Taiyo Foods in Sunnyside, Queens – The inspiration for dashi making time

During our Saturday outing yesterday (which was HOT – it was over 90 degrees F outside here in New York City!), we went to Sunnyside, Queens. We had some Bolivian and Mexican food, along with some interesting pastries and coffee. One new place we went to was Taiyo Foods, which was actually a staple of the Sunnyside area. A few years ago, their original location had to close due to a fire, but luckily enough, with the support of a Kickstarter and a lot of loyal customers, they were able to reopen and renovate at a new spot just a few blocks away. I got reminded while perusing the aisles here that one thing I did want to do this year was to finally make my own dashi with dried kombu seaweed and bonito flakes. For the longest time, I researched quality of kombu and bonito and felt very confused, as I wasn’t sure how to judge quality and why the price points where so high vs. low. But while at Taiyo, I figured I would just buy the basic, seemingly affordable versions of both and see how they turned out.

The process of making dashi is quite simple, assuming you are not growing/harvesting your own kombu seaweed or drying and shaving your own bonito fish. In a nutshell, this how to make dashi, the basis of all Japanese cooking: you take a pot of water (about two liters) with 30 grams of kombu (wiped, not rinsed!), and bring both to a near simmer — you want to see bubbles appear in the water. Then, you immediately shut the heat off and add 30 grams of bonito flakes. Cover the pot and let the bonito flakes steep for five minutes. Then, strain the liquid, and there you have it: your own fresh, homemade dashi! This would be called ichiban dashi because it is “first brew” dashi. You can choose to do another steep with the same process, same amount of new water, and the same kombu piece and bonito flakes; this will yield niban dashi, or second brew dashi. It will be weaker than the first brew, but still tasty in dishes where a strong dashi is not the first flavor you get.

As long as you have kombu and bonito flakes (plus a pot, access to clean water, and a stovetop), you can have homemade dashi in the time it takes to (nearly) boil water, plus five additional minutes (to steep the bonito). After making ichiban dashi and niban dashi, I was really blown away by how quick and easy the entire process was, plus how fresh and sea-like the stock tasted. This afternoon, I used part of it to make homemade miso soup, and will be using the rest to make oyakodon and freezing some cubes for future cooking. It’s funny how doing something so quick and easy can make you feel so accomplished. I got so many comments on these Instagram Stories I did on this about how impressive it was that I did this, but it was really easy, and not that expensive, either!

When I originally thought about making dashi from scratch, and regularly, about a year ago, it was really for Kaia’s sake because she’s definitely a soup baby. Since her very first soup experience when she was about 8-9 months old (it was a Cuban black bean soup!), she’s always loved her liquidy soups and her thicker bean-based soups. Dashi would be an easy base for soups for her. And she definitely gobbled up all this miso soup today, much to my delight. She happily ate all the wakame seaweed I added, which was no surprise since she adores seaweed. Plus, for the very first time since she was a baby, Pookster even devoured all the silken tofu cubes and kept asking for more. As a toddler, she’s been rejecting soft tofu in favor of firm or extra firm tofu. Tonight, she ended up having three generous helpings of tofu and seaweed miso soup. I had to add more silken tofu to the soup just to appease her and her belly!

Well, that does it: dashi is going to be on rotation in our household now. And I’ll also need to find some other creative ways to incorporate dashi into our diet.

A Time to Celebrate: Resisting treats and… pastries?

