Yvonne meets Food “launch”

After several months of studying and practicing video editing about once a week, shooting videos both in my kitchen and on the road, today, I’m finally launching my YouTube channel Yvonne meets Food, which as of today, has 10 videos fully edited and uploaded. Most of them are cooking videos which are focused on basic recipes that have just a handful of ingredients; others are more complex, like the red mole recipe. And then I have one travel video posted where I filmed in Chengdu while eating mapo doufu (tofu). Not all of this was very well planned, and there aren’t always smooth transitions or the best use of color overlays since I’m still in the process of figuring things out, but it’s coming along, and I’m enjoying the process a lot more now that I have a semi-hang of things.

In the beginning, video editing was extremely painful, but now, it’s almost like a fun, interesting creative release, a far departure from the everyday expected ups and downs of office and customer life. I can experiment with color, angles, and music. Even though I’m not much of a music person, testing out different types of music to set moods for different shots has probably been the most interesting for me. The music site I’ve been using for music has really great tutorials on how to edit videos to the beat, which I plan on using more when I shoot travel and field pieces.

In some ways, it feels like a second job, and in other ways, it feels like a creative outlet that just requires a bit more time and intense focus. But I hope something interesting will come of this. Life is short.

Dosa batter fails, take 2

The dosa batter has failed for the second time in this apartment. I even tried a second full-proof recipe, using baking soda as a “helper” to allow the batter to ferment. It’s been said that rice and dried lentils naturally have enzymes in them that allow for fermentation, so I cannot understand what exactly is going wrong. I tossed my old fenugreek seeds and thought that it might help to buy new ones, yet still, nothing. Twelve hours in the Instant Pot under “yogurt” mode, and still nothing. I tested some dry active yeast to see if it was still alive, tossed it into the dosa batter, and the batter started to bubble and rise… but the idlis once put into their little molds and steamed did not even rise the slightest. I was so deflated today. However, the taste seems pretty accurate, though.

I’m convinced that the real issue is that there is not enough natural bacteria in the air in this apartment to get the fermentation going. Maybe the old (actually, old in age) apartment was just better suited for that.

the land of the outer boroughs of New York City

Two days in a row, and I went back to Queens. Yesterday, it was to pick up groceries and Indian desserts in Jackson Heights, and today, it was to pick up Mexican dried chilies and cheese at a Mexican grocery store in Corona, which is known for having a very diverse Latino population, many of whom are Mexican, plus to meet friends for Isan Thai food in Woodside.

When I first moved to New York City and lived in Elmhurst, Queens, I heard everyone telling me that no Mexican people live in New York City, that there was no good Mexican food. Then, I went to areas like Jackson Heights and Corona (and Sunset Park in Brooklyn) and realized exactly how wrong everyone was. What people generalized in their meaning was that perhaps there weren’t a lot of authentic Mexican restaurants or Mexican immigrants living in Manhattan... because apparently, New York City revolves around Manhattan, and most people never even think to venture out to outer boroughs like Queens except when transiting to and from the two major New York City airports. Part of me wonders if that is just due to sheer ignorance, a lack of curiosity, or just a complete dismissal of true immigrant communities like Corona. You can’t really discover anything new unless you actively make the decision to choose to seek newness out. Newness does not simply show up on your doorstep or in your neighborhood and scream, “Hey! Look at me! I’m here to cater as a new experience to you!”

Patel Brothers run

Jackson Heights is one of my absolute favorite neighborhoods in Queens… or well, all of New York City, really. To me, it represents exactly how multicultural and delicious New York City is; one block, you’re surrounded by sari and 24-carat gold shops selling South Indian goods, fragrant of rose water and cardamom; the next block, you are fully inundated by Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian restaurants and bakeries. Two blocks down, there’s a string of Filipino restaurants. Then, there’s a Korean grocery store. And as if it couldn’t get even more diverse, you stumble upon an Argentinian steakhouse that is across the street from several Thai restaurants representing four different regions of Thailand. It’s a cultural explorer’s paradise.

