Homebrewing Kombucha

Left: Brewing Kombucha; Right: Close-up of a SCOBY

Left: Brewing Kombucha; Right: Close-up of a SCOBY

Being from California, I’ve fully embraced the kombucha movement and was that person who would pay $5 for a bottle of GT’s Enlightened Kombucha. I liked how it was carbonated without being too sweet AND you had the extra benefits of plenty of probiotics.

However, being abroad has separated me from my beloved kombucha. Imagine my complete and utter excitement when I met a fellow American, Clifford, who brewed his own kombucha. My first reaction was: “Can you teach me!?”

What exactly is kombucha? I didn’t realize it was so easy to make. It starts out as sugary tea and then you ferment it with the help of a SCOBY or “mother” mushroom. SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” To me, it’s almost like homebrewing your own beer, but with tea instead. During the fermentation process, the SCOBY eats up all the sugar in the tea, which causes it to grow and also release probiotics. While it may not look like the most appealing thing in the world, the end result tastes good.

Getting my Kombucha starter kit.

Getting my Kombucha Starter Kit

Clifford was kind enough to teach me and give me a starter kit to brew my own kombucha, which consisted of a SCOBY and a cup of fermented tea. If you don’t have a friend who can give you a SCOBY (because let’s face it, who does?), you can go online and buy a starter kit. I’m not going to link to a site because I can’t personally vouch for its quality.

Continue reading

Shanghai: American Chinese Food at Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

Shanghai: Fortune Cookie

I have to admit that American Chinese fast food is a total guilty pleasure of mine. I love Panda Express. There’s something so delicious about a giant bowl of orange chicken or even better, a giant bowl of leftover cold chow mein noodles. It’s even more satisfying when you eat it straight out of the white and red carton with a pair of chopsticks.

Leave it to two Americans to open Fortune Cookie (83 Changshu Road; 常熟路83号)– Shanghai’s answer to every foreigner craving Westernized Chinese food. With familiar dishes like orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and hot and sour soup, I was ready to order practically everything on the menu.

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

Left: Shrimp Chow Mein; Bottom Right: Orange Beef

My two girlfriends and I finally decided on shrimp chow mein, orange beef and Tsingtao can chicken. One of my friends has a severe peanut allergy, which makes eating Chinese food in China very difficult (often times the pots aren’t washed out well with lingering peanut oil/peanuts). When we told our server about her peanut allergy, he was really good about checking and letting us know which dishes to avoid. A few minutes later, one of the founders, David Rossi, even stopped by to reconfirm that the chow mein had peanuts in the sauce. It was a level of service that my friend has never found in any other restaurant in Shanghai (part of the reason why she likes to eat at Fortune Cookie).

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Top Left: Tsingtao Can Chicken

Staying true to its American roots, Fortune Cookie serves American-sized food. With each bite of food, I was instantly transported back to my days in college when we used to drive for midnight runs to Panda Express. It was total comfort food. The orange beef was crispy, hot and sweet at the same time. The shrimp chow mein was exactly how I wanted it to taste. The Tsingtao can chicken isn’t exactly a dish you would find back in the States (or, at least I’ve never had it). Despite the 45-minute wait for the chicken (they warn you when you order it), it was well worth it. The chicken was tender and flavorful and served with a funky red sauce that tasted like a mixture of fermented tofu, sesame and peanuts.

Fortune Cookie Shanghai

The three of us polished off everything. If there had been leftovers, we would have gotten one of those classic white and red take-out boxes. Of course, there were fortune cookies to end the meal and each one had a funny message inside. While the prices are a little high compared to what you would pay in the U.S. (64 RMB for shrimp chown mein), it is totally worth it if you’re craving Chinese fast food. It’s the perfect restaurant to go with your expat friends when you’re all feeling just a little bit nostalgic for home.

Bay Area Homecoming

San Francisco's Dolores Park

San Francisco’s Dolores Park

Going home for the holidays was too wonderful. I was spoiled by warm weather (mid-60′s), good food, family and great friends. I wish I could have extended my trip longer, but in a blink of an eye, I was on a plane heading back to Shanghai.

I just wanted to share a few of the food highlights from the trip home. This was in addition to having prime rib for three straight meals in a row. We had two prime rib roasts for Christmas Eve dinner, which lead to an abundance of leftovers. I definitely did not complain.

