Mortar and pestle basil pesto

I’d always been curious and thought about buying a mortar and pestle. I’d seen it used in so many cuisines, from Vietnam to Thailand to Mexico and across South American and African cuisines. Yet I’d put off buying one for so long, thinking that I wouldn’t use it very much. And since I live in Manhattan, space has always factored in as an issue, as a mortar and pestle is something I’d want on display in my kitchen. I finally sucked it up a couple months ago and bought one, and on average since then I’ve used it about once a week, which is pretty darn good for a kitchen item I had hesitated on for so long. I’ve used it to crush whole, toasted spices, mash sauces, smash ginger and garlic, and today, I’ve finally used it for pesto.

Since I first watched Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat Netflix series and read her book by the same name, I knew I had to try my hand at making pesto with a mortar and pestle. Before I watched this, I had never really thought about the mechanics of how a mortar and pestle is different than a food processor. I’d only ever made pesto with a food processor. So to learn and think about the fact that a food processor, with a metal blade that rips and shreds ingredients, would yield a different texture and taste vs. a mortar and pestle, which crushes individual cells to release aromatic compounds, was quite fascinating and made me think about how to do this myself.

So I tried it today and filmed a video on it, and the end result was what I suspected; the taste and texture were far, far superior to pesto made in a food processor. It really could not be compared; it was thicker, creamier, chunkier, and so much nuttier and richer in taste and scent. It was certainly an arm workout, as it took a very long time to fully crush the basil leaves, but all that work was worth it. I think I’m ruined on regular pesto from here on out.

Saturday outer borough exploration continues – Elmhurst love

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon exploring the Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights areas of Queens. This area is near and dear to me since I lived in Elmhurst for my first four years in New York, and because of that, spent a good amount of time exploring these other three surrounding neighborhoods. The true glory of New York to me has always been its insanely diverse population of people. In a single neighborhood, particularly if you are in Queens, you could easily walk through it and hear over 20-30 different languages being spoken. And with a diverse group of people always comes a diverse array of cuisines and dishes that you can choose from. Because of this, I will always consider myself a Queens baby and have immense pride for having lived in Queens. And I obviously still come back to it all the time to eat and explore and find new delicious things.

In our afternoon of exploration, we had snacks at a Paraguayan restaurant, explored a few Filipino markets, purchased some fresh and jarred items to cook with at a local Thai grocery store with great prices, and ended in Woodside, where we ate at one of my all-time favorite restaurants in New York City — Ayada Thai. Until this day, Ayada has the best Thai fish, tom yum soup, and papaya salads I’ve ever eaten outside of Thailand, and they do NOT shy away from the heat – you will leave sweating and borderline in pain!

I was pleasantly surprised to see how two blocks in this area were completely blocked off from car traffic and set up completely for spacious outdoor dining, complete with overhangs to shade from the sun and lots of hand sanitizing stations. I felt so happy to see this; these quiet little Woodside/Elmhurst streets had been fully transformed in a positive way that they weren’t even fully recognizable to me at the beginning. They felt so warm and inviting, charming, cozy and fun. A huge feeling of pride came over me; my old neighborhood is just killing it during COVID-19. I really hope these delicious family-owned businesses can survive this pandemic. It will be a total loss to our city and our stomachs if they do not.

Patel Brothers: a new experience in the ‘burbs

During our day trip yesterday to Jersey, we spent some time exploring the Indian and Filipino shops in Edison, and one of the places I briefly popped into in search of the season’s very last mangoes was Patel Brothers. Since I’d been to the Jackson Heights location so many times, I really didn’t think much of going into this location (also, there are THREE Patel Brothers within short driving distance on the exact same street in Edison! What is this about??). But when I stopped in after Chris dropped me off on a mango mission, I was immediately taken by the fact that when I entered, to the left of the entrance was an entire BAKERY devoted to fresh Indian breads: parathas, rotis, naans, theplas, samosas, puri… I could not believe it. Some people were standing in line for the breads just out of the oven. The front was lined was recently baked, still warm breads. It smelled like a mix of cumin, hing, ghee, and wheat. I was seriously in heaven and could not stop gawking at the bakery and all its offerings. It’s like I was a kid in a candy shop and I couldn’t contain how overwhelmed I was. I wanted to buy one of each, but ended up exercising some self restraint and settling on the coriander thepla and the palak parathas. How was it possible that I had no idea that Patel Brothers in the suburbs could have a bakery component? I wish the Jackson Heights location had a fresh bakery! I felt so deprived and like I had been missing out for the last twelve years of living in New York and being a regular customer at the Jackson Heights Patel Brothers!