I went out to Jackson Heights after work today to pick up a bunch of groceries in preparation for cooking this weekend, plus some Indian sweets at my favorite Indian dessert shop. What is always comical to me is the little smiles that are exchanged by the Indian workers at Patel Brothers, the major Indian grocery store there, as they watch me walk through the aisles of the store. They see me, an East Asian person, picking through Indian vegetables, different bags of legumes, various whole and ground spices, and I can imagine what they are thinking: what is this Chinese girl going to do with all this stuff? Does she even know what she is looking at? Is she learnt enough to prepare these the right way? I hope she doesn’t mess it all up and waste the ingredients!

Don’t worry, peeps. I know what I’m doing. In fact, I could probably school you all in it since I’m willing to bet that in your generation, you wouldn’t even know what to do with these spices if they were handed to you, as you likely think cooking is a woman’s job, and hence you rely on your wives to cook. It’s all good. I got you.

St. Bartholomew’s volunteering, take 2

I organized the second volunteer event with my office for the Coalition for the Homeless this late afternoon after getting so much positive feedback from our first event here back in June. We had six volunteers sign up to represent our New York City office, and it was a very efficient and fulfilling event. Although three months had passed, I actually recognized some of the people coming in to collect food, which made me a little bit sad.

However, there was one person who was volunteering with us who gave me some hope. This man seemed a bit awkward and shy in the beginning, and he asked me how I found this organization, so I told him, and I asked him the same question. He responded, saying he personally benefited from this organization and collected dinners from here for a while until he was finally able to get back on his feet again, so he feels indebted to the Coalition for the Homeless and wanted to give back some of what he got. As such, he volunteers at least once a week for a few hours to show to others that there really can be some light at the end of the tunnel.

The colleagues who heard this story and I all exchanged smiles. No, not everyone is “mooching” off the system. No, no one wants to be homeless or “in need.” Sometimes, everyone just needs a little help and support along the way, and that’s what organizations and volunteer efforts like this are for. This made me feel hopeful as I took my long walk back home.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term “anal-retentive” as this:

anal-re·​ten·​tive | \ ˈā-nᵊl-ri-ˈten-tiv

variants:  or anal retentive

often used in nontechnical contexts to describe someone as extremely or excessively neat, careful, or precise.

Well… that sounds like a pretty good description of me, particularly when it comes to house cleanliness… and now transferred into the realm of video editing. I suppose that anal retentiveness does lend itself well to tasks like editing in general, whether it is text (school journalism in my past life) or in video (current outside of work life). It also serves people well who need precision, and people who like to bake require precision. Yep, it actually does fit me now in more ways than I really want to admit.

What I did not actively think about when I started shooting my food videos is that I would inadvertently be schooling and critiquing myself on my public speaking abilities. Granted, speaking in front of a lens or camera is very, very different than speaking in front of an audience or in front of friends, but I started noticing all these annoying little things I would do that I never would have thought about unless I watched myself speak: the way I move my eyes to the side (which could potentially make someone doubt how credible I am); the excessive “so….” and “um” filler words. I actually do not say “like” as a filler word almost at all, which I was quite self-satisfied about, if I had to be fully honest. It completely makes sense why in every public speaking workshop I’ve either heard of or done myself, they strongly encourage or even require you to film yourself speaking, then to watch yourself, critique yourself, and try to improve on your little ticks.

So what did I actually do the last few days in my editing that probably was a wee bit too anal retentive? I went through my entire series of clips for each video I shot and removed nearly every “um” that I could comfortably take out without making it seem awkward. That was super anal, super retentive, but quite comforting in the end. And to prevent myself from having to torture myself in that way again, instead of saying “um” in current and future videos I will shoot, I will pause or take a breath every time I feel an urge to say “um.” I need to remember to speak slower and to space out my words more. That also helps with editing.

I think that sounds like a good plan.

Gut health

I feel like I am constantly consuming new information, and sometimes, it can be a bit exhausting. Sometimes, though, educational information can also be fun, as well, and good to help others understand things they may not have previously known before. One of the many podcasts that I’ve been listening to in the last year has been the Deliciously Ella podcast. Ella Mills is a British plant-based food writer and entrepreneur who has a London deli as well as a plant-based eating cookbook. Seven-plus years ago, the idea of “vegan” and “plant-based” seemed annoying to me, as so many delicious things exist in cultures across the word, so why would we need substitutes for already delicious and amazing things? But as I’ve read more and more about greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, the environmental impact of animal products, as well as their negative implications on our health, I realized that maybe reducing the amount of animal-based products I eat isn’t such a bad idea after all. It was Michael Pollan who once said: “Eat food — not too much; mostly plants.” I will always be a happy omnivore who won’t give up her Peking duck or pho, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t want to incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet and eat a little less meat.

