One Month Update – Cooking Chronicles

Since my first cooking post in late August, I’ve kept practicing cooking and limiting purchased meals. I’ve also been journaling my progress in this book I got from Daiso (a Japanese $1.50 store and one of my favorite places on earrrth). This journal, by the way, always reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins. 🙂

As you can see, there is no particular diet or health plan, except to keep an eye on quantity, calories, and carbs, and also to stay flexitarian, only eating meat if it happens to be on the menu at my mom’s kitchen (which it usually is 😀 ).

Here are some of the things I’ve made:

broccoli & tomato salad – This was super
quick curry – This was using Kroger’s butter chicken curry sauce. Much better than their coconut curry sauce!
salsa & cheese tortilla wraps – Eh
cocktail meatballs (using Gardein meatless meatballs) – I used a jelly & ketchup recipe which was… edible but peculiar. Next time I will just use barbecue sauce, which I finally have in the fridge.
tortilla casseroleMy mom’s recipe! I used a little too much liquid this time, but otherwise it turned out really good.

This may not seem like much for a month, but being single, I eat most of these dishes for days. 😆

As far as purchased meals, I discovered Domino’s pizza freezes very well, so their 2-for-$5.99 special gives me 8 meals at about $1.60 each. Can hardly do better than that!

My next big plan is to make bánh mì, which is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich. It won’t be authentic of course; I’m looking at this recipe which substitutes egg for the meat. I don’t like eggs (worst luck for a vegetarian), but eventually I want to learn how to prepare tofu and use that instead. For now maybe I will just make it with the vegetables. Cheese (and dairy) is not really a thing in Vietnamese cuisine, so I don’t want to just throw in some feta, as tempting at that might be.

I also have some gnocchi that I plan to make soup with. It’s that time of year!

Fire in the Forest

When I was a kid, there was a game some of us would play called “Fire in the Forest!” A quick Google search revealed only one reference to this game—apparently it is supposed to be “slyly” educational, led by an adult mentor, to teach children about animals. Happily, we were spared any mentorship, and I don’t remember any animals. I can only see a bunch of kids standing on the edge of the field and some boy—the Fire—bellowing “fire in the forest!” and the thrill of us running herd-style across the grass, hoping not to get shoved or tagged by anybody and becoming a Tree.

The phrase suddenly came back to me, because we have been having some deadly fires on the West Coast. The closest large fire is… uncomfortably close. For a while this past week, I was genuinely afraid. Windstorms, hot temperatures, and arsons (witnessed) in random places in the area made the possibility of a personal disaster very real. As it is, some people’s homes were lost and some of my relatives had to evacuate as a precaution. It’s surreal and horribly unexpected; we don’t typically get large fires in Western Washington.

Thankfully, the winds calmed and the last two days have been much cooler. The large fire is gradually coming under control, and evacuation orders are being lifted. The air here is still pretty terrible—it looks like a heavy fog, but it’s actually smoke, both from local fires and from fires in Oregon and elsewhere.

Needless to say, I am taking nothing for granted now. I had been hoping for some peace of mind in September (sigh). That said, I am so grateful that my family is safe and am praying for all of the West Coast where the devastation continues.

A Day by the Sea – Ebey’s Landing, WA

Last week, my family and I took a day trip to Whidbey Island on the Puget Sound. This region is a hodpodge of islands, peninsulas, and waterways, extending south and also far north of Seattle. There’s so much to explore, and we’d never been to this particular spot on the island before. I was over the moon at the prospect of an ocean hike—and was not disappointed!

Ebey’s Landing was named after Isaac Ebey (1818–1857), an Ohioan who settled on the island in the 1850s. According to Wikipedia, he owned 640 acres, farmed numerous crops, and participated in local government. He was murdered by a group of natives, as revenge for an earlier attack by the US government. His cabin and blockhouse (a tiny fort used as a place of defense) have been preserved, and you can see them on the first part of the hike. Unfortunately they were closed on the day we visited, but the outside is quite impressive.

There is a lot of beautiful farmland still on Whidbey Island. There are also views of two mountains, Mt. Baker and its more famous sibling, Mt. Rainier.

Rainier— BARELY visible in this picture

Of course, my favorite part was the ocean. You take a narrow footpath along the cliffside and through the woods, and then it zigzags down the side of the cliff until you’re on the beach. It is one of the easier hikes I’ve been on, but so rewarding in terms of views.

It was a wonderful day. It seems odd that a place which was the scene of violence could bring someone else so much joy over a hundred years later. I guess that’s life. Either way, I felt so much better after this trip and reconnected with the beauty that I love about my state.

