Monday, December 31, 2012

new year's eve

It's new year's eve. How are you spending the last hours of 2012? Zach and I are boring old fogies who are staying home tonight. We have some champagne and strawberries, and each other to help beat the cold. Hope you're all keeping warm, spending time with someone you love, and looking forward to 2013!

Thank you again for reading "letter blocks say what?" We are happy and blessed to have been able to share our year with you! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Queen of Procrastination

Remember Zach's Atmospheric Indiana drawings that he did for The Sketchbook Project last year? Well, this year, in addition to Zach, his brother Matt, my cousin Bernice, and I are participating in the project too! Bernice is done with hers, and her book is currently making its way to me. Matt is pretty much done with his, save for the illustrations that Zach still has to do (they are collaborating!). Zach worked on his all day Thursday, and his book is also close to completion. I started on mine today. Yes. Call me the queen of procrastination.

my book will be a photo journal of our cat, so zach cut me some kitty head stamps!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Potato Corn Soup with Kale and Bacon

The holiday season and all the traveling we've been doing has left us a little out of sorts. So instead of having Zach make a fancy new recipe for this week, I made a simple but hearty soup to share. If I've done my food math right, the goodness of the kale should off-set the bacon, which surely makes this a healthy soup as well!

4 cups corn (optional: roast kernels in oven, 425F for 20 minutes)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large russet potato, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 bunch kale, remove stem, tear into small pieces
1 tbsp butter
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled into small pieces
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, cook onion and garlic in butter until soft. Add celery, cook an additional 2 minutes.
Add chicken broth and milk. Stir in corn and potatoes.
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Just before serving, add kale and bacon.
Serve hot.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wren's Day

I've been obsessing over Ireland the last couple of months so Zach and I decided to exchange Irish-themed presents for Christmas this year. Zach got Lisa Hannigan's albums Sea Sew and Passenger, and I received This is Ireland by Miroslav Sasek. This book is simply awesome. The illustrations are so fun, and they are making me want to pack my bags, get some air tickets, and go explore!

And here's a little tidbit about the Irish tradition of the Day of the Wren ... In Ireland, December 26, is celebrated as Wren's Day (also known as St. Stephen's Day or Lá an Dreoilín). A day, among many other things, dedicated to the hunting for wrens. You would think any cat would be happy on a day like this, but here's ours, sporting a post-Christmas glum:

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday! And if you've never heard Lisa Hannigan sing, here's a slightly longer clip (so there's more to enjoy!) to swoon and mesmerize you ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Zach's family always has chicken curry on Christmas day! Not ham, not turkey, but delicious chicken curry! We're driving 2 homemade pumpkin pies, this rhubarb custard pie, and some good 'ole chole to Portland to add to the feast. Remember to be kind to yourselves -- count your blessings, not your calories! 

Wishing you much joy on Christmas day! :)

Monday, December 24, 2012

12 Days of Wonky Socks

Okay, so I may have spoke a little too soon about Zach and I not having any Christmas traditions of our own ... We do have a special one. Since we got married around the Christmas season, in lieu of gifts, we take little road trips to buy a Christmas/ anniversary keepsake ornament from a different place every year. Here is this year's ornament we got while we were in Columbus:

And I think we might have just started one on the blog this year. Last Christmas eve, I posted a silly poem about my 12 wonky pairs of socks. This year, we're not only continuing that tradition, but we're also upping the goof factor with a cartoon, singing, and dancing!

p.s. This cartoon was made with a special nod to my father. Instead of buying him something, we had the idea to make him a video. He knows of all the wonderful things he's done for us so we hope he'll also know how thankful and appreciative we are.

p.p.s. those are Zach's feet at the end of the clip! ;)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Winter Animals

We're watching Nature: Christmas in Yellowstone on PBS, and it is such a beautiful documentary. The animals in their natural habitat are a great joy to watch. Here's my favorite clip of a clever red fox hunting mice ...

and these are some gorgeous pictures by nature photographer Tom Murphy ...

