Another day back at work after a long weekend

Today was pretty miserable. It wasn’t a particularly busy day, but as l looked at my work calendar through the week, slowly but surely, my time blocks started getting totally filled up. I’m not sure how this happens where at the beginning of the week, it appears that I have a decent amount of work and meetings, and as Monday ends, my calendar has become completely full. This is awful.

After a long weekend, everyone wants to be polite and ask you how your weekend went. And my response was generally the same, almost down to the last word. At the beginning of the weekend, you think, wow, I have so much time! I can do all these things! And you get really ambitious about everything you want to accomplish. And then, when Sunday finally rolls by, you get a little depressed, thinking, how did those four whole days roll by and we’re already right around the corner from MONDAY? WHY? HOW????

There never feels like there’s enough time to both accomplish everything you want to do and also relax. Because yes, when you’re an adult with all these responsibilities, you actually have to make time to relax and do nothing.

Trolls and bullies online

Since the summer, I’ve been trying to promote my YouTube videos more across different social media platform groups to raise awareness of my channel and my brand. About 99.99 percent of the time, when there is engagement, it’s been pretty positive. I’ve had a lot of people on Reddit and Facebook actually make the dishes that I wrote out or had videos for, and it’s been really flattering. A number of these people have also followed me across my social media handles, which has also helped energize me and give me more reason to continue doing this.

Unfortunately, since we are in the online space full of trolls and bullies, there will inevitably be haters. For the most part, I have zero desire to engage. But this one comment really did need to be addressed. One person insisted two times that my Vietnamese roast chicken recipe was absolutely not authentic, whether it was Vietnamese or Vietnamese-American, and continued to try to troll me. And another person piled on. My general response was this:

“I always find it both curious and comical when I speak with people about the concept of “authenticity” of food, and they vehemently deny that a dish is “authentic” merely because they believe neither they nor their family members have encountered it. Vietnam is a country of over 95 million people, and the Vietnamese diaspora around the world adds even more to that number. Simply because you and your bubble have never come across this does not make it “not” Vietnamese. For those unfamiliar with the Vietnamese language, “ga” means chicken, and “roti” comes from the French word which means “roasted.” So, if you don’t consider this “roast chicken,” well… maybe you should think about what the words “roast” and “chicken”mean. I’m merely here to share recipes that are delicious and what I grew up with as someone who identifies as Vietnamese. If you, for whatever reason, believe yourself to be more “Vietnamese,” then that’s your own issue to take. Cheers! :)”

Someone responded that this was an arrogant response and “destroyed” all my credibility. I’ve actually gotten a lot of feedback, even from complete strangers, that my response was very calm, reasoned, and thoughtful. If you cannot call out someone for being close minded in their response and not considering the world bigger than their bubble, then… I guess the conversation is over.

The most hilarious response came through direct message on Instagram where some white guy, who clearly has nothing else better to do with his time than bully strangers, who goes by onekind81 – feel free to look this jerk up, told me that my dish was not authentic and that I was “pandering to white people.” I literally laughed out loud when I read it, reported the comment, and blocked his account. It’s always funny to hear a white guy try to tell me, a Chinese-Vietnamese woman, that the food I make from my OWN culture, which he has no idea about, is not authentic, and that I, for one, am actually pandering to white people… LIKE HIMSELF? Huh?

Roaming around Inwood

I’ve often read and heard about Inwood as being a great neighborhood of Manhattan. Right under Marble Hill, Inwood is the second northernmost neighborhood on the entire island of Manhattan. If you come from where we live, you can take the A train, which runs express all the way to the last stop along the A line, which is 205th Street. We visited Inwood today, and as we were strolling through the area, I was annoyed with myself for not having visited sooner.

Inwood, by the Census numbers, has a very high Dominican population, but when you look around on any street, it feels extremely diverse and mixed. You can hear languages ranging from Spanish to English to African languages I cannot even name. You see people of literally all colors walking around and mingling with each other. On a single block, you can see a Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Dominican, “New American,” pizza parlor, and Mexican spot. There’s also this huge park up there that feels like it goes on forever, and today, although we’re at the end of November, the autumn colors really shone through everywhere we walked.

