Oh The Places You Will Go?

17 05 2015

Graduation season is upon us, and around this time every year, I am confounded by the task of imparting words of wisdom to my high school seniors. What advice should I give to this group of students – all vastly different from each other. Some are incredibly self motivated and ambitious, others are still floundering with day-to-day decisions. Some are very sure of their purpose in the world, and others are still discovering that purpose. There is no single piece of advice that you can give this diverse group of students that would be relevant and true. There is no single platitude that applies to all of them. Except one. Just one common denominator. When these students grow up and pursue their careers, whether they’re off to the prosperous world of investment banking or the dignified calling of medicine or the culturally significant realm of the performing arts – there is a single thread that ties us all. No matter how unique, successful, different, prosperous, intelligent, beautiful, handsome, talented, skilled we may perceive ourselves and see us as separate from or better than another person – at the end of the day, we are all built of the same blood, the same bones, the same flesh. And as such, we must act accordingly. However, the world is constantly asking us to prove our differences. In job interviews and the college application process, students are asked to differentiate themselves from the pool of other students. And this encourages a megalomanic way of thinking that forces us to forget (oftentimes) that we are not so different from our neighbor. This separation dehumanizes our neighbors and we are then able to easily vilify or humiliate or ridicule them. So I guess if I had one bit of advice for my seniors this year, it’s that we need to remember and respect that we are all the same, and only the superficial and material things differentiate us. And because we are not so different, we must treat each other with courtesy and respect and even a bit of kindness, because we are all human and thus deserve that bare basic treatment. I think many of our race, religion and class tensions would be eased if more people remembered this and acted this way.

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Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde
Adapted from Source: FoodNetwork

I’ve been having a long hankering for chilaquiles, and while many places around here serve it, I wanted to challenge myself and make it from scratch. Chilaquiles are essentially a brunch version of “nachos.” Lightly fried chips topped with a any variety of veggies, sauces and meats. This dish was originally created to use of leftover staples like tortillas and salsas. This recipe in particular produces a wonderfully fresh and zingy roasted salsa verde that is simmered before smothering a bed of fresh chips. The homemade chips are a great base for the salsa and all the toppings. It’s easy to make for a crowd, or even just for two – the individual ingredients can be separately stored and thrown together whenever you’re ready to eat. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few of my own toppings – roasted corn, a fried egg, pureed black beans, bits of avocado – all optional but so wonderful in this brunch dish.

Ingredients
Salsa Verde:
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
3 fresh serrano chiles (add more for more heat)
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large onion, rough chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chicken broth or more as needed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chilaquiles:
20 6″ diameter corn tortillas, dried and cut into strips
Salsa Verde
1/3 cup cotija or queso fresco (I prefer the saltier cotija over the melty/oozy queso fresco, but your choice)
kernels from 1 roasted corn on the cob
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Mexican crema (optional)
1 sunny side up egg (optional)
1 cup black beans (optional)
1 avocado, diced (optional)
vegetable oil

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Directions

To make the salsa, place the tomatillos, chiles, garlic, and onion on a lined baking sheet. Place directly under broiler (>500*F) until the vegetables are slightly charred and soft. Flip the veggies as needed for an even char. The veggies will smell very aromatic and will release a lot of liquid. Add all the ingredients into a blender along with the fresh cilantro and chicken broth. Blend to combine and adjust seasoning as needed. Add more broth or water as needed for desired consistency. Set salsa aside.

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To assemble the chilaquiles, pan fry the tortillas in batches until browned and crisp. Drain the tortillas on paper towels and discard the oil. Add about a cup of salsa verde for each serving of chips to a hot pan and bring to a simmer. Then, add the chips to the pan and cook until some pieces are soft but not mushy. Transfer to plate and top with cheese, roasted corn, thinly sliced radishes, cilantro, crema, beans, and egg(s) as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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When I spoke to last year’s graduating class, I spoke of ambition and goal-setting and progress. I was quoted last year saying – “Don’t be complacent or stand still, because you will already have fallen behind on a planet that’s constantly moving forward.” Well this year, I’ve changed the beat of my drum a bit. Call it maturity or wisdom or age – but what’s becoming increasingly important to me is that human connection and that love and kindness reserved for others. It’s been a bad year in the news – a lot of conflicts. Conflicts that are rooted in misunderstanding and lack of kindness. Lack of patience to understand our neighbor. Too much emphasis on differentiating ourselves from “the other” and not enough conversations on our commonality and collaboration. So if we wish to see a better and brighter future, we have to ask our young and aspiring graduates to course correct. To do what previous generations have not been able to do. That would truly be success. That would truly be progress.