You can watch the entire episode here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

winter's on its way

The first day of winter is also the shortest day of the year. Tomorrow onwards, the days will start getting longer again. Do you like this time of the year? I do. Winter is one of my favorite seasons! And I love the strange looks I get every time I tell this to someone who knows I grew up in Singapore. :) 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

cartoon in the works

sneak preview:

... a new cartoon in the works!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

a very special christmas mug

This is my very special Christmas mug that Zach made me.

We don't have many Christmas traditions that we observe. We don't put up a tree (because of the cat!), we don't string lights, and we don't decorate the house at all (because I don't imagine either of us being in a rush to take down the decorations after Christmas ... yes, we're that lazy!). The only thing I do, is reach for this special mug this magical time of the year. It makes me smile. :)

Recipe of the Week: Kefta, Tomato and Egg Tagine

mindy and i were in sonoma, california a couple of years ago and were wandering around the picturesque downtown square and came across this store selling nothing but tagines.  we looked around and found one or two we liked, but decided that since i'm a potter, i would try to make one. i never actually got to that before setting clay aside to work on the other projects. but while we didn't buy the tagine, we did pick up a great moroccan cookbook.

the other night mindy and i opened the book for the first time (i know, shame on us, but we tend to do that: buy a book and let it rest on the shelf for a while).  we discovered upon opening it up and flipping through it that it was signed by the author.  HA! what a find.  and we didn't even know it.  but it is a great book, filled with recipes for fragrant, belly-warming dishes.

so i ventured into making one of the dishes i often order when we go out, kefta.  kefta is a ground beef/lamb/spice mixture that is so fragrantly delicious that just prepping the dish was making me salivate.  i didn't use lamb in my kefta (lamb is a bit pricey and mindy hates the gamey flavor), just ground beef.  however it is important to note that there MUST be a good amount fat in the meat.  in fact, next time i make this i think i'm going to use a bit of pork in the meat mix (as opposed to lamb) for its fat content.  but this is certainly a healthier version.  the egg on top is a an important part of this recipe too.  don't skip it.  though it may seem a bit weird to our western appetites, the egg yolk adds this really balancing flavor to all the acidity in the tomatoes.  

mindy typically gives me the frowny face when i order kefta, because all that fragrant spice, turns into some of the most rancid post-dinner burps ever.  we did find that with making the dish at home, using good oils to cook with, the burps weren't quite so offensive.  but it may just be me and my stomach that makes such an awful after-stink. :)

(From the book Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco, by Paula Wolfert)

(Serves 5-6)


1lb ground beef or lamb, or a mixture of the two
1 small onion, chopped finely
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley and cilantro
1/4 tsp dried mint or 1/2 tbsp freshly chopped mint
large pinch of dried marjoram
large pinch of Ras El Hanout (if you can find it)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste

1 medium onion, chopped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1 (15oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (6oz) can of tomato sauce
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 eggs

Combine all the ingredients for the kefta. Form into 1-in balls and brown in the oil on all sides.
Remove from pan and set aside, covered.
Add remaining ingredients, except for the eggs, to the pan.
Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy.
Return the kefta to the sauce and continue cooking together for 10 minutes.
Carefully break the eggs into the sauce and poach them until set.
Serve at once, directly from pan.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monk by the Sea

I love 19th-century Western art. Zach, not so much. The only painting we can both agree on, that is wonderfully awe-inspiring, is Caspar David Friedrich's Monk by the Sea. Are you familiar with this painting?

It's sublimely haunting and contemplative. I would love to see this one in person. If you've never seen it before, you can be glad you've seen it now (albeit on a computer screen)!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

sunday afternoon snack

Instead of lunch, I made a yummy chia kheer. It tastes just like Indian rice pudding. Sweet, fragrant, and nutty. Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, a good source of fiber, calcium, and protein. And unlike flax seeds, you don't have to grind them to release their goodness, and they don't turn rancid easily.

Here's how to make your own ...