I was likely the only non-South-Asian customer in the entire store — at least from what I could see. As I waited in line to purchase my breads and mangoes, I noticed the trays of mangoes strategically placed at the entrance of the store. As each couple or family unit entered, it was literally these actions taken, one after the other, no fail: Enter, grab cart, plop a tray of mangoes, proceed. Enter, grab cart, plop on a tray of mangoes, proceed. The store knew what it was doing. It knows its clientele. It knows that South Asians love their mangoes, and so they placed these right at the entrance to lure the customers. And lure they did.

I, however, did not need to be lured. I came in with one mission: buy those mangoes. And I left with not just a tray of mangoes, but also TWO TYPES OF FRESH INDIAN FLAT BREADS — oh, and some Parle-G biscuits since they happened to be on sale, and they go pretty darn well with my ritual Friday chai. It may have been the best day ever in a long time for me.

day trip to Jersey

Our second day trip out of the city this summer was to New Jersey today for a mix of nature and hiking, local orchards and produce, and exploration of Edison, New Jersey, arguably one of the largest Indian-populated towns in the country.

After a morning hike, we visited Terhune Orchards in Princeton, New Jersey, and Chris immediately felt at home when he saw a sign at the entrance that said, “No pets, No picnics.” Many signs were everywhere to emphasize social distancing and limiting head count in indoor areas, and they even had hand washing and hand sanitizing stations outside throughout the property, so it was clear that this place took health and safety seriously. What really stood out to me immediately, other than the health signs, was the fact that they were selling apple cider slushies and apple cider donuts.

As soon as I see apple cider donuts and apple cider signs, that’s when I know for sure that autumn is right around the corner and that summer is really coming to an end. Apple cider donuts just scream “FALL” to me. It feels especially strange this year given the COVID-19 pandemic, as we’d normally take a few trips between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and this year, we really did nothing outside of the city other than two day trips within the tai-state area. It’s the end of the summer time… starting now…

Interview presentation

In 12+years of working full time, I somehow have managed, until this day, to get away with never doing a single presentation for an interview. I’ve always hated presentations, and I have a particular distaste for mock presentations where everything is fake, but everyone involved has to pretend it is all real. I’ve always thought that because I didn’t enjoy presentations that I wasn’t actually good at it. My friends and colleagues, though, who have all seen me present, have said that watching me, they would never have guessed I hated it, and that it appears that it comes naturally to me. I guess fake it until you make it? My former colleague and now friend made a good point to me, though: “There’s a difference between hating something and actually not being good at it. You may hate the process of putting the deck together or the delivery of it, but no one else has any idea at all because your delivery is good.”

So I gave a presentation for about 45 minutes today to a panel of six participants. And as I suspected, a couple people decided to throw in some curve balls to throw me off guard to see how calm and collected I could be under pressure. What I always remind myself in these tense situations is to a) breathe, b) think about the question before I speak, and c) as a result of b, do NOT use stupid filler words like “um,” or “uhh,” and instead, pause and use silence as my time to think, as that will actually make me come across as more thoughtful and deliberate.

It seemed to work. The recruiter emailed me a few hours later and said that all signs were quite positive post presentation.


Today, Ed would have turned 41 years old. If he were alive, I’d likely make fun of him and tell him that he was old. Since he’s not, I guess I can’t make any stupid jokes about his age. In life and in my mind, my Ed is forever 33, just three weeks shy of turning 34. I’m 34 now, which means… in my head, my brother is now younger than me. As odd as it sounds, that may not necessarily be far from how I saw my brother. Even though he was seven years older than me, in many ways, I saw him as though he were a younger brother. He’d never really fully matured and been self-sufficient. Many reasons exist for why that is the case, but I frankly think a huge part of it was due to our parents.

