Archive for » October, 2011 «

I was busy in the warehouse yesterday mid-morning, when I got a call from a friend.

“Jenny! Would you like to eat lunch today?” Elly.

I readily accepted the lunch invitation. I like to eat lunch everyday.

Half an hour later, Elly pulled up in her big Mercedes to pick me up. She wore a pair of huge designer sunglasses that hid most of her face, and had her hair tied up into a ponytail behind her baseball cap.

“I am taking you to a Korean restaurant today.” Elly said coolly.

We usually eat at Korean restaurants together.

“Oh, great! I am going to try something totally different today.” me

“What does that mean?” Elly threw me a look.

“It means I am not going to eat Korean BBQ beef again. I want to try something different. Maybe I will order what you order…” me babbling.

“I don’t know…” shaking her head.

“YES! I am tired of BBQ beef. I will have what you will have for a change.” me, rebellious.

We arrived at a small family-owned Korean restaurant earlier than the usual lunch hour. The tables were scantly filled, with a handful of Korean-looking patrons.

We got the same dish. I don’t recall the name of the dish, but it was rice, with beef, vegetables, eggs, and it was delivered to us sizzling hot in a thick hot clay pot.

“Hey, I like this.” I was pleased with my meal.

When the noon hour approached, the lunch crowds filed in, and the little restaurant filled up quickly.

I noted that Elly grew quiet, but I ignored her, and carried on a one-sided conversation with her all by myself. Then she spoke.

“Why do you eat so slowly!” Elly. It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation.

I had one minor problem with the lunch: it was the hot clay pot that it came in. The pot kept the food super hot, so I had to air each bite to avoid burning myself.

“Because it is hot!” I shot back, pointing at the clay pot.

“He, he, he…” she covered her mouth, and laughed.

She recovered, then surprised me with, “Okay, are you done? We have to go.”

“No, I am not done! Why do we have to go?” I was barely half way through with my lunch. And she was not done either!

Ignoring me, she waved our waiter down, asked for the bill and two boxes.

“I am still eating…” waving my chopsticks at her.

The restaurant was very small, before I know it, the waiter came back with the bill and two boxes, and Elly immediately handed him her credit card. At least the witch was paying!

I had an incredulous look on my face, and Elly addressed it. She instructed me with tedious detail, how to take the rest of my lunch home, how to cook it, and how to eat it with great pleasure at home. I watched her lips moving, and wanted to scream at her. I KNOW how to reheat leftovers!!!

I bit my tongue, as I dumped my lunch into the to go box. I didn’t want to wage a war in the restaurant.

Left Over Korean Lunch

When we made our exit, I kept my temper in check. I concluded that she must have some shameful urgent matter to attend to, and forcing the explanation of her abrupt behavior might embarrass her.

As we walked together on the sidewalk back to her car, she tapped my arm suddenly.

She had my attention. She then pointed to a coffee shop with a charming outdoor seatting area across the street.

“Hey, let’s go have coffee. You pay for the coffee.” Elly.

“YOU HAVE TIME FOR COFFEE! Then why can’t I finish my lunch?!” I was reduced to shouting in public.

“Oh! He, he, he….” Elly, then continued, “Did you notice the big table of people sitting right next to us?”

There was a huge long table next to us, and a big group of people did sit down there during our lunch.

“What about them? You know those people? Is one of them your enemy?” me, sounding irritated.

“No! I don’t know them. But they are SO annoying! I lost my appetite.” Elly.

“What did they do?” me, much more calmly.

“It was the way they talked. I couldn’t stand it. I just had to leave.” Elly.

“What did they say? And why were you listening to other people’s conversations? I hardly noticed them.” me.

“You are oblivious!” Elly, “It was a couple of women in that group, oh, their voice.”

“You are that annoyed with people’s voice?!” me.

“No! They kept asking their waiter those stupid questions about Korean dishes.” Elly.

I paused for a while…and took a deep breath.

“Let’s get this straight. You are offended…. because some white women asked their waiter questions about Korean dishes that you thought were stupid.” me, looking straight into her eyes.

“YES!!!” Elly answered with unrestrained excitement. She must be thrilled that her demented rationale could be seemingly understood by another human soul.

I held on to my stomach, and burst into laughter.

Have you ever looked at your friends, and wondered what made them friends?

