Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shopping Hong Kong: Shanghai Street

While in Hong Kong, we took a visit to Shanghai Street in Kowloon, which is essentially restaurant supply row.  Given my love for all things food-related, of course it was like paradise. 

Every single store down this street sells restaurant supplies.  Some sold large-scale furnishings, such as bakery display cases or fryers.  Others sold surprisingly odd (but still restaurant-related) items, such as the small Buddhist altars that almost every Chinese restaurant has.  (It's important to pray for good business, after all.)

My favorite, however, was a store that seemed like it came straight out of Diagon Alley: it had HUGE cauldrons (well, soup pots) and a vast array of woks of all sizes.  You can't really tell from the photo, but their largest woks were so huge I could have comfortably been pan-fried in them.

And how cool is this wall o' barbecue hooks?  

Since a 5-ft.-diameter wok wasn't going to fit in my suitcase, I ended up just purchasing this sweet little teak dim sum container from a store that carried all types of fancy Chinese and Japanese-style serving containers.  (Ever wanted one of the boats that are ubiquitous in Japanese restaurants? They got those.)

Oh how I love cooking supplies!  What are your favorite things to shop for while on vacation?


Diary of a Secret Housewife: Captain Fairfield's Scallion Biscuits

During our stay at the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, we were treated to the most delicious baked goods by Loryn, the co-innkeeper and resident chef.  Among the most memorable breakfast items she made was a sea salt, black pepper, and scallion biscuit.  Fresh from the oven, the biscuit was a revelation: redolent with the fragrance of the scallions, with a nice bite from the pepper and a savory crunch from the sea salt sprinkled on top.

So you can imagine the giddiness I experienced when she told me that the recipe for this scone-like concoction was on the Inn's website.

Of course this meant I had to try out the recipe for myself.  Let's just say this recipe was a far better souvenir of our trip than the craptastic New England tourist kitsch being sold all over Kennebunkport.

To make the biscuits, first preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Whisk 1 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup cake flour together in a large mixing bowl.

Grate 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of frozen butter into the flours and mix with hands until well distributed. (Tip: Flouring the grater before you start grating will prevent the butter from sticking together into clumps as you grate it.)

Whisk in 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  (I think the next time I make this, I'd up the sea salt to 3/4 teaspoon.)

Add 1/2 bunch of scallions, trimmed and chopped into small pieces, to 3/4 cup cold buttermilk.  Then add the buttermilk and scallions to the flour mixture.

Gently incorporate wet into dry ingredients. When a dough has been achieved, turn out onto floured board and gently form into a rough square about 1 inch thick and cut into 8-10 squares.

Place on cookie sheet and brush with melted butter, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and black pepper and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly brown on the top.

We had the biscuits with a roasted beets salad and a steak off the grill.  It was as good an accompaniment to dinner as to breakfast.

Many thanks to Loryn Kipp for the recipe and for keeping us so well fed last weekend.  And if you ever get around to writing that cookbook, there's a recipe for chocolate chunk cookies that I desperately want.  ;-)


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My not so itsy bitsy, teeny weeny polka-dotted bikini

Now that I'm in my thirties, I think I have to be okay with the fact that I'm just not going to squeeze into the swimsuits of my twenties.

Instead, I've expanded into the swimsuits of the Fifties.

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And it's been the best decision ever.

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In a burst of retro enthusiasm, I bought two Esther Williams swimsuits: a one-piece red and white polka-dotted number (like the one pictured above) and a two-piece with a saucy cherries print.

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I ordered the suits from the Esther Williams website, and they took almost two months to arrive (!),* but arrive they did, and I have to say they're pretty hot.

Both the bikini and one-piece versions have a hidden elastic panel and cute ruching to hold in and camouflage any lumps and bumps (not sayin' I have any, but you know . . .). And the halter-like design on top is super flattering.

So now I can go to the beach feeling more like a pin-up girl than a sausage.  And I don't have to do a billion crunches before I can go to the beach.