In the last few days, I thought about random articles, books, podcasts I’d listened to and read that reminded me of Ed. One of the ones that stood out to me was Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. If you are familiar with this play, I feel about Ed the way the character Tom feels about his awkward, unstable little sister Laura. I love him because I know him deeply, have lived with him, and thus I know his quirks and multiple facets. But the outside world, unfortunately, is not as forgiving and patient, and they never gave him as much of a chance to be known and seen and understood deeply, and ultimately to be loved. That’s the way the world is: other people will always be harsh on you; only a small, small inner circle of people around you will actually see you and really love you for your best qualities. Everyone else will superficially judge you for what is on the outside.

It’s like this podcast I was listening to that talked about how you generally will remember and think of someone only in the context you knew them, and that in itself will form your opinion of them. For example, if a colleague once berated you in public and never apologized to you for it, you will likely only have that to reference him by and won’t like him, nor will you have anything positive to say about him. It wouldn’t matter that literally every other person in your organization thinks he’s the smartest, kindest, most generous person. It wouldn’t matter that he devoted every Thursday evening to serving meals for the homeless or spent $10K every year on donations to support cancer research or suicide prevention. None of that matters because your experience with him was bad. We only see the bubble that we are in.

I want to say that I wish Ed were still here, but I know I would not be honest in saying that. He’d likely still be living at home, under the constant tyranny of my parents, who would criticize him nonstop and accuse him of causing them shame and embarrassment, even though it is really the opposite that is true. They’d never accept that they had any fault. They would only look to blame Ed himself. He would never be allowed to grow and truly become an adult as long as he were to live under their roof. With them, he’d never be capable of experiencing true, unconditional love, because our parents have no idea what that is like, as they live and thrive on criticizing others. He’d never know what it is like to feel real encouragement, to be told that he is smart and can and should do what he wants, and should trust his gut. We just weren’t raised that way. And above anything else, all I wanted was for my brother to be free of pain and hurt, to feel loved. If he can’t feel that in this life, maybe he will feel it in the next.

A true test of whether you think you are doing something “appropriate” to another person is whether you feel comfortable saying or doing it in front of others. Once you are scared to do it in public, shouldn’t that be a sign to you that probably, that’s not the right way to treat someone? It’s too bad our parents never realized that. Ed deserved so, so much better than he got. Sometimes, it feels like he died in vain because ’til this day, it’s like nothing about our parents’ lives have changed for the better. It’s like a pathetic existence that just continued and only got worse.

I feel angry today. Really angry. COVID-19 hasn’t helped this… because all I could imagine at the beginning was my brother stuck under the same roof as our parents nonstop and how that in itself would have driven him to suicide.

These are not great thoughts. But they are real thoughts.

When you help your family in a different way than originally intended

I originally cleared my calendar today to help babysit my cousin’s son while my cousin and his wife were supposed to move. They’re in the midst of moving from the Upper West to the Upper East Side, so I figured I’d be a good family member and help out. Well, it ended up not being what I thought. I arrived, and my cousin said that his wife’s mom actually came earlier than they expected, so she’d stay with the kid at the old apartment while they moved with the movers to the new. Wait, I said. What does that mean I’m supposed to do here? And he suggested that I go over to the new place with him via his rental car and watch the movers to ensure they did not get a parking ticket. Their mover had already gotten one parking ticket at the old place and really did not want to get a second one. Well… that’s just great. I ended up standing around the front of their new building, appearing like a random loiterer wearing a dragon-fruit face mask, keeping my eye out for the cops. In the end, I did see one police car drive by, but they were clearly out for someone else totally unrelated.

They all thanked me for helping. I really didn’t feel like I did anything other than perhaps offer some moral support to the both of them. But maybe that’s what they really wanted me there for. They both looked like they had aged years and years since the last time I saw them. They’re also so paranoid about the virus that they are literally disinfecting every single new thing that comes into their apartment. I think my entire head of hair would be white if I did that, too.

