It was a good first attempt. I'm pleased with the result.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Flirting Friend

I know, sounds weird. But there's something wonderful about having someone who you can just be lovey-dovey with without any real expectation other than just one goal: "Let's make each other feel as awesome as possible all the time, every day." That's Rafa. Of course, on other levels, we have so many similarities, including what we are currently both going through in our own lives.

Even four time zones away, kindred spirits can be found. He puts a smile on my face every day because I lack the capacity to do it myself. And for just a little moment, I know there's someone who loves me.

Happy Valentine's Day, hunny. And Happy 1 year anniversary.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Counselling Sessions with Paddy

I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success -- however you want to define that.

In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommentation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a registered clinical counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.

It was only by chance that my father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole's husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a certified psychologist. I knew Paddy as one of the faculty members in grad school, and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.

On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate professor -- and that's what came home for me.

For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In school, it was to master Koine Greek (grad school) or understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn't "what" I wanted to learn, but "who" -- indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father's passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress -- they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.

I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that's why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he's definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It's like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.

There still exists in today's society such a stigma attached to "seeing a psychologist" that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering a major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn't start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.

Counselling doesn't have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behavior that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There's no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.

One last word of advice -- and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don't decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.

My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, "Because Paddy doesn't tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Message of Dead Poet's Society

One of my favorite films of all time is "Dead Poet's Society." When most hear the title of the movie, there is one phrase that immediately comes to mind: Carpe Diem. (Seize the Day) Indeed a very powerful phrase, and one not to be overlooked to promote a rich and full life.

But it is not this phrase that encapsulates my appreciation for this movie. My facination is summed up in three words: Finding Your Voice.

By the inspiration they find in their teacher's classroom and through his life, a handful of these young teeaged high school students re-establish the "Dead Poet's Society" where they moved from the confines of their prep school do's and don't's and find a place where they drank with their souls -- indeed, found a platform of unfettered expression.

Those who know me know I have a love for education. It is because in the very essence of an educated person, I don't see someone who has merely gained a lot of information, or is just curious and wants to know more about a subject or discipline. No, education provides so much more than that.

At its core, education gives us a voice. From the earliest stages of development, a child is learning to express what they see and how they feel. As we grow in maturity, we move from the whining of children and the reckless "say-whatever-comes-to-mind" manner of the adolescent, and learn how to communicate in a way to allows us to truly engage with and see one another. We are taught words that help us accurately say what we want to convey, and is still respectful of another's opinion. No one wants to listen to a rant.

In short, education, however you gain it, grants us the ability to have a voice, and teaches us how to use it. If education is not building up the confidence of the student, it falls short of its purpose.

I am so grateful for two or three very key teachers in my life who recognized my voice and promoted its development. Going from a completely silent student of my early university years, I've learned to ask good questions, seek out reliable information, and put in words what my silent teeage self did not have to courage to say. When I watch Dead Poet's Society, I am reminded that all of us have a voice to discover and use. And God forbid that it should ever be smothered due to neglect.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Usher Does "Singing in the Rain"


Perhaps my all-time favorite choreography is "Singin in the Rain" by Gene Kelly in the movie by the same name. The wistful delight of being in love gets captured in this lovely joy of the rain. The song, the dance, the facial expressions... one of the best moments in movie history.

Usher recreates the moment in his own suave way, and he earns a bounty of respect points!

I can just watch this clip over and over. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jamie Oliver - and what he stands for

Ok, so this is not a "what" but "who" I love, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Jamie Oliver ranks high on my list of inspirational people along with my favorite grad school professor (who's teaching changed my life), and Oprah Winfrey. He continues his quest to make a difference becoming the sole winner of the prestigious 2010 TED Prize, and winning an Emmy for best reality series in the same year.

But it's not his acolades that draw me to him. From the first time I saw his very first series, The Naked Chef, I fell in love with his personality and character. He wasn't a camera teacher. He was simply a friend sharing a passion and enjoying the company. He is a chef, a musician, a dad, and a man with a mission. Simply put, he's fresh and real.

