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.


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)


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:

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)


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!