Highlights from Germany, Austria and BeNe

Hello again!

Last month I took a trip to Europe where we flew into Frankfurt, Germany and then took a train down to Munich and began our sightseeing.

In Munich we revisited some old faves (Neuschwainstein, Marienplatz, Wirsthaus Ayinger) and some new ones (Linderhof).

From top left to bottom: Linderhof Palace, the gardens, the view of Lake Alpsee and Neuschwanstein

From Munich we headed to Salzburg, followed by Vienna. One of my favorite things in Salzburg was the trip out to see ice caves in Werfen – Eisresienwelt (more on this later). The ice caves were quite a hike to get to, but totally worth it.

The last 3rd of the way up to the cave!

Finishing up our tour of Austria was Vienna, which allowed us to get in a lot of culture.
Above: St. Stephen’s Church and the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Afterwards, we went up north to see Belgium and the Netherlands, which was filled with a bit less walking and more food.

From the top: Mussles at Poules Moules, Belgian waffles, Dutch pancakes, and a coffee break

My thoughts overall: It was a lot of fun, but we were on a crazy train schedule filled with lots of walking (intense hiking up the alps to the point that I got some tendinitis). European food is just better on average, even the fast food places. I would love to spend more time in Vienna and Amsterdam (I would like to spend more time in Europe and on vacation in general). Although, I definitely wouldn’t mind eating more Belgian food.


A night arrival in Kyoto with yakisoba

Woah.. It’s April 2015 already. As always, apologies for the lack of updates. So, let me take stock of everything that happened, I got a new job in Austin, TX, turned 25 and moved to Texas. It’s been such a whirlwind, but I’m finally starting to settle in. I’ve been in Austin, TX for just about a month now. So far, I like Austin. it reminds me a lot of the Midwest, but with a southern flare.

Since a lot of things have happened, I’m slowly going to write updates about those things. The first of those is that I went to Japan last December for work, but took a few days to explore Kyoto and Tokyo.

Having never been to Japan before, I wasn’t sure what to go see. Fortunately, Ray was able to come and provided some more “local” knowledge.

He suggested we get the Japan Rail Pass and go see another city besides Tokyo, so we went to Kyoto.
If Kyoto and Tokyo are siblings, then Kyoto is the older and more studious child.

The first day we were in Japan, we took the Narita Express to Tokyo and then transferred to a train to Kyoto. By the time we managed to get in, it was pretty late in the evening so we went to a local chain for some small bites to eat.

I was eagerly awaiting my first meal in Japan, although I think I was also a bit deliriously jet-lagged at the beginning of the meal and just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep

We ended up ordering some kyoto-style yakisoba and okonomiyaki.

Looking back now, I wish I my stomach had been bigger so that I could have eaten a lot more.

Of course we ordered some dessert afterwards, and this we were in Japan, the dessert was really cute.

I guess it turned out to be not-so-small-bites, because afterwards I was pretty full of food. But, that didn’t stop us from swinging by the local convenience store and buying a bunch of snacks.

Even the stuff from the convenience store is so wonderfully packaged.
On the left is nama yatsuhashi, a Kyoto specialty, and on the right is some rusk, which is kind of tasted like sweet croutons.

Fall in Central Park and things I ate while away

Hello again! I feel like a bear that’s just emerged out of the winter hibernation, or in my case, fall hibernation.
Unhappy face because my castle is taking too long to build.

What have I been up to? TBQH, not much. The last couple of months, I’ve been in a bit of a rut. Summer was this wonderful prolonged daydream with its nice weather and days spent strolling the outdoors. When fall came around, I suddenly felt this dread that another year was about to pass me by and that same fear that I had some how squandered my time. I was quite frustrated. October was a busy month in terms of my day job, and I didn’t have a lot of time for creative things. In addition, the past 6 months of eating out because I had no gas was finally starting to catch up to me. You know those terrible days when you wake up and suddenly all your clothes are a bit too tight? Yup, I was going through that all October and the beginning of November. Those feelings of being ugly compounded with frustrations of not having done enough left me feeling overwhelmed and uninspired.

Things I ate, which is probably why I got fatter included:
Red bean matcha toast at Cha An

The works at Xi’an Famous Foods, or rather beef noodle soup and vegetable dumplings. The vegetable dumplings are so good that they’ve converted Ray, who never eats his vegetables.

