Sunday, July 29, 2007

Scenes from a family bbq

We had an impromptu bbq at our house last night with the Choi clan. Everyone had a job to do. Kevin and Joe manned the grill, Rocky's girlfriend Diane made some amazing mango salsa, Wonny made awesome grilled fruit with raspberry Grand Mariner sauce, Lucas looked after Milan, Rocky played with the big and small kids alike, and my mom and I puttered around trying to keep things running smoothly.

As usual, we found ways to have fun while managing to get food on the table and into our mouths.

Kevin and Rocky, the most serious people I know, took a break from their usual geek-speak conversations. See what a couple of cut-up swim noodles can do?
To defend his father's honor, Lucas came at Rocky with his own swim noodle.
Milan wanted to travel up the stairs, so Lucas escorted her. They were kind enough to even pose for a few pictures.

Wonny rocked out to some 80s classics while making dessert. At one point, I fast-forwarded to another song, and she looked up and said, "Hey, what happened to INXS?" I switched back to keep her happy.

Lucas had been looking forward to dessert all day. I told him there would be ice cream with the grilled fruit dessert. As expected, Lucas decided to forgo the grilled fruit and concentrate on the ice cream.

As he was savoring his ice cream, he said, "Mommy, it doesn't get better than this!" Maybe he was just talking about the ice cream, but I think having the family at our house, enjoying time together was what he really meant.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I scream, you scream

My friend Whitney recently shared her open letter to Mimi Maternity.

I've been feeling some angst lately, so decided to draft an open letter of my own about something I feel passionate about.

I’d like to preface this letter by saying I have told countless people of my last experience at Gelateria Naia. I’ve told people not to go there, not because of the quality of the gelato, but because of the poor store policies and lack of respect for a loyal customer.

Ask anyone who knows me, I love ice cream and gelato. I will make a special drive just for the right treat. For the past couple years, I have enjoyed visiting your location in downtown Berkeley. Not on a regular basis, but as the occasional treat. And even though I always got the same flavors, I had so much fun browsing through your unusual collection. Where else do you find flavors like Thai iced tea, anise, and sesame seed?

In fact, I’ve even brought you new customers. My husband, my son (the picture at the left was taken last year of my son at Naia, when he realized he had a smaller size than his uncle's double scoop), my friends. I wanted to share what used to be such a great experience with other people. I would make special trips down there by myself or with friends to treat myself to something special. A special outing with my son was to take BART to downtown Berkeley specifically to visit you and get gelato.

I always bought a “bambino” sized cone. Always…why? Though I could probably eat my way out of a vat of your gelato, I really don’t need as much gelato as in your small sizes. I appreciated the fact that you had an even smaller size, for my son and, because frankly, serving sizes are just too big these days.

And then, a few weeks ago, after craving something sweet during a long long walk with a friend, I eagerly anticipated stopping on Shattuck and getting some gelato. I was so excited to go in and get my usual, a bambino-sized white mint chip/dark chocolate.

So I went in and asked for a bambino sized white mint chip and dark chocolate. The girl behind the counter said she couldn’t give it to me because it’s just for kids. I told her I had been coming for a long time and I always got the bambino size. She then has the balls to ask me how old I am. I told her that wasn’t the point, obviously I’m not a kid. Then she basically accuses me of being a corporate spy, sent down to bust people for breaking the rules. She let me know that people can get fired for this. I assured her that I wasn’t a spy and I just wanted my gelato. She still refused. I said, “So you’d rather have me walk out and not take my $2.25 than give me what I’ve been getting here for years? I think that’s what you’d get fired for.” At that point, I walked out with my friend.

I know there are lots of places that offer special child sizes. And where there is an age limit, like “Must be under 12”, I totally respect that. I may still ask, but I kind of expect you’ll tell me ‘no’, since it’s posted on the wall/menu or wherever. In that case, what I usually do is order the regular sized whatever, but tell them not to give me so much, but I’ll still pay full price. Even when I do this, people look at me oddly. Oh well.

However, as for you, Naia Gelateria. Know that I won’t be coming down for my occasional treats. Know that I won’t be bringing friends and family to your locations any more. Know that when people ask me for a recommendation for gelato, I will tell people to go to Sketch or Ciao Bella, but I WON'T be uttering the hard to pronounce name, “Gelateria Naia”.

Please re-evaluate your store policy, or at the very least, put up a sign.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Just desserts

I hit my one-year anniversary at the Ice Chamber this month. I've been celebrating all week - hot fudge sundae at Rivoli on Tuesday, Sketch Ice Cream on Thursday.

I lost just 6 pounds, and I still can't do a pull-up (though I'm a lot closer), but my pants fit better now. Yay!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy birthday...again!

In keeping with the tradition of extending our birthdays for as long as possible, Lucas enjoyed several birthday celebrations over the course of a week, culminating in a party yesterday at our house with, at last count, 41 people.