Stripped by Faouzia – EP Review

One of the best things to happen this (terrible) year was the August release of Faouzia‘s first EP, Stripped. Not only did it come as a complete surprise to me, but it was exactly what I would’ve hoped for—a selection of her old and new songs, “stripped” down to an acoustic setting complimenting her powerful vocals and thoughtful lyrics. Even better, she filmed videos for all of them, so I can share them in this post!

Continue reading “Stripped by Faouzia – EP Review”

darkness in august

I’ve avoided talking about current events since spring, but I feel the need to write something here for future reference.

The violence in Seattle and Portland has continued and, in fact, got much worse. Carmen Best’s (understandable) resignation as police chief made national headlines a couple of weeks ago. With the general election approaching, it’s hard to hope for the situation to improve before the end of the year. Similar feelings about COVID and the start of cold/flu season…

Being sufficiently distant from these events, I feel caught between a sense of complete disconnect and a burdensome concern for the future… also, between feelings of helplessness and negligence, not knowing which one is the illusion.

So I went back to focusing inward, which is truly the only place a person can fully change. I remain uneasy and disappointed, and sometimes angry, but finding strength in routine and prayer.

I think making the surrounding world beautiful by thought, word, and deed is extremely profound. The more I believe this, the less I care about everything else—career, future plans, even personal happiness. These are all transient things, and the absence of any of them does not stop me from giving back better than what I got. Of course, I’ll continue to pursue the best possible life for myself, but no matter what happens I will still have something to do.

cooking chronicles: first attempts

Well—I’ve moved! The last few weeks were hectic; now things are starting to slow down (slightly). I’m starting to settle in, though there are still a few things to unpack and furniture to buy.

As far as living alone, there isn’t much to say about it so far. I rarely feel lonely, being extremely busy with work, housekeeping, and YouTube, and also getting to visit my family on the weekend. It is nice making all the decisions (for better or worse) and taking things at my own pace.

From the start, I’ve made it a rule not to get takeout more than once a week. Which forces me to go grocery shopping and expand my cooking abilities, which was one of this year’s goals. I’m not going to straight to casseroles or lasagna, though…if I work up gradually in difficulty, it will be much more enjoyable and less stressful, even if the meals are more boring first.

These are some easy foods I’ve prepared since arriving here:

Easy foods:
fruit, crackers & cheese
black bean burgers from Costco
mashed potatoes
baked bean sandwiches (yes…)
coconut curry + rice
dressed-up tomato soup with mozzarella
Greek salad

I’ve also gone back to a flexitarian diet (vegetarian with occasional/minimal meat) and given up coffee. I don’t miss the coffee habit at all, though I still love coffee and will buy one once in a blue moon (pumpkin spice lattes can’t come early enough this year). Meat… not gonna lie, I kind of miss hot dogs, but not enough to go back.

The “fanciest” thing on this list was the salad. I’ve made it a few times before so it was relatively painless. It’s a recipe from an old church friend—you just prep and mix all the ingredients (amounts to taste), then add Girard’s Greek Feta dressing. I left the spinach out and only added it when serving, otherwise it could get wilted/mushy.

Greek Salad ingredients:
Cherry tomatoes
Kalamata olives

Artichoke hearts
Feta cheese crumbles

If you want to get really epic, you cook some pasta in advance and use it instead of spinach. But I wasn’t feeling up to it this week.

As of yesterday, I graduated from the kitchen counter to an actual dining table, courtesy of the FedEx guy who hoisted the box up the stairs like Atlas. So here’s hoping the food also gets an upgrade. 😉

some words

Long time, no post. This will be a brain dump…

Summer finally caught up with us in the PNW. I’ve been slumped in my chair next to the open window listening to the neighbors’ fan most of the day, which generates an almost hypnotizing background noise.

I keep thinking about and praying for Gia Fuda, a local girl who disappeared on Friday.

There can be a lot hidden behind a “perfect” life.

The Digital Minimalism project took a hit the last couple of months… there is so much I could say about it, but basically, I failed. However… I’ve realized some interesting things during this time which are going to help me get back on track. More on that later (maybe).

A COVID update: We are partially open (Phase 2), but the phased reopening is also on pause. So I have gone to the bookstore once, but that is about all I have done or can do, for fun. My other occasional haunt, the movie theater, is still closed. Yay for books.