When a job offer misses the mark

I really appreciate honesty upfront. I appreciate it even more as I’ve gotten older and less patient. There’s many ways to deliver honesty. You don’t always have to be an asshole about it, contrary to popular belief. But in order to appreciate honesty, the receiver also needs to have somewhat of a thick skin and be able to take it. It’s a balance on both the giver and the receiver’s side. In an exchange between a recruiter and a job seeker, what I really love is honesty upfront: if there are certain benefits I am looking for or a salary range that I am eyeballing, I tell the recruiter in the first call, and I really appreciate it when they tell me that they can or cannot meet those expectations. It respects my time. It also respects their and their hiring team’s time. So you can imagine when I’ve been upfront about all these things since day 1, and two weeks later, when an offer is on the table, and somehow, the salary offered is about $40K off of what I originally laid out. What exactly happened here that got lost in communication?

The recruiter explained that the company tries hard to stay aligned with market rates, constantly does market research, and this is what they came up with for this job title. I told her in response… well, that may be the case, but that doesn’t align with the years of experience with that title, because someone with five years of experience doing this type of work is going to demand something a lot lower than someone with 10 years of experience. They need to align their compensation bands as such.

I was so frustrated. It’s the first job offer I’ve had on the table since I started loosely looking for a new job at the beginning of this year, and this is what the result of the last two weeks of interviewing has been — really? It felt like a total waste of time. I realize I should be grateful to have any offer given so many people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, and many companies have hiring freezes, but this was just poor expectations set on the recruiter’s side since the very beginning. I would have much rather appreciated that she just tell me as soon as she found out that the comp wasn’t going to align so that I didn’t have to waste any more time or effort with them.

Kerala chicken stew video

This afternoon, I spent some time filming my next video for my channel, which is for Kerala chicken stew. I always feel a little funny filming Indian cooking videos since I am not Indian, nor did I grow up in India or eat Indian foods when I was young. Therefore, someone watching my in one of these videos could easily ask, “Why should I trust this Chinese/Vietnamese woman on Indian food?” The concept of cultural appropriation has been much discussed in recent years, especially in the food world, and I really do not want anyone accusing me of trying to appropriate their food. I suppose my cooking it and advocating for it can be made more “legitimate” by the fact that Chris is Indian, and by default, so are his parents and family, so that’s my connection to it. It’s important to be sensitive to the roots of food and to acknowledge that no, I did not in any way “create” this recipe, and I just took a version of it and decided to make it because I thought it was delicious. And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with sharing delicious foods and recipes, right?

Eating outdoors during COVID-19 – not always how you imagine

While outdoor seating has become far more prolific in New York City than it ever has been before, it does not always work out exactly the way you would imagine. While some restaurants in certain neighborhoods have been able to take over their sidewalks and even parking spots front of their restaurants with outdoor tables and chairs for dining, not every business has been able to enjoy this luxury and offer this option to its customers. Many are still relying on takeout and delivery only. Some, attempting to do what they can with limited space, have maybe one or two 2-top tables just outside their front door. They’re doing everything they can with what they have.

We did our weekly Saturday day trip to another neighborhood today, and this time, we visited Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. And the spot we ended up choosing to get food from, Lucali, had no seating at all outside; it was takeout only. It’s actually a place that has been on my list for a long time given it’s supposedly the best Brooklyn pizza in all of New York City, and it normally commands waits of 3-4 hours, as they take no reservations normally, and they are also cash only. So in some way, COVID-19 has allowed us to try this famed pizza with zero wait! Once we picked up the pizza, the next challenge was… where to eat this darn thing?

We walked around aimlessly for a while, struggling to find a bench or somewhere to sit that was semi shaded during this hot summer day. In the end, we finally settled on a stoop… right at a random public school nearby. We sat there and ate an entire pie, just the two of us. And it was likely one of the best pizzas I’d ever eaten in my life. The crust and base were so light and airy but crisp. The cheese was light, chewy, and had just the right amount of saltiness. And the tomato sauce had a little tang and wasn’t too sweet. The fresh basil thrown on whole on the top was like icing on a cake. It was the most expensive Margherita pizza we’d ever eaten at $28 for the pie, but it was truly worth every last cent.

Ahhhh. I’m so grateful to live in New York and be able to enjoy this, even during a global pandemic. And since we have lived in New York for quite some time, New Yorkers tend to be resourceful, so we certainly made the most of the situation and enjoyed it the way we could… on a stairway at school just before the downpour began.