We started the morning by decorating the cupcakes with frosting and M&Ms. After years of getting scolded by my mom for recreational tasting while cooking, here she is licking the frosting off her fingers. (When I caught her she promptly washed her hands.) Lucas, who was so excited to decorate all the cupcakes with M&Ms, decided that he needed to devote his time to decorating the most important cupcake of all, his own.

But thanks to Kevin and my mom, all the cupcakes were frosted and embellished. Although Lucas didn't really participate in the decorating, he looked on approvingly as my mom frosted the cupcakes.Desert Dave was not available on the day of Lucas' party, so his colleague, Reptile Rita (real name Stacy), came with her scaly friends. Just like last year, Kevin was the most enthusiastic of the crowd, which included about 15 kids. As Reptile Rita asked for volunteers, Kevin's arm shot up the most. After a couple rounds of being the volunteer, Kevin finally gave the younger kids the chance to get close to the reptiles.

Here is Sidney and the corn snake.
Sidney's mom and the bearded dragon.

Ben holds the bearded dragon (actually the thing was holding onto Ben) as all the kids get a turn to touch it.

Miles with the king snake.

And Robert with the boa constrictor.
And of course, we had cupcakes. Here's the birthday boy with his M&M encrusted cupcake, blowing out his candle.
This morning Lucas woke up and asked if he was having another birthday party. I had to break the news to him that birthday festivities were over until next year.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Heroes in the house

Lately our house has been full of heroes, in one form or another.

Lucas is really into superheroes - no one in particular. In fact, he thinks "superhero" is a character, like Superman or Spiderman. Even when he's playing with his cars, he'll let me know which ones have super powers.

Kevin too. Though he's not pretending to be a superhero (at least not that I know of), but he is learning what it would take to survive in some kind of disaster. Here are the titles of books on his nightstand: Deep Survival - Who Lives, Who Dies and Why and The SAS Survival Handbook - How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea .

Then there's me. I've been obsessed with the show Heroes. Basically, it's about ordinary people who have superhero powers. The other night I only got about 4 hours of sleep because I was up late watching Heroes and up early to watch some more, then went to 6am bootcamp and worked all day. That takes some kind of superhero strength, right?

What is it about being a superhero that is so intriguing? Interesting to note that Lucas' superpowers are the same as those of the heroes on TV - being invisible, having lots of power/making the rules, being able to fly, having amazing strength. The writers of Heroes must have held onto some of the same hero fantasies that they had when they were kids. I guess we never let go of some hope that one day we might be a hero in some way.

Where did Lucas come from?

It all started when Lucas was getting dressed for bed. He had just had a bath and I was saying, rhetorically, "Where did you come from?"

Lucas: I came from Saturn, I mean Jupiter.
Me: How did you get here?
Lucas: I came in an airplane.
Me: Did you come here by yourself in the airplane?
Lucas: No, I came down with Spongebob and Patrick. Patrick flew the airplane and I helped with the brake.
Me: That's an important job, knowing when to brake when you're in an airplane.
Lucas: Yeah, that's what I did.
Me: So how did you end up at our house?
Lucas: I'm going to tell you a secret...I popped out of a hole (!)
Me: Really, what hole?
Lucas: [walking over to the window and looking out] A secret goblin hole. I'll show it to you tomorrow.
Me: A goblin hole, with real goblins?
Lucas: Yeah, and you want to know something else? There was a witch in there too. But she wasn't a bad witch, she was a good witch.
Me: Wow, I'm interested to see what this goblin hole is all about.
Lucas: And I had a stick in the gobin hole, to protect me from the goblins.
Me: And what about the witch?
Lucas: I protected her too. And then, when it was time, I popped out of the goblin hole.

So this morning, I asked him to show me the goblin hole. He seemed not to remember the conversation from last night.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dearly beloved...

we have gathered here today to honor Greenie, one of the three praying mantids who inhabited various pickle and mayonaise jars in our dining room for the last few months.

Greenie, you were Lucas' favorite. Whenever Kevin or Lucas would catch a bug outside, Kevin would ask Lucas who should get it. And Lucas always said "Greenie".

We will miss the way you would stare at us with your big alien-bug eyes. And the way you would sway back and forth before pouncing on a bee or fly.

I could go on for days about your winning personality, sharp and sometimes biting wit, and surprising sensitive side, but I won't, not today.

So long Greenie. We hope your new life is full of green lucious plants and juicy bugs.

(Turn on your speakers to get the full effect of Greenie's memorial video)

For the past few days, Greenie had been languishing, not very alert. Since it looked like Greenie was on his way out, Kevin put Greenie in the same jar as the surviving healthy one. Though he was dying anyway, the Survivor put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. This mercy killing went on without Lucas knowing.

Then today, Kevin said to Lucas, "I have something sad to tell you. Greenie died." Kevin was probably more upset at having to break the news to Lucas than the actual death itself. Lucas looked at him and said, "It's okay Daddy. We can always get a new one. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to draw you a picture of Greenie, okay Daddy?"

Gosh, we have the best son ever!!!