The first time we visited Australia with Kaia, we did a side trip to Byron Bay, and there, we saw this book by Lonely Planet called A Time to Celebrate: Explore Festivals from Around the World. We’ve been drawn to children’s books that are multicultural for obvious reasons for her, and this one was especially fun because it has little flaps you can lift up that reveal more images and words. Even though there are a lot of long descriptions and sentences, Kaia had enjoyed this book since she was about 1.5 years old. Oftentimes, this is one of the books she will request to read at bedtime. This book highlights these global celebrations:

  • The Garma Festival, Arnhem Land region, Australia
  • Chinese New Year, Beijing, China
  • Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
  • Ramadan in Morocco, Africa
  • Day of the Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Diwali, Mumbai or Jaipur, India
  • Tu Bi’Shivat Festival, New York, USA 
  • Christmas in Frankfurt, Germany

For Carnival in Brazil, there’s a line in the book that goes like this: “Lent is the time when Christians traditionally resist treats and temptations. During Carnival, they can feast and enjoy themselves one last time before Lent begins!” Kaia loves to finish sentences of books we read often (and she thus knows) — it always seems like she is reading, but in reality, we know it’s because she’s simply memorized the lines. So when I paused before “…when Christians traditionally resist….” Instead of saying “treats and temptations,” last night, she actually said, “treats and pastries!”

This cracked me up so much because for Kaia, her kryptonite is most definitely pastries. Any time she sees Chris or me carrying anything in a small brown paper bag, she yells, “I want it! I want it! I want some! WANT SOME!” It could easily be coal or dog poo, but she will insist, “I WANT IT!” It’s a weekend treat for all of us, and she most definitely always, always wants in on the goodies. Last weekend when we went to Laurel Bakery near Brooklyn Bridge Park, it was just the two of us, and I got one (very small… 🙁 ) plain croissant and one canele. She probably ate more than half of that croissant and a quarter of the canele. We don’t get them every day obviously, but pastries are most definitely beloved by everyone in our whole family. She has definitely assimilated in this way.

The expenses of being a building’s fitness center general manager/trainer

When we first moved into this building about seven years ago, while we had all the machines, mats, and weights, I didn’t notice a lot of extra equipment like TRX bands, leg bands, kettle bells, stretch bands, and balance balls. But over time, I noticed that new extra workout accessories were being added, and I thought, wow, this is great! It’s almost like someone’s personal collection of workout accessories, but in a public setting for everyone in the gym to enjoy. I’ve always liked to foam roll, and so I regularly use the foam rollers at the gym after my workouts and during the day when I get a break and feel the need to roll out my muscles.

Chris recently mentioned he was interested in using a version of a foam roller that’s called a rumble roller – it’s basically like a foam roller, but it’s got these interesting textured “spikes” that stick out of it all around. It’s very good for massage and taking out “toxins” that are concentrated in sites of pain in your muscle. I wondered if it might be something that could be added to the building gym, so I messaged our building trainer (who I occasionally chat with and text) to ask if it might be a possibility. And I was shocked: the trainer told me that the management company didn’t pay for any of the extra equipment: he himself had paid for all of those accessories out of his OWN pocket! He said he needed these things for training his clients, so he just bought them himself.

That confused and infuriated me to no end. Why would he not even ask the management company if they could comp him for it given they were for the benefit of a working and operating gym for the use of residents…? It just didn’t make any sense at all.

“Magic” coffee

There’s always a lot of debate about the best way to brew coffee: French press, Aero Press, or Chemex? Pour-over vs. drip? Espresso machine? So many options exist, and so many opinions exist. Since I’m a daily tea drinker, coffee is always like a “treat” drink to me, one that I would enjoy with the occasional coffee break with a colleague while at the office, or out and about on a Saturday with Chris. It’s also a “treat” drink to me because it doesn’t seem to matter how much tea I drink, but I rarely get a buzz from it; then, I’ll have one latte late morning and feel a bit wired all the way until dinner time. It’s an interesting feeling, but not one that I necessarily want every day.