And that's what makes his inspiration so captivating for me. Because it isn't his recipes that have caught my attention. It is what he has brought his life to stand for -- the health of our children. My serious endorsement of Jamie Oliver came when I watched his show, Back To School Dinners, his initial reality series located in the UK about bringing reform to the food fed to children in school cafeterias. On the heels of that series, Jamie launched a campaign with the founding of Feed Me Better that called for signatures to petition the British government. His efforts resulted in a 450 million dollar grant from the government to improve school cafeteria food. When I saw him take the same mission to the US, even to the huge city of Los Angeles with his show, Jamie's Food Revolution, I saw it was just an extension of what came before, but in a much bigger way.

Now with the establishment of the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Jamie consistently launches similar initatives. His latest initiative, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, is a similar petition to his UK initiative to endorse the reform of school cafeteria food in America to conform to the standard nutrition needed to help children think and learn better in school.

Research shows that our diets are a vital part of learning. What we feed our bodies directly affects our mood, our ability to concentrate, and our ability to deal with stress. Along with exericise, diet can make a dramatic difference in our ability to recall information that we have learned and absorb new information accurately and meaningfully. In the formative years of children, proper nutrition and exercise can save their lives.

But it's not just about petitioning governments and school dinners that Jamie wants to see. It's the simple desire he has for everyone to take ownership and teach their children about food from the earliest age. His 2010 Jamie's Family Christmas Special gave me a small glimpse into his heart as a dad to ensure his children not only understand what they eat, but involve them in the cooking in the kitchen with "dad" and learn the basics of raw ingredients. It's just endearing and ever so inspiring.

Bravo, Jamie!

(for a local reform of school food in New Westminster, Canada, read the news article here.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jazz Insights from iTunesU

I stumbled across this "course" in iTunesU called Jazz Insights from Georgia State University, narrated by Dr. Gordon Vernick. Now this is not your typical iTunesU course.

The majority of courses in iTunes there are raw recordings of class lectures, where there is an assumed audience, and often writing on the whiteboard which you can't see.

However Dr. Vernick recorded these 15 minute clips specifically for the ipod listener to teach you about the grassroots of almost every aspect of jazz that you can probably think of. The quality of the recording is crystal clear, and he intersperses his comments with examples of music to demonstrate styles and techniques. Vernick's voice manner has the wonderful laid back "jazzy" quality to it that gets you in the mood. mmmmmm!

However, be forewarned that these are lectures recorded intentionally for the ipod. There's no really dumbing down of the terms used. But the language is accessible enough for anyone to understand, so don't worry. If you are a good student, and listen intently, I guarantee, you will KNOW JAZZ!

My favorites so far is the early years of Bill Evans, and his 4 part discussion on Oscar Peterson -- my all-time favorite jazz pianist. After all, I'm a pianist too! Thanks to Dr. Vernick for efforts in sharing his wealth of knowledge! I'm a fan!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Internet Shopping - Why I Only Use Cooking.com for my Kitchen Needs

I am an internet shopper. Even when I walk around the mall, 90% of the time I end up deciding not to buy what I see there. I just get ideas for what I want to research and shop for online when I get home.

My kitchen needs are, at the moment, almost exclusively from Cooking.com. The best pieces that I own in the kitchen all come from this one online store.

For the past... let's see... at least 10 years now, I have been buying all of my kitchen items online. I have tried many different stores online. I've looked at "the best deals" and tried to get the lowest price possible on the specific items that I want to purchase. For kitchen items, I am pretty much strickly a Cooking.com shopper. They have a well-established customer base with enough reviews to do the kind of research you need. Their packaging and shipping is absolutely stellar, and they are customer-accessible when it comes to contacting them. They are an A+ store.

My decision to exclusively use Cooking.com didn't come easy. My experience with other online deals have led me to stick with stores that have a proven track record. What I have learned is this:

1. Just because a store sells online, doesn't mean they are an internet store.
The biggest problem with getting the absolutely lowest price on the item you want to purchase is the risk you take in the quality of the item you receive. If you are ordering online from a company that is not exclusively established as an online store, or go to the "Marketplace" section on Amazon for a lower price, you risk the chances of getting a re-packaged item or the worst looking box on the shelf. This is how they get rid of their "ugly stuff" as long as they assume the item inside works fine. This is because they know that an internet shopper is less likely to go through the hassle of returning an item as long as it works ok. But think about it. "Repackaged" means someone had their hands on it before you got it -- or worse, actually used it. Or a ratty looking package could contain a brand new item, but you have to ask yourself why the packaging has been worn down. Was it handled badly? Has it been on the shelf for over a year or two with small parts deteriorating from age and environmental factors (temperature and humidity).