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Until I was five years old we lived in Oakland, pretty close to Lake Merritt. One of my favorite places to go was Fairyland.Even after we moved to Moraga we would beg our parents to take us to Fairyland and Merritt Restaurant and Bakery (think Denny's but with a bakery and take out counter for fried chicken).
I'm not sure why it took me so long to take Lucas to Fairyland, but today, we ventured out there with Eowyn and Samuel.

It was so nice to see that many of the things from when I was a kid were still there. They may have been shined up a little over the years, but things were pretty much the same.

Like Willie the Whale. You walk carefully down into his mouth to see some real fish in his "belly".The ferris wheel was still there, Alice in Wonderland tunnel and maze and the merry-go-round.
There were also some new additions, like the miniature Wild West area. We spent a lot of time there.

Something else to note. Unlike other destinations, kid or otherwise, they didn't jack up the prices on the food. I indulged in a corn dog for just $2.75 - a bargain in this day and age. I don't think anything was over $5.

After we came home, Lucas kept saying, "I LOVE Fairyland." I asked Lucas what his favorite part was. He said, "Being there with Samuel."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Korean-American 4th of July

We went to Moraga to spend 4th of July. The crowd at my mom's was made up of the usual suspects: me, Kevin, Lucas, my brother and his girlfriend, my uncle, aunt and cousin, and the token relative from Korea. This time, it was Juno, I guess he's my nephew. He had just come to California four days ago and had already been to Yosemite. Nineteen years old, skinny jeans and a Beattle-like haircut. It looked like he was kind of bored, or maybe he just wanted to get outside to smoke a cigarette. But he was really nice and played well with Lucas.

Because it was oppressively hot, over 95 degrees, we gave up being outside since we were all dripping sweat standing in the shade. Instead we gathered around the TV to watch a great American pasttime, the national hot dog eating contest. Mostly it was just us younger folks watching it. But then, when the older folks heard us rooting for the 5'5", 105-pound Korean woman, aka "Black Widow", my mom, uncle and aunt came in to see what this was all about. My mom commented, "What's happening with Korean women these days?"

Of course, the food we ate was given a slight Korean twist. Instead of chili, we feasted on oxtail soup. We barbecued Korean spare ribs, not hamburgers and hot dogs. It was yum-my.

We headed over to the country club around 9:00 to view the fireworks. We pulled Lucas in his big red wagon. He was excited to see the fireworks. I had prepped him the night before, since we heard the booming of fireworks at our place. I showed him pictures of fireworks online and told him it would be even louder than what he was hearing that night.

When the first one went off, it kind of surprised all of us. It was LOUD! Lucas immediately covered his ears and it was clear, he was not having fun. So Kevin and I pulled Lucas in his wagon back home. There was a small group of parents like us, heading back early with their small kids who were also overwhelmed with the show. Lucas had his ears covered the whole time, but kept his eyes on the fireworks in the sky.

We got back to my mom's house and Lucas said, "Good, now we're all done with that fireworks business."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In my dreams

My little detox eating program has not been without some hiccups and special intentional allowances (for example, on Saturday a morning hot chocolate and sugar in my miso-marinated fish for dinner, 1/2 scone today).

I've also lifted the ban on "heated oils", since I'm not sure what that accomplishes and I feel that swapping out plain hard boiled eggs for omelettes stuffed with a nice leafy green like spinach, can't be a bad thing. I've also lifted the ban on trace ingredients, like refined sugar from balsamic vinegar or wheat from soy sauce.

So, in general, I've kept it pretty pure. Interesting though, my denial of favorite foods came to life in my dream last night. Yes, I dreamed specifically of goat cheese crostini with fig jam. It represents all the food I crave the most: cheese, bread and sugar. I dreamed that I saw it and couldn't eat it.

But for those of you who can, here is a great recipe. Enjoy, because I can't yet.

Active time: 40 min Start to finish: 1 hr

3 tablespoons minced shallot
2 (3-inch) fresh thyme sprigs plus 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 Turkish or 1/4 California bay leaf
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 lb dried Black Mission figs, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup Port
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
12 (1/2-inch-thick) diagonally cut baguette slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 oz soft mild goat cheese at room temperature
2 fresh ripe figs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Garnish: fresh thyme leaves

Make savory fig jam:
Cook shallot, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf in butter in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, until shallot is softened, about 2 minutes. Add dried figs, Port, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until figs are soft, about 10 minutes. If there is still liquid in saucepan, remove lid and simmer, stirring, until most of liquid is evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes more. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs and transfer jam to a bowl. Cool, then stir in minced thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Make toasts while jam cools:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.

Halve each baguette slice diagonally, then arrange on a baking sheet and brush tops lightly with oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 7 minutes. Cool on baking sheet on a rack.

Assemble crostini:
Spread each toast with 1 teaspoon fig jam and top with about 1 1/2 teaspoons goat cheese and 2 pieces fresh fig.

Cooks' notes:
• Fig jam can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before using.
• Toasts can be made 1 day ahead and cooled, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 24 hors d'oeuvres.

Gourmet Entertains
September 2003