Elly is deeply flawed. She conducts herself in defiance to logic regularly. Abrupt and erratic behavior are her norm. And her worst trait didn’t even surface in our botched lunch. Yet, I can look past all that, and appreciate the great humor and comic relief her presence often creates. Untamed laughter are good for the senses.

She has even better reasons to call me a friend. She knows the next time she rings me, I can be expected to not only answer her call, but be happy to eat lunch with her again. I tolerate her madness with ease.

We walked into the coffee shop, and ordered our drinks. Then she found a table outside, and sat there like a queen, waiting for me to bring her the coffee. I brought the coffee out, and we immediately settled into stimulating women talk.

“Do you ever check your husband’s phone and email accounts behind his back?” Elly.

“No.” I answered dryly.

“Because you totally trust him?” Elly.

“No. Because I might bore myself to death.” me.

HA, Ha, ha, haaa….

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“I bought crabs for dinner!!” I announced as soon as I pushed open our front door last Sunday late afternoon.

“Yeah!” The kids came running. Our whole family loves eating crabs.

“They were on sale: $5.99 a pound.” me.

I count dungeness crab as one of the benefits of living in the Bay Area. We always seem to have an endless supply of these crabs, and they are often on sale at my favorite Chinese grocery store during the Fall season.

Crab Feast

I struggled with the plastic bag and successfully emptied the three good-sized crabs into my sink.

Inside the sink, the three crabs frantically clawed at the sink and at each other causing a minor commotion.

My two children came to watch them, as I prepared a large pot with water at the other side of my double sink.

“Why do you always have to buy them alive?” 10-year-old.

“Because I am Asian. And Asians like to see their seafood alive and kicking before eating them.” me, deploying the excuse of embracing tradition. The more practical reason could be that they don’t sell dead crabs at the Chinese grocery stores, and it makes no sense to buy those frozen dead ones in regular super markets at double the price!

“When I grow up, I won’t be cooking crabs for my kids.” my baby blurted out, while looking on at the miserable crabs, which were slowing their movements in the sink.

“Why?” me. My children love eating crabs. We all do. Many of our happy family meal memories were made around eating crabs. It takes a long time to properly consume crabs, they are difficult food.

“I can’t put a live crab in hot water, and watch it die!” 8-year-old.

I had to pause my crab preparation business, to address the grave matter that my future grand children’s culinary heritage faced extinction.

I dried both of my hands with the kitchen towel. I put both of my hands on my baby’s shoulders, looked the child in the eye, and asked, “Do you still remember the “circle of life” from the Lion King?” (I recently took the kids to the see re-make of the Lion King in 3D).

The child nodded.

Without looking away, I pointed at the sink, and said un-apologetically, “They are crabs. This is what happens to crabs, because they are born that low into our food chain!”

Lion king roared the P.E.T.A. Sentiment away. And we went on to enjoy another memorable happy family dinner.

If you can stomach boiling crustaceans alive, here is my secret recipe.

Preparing crab is actually extremely easy–you just need to know how to boil water. The “secret” part of this recipe is the sauce that I make from scratch, which I consider to be the best part of my crab feast. Everyone that has tried it, has complimented me on it, and no one has ever begged me for melted butter to eat their crab. Not even my kids, who love butter as much as ice cream.


1) Live crabs. (One crab per person, two young kids can share one large crab.)
2) Cilantro
3) Ginger
4) Soy sauce
5) Sugar
6) Vinegar
7) Olive oil

Optional ingredients:

1) Chopped garlic
2) A dash of sesame oil



* Fill a large pot with 2/3 water, and bring it to boil. (I also like to throw in a couple of large slices of ginger in the water)

* Place one crab at a time into the boiling pot of water.
Tip: Use the tongs and put the crab into the water upside down (with the stomach and claws facing up), the crab will go into the water without much struggle this way, and ensure a quick demise.

*Boil the crab at high temperature for 15 minutes. Then remove the crab to a large plate
Tip: You will boil the crab with the cover partially covering the pot most of the time, to keep the boiling water from overflowing outside of the pot.

*Using the same water, repeat the above to boil additional crabs.


*Finely chop the ginger and cilantro.

*Prepare one small bowl of sauce per person.

*Add one teaspoon of chopped ginger and one teaspoon of cilantro into each bowl

*Add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of sugar

*Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce

*Add 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of dark vinegar

*Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water

*Add 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

*optional: Add 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic and a dash of sesame oil

*Mix well to be sure to dissolve the sugar.

I rarely use exact measurements in my cooking, so the above measurements are my best guess; feel free to vary the amount of the ingredients according to your own taste.

