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Dancing Baklava

Okay I’m not proud of the title to this post. But I haven’t written since last semester so I’m just warming up. Speaking of things I haven’t done since last semester – I took a little hiatus from teaching as I was paranoid about my knee injury and now I’m teaching today for the first time from 4-5 pm in Adams UCR. It’ll be rough around the edges but I’m pumped to get back into it.

Today I’m hoping to explore Natarajasana, also known as dancer pose. Strangely enough, none of my yoga books talk about this pose so I’m a little skeptical about how traditional this pose is. The one thing I know is it’s challenging for beginners to accept is how they look in this pose. Usually we want to look like this:

When it’s great to look like this:


But really, none of that is important. What’s important is the long lower back, open chest, and thigh stretch. If you feel those things working, then great. I definitely don’t look like the first picture, so you don’t have to either. Fears abated? It’s all about, santosha (contentment): enjoying here not there.


Meanwhile, I created one of my favorite dishes a couple weeks ago. The friendly, exotic, heartwarming pistachio baklava. I borrowed the recipe from this website with a few tweaks.


1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

1/4 cup rosewater

1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cinnamon

12 ounces raw unsalted, untoasted pistachios
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), melted, and cooled slightly
1 pound frozen phyllo, thawed

cardamom and cinnamon to taste

To prepare the sugar syrup, combine sugar, water, rosewater,  honey, lemon juice and cinnamon in small saucepan and bring to full boil over medium-high heat. After everything dissolves, move to a small glass bowl and set aside to cool while making the baklava. (Apparently you can do this 4 days ahead of time and just leave it).

For the nut filling, pulse the pistachios in the food processor until very finely chopped (coarse sand!). Add the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and pinch of salt and toss to combine or grind a little more. Set aside a couple tablespoons of the ground nuts to be used later as a garnish on the finished baklava.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Hopefully your phyllo dough will be 13″x9″, but if not, cut it so it fits your baking dish. TRUE FACT: Phyllo dough is insane to work with. It’s highly breakable so be wary of handling the phyllo dough. If it breaks, fear not, you can still make disjointed layers that look artisanal. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying and cracking. Brush a 13 by 9-inch glass baking pan with some of the melted butter.

For assembly of the layers, it’s important to note here that you should save the best-fitting, most intact sheets for the top and bottom layers of the baklava. Place a sheet of phyllo dough in the bottom of the buttered baking pan, and brush the sheet until completely coated in melted butter. Repeat with 7 more well intact phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter, until you have 8 phyllo sheets stacked on each other.

Evenly distribute about 1 cup of the nuts over the 8 phyllo layers. Cover the nut layer with a phyllo sheet, and dab butter all over it (if you try brushing it on, the phyllo will slip all over the place). Repeat with 5 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter, for a total of 6 phyllo sheets on top of the nut layer. Repeat the layering process with another 1 cup of the ground nuts, 6 sheets of phyllo and butter, and the last 1 cup of nuts. Finish off the layering with 8 to 10 sheets of good, intact phyllo dough, brushing each layer with butter except for the final top sheet. Use the palm of your hands to press down on the layers, starting at the center and pressing outwards to remove any air bubbles. Then, drizzle 4 tablespoons of butter over the top layer and brush to cover completely. (so I actually didn’t have as many layers as this paragraph suggest, but just go by ear and figure out how you can evenly stack your phyllo dough layers and salvage the pistachio blend).

Using a good, sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamonds—I found it easiest to make one long cut from one corner of the pan to the other and then making parallel diagonal cuts every couple inches on either side. I then repeated this on the other side of the baklava, to make complete diamonds.

Bake in preheated oven until lightly golden, about 50 minutes to an hour. Once removed from the oven, immediately pour all of the reserved syrup over all of the cuts lines and then over the surface of the baklava. Garnish each piece of baklava with a sprinkling of the reserved ground pistachios. Cool to room temperature, for about 3 hours, then cover with foil and let stand at least 8 hours. (I didn’t actually end up doing the whole 8 hours because my friends mauled it, but it still tasted amazing. So I’m curious to see what happens after 8 hours). Apparently stores for a couple weeks!!


Happy Sunday.

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Not exactly what you had in mind, I know. A compilation of random things I created, ate, and are still haunting me in my dreams (and also didn’t make it into any of my blog posts). I will miss you, SF 2011. I’ll be back for more.

A S’more cupcake from the Cupkates, the cupcake food truck. Deep chocolate, burnt vanilla icing, and a graham cracker hidden at the bottom. The flavor is very light, and the only memorable part really was the graham cracker.

