Election Day holiday

While I’ve always worked at companies that are happy to give ample time to allow its employees to vote on Election Days, now, I actually work at a company that grants Election Day completely off for all employees — this is definitely a first. In addition to this, throughout the year in a year of COVID-19, the leadership team has been striving to be equitable with employee treatment, so we’ve been granted “wellness days” off in addition to national holidays. We now have next Friday as an additional wellness day for us to not work.

This makes me pretty happy, especially since I just started my new job, and I now have a day off to look forward to at the end of week 2. But I also feel very grateful and blessed that I work at a company that’s making a strong gesture to show that they really, truly do value voting, and they’re making that obvious through this action.

Balancing paid work with YmF

I feel pretty tired, both mentally and physically. It’s not like my paid work has ever required any hard physical labor, but I still feel tired nevertheless with all the new information I’m taking in, people I’m meeting, and new processes I’m getting used to. Plus, just the physical aspect of being in front of a computer for hours upon hours a day again feels draining. It also makes me realize how poorly equipped our apartment is for a proper home-office setup because nothing is right, whether it’s the angle of my elbows at my keyboard, the level of my computer screen to my eyes. Our dining room table is really the only place where we can work, and with both of us working, that means sharing the table.

I get a work stipend to spend on home office setup, so I’m thinking about things that will be good for my physical health, like cushions for my seat, back, and wrists. These all seem like little things, but the little things not working are ultimately what get people injured. And it can be pretty painful. I’m still waking up with tight hands and fingers. These are “white collar” work dangers. 🙁

New job during COVID-19

Interviewing for a job fully remote over Zoom is strange. Beginning a new job fully remote over Zoom is even stranger. You have all these new colleagues, new processes, new computer and applications, and everything is 100% over a computer with no in-person interaction period. Today was the first day at my new job, and it felt a little bit unreal: I logically know I’m a new employee at a new company, but it still doesn’t feel real because I haven’t met a single person I now work with.

It was still a good experience, though. This company was the only place I’d ever interviewed at where I felt positive about every single person I interviewed with, plus the product and direction of the company. And after a full day of onboarding and meetings today, it still feels that way. People seem genuine and humble, passionate and bright, but no one seems to drink the Kool-Aid *too much* and no one seems to push any cult-like beliefs. It seems… chill, for lack of a better word.

I used to say that the last company was the best place I’d ever worked while at the same time also being the worst place I ever worked. With this company, I hope this really will be the best place I will have ever worked. Fingers crossed.

Instagram Reels and TikTok

Everyone is trying to get on the TikTok band wagon when it comes to having an interactive, vertical video experience. Instagram created Reels to compete with TikTok, just in 15-second increments. YouTube just rolled out vertical videos whose drafts cannot be saved, so in other words, you need to do them instantly and upload them, though you won’t be allowed to monetize them yet. I spent a good hour last night playing around with the Instagram Reel settings and felt exascerbated; text and icons get cut off. There are no grid lines showing you where the cut offs are in the final cut. When you want to add effects, it has to be at a very specific, non-intuitive stage, otherwise you have to restart the entire reel. The TikTok experience has a few of the similar issues, but it’s definitely smoother.

I can feel my age when I am using these new products, though. I can hear my internal voice griping that it’s not intuitive, that it takes me a while to figure these steps out. I can feel myself get irritated that I’m not getting it as quickly as I once thought I understood new, budding technology. I guess this is 34?

Harlem exploration and a virtual baby shower in between

Today, Chris and I went exploring in Harlem and went to the only remaining location of what used to be the soup dumpling spot just two blocks away from us (Thanks, COVID!), an Asian-inspired tea spot, a Southern restaurant whose speciality was fried chicken and egg nog waffles, and a fine-dining spot for snacks and fusion-cocktails (mmmmm, mango lassi and rum). In between, we sat at the tea and dumpling spots so that I could virtually participate in my friend’s baby shower over Zoom. It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it was going to be since it was all virtual with over 30 participants in Group 1, many of whom did not know each other at all or very well, but it actually was smoother than I thought it would be. We did introductions, went through some games, and also guessed the circumference of my friend’s growing belly. What made it kind of hilarious was when people started pointing out that her husband’s belly is just as round, and someone asked him to measure his belly too; his belly was only half an inch bigger than hers! He shared that neighbors were concerned about his health and suggested that he lose weight. Apparently his parents have told him the same.