Grilled cheese at Dominique Ansel. (Not pictured is the plate of pastries on the side, which included a DKA and lots of brioche.)

Fortunately, things started to change a bit, or else I wouldn’t be writing this. Work got slightly less busy; I got my gas back and I started working out more. (I am determined to fit back into my jeans without having to jump around to put them on.)

The first thing I made once I got my gas back was a complete meal of green tea soba with soft boiled egg.
Yes, egg porn.

I guess what changed the most was that I started to think more about what my longer term priorities were and focusing on those. And the things that bothered me in the interim dissolved in my mind when I realized that in a year or two they probably wouldn’t be an issue. For all my cynicism and pessimism, I tried to think a bit more positively and change the things I had control over. I started to feel better.

And so the product of all those internal dialogues and quiet reflections is this post.
When I think back to all those long strolls in Central Park this fall, there is some part of me that quivers at how gorgeous and in-the-present New York is.

Fall in New York is a lovely time.
Sometimes I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the New York, but there’s something about this place that has slowly crept inside me and given me a bit of satisfaction at being here in the center of it all.

French Canada Pt 3: No beef to be had with Joe Beef

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Pardon the title of this post. (I really couldn’t help myself.)

I first heard of Joe Beef back when I watched the season 1 of “Mind of a Chef”. It was the episode where David Chang visits Joe Beef and eats the Double Down. At that time, Joe Beef was just a passing thought of delicious and fat decadence stuck between two pieces of foie gras. Then it came up again as a recommendation from a friend of a friend who lives in Montreal. And since I was going to Montreal, I figured, “Why not?”

How do I describe it? It was delightfully light, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if my arteries have become 50% clogged from that dinner. There was no shortage of foie gras and I would definitely eat again.
What’s the place like? It’s got this folk/country feel that reminded me of what hipster take on Appalachia would be like, but I suppose it was really more of a hispter take on the Great North.

The place is small, a bit cramped for Montreal, no? But it’s an intimate atmosphere. However, I ended up waiting an hour when I arrived.
But, I’d say it was worth it. Plus, there are all these cute little shops and cafes around the corner where you can hang out, which makes the wait less miserable (although I’d hate to try waiting that long during the winter).

So if you go, please start with some delicious appetizers to stimulate your appetite (or 开胃 as we like to say in Chinese).
These aren’t these aren’t the star of the meal, but they’re certainly not bad.

For our mains, we ordered lobster spaghetti and the double down (which is really more of an appetizer too, but since it’s so decadent, let’s also call it a main).

The lobster spaghetti was delicious.
Although, I really wouldn’t have minded more lobster in it. It’s actually not as filling or as heavy as I would have liked it, but tasty nonetheless.

And of course the double down.
A few lovely slices of bacon with some cheese between two deep fried slices of foie gras. What more could you want? When you eat, make sure you have a clean napkin at hand, because the fat from the foie gras + bacon will definitely dribble down your chin and onto your hand/lap/table. (I prefer licking my fingers, but some of you are classier than that.)

And to finish our meal, we had some cheddar and maple glazed donuts.
I thought this was a weird combination, but after eating it, really wasn’t too weird. It’s like the lumberjack’s version of homemade yogurt covered pretzels; you’ve got your salty and your sweet.

French Canada Pt 2: A walk among the flowers

Oh dear, it’s September already! The end of the summer is nigh! (Which, I find tremendously sad as I feel that this summer was much too short, but as Ray points out, we managed to do a lot.) Since my last post, I’ve finished my summer class, spend a week in San Fransisco and spent a extended weekend in Los Angeles. More on these events later.

But, now that I have a bit more free time, I will finish my French Canada recounts.

While in Montreal, I visited the botanical gardens. (If you rent a car, look up instructions to get there ahead of time. I didn’t do that and as a result we got lost a couple times looking for the entrance causing Ray to get mad at me.)

There’s just something wonderful about seeing flowers in the peak of their blooming glory. (I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this.)
The Montreal Botanical Gardens aren’t difficult to get to (just confusing to get to the correct entrance as Google Maps won’t take you to the actual entrance) and it’s also right next to the Bio-Dome.