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Thanks for reading,
AnhD





Butter My Biscuits

22 04 2015

One of my (many) dreams in life is to live on a farm. Preferably about 30 minutes outside a big city (San Francisco) with easy access to a small downtown (obviously with cute restaurants and good food) and freeways, but with enough room to host my brood of chickens, geese, herd of baby goats, swarm of bees and all my puppies. I also want to grow my own fruits and veggies, and have beds of beautiful flowers that I can cut for dinner table centerpieces. I want to host my friends and family on our farm, for weekend picnics under the orchard or a small intimate dinner amidst the vines. By day I’ll don my pencil skirt and button-up blouse, but on weekends – you’ll see me in my wide-brimmed sun hat and garden galloshes. I essentially want to be Martha Stewart.

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Cheddar Bacon Biscuits
Source: Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients
6 slices of bacon, small diced then fried until crisp then crumbled
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 stick (8 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 sprigs of green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. buttermilk

Directions
Preheat an oven to 425°F.
In a food processor, throw in the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, pepper and butter. Pulse until small crumbs form. Add the cheese and half the bacon, and continue to pulse the food processor to mix thoroughly. Add 3/4 cups of buttermilk and 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat, and pulse just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very wet and sticky.
Using a 3 oz ice cream scoop or a large tablespoon, scoop out 12 biscuits and drop right onto a greased parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of each biscuit with the remaining 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.
Bake the biscuits until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.

Biscuit Split

Cheddar Bacon Gravy
Source: Food

Ingredients
Remaining bacon crumbles from above
2 tbs bacon fat from above
2 tbs all-purpose flour
2 c milk
1/4 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 sprig of green onion, thinly sliced

Directions
In the same pan you used to fry the bacon, discard (or use in the biscuit recipe above) all but 2 tbs of the bacon fat. Once hot, add the all purpose flour and whisk vigorously to dissolve the flour, but without burning it. It should resemble a viscous white fluid. Add the milk, and continue to whisk. Let the gravy simmer and thicken for 10 minutes or so, continuing to whisk so the bottom of the pot does not burn. Once thickened, add the cheddar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer and whisk until the cheese is all melted and incorporated into the gravy. Remove gravy from heat and add the spring onion. Serve with biscuits.

Biscuit Gravy

Biscuit Open

We have made these biscuits 3 times in the last 3 weeks – and they disappear in a heartbeat. My arteries are probably hating me right now, but my love handles are enjoying every buttery, bacony bite. Because the ingredients in both the gravy and biscuit are similar, this is a match made in heaven. I dare say, it takes the spot of peanut butter and jelly. Yum. In my dream world, I would serve these biscuits during those aforementioned weekend brunches or picnics under the orchard, on a long, rustic, wooden table with aged benches. The biscuits would be wrapped in a red and white checkered kitchen linen, then placed in a cute little wicker basket. To serve, I would unceremoniously place one on a white vintage plate, then generously douse it with cheddar bacon gravy. We would all eat in silence – only the occasional oohs or aahhhs would escape from our mouths. And after, we would wash it all down with refreshing mimosas and nap late until the afternoon.

Comatose,
AnhD





Confessions of a Reluctant Gardener

16 04 2015

Maybe I need to take a friend’s advice and do some blog rebranding…

Dahlia

Ranunculus

Lettuce

WeepingCherry

Up to this point, I have had very limited experience planting anything (terrariums aside). But I’ve found it surprisingly fun and really rewarding. After a day of work, I really like being knee-deep in soil. The earth is musky yet sweet. And there’s just so much life, if you take a second to look around – a pulsating moth pupa or a shy earth worm. And you literally reap what you sow – our plants have been sprouting nicely. From the fruits and veggies to all the lovely flowers we’ve planted. It’s only been a few weeks, but each day, I can see each plant grow a little taller, spread a little wider – this really tickles my need for instant gratification. And our baby chicks have also grown up so quickly, into little majestic pullets. In another month or so, they should begin laying, so I’m looking forward to sharing more details on that.

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But alas this is a food blog – I did manage to capture this image before devouring a dozen of the most amazing cheddar and spring onion biscuits. I’ll be sharing a recipe shortly. These little pockets of buttery, bacony biscuits are just perfect with gravy. I’m going to give Jacob’s Pickles a run for its money.
CheddarBiscuit

Thanks for stopping by and until next time!
AnhD





Early Mornings

15 03 2015

Four weeks after the wedding, and I think my endorphin levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. have finally fallen to normal levels. I really wasn’t expecting this biological reaction to the long-awaited anticipation of the wedding or the emotional/psychological/physical stress of the event. But as this is real life and not some fairy tale, there is no rest, and we begin our next project together – landscaping the yard. Before we tackle it today, I’m enjoying a quiet Saturday morning to myself – a homemade cappuccino and my new favorite granola bar recipe.