Which means I can go eat more of the delicious biscuits I made today.

Gotta go.

* Unless you really want the cherries print (or enjoy waiting weeks for a small piece of cloth to arrive in the mail), I'd suggest ordering the suits from Modcloth rather than the Esther Williams website.


Monday, June 28, 2010

A Weekend in Kennebunkport

To celebrate my husband's finishing his first year of residency, we took a lovely weekend trip to Kennebunkport, Maine.  (Did you know that Maine's state motto is "Vacationland"?  Someone at the state ad agency totally phoned it in that day.)

About two hours later than we'd planned on leaving, we finally got in our car for the awesome 90-minute drive to Kennebunkport.  Our trip up 1-N took us past the three classiest establishments in the northern 'burbs, the Cabaret, the Squire, and the Golden Banana, the latter of which led to a spirited debate about whether said club was a fabulous gay disco or a very inappropriately named strip club.  

It's the latter.  (Incidentally, if you have not read the Yelp reviews for these joints, you are missing out on the writings of some very discerning critics.)

We didn't arrive in Kennebunkport until almost midnight.  And we were famished.  

So famished that we almost stopped off at a place called "B's Clam Box," which, despite its name, seemed neither to be a fabulous gay disco nor an inappropriately named strip joint, but just a skeevy-looking seafood place.

Thank goodness we didn't, because on arriving at our charming bed and breakfast, the Captain Fairfield Inn, we were greeted by the best cheese plate ever.  My husband had read about Captain Fairfield's cheese plates on Tripadvisor, but somehow the glowing reviews didn't quite capture the amazing bounty that is the best cheese plate ever.  That's why I'm using italics here -- so you can fully grasp the quality of this cheese plate.

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask the innkeepers to identify the cheeses, but every one of them was delicious.  In particular, there was an herb-rinded manchego-like cheese that was just dreamy. Accompanying the cheeses were a selection of meats, fresh fruit, olives, and nuts.  Oh, and did I mention there were freshly baked chocolate chunk cookies . . . the most perfectly textured, chewy, buttery, and delectable chocolate chunk cookies?

Devouring the cheese plate and sleeping must have burned a tremendous number of calories, because we woke up the next morning hungry and ready to eat more.  Which is great because Loryn, co-innkeeper and resident chef, made a scrumptious 3-course breakfast.  We started with an arugula salad with fennel and apricots, followed up with a warm blueberry coffee cake that was so good we might have had a minor marital spat over who got the last little chunk of it.

The entree course was a choice between french toast with maplewood bacon and an omelette with cheddar and leeks.  I was forced to make up with my husband so that I could eat half of his delicious omelette.

The innkeepers had kindly rented us bikes for the day, so we went for a five-mile loop to check out the nearby beach . . .

and the Bush compound.  Though mostly my view was of my husband's butt as he coasted off ahead, leaving me sweating and pedaling furiously to keep up.  Grr.

We stopped off for lunch at the famous Clam Shack, where the lobster rolls were literally lobster + roll.  No fillers.

Then it was back to Captain Fairfield's, where I took advantage of a phenomenally comfortable bed for an afternoon nap.  

What?  Eating is exhausting.

Image Source: Taste of the Coast
In the evening, we took a short drive to Wells, and had dinner at Joshua's, a farm-to-table restaurant that's a hidden gem.  We started with the earthy roasted mushrooms with truffled herb butter and the Maine crab cakes with lemon herb aioli.  Both were delicious.  We then had Joshua's signature dish, haddock with a caramelized onion crust, chive oil, and wild mushroom risotto, as well as the evening's vegetarian special, a vegetarian ravioli with kale, squash, and asparagus.  The squash and asparagus, our waitress said, were picked fresh from the farm that morning.  Of course, the entrees were spectacular.

It's possible that we might have shared a maple walnut pie and the restaurant's housemade maple and caramel ice-creams.  But since that makes us sound like little piggies, I will neither confirm nor deny this detail.

