last year i began watching all of my favorite 80’s movies partly out of boredom and partly out of curiosity. i wanted to see if my affection for these films remained the same as an adult. i came to the conclusion that ferris bueller is kind of a jerk and teenage mutant ninja turtles is terrible (though i loved it as a kid).
but i still harbored warm feelings for adventures in babysitting. chris parker (played by elisabeth shue) is a sweet girl-next-door who deserves an honorable frat boy. plus her trademark wardrobe of a long camel coat and bright pink sweater wouldn’t be out of place today.
the whole plot is cheesy with its chop shop crooks and her tween charges, but it makes you smile. it makes you root for her. and it definitely makes you envious of her perfect hair.
collage by me. images via amazon, j.crew, boden, madewell, and net-a-porter.
when michael and i were dating, he said i had to try this vietnamese noodle dish called bun. he described it as noodles with pork, herbs, and spring rolls. to his surprise, i told him the dish wasn’t strictly vietnamese; my mom makes the same kind of dish and she’s from laos. basically a cold noodle bowl is a deconstructed spring roll without the wrapper, and the peanut sauce is the best part.
last year we began making noodle bowls at home. you can use any kind of grilled meat you like (or even tofu). my mom creates egg rolls by hand, but we buy frozen egg rolls from the asian supermarket because we go through her stash quickly. the frozen ones are tasty, too— just make sure the oil isn’t super hot when you fry them.
have you ever eaten a cold noodle bowl? what do you put in yours?
vietnamese rice noodles (also called bun or rice vermicelli)
shredded lettuce, cucumber, and carrot
small bunches of cilantro, mint, and basil, chopped
thai chili peppers
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
grilled meat (we used pork cutlets)
peanut sauce (see recipe for instructions)
we always make noodle bowls with egg rolls on top!
i make peanut sauce on the stove and let it cool; the recipe doesn’t require heat.
stop the press: i’m gonna be a mama! before christmas, we found out that we were expecting a little one, and we felt excited and terrified all at once. our lives will never be the same. there will be more love, more messes, more giggles, and more adventure, and we can’t wait.
tomorrow i’ll enter my second trimester (14 weeks); so far, so good. i haven’t had morning sickness but i’ve been eating a lot more than usual. i felt super duper tired in january (hence my sporadic blogging). my energy is finally starting to come back and i’m cooking dinner, staying up past 8:30, and doodling again.
the little one is due in august, and we’re grateful for the well-wishes and prayers from our family and friends. i can’t lie: i’m personally thankful that i still fit into my madewell dresses. fingers crossed these a-lines will continue to agree with me. and i am totally going to thrift the best stuff for the baby, just you wait.
p.s. an extra special thanks and hugs to kelsey and eric (of words of williams) who sent the smallest and cutest moccasin boots ever.
in one of my favorite seinfeld episodes, jerry laments, ”what is this obsession people have with books? they put them in their houses like trophies. what do you need it for after you read it?”
michael and i have owned these bookcases forever (meaning at least six years). when we lived in an apartment, they stood against a wall in the bedroom. when we moved into our house, we lined them up at the end of our living room. we painted the walls dark just for the bookcases. but i never put a chair near them.
over thanksgiving, i began our book nook project by updating some of the decor on our bookcases and adding a comfortable place for reading. what a difference a chair makes— i actually sit by the window and read (or check instagram).
i prefer two styles of bookcases: the eclectically cluttered or the extremely sparse. our shelves are quite busy, and i don’t mind. i arrange the books in color families with matching objects. we also display drawings, a few photographs, and pugs, lots of pugs!
the green bins on the bottom hide my husband’s comic books and corral board games that we don’t break out enough. one day i’d love to replace the chair with a chaise so i can relax and read or relax and nap, whichever happens first.
texas cannot make up its mind. i’ve spend the last two weeks covering my plants because it’s below freezing at night and then uncovering them later because it’s warm and pleasant during the day. this afternoon i covered all the plants again! sophie was curious but wary; she stayed indoors (pugs don’t got time for that).
when the weather gets cold, michael and i like hearty, hot soups for lunch. we made chowder last week from one of our real simple cookbooks. the only difference between our chowder and the magazine’s chowder is the bacon— you can never go wrong with bacon. enjoy!