A lavender nutella creme brulee from the creme brulee cart at the Fort Mason farmer’s market. I shared this with a random person standing around because I couldn’t eat it all. Was met with a weird look, and then it dissolved 5 seconds later the moment she took a bite.

Creation Numero Uno: Honey cookie with a date filling, topped with dark and white chocolate.

Senor Sisig Food Truck: a Filipino food truck hosting dishes like Filipino tacos and burritos. These were their pork spring rolls – seriously some of the best I’ve ever had. Delicate, crispy, and fresh. I’m not capturing their greatness for you but for a girl who’s lived off of spring rolls her whole life…that’s pretty big.

Kelly & Aida’s victory meal: Pear Ale and Vietnamese spring rolls with THE BEST PEANUT SAUCE EVER – what more could you ask for post-Critical Mass?

Creation Number Two is in honor of my addiction to raw kale: kale, peach, blackberry, seitan, and sesame seed salad tossed with a dark cherry vinaigrette.

Okay this was my winning food for the summer. I cannot even express to you how good this pizza was. My friend Kyle took me to this small pizza place, Pizzetta, located on 23rd Ave for his birthday. They change the menu every five days or so: sign of a good restaurant. It was tiny – only three tables and a small bar where you could watch a couple of girls make pizza. We came at 8:40 pm and barely managed to sit at the bar. We ordered the mediterranean lamb, red pepper, basil, and cheese pizza (I forget what kind..the shame, I know, the shame). The moment this savory, lush-smelling pizza came out of the oven, it found its way very easily into my mouth. I barely touched the bottom of the pizza with my tongue, and the powdery flour collected on the bottom of the pizza (fused with garlic and olive oil) melted on my tongue. I closed my eyes and let out a long mmmmmmm because I knew I was probably about to bite into one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. And it was. I nearly cried with each bite – the fresh, melting cheese, dancing with the fresh peppers and spicy lamb on my palette. What made it unforgettable was the pizza crust. Thin, but not so thin that it was crunchy. Baked almost like a doughy garlic bread, sprinkled with herbs, and perfectly chewy yet airy. I went to Italy for World Champs and this beats any pizza I had in Rome. If you go to SF, you have to, HAVE to go here. Kelly’s Creation #3: dark chocolate zucchini bread garnished with fresh basil.

Part of Kelly & Aida’s Cacao Adventure: sashimi. Yum.

Aida & I bought each bought this book as a present to ourselves in honor of our love for Tartine Bakery.

The croque monsieur: an open faced sandwich with bechamel (a French sauce where scalding milk is mixed gently into a flour-butter mixture), gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper. We loved ours topped with either ham or mushrooms. One of my top five discoveries of the summer. 

Tres Leches Cake: “sweet coconut milk moistened chiffon, layered with cajeta and crema”

Oh, Tartine.

MY FIRST POACHED EGG EVER! A success. Alas, beginner’s luck. My next few tries were very unsuccesful.

Creation #4: Baked salmon coated with white truffle olive oil, lavender sea salt, rosemary, lime, and cacao nibs with some onion on the side.

Another adorable hole in the wall: Farm Table. A small cafe with only one large table for people to sit at. They made their almond milk fresh, so their almond milk latte was totally killer. Also another one of those places that switches up their menu on a daily basis.

Baked potatoes with creme fraiche and spring onions.

“Morning Toast”: Goat cheese, tomatoes, and basil leaves

Baked French bread with cheese and ham, topped with a boiled egg.

Creation Numero Cinco: Whole wheat pasta with artichokes, radishes, scallops, tossed with garlic, gouda cheese, and white truffle olive oil.

The notorious salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. Was a pleasant surprise, but definitely not my favorite flavor compared to their creme fraiche, basil (AMAZING texture), and chocolate.

Creation Six: Double Dark chocolate salted peanut cookies, drizzled with a smidgen of sea salt.

Joss and I went to Alembic, a small plates bar that’s fond of whiskey and gin down the road. Pictured here is The Gilded Lily: gin, yellow chartreuse, orange flower water, and sparkling demi sec with a touch of gold leaf.

Jerk duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme – clearly one of my requests.

This is another one that goes into my top 5 for the summer: Beef Tongue Sliders. These babies melt in your mouth. Fried green tomato pickles, arugula, red onion, and horseradish aioli.

And now we’ve come to the last of my creations (and the end of this post): Lettuce wraps filled with a baked radish, baked sweet potato, artichoke sausage, and caramelized onion mixed with a wild rice mustard-mayo-soy dressing. Basically, what was in my fridge.