I would have started my diet the next day, but Loryn totally outdid herself with breakfast.  We started with a yogurt pannacota with native strawberries, lime, and a fruit sorbet.  I'd never had sorbet over yogurt before, and now I'm wondering why not, because the dish was amazing.  If the dining room weren't filled to capacity, I would have licked the dish.

For our second course, we had freshly baked sea salt, black pepper, and scallion biscuits, which were delicate, savory, and so delicious that I tried to stab my husband with my fork when he reached for the last morsel of mine.  We again made peace by the entree so that we could share blueberry waffles and eggs florentine.  Then we debated staying for another night so that Loryn could feed us again.

Because at the end of the day, food is probably the best part of Kennebunkport.  While the coastline and beaches are beautiful, and there are a number of lovely art galleries, the town itself is pure New England kitsch -- a bit more vibrant than Newport, but otherwise fairly indistinguishable.

That being said, I'd happily take another weekend of faux-nautical tourist kitsch for more of Loryn's cooking.

High five to my husband for planning a great trip.  I will stop complaining that we never do anything fun.

Well, for a little while anyway.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Departing from Hong Kong


Monday, June 21, 2010

Eat now, diet later . . . or never

It's my last day in Hong Kong.  My suitcase is full, so I can't do any more shopping.  Which means I don't need to squeeze my American-sized ass into more Hong-Kong-sized fitting rooms or -- worse, much worse -- Hong-Kong-sized pants.  (My derriere is totally miffed that an American size 4 or 6 is apparently a 42 -- a large -- in Hong Kong.)

This is all to say that I finally get to eat to my heart's delight.

And how very delighted is my belly today!  It's in such a good mood, it's willing to share documentary evidence of its happiness.

Image Source: I Eat Therefore I Am
Lunch today was spent at a hole-in-the-wall sichuan restaurant on Yiu Wah St. in Causeway Bay.  Sichuan food has a reputation for being exceptionally spicy, and my mom and aunt, concerned that we wouldn't be able to handle the heat, were trying to find menu items that didn't seem as spicy as the rest.

I, of course, was unfazed.  I am half-Singaporean and half-Vietnamese/Chinese; I use red pepper in my cooking the way most people use salt.

Bring it on, nameless sichuan restaurant.

Half an hour later, I was sweating like Richard Simmons at the nursing home disco.  My tongue felt alternately on fire and -- I know this doesn't seem possible -- painfully numb.  Everything tasted like chili -- or, more accurately, like CHILI.  Every dish we ordered -- dan dan mien (spicy noodles with meat sauce), sichuan chicken, paper-thinned sliced pork belly, chilled braised eggplant -- was delicious, I think (after a while my taste buds were so scorched I really couldn't tell whether something was yummy or awful).  But every dish we ordered was en fuego.

I chugged a glass of iced tea and a bowl of chicken soup, but the burn was persistent.

Nameless sichuan restaurant kicked my ass and made me its bitch.

And I think I liked it.

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After the sichuan-style spanking, we retreated to Tongpakfu, a dessert shop, for shaved ice sundaes.  I usually don't like shaved ice; not even the Times Food Section can convince me that syrup on plain crushed ice is something worth allotting calories to.  But Tongpakfu (read my sister's review here) makes Taiwanese style "snowflake ice," which in all honesty shouldn't even come under the same category of food as conventional snow cones.

The "snowflake ice" is created using a special machine that integrates the flavoring right into the ice itself, so that every bite tastes like mango or green tea or chocolate . . . or whichever flavor you choose.  Also, the consistency of the dessert is more like a snowflake and less like ice: it's soft, almost creamy in texture, and very light.  The best part of the dessert is that you get to select any number of delicious "toppings" (well, more accurately, "bottomings," as they sit under the pile of ice).

I have a huge crush on the mango ice, but they ran out of mango today, so I had to go with the banana flavored ice instead.  With it, I got tapioca balls, little cubes of flavored jello, aloe, and -- my personal favorite -- passionfruit pearls.  The latter (pictured in the lower right quadrant above) look like the tapioca balls you find in boba tea, but are actually juicy little balls that "pop" when you bite into them.