2 leeks, white parts chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3-4 large gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
18-24 large frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups of frozen sweet corn
3 cups of milk
1 small bottle of clam juice
chopped parsley to garnish
kosher salt and pepper for seasoning
sprinkle the chowder with chopped crispy bacon.
use raw shrimp instead of cooked ones. when the shrimp are pink and opaque, they’re done!
my handbags range from obnoxiously big (the pendleton tote) to decently sized (a minkoff bag) to quite small. today i celebrate the little guys— they’re the ones that run with you to the grocery store, gas station, or dinner party with your most important belongings like a license, lipstick, phone, or handful of quarters.
i searched high and low for the cutest of the cute, the quaintest of the quaint. the fox is my favorite but i like the triangles on the herschel wallet, too. are you keen on pint-sized purses?
collage by me. images via need supply, amazon, fossil, and nordstrom.
on my computer i keep blog files neatly organized in folders, labeled by month and year. this morning i created a new folder for january 2014 and realized it was folder #49, the beginning of year five. five years! in some circles i’m a blog veteran. in other circles i’m relatively young (grechen and jennine have been blogging longer than anyone else i know). in big circles i’m a triangle (little tin who?) and that’s alright with me.
i don’t always make new year’s resolutions because i usually choose the exact same ones: eating better, exercising once or twice a week, buying with purpose, relaxing, or vacuuming pug hair. they are bits of my daily conscience and sometimes one yells louder than the other. our house is mostly (loosely) tidy and our health is good. my closet is getting full again— i have a specific number of hangers to limit the amount of clothes— but it’s full of things i wear more than once.
so at the end of every dozen months, i arrive at realizations instead of resolutions. they’re neighboring cities: one of them is modern, always changing, and the other is classic and still like a whispered truth. for realizations i speak of the latter.
as i grow older i realize more and more that i don’t want to be an it girl. when i was twenty-two, yes, that’s who i wanted to be. when i was twenty-six, yes. even when i was thirty, yes. but i feel like it weighs you down. as much as i want the cutest new shoes or the brightest new lipstick or the quirkiest new print, it’s too much. and then after you get all those amazing things, they’re not cool anymore, and you start over. again and again.
i want to be a plucky, creative woman: plucky meaning brave and full of heart, and creative meaning never forgetting the beat of my own drum. i will wear clothes from last season and the past seasons before that last season. i will not squeeze myself into unflattering pants. i will write about experiences that changed my day or my life. i will refine my artwork. i will get rid of shoes that make me smile and say through gritted teeth, oh these don’t hurt at all! i will ignore any “things you should blog about to get more traffic” articles. i will make a wooden dollhouse. i will analyze fashion on hit 1980’s television shows (i already have some drawings of vanessa huxtable). i will wear clothes; clothes will not wear me.
besides, plucky is perfectly fun to say. if i can’t start 2014 with a good word, then i can’t start anything.
our fir tree no longer drinks water. i suspected he would dry out a few days after christmas; we bought the tree after thanksgiving. the vibrant green needles now resemble a dull shade of pear though the little lights keep twinkling.
as a child i hated taking down the tree. we didn’t always set up a tree— it depended on my mother’s mood— but i relished the years when we assembled our funny, lopsided, faux evergreen. we were a buddhist family trying to include american customs. like many lao and thai immigrants of the 1980’s, my parents dutifully brought their children to temple and expected us to be still and listen to chanting monks. like typical kids, we fidgeted madly and eventually adults sent us outdoors. being outside meant buying treats from an ice cream truck (the temple attracted many ice cream trucks for some reason) and sitting on a grassy hill where the chants faintly drifted upwards and away.
i remember going to school and feeling embarrassed because we didn’t go to “church” in the traditional sense. i went to church occasionally with friends but at nine, eleven, thirteen, or fifteen i lacked the confidence and eloquence to explain that temple was church, too. sure, we consumed snow cones, played unsupervised at times, and scowled at the good kids who sat with their moms and dads without getting bored. but we also helped our parents carry baskets and bundles of food or rice to share with others. we listened to families give thanks and pray for more good blessings. we observed the silent grief of people who lost their parents or brothers and sisters far across the seas. we watched familiar grown-ups and strangers collect money for those whom the year had not been kind.