I like to serve it with bread and butter and my favorite beer–Corona light with a slice of lime.

Crab served with bread and butter, with cold beer

It is also great with Chinese plain buns with condensed milk, and hot sake.

Previous related post: Holy Guacamole!
Easy One-Dish Meal for Busy Moms (or Dads)

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Category: Kids, Parents  2 Comments

The sight of the yellow school bus disappointed me. I had hoped for that nice luxury coach bus that took us to the Gold Rush field trip in Sacramento a couple of years ago. However, the 6th graders greeted their bare-bones school bus with uncontained excitement. We were going to the much anticipated 6th grade field trip to Alcatraz, the island prison museum that once caged notorious convicts, and the subject of many books and Hollywood films. I was one of the five parent volunteers on this field trip.
Alcatraz Island
We had a big bus all to just our class. The kids along with their furious energy all filed into the back of the bus. The five parents and Mr. C wisely sat in the very front of the bus, away from the children and all their ruckus.

Within 10 minutes of the bus ride, we were met with boy drama so severe, that it temporarily halted the children’s merrymaking in the back.

We were cruising on the highway, when we heard several voices calling from back of the bus.

“Mr. C! Mr. C!! Jay is crying! Jay is crying!” several children reported from the back.

“Why is he crying?” Mr. C turned and asked mildly. So mild that his question was drowned out by more excited children reporting the incident.

“WHY is Jay crying?!” several of us parent volunteers had to help out Mr. C by shouting his questions to the back of the bus.

“Gus punched him in the face!” the kids shouted back at us.

Mr. C’s face grew dark. He raised from his front row seat, and walked wobbly down the isle.

In most schools, the likely outcome of being punched in the face would probably initiate a fight between two 11 year olds. But for kids from a California distinguished school, being punched in the face had the frightened young victim retreated under the chair to take cover.

Mr. C managed to walk all to the way to the very back of the bus to tell Jay that it was safe to come out from hiding. After he checked that the boy was okay, he turned his attention to Gus.

Young Gus was already crying, allowing his tears to flow quite freely, in anticipation of the horror of Mr. C’s wrath.

My mind: Hello 2nd grade….

The main course of Gus’ punishment was to sit in the front of the bus, with the grownups. He was assigned an entire row to himself right across from me.

As the rest of the children resumed in conducting themselves like howler monkeys in the back. Gus curled himself into the fetal position laying on his seat, with dried tear marks still on his face, motionless and sad as can be. He was such a pitiful sight, that my maternal instinct kicked in with misplaced empathy for this young aggressor.

I patted his head from across the isle…but felt glad that he wasn’t assigned to my group.

I like volunteering at our school, but I tend to stay clear of field trips. I find the guardianship of other people’s children, outside the comforting boundaries of the classrooms, stressful.

I did eagerly sign myself up to chaperon this field trip, however. Even though I have lived in close proximity to Alcatraz for a long, long time, I have never visited it before. It should be fun learning about the history behind this famous prison with my 11 year old. So, I thought…

I was assigned to lead six children. Three girls, and three boys. I immediately recognized two of the boys’ names, as they were associated with less-than-stellar reputation.

As we hiked our way to the top, where the main prison cell with the audio tours are located, my apprehension about them faded.

The boys asked me if they could stop at the museum gift shop, I said sure. The kids cheered. Then the three boys talked about the gift shop as if IT should be the highlight of the trip. The girls rolled their eyes, as the boys chatted away about shopping. I chuckled.

As we came to a bend on the walking path, I noticed a large number of visitors hoovering around a very small housing structure just off the path. I ordered the troops to stop, and wondered out loud what that was. One of my girls walked over to investigate, and reported back quickly that it was the Alcatraz morgue.

“Ewww…dead people!” one of the boys shuddered. Then immediately quickened his steps up the hill, leading the other two boys to quickly follow. More eyes rolling and chuckling, then we all continued up.

When we reached the top of the hill, I felt at ease herding this group of harmless lambs.

We entered the main prison cell, and walked in line to pick up headsets for the audio tour. Then it all went down hill from there.

Alcatraz Cell House Audio Tour

The children weren’t to blame, the audio tour was!!

The audio tour was the highlight of Alcatraz. The historical background of this famed prison was narrated with captivating theatrical sound effects, featuring the roars of the chaotic prison riots, a chorus of metal drinking cups beating on the prison bars in protest, gun shots, and even grenades exploding. And it told you where to turn and stop for the next destination of the prison tour.