Wait -- that sounded really dirty.

Anyway, they are passionfruit flavor bombs.

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Even though my belt was starting to cut off my circulation at this point, I decided that since this was my last day in Hong Kong, I'd better take one last visit to CitySuper.  Which meant that I had to get a Belgian waffle from Augustin's.

This Belgian waffle, I'm telling you, is unreal.  The scent of it fills the entire market section of CitySuper with vanillaliciousness.  It's warm, delightfully chewy (not dry and insubstantial like regular waffles), a little sticky, and just perfectly glazed with sugar or honey or nectar of the gods or crack (who knows what it is, it's good).  You can order it with Nutella, but I find it scrumptious plain.

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And since I was already at CitySuper, I figured I should take a visit to their bakery to carbo-load for my flight tomorrow.  The Little Mermaid Bakery makes the most amazing brioche sucre (above right): The brioche is buttery and delicate, but the very best part of it is the little wells in which more butter has been poured.  Then the whole thing gets a sanding of sugar and a sugar glaze.

It's a pillow of buttery goodness.

Image Source: I Eat Therefore I Am

Something so good though needs to be chased with something equally delicious.  So I picked up a few pandan buns from the Toast Box, a Singaporean snack shack, to go with the brioche.

What?  I have an EIGHTEEN-hour flight tomorrow.  A girl's gotta be prepared.

Top Image: I Eat Therefore I Am; Bottom Images: Tai Hing Roast

Before I get on the plane, however, there's still the issue of dinner.  Dinner at my grandparents' house is pretty much the same every night.  Every night, there's a steamed fish course.  Every night, there're two vegetables.  Every night, there're two meat dishes, usually a braised dish and a pan-friend one.

But tonight, since it's my last meal, the usual courses were supplemented by char siu (barbecue pork) from Tai Hing, which is widely considered the best Chinese barbecue place in Hong Kong (see my sister's review here).

Tai Hing's barbecue is great, but I probably find it more delicious since I generally don't eat pork back in Boston.  (The rules of Chewish living provide that prohibitions against tref foods don't apply when we're traveling in Asia.  If you have a porcine aversion in Hong Kong, you'll starve.)  I know Americans think they've got a monopoly on BBQ, but I assure you that a really good roast meats place in Asia -- not the gross, red-dyed spareribs you get at fake Chinese restaurants in the States -- can go toe-to-toe with a Memphis barbecue joint and win, Shaolin Master style.

And that's my last day of eating in Hong Kong.  Back to Boston, back to lettuce, back to low carbs.



Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cheer for poms

From the wet market in Wanchai yesterday.

I've never seen such perfectly round pom pom chrysanthemums.  I stared at them for a long time, while the lady manning (womanning?) the stand gave me a "bitch, buy it or get the f#$k out of the way" death stare.  I finally snuck a photo with my iPhone and ran away.


If it's still moving it's not meant to be eaten

Remember my post about our visit to Beijing, when I said that the critters being served satay-style in Wangfujing were so horrifying that I had to delete my photos?

What do you mean you don't remember?  Don't you hang onto every word I write?  Grr.

Well, either way, my sister has her photos up on her blog.  Shudder.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Le Creuset on Ruelala

Attention Kitchenistas: A limited selection of Le Creuset is on deep discount at Ruelala.

via Ruelala

Not a huge selection of colors, but some cheerful ones available nonetheless.  Here's your invite.


Shopping Hong Kong: G.O.D.

Among my favorite places to go for decor inspiration is a store called G.O.D. in Hong Kong.  G.O.D. has nothing to do with religion, unless you also worship at the altar of American Express; rather, the letters stand for Goods of Desire and happen to be a homophone for the phrase "to live better" in Cantonese (ju ho dee).