and in december, we celebrated christmas in our house with or without a bristly, plastic tree. with an abundance of christian classmates, i knew the story of the christ child and the reason for the season. the messages of faith, giving, and kindness weren’t unknown to our family. i heard the messages at temple and heard them again at home. my brother and i received two or three gifts, always sensible items like a sweater or pajamas or a toy that wasn’t super expensive. i drew stars, bells, and wreaths on notebook paper and hung them with scotch tape on the windows. my mom made a turkey or whole chicken with sides like papaya salad or coconut pudding. we brought a large apple pie and a card every year to our elderly neighbor, mr. john.
when i got to college, i made friends who came from many cultures and religions. some of them celebrated christmas; some of them did not. and a few of them were like me; they grew up with a little of this and a little of that. for the first time, my heart swelled for our mismatched christmas. christmas didn’t have to be, look, or feel exactly the same to everyone. in the end, what mattered was the warmth in your heart.
and now we return the fir tree. we’ll remove the ornaments and lights, and the city will recycle him into mulch. i’ll probably grumble like my nine-year-old self. but i’ll carry on its magic and fond memories of decembers past.
delicious monday: kow piek (chicken and rice soup)
today’s recipe is very special to me— it’s the quintessential soup of my childhood. whenever we watch top chef, the contestants are challenged (usually toward the finale) to cook a dish that evokes a warm memory. when i think of my parents’ kitchen, i see a little girl in a bowl haircut sitting in a wooden chair eating kow piek.
kow piek literally translates to “wet rice.” it’s a traditional chicken and rice soup found in many southeast asian countries. the base of the soup resembles chicken pho; in lieu of noodles, the chef adds steamed rice to the hot broth.
8 cups of chicken stock or broth
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of minced ginger
1 1/2 pounds of chicken thighs (remove bones) or cutlets
1 cup of chopped scallions and cilantro
fried garlic (available at asian grocery stores)
4 cups of steamed white rice, chilled
kosher salt and pepper for seasoning
warm a large pot with your chicken stock or broth (you can also use a crock pot).
preheat a skillet to medium. add a dash of sesame oil and sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger until fragrant and lightly browned. add the chicken thighs or cutlets and cook until they are no longer pink. dump the contents of the skillet into the pot.
cook the soup on low with a lid to tenderize the chicken. while the soup simmers, prepare the rice. check on the soup after a couple of hours and shred the meat into pieces with a fork.
allow the rice to cool to room temperature. using a ladle, slowly add a cup of rice at a time into the soup. the rice grains will separate as they touch the liquid. season the soup with soy sauce (or salt) and black pepper. replace the lid until you’re ready to eat.
serve the soup in bowls with fresh scallions and cilantro and a pinch of fried garlic. if you want more spice, citrus, or salt, take my mom’s advice: “add whatever you like.”
we got married in october, and the day flew by like a whirling dervish of nerves, excitement, and affection. there are many things i remember: how i planned to paint my fingernails and completely forgot, how my best friend and brother-in-law climbed tables to help hang garlands, how my parents walked two blocks with me to the church, and more.
when we received our wedding photos from nathan russell and his wife amy, we were given a second chance to relive that beautiful day. michael and i poured over the photos like two young children going to the movies for the very first time. we wanted to sit down with candy and popcorn and watch the picture show again and again.
today i share some of our favorite snapshots. there is a dress hanging serenely in a hallway, a bouquet waiting to be held, and an unimpressed pug longing for a snack. there are our musicians: my brother who played guitar as i walked down the aisle, and our friends’ beautiful daughters who performed at the church. there is the clutch of a mother’s hand and a small wedding party, sitting on steps as onlookers wave and cheer. and there is a husband and wife.
a good photographer can capture a smile, a kiss, and a couple. but it takes a great photographer to capture joy. thank you nathan and amy for capturing all of our joy— you are great.
it may not come as a surprise that i drew on the walls as a little girl. i repeatedly scrawled my name and added giant pots of stick sunflowers here and there. i scribbled in zigzags from left to right and up and down. after my mother found my handiwork i secretly drew inside my closet. in my tween years i surmised it was a good idea to keep a journal on the walls behind my clothes. yes, i was that child.
i collected different kinds of paper and envelopes, nicked from my parents’ meager supply drawer or handed down by sympathetic teachers. my allowance disappeared at the drug store where i bought pens and permanent markers. i enjoyed school but always counted the days until art class. in art we worked with clay, pastels, paper maché, watercolors, charcoal, and tempera. the words rolled off my tongue like an exotic symphony. soon i discovered sketchbooks, books you were supposed to draw in (not library books and certainly not “that brand new book we just bought you”). eventually i ended up studying design in college and i kept digital doodles of my ideas and projects.