Combine 3 tbsp of chia seeds with a handful of toasted slivered almonds (you can also add raisins and pistachios if you like)
Add a pinch of cardamon and cinnamon; 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract and rose water
1 cup milk (you can also use almond/ hemp/ coconut milk)
3 tbsp condensed milk (or substitute with either honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar)
Mix well and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

saturday afternoon snack

Saturday afternoon snack of satsuma mandarins.

the pet dragon

Zach and I are book lovers. I didn't have to think about what I wanted to get for Corrinne's kids this Christmas. I knew right away that I was going to find them some super cool books. Which is why I'm so psyched I found this fun and creative gem for them! The Pet Dragon, by Christoph Niemann, is an adventure story that embeds Chinese words in the illustrations. It's such an interesting concept! Since Chinese is a hieroglyphic language, this book makes visually learning new words easy and engaging. I hope the kids will find this fun too!

Friday, December 14, 2012

star gazing

yesterday mindy went to spend some time with her friend corrinne.  they went shopping and talked about what corrine's kids had asked for christmas.  anyway, the part that made mindy melt was that corrinne's daughter asked for 'stars.'  mindy thought that was the cutest, most thoughtful thing to wish for.  and it is.  what kind of wandering wondering mind must a kid who asks for the stars have?  just that sense of boundless curiosity is intriguing.

then later in the day, mindy read in the news that there was going to be a meteor shower last night.  she  asked if i thought we'd be able to see any, and i responded with a maybe.  mindy has never seen a shooting star.  she grew up in a modern metropolis where light/particulate pollution blocks out that kind of wonder (the man who claimed 'the sky is the limit,' must have been from a city).  i grew up in indiana, in the city, the suburbs, and the middle of nowhere, and the stars were something i always stared at from the back seat of my dad's classic caprice driving back and forth through the empty landscape.  i had a cheap little telescope when i was a kid, but i always found wonder at just simply cranking my neck back and standing mouth agape staring into the infinite distance.  but even living in a rural world i never saw a shooting star until i was in college.  i took a photo class that included a 3 week driving/camping/on-the-road trip to the american west.  for a few nights, we stayed at an A-frame hunting lodge in the middle of an 11000 acre wyoming ranch and the only human light you could see was the 3 or 4 lamps glowing from the buildings on the property.  i slept alone under the stars out on the deck of the lodge the first night there and i remember feeling small, but in the sense of feeling connected.  i saw my first several shooting stars that night.  and i wanted mindy to have that kind of experience.

(photo credit: Mike Hankey/

we jumped in the van around 12:30am and stopped at steak n' shake for some late night processed poison in the form of a burger and fries.  then we drove out away from the city about 20 minutes.  we finally found a spot that felt comfortable to pull off and park for a while.  we got out and looked up.  and immediately the light show began.  shooting sparks of fire flaring here then there then over there.  i've never seen so many in such a short about of time.  and the smile on mindy's face made it worth the cold and creepy darkness out in the middle of nowhere beside some guy's busted-ass rotting old building.  i love that look of wonder and interest in her eyes.  i think mindy may want stars for christmas this year too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

For Leon

My brother and his wife, Faith, are brand new parents to Asher, who turns a month old today. In traditional Chinese practice, this special day is marked by a big celebration where the baby and his mother are formally introduced to friends and family. Guests will leave the party with dyed red eggs, a symbol of joy and the renewal of life.

I just have to use this space to say how happy I am to see my big brother as a dad. I may not know anything about parenting, but I am sure he will survive all the dirty diapers, tantrums, and meltdowns because he is so lucky to have a great team of supporters behind him. I believe having a child makes you think about the parents you have. It makes you appreciate so much more all the things that they've taught you, done for you, and sacrificed for you. You experience the love they have for you in the love you have for your own child. Leon has great role models in my mom and dad. And so long as he is half the father our dad is, Asher will be adequately raised to meet all of life's challenges.

Zach and I hate that we are not in Singapore to meet little Asher and to rejoice with the rest of the family. This little baby is growing and changing everyday. I don't want to wait forever before I get to see him! And perhaps it's because my dad's been sending me all these cute pictures of Asher the last couple of days that I've just been feeling terribly homesick this week. It is a wonderful joy to be able to make a home and share a life here in the US with Zach, but occasionally I'll have one of those days where I long to be at home with my mom and dad. You know, just a safe place to sit back, relax, and be their little girl again. No worries, no responsibilities, no heavy-heart, no need to write a freaking dissertation. But daydreams aside, I am thankful for the technology that allows for iChat, FaceTime, texts, and photographs. I'm thankful for everybody's effort in keeping Zach and I in touch and updated so we don't have to miss out on too much. Thank you all! And once again, congratulations to Leon and Faith, and to my mom and dad on their precious grandson.