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G.O.D. is first and foremost a furnishings store, but in recent years they've become just as well known for creating a housewares, accessories, and clothing line that takes retro icons of colonial Hong Kong and updates them in a poppish, cheeky way.

Longevity Teapot via Pearl River; Mousepad, shorts, and bedding via G.O.D.

For example, I love their new line that is based around the patterns of the "longevity" style of ceramics that was ubiquitous in Hong Kong restaurants when I was a kid.  I've always loved the aesthetics of those old-fashioned bowls and cups: they came in delicious colors like bright canary yellow, turquoise, and pink.  G.O.D. has picked up the patterns and colors and put them onto mousepads, aprons, bedding, and clothing.  I picked up a pair of the yellow boxer shorts today!

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G.O.D. has "remixed" other classic Hong Kong iconography, including the colorful mail boxes of 60s Hong Kong (seen on the messenger bag above); the Hong Kong passport as it looked under colonial rule (now on the notebooks above); the teeming, tottering tenements -- now demolished -- of Yau Ma Tei (seen on the boxers above); and the red, blue, and white bags that Mainland Chinese immigrants once used to tote their belongings (remixed as a totebag above).

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As Hong Kong's old cafes get increasingly squeezed out by Starbucks, KFCs, and McDonalds, for example, it's kind of lovely (albeit in a sad way) that G.O.D. has come out with a line of coasters with images of classic Hong Kong cafe specialties, such as milk tea, lemon Coke, and French toast.  Sure, it's simulacra.  But it captures an illusion of authenticity for which I'm so nostalgic.

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I love the saucy and a tongue-in-cheek vibe of the store.  (Their fashion line, for example, is called "Delay No More," which is a homophone for "motherfucker" in Cantonese!)  But I love more that the store, by remixing the icons of old Hong Kong, has in a way preserved them for prosperity.  Hong Kong loves progress, modernization, speed . . . and in building higher, running faster, getting shinier it's left behind so many beautiful items worth preserving.  G.O.D. captures the nostalgia for the Hong Kong I grew up in, the Hong Kong of dai pai dongs (alleyway cafes), clothesline-heavy three-floor tenements, and green electric streetcars.

Double Happiness Dinnerware via G.O.D.

If you get a chance to visit Hong Kong, you should definitely drop by G.O.D.  I really don't think any other store captures so well the essence of modern Hong Kong: forward and backward-looking, naughty and respectful, East and West.

The G.O.D. in Causeway Bay via NYT


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Leifsdottir Sale on Ruelala

Attention Anthropologie fans: Leifsdottir is on deep, deep discount for today only on Ruelala.

Why are you still here?  Do you want an invitation or something?  

Fine.  Here.  Go buy something gorgeous.


Shopping Hong Kong: City Super

During my visit to CitySuper the other day, I picked up a few other goodies in addition to my fabulous new iPhone case.

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CitySuper has the widest selection of Japanese masking tape, or washi tape, I've ever come across.  Naturally, I had to pick up a few rolls.  I have no idea what I'm going to do with them, but I'll think of something.

Because they're awesome.

In fact, I might just sit and look at them -- that's how awesome they are.

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Hong Kong is also on a big recycling streak, and most markets, including CitySuper, no longer supply free plastic or paper bags.  So I purchased two delightfully mod Envirosax bags.  They're super light, and can be folded into a compact little roll.

Envirosax "Origami Bag 2"

Envirosax "Origami 3"
Finally, as a belated birthday present for my sister, I got a colorful laptop bag from Hellolulu for her new 13-inch MacBook.

Hello Lulu

The bags come in a variety of fun colors and styles, and I like them even more than the Casauri bag my laptop lives in.  Hellolulu is a Hong Kong-based company, but a store is opening up in New York.

Nylon Laptop Shoulder Bag

Nylon Laptop Tote

Nylon Laptop Case

I'm aware that some people do something called "relaxing" while on vacation.  I, on the other hand, shop.  Very busily, seriously, and intently.

What's your vacation style?

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