The problem with the tour? Unlike many audio tours, where you may have to press a number to start a section of the tour or be told to stop and when to re-start again, the Alcatraz audio tour was one continuous hour-long tour, with no built-in stops. And it certainly did not instruct the visitors to not lose sight of their chaperone, and to stay close with their group.

So, I spent the entire tour constantly counting and recounting my kids, and sweating!

Our ferry alone had unloaded about 300 to 400 visitors, with most of us participating in this cell tour, it was crowded. The kids all seemed to have started the audio tour a few minutes apart, which meant, a few kids were still sitting in the library, listening to how the prisoners checked out books. While another child was instructed to pass through the “Cut-off”, with another child stopped at cell #115, to hear about the notorious convict it once held.

Alcatraz Cell

This was further complicated by the fact that one of the kid’s recorders stopped working so I gave her mine, which meant that I was “leading” the group without the benefit of the audio tour telling me where to go next!

I dreaded appearing before Mr. C to tell him that I lost one of the kids.

I constantly counted my six kids visually, and every five minutes or so, I finger counted them again! Since the kids were all on headsets, they couldn’t hear me calling after them. In order to catch the leaders of my pack, I had to take my eyes off the rest, run to my fast-moving kids, forcibly pull on their jacket sleeves to manually stop them to wait for the others, and grab their audio guides to press the stop button to pause the recording. Then I would turn my attention to locate the others and conduct another count.

It was the longest hour I can remember in recent memory…

Like most museums, the tour ended in the gift shop. I was thrilled to see the gift shop. And the gift shop was much bigger than expected. I walked across to the other end of the shop, and was excited to see just one exit.

I told the children cheerfully that they were free to browse the shop and to take as much time as they needed. Then I walked over to guard the door, ready to catch my kids as they made their way to the exit.

The Alcatraz gift shop had great souvenirs. But the kids awarded their top pick to the Alcatraz Chocolates. In 20 minutes time, I noted that over half of the kids from our classroom left the gift shop with a tin box of the Alcatraz Chocolates. Including a few of my kids waiting with me by the door, already eating their chocolates.

“Can I borrow $3 dollars?” one of the boys in my group popped in front of us wanting money.

“What do you want to buy?” me.

“The chocolate.” pointing to the Alcatraz chocolates.

Alcatraz Chocolate from the gift shop

“It is $6.50. I only have 3 dollars and 2 quarters.” the boy.

Eying the long line formed by the cashiers, I addressed my group of kids, “everyone already has these chocolates…. kids, share some of yours with him.”

Two children helpfully offered their opened boxes of chocolates to him.

He looked at them, then looked up at me and said, “NO! I want to buy a box to bring home to my mom and sisters!”

My mind: How SWEET… (ignoring that he left out his sorry dad).

I lamented often how I missed the cuteness of my children’s baby and toddler years, but I realized then that childish cuteness can still surface in 11 year olds too. I only hope that in a few more years, I can still report to you on the cuteness of teenagers.

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“I got an A+ for my poem today!” my 6th grader announced happily.

“Congratulations.” I dutifully replied without taking my eyes off of my laptop.

“Our assignment was to write a poem about our families. All the kids wrote about their families, how much they love them, and how much their families love them back. NOT I! I wrote a totally crazy poem about “MY” family. And Mr. C gave me an A+!” 11-year-old continued with the bragging.

“Oh! And he loved my illustrations. He showed it to everyone in class on the projector!” 11-year-old.

“Alright, let me have a look.” I waved my hand for the assignment. Poetry is not my cup of tea.

I chuckled as I read along this poem. It is crazy and imaginative. I loved it! It is brilliant, and yes, the illustrations hit it out of the park. Worthy of an A+.

I immediately recognized that this poem would be crazy, as it is titled: Wacky Family.

Wacky Family

Wacky Family

My family’s completely out of whack.

When I get home from school, everyone’s back.

At the stove boiling pillows, there’s my mother.

Sneaking broccoli to his room—that’s my brother!

Trying to fit into a grocery bag,

That will be my dad.

A bit overdosed on drugs,

My baby sister, Catermaran-Bubbazad.

A rat is chasing my cat

With a baseball bat,

My fish is taking a nap

In a bottle cap,

This is a daily activity

For my family.

Luckily for me,

I’m loved by my family!

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Category: Kids  One Comment