As we walked around and stopped at a few places, including a delicious bakery owned by a husband-and-husband team (that had MY ALL TIME FAVORITE PISTACHIO ECLAIR IN THE WORLD), a hole-in-the-wall taco spot that made the most delicious al pastor and lengua tacos, a pizza-by-the-slice joint, and a wine bar, I thought to myself, hmmmmm. This would be a really great neighborhood to live in. It feels like Manhattan because it is in Manhattan, but it also kind of feels like a suburb of the city. Yet it’s super diverse and has all kinds of interesting businesses. But… then I immediately thought. I love Queens. I love Manhattan Chinatown. If we were to live at 205th street, I’d be soooo far away from both, and it would take so much longer to get to both of these areas.

Queens is my first New York home. I love my trips there every time we go back. and Manhattan Chinatown is like another form of home to me. I can’t be that far away from either, otherwise I’d be pretty sad.

Pandemic blues

I feel like this is the first weekend when I actually feel pretty down, and that’s saying a lot since this pandemic began way back in March, which is now nearly nine months ago. I’ve been constantly telling myself to make the most out of this time. Read more! Make more videos! Edit more! Exercise more! Do more face masking! Experiment with more different recipes! DO MORE! I just feel exhausted. I’ve felt exhausted for the last week or so. My mind and my body are slower, and I feel more numb. I suppose it doesn’t help that my cubital tunnel dull pain in my elbows is still lingering. My PT says that since we just recently started the nerve flossing exercises that I likely will not see real, tangible improvement for at least 3-4 weeks. That was just so depressing to hear. I almost cried. I’m 34 years old, and I have a nerve problem in my elbows. I told my doctor friend this, and she was at once in disbelief and in rage. “You’re too young for these kinds of problems!” I hate everything today.

I was thinking about all of the things we’ve done in previous years, ranging from personal to work travel around the country and world. I thought about events we’ve gone to, from food festivals to comedy shows to off Broadway shows. I’ve thought about catch-ups and events with friends. I thought about all our trips to Asia and Canada over the last seven summers, plus our European Thanksgiving trips and the Christmas markets we got to mingle in and be a part of. I thought about how I have not been back home to San Francisco since February — that was nine months ago. In the last seven years, I was really happy about my routine of going back home about 3-4 times per year. It felt like a good number of visits to go home and a solid amount of time to spend with family and friends back home. I’ve even thought about the prior “normal” act of hugging or kissing a family member or friend upon seeing them, and all of it just drove me nuts this morning.

Nothing is normal anymore; everything feels wrecked. Even now, when I see TV shows on Netflix or HBO and I see people interacting in offices and hugging, I immediately think, as a gut reaction, “Why are they not wearing masks?” And for a moment today, I thought, I really miss San Francisco. I actually miss my parents and just want to see them. I would like to have an argument in person with them just to be in person with them. I would like to see my mom nag me while I am packing my roller bag, asking me as per usual, “Why did you not bring a bigger suitcase? Now, I can’t pack you as many things!” I’m sad I cannot see my aunt, who always tries so hard to be optimistic about every freaking thing that happens in life. Yeah, she inevitably will send me off with some gift she has regifted, but you know what? It’s the thought that counts. I’m annoyed I can’t catch up with my close friends back home over afternoon tea or boba or at some new interesting restaurant that has opened up, or do something else stereotypically “Asian.” I’m mad I was never even able to see my close friend pregnant, even for a second. All of this is driving a combination of rage as well as sadness in my head.

I just can’t stand this country right now. I can’t stand this lockdown. I can’t stand anything today.

When your dreams are in sync with your friends’

I guess that dream I had of my friend giving birth was telling. She actually gave birth yesterday afternoon after nearly 40 hours in labor. And when I shared this dream, she actually responded back with photos post birth. And our mutual friend responded that she had a similar dream where our friend told her to come meet her at the hospital because she was going into labor, and she wanted some support.

Oftentimes, as you get older, you start realizing that the friends you made when you were in school are not necessarily the kinds of people who, if you met as an adult, you’d actively choose to be close friends with. Your life outlooks change, your priorities change, and in general, they’re not going to be in line with your childhood friends’ for many reasons. But regardless of that, your childhood friends still serve a purpose. They are still part of the foundation of who you are, even if it wasn’t the same as two decades ago when you first met. And you realize that more and more when eerie events like this happen: when your dreams predict the future, or even odder, when you and your friends are all having similarly themed dreams about the future as each other.

That, in itself, is definitely a sign of deep friendship.

When your brother returns

My good friend is due to give birth any day now. She’s actually supposed to be overdue, as the baby’s due date was this past Saturday, but hey, maybe the baby wanted to wait to come out after the Biden transition was officially approved. Who knows.