We’re all getting older, and with that comes a slower metabolism and likely a more sedentary lifestyle. I hope for their future child’s sake that they’ll take good care of their own individual physical health and try to get more exercise and eat better. We owe that, at the very least, to our future generations.

Bake Culture USA and Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

A friend had let me know that yet another Taiwanese bakery/sweets company had arrived here in New York City, and it’s Bake Culture USA. I realized that we had passed it many times on our way to Renew Day Spa along Bowery for massages, but I kind of overlooked it since it looked very trendy from the outside, and I already had my staple bakeries that I loved. She convinced me to go when she told me about their special mooncakes, which included black sesame and taro flavors, as well as even a mochi filling! I’ve really only ever had traditional mooncake fillings such as salted yolks, lotus paste (my favorite), red bean, or green tea paste, so I wanted to see what this was all about.

Of course, when I went in, they had many beautiful gift boxes for the mooncakes, but I made a beeline to the individually wrapped mooncakes. Since leaving home in 2004, I haven’t always eaten mooncake around the time of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which this year, falls on October 1. I’ve been spotty about buying them myself, especially since my last roommate and now Chris aren’t that fond of them. The ones at Bake Culture probably weren’t even two inches in diameter, but they were $4 each! These are a lot more expensive than the ones my family used to buy, but at least the size was right, so I was willing to get three of them.

The black sesame mochi one is the only one I’ve had so far, and while the black sesame wasn’t very pronounced, I loved the mochi texture on the inside. I’m not sure if it would be worth getting again, but I do like the novelty of mochi in mooncake.

Malaysian chicken satay

I spent several hours today filming one of my next videos, which will be on Malaysian chicken satay. These delicious grilled skewers, which originated in Indonesia, have a Malaysian spin and are quite ubiquitous everywhere in Malaysia. Malaysian Airlines even serves it as their signature dish in their premium cabin flights.

At first glance, the recipes for the satay marinade and the peanut sauce do not look that daunting. It’s not until you decide to prepare the dish the traditional way using a mortar and pestle for both the marinade and the peanut sauce that it becomes a bit of a grueling workout. If I wanted to take a shortcut, I could have expedited the process and used a food processor, but what fun would have been had in that?

The laborious nature of this dish doesn’t even take into consideration the lengths I had to go in order to find all the ingredients. Ingredients I don’t use very often but are necessary for this to to remain “authentic” include galangal, which I could only find at 3 Aunties Market in Woodside frozen in slices, and lemongrass, which 3 Aunties was out of stock of. One of the workers was really apologetic when she told me; she said her supplier had run out, and she wasn’t sure when they could get more of it. “It’s scarce and very expensive now!” she exclaimed with a sad face. I ended up attempting to go to three other Asian markets before I could finally find it, and it ended up being around $2.50 for 4 stalks. That’s kind of expensive when you find out that you can technically only use the last 3 inches of each stalk for cooking; the rest of this really long stalk is so woody and fibrous, not to mention it has less fragrance. It got even worse when I went to a fourth Chinese market, which was selling 4 stalks for $5!!

We’re letting the chicken marinade overnight, and then I’ll be cooking it tomorrow along with the peanut sauce. I hope this is all worth it.

Jackson Heights meetup – always discovering new things

I met up with a friend who is a former colleague today in Jackson Heights for lunch and strolling. What has bonded us is definitely our love of food, travel, and culture, and it’s always so comforting to catch up with him and know that he takes my passion with my channel seriously. He’s always sharing different ideas with me on things he thinks I should try and what he hears from other friends who are trying to build their social media following. He actually left the company we both worked at shortly after I left because he was sick of the corporate world, and he’s now running his own business with a friend.

