Christmas tree take down… overdue

Because this past Christmas was the first time Chris and I had our own Christmas tree in our apartment, he humored me and allowed us to keep it up through the end of January. We haven’t turned the lights on it much in the last week, but it’s still fully decorated with all its ornaments, the sturdy and the delicate. He insisted that by February 1st, we had to take it down and put it away (it’s fake for a cleaner apartment, plus it’s more economical and environmentally friendly). It’s another year to go through before we can get to the glory of Christmas again. Now, we just have to find a home to put it in since we’re really pushing at the limits of our closet space. I actually think that even though it’s not Christmas season anymore, having it up, along with a few other Christmas decorations around our TV, makes the apartment seem a bit more festive and homely.

Updates without getting updates

My parents don’t really keep in touch with anyone in the family other than my aunt, who they are kind of forced to keep in touch with because she lives right upstairs from them. So pretty much every time I talk to her on the phone, which is averaging about twice a week now, she goes down the line of my aunts and my uncle and each of my cousins to see how each is doing, as though I talk to to them every day (I obviously do not).

“What about your uncle?” my mom asked today. “Have you talked to him lately? How is he doing?”

“I haven’t been in touch with him since he wished me a happy birthday earlier this month,” I mumbled, disinterested. “Why do you always ask me about everyone in the family? If you want to know how they are, you can easily ask them yourself. You live closer to almost all of them than I do. You can call them and go visit them.”

My mom laughed. “No, I don’t want to talk to them. I just want to ask how they are. There’s nothing wrong with asking how someone is doing, is there?”

Then you clearly don’t care enough, so why don’t you just stop asking to make annoying small talk?

Work life at the end of a fiscal quarter

Even though I am not in sales, my role is so intermingled with sales that sometimes, the stresses they face with meeting their numbers at the end of a quarter tends to spread to me. It’s never been more apparent than at my current company, which makes sense because for the first time, I actually work at a company where we really are closing deals and driving revenue and success for our customers.

So you can imagine how frustrating it is when about four different people are messaging me, texting me, and emailing me for renewal updates. It’s as though there’s no central way to share information and no streamlined method of disseminating the same piece of knowledge just once. We’re supposed to be a tech company, yet like with all companies, the biggest area of frustration always comes back to what seems to be the most basic: communication. We’re still working on it. Or at least, some of us are while others are just having their hair set on fire.

Chicken fat splatter

I have a fear of deep frying. The idea of a large pot or wok filled with burning hot oil in my own kitchen makes me very uncomfortable. Part of it is about how wasteful it seems to use so much oil just for the mere act of deep frying. Then there’s also the idea of the splatter that bothers me when it comes to cleaning up. And we all know that oil stains on clothes are extremely unforgiving. Oil burns can also be unforgiving, as well.

So the idea of “oven-fried” chicken wings sound pretty tempting to me: the idea is to dry out the chicken wings completely in the fridge overnight with baking powder and a little salt, then crank up the heat very high in your oven so that the chicken wings’ own fat crisps them up. Then, you toss them in a homemade toasted spice mixture.

It was a great idea… until our fire detector went off because of the amount of smoke that came out of the oven due to the chicken fat dripping and burning, not to mention the amount of fat splatter that happened inside the oven. The splatter was so bad and literally all over every surface in the inside of the oven that I had to cover the entire inside of the oven in a thick baking soda-water paste overnight, and then remove all the oven racks and soak them in my bath tub. I never thought I’d have to wash dishes in my own bath tub before.

That $13 I spent on the 4.5 pounds of chicken wings seemed like a good deal. And then it wasn’t when I had to deal with this multi-day mess and cleaning.

Aussie lunch

Today, we had brunch downtown with two of Chris’s brother’s friends who have moved here from Hong Kong (and are originally from Melbourne). Before they moved here, Chris had never met them, and this was my first time meeting the guy in the couple. It was hilarious to see exactly how much he has in common with Chris’s brother. The two of them have been friends for over ten years now, and they’re so similar. They both love sport. Their intonations are similar, and how they tell stories (long-winded, weaving in and out irrelevant past stories) are the same. Their Australian accents even sound the same. Even the way they pause and say, “uh/um” is the same! It’s as though I met Ben’s white Australian equivalent.

And after our brunch ended together, his wife says, “Yes, Chris is just like Ben,” but she’s obviously joking. They’re quite opposite, and the “opposite-ness” is even more pronounced when Chris is there.

Dumpling filling

Last night, I spent a good amount of time working on my dumpling filling, and I was so exacerbated by the frozen “shepherd’s purse” (qi cai) Chinese vegetable that I’d purchased from a Chinese market. The whole idea of buying them was to 1) try a vegetable I wasn’t familiar with, and 2) include it in a cooked and prepared form in the dumplings I was making. What I wasn’t anticipating after defrosting them was that these vegetables were not prepared at all; they were literally ripped out of the ground, roots and all, rinsed, and then frozen. I had to dig through every single strand of leaf to rip off the bottom roots. I couldn’t believe how poorly prepared these were.

It just goes to show how Chinese packaging from China works. They really don’t want to make your life easier the way you thought they would.