On a personal note—I’m getting ready to move. 🙂 I’ve been low-key planning to get my own place for several years now, and I decided 2020 was going to be the year. *Enter Corona* I’m grateful the first option didn’t pan out and I ended up quarantining with family, but the shutdown inspired me to do more of the things I kept putting off or wasn’t sure about, like moving out. So, on a second attempt, I found a really neat place, not too far away, where I’ll be renting for a bit. Endgame is to get a house, but—one step at a time.

So that will be keeping me busy for the next few months. Hey, I might even share some recipes, cause now my cooking goal will become a reality by necessity!

Hope you all are staying safe and well.


in the quiet
i seem to lose my defiance
i circle back to the certain
don’t need the man behind the curtain

cause he’s hurting
we’re swallowed up by our burdens
inheritance of the journey
families and neighbors
daydreams and labors
promise and worry

in the quiet
i seem to grow young inside it
i see the things that were hiding
don’t need the gps to find it

cause it’s broken
keeps me back from my learning
finding signs in the journey
dead-ends and dirt roads
whispers and passcodes
sorrow and beauty

in the quiet
i gather up expectations
and trade them in for consolations.


Digital Minimalism: Instagram and Pinterest

A week ago, I decided to take the next step in my digital minimalism goal and tackle a big fish: Instagram.

Too Much of a Good Thing

I’ve been using Instagram since 2016. I joined pretty late in the game, first using it for sharing random photos/thoughts and later creating a second account to connect with the book community. Like most social media, Instagram is what you make of it. Over the years, I’ve managed to start or maintain some good online friendships through the platform, which (beyond sharing book reviews) has been my main focus in using social media at all.

More recently, I’ve found Instagram to become quite a time suck. I spend a lot of time trying to keep up with everyone I know on there—that is, both their pictures and their Stories—and I also get readily sucked into the algorithm of recommended pictures. The algorithm is just poor enough that it barely knows what I like (I finally trained it to show me bookish jokes/memes, cute animals, and pretty costumes), but it’s just good enough that I find it incredibly addicting, whether I’m trying to unwind for the day or feeling sad-bored. Between both of these feeds, plus posting my own content, I can easily spend 1+ hours a day on the ‘gram.

Last weekend, I decided to confront this unhealthy habit. I didn’t want to quit Instagram altogether, because it’s still a great and fun tool when used in moderation. What I did was uninstall the app from my phone, but I left it installed on my iPad and on my desktop computer. You may be thinking, “well, what good does that do?” Surprisingly, quite a lot!

The key to this approach lies in Instagram itself. The experience on iPad and desktop is notoriously bad. On the iPad, Instagram can be installed and used, but the resolution is still geared for phones, so you’ve got all the cumbersome-ness of a tablet without the full benefits of a tablet’s screen size. On desktop, Instagram is so boiled-down, you can’t upload a photo easily. (There is a hack to do it, which is a little roundabout, but it works for me since I only upload photos once a week or so.)

Given the inconveniences and a better self-awareness, I don’t enjoy using Instagram nearly so much when it’s not on my phone. So far, this has helped to greatly reduce my usage. When I am using it now, I focus on keeping up with my closest friends, and I don’t feel inclined to look at endless recommended pictures.

Saying Good-Bye to Pinterest

I’ve had Pinterest longer than I’ve had Instagram, but surprisingly I never found it to be addicting. There were seasons when I would spend more time on it, especially during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but all in all, it’s never been an addiction for me like Tumblr or Instagram were. It’s probably because Pinterest feels less social to me than Instagram, and up until recently, I had trouble finding pictures I liked on there anyway.

That said, I decided I don’t need Pinterest to save pictures I like, so yesterday I saved my favorite pictures for future personal reference and deleted the account. Unless the website dramatically changes in the future, I don’t think I will miss this one, either.

“Pinterest in Real-Life” … AKA Photo Albums

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to start scrapbooking. Nothing elaborate, just collections of my favorite photos, paintings, and quotes.

While I hesitate to start yet another hobby (!!), I find there’s something wonderful about a physical photo album, such as my mom created for each of us children when we were young.

  • A physical album is only so big, so you have to choose the most important things to include. You simply can’t hoard the equivalent to endless amounts of digital photos (as I do 😛 ).
  • It’s something you can carry with you and look at even if the power goes out, a website goes down, or your laptop conks out.
  • It takes a lot more effort to arrange a nice photo album, which says a little bit more about you and not just the pictures themselves.

I don’t know when I can start yet, but I plan to create albums for the really important memories, like our best family vacations or the most beautiful flowers I’ve seen. And when I do that, I think I will just save one digital photo copy as backup and let the rest go.