When summer time comes around, while I do think about different versions of iced tea, I also look forward to more iced coffee drinks and all the delicious variations of it, with flavor additions and all. And I was excited to see some articles talking about “magic coffee,” which is essentially cold brew coffee, steeped overnight with two magic ingredients: your choice of a sweet spice like ground cinnamon or cardamom (of course, cardamom for me!), and a bit of brown sugar. I halved the amount of sugar (3 Tbsp down to 1.5 Tbsp) but used the recommended one teaspoon of cardamom for 2/3 cup coarsely ground coffee to three cups of water, and once the coffee is strained, poured over ice cubes, and topped with a quick pour of oat milk, it really did taste like magic. Cold brew is delicious, but with these two additional ingredients, this iced coffee really was like magic. I could get used to this all summer long.

Fire truck, ambulance, garbage truck, and siren obsessions

Since Chris’s parents were in town with us, Kaia has been absolutely obsessed with sirens. She likes to listen for the sirens outside our window and while outside. When she hears the sounds, she will immediately go to the window to see if she can see where the sound is coming from. She likes to identify the lights and call out what colors they are; she also likes to name whether it’s a fire truck vs. an ambulance. It’s been really adorable to see her obsession.

The other day, she suddenly yelled out, “I want fire truck! I want fire truck!” She went to her toy corner in the living room and grabbed a few of her larger Hot Wheels cars. But I reminded her that while those were all cars and trucks, they actually were not fire trucks. She does have another truck that’s a real fire truck (and transformer!), I reminded her. I pulled it out from her car box and gave it to her. It was as though she was seeing this fire truck for the very first time, as her face had this look of surprise and excitement. A few seconds later, while holding the fire truck and admiring it, she exclaimed, “Wowowow, FIRE TRUCK! MY FIRE TRUCK!” The next few nights, she’d have to have it in bed with her before she could fall asleep. And randomly throughout the night, she would wake up screaming or crying, asking for her fire truck. So I always had to make sure it was within reach to calm her down.

I love seeing her little toddler obsessions and loves. I know one day she will lose this innocence, but I will soak it up as much as I can, for as long as I can, because it’s just too precious. And another thing she isn’t aware of: Suma and Topa have a very large fire truck, complete with a siren sound, waiting for her in Melbourne when we go back later this year!

Mother’s/Father’s Day promotional email “opt-outs” and triggers

I have one email account that I use almost completely for mailing lists, whether that is news summaries, shopping, food blog reading, and the related. I noticed that this year for the first time, I got a lot of suggestions for different businesses I follow that if I don’t want to see Mother’s or Father’s Day-related emails that I could just do a one-click opt-out for these specific promotions. My social media seemed to be peppered with how “triggering” Mother’s/Father’s Day can be for various reasons, whether it’s because you have a less-than-ideal relationship with your own mother or father, your children, or if you’re struggling to conceive, etc. All of the above can be true for many people, so I understand why businesses are trying to be more empathetic about what promotions they are pushing, and to whom.

I always get annoyed by Mother’s and Father’s Day when I really think about them. But I think the crux of my annoyance is that my relationship with both my parents is quite far from ideal, and it’s certainly not from a lack of trying on my part. I think about all the years when Ed and I tried to do nice things for our parents, and it was met with indifference or open dislike. Sometimes, we got scolded at and told we spent too much money. Once, my mom flat out rejected this cashmere sweater my brother got her and yelled, insisting that he return it because it cost too much money. Ed was so upset at this response, but he obediently returned it. In some cases, we gave gifts that were literally left on a table for months on end, never opened and barely even acknowledged. Even when it happened repeatedly, and you would think after a while we’d get used to it, it still always hurt. These responses, and sometimes lack thereof, always made us feel as though our efforts went unappreciated. NO ONE likes to feel unappreciated for the efforts they make to please another human, particularly partners, spouses, and children.

My parents just don’t appreciate gifts or when people do nice things for them. When people do things like treat them to meals or buy them gifts, my mom immediately feels “guilt,” and compelled to return the favor as soon as humanly possible. It was always infuriating to watch. So I always hate giving them gifts unless they are things they explicitly ask for, like skincare for my mom.