2. Exclusive Online stores have established packaging and shipping practices.
My number one pet-peeve with face-to-face shops that try to be online shops is how they skimp on packaging and shipping. These companies do things that are HUGE no-no's. First, when it comes to packaging, they do not use the regulation size box where you need at least a certain amount of space between the item and the shipping box. Second, they generally do not use the adequate filler (packaging balloons or foam packing peanuts to ensure minimal shifting during the shipping process. Or worse, not using a shipping box at all, and just sending it as is in its packaging. These companies don't stock adequate packaging items like large boxes and packing peanuts. (Target is probably the worst of all of the companies I've had to deal with.) Time and time again, I've looked at the trend of items received. Items ruined during the shipping process. Boxes that fall apart upon delivery because somewhere along the way, they were exposed to too much rain or moisture. Items that are packaged inside without the standard plastic or foam covering you expect from a newly packaged product. There is a marked difference between exclusive online companies, and those who try to add an online component to their business.

3. Shipping and Handling Prices
So, this sort of follows from #2 above. Stores who try to add an online shopping component will generally always over charge on the shipping and handling. For this reason, they do their best to reduce the size of the shipping box (to reduce the shipping cost) and minimize packing materials to save costs. They are doing what they can to save on shipping because they do not have enough online business to qualify for larger shipping contracts with shipping companies like UPS or FedEx. Chances are, if you are responsible for the return shipping costs, you are likely getting a product from a company who is not well accustommed to the online shopping business. Covering the cost of return shipping is a standard for online shopping. Get a company willing to back their product.

Cooking.com is a great example of an online store that does it right. Amazon is another one, though packaging and mailing books has a lot less chance of damage, and getting used books is totally acceptable, and not the same as getting a used toaster. (You think I'm kidding? Believe me, I'm not)

Now please, don't take this ramble as me saying not to give small businesses your consideration. There are countless things that you do not want to buy from a huge name-brand distributor. In fact, I do internet shopping at smaller stores all the time. But I do it with the understanding that the chances are higher that I may have to return it, and accept the hassle associated with it when I press the "check-out" button. I even have items that are broken during shipping that I resolved not to return because the return shipping costed higher than the item itself. C'est la vie.

Shop smart. And enjoy yourself! And change your passwords regularly!!!

Have an online store with a great reputation? Love to hear about it! :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hive Hair Spa

I am not one to spend a lot of money on clothes or make-up, but for some reason I have a habit of spending $80 on a simple cut and style. After all, my friend who traditionally cut my hair was an hair artist par excellence so you had to pay to get it done well.

But I finally came to my senses and started searching around for a new hair salon where my pocketbook wouldn't hurt as much. And I stumbled upon Hive Hair Spa. I took my first trip there a few years back and now make it my regular stop for my hair needs. Surprisingly, when they first started, they received some coaching on running their own salon from my friend who used to cut my hair. Good reference already!

The things I love about this place:

Price Point
Paying $35-40 for professional Japanese cut and style was a very welcome change to the typical $75-80 that I was accustomed to paying. The quality of cut is definintely comparable to what I used to get. So there are zero complaints from my end. The hairdressers will work closely with you to get the cut you want, and even advise you if your not sure what works, or just want something different. It's everything that I used to get with half the cost. Woot!

No Nonsense Work Ethic
I'm not the kind of person who likes a lot of chatter, and feel pressured to have to tell my hair stylist all the elements of my personal resume. I really just want to go to in and get my hair done. They really don't chatter it up with you unless you are clearly in the mood to chat. And for me, that's a good thing.

Asian Hair Specialists
The majority (maybe all?) of the hair dressers are Japanese. This is good news for me since getting a cut to suit my asian black hair can be a challenge if you don't want to pay the high price for it.So they are used to thicker black long hair, and, from what I can tell, are up to speed with the latest trends.