Gochi Mountain View: Sashimi, Agedashi Tofu, and Onigiri

Gochi Mountain View: Sashimi, Agedashi Tofu, and Onigiri

Gochi is one of my favorite restaurants and they serve Japanese-fusion tapas. The original location is in Cupertino and there is always the longest line if you don’t have a reservation. They recently opened a second location in Mountain View. It seems a little bit easier to make a reservation since it’s newer.

Gochi: Unagi Clay Pot Rice

Gochi: Unagi Clay Pot Rice

They have some funky dishes on the menu like Japanese pizza and potato gratin, but my favorites are definitely the more traditional items like agedashi tofu and onigiri. The BEST dish is their clay pot rice and my personal fave is the unagi rice bowl. I love how you get the crispy parts of the rice all mixed in with eel, seaweed and veggies. I like to order a side of dashi broth because nothing tastes better than finishing a meal with a clean, light bowl of soup.

San Francisco's Foreign Cinema

San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema. Top Right: Heavenly Scramble; Bottom Right: Tuna Salad Sandwich

I miss San Francisco so much that it makes my heart aches. I’m sure that sounds overly melodramatic, but San Francisco is honestly my favorite city in the entire world. Since my time was limited, I made a point to have brunch at Foreign Cinema. Foreign Cinema has an awesome courtyard area and at night, they project old movies against a huge wall. While their dinner is slightly lackluster, they have one of the best brunches in the city.

Foreign Cinema: Pear & Currant Homemade Pop Tarts

Foreign Cinema: Pear & Currant Homemade Pop Tarts

At brunch, Foreign Cinema always has a daily selection of homemade pop tarts, which have fresh fruit fillings like pear and currant or mango and pineapple. The pop tarts are always divine. The maple-glazed bacon is also a must-order. I really enjoyed my dish, the “heavenly scramble,” which had fresh dungeness crab and brussels sprouts.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Bi-Rite Creamery

No trip home would have been complete without a visit to Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco’s premier ice cream store. My favorite flavors are always the salted caramel, ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle pieces) and balsamic strawberry (only available in the summer). With the warm weather, the line for Bi-Rite was extra long and wrapped around the building like three times. The wait is worth. Trust me on this one.

San Jose's Boiling Crab

San Jose’s Boiling Crab

I know it’s a chain, but I love Boiling Crab. How can you really go wrong with huge bags filled with Cajun-spiced shrimp, crawfish, dungeness crab and corn on the cob? Wash it down with some ice tea and accompany it with some rice and fries– you’ve got one killer meal. I was really appreciative of all my friends who came out to see me (I think we had a table of 11). I feel like it’s a bonding experience when you grab a group of friends who have to roll up their sleeves and eat with their hands.

And now, I will end this post with a picture of my favorite sandwich in the entire world. Turkey sandwich on sourdough roll with extra veggies and spread from the Village Cheese House in Palo Alto. It was the first thing I wanted to eat as soon as I got off the plane.

Turkey Sandwich from the Village Cheesehouse

Turkey Sandwich from the Village Cheesehouse

Top 10 Instagram Moments from 2013

2013 was an amazing year. I don’t know if any other year will every compare, considering it was a year of great change. I lived in three different cities, visited 11 cities in nine countries, graduated from my MBA program, found a job that I love and relocated to Shanghai. I fully recognize that I probably will never travel that much in my life ever again. I definitely cherish every single moment of 2013. However, I’m excited for what 2014 will bring and for new Shanghai adventures.

It’s too difficult to rank my favorite moments of 2013, but I did want to capture 10 of my favorites (brought to you by the lens of my iPhone 4 and Instagram).

1. Invalides (Paris, France)

InvalidesI had just moved out of the suburbs of France and into Paris. After having a lovely brunch on a cold, snowy day, the Métro broke down and I had to walk home. What started out as a inconvenience, turned into an absolutely stunning walk and I got to capture this gorgeous shot of Invalides (which never would have happened if the Métro worked!).

2. Burj Khalifa (Dubai, UAE)

Burj KhalifaIt was my first trip to the Middle East and Dubai was such an eye-opening experience. I learned so much about the local culture and was also just stunned with the entire city. Everything was so opulent and it was more than I could have ever imagined. The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world and I loved the way it was lit up at night with its own sparkling lights like the Eiffel Tower.

3. Château de Chenonceau (Loire Valley, France)

Loire ValleyI felt like I was on the set of Downton Abbey while wondering the vast halls and gardens during my Loire Valley Châteaux tour. It made me feel like a Pretty, Pretty Princess. The Loire Valley is definitely worth visiting and I personally enjoy it a lot more than visiting the palace in Versailles.

4. Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong)

Rubber DuckWho doesn’t love a giant, 6-story inflatable rubber duck? It was awesome to be in Hong Kong the same time as this wandering art installation from Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman.

5. Arc de Triomphe (Paris, France)

Arc de TriompheThis was the night I found out that I was accepted for an amazing opportunity in Hong Kong and that I would be leaving the wonderful City of Light. It was such mixed emotions for me as I was excited to go to Hong Kong, but I was so sad to leave Paris earlier than anticipated. I took this photo right before hopping on the Métro. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized that I had captured a picture perfect “stolen moment” of a couple in love. I feel like this picture captured the true essence of l’amour and my own love affair with Paris.

Continue reading

Shanghai: Peace and Solitude at Zen Café

Zen Café on Dongping Road

Zen Café on Dongping Road

During my first week in Shanghai, Lana took me to Zen Café in the French Concession (7 Dongping Road; 东平路7号). I’m so glad that I had her as a guide because I don’t think I would have ever found it on my own. The café is located on the 2nd floor of Zen Store, which sells expensive home items. While I had been to the store multiple times, I never realized there was an actual café located through a back door and up a flight of stairs. I recently took another friend who has been living in Shanghai for years and she never realized there was a café in the store either.

Interior

Zen Café oozes charm. It’s the type of place where I feel like you could spend a lazy afternoon reading a book or writing your next novel. It was so cozy with eclectic Chinese furniture pieces mixed in with Western modern art. You can settle down with a cup of coffee, pot of tea or fresh juice. I really loved how the place is hidden, making it feel like a special secret for those privelege few.

Drinks

While prices are a little bit expensive (50 RMB for a pot of tea, 40 RMB for a medium-sized glass of juice), I feel like you’re paying for the ambiance (and the chance to sip out of fancy china) and for a moment of solitude and quiet.

Zen Cafe

I think I’ve found my new favorite spot to take friends to catch up on a gossip session or just to enjoy a quiet moment by myself.

Zen Cafe Exterior

Shanghai: California Cuisine at Goga

Goga Shanghai

Goga Shanghai

This past weekend was my last weekend in Shanghai for 2013. I figured there was no better way to live it up than meeting with a good friend over a beautiful meal. My friend and I celebrated the end of 2013 at Goga (1 Yueyang Rd.; 岳阳路1号). We had eaten there before a year a half ago and absolutely adored it. I’m happy to report that Goga is just as good as I remembered.

Goga stands for Golden Gate, as in The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I instantly feel such intense California pride the moment I walk through the door. Chef Brad Turley is from the town next to my hometown and he used to work at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion. He brings that same Western-Asian fusion to Shanghai, serving up dishes like lobster rolls with buttered corn on the cob, wasabi salmon salad and miso cod. I absolutely adore the way he cooks fish and it reminds me of one of my favorite restaurants in SF, Chaya Brasserie.

Top left (clockwise): Seared Scallops with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce; Wasabi Salmon Salad, Lemon Curd Dessert; Miso Cod

Top left (clockwise): Seared Scallops with Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce; Wasabi Salmon Salad; Lemon Curd Dessert; Miso Cod

It is rare to find a good lobster rolls in the U.S., yet alone China. Chef Turley spices it up by adding Sriarcha to the mayo-lobster mix and serving it in a perfectly buttered, toasted hot dog bun. While the seared scallops were cooked well, I wasn’t a fan of the spicy peanut butter sauce. I thought the sauce was overpowering and clashed with the delicate scallop morsels.

The wasabi salmon salad isn’t always on the menu, but I highly recommend it if it’s a daily special! A perfectly-seared piece of salmon is served on top of a bed of salad (red cabbage, bean sprouts, etc.) with fried wonton strips and a wasabi-teriyaki dressing. The pièce de résistance is definitely the truffle oil that subtly enters your olfactory system and invokes that umami sensation in your mouth.

The miso cod is also otherwordly. Seasoned perfectly with miso and mirin wine, the fillet breaks apart at the slightest touch of fork and literally melts in your mouth. It is paired with edamame jus and a shiitake mushroom and shrimp salsa. The best part is that many of the dishes can be ordered “half-sized,” which gives you the perfect opportunity to try a variety of them (leaving more room for lobster rolls).

Continue reading