Day 11 of our cross-country road trip took us from Richfield, Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada. Several years had passed since the last time we enjoyed a Vegas buffet, and Adventure 2012 seemed like a good opportunity to do it again. We woke up to a snowy morning, our car covered in snow.
As usual, JC went and prepared a nice breakfast plate for me. Not long after, we finished packing our things and checked out. Before we went on our way, we took in the experience of sitting inside a car covered in snow, something new to us. It got warm and toasty inside while it was still freezing cold outside. Slowly, the windows defrosted and we began the day’s drive to Vegas.
An embarrassing memory I have is that I took the wrong entrance onto Interstate 70. At the time, there was construction going on and the freeway entrances were not clearly marked. For some reason, I wasn’t sure which one to take and ended up heading east. Due to our being in a relatively rural area, it was a while before we were able to exit and head back west. Looking at the photo timestamps now, we wasted about 20 minutes. 🙁
The highlight of this day (other than the buffet) was the dramatic change in climate, from the blizzard conditions in Utah to the arid deserts of Arizona and Nevada. It was kind of cool that we passed through Arizona, a state we had never been in before. We were pretty close to the Grand Canyon, and the geology reflected it. We figured it was the closest thing to the national treasure without actually going there.
As we neared Las Vegas, we encountered a curious sight: vertical vapor trails. Rockets? Spacecraft? We figured we were probably near Area 51, but as we got closer to Las Vegas we saw the source of the vapor trails: fighter jets! They must have been from Nellis Air Force Base. The military might of our country never ceases to amaze me.
We checked into the hotel and were amazed at the size of the place. There was a full kitchen, a separate bedroom, and a huge living room, completely different from our previous stays in Vegas. There was even a washer and dryer in the suite. If we were so inclined, we could have gone to the grocery store to buy our own food to cook in the suite. It’s something that we would definitely consider doing now, but at the time our goal was the Bellagio buffet. We headed out for the resort and found the buffet. I made sure I enjoyed it and even ordered a Glenfiddich as an accompaniment. That night, I slept very well.
I had a pretty good dinner tonight. Tri-tip roasts are on sale this week at Safeway ($3.99/lb) so I got one (~3.5lbs) to roast in the oven. Minced some garlic and fresh rosemary and rubbed it all on along with some freshly cracked salt and pepper. Every 15 minutes I basted with a red wine and beef bouillon solution. Took it out of the 350°F oven after about an hour and 10 minutes, and sliced it up after letting it rest for 10.
As I like to do after a fancy dinner, I dripped myself a cup of coffee. Recently we unpacked the last of our things from Hong Kong, a box of kitchen stuff. Inside this box was the Guinness mug that came with the 4-pack I bought after we first moved into our place in Hong Kong. I had forgotten that I used to use this mug for drip coffee in Hong Kong, using whipping cream in place of half-and-half since the latter is not sold there. There was a morning in spring of 2013 when I made coffee to go along with a sandwich made with bread from our bread maker, in preparation for watching a Warriors playoff game. That was a good morning.
Since the mug got me thinking about our time in Hong Kong, I came here to see if I could jog some more memories. I decided to read the 6-Month Update, and then I saw that it was posted on August 18, 2013. So, exactly three years ago. What a coincidence.
It’s good to look back sometimes to see where you’ve been (although admittedly, I probably look back more often than “sometimes”). Three years ago, I was becoming more comfortable with myself and my way of living, becoming happier, and enjoying life more. It would seem that three years later, this is happening once again.
Four months ago, I wrote that time is the most precious resource. In exchange for having time, I chose to forgo having an income, and in turn forgoing having our own place to live. At that point it had almost been a year of staying with our parents, and now it has been more than that. In these four months, there have been good days and bad days. There has been internal struggle, and depression. There has been talk about moving back to Hong Kong because it would be easier to find a job and a place to live there (it sounds crazy, but compared with the Bay Area it’s true).
Perhaps I fell back into that chasm where all I do is worry about the future, worrying whether what I’m doing now is conducive to that future, whether what I’m doing is what I should be doing. When I’m in that chasm, I completely lose sight of the present, no matter how good it is. No, we aren’t working, yes, we’re living with our parents, but is that really so bad? We get to do whatever we want, whenever we want, staying up as late as we want. We get to eat tri-tip (when I had thought about escaping back to Hong Kong, I didn’t even think of how less frequently we had good beef over there). Other than the occasional self-inflicted kind, our present lives are stress-free.