Chili oil

Tonight, I finally accomplished a kitchen feat I’d been wanting to try for a long time, but had just never dedicated the energy to do: make my own chili oil.

I always admired the dumpling shops I’d go to and how their chili oil always tasted infinitely better than the store-bought ones I’d been buying all these years. The ones in the dumpling shops always seemed multi-dimensional, tasting of more than just chili oil. It was as though they had a hint of salt, ginger, and some other spices and nuttiness that I couldn’t quite pin down.

So I started researching chili oil recipes and came to one that seemed like it had the right combination: ground chilies, ginger, sesame seeds, star anise, cardamom pods, salt, oil. The oil is cooked on a medium flame with the ginger and spices, and then once it reaches a certain temperature,  you pour it over the chilies and sesame seeds, “toasting” them and infusing them with their spiced flavors.

The result ended up being a lot more fiery than I was anticipating, so I had to temper it down with some extra plain oil. Even Chris found it a bit too hot, which is saying something. I’m never buying store-bought chili oil ever again.. especially now that I have so much Costco oil. 🙂

Transient life

“Do you think you’ll settle down here?”

“Are you planning to stay here and raise kids?”

“Do you foresee yourself going back to San Francisco and settling down?”

The question of “settling down” is constantly being asked of me; by friends, friends of friends, colleagues, Chris’s colleagues, Chris’s family and friends — you name it. Chris hates the idea of “settling down” because it’s almost like you’re resigning yourself to a life of monotony and the same ol’ same ol’ every single day, and that grates on his nerves.

So, it’s sad when we hear that two good friends of ours are leaving to “settle down” across the country in the Sacramento area. One of them will be leaving in a few weeks to start looking for a new job, and once he gets it, his wife will be joining him out there. It’s a bittersweet time for us given how much fun we’ve all had together the last two years.

But that’s life, right? People come and go, and especially in a city like New York, there are plenty of transients. That’s what cities like this are made of. We get bored of the people who are New York lifers and are attracted to the people who came here from other parts of the country and world. I suppose that’s how Chris and I came together.

We’re not really “settled down” yet. Maybe we never really will be. I hope we can find other people who aren’t yet “settled,” though, here.

Upcoming family visit

In just over two months, my parents-in-law will be coming to visit us here in New York, and I’m already excited about their visit. I’ve been thinking about what birthday cake to make for Chris’s mother, whose birthday we will be celebrating together in the city. I’ve even been thinking what breakfasts I’ll be preparing them. Because his mother is quite obsessed with “healthy eating” while they are traveling, I’ve already started collecting chia seed pudding recipes.

I told Chris that I was excited, and he said that I get into this happy mood about them coming around this time of year every year. Just about two months before, I start expressing excitement, and it’s almost like clock work. Why do I get like that?

When I think about it, I suppose it’s for two main reasons. The first reason is that our winter depresses me. I hate the short days and the long darkness. I dislike the cold and the snow, and I need something to look forward to in the spring.

The second reason is because his parents are always so grateful at the littlest things I do. I’ll make them coffee and they’ll endlessly express gratitude. I could actually just hand them granola bars in the morning, and his dad will probably smile and say, “Oh, this is delightful!” I’ve just never met people who are that happy and grateful for the smallest gestures. It still amazes me to this day. We all express gratitude in different ways, and of course, our feelings, but they are so outwardly warm and genuine and expressive all the freaking time. It’s just so nice to be a part of.

Pan banging vs. science in baking

In a miserable January, when I work at a company whose fiscal year ends in January and in a city that’s in the northeast experiencing winter, this time of year is not usually fun. It’s cold, disgusting outside, work is tense, and there doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to outside of the day-to-day usual stuff and the weekend breaks. So I end up spending more time looking for new recipes to try and techniques to experiment with to be productive.

One of the interesting chocolate chip cookie recipes I found in my Instagram Discovery tab was the concept of “pan-banging chocolate chip cookies.” The goal is to get very flat, crispy on the edges and chewy gooey on the inside chocolate chip cookies that have a beautiful, almost rippled and ridgy appearance. In order to do this, once the cookie dough balls are lined up on the baking sheet, for ten minutes, every two minutes, you have to open your oven door, lift the cookie sheet up on one side, and allow it to drop, thus “banging” it to create that rippled appearance. The idea seemed so tedious but I really wanted to make cookies that looked like that. After some research, I found another blog that explained how to get the same exact effect without the banging chaos, but instead using science: have equal proportions of brown and white sugar, increase the flour to butter ratio so that there’s more butter than you’d typically add to a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and also slightly chill the dough before baking to encourage the baking soda to spread and the flour to hydrate overall. 1/2 teaspoon for just 1 cup of flour is generally a lot in most baking situations, but here it performs two important functions: 1) promotes spread – baking soda spreads while baking powder puffs, and 2) promotes browning by way of accelerated Maillard browning reactions that produce delicious nutty, roasted, caramel, coffee flavors. Maillard browning is a reaction that happens between specific proteins and sucrose (sugar). In our cookie dough protein comes from egg, flour, and trace amounts in butter.

Sounds like a delicious kind of science to me. That’s not the science I got to learn and enjoy in school, though. No wonder I hated it then.