The Massages!
Oh baby, yes! You get the full head and neck massage with your hair wash. Just close your eyes and enjoy!

The Bonuses
You will get a discount off your first trip there. If you "like" their facebook page, you are graced with a permanent 20% off (looking forward to figuring out how they know I've done that on my next trip). You are also provided with your choice of drinks and some pocky to munch on! (I think they used to offer some champagne, but maybe not... I can't recall now). I usually get hot green tea. And you can't beat free parking!

Hive Hair Spa
8257 Oak Street (at 67th Ave), Vancouver BC (map)
Open M, W-F, 10am-7pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-6pm

Have you tried this place? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Authentic Fettuccini Alfredo (fast and easy)

Fettuccini Alfredo is one of life's most smooth and delicious comfort food in my opinion. It's hard to believe that fettuccini alfredo could be so easy. But I stumbled across a recipe in a Food & Wine pasta book and bought it. I just added the chicken.

Now I never order fettuccini alfredo in a restaurant anymore. There's no need. hehe.

Just one warning. This is not a "healthed-up" version. These are authentic ingredients. I've tried at times to replace ingredients to lower the calories, using yogurt & skim milk instead of cream, trying to reduce the butter, etc. But you gotta try it the authentic way and treat yourself on a saturday after a week of being good with your diet and workouts.

1 lb of asparagus
3/4 lb of dried fettuccini
4 tablespoons of butter, cut into smaller pieces
1 cup heavy cream (i just use whipping cream)
pinch of nutmeg (do NOT skip this spice)
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (use the real stuff, not the cheap Kraft container stuff)

Boil the water for the fettuccini. Meanwhile, break off the woody part of the asparagus, and then cut it into 1/2" pieces. leave the heads longer and intact.

When the water is boiling. Add pasta and set the timer for about 9 minutes. While you are waiting, get your butter, cream, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper ready.

At 9 minutes, add the asparagus pieces and then boil for 3 more minutes.

Once it's done, drain, and then return it to the pot right away. Don't run it under cold water. Keep it hot. yum yum!

Add the butter, cream, cheese, nutmet, salt and pepper, and stir it around until the cream is all combined. Add a pinch of flour to thicken the sauce to your liking. Usually needs a couple of pinches.

Serve right away.

If you want to add chicken like in the picture, you can do it while the water is boiling and/or the pasta is cooking.

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1/8 cup olive oil
2 skinless chicken breast

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and then add the chicken and coat thoroughtly.Fry in pan covered for about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over, add about 1/8 cup of water, and then cover. The steam will help cook the chicken through faster so you dont have to over fry the outside of the chicken. Rest on a plate for about 2 minutes before you start slicing it.

Serves 4.

Other options are to flash fry shrimp, or top with skewered roasted veggies if you don't want meat. Honestly, you can just eat it as is without anything added. It's so delicious, i promise! :)

Cheap Shopping Online

Okay, so I'm a real sucker for great deals online. And while I'm perfectly willing to pay the price for a good quality item (my kitchen trash can costed me $80 and I paid $770 for my vacuum cleaner), not everything in your house has to be high priced to get what you need.

One of my favorite online stores is DealExtreme.com. Shipped directly from Hong Kong, it doesn't matter where you live. Shipping is free of charge! That's really good news for the non-US resident who is always struggling with raised shipping charges. And the items are ultra cheap! You can find little gadget goodies from iphone accessories and covers, jewelry and apparel, and little gadgets under $2 (yes, even that is free shipping).

My favorite purchases there? Let me share! hehe.



These little suckers come on a variety of sizes and are super strong and super flat. They are great for posting up your photos on your kitchen fridge without taking away from the photo.

The only thing is... they can break in half easily if they are dropped on a hard floor or snap too violently to another magnet.

If you love doing crafts, this is a great little piece to hide under that little trinket that you want to turn into a fridge magnet. A glue gun and some careful hands should do the trick.




So who said you can't have a little fun for under 2 bucks. Ricky, I know you want to get it. Just give in already!!!








What can I say. I'm anal. I want my screen protector and cover for all my gadgets. I mean, I even wrap my remote controls in saran wrap.

For all you dust-free freaks like me, paying $1.18 for a screen protector and getting a nice case for your iphone is a no-brainer.

