Monday, July 31, 2006

Taste of a limerick: true story

Ode to a Pepper Grinder

There once was a black pepper grinder
That was loved by a woman so much
It did grind so finely, so gracefully
And its surface was smooth to the touch.

Its shape was both phallic and feminine
Oh, can you imagine such a thing?
So cheap, it was allowed to get dirty
What happiness this thing did bring!

But one day the man brought two friends home
Sleek grinders by Peugeot, I think
One salt, one for pepper, quite pretty
The woman, she was tickled pink.

Until after she returned from vacation
When in want of some pepper she did find
That her dear little grinder was missing
She thought, could my husband really be so unkind?

It was true that the grinder found its fate
In the trashcan but it was too late.

'Don't know if he was sorry
But this is the moral of the story:

Don't favor black pepper over your mate.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Restaurant review: Le Mauritius

For my birthday, I didn't ask John for an expensive dinner as I might have in the past. Instead, I wanted an exotic dinner. I discovered Le Mauritius in a free 2004 restaurant guide put out by budget-conscious students looking for a good deal. The cuisine of this fourteenth-arrondissement restaurant is of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Being ethnically diverse, this island delivers foods influenced by the Indian, Muslim, Creole, Chinese, and French cultures.

John and I started off with a very interesting litchi cocktail for an aperitif (under four euros). For an appetizer, I had the plate of deep-fried goodies, of which the samosa was to die for. Wrapped in filo, the samosa was flavored with Indian spices, but the traditional potatoes and peas were replaced with mashed fish. The veggies, each nestled with a bit of mashed fish and deep-fried in batter, were rather flavorless and required one of the restaurant's condiments -- a neat salsa made of tomatoes, ginger, and garlic, and an incredibly hot chili and garlic sauce which burned the back of my mouth for a full minute or two. John's appetizer resembled steamed Chinese dumplings. These were stuffed with ground beef mixed with non-Chinese, perhaps Middle-Eastern, spices.

My main dish was a scallop rougaille. The savory, tomato-based sauce was amazing, but unfortunately, my scallops were a little overcooked and chewy instead of tender. It was served with a side of white rice and another of beans (like chili). There was some mix-up with John's dish and he ended up getting a chicken and rice dish instead of pork. Two tasty drumsticks were hidden in a mound of yellow Creole fried rice.

We shared the warm coconut cake served with whipped cream and creme anglaise. Delicious ending!

Our total came to just forty-six euros which also included a coffee and some house wine for John. Not bad for homestyle Mauritian cooking. The service was friendly and efficient. It was a warm evening with a beautiful sunset, so we opted to sit at a table outside on the sidewalk and missed the tropical decor and music indoors.

It's worth trying again. I can't wait to get a full plate of samosas and to try one of their meat dishes, maybe a curry. I know John's going to order a rougaille -- he fell in love with that sauce.

Maylin talks, part 2

A few more cute Maylin-isms:

"You be-mem-buh?" = "Do you remember?"
"Let's be-tend." = "Let's pretend."
"Cram-pa" = "Grandpa"

I was hemming one of my new pants by hand the other day (they all need hemming!) and Maylin asked that I teach her how to sew. I showed her and she started doing some creative 3-D stitching with my discarded material. She said a remarkable thing then, "We're helping ourselves." Wow -- how does a three-and-a-half year-old come up with the concept of self-sufficiency?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Diet coke and mentos phenomenon

What do you do when your jetlagged daughter still won't sleep at one in the morning? You both watch internet videos of diet coke shooting out of their bottles after an introduction of the candy, mentos, of course. You have to see to believe. (Slap me, I'm sounding like a classifieds ad.) Here's the best of all diet coke/mentos videos -- the one that everyone's talking about (an intricate display of liquid fireworks).

Almost trapped

The other day, Maylin (completely asleep in her stroller) and I were our neighborhood FNAC, a large multimedia/electronics/book store. I entered initially to just rest my feet since I had already been walking around the neighborhood for a long time. Eventually, I browsed the DVD section and classical CD sections, and finally settled in the children's book section to sit in the new seating area and read some art-activity books for kids. I had probably been in the store for almost two hours when I decided to leave. As I waited for the elevator, the electricity suddenly went out. No music, none of the main lights, no air-conditioning. And no working elevator. If we were in that contraption a minute earlier, it would've spelled doom. Can you imagine being trapped in a tiny elevator with no lights and no air-conditioning with a sleeping child who could awaken at any minute and very likely scream in the complete darkness?