Img5Another gift from our registry – our very own coffee grinder and espresso machine! Thank you friends for all the love!

Date & Nut Bars
Source: Minimalist Baker
This recipe from Minimalist Baker is amazing – simple to put together, adaptable, satisfying, and so much better for you than the pre-packaged things you can buy at the store. You can swap out the dates for any other dried fruit (apricot works really well), and the nut and nut butters can be substituted as well.

Ingredients
1 c of medjool dates, pitted (about 10-12 dates, packed into a cup)
1/4 c honey
1/4 c creamy almond butter
1 c slivered almonds, toasted until golden brown
1 c rolled oats, toasted until golden brown
1/2 c shredded coconut

Directions
After removing the pits from the dates, whiz the dates in a food processor until the fruit comes together like a sticky ball. In a small saucepan on low heat (alternatively, you can microwave in a bowl), melt the honey and almond butter until combined. To the bowl, add the almonds, rolled oats, and coconut, stirring to distribute.

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Add the dates, working to break up the dates to evenly distribute the dates throughout the mixture. The dates and the honey will act as your glue to hold the granola bar together, so it’s best if these “glues” are evenly spread.

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Line a small brownie pan (8″ x 8″) with parchment or plastic wrap, and spread the granola mixture into the pan, pressing down until flatted. The tighter you are able to compact the granola, the better the bars will adhere. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let cool in the fridge until set, about an hour or so. Once set, remove the entire parchment/plastic wrap from the pan, and use a large knife to cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. I find that it’s better to cut into bars, then individually plastic wrap or zip-lock (the smallest ziplock bags work great!) each bar for freshness. This also allows me to take it with me for the road. This is the perfect snack or on-the-go breakfast. The only challenge is if you don’t pack the granola in tight enough, the bar can be a bit crumbly – which is perfect for topping Greek yogurt, but not so good for eating on-the-go. Either way, it’s delicious – enjoy!

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Our backyard project covers about 5,000+ square feet, includes a chicken coop with 2 new chickens, a new raised herb bed, a new flower bed, and about a half dozen fruit trees. We are still in the process of laying a lawn, paving a few stone paths, constructing a stone fire pit – phew. This doesn’t even include the other work we need to do for the house. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Better get to work then!

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

PS. I am in the process of migrating my photos to Flickr
PPS. I just started shooting with a real DSLR and a new macro lens – bear with me!





Valentine

24 02 2015

Love, it’s a special day
We should celebrate and appreciate
That you and me found something pretty neat
And I know some say this day is arbitrary

But, it’s a good excuse
That I love to use baby
I know what to do baby
I, I will love you
I’ll love you
Kina Grannis [and performed by my sister on our wedding day]

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So after much anticipation (this, this, and this), we finally got married. And it was beautiful. It exceeded my expectations in every single way – and if it wasn’t so expensive, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was THAT much fun. Me, my best friend David, and my 400 closest friends and family. I couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular event. Even now that it’s been almost 2 weeks, I still replay and savor the events in my head. Here are some snapshots submitted by our guests:

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We’ve received a ton of positive feedback from our friends and families, as well as a ton of questions from newly engaged couples. We did all our planning ourselves, and as a management consultant, wedding planning was pretty intuitive. We created Gantt charts, RACI matrix, slide decks for all components of the wedding so that none of it would fall to us on the big day. All our decorations were catalogued in a detailed inventory list and labeled with sticky post-its, so that our designated decorators would know where to place everything. We did our due diligence with each and every vendor, in some cases, interviewing 3 or 4 different vendors for the same position. We qualitatively and quantitatively evaluated each vendor before making a selection. All the detailed planning paid off – and it was a beautiful day. Here I would like to share my top 5 tips for wedding planning – more or less the same as my tips for any kind of good project management.