Her latest episode on “How to Have a Healthy Gut” was especially interesting to me, as it discussed that so much of what people perceive as food allergies or celiac/gluten-intolerant diseases is actually a result of their bodies being overly stressed and thus rejecting the foods they could normally eat. So perhaps if one day, you are anxious from a work presentation you have to deliver and eat a banana, then immediately throw up, the reason you vomited is not that the banana actually was the cause, but rather that the stress in your gut affected how you ultimately digested that banana. The gut is truly the center of everything in our bodies whether we realize it or not, and that’s why it’s even more important in today’s high-speed, high-stress environments to focus on self-care, whether that means doing some form of meditation, yoga, exercise, or even just practicing breathing deeply to find a sense of calm and stillness in our lives. It really cannot be overstated, especially when you *think* you are getting sick from foods that are not actually making you sick at all. I wish that people would slow down a bit and instead of blaming the foods for these types of ailments to instead think about the lives they are leading and how they can either calm or slow down.

The other interesting thing the “gut doctor” who was interviewed in the podcast noted is that to have a well-rounded gut, each of us should be targeting to eat a variety of different foods (obvious, but oftentimes a challenge), but as a general goal, seek to eat about 30 different plant-based foods each week. So while it can be an easy routine or habit to always fall on whole wheat, spinach, tomatoes, or the same type of lentils, to instead mix it up: add wild rice or quinoa, mix some Swiss chard, kale, or red cabbage into your spinach. Roast some onions and chop some avocado to eat with your tomatoes. Vary up the usual green lentils with some red lentils or chickpeas. This would also include the little things you may even forget about, such as the sautéed garlic in your stir-fry, chia seeds, flaxseeds, a handful of cashews or walnuts, a few squeezes of lime, etc.

I was intrigued by the target “30” number and counted how many I had eaten in the last three days. I was at 33! How crazy!

What women spend to look good

An article by Fast Company recently noted that the author spent about 15 times as much on personal grooming products as her husband did, and this was not actually atypical in the average heterosexual relationship. This then prompted all kinds of questions about whether this was truly a choice that women made, or if the women who opted out from spending money on makeup or blowouts suffered professional consequences. One of the frustrations of women is looking too young or too old; sounding too young or old; dressing up too much, down too much; revealing too much or too little skin; is this dress too tight for that meeting? Are people going to take me seriously if I wear this bow or this style of headband? You name it; we’ve all been there as women in the workplace.

I usually indulge in only one facial a year, but given that I had treated myself to one with a friend earlier in the year, got a free one at the Ritz Carlton-Bacara resort for President’s Club in May, I figured, what the heck… Why not just get another one at the place I usually go to that is probably the most affordable place in New York City after work today? So I did and booked it in advance for this early evening. When I referenced a previous conversation from earlier this year with another esthetician and asked today’s esthetician about my old acne scars (which are quite faint, so if I really had to get annoyed with them, it would be safe to say that I am just nitpicking at myself), she said that a microdermabrasion facial would not be enough unless I wanted to get one every month for about 10-12 months; it would be gradual fade-away in this case. The only way to see a very dramatic improvement of the scarring would be to get 3-4 chemical peels spaced out about one week each; they’d definitely banish the scars once and for all. Here, as services are more economically priced, they are priced at $120 per peel… and at the average place in New York City, which I looked up, it could be anywhere from $250-350 per session.

Really? I thought. Pass.

Yep, that’s what women are told: if we want to look “perfect,” we have to throw more money at the problem. Chemical peels are terrifying to me; they are basically one step away from Botox, which I am not an advocate for AT ALL.