Sitting at the entrance to the gardens is the Lion de la Feuillee.
This lion was a gift from the city of Lyon for Montreal’s 350th birthday! (I didn’t know cities gave each other gifts.)

And it was peak rose season.
There were so many different varieties of roses here I think I must have taken around 100 photo of just roses.

That’s not to say there weren’t other flowers.
Just none nearly as lovely as the roses, but they were also pretty.

In addition, there were all these little paths where you can make-believe you’re in some storybook place.

And lovely fields of other flora.
I didn’t realize there was wild grasses that was purple like this. (Is this even grass?)

There’s also a Japanese garden, but it was a bit underwhelming. The real highlight of it was probably the pon behind it that was filled with koi.
The koi are super friendly and will even let you touch them if they’re resting near the surface (but maybe you’re not supposed to actually touch them).

Next up (soon), a twist on French Canadian food at Joe’s Beef.

Night Play: Snapshots of Montreal at night

A short and belated post.

Just wanted to share the nostalgia of spectacular views from the summit of Parc du Mont Royal.
If you go up here in the evening, you might also run into the raccoons that live there. They’re rather friendly and are often looking for things to eat.

And some fun night time long exposures around downtown Montreal

French Canada Pt 1: Out and about in Old Montreal

It’s been quite a busy summer. I’m not entirely sure how it passed by so fast. Earlier last month (oh em gee, it’s August already!), I started taking a class in Data Mining at Columbia. Since it’s a summer course, it’s cramming a semester’s worth of material into 6 weeks, meaning I’m all work and no play. (I’m trying not to be a dull girl though!)

It’s already August, and I’m just now sharing the photos I took during my French Canada trip during the 4th of July holiday. During thsi trip, I went up to Montreal and Quebec City. It wasn’t quite like going to a far and distant land, but enough of a trip to stave off my wanderlust temporarily.

French Canada is very much the land of French-y woods-y lumberjacks, sort of. It’s very French in a American South sort of way. The Quebecois speak in their characteristic accent, French with a twang. Some people dislike this accent, but I thought it was rather cute.

Ray and I got into Montreal around the morning and spent the day walking around Vieux Montreal. The first thing we went to go see was the Notre Dame. What can I say, the stained glass inside was gorgeous.


The whole basilica was so magnificent that later when in Quebec, we took a sniff at the Notre Dame there and didn’t even bother going in.

Walking around Old Montreal, I wasn’t too impressed with it’s cobbled streets and little touristy knick-knack shops, so instead we took a little bit of a stroll by the water.
IMG_1167.jpg IMG_1178.jpg

And then later rented one of those pedal boats and just floated around for a bit. After our watery excursion we were pretty hungry and determined to get something authentically Canadian. What’s more Canadian than Poutine?

Poutineville is this little restaurant all the ways across town from the old part that specializes in Poutine. The poutine there was delicious. I managed to try two variations, the classic and the fire-breather (below).

This was real Canadian poutine, not the wannabe poutine you find in the states that is box gravy, lame cheese and stale french fries. No sir, this was super crispy potato wedges slowly soaking up the gravy made from real beef au jus, topped with generous helpings of real cheese curds and beef shreds (in my case, chicken wings). Every bite was beefy, crispy and cheesy goodness that made me feel as if it had come from some long lost French-Canadian aunt’s own kitchen. And of course, even though we was bursting at the seems with Poutine, we managed to fit in some dessert.

We waddled over to Juliette et Chocolat for some ice cream and brownies.

More Canada to come soon.

A lovely wedding and other musings

Already a week since my last post!

If you recall, previously this year I said one of my friends/old roommates was getting married. Well, the wedding has gone and past now.

Both Ray and I somehow ended up in the wedding party, but it turned out absolutely lovely. I managed to get some photos during the wedding when I wasn’t running around too frantically and they turned out rather well.
This is only the 3rd wedding I’ve ever been to (I’m just now approaching that age where weddings are starting to be more frequent). This was also the first wedding that I’ve been intimately involved with and I thought it was absolutely lovely. The wedding went on without much of a hitch, and the bride and groom were married in a nice little ceremony that I started tearing up during.

The bride of course was quite lovely and her dress was simple, sleek and sweet.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a shot of her standing in its full glory, but it was sweepingly sweet down to the train of the dress.