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swimming upstream

2 July 2011

Who knew July would get here so soon. It’s blowing my mind.

Update: the parental units (also known as mom & dad) are in town!

They’re visiting for a friend’s wedding slash seeing if I’m alive. I haven’t been home since December so their arrival is really grounding. After an afternoon of filming for Socola’s Sriracha Chili telenovela, I was grinning like crazy when I saw them chilling at a table at the Peruvian small plates restaurant called Limon (more on that later).

We had a great conversation for 3+ hours (aka when they kicked us out) – the flow just never stopped. I couldn’t say enough, nor could my Dad or Mom. Obviously expected, as I haven’t seen these guys since February.

I think conversation is an element of creativity. Sometimes it seems hella awkward when it’s impossible to get past “How are you”; sometimes it feels scripted; sometimes it’s very “catch-up”-esque: let me give you a play by play of my life but any more than an hour we’d regress into looking like lost alpacas. Then there are those moments where it just flows.

You could talk for hours, days even (hi caffeine, my bestie). It’s so intrinsically pleasing to be immersed in the conversation – you don’t care about the future result, or what the other person thinks about you, or what the next thing you’re going to talk about is. You’re lost in the moment and time is flying by.

Oh hey, you’ve gotten yourself into the stream brainset.


So I’m finally done reading Shelley Carson’s book (which really only should have taken me a day tops). In addition to absorb and connect, the third brainset that she mentions involving a relatively deactivated executive prefrontal cortex (the guy who likes to be all judgmental about your fat intake) is stream.

In my first weekly hour meditation with Susan at the Spiritual Learning Center, I met a guy who was an avid violinist. When I brought up how hard it was to define the creative pathways for my research, he told me he believed creativity develops in those moments when he loses himself in his music: when he doesn’t have to even think about what he’s doing and he improvises without hesitation. Awareness and action are one. Self-consciousness disappears and time distorts.

That’s stream for you.

Athletes find stream. Pilots find stream. Engineers find stream. Bookworms find stream. Someone doing the dishes can find stream. Videogamers find stream. When I am cooking, I find stream (which is where I can get my crazy ideas like making taro gnocchi [WIP] or dark chocolate lemon zucchini cookies brushed with cacao nibs). “Kelly get the basics down first before you go ape on us.” – Susan Lieu

My baby creation.

It’s all about doing something that a) is challenging enough b) have appropriate expertise (implicit memory) c) intrinsically motivates you.

What’s going on in the brain? Think of it as sister to the absorb brainset: both are interacting with the environment in the same relaxed manner, but absorb is an nonjudgemental intake of information, whereas stream is a nonjudgemental interaction with the environment.

Copyright Shelley Carson 2011 (Your Creative Brain)

Things to note: 1. The left prefrontal center is deactivated 2. The reward center is continuously, mildly activated (because the task you are doing is rewarding all along – whether someone else recognizes you are doing it right or you feel that you are doing it right) 3. The automatic premotor programs are activated

Carson brings up an interesting question: How come in moments when sophisticated and complex behavior is desired, we would want our executive center (the most recently evolved brain part) to be deactivated? Think Captain “Sulley” Sullenberger, who heroically landed the plane in the Hudson River a couple years ago. He technically didn’t have “time to think”. He had to improvise instinctually. Our explicit memory can only hold up to four chunks of information at once, and can really process one thing at a time. When using implicit memory systems, we are free to improvise and can process many ideas in parallel.

With any activity you do, you can use this information to make what you’re doing intrinsically motivating. The activity should be an end in itself. You should develop a passion for it. Try tricking your brain into activating its reward center. Break down your task into separate parts and reward yourself mentally for completing each part within a certain time frame. Or just enjoy what you’re doing. Get creative!

One thing that always surprises me is how quickly time flies when I’m doing production. There are many times when we’re speechless, dipping chocolates in time to my Ipod music. We’ll look up four hours later and all say: “Whoa, that was four hours?” I failed to mention that I totaled 30+ hours in the kitchen a couple weekends ago. Friday: five hours for the ganache (although we did reward ourselves with some Johnnie Walker Blue Label shots). We were making truffles for the Father’s Day B-Box: Stout Beer, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, BBQ, and Bacon.

What we took our shots in to celebrate.


 Saturday: 9 am – 2 am pure standing.