In recent weeks is when I’ve finally started realizing all this, again. To stay in the moment, to enjoy the present that is good, to know that there is nothing to worry about. The past has shown us that we always step up and do what’s necessary when the time comes, so why not just enjoy this time that we have now? We are happy, healthy, and probably will be in the foreseeable future. I am confident that we will be able to handle whatever that future brings.
Lately time seems to fly by, and it’s been a while since the last recent meals post, so here’s a gallery of some of the meals we’ve had so far this month to help me remember.
May 2, Monday – first meal of the day is at Thanh Ky in Oakland, my second time there. This House Special Rice Noodle Soup is essentially the same as VH’s Chow Jew Rice Noodle (潮州米粉), with the addition of some fried pork fat sprinkled on top. Sadly, I find Thanh Ky to be less enjoyable than VH and will not go there again of my own volition.
Black Bear Diner
May 2, Monday – second meal of the day is Black Bear Diner in Emeryville, our first time there. We were there slightly early on a Monday and had a nice, quiet dinner. Food was great and we will definitely be going there again.
May 6, Friday – we bought some canned tomatoes from Costco and on the back of the box was a recipe for Mexican Rice. We didn’t have a couple of staple Mexican ingredients but I tried making it anyway and the result was more like a tomato and black bean rice than a Mexican rice. JC rounded it off with a sauteed beef and mushrooms.
Deep Dish Pizza
May 7, Saturday – we were looking at photos from Adventure 2012 – Chicago and trying to figure out where in SF we could go to get deep dish pizza. Not liking our options, JC went to Lucca Ravioli, bought some pizza dough and ingredients, and made her own. It was amazingly good.
May 9, Monday – the night before JC and I had watched this episode of Begin Japanology, and the next day she wanted to get some udon, but where? She tried looking at reviews online but in the end could not find anything definitive. We decided to go to Japantown anyway and maybe go with yōshoku instead, since we’d also seen an episode on that recently. In the end, we selected a restaurant that we found out is closed on only one day of the week: Mondays! 🙁
Amazingly, an actual udon shop was situated two stores down from the closed place, and it was open. It looked authentic, with a noodle-making machine out front. Damn, what luck. We tried it and it was exactly what was expected, like we had gone back in time to Adventure 2012 – Tokyo. That’s the beauty of adventure, you never know what amazing things you might encounter if you’ll just try.
May 10, Tuesday – continuing on our Japanese adventure, the next day we went to San Jose for Santouka Ramen (well, actually I wanted to get Key Coffee from Mitsuwa, plus on another recent trip down there we had skipped Santouka).
Santouka holds a special place in our memories because it is where we had first meal (aka breakfast) when we stayed in Santa Monica during Adventure 2012 – Road Trip (almost 4 years later and I still haven’t finished updating, eff me!). We’d actually first had it in Adventure 2012 – Hong Kong but didn’t realize it was part of a worldwide chain. Anyhow, the one in Santa Monica is also attached to Mitsuwa and back then I went and bought myself a Japanese can coffee in the supermarket before getting ramen, and now it’s a ritual I repeat whenever I go to Santouka. Good times.
Pho Hoa Lao
May 11, Wednesday – a really delicious and hearty meal at Pho Hoa Lao in Oakland. Had stayed up all night that day so the pork chop with the runny egg mixed with rice along with sips of Vietnamese iced coffee was just exactly what I needed late in the afternoon. JC and I have been going there for years, and I may have even gone there before I met her. Amazing.
May 12, Thursday – on this day JC cooked up the dried, packaged udon that we bought from Mitsuwa on Tuesday. She got creative and added her own toppings of heirloom tomato, mushroom, fish cake, seaweed, and the highlight, homemade tamago. Each slurp of udon was immensely satisfying!
Steak and Rice
May 12, Thursday – second meal on the same day was ribeye steak and rice, again prepared by JC. It’s definitely not the same cooking your own steak versus your wife doing it for you. I felt so loved as I gobbled up each piece of meat and fat. Too good.
Pho Ao Sen
May 14, Saturday – another second time trying a new place since returning from Hong Kong. Most memorable thing from the first time was that the broth was noticeably greasy, more so than most other pho places I’ve been to. Most memorable thing from the second time was that the iced coffee (I didn’t get it the first time) tasted like instant Trung Nguyen G7 coffee and came pre-mixed in a to-go cup. So, based on the hype of the place, the greasy broth, and the relatively high prices, can I possibly put serving instant coffee as drip coffee past Pho Ao Sen? Based on my experience as a human, I’d have to say no.