on tuesday night, i sat at my desk drawing reindeer for my students. i saved them and started on matching sleighs. then the unthinkable happened— nothing at all. nothing in a bad way. the screen froze. i rebooted the computer multiple times only to find the infamous “white screen of death” as it’s affectionately called by mac owners. my dear computer with all my art, all my hours of work, suddenly hated me. i put on a brave face for my husband who promised to take it to work and examine it with his technology guy.
in the middle of the night i cried. i chided myself for not backing up my files as often as i should. i chided myself for not keeping a separate drive of prints. i chided myself for being a thirty-two year old woman blowing her nose at one a.m. for art’s sake.
what is art? is it a gallery painting? is it a bronze sculpture in a spring garden? is it a group of letters jumbled together? is it a brooding photograph or a jubilant song or a happy story? is it a tangible object or a series of abstract feelings?
to my parents, art was a cheap hobby that kept me out of trouble and happily in my room. to my teachers, art was a passion they shared with others, kids with runny noses and all. to me, art is the rube goldberg machine for my ideas: some silly, some terrible, and some quite good. i am constantly enchanted by the rolling marbles, churning gears, unexpected explosions, tinkling bells, and everyday leaps of faith when a new idea skips with a jaunty step into my brain.
unfortunately my old i-Mac could not be saved, but michael was able to pull most of my files off the computer onto an external drive. i closed my etsy shop for the time being, and i may not blog as often (not that i published daily anyway). please know that i’ll do my best.
in the meantime, i’m craving a clean sheet of paper…
if you’re making italian wedding soup, you must default to the barefoot contessa— ina garten’s italian recipes are always on point. we made a big batch of soup last week as the temperatures dipped into the 30’s, and we ate it for lunch leading up to thanksgiving. the soup was perfect!
we made a few modifications to ina’s recipe. michael didn’t use any milk in the meatball mixture and we chose a large bag of baby kale over spinach. we also used italian sausage instead of chicken sausage and mixed in leftover orzo and orecchiette from the pantry.
michael rolled so many meatballs that we froze a container of them. i might break them out as a holiday appetizer later this month, cute lil’ toothpicks and all!
it’s scarf hunting season, and infinity scarves abound. a few years ago, i only saw them in solid, neutral colors. now you can find them in every shade under the sun with patterns to boot. slip one over a sweater, tee, or jacket to add a little panache to your outfit.
my favorite scarf in the collage is the printed one because it reminds me of my pendleton bag. but i’ll take any giant scarf any day. i like big scarves and i cannot lie. you, too, am i right?
delicious monday: baked ziti with kale and mozzarella
my baked ziti recipe is a mix of my mom’s spaghetti and my mother-in-law’s baked rigatoni. we haven’t made pasta in awhile. on friday after school i arrived home and settled on ziti.
if you don’t like hamburger, you can substitute italian sausage, ground turkey, or chopped eggplant. baked ziti is like the kid that plays well with everyone. it’s a flexible dish, and it’s elegant enough for guests. eat up!
1 pound of lean ground beef
1 bag of baby kale leaves, stems removed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 jar of marinara sauce
6-8 fresh basil leaves
1 container of fresh bocconcini (mozzarella balls)
1 cup of shredded mozzarella
1/2 box of ziti noodles (feeds 4)
kosher salt and pepper for seasoning
preheat a skillet to medium. add olive oil to the pan and cook the hamburger meat, breaking it into small pieces. drain any access liquid and sauté the onions and garlic until softened and fragrant. stir in the marinara sauce and season to taste. lower the heat.
bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil. add the pasta and cook for 7-10 minutes. drain the noodles well and mix them into the meat sauce. preheat the oven to 375F.
add the kale leaves a handful at a time, allowing them to wilt before getting a new handful. repeat with the basil. drain the bocconcini and put them in the pan. mix well.
using a large spoon, scoop the pasta mixture into porcelain ramekins. sprinkle shredded cheese on top of each dish. bake them for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is browned.
serve the ziti with a fresh green salad like my mother-in-law or with warm bread like my mom.