Sunday: Six hours of cutting and cupping (that sounds slightly illegal)

Monday: I’ve lost track but we did packaging and shipping for some amount of time – HELLO DELIRIUM

I guess this is pretty relevant to my recent departure from my swim team. It’s all about doing what you’re passionate about, because that’s when your best work develops. I was a good, talented swimmer sure; but I had so much more potential and could have gone even further had I loved the sport. But with an attitude of “I want to finish this practice and get the hell out of here” – I wasn’t going to develop myself fully.

I’ve met many people who are involved in their work not because they love it or find meaning from it. They want the reputation, or the cha-ching and bling that comes in the end. But that’s not what stream is about. In stream, the activity is an end within itself. Hopefully you find value from this brainset, and can integrate it into your life. I feel like there was a reason Carson subtly sneaked it into the end of her book. Save the best for last, perhaps?

Daily Nutrition Report [for Thursday]

  • delicious Pho noodles from Pho King. May or may not have involved a scene from Lady & the Tramp, Vietnamese style.
  • Limon Restaurant: a lush restaurant serving fusion small plates. Good but not jaw-dropping, especially for its prices. Here is the line-up of the night:Ceviche mixto: fish, calamari, shrimp. I thought was pretty good, although I’ve never had ceviche before.
  • Ensalada rusa: traditional Peruvian salad with root veggies, chloco, peans & green beans tossed with a zesty creamy mustard dressing. The beets with the dressing were bomb.
  • Paella: I do not lie – nowhere near as spiceful, fresh, savory, & delicious as this kid.
  • Cicharron de Pollo: This was a WIN. Chicken marinated in soy sauce, garlic, aji amarillo. So, so good.
  • Delicious coconut, passionfruit, and raspberry sorbet.
  • Barrow 10 yr Tawny Port – fruity, rich, yet lighter on the palette than most ports.
  • THIS was also delicious: real cream puffs dusted with sugar powder and shaved almonds. Also known as Profiteroles.

Lesson of the Day

Find that stream in everything, baby.


Inspired by alcoholEDU, I have decided to start a section address the more important needs of our nation’s college students: appreciation for good chocolate.

From Neococoa [with an infusion of bad humor]: “Have you ever wondered where chocolate comes from or how it’s grown? [All the time, sometimes when I sleep too. It’s scary.] Believe it or not, it actually does grow on trees. A small tropical tree called, Theobroma cacao, know as, “cacao.” (ka-KOW) Theobroma is Greek and means, “food of the gods.” [Can I get a hells yeah?] The Cacao tree is native to central and South America, but is grown commercially throughout the tropic region [Hong Kong, where you at?]. Africa is the largest producer of the world’s cacao at 70%.[next holiday = done]

Neococoa is another chocolatier in the Bay Area. Christine Doerr, Miss CEO, decided to start the company with the help of the brilliant La Cocina program in Frisco (a program that helps low income [minority, female] food entrepreneurs). She goes for the more European-style truffle (Socola is more American, because of the hard chocolate shell): only ganache, old-school style. Here are her main flavors:

My personal fav? Definitely the almond butter & smoked salt. Roasted almond butter, applewood smoked sea salt, bittersweet chocolate ganache, cocoa powder. The almond gives your bite a smooth, nutty aftertaste that melts in your mouth. Although I could have done with a tad bit more sea salt, overall a very satisfying dirty deed.

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fishy firemen

25 June 2011

I did something off my bucket list yesterday: set off a fire alarm and get a cute smile from a fireman.

It’s only day three of my culinary escapades, and I’ve already created enough smoke to impress Beijing’s airport smog a la 2005. Okay, a little bit of an exaggeration.

I tried cooking salmon by stovetop, but it turns out the pan had either too much oil or was just too hot (or both), so it cooked way too quickly and smoked up a storm. I called the company to try and disarm the fire department, but I was too late.

So round two I tried poaching my salmon in a mixture of red wine, rosemary, water, asparagus, garlic, and onions. It turned out tasting okay, but Aida really wasn’t kidding when she said it’s tricky cooking meat. I had to put the salmon back three times. Work in progress.

This week was all about film production for the upcoming telenovela for our Sriracha Flying Rooster truffle flavor. It’s top secret, but I will reveal that the chocolate bar costume is heavily involved. My main role with the whole production is filming and editing. Unfortunately, my acting skills didn’t let me make the cut. I guess my unsuccessful British accent in my 10th grade play might have played a part (my drama teacher came up to me a week before and told me that it was so bad I had to stick with my own accent while everyone else stayed British).