Announcements were made over the loudspeaker to inform us to evacuate. A very nice staff member helped me carry a heavy Maylin and her stroller down four flights of non-functioning escalators. We passed by the floor with the main checkout area and were surprised to find the cash registers running and the lines for them long. Very curious.

Once we got to the street, I fully expected the entire neighborhood to be lacking electricity. But traffic lights were working and the lights were on in nearby stores. So it turns out that the blackout was just another glitch of EDF, our lovely electricity monopoly.

Maylin talks

John finds Maylin much more talkative now after our return from the States. She did used to be occasionally shy around her father, but now, she has no inhibitions. John is having a wonderful time interacting with our little chatterbox.

Maylin has her own, cute way of pronouncing things. "Water" is "wah-do" and "ticklish" is "tih-ko-lish." Just now, she pronounced "lobster" as "lob-sto." I wonder when the "er" sound is going to come out.

Her favorite word for the last six months has been "butt-cheeks." She heard me say it one time a while back and when she repeated it, I was laughing like crazy because it sounded so cute. Since she knows she can get a good reaction of people when saying it, she uses it regularly.

Yesterday morning, at breakfast, Maylin spoke to Leo as he entered the dining room. "Good morning, my little guy," totally cracked both of us up so she repeated it several times to multiply the fun. She continued with, "Have a good sleep, my little sweetie?"

At this age, kids are so honest. We encountered a large woman somewhere (it wasn't in Paris) and Maylin loudly said, "That's a big lady," to my embarrassment. When Maylin saw a woman with a slightly disfigured visage, she said, "I don't like that lady's face." I can't wait until she delivers the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Unexpected birthday gift

In the first few minutes of my thirty-second birthday, while I was rinsing a nectarine in the kitchen sink for my jet-lagged daughter, I received a shocking gift -- a full, frontal view of a completely naked male neighbor across the courtyard through my curtainless window. It was bound to happen, I guess. These neighbors think the shoji screens covering their windows are opaque. These shades do the job during the day, but at night, I see blurred nude bodies walking around, surfing the internet, rummaging through their dresser, etc. I am an unintentional voyeur. We really should get something for our kitchen windows, shouldn't we.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back in hot, steamy Paris

It's 5:22 am right now and the temperature is 72 degrees Farenheit with 78% humidity. The air feels very heavy and warm. We got in yesterday and melted in a much warmer, non-conditioned apartment -- ours. No fan, either. Number one priority today: buy a fan.

We had a nice ten-hour flight. Maylin had lots of fun playing with the seven year-old girl sitting in front of her. We offered our new friend gummy bears and a lollipop; in return, Maylin got some Pringles. Maylin shared her dou-dous with the girl so her stuffed giraffe and sea otter got lots of attention. The two of them also played peekaboo with the young man behind us. Maylin learned some new manners on the flight. The phrases, "excuse me, can I borrow your sticky toy?" (sticky toy = "wacky wall-walker" type of toy found in some cereal boxes during my childhood) and "excuse me, can I borrow your TV?" (handheld media player) got some use when Maylin saw something interesting going on in front of her. It was so cool hearing such a young kid say, "excuse me." She was not shy at all with her new friend. She's so different when it comes to adults, though.

I've used very little French since the flight. Being away for over a month makes the lingual transition not so easy. Not that I've necessarily forgotten a lot, but my tongue and lips aren't ready to articulate those very different sounds. And on a direct flight from San Francisco to Paris on Air France, when do you make the transition from English to French with the flight crew? Once you reach the Atlantic? When you're right over France? Or right when you step aboard the plane and encounter your first Frenchies in over a month? (I think I just made up "Frenchies." Not meant to be derogatory in any way.)

Apart from my mom's wonderful cooking and some good Bay Area restaurants, it was hard to find a meal in the States that met my expectations. I think being spoiled in France with so much good food and improving my own culinary technique has made for a very discriminating palate. Now I can tell if a restaurant is using frozen ingredients or processed foods in their recipes and it displeases me a lot. Why pay for something that isn't fresh and made from scratch? That's usually how I cook at home.

I've had several bad meals in France, too, surprisingly. But I'll let you read the rest of my blog (past and future entries) to find out the details.