This year for Father’s Day, which was this past Sunday, I decided to go the “safe route” and get my dad something he could easily consume with little effort on his part. So I got him some hibiscus flowers to steep for cold hibiscus tea (it’s good for blood pressure, so I figured that would resonate with him), plus some chai concentrate, to which he’d just have to add his choice of milk. My dad rarely says thank you unless my mom reminds him to because he’s an overgrown child, so I usually have to prompt him with a message like, “Just checking to see you got (name the gift)/wanted to see if (X gift) arrived?”

Eventually he will respond to the text or email. This time, this is what he wrote:

“Hi Yvonne,
I received the hibiscus
Yesterday. Thank you. Whatever happen to the Kaia’ videos? She is very depressed so can you resume sending them?”

The underlying message here is that I am basically fueling my mom’s “depression” by not sending regular videos of their grandchild. This is not the first time my dad has sent me a message like this.

I have very little patience for people like my mother who do nothing to help themselves. My mom is hardly in a dire life situation: she gets a pension check and a social security check in the mail regularly. She doesn’t have to work or support/raise anyone. She has a roof over her head, one that was fully paid off decades ago by her in-laws that has the teeniest property tax known to the average person. She gets regular free, prepared food and produce from Meals on Wheels (how valid this is that she qualifies for this program is another story for another day). She’s in reasonably good health. What exactly is she “depressed” about?

As I’ve learned the hard way with Ed’s ongoing depression, no one person can save another person from the pit that is depression. It really starts with the person in question. When a person who is depressed refuses treatment or therapy, there’s not much that can be done, as sad as it is. I told my dad that if she’s really depressed, then she can seek a psychologist referral from her doctor. My dad simply responded, “She doesn’t want it.” Well, then, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. Nothing I do can “cure” her depression. And if she chooses to have no relationship with her only grandchild by never doing any video/phone calls with her, by not even interacting with her when she’s right in front of her face, then none of that is on me.

“When is Daddy coming?”

It’s been almost a week and a half since Chris left for Australia. To keep in touch with us and to get some contact with Kaia, he’s been calling on FaceTime most nights. She always gets excited, but at the same time, she gets very upset when it’s time to hang up. The other night, she also got to interact with Chris’s mom, and she had a melt down afterwards. That night, she didn’t fall asleep until past 9:30. That was brutal.

This morning when she was eating breakfast, she asked, “When is Daddy coming?” I wondered if she meant, “coming back,” but she did mean to say that she wants Daddy to come. So it made me think about the phrase her former nanny used to always say, and what I also hear the daycare teachers say, “Mommy/Daddy always comes back.” Once upon a time as a baby, she did not understand that when an object gets covered that it’s actually still there, and that you just need to lift the cover or blanket to see it again. As young babies, they also don’t understand that when mommy or daddy leave the room that they are not gone forever, that they will, in fact, come back. And then as she got a little older, “peek-a-boo” becomes exciting because there’s the realization (and developmental milestone) that people/objects that you cannot see, CAN actually still be there. She still loves peekaboo, and I’ll be honest: I love playing it with her, especially when I’m in one room and she’s in another further away.

So it’s hard to confirm, but maybe she does understand when I tell her that Daddy “went to Australia to see Suma, Topa, and Shushu, and that he will be back soon.” First, she would say, “I want to see Suma, Topa, and Shushu,” too! Then she would whine, “I want Da-TEE!”

In just a day, she can change dramatically. She can do new things with her feet and hands. She can jump higher or do a more complex physical move. She can also say more complex sentences and new words and actually understand what they mean – in English and Chinese. Just today, she said a full Chinese sentence that I say a lot, but before, I wasn’t ever 100 percent certain she understood. But she said it in the totally correct context. I was overjoyed. Chris realizes this as he’s away and hears her say new things over FaceTime. I’m lucky to be able to work full time, have a flexible schedule, and witness as many of her moments as possible in her development.