the wedding book (i.e. a small journal) will always hold our wedding vows. we worked with our friend (an ordained minister) on other aspects of our ceremony, but we wanted our vows to be our own.
if you search wedding vows or wedding ceremony you’ll find thousands of little snippets and thousands of full samples. if you’re not picky, you can copy and paste a wedding ceremony in less than two minutes. we used a traditional outline (processional, prayer, music, vows, and exchange of rings, recessional) but personalized it with the addition of a buddhist wedding prayer and a song performed by our close friends’ children.
weeks before the wedding, we began to piece together our vows to each other. i remember michael asked, “what are the guidelines?” we decided on “not too long”, “not too silly”, and “nothing embarrassing.” mainly we agreed on “the most important words”— kind and loving words to share about each other in the presence of the dearest people in our lives. on the morning of the wedding, michael copied his vow on the first few pages in the book, and then i skipped a couple and wrote mine.
at the church, michael spoke first, and then i did. though smiling, we fought back tears. our ceremony and the echo of the words sit unmoving in my memory. i am not sure if i will ever digest the beauty; it feels like time stood still.
if you’re thinking about writing your own wedding vows, i encourage you to simply try. find a quiet place on a weekend afternoon and jot or type what you feel in your heart. the words may not be perfect the first time (or fifth time) but the words you want will show themselves eventually. good luck! if all else fails, google.
when i told michael i planned to design our wedding invitations, he said, “of course you are. we wouldn’t have it any other way.” i didn’t have any previous experience making stationery, but as you know, i love to draw, and that seemed like a good enough reason.
magazines, planners, experts, and oprah will tell you that an invitation sets the tone for your wedding. metallics and scripts work well for black tie and rustic touches are perfect for outdoor parties. michael and i wanted something personal, pretty, and down-to-earth, so i settled on an illustrated, handmade combination.
i drew the artwork, placed the type, and printed the cards on eames canvas paper before carefully cutting them with an x-acto knife. i mounted the invitation on a kraft card and wrapped the entire set with baker’s twine, a paper shape (all the shapes were different; they ranged from vintage keys to little messages to birds), and a metal initial of the guest’s last name.
after we sealed the envelopes, i hand-lettered everyone’s mailing addresses. all i can say about that step is: ooowwwww my hand and thank goodness i bought a lot of white pens.
looking back, i probably should have worked with an online printer like vistaprint or a local copy shop. the process seems effortless in a photograph. there were many times i felt annoyed and overwhelmed with the computer, our printer, the paper, the dimensions, the decorating, etc. doing-it-yourself isn’t always easy, but the experience is worthwhile. i had a pep in my step as i carried them in a bushel basket to the post office!
we absolutely adored the final invitation and so did our family and friends. today i share our invitation with you as a small glimpse of our wedding day and my stubborn, creative brain.
this post is my first wedding reflection. stay tuned for a few more.
in texas, comfort food doesn’t always refer to chicken noodle soup or pot roast. comfort food can be something spicy, and fortunately, we like it spicy! one of our favorite meals is a warm bowl of pork and rice garnished generously with pico de gallo. occasionally michael substitutes black beans and corn instead of the rice. either way, the meal quickly appeases a hungry stomach.
preheat a skillet to medium-high and a crock pot to medium. season the roast with salt and pepper. add olive oil to the pan and sear the meat on all sides until brown.
place the roast inside the crock pot with two cups of water. cover and cook for 3-4 hours until meat falls apart with a fork. drain the liquid and season again if needed. keep warm.
thirty minutes before the pork is done, steam rice in a rice cooker or over the stove. rinse the rise thoroughly before adding water. add two cups of water per one cup of rice to the pot. bring to a boil and then lower the heat. fluff with a fork after 15-20 minutes. if you’re using brown rice, follow the instructions on the package; brown rice usually takes longer to cook.
spoon the rice into bowls. serve the pork on top and garnish with avocado slices and pico de gallo.
while summer lingers in my part of texas, most of my friends in other states bundle up in sweaters, jackets, and coats. i can’t wait for the temperature to drop to the 50’s. i’ll even take the 60’s out of desperation.
i bought the olive green parka from need supply recently. need supply is a cool store located in my hometown and they carry a great mix of high and low items. i had a difficult time choosing a coat but i settled for a jacket with a hood to protect my face on windy days at recess.
isn’t the southwestern print coat the best? please buy it for yourself (or for me).