Wandering around the Jackson Heights, Woodside, and Elmhurst area today, I always feel grateful that I used to live in this area and got to get acquainted with it better than most New Yorkers would who live in Manhattan. But as I browsed, I realized that there’s still so much of just this specific area that I have no idea about, streets I’d never really walked down. I discovered a street in Jackson Heights actually called “Colombia Way,” where a bunch of Colombian businesses were speckled along. I walked off of Baxter Street in Elmhurst onto 82nd Street into a Colombian bakery that has been around since the ’70s and bought the most delicious pan de bono (Colombian cheese breads) and fresh squeezed passion fruit juice. I was in heaven. As I sat there drinking my non-sweetened juice and eating my crusty, chewy cheese bread, waiting for my friend to drive to the area, I realized there’s still so, so much more exploration in this neighborhood I want to do.

And now that I’m starting a new job this coming Monday, my time to explore during the weekdays is sadly coming to an end. It’s funny how we never think we have enough time no matter how much time we have in a day.

Food styling and photography

Today, I participated in a #fallfoodiecollab, an Instagram food collaboration with a number of other Instagram food personalities where we all submitted a dish that reminded us of autumn, for the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The rule was that the dish had to have autumn squash, pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, Brussel sprouts, or walnuts. Knowing that I was going to be sharing a hashtag with a lot of larger accounts who are overachievers and likely do social media for a living, I knew I had to shoot all of this on my mirrorless camera and think about how to style this in a way that seemed very autumn. I decided to choose a simple baked good — French apple cake, a recipe I’d used from Cook’s Illustrated before, but changed it up by replacing the 1 cup of vegetable oil (it was too greasy last time I made it 2 years ago) with 1/2 cup of browned butter. I knew it would be simple and would be simple to photograph. I’d just need to figure out what props I wanted for it. I arranged it by the kitchen window this morning and ended up spending about two hours in total cutting the cake, styling the scene, photographing, editing, and posting.

Two hours – for a post that would likely get a few seconds of view time on Instagram. This is social media today.

I thought about all the work I put into this post, which got a lot of interaction and a few new followers. This could truly be a full time job in itself, without the YouTube channel editing and shooting! I did enjoy the process overall, and it was a lot of fun, but on top of a full-time job, this can get extremely extensive and tiring. I hope all this work pays off in some way. I’ve been reading more about food photography and observing more of what others are doing. I don’t want this to completely look like a set, but I do want it to photograph well and look good while viewing on a mobile device. I’m still learning and iterating.

YouTube user testing and social media

I participated in a YouTube user testing session today. If I understand this correctly, they chose YouTube users who actively upload videos to YouTube and maintain channels, and so I guess I fit the bill with YmF. We talked through my social media habits, which platforms I use, how often I use them, and how the content I create varies or overlaps across them. As the YouTube employee was asking me all these questions, I realized that I probably need to spend more time focusing on how I want to create different content by platform. Obviously, I’m not uploading all my main videos to Instagram or TikTok, but I oftentimes take my TikTok videos and add them to Instagram. But people don’t use TikTok the way they use Instagram, so it may be a better idea to make content for each totally separate.

I’ve actually been trying to increase my following and social media presence a lot more than before. Since mid-August, I’ve been a bit more aggressive about it, whether it’s reaching out to people I know are following my personal accounts or through interacting with other accounts. It actually takes way more time than I’d originally anticipated, but it’s been a good challenge to have. If other people can do it, so can I… right? Since mid-August, I’ve increased my Instagram following by over 180 people. That may not be a lot for some people or for influencers, but for me, that’s a LOT!

This genuinely could be a full time job in itself. I just need to keep at it to try to keep the dream alive.