Sun protection awareness for babies and young children

This afternoon, I took Kaia to the playground to get some energy out. She said she wanted to take her scooter, so I put her helmet on and took the scooter out with her. Unfortunately (or fortunately for her…), the fountain was on given it was such a hot day, and she immediately made a beeline for the fountain and completely abandoned her scooter. She still had her helmet on, so it provided a little sun protection, but I was getting a bit concerned with how much sun exposure she’d get given she was soaking.

A neighbor came and met me with her husband and six-month-old daughter. Her daughter turned six months just a few days ago and had gotten her six-month vaccinations. The baby is extremely fair-skinned, and her face, neck, arms, and legs were completely exposed to the sun. I asked her if she had any sunscreen or a hat for the baby. She said she thought it was in the stroller but needed to go check. Her husband was pretty indifferent and responded, “Does she really need sunscreen? I don’t think so.”

I couldn’t believe how much he didn’t seem to know; it was borderline embarrassing for me to hear this. I lightly nudged them that they should get a hat on her and put some sunscreen on. She went to grab the hat and sunscreen and started spraying her baby with it. Before six months of age, it’s strongly recommended to keep babies out of direct sunlight and to keep a hat on them to protect their face and eyes. And from six months onward, sunscreen is highly recommended, along with a face/eye cover. They’re so young — they’re just babies. And the sun can be so damaging for them at such an early age. It’s not even just about serious concerns like skin cancer or sunburn, but just keeping their skin looking young, supple, and healthy. I’m in my late 30s now, and even though I am obsessive about sunscreen application, I’m already seen sun damage on my skin in the form of these stupid freckles, which I hate. Now, I always wear a hat to protect my face. I used to resist it because my head would get hot, but now my vanity has overtaken my distaste for a hot head.

I look at my Kaia Pookie’s face, and I just want her to look sweet, cute, and pore-less forever. I love that she’s been more tolerant with my applying sunblock on her. She still doesn’t love it on her face, especially the rubbing in part, but she doesn’t resist me anymore when I apply it on her arms and legs. It’s all progress in the right direction!

Closeness and vulnerability

Today, Kaia and I went to Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill to hang out with a friend we usually catch up with while her husband and Chris are here, but we decided this would be a nice way to catch up with just us. We met at a Palestinian restaurant for lunch, had coffee at a nearby coffee shop after, took Kaia to the playground to run around and get out some energy, then walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park and enjoyed some delicious passion fruit ice cream with apricot jam swirls and pistachios. Even Pooks had a few licks before passing out from an entire afternoon of attempting to fight off a nap.

Since I was in high school, I realized that I’m just better in small group or 1:1 situations, and I enjoy them a lot more. Large groups certainly have their place, but you never truly get to know anyone unless you have some genuine one on one time with them. When you are one on one, it allows both sides to be more vulnerable, to ask harder, more interesting questions. There’s less of a need to posture or pretend that all is rainbows and flowers in your life. And you never truly know anyone unless you are able to be vulnerable around each other and expose things about ourselves that are not necessarily flattering, sometimes embarrassing or stigmatized, and other times even flat out damning (potentially).

But I feel really comfortable with this friend. She’s had a hard life, but she’s open about talking about it and you can tell she’s learned and grown so much from her tough experiences. And it kind of makes me intrigued to ask her more about what’s happened and how she’s handled it. In turn, she’s asked me a lot about things I normally don’t discuss with casual friends, like my family, Ed, and IVF. What was funny was that she projected onto me a bit. She’s never wanted children, and for the longest time, even while dating who is now her husband, she never even wanted to get married. So when I revealed to her that Kaia was conceived via IVF after a year of trying to conceive naturally and failing, she said she was surprised. She had, for some reason, assumed that Kaia was not planned. No, she was very much planned and wanted, I assured her.