I was happy to discover that there was at least one real Japanese restaurant in the San Joaquin Valley, about 45 minutes away from my hometown. Tempura, teriyaki, udon, nigiri, rice bowls -- a very complete menu! It wasn't the best Japanese I've had, but it was pretty good for being outside of a major metropolitan area. Aside from the undercooked rice in my mom's tuna rolls (I made her send it back -- how can you serve less than perfect rice in a Japanese restaurant and expect your customers to break their teeth on it?), I had few real complaints. My mom thought the shrimp was on the small side -- that is a big deal when it comes to tempura because it means you're getting a mouthful of batter mostly.

Our trip back was a really nice one. Saw my brother get married, got to know my new sister a little better, witnessed a beautiful bond between Maylin and my parents growing, helped Maylin develop a love for the water and start learning how to swim, spent time with good friends (still didn't get to see them all, unfortunately), and played tennis with my parents. A big thank-you to my parents for hosting such a wonderful stay.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My brain's on fire

Too much mental activity for the wee hours of the morning! Wish my brain could just relax on vacation, but it's been running for three hours since before 3 a.m.!

I'm going to blame it on my new toy. This is my first significant toy for a long time. I got the latest Canon SLR camera yesterday as an early birthday present to myself, at only a fraction of the cost of the other Canon SLRs on the market.

I took a basic photography course at U.C. Berkeley during the summer of 1995 and had the best time ever! At the time, I discovered a talent I never knew I had. More about that later.

I'm so happy to revisit this art that has lay dormant within me for over ten years. I want to write more about this latest project now, but it's funny -- I'm really tired...just too tired to think straight anymore.

In the near future, look forward to my creation of a second blog -- a photo blog!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Maylin swims!

One of the great things coming out of the extention of my vacation is that Maylin is learning to swim! My little girl who refused to leave the pool steps the first week here, is now kicking around the entire pool in an inner tube! I am so excited! She even prefers not to hold anyone's hand. She is so independent! I have two people to thank for this transformation -- Maylin's new friend who came over often to play and swim in the pool and my new sister-in-law, a former swimming instructor, who got Maylin to jump from the pool steps into her arms.

Daily access to a pool certainly helps, too. Maylin can't wait to get into Grandma and Grandpa's pool to swim everyday. I have dreamed of this moment. It's too bad I'm such a horrible swimmer myself. Maybe we'll take swim lessons together someday.

Spending more time here also means Maylin has more time to warm up to Dr. Grandpa, whom she has been wary of for a long time since he was the one who gave her all her shots. Previous visits to the States involved Maylin hiding her face and refusing to talk whenever Grandpa was around. But now, they're sharing many, many kisses, they're playing and swimming together...what a wonderful sight. I knew it would just take time.

My new communication style

I've been having a nice time here in California, having extended my vacation an extra couple of weeks so Maylin can develop a stronger relationship with Grandma and Grandpa and so I can have a little more time with family and friends. Meeting with so many friends means many more conversations for me than usual. Now I've noticed a change in my communication style.

I think I'm comparing my present self to my college self. In college, I loved to be the center of attention -- talking loudly, talking a lot, talking a lot about myself. I have definitely changed. I'm reverting back to my pre-college years where I did more listening. I asked people a lot of questions about themselves and still do because I'm a curious person. But I think I also used to be put off if people didn't ask questions of me. I must have been a wee bit self-centered. Now, I don't care if they don't ask about me. I am quite content to listen to others and offer my input and ideas. I don't volunteer information about myself unless prompted.

And in a group setting, I don't have the need to be heard. A few weeks ago, in the middle of a group conversation, I was dying to tell a story about one of my experiences (I even had one of my old physical reactions -- heart pounding, nearly leaping out of my chest) but when the time passed and the conversation had moved onto another topic without me, I let it go and realized that it wasn't a big deal.

I grew up shy and always wanted to be more talkative and outgoing. In college, I had my chance to recreate myself as that talkative, outgoing person. Now, I'm pulling back a little and not suffering from it one bit. I must have some real self-confidence and self-esteem now. That's a good feeling.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Up close and personal

Today Maylin and I went to Monterey, California, with some old family friends and enjoyed a glorious day there. I have always remembered Monterey as a rather chilly city -- beautiful, but often overcast and crisp. We were lucky to have a sun-filled, warm day to spend at Dennis the Menace Park (a wonderful playground for children with many different play structures and two added bonuses: a drinking fountain within the jaws of a cartoony, fiberglass lion, and a real, retired steam engine for exploring), Fisherman's Wharf (for clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and fried calamari, which Maylin loved -- squiggly legs only), and the beach and tide pools at Lover's Point (where we said "bonjour" to a wee hermit crab with shapely, little blue legs, and collected pretty rocks and seashells).