So, this is for Leon and Faith. A charming song by Eddie Vedder (with guest vocals by his daughter), which sounds like a beautiful love letter from a parent to a child.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Lentil Soup

lentils have been a favorite bean/pea/nut/seed/grain of mine since my mother first poured a box of the 'far east' lentil pilaf into a pot of boiling water.  there is something very hearty and belly warming about them, but also very healthy and heart-loving.  so to follow up last week's cardiac chicken, i thought i'd give you something your heart would prefer:  a good and simple lentil soup.  i found this recipe on  actually, it is the first thing to come up on google if you search 'lentil soup recipe.'  and for good reason.  it is a great, simple recipe that can take a lot of tweaks.  a good note to make here: use french lentils as they do not turn to mush immediately after cooking and also reheat without turning to mush.  the red or green lentils will turn your soup into lentil paste.  we ate this with some pita bread fried in olive oil and the little bit of left over tzatziki sauce i made the previous day.  we did find that this is not that filling for meat eaters, but just slice up some hot italian sausages and toss them into the mix.  the pork and sausage spices will match the soup base nicely and give your more carnivorous family members something to keep their bellies full and hopefully, their fingers out of the the snack cabinet. 

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried basil
1 (15oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups french lentils
8 cups of chicken broth
12oz baby spinach
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (mindy likes Bragg's raw acv)
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, heat some oil over medium heat and cook onions, carrots, and celery until tender. Stir in garlic, bay leaf, oregano, and basil, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. 
Stir in lentils, and add chicken broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. 
Reduce heat and simmer for at least 1 hour.
When ready to serve, stir in spinach and vinegar. 
Season with salt and pepper.

(recipe via

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A favor to ask ...

We have a favor to ask! If you live in NYC, would you consider taking some time out of your day to participate in a flash mob/ singing birthday surprise for a special little girl on her 12th birthday on 12/12/12? Here are some more details, and here's the message our awesome cousin, Bill McKinley, shared on Facebook ...

Okay, Magical Holiday Elves, I need your help in creating a miracle by this Wednesday, December 12th.

Here's the scoop: My best-friend-since-eighth-gradeRuth's daughter Julia is celebrating her birthday this week, but not just any birthday. A number of years ago, Julia started referring to this year's birthday as her "golden birthday" because she will turn 12 on 12.12.12.

A little info on Julia: she was adopted by Ruth and her partner Jean at the age of one, malnourished and completely the dictionary definition of failing to thrive. If you could see her now! So smart and funny and outgoing and one of the most popular girls in her class...such a remarkable change. A testimony to the power of love, as well as a tribute to nontraditional families if ever there was one.

Innyhoo, here's the miracle part. Unbeknownst to Julia, Ruth and Jean are taking her to NYC this week, and on 12.12.12 at 12:12 p.m., they are going to take her photo under the clock in Grand Central.

I want so badly to be there, but I just can't swing it. Instead, I want to gather the biggest surprise flash mob I can to sing Happy Birthday to Julia and to shower her with birthday cards.

SO, Magical Holiday Elves, I'm asking your help in mustering all the NYC-based fun & loving people I can to surprise Julia on Wednesday. I want to find a point person to meet everyone else early and set everything up, and I want people to video it all from different angles as a souvenir.

I figure FB is a great way to get the word out, and I'm hoping my friends and their friends and friends of friends can spare a few minutes to help make Julia's birthday truly Golden.

Please let me know your thoughts, your ideas on resources, etc., and let's make some magic happen!


Thank you all for reading! We appreciate you and would love for you to spread the word!

top cat

Yes. We still have one of those clunky, chunky, and unbelievably heavy box TVs. What can I say? The cat loves it. Perching on the top of the TV makes him feel like the star of the show.

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