As I’ve gotten older, and especially working 100 percent remotely now, it’s been harder to meet and make new friends. While I’ve met people through Kaia’s daycare/school, it’s not really the same because you’re bonded more because of the kids. But it’s been comforting to know that I’ve successfully made at least one friend since being pregnant who can be completely raw and real with me.

The relationships you have (and don’t have) with your parents

Yesterday, my friend came over for dinner, and eventually the topic of our parents came up. While her relationship with her parents is not as fractured as mine is, she definitely has strained relationships with both parents and wish it could be better. In her family, she somehow always gets labeled the “selfish” one who needs to be accommodated, even when she actually bends over backwards to do the exact opposite. And her older sister, in her usual pattern, always plays “victim” and has both parents feeling sorry for her and blaming my friend in the end. It makes no sense, but what does in a dysfunctional family?

I told her that I hadn’t spoken with my mom since end of February after she accused me of being mad at her for not sending money to Kaia (and as for my dad, I haven’t spoken with him over the phone since right before our August 2022 visit with Kaia, when he (figuratively) fell off his rocker and called me a bitch for no legitimate reason). I think it should go without saying that I’ve never had a track record or any record of being a gold digger or seeking out my parents solely for their money. So it’s beyond insulting to think that she’d come up with this crap in her head. It’s just yet another sign to me of how poisoned my mother’s brain has become over the years. She once had so much promise and positivity about the world, but as the years have gone by and bitterness through her experiences has chipped away at her, now she is just a mentally unstable, negativity inducing old woman who chooses to see the worst in everyone. And when there is nothing “bad” to see, she decides, in her head, to fabricate lies about what some given person has said, done, or “thought.”

That just reminded me of my bad memories growing up, being frightened that my mom WAS actually the thought police, policing my thoughts and trying to tell me how to “feel” or even “think.” That was pretty awful, to say the least.

I’ve tried to give my parents nice experiences through vacations that they were never grateful for (and nitpicked over what they spent money on vs. what Chris or I bought for them). I’ve tried buying them nice gifts. I’ve paid for meals for them. I’ve tried spending time with them in various ways when I go back to San Francisco, which they have rejected, complained about, or in one case, where my dad just stormed off and said he didn’t want to go (on a stupid walk, of all things). I said very flattering and gracious things about both of them at my wedding during speeches. I think I’ve tried what I can do to in order to make our relationship better from my side. But it’s not fair for me to do all the work. It takes both sides of a relationship to make it better, and they just keep doing everything in their power to make our relationship worst, whether they are aware of it or not. They have pushed me away, so far that I don’t really think we’ll ever recover.

So, I think back to what my therapist told me two years ago. “It’s okay to mourn the relationship you wish you had, but don’t,” she said. I told my friend this, as well, and she agreed that it was a good thing to hear and be told, and even reminded of. My therapist reminded me of this a few times, and I probably really needed to hear it. Usually, I just brush it off and try to be strong about it. I hate feeling sorry for myself, especially when I know that all around, I’ve lived a very privileged, fun-filled life with rich experiences and good relationships. “Why do you have to say that?” she’d ask me. “So, what… because you have some privileges, you’re not allowed to be sad about what you wish you had or don’t have?” Okay, fair point.

But I have moments of real sadness, especially when I see and hear of other people around my age who have very healthy, loving relationships with their parents. I feel a bit envious and wonder why I got the shit end of the stick when it came to parents. They don’t even have a relationship with my only child, their only grandchild. It’s beyond senseless. And when I think about it really deeply, I just get incensed to the point where I want to bash their faces in.

So, that’s part of what my friend and I talked about last night, and I suppose it’s fitting since Father’s Day is this coming Sunday. I’ll send my dad a gift and probably barely get a response or thank you over text or email, and we’ll all carry on with our separate lives as we always do. I’ve made peace with it because I know in my heart that I’ve done everything in my power to improve our relationship… while they have done absolutely nothing because they continue to live in their own past trauma and lack the emotional maturity to treat their only living child even decently.