On Thursday I got to give out whole sample pieces of our Burnt Baby Burnt, Give It to Me Guava, and Vietnamese Coffee at a Bloomingdale’s bridal event. It’s intriguing to me to see different types of events and figure out what’s worth attending. Conclusion? Not really worth it.

With a signup of only 50 couples, we should have known that we would mainly be giving out pieces to the B-staff. Huge cost, not that big of a benefit. There were some people who were interested in potentially making a large purchase of truffles with custom logos for wedding goodies. Other than that, not much really went down.

I did a lap around the event and saw a wide range of products: wine, hotel vacation spots, photographers, wedding cakes, bedding, beauty products, etc. Most notable was the chocolate fountain company. I was intrigued because I always see those beautiful things calling my name at buffets, but I never really think about who’s behind the mechanics. Turns out the company even has competitors (based on creativity of the fruit set up). Weirdest thing to dip in the chocolate but still tastes delicious? Shrimp. I need to get on that.

Also got to try the sister of our Burnt Caramel with Hawaiin Sea Salt truffle: the Caramel and Hawaiin Sea Salt yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Equally delicious. One product that I also enjoyed was the San Franola granola – they use roasting techniques which keeps the granola constantly moving, instead of the usual baking technique. This lets them use less sugar and fatty products, making a healthier granola. Tasted delicious and nutty.

I failed to update you guys on a different event I attended last week with Socola Chocolatier: a pearl event promoting Mikimoto‘s Japanese pearls. We weren’t advertising our product, only making connections. Susan was really smart because she made an effort to talk to people behind the scenes – the people working at the counter, the cashiers, and the event organizer. She asked for advice on how to sell a high end product as well.

Susan holding down the fort.

It was weird being with such a fabulous crowd. Chatting with people at this event vs. people at a farmer’s market is incomparable. Everyone was dressed up in expensive dresses and suits while fawning over the products.

His pearls were fake, but he definitely felt fabulous.

Me trying on a $32,000 pearl necklace. Felt like I was wearing the horcrux from HP7 (#nerdreference).


Wendy looking like a star with the necklace.

I personally don’t like to attach myself to jewelry, because I wouldn’t want to waste part of my energy on worrying about damaging it (obviously a different story when it’s meaningful). I guess you could say my attitude is quasi-Buddhist in that I don’t like investing energy in lots of material possessions since change can always happen.

BUT THE FOOD = delicious. It was all small snacks (and of course, free alcohol as well): split pea pearl soup, pearl cheesecake lollipops, beggar’s sacks filled with caviar, and salmon cones. Obviously I am not doing any of these things justice with my poor descriptions. I do hope in the future to work with a catering company for a while, just to see behind the scenes.

The cheesecake lollipops.

“Salmon cones”

My foodie mind assumed this was a huge wrapped up chocolate bar. I was proven wrong – it was a book about Mikimoto pearls instead. Duh.

Afterwards I met up with Joss, Aida, and Hena (my other roomie for the summer) to eat Dine About Town (a discount set meal) at a downtown restaurant called Credo. The atmosphere was lively and the walls were covered with tons of quotes. We were caught a few times staring at the walls with fish mouths. Super cute.

Aida opted to order her own dish: Sedanini alla Credo. A rigatoni pasta with a tomato based sauce cooked in bowl covered with oven-baked pizza dough. The pasta wasn’t notable itself, but the pizza dough had me (us) very excited.

 The rest of us opted for the set three course meal:

Panzanella: cucumber, tomatoes, & Chianti vinaigrette – good but nothing special

Burrata Crostini – burrata is a type of Italian mozz cheese that has insane amounts of cream in the inside of the ball. Paired with black kale (“cavolo nero”), caramelized onions, and of course, a little toast (“crositni”). The kale and onions were heavenly, but there was definitely an overload of burrata (although it did have great texture).

Joss and Hena both got fish with pineapple. The fish was perfectly cooked but very light on the taste buds, so the grilled pineapple really made the dish.

THIS was amazing. The pork was juicy, tender enough, and flavorful. The apple and melted brie were wonderful with it.

Nothing too memorable about the desserts other than the killer cinnamon cream in the fruit tart. The molten dark chocolate cake was excellent, but seriously rich – I could only take a couple small bites.

I must say, it was pretty decent meal, but I don’t really have much of an incentive to come back and try their other dishes. Although there is a dish with chocolate pasta, I think Aida and I are going to tackle that one since we’ve already made chocolate pizza. High quality Italian food, great atmosphere, but nothing too creative.

Lesson of the Day: The SF fire department is a pretty reliable creature.

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