One of my favorite moments of the day was feeding the flock of Canadian geese by the water, outside the children's playground. There's something really special about getting so close to these fearless creatures who jumped right out of the water to land inches away from me. I was so close to one goose's face I could have planted a kiss on his wet beak.

Last week, in the backyard of the home of another family friend, Maylin and I had another close encounter with a feathered friend. Actually, there were several little feathered friends -- three little baby robins in their nest, about a week old. We even saw their mom and dad there, catching little wormies which they doled out remarkably evenly among the three youngsters. It was fun to see these little ones so hungry, poking their little beaks out of the nest, saying "ah."

A couple days before the bird visit, we had another meeting -- but this time, with little furry creatures. On the lawn of a rest area off highway I-5, my brother introduced us to wild bunnies, squirrels, and gophers. Can you picture at least thirty cute, little, brownish-gray bunnies bounding around a public rest area? My brother's new bride, another rest area user, and I actually managed to corner a little bunny and thought we just might succeed in catching one for a pet (Maylin wanted to take one back for her "puppy," Leo). The little guy somehow managed to squeak by us and bolted like lightning. Those things are fast! We all spent a lot of time trying to catch a bunny, but they all ended up fleeing, escaping under a wire fence to hide in the tall, golden brush of the foothills.

The squirrels weren't terribly exciting, but we met a really funny gopher who unabashedly came out of his hole in the ground to look for food. It didn't seem to bother him that we were just a foot away. I was bad and tossed a few pebbles in his direction to provoke him, but I got what I wanted -- him to turn his head towards me and show me his long and sharp two front teeth.

I love animals and don't have an opportunity to interact with much wildlife in Paris (where is the wildlife? do pigeons count?). Sure, we've seen animals in zoos and on farms, but it's not quite the same as visiting critters in their natural habitat and in action -- foraging for food and running for their lives.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On vacation

Whoah, I haven't posted in ages! Sorry about that. I've been on vacation in the States. Drove up to Oregon to see my little brother get married, and ever since we got back, I've been working on cleaning and organizing my parents' home -- it's become a ritual for me. (My parents aren't messy people, but things accumulate. Both of them work really hard and my mom works crazy-long hours so I'm happy to donate my time and energy to making living in their house a little more pleasant.) Last year, I did that complete overhaul which included giving away furniture, tossing out a lot of junk, and reinvigorating the living room with new furniture and a new TV. This time, I reorganized the kitchen and laundry room cabinets, gave life back to my brother's room (I hope the new bride appreciates it when they get back from their honeymoon), and am going through 5-6 years of bills and miscellaneous documents hidden in various places around the house. I think these papers will be happy to have a new home in a filing cabinet.

Maylin and I are swimming everyday. She's developing a love for the water, although she's not actually swimming yet. But she's very happy to hold on to me as we glide through the water and spin around to my newly-composed tune, "Bouncy baby, spinning baby." Most of the time, she plays on the pool steps with her little animal toys. She talks to them and play out several different scenarios, with her favorite setting being school.

She is so much like me. When I was a child, I loved playing school, too. In my grade school years, I even drafted homework assignments and tests on those carbon sheets for making dittos. Remember the smell and feel of those slightly damp dittos "hot off the press"? And what about those bright purple characters asking you what three times five is? Ah, some of you may be too young to remember. That's one sensual experience that, unfortunately, you will never have the opportunity to enjoy.

Maylin is finally getting over her fear of Grandpa. He's a pediatrician and was happy to give her all her early check-ups and shots when she was a baby and toddler, but I think it's taken Maylin a while to forgive him for all that pain and anxiety. She still freaks out when she sees a white coat approaching her, but at least, at home, she talks to him a little, and one time, played with Grandpa for hours, wearing him out and giving him a sore chest (she stepped on it repeatedly). Somehow he brought the wild side out of her. She's rarely wild with me. Maylin often plays rough with John because that's the way he does it and now she seems to associate all male figures with this aggressive play-style.

My daughter has an amazing musical memory. Here's an example. She watched a video of Disney's Sleeping Beauty for the first time last week. A few days later, as I'm washing the dishes, I start singing its hit song, "Once Upon a Dream." Maylin listens and asks, "Is that the Sleeping Beauty song?" Except the word "beauty" comes out more like "booty." I'm impressed and amused.

Hope you all had a nice Fourth of July!