Last night, I dreamt that my friend was in labor, and I went to the hospital to go meet the new baby and see how my friend was doing post-birth. Instead of arriving at the hospital and greeting my friend with her baby, I was greeted by my friend in the hospital lobby without the baby anywhere in sight. It appeared as though she had already given birth. I asked her where the baby was, and she said she already came out, and that she was fine. But she wanted to tell me that when she got admitted into the hospital to give birth, at the same time, she saw my brother get admitted into the hospital. Apparently, he had gotten into a serious car accident, and the doctors said that he remained in critical condition.

I was in such shock from this news that I didn’t say anything. I think I tried to open my mouth to say something, but no words came out. I immediately broke down crying, silently sobbing while my friend held me in her arms. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “Where’s the baby? How is Ed in critical condition from a car accident when he’s supposed to be dead? Is he going to survive this time? What the heck is going on?!”

Pumpkin coconut custard craters

So I made Pai’s pumpkin coconut pie… sans the crust, so it’s really pumpkin coconut custard. I really could not be bothered with making a crust, especially since it’s just the two of us, so I stuck with the custard base. Oddly enough, when I put the custard in the oven late this afternoon, it immediately started bubbling like mad, and when I removed it from the oven, craters had developed all over the top. It certainly was not beautiful and glassy like the pie top that Pai had made. I guess I could have used a water bath, but didn’t really think of it at the time. The custard smells heavenly, though; the palm sugar is super caramelly and toasty and comes out even in the scent!

I messaged her via YouTube, and her cameraman got back to me. He confirmed through her that I probably should have used a water bath to ensure even cooking of the custard since I didn’t’t use a crust, plus… apparently, the temperature of the oven was not correct on her recipe. 😀 It’s still an incredible flavor though: I just love the pumpkin with the coconut, and the pandan really sings at the very end. Plus, that palm sugar flavor is unmistakably nutty and caramelly! This is definitely a keeper… once I make the right tweaks to prevent the cratering. At least the coconut chips hide the holes!

Pumpkin pie variations

Ever since I discovered the deep, multi-layered, silky smooth pumpkin pie by Cook’s Illustrated in 2008, I’ve never really gone back to any other pumpkin pie recipe. The pumpkin flavor is actually enhanced by the addition of sweet potatoes, and the amount of spice in it is absolutely perfect — not too much, and not too little. Plus, the silky smooth texture, the result of very finicky straining through a fine sieve, is like a dream.

But then, I got inspired yet again today when I saw that Pai from Hot Thai Kitchen posted a video of her Thai take on pumpkin pie, a coconut pumpkin pie with reduced coconut milk that is infused with PANDAN LEAVES. I knew I immediately had to make this — pandan, coconut AND PUMPKIN? Once topped with the toasted large coconut chips, I was totally sold. The best news was that I had all the ingredients at home and didn’t need to go out to buy anything.

I’m making this baby tomorrow. Wee.

Air purifier

Because we spend about 90 percent of our time at home now due to the pandemic and working from home, I suggested to Chris a few months ago that we get an air purifier. Not only is it supposed to help with air quality (this thing goes NUTS when I have the gas stove on!!), but it’s also supposed to help with dust management. Now that we are here all the time, constantly shedding skin and hair cells every second, the dust buildup in this apartment has been atrocious. I was maniacally dusting the glass coffee table at least once a week since the beginning of the pandemic, and it was driving me crazy!

He was pretty convinced it wouldn’t do much, but it’s safe to say that after monitoring this air purifier for about a month now, I’ve only had to sponge off the coffee table once. Dusting it once every month vs. once every week is a small enough win for me to think this is worth it. Now, too bad this lack of dust didn’t also extend into the hallway, bathroom, and bedroom…

Massage indulgence

Today, we explored and wandered through Lower Manhattan and ended with a massage in Chinatown. This whole week, while my elbows have been flaring up, I actually started some new exercises at the gym to keep things interesting at the same time. My back has been more tense, and my arms have this weird soreness. I have no idea whether all this is connected to my exercises or my arm/hand condition, but either way, it’s been frustrating and confusing.

The good news is that after my massage, my back and neck did feel quite better, so now we can rule out any injuries and just chalk that up to tension, stress, and perhaps some need to just physically relax. The more annoying thing to think about is: how long are my hands and arms going to have pain and flare-ups? Is this just my new normal that I have to deal with? Or is there really a permanent fix for all this?