So there you have it, some of our recent meals from the first half of May 2016. As I said in the beginning of this post, it seems like it flew by, and without looking at the photos I might have forgotten that I had these great meals. I want to make sure that I treasure these moments and not take them for granted. I also want to remind myself of what a great place I’m in now; there are times when I look at photos from Hong Kong and wish I was back there because of certain things I miss. Well, when I was in Hong Kong, I would look at photos from the USA and miss these things from back home. It’s like I forget about the negative aspects of the places I miss, and focus only on the negative aspects of where I currently am. That’s a grass-is-greener mentality that I want to avoid.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for some late-night Japanology. 😉 Hope you’ve enjoyed this Recent Meals post, good night, and bon appetit!
I tossed out the label for this beef already but if I recall correctly, it was “Beef Chuck Roll (for Sukiyaki)” from Nijiya Japanese Supermarket. At $12.99/lb, there is a possibility that it is USDA Prime (based on my observations of Costco USDA Prime prices). I bought 1.27 lbs (2 trays) and it was enough to feed four people at a nice hot pot. Really tender and delicious, and better (IMHO) than the fancy ribeye one that was 3 times the price.
Aw man, won’t be able to get this back in the States, either. Tingling, numbing, bites of fresh shiitake and slurps of thick rice noodles with crunchy bean sprouts and chives in between, not stopping to wipe the nose until the last drop of soup is gone. Damn.
Bought a bottle of Bowmore (which I’ll be posting soon) the other day and got a bit carried away with it. The next morning, I had to go get something solid and heavy to offset that feeling in my stomach. This beef noodle was the ticket. I’ll miss the ready availability of these little mom and pop places in Hong Kong where you can get a quick, cheap meal. It was HKD$31 or USD$4. Fack.
I’ll remember having the whole place to myself that morning. The 師傅 was inside his little enclosure in the front tending to the brisket, and the waitress was out of sight in the back. I quietly contemplated the past couple of years and how I’m going to approach the next few weeks.
Another week goes by, and this past week I cooked only three nights out of the seven (been trying to get back into the job market). If I get a job soon, then that number might go down even more.
Water convolvulus continues to be readily available, and cheap. I’ve pretty much mastered this one now: slice up one chili, mince a clove or two of garlic, and ready three cubes of fermented bean curd. Heat up a pan on high, add oil, stir-fry the above until fragrant, around twenty seconds. Add the water convolvulus and stir-fry until cooked, usually until it’s wilted. Add soy sauce or salt to taste (though I personally prefer soy sauce, brings out the fermented bean curd).
Corn is definitely in season and also readily available and sweet and tender. Instead of dumping it in with the other vegetables in a beef vegetable soup, I remembered not to salt the soup and waited until the end to add corn before removing and serving it on the side. Only then did I salt the soup, and the result was good soup and good corn.
We had some spareribs that had been in the fridge for a couple of days before I steamed them. They came out a little tough, and I attribute that to them getting dried out in the fridge. I steamed them with some shiitake, since it was a small amount of meat (they were left over from Saturday). Maybe soaking the meat in some mushroom water beforehand might re-hydrate it and cause them to steam better.
I did make a couple of new things this week, by JC’s request. The first was broccoli beef. In the past, I would attempt to stir-fry the beef and broccoli together, but it was always hit or miss. The problem with stir-frying broccoli is that it’s difficult to cook it consistently. One side might be cooked and the other might still be raw. So, I instead parboiled them to my desired doneness (just-cooked with a nice crunch, but no rawness) and plated, then cooked the beef (marinated with soy sauce and sugar) to my liking and added a sauce (oyster sauce, a little more sugar, corn starch, and water) before pouring it all over the broccoli. Came out pretty good if I do say so myself. 🙂
The second thing was a spicy Korean-style spinach-tofu soup. We had the leftover broccoli beef and vegetable soup so I just kind of threw it all together. First, I added some water to the veggie soup and heated it up, then added spicy Korean bean paste (comes in a red, little flat box). I tasted it but it didn’t really taste like anything so I added some packaged instant Japanese miso soup. Ah, that was the key. The miso soup has dashi, which gives the soup the savory flavor. Just before serving, I put in soft-tofu, the broccoli beef, and the spinach and brought it back to a boil before taking the whole thing to the table. Not bad!