And her reception was equally as sweet, from the homemade topper on her wedding cake, to the props for her polaroid photo booth.

See how cute the wedding cake topper was?
It’ll also make a sentimental reminder of the day.

I thought this was a cute idea: handmade props for polaroid photo booth where the guests can use the photos taken to fill the guestbook.
Congrats again Weiling & Jason!

A few other things, I was reading this article from the Atlantic on creativity the other day, and it really got me thinking about how in recent years, I’ve just felt that certain faucets of my interests have all but dried up due to work, stress, anxiety, depression, etc. And this blog, having been an expressive outlet, kind of died with my other hobbies like art. So the article made me think about practicing my “art” more, and to do so, I’m going to try keep posting more consistently, even smaller posts that don’t have as many photos, and also present things of other mediums, like sketches and comics.

Also, if you’ve noticed the new layout, be prepared to see it change a few more times. I’m currently experimenting with the look and feel of this blog again.

Until next time!

5 months later, Dallas for 72 hours

Well hello! It has indeed been a while.

I regret not posting more, but I’ve just been lacking the motivation and free time I used to have.

Recently I’ve been taking a lot of photos on my new camera. (I got a new camera and now use some photo editing software.) And, I thought it was a pity to keep them all to myself on my computer or post them to flickr unacknowledged.

Unfortunately, this is not a long post as this photo series is a bit short. But, I thought these turned out quite nicely.

About slightly less than a month ago, I was in Dallas for work. I got to eat at a pretty good restaurant there, CBD. It was a pretty photogenic place with plenty of mood lighting.
Dallas, I thought, was a very odd (by which I mean not NYC or Chicago) city. The city center, where I was staying, was really dead after 6 PM, so walking around after work meant walking around a dead city. It reminded me of Indianapolis, which is also dead in the downtown area after 6PM.

The quail I had there was delicious. I think it took me under 12 minutes to devour the entire thing. It was perfectly seasoned with crispy skin and a nice sour from some citrus to dress it.

Cronuts round 3: the real McCoy

Last year, I attempted making Cronuts 2 different times because getting the real thing was too difficult. When I moved to New York, the possibility of a real Cronut was finally available to me. (Not that it wasn’t before, it was just that I was way too lazy to wake up early enough to go get a Cronut on my weekend visits to New York.)

Anyhow, on a Sunday last December, Ray and I finally dragged our sleepy butts out of bed to go stand in line in freezing temperatures for the Cronut.

Honestly, it was a terrible terrible idea, and I would not recommend anyone wait in line outside for this thing in single digits weather. Terrible terrible idea.
But as the sign above states, you gotta keep your eyes on the Cronut and not the hole (even if you can’t feel your toes and you’ve never been so happy as when the Dominique Ansel employees come out to serve hot chocolate and coffee to their freezing Cronut patrons).

Fortunately, lines in freezing weather on a Sunday in December don’t get too long. We only waited 1.5 hours for it as opposed to the normal 2-3 hours wait. So, if you’re looking to reduce your wait and are willing to brave frostbite for your favorite pastry, then go for it.

When 8:00AM finally hit and the doors to Dominque Ansel were flung open, the Cronut seemed within reach and there should have been an end to all that hunger and pain.
So close, yet so far…

And finally, I got my hands on the Cronut, plus DKA and Magic Souffle.
When I got my cronut, I wanted to wait until I could feel all my limbs before eating it. At this point, I had been inside Dominique Ansel for about 7-10 minutes, but the feeling in my feet hadn’t quite returned yet.

Alas, warm cronuts wait for no one.
So Ray and I hunkered down at the nearest open counter space we could find and proceeded to split a cronut. Biting into it, I want to say that it was a wonderful mesh of delightful flavors of chocolate, champange, and orange. But, after all that wait, the frozen toes and cold dances outside, I couldn’t quite taste everything too well. The flavors just kind of took a second seat to the feeling returning to my toes. To say the least, the Cronut was underwhelming.

However, I will say that later when I was home in my nice and cozy bed with a hot cup of tea, the Cronuts that we had saved for later were delicious. Basically, I learned from this experience that Cronuts are delicious if and only if you have feeling in your lower extremities.