Nobel Prize for literature

I’d been on the NYPL digital wait list to read Toni Morrison’s book Beloved for the last month or so, and have finally gotten off the waitlist. I’ve spent the last couple of days reading it on my Kindle and am so regretful that it took me this long to read any of her works. It is no wonder that she won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, as it was said that she is someone who “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” I’m embarrassed to say that her books have been on my reading list since I was 14, but I haven’t gotten to them until now. I’m only 19 years behind, right? She is one of the most famous, well respected African American female writers in the world, and was even given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Barack Obama in 2012.

When Morrison passed away this past August, Obama wrote a tribute to her on his social media, which included: “Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally.”

As I reflected on Toni Morrison and her legacy and thought about the pages I’ve read of Beloved, I thought about how I’ve always loved reading and used to dream about being a famous, respected fiction writer myself (that dream is dead now, though). And then I had this memory pop up from my college years. I once said in front of friends and their partners during college that having a Nobel Prize in Fiction would be such a great honor, to which a friend’s ignorant and narrow-minded partner once said, “A Nobel Prize in literature is the most useless Nobel Prize. Who cares about literature? It doesn’t do anything for the world.”

I already didn’t like this person. He majored in computer science and was pre-med. He would start medical school the summer after graduating from undergrad, but since he had the summer free, he took on a full time job in computer science just to make money for the summer, and quit at the summer’s end without being transparent about his intentions. He just wanted the money, he said, and it was a lot of money to pass up, even with only three months’ time of work. Everything to him was about money; the idea of learning and growing and trying to do good for the world seemed stupid and naive to him, and he oftentimes said it. He would eventually graduate from medical school and go on to be a plastic or orthopedic surgeon, solely because he noted that these were some of the best paid medical professions to go into.

I look back and realize what a good decision it was to not only stop spending time with that friend, but by default, her chosen partner. If you cannot understand the importance of literature, of good writing, then you probably are a shallow and ignorant person, likely greedy and superficial and not a person of substance that I’d want to spend time with. Literature not only describes reality, but also adds to it, as so many notable writers have stated. Literature is both reality and art at the same time; it forces people to consider other states of being, other mindsets, other lives and situations that are so vastly different from their own. It encourages creativity and imagination, and what would life be without creativity and imagination? If you have been exposed to great literary works, then chances are also high that you have also been privileged to get far above average educational opportunities, as well. Literature is an opportunity for growth, for self-improvement, for viewing the world with a lens that is not like your own. And that is an invaluable thing that cannot necessary be quantified.

Family-run businesses in Manhattan Chinatown

When traveling, especially in Asia, I’ve always really enjoyed seeing all the different food vendors in various markets and shops, each specializing in one or two particular dishes or food types, whether it’s tofu, soy milk, a certain noodle dish; it shows the level of craft and learned expertise that goes into specific foods and proves that food truly is an art form. In Manhattan Chinatown, I’ve enjoyed visiting certain vendors that specialize in fresh rice noodles, soy milk, tofu, grass jelly — it’s like a hint of what it’s like being at a bustling market in China or Thailand.

Fong Inn Too recently closed in Manhattan Chinatown, which was so sad; it was a multiple generations owned, family run spot that specialized in tofu, soy milk, and specific steamed Chinese cakes. I’d been there a couple times ages ago and enjoyed my rushed visits of choosing what I wanted, exchanging quick back and forths in Mandarin or Cantonese with a queue of people behind me, and stepping out to enjoy my delicious delights. So it was exciting news when I heard that a grandchild of the owners who retired and shut down their shop was planning to open in a new space and continue the family traditions. The new place is in a different location of Chinatown and is called Fong On. While exploring Chinatown today and noticing all the different shops and street art that have popped up recently, I visited Fong On and purchased three items: sweetened and unsweetened soy milk, as well as freshly made grass jelly. The soy milk was pure and clean (and preservative free, meaning I’d need to consume this within the next couple of days before it goes sour!), and the grass jelly texture was perfect – really firm, but soft and bouncy. It really puts grass jelly in a can to shame.

The prices have gone up, especially since they now take credit card and are trying to lure in more millennials into their shop, but I’m happy to pay an extra 50 cents or a dollar to support this family-run business to continue for as long as possible so that I can keep enjoying their lovingly made products.