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1. Stay organized
My Gantt charts, RACI matrix, item inventory, daily scrums (yes – David and I had daily scrum meetings), all paid off. They may seem excessive, but at the same time, it made the day itself stress-free, and I was able to engage in the day rather than worry about the granular details. David and I also programmed an MS Excel index array lookup sheet for out seating chart of over 400 guests, so that guest check-in would be effortless and efficient. I highly encourage using Google’s free suite of organization and collaboration products to keep you on top of everything. I used Google Sheets to track budget and timelines; I used Google Keep to manage my day-to-day tasks; I tracked all my vendor meetings in Google sheets; I used Google Presentation to create my setup maps. This way, you have a single source of truth for everything and aren’t having version control and miscommunication issues.

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2. Be decisive
Having worked in the wedding industry, I’ve noticed that brides can be incredibly waffley – as in, flipfloppy; as in, indecisive. When I interned with the girls at Vo Floral, we would have brides change color schemes or types of flowers last minute, and would demand refunds for not having their orders meet their new standards. This is not OK. Be decisive early and stick to your decisions. Better yet, record those decisions (in text and also supplemented with images) in a Google Sheet or Google Presentation, so that all your vendors can also view them. This keeps the communication transparent across all the vendors – and your vendors are perfectly clear on what the decisions are and what the final look is.

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3. Trust your vendors
Having managed million dollar projects, I’ve learned that you need to have a good working relationship with all your vendors. You hired a vendor because you trust him/her, so please trust the expert to carry out your vision. In most cases, a nice bride will get everything she asked for and then some. Good vendors are happy knowing their brides + grooms are happy. Also, don’t micromanage your vendors – again, if you’ve done your job to communicate your vision, color scheme, etc., then leave it to the experts. You don’t have the time to look through all 200 silver linen options (taffeta or crushed silk or lace overlay etc) or determine the exact layout and placement of the dessert table, trust me.

 

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4. Don’t bargain too much
This is in the same vein as #3, but you get what you pay for. Of course, find a vendor that meets your budget and who understands your vision, but do not push him/her too much. They are on your side but need to earn a living too.

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5. Have realistic expectations
I think Disney, StyleMePretty, TheKnot, Pinterest, etc. may have ruined us. We have these grandiose visions of what our weddings should look like, and often times, we do not have the budget or time to support such visions. So, be realistic about your expectations – you’ll have a much better time if you aren’t disappointed that the flowers aren’t like this, or if your groom isn’t wearing this, or if your ballroom doesn’t look like that. Also, don’t expect your wedding day (or night) to be a transformative experience. If anything, it’s just another party with your closest friends and family – so have fun, lighten up, and assuming you’ve done the proper planning and hand-off to your vendors, it’s going to be great regardless.

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Do you have other bits of feedback? Please share in the comments section! I’ll be sharing my 5 tips for surviving the wedding day itself and another 5 tips on infusing personality into your wedding, so stay tuned.

Good luck future brides & grooms!
AnhD





Material World

16 01 2015

In the last few years, I have become increasingly more materialistic. I am consumed by this desire for things– expensive things, pretty things, shiny things, whimsical things, nice-smelling things, mechanical things, fast things, ephemeral things. I want it all. And yet, had you asked me at a younger age, let’s say high school, if I would ever buy these things – I would have been completely disinterested and utterly blissful in my disinterest. What would I do with an expensive designer handbag comparable to a month or two of mortgage? Or red soled heels that eventually get beat up by the sidewalk? Or the endless tubes of makeup and the numerous strands of jewelry; or the stacks of laptops and tablet devices; the racks upon racks of clothing; the red wine goblets AND the white wine goblets; an assortment of vases – galvanized, glass, ceramic, clear, opaque, mercury. How did I get here? When did living simply go out of fashion? I reflect on this today after a series of unfortunate events this weekend that made me re-evaluate the true value of these material things. I sat amidst a pile of my things this weekend, holding up each item, trying really hard to assign value or meaning to justify the purchase. I was at a loss. Many of these things held very little value beyond the intrinsic value of the raw goods used to make them. I also couldn’t seem to associate a memory or emotion to these things. I had accumulated so much stuff, most of which I did not need. We know there is very little positive correlation between consumerism and happiness, and yet, we/I’ve been trapped into this never-ending cycle of spending and accumulating.

Plated

Salmon Croquettes
Loosely based off Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients
1/2 pound raw salmon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
3-4 sprigs of dill, roughly chopped
1 tbs capers, drained
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced
2-3 stalks of green onion, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp juice of fresh squeezed lemon (or to taste)
2-3 tbs Dijon mustard (or to taste)
1-2 tbs of mayonnaise
generous dose of hot sauce as needed
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of panko bread crumbs

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Place the salmon on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Bake for 15-20 minutes, just barely until cooked. Remove from oven, cover with foil (to keep moisture in the fish), and allow to rest to room temperature.