There are lots to choose from. This flip top comes in other colors as well (even pink for the girly-girl). They also have ones that flip from the side and wrap around. The iPhone gadget options are pages and pages long. Don't go too crazy! haha.



Okay, so stop judging me! I had to include this one.

A little star wars gadget to add to your collection and establish the star wars geek in you. It comes in red too, so you can have mini-duels in your star wars circles. For $2, cmon, you know you want it!

(And it's great for when you drop your keys in the car in the dark and need to find it under your brake pedal.)


Remember, it's all FREE SHIPPING!!!








Did you find something that you totally love? Tell me what it is!

Friday, January 20, 2012

iTunes U App

Apple released the iTunes U app today, an app I have been waiting for since it was announced. I've been a big fan of iTunes U since it was first launched a few years ago. The number of educational institutions participating is just phenomenal, and the opportunities for self-education and discovery leave no excuses for anyone with a computer.

You can listen or even view full semester courses like biology, languages, literature, business, fine art, history -- any subject that you can think of. These come from reputable institutions such as Yale, Harvard, USC, Stanford, to name a few, and even some Canadian and international institutions.

So far, my focus has to be on the few NYU Open Education courses, which are videos with high quality teaching which include Calculus I, Introduction to Sociology, and Statistics (which I'm doing as a refresher to help me in my job).

I've also found a full biblical Hebrew and Greek course from Concordia Seminary that is highly effective for any theologian who feels their languages are rusty and need a refresher. Brand new learners may probably need to go slower and get the textbook to keep up.

But there is a lot more than university courses available in iTunes U. There are numerous current issues lectures and presentations, along with inspirational commencement speeches by notable speakers and celebrities. If you have not checked out the Steve Jobs commencement speech in 2005 at Stanford University, well, you're just letting the best pass you by.

I'm a huge fan of iTunes U. I used to waste hours of time educating myself on the tens of thousands of hours of information. I took a break for a while (personal life issues), but the release of this app may pull me back in.

What is your favorite course in iTunes U? Share it! I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Metronome App for iPhone

I got an iPhone for Christmas and I admit I'm a little behind on the times when I say that this is my first time experiencing the iPhone. But the addiction has definintely set in.

One of my must haves for the iPhone is this metronome for practicing my music. Easy to set, beautiful to look at, and absolutely essential for the practicing musician.

Note that you can tap your beat to get the metronome to set itself to the tempo that you need. After all, everyone doesn't play Mozart at the exact same speed.

The only problem now is... I need my piano. Renting a practice piano can only last for so long. But it's also great to do sit ups to just to keep my pace up.

The Steinway Metronome is a free app. Go get it.

Mom's Power Breakfast

My ultra-healthy Mom swears by this power breakfast with oatmeal as its foundation.



The trick is to have all the ingredients ready in bulk so you can just throw it together in the morning. The following is one serving.

FOUNDATION:
1/4 cup steel cut oats
1 cup water
pinch of raw sea salt (or regular salt ok too)

Bring to a boil. Then immediately lower heat to a slow simmer and set your timer to 20-25 minutes. You might want to just check the consistency the first time with what works with your stove.

When it's thoroughly cooked, it will initially look like there's still liquid on the top. Just stir it and it will look like typical oatmeal. It will continue to cook and thicken even after you remove it from the heat.

Put in a bowl and top it with the following:
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2-3 table spoons of maple syrup
2/3 cup of frozen blueberries
1/2 cup skim milk
1 fistful of nuts. Mine has (all unsalted):

  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • roasted almond slices
  • roasted cashews
  • dried figs
  • raw walnuts

I've modified mom's power oatmeal and used steel cut oats instead of rolled oats (she uses a combination of both), organic maple syrup instead of brown sugar, and added the dried figs for some extra fruit. Oh, and I cook it in an earthenware bowl straight on the stove. My new favorite thing.

I love to grocery shop in the bulk food section. I browse and look at what kind of nuts I want in my morning breakfast. I stay away from high calorie nuts like pistachios, but a very small amount once in a while doesn't hurt anyone, right? *giggle*

Did you try this recipe? Send me a photo of your version of this power breakfast with your modifications and I'll post the best ones here!