I noticed something in making the beef and soup, the different perspective between the cook and the diner. From the cook’s perspective, it seems like boiling the broccoli and then pouring beef over it wouldn’t work, because the broccoli is boiled plainly. As the diner, when you eat the broccoli and beef together and they actually go well with each other, you might not think that the two things were cooked separately. The same thing goes for the soup. If I didn’t tell you I just threw it all together, you might think it was all by design. It’s interesting to think about food in this way, especially when eating out. I wonder how many dishes we eat are just some simple slap-togethers from the chef’s perspective.
Sirloin Steak with Red Wine Gravy
I was at a supermarket with a more Western variety of foods (getting some Jameson Whiskey) when I ran across some Australian sirloin steaks that were on closeout. They looked pretty good so I snapped them up for Monday’s dinner. I’ve mentioned somewhere that beef is not as popular in Hong Kong, which means that deals can be had at the end of the day when supermarkets are trying to clear out inventory.
On the way home I realized that I hadn’t gotten anything to go with the steak. Luckily, I had bought some lettuce the previous week, and I still had a tomato and an onion. Instant salad. I also had a couple of potatoes left, so I opted for mashed potatoes, something we haven’t had since Thanksgiving of 2013.
Something to note for next time is that whole potatoes take a long time to soften. I was lazy and boiled them whole thinking they’d be nice and soft by the time I finished playing video games. They could definitely have been softer, especially when the only thing I have to mash them with is a fork. After applying some elbow grease, they came out okay. In tribute to my Aunt J, I left the skin on, because that’s how she used to make it.
The gravy was made with flour, butter, beef stock, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Water Convolvulus with Chili and Fermented Bean Curd
Stir-fried Lettuce with Garlic
Carrot and Lotus Root Soup
Cabbage, Corn, and Beef Sukiyaki
Variety is the spice of life, but when certain vegetables are in season it’s OK to eat a lot of it as well. Right now, it’s all about the water convolvulus (通菜).
As I said above I had some lettuce from the previous week. A popular way of cooking them here is to stir-fry them with some garlic. Cooking lettuce isn’t really something you see in Western cuisine, but it’s done in HK a lot. Doesn’t take long to cook, either.
Carrot and lotus root soup came out great. I remembered to add a sweet date (蜜棗) this time, too.
The sukiyaki was new. It’s a pain in the ass trying to think of new dishes to make on a daily basis. It seemed like we’d been having a lot of pan-fried meats (i.e. steak, pork chop, etc.) and I was browsing through the meat case trying to figure out what I could make. I saw some sliced steak and I thought of the times when we did hot pot with it, so I tried something new. I had a quarter of a cabbage left so I cooked that with some packaged instant miso soup, added corn, and plated while leaving the liquid in the pot. I then cooked the beef slice by slice, removing each slice immediately after cooking because the thin slices are super easy to overcook. I enjoyed this one.
Beef Stewed in Red Wine Sauce
Chinese Marrow Flavoured with Dried Shrimp
Leftover Lotus Root soup
Had some leftovers from Tuesday so made just a couple of dishes today. Used the leftover gravy from Monday to make a beef stew. Nothing complicated about that, bought some beef brisket and cooked it with the gravy and some added water. Soaked some dried shrimp beforehand, cut up some garlic, and stir-fried those until fragrant before adding the marrow and a little water. I used two kinds of dried shrimp, 暇米 and 暇乾. 暇米 as the name suggests is the smaller version. 暇乾 is dried-up regular-sized shrimp. I probably could have soaked those a little bit longer, because they came out slightly chewy. Overall I was happy with how this one came out.
Carrot and Marrow Soup with Dried Scallop
Steamed Pork Spareribs with Black Beans and Garlic
This is one of the easiest (simplest) meals ever. The soup takes 2 to 3 hours to simmer, so make it beforehand by cutting up some carrot and marrow and throwing it into some water along with a piece of lean pork. I like to parboil the pork with some ginger before adding it to the soup. Helps remove some of the nasty shit that boils up. A note about using carrot in soups: the giant ones with the dirt all over them really are sweeter and more flavourful. I only needed one for this soup.
Next, marinate some spareribs with soy sauce, minced garlic, sugar, white pepper, corn starch, sesame oil, and black beans. Place some on a small dish, stick it into the rice cooker with the steaming attachment. Rice and pork ready at the same time. Scoop out some of the carrot and marrow to eat with the rice.
It was Saturday night and I ate while watching TV without formally setting the table, so sadly no photos.
And so, another week goes by. I’m glad I took some time off this week. It can be difficult trying to think up meals, preparing them, and cleaning up afterwards.