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Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the eggs and panko. Once the fish is cool enough to handle / at room temp, flake the fish and add to the bowl. Season again and as needed with additional salt and pepper. Add ONE beaten egg and combine until the mixture begins to stick together. Shape patties with the fish mixture. Dip the patties in a bit of beaten egg-wash, then dip into the panko, shaking off any excess. Alternatively, you can just form the patties and pan-fry as is, but I think the extra panko crust just makes the patty so much better by adding another layer of crunch and texture. See for yourself which version you prefer.

Outside

Deep fry until each patty is golden brown. Remove, drain the oil and serve hot. If you need to fry in batches, simply place the drained patties on a cooling rack, place the rack over a baking sheet, then place in oven at around 175*F, just to keep the patties warm. The cooling rack will help keep the cooked patties crisp while you finish frying the remaining patties. For the dipping sauce, I doctored a bit of mayonnaise by adding a bit more EVOO, minced garlic, a splash of lemon juice and zest, minced dill, a bit of salt and pepper.

Cooked

These lovely salmon cakes are great as an appetizer, or on a bed of greens and a nice tangy vinaigrette (as seen in the first image there). I love that the capers and lemon add a nice zing to cut through the fatty salmon; the dill also packs some great freshness and flavor; and that panko crust is to die for. Enjoy.

Over the years, I will likely continue to collect things. It’s hard not to, living in a reinforcing cycle of consumerism. But perhaps if I had a new year’s resolution, it would be to buy fewer things, and only to do so mindfully.

AnhD





The Homestretch

23 12 2014

So my wedding website tells me that I’ve got 53 days to go. It went from 2 years to just under 2 months in a blink of an eye. And Christmas! It’s only 2 days away! But because of the wedding (and the crazy wedding budget), our Christmas is pretty straightforward and no frills this year. We’ve resurrected my old college Christmas tree – a spartan little thing, missing several artificial branches – and topped it with just a dozen bronze ornaments or so. The empty spaces are filled in with Christmas cards from our friends and families. There are definitely no gifts under this tree. The only other Christmas decor is the potted poinsettia that adorns our dining table. And yet amidst it all – it feels perfect. Our first Christmas in our first home. While low in Christmas decor, it is high in Christmas spirit. And that’s really what the season is all about.

Tree

So tonight as we snuggle on the couch and watch the twinkling of the Christmas lights, we’ll slurp on these slippery, garlicky, tangy noodles – an easy ending to a busy day. Hope you enjoy.

Pan

Pasta & Shrimp Scampi
Source: Adapted from the always perfect Ina Garten

Ingredients
2 tbs kosher salt
3/4 pound linguine or spaghetti pasta
3 tbs unsalted butter
2 1/2 tbs good olive oil
3-4 tbs butter
4-5 cloves minced garlic (more if you like garlic)
2 shallots, small diced
1/2 small onion, small diced
1/2 c dry white wine (I used a pinot – great for drinking with the pasta)
15-20 large shrimp (about 1 lb), peeled & deveined
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c chopped parsley leaves
1 sprig of rosemary (optional but it imparts such great flavor!)
1/2 lemon, zest grated
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemons
Big pinch of hot red pepper flakes (or to your liking)

Directions
Cook the pasta noodles according to the packaging.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or skillet, melt the butter and olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, shallots and small onion, and saute for a couple of minutes until it all softens and sweats. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the white wine, allowing it to cook off the alcohol and reduce a bit. Add the rosemary and let the herbs infuse into the liquid. Toss in the large shrimp, a bit of kosher salt, and pepper. Saute until the shrimp just turn pink, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning and to heat the shrimp evenly. Turn off the heat and leave the pan on the stove, add the parsley, lemon zest and juice, and red pepper flakes. Toss in the cooked pasta noodles. Twirl and serve.

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This dish is super quick – it comes together in under 30 minutes. And since it’s winter, shrimp has been abundant and delicious. Big and succulent with a nice crunch. If you don’t mind the garlic, this is a great date night dish – with a bit of wine left over to wash down the meal. I like to amp up the red pepper flakes and garlic for bolder flavors – don’t be afraid to adjust the seasonings to your liking.

With such a short amount of time left, we are in a frenzy wrapping up the last details and tying all the loose ends as the year winds down and as we get closer to the wedding. I’m not entirely sure what my presence on the blog will be in the coming weeks, but wish me luck either way!

Hand-sprayed these to create a faux mercury glass look.
Candle Holders

Thanks so much for reading!
AnhD








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