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Juan and I devoured sandwiches from Ike’s place at Dolores Park and immediately regretted that we didn’t just split one sandwich between the two of us. But it was too late to be thinking about curbing excesses while our mouths were full of halal chicken, avocado, and beer battered onion rings. We comforted ourselves that, at the very least, we were able to prevent further caloric imbalance by not splurging on Bi-Rite Ice Cream. The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering through the Mission watching hula hoopers, drummers, spray painters, and capoeira dancers.

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Normally, I avoid taking my DSLR camera to restaurants. As much as I enjoy food photography, the lighting is often terrible for taking good pictures. I much rather dig into my food than satisfy my inner shutterbug. But I went to Outerlands today hoping to take some decent photos for the weSpot contest.

Since it’s always packed to the brim whenever I try to go, I was expecting to taste some spectacular-ness. It didn’t live up to the hype, really. My ham sandwich was good, but not memorable nor worth the hour wait. While the quality of the food is solid, I could get a better and more flavorful sandwich at Wooly Pig Cafe around the corner from my house. But their hot ginger, lemon apple cider was excellent. If I could, I would spend my whole Saturday sipping this cider and reading a book.

But overall, the only reason why I think this place is so popular is the decor. Beautiful wood paneling lined the walls and counters. They have a terrific outdoor seating area with wooden benches and flowers that made the hour long wait not so bad, especially since I could warm myself in the sun. I almost wanted to order more food just so I could sit there longer.

Ideally I would have taken more people shots, but I’m not quite that bold. I wouldn’t know if I’d want somebody taking my picture while I’m eating. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t care. One of these days, I’m going to try one of those photography challenges where I take portraits of strangers on the streets.

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Which five should I send to weSpot?

Tuesday night, Vicky and I went to see The Little Mermaid Sing-A-Long at the Castro Theater. We were given a bag to equip us with all that we’d need for the perfect interactive experience: a plastic crown (King Trident!), a plastic fork (“dinglehopper”), soap bubbles (life is the bubbles under the sea!), glow sticks and party poppers (because why not?). The theater was beautiful. And packed. People were breaking out their glow sticks and bubbles long before the movie started. You can’t enjoy a sing-a-long without an audience who’s equally, if not more, enthusiastic than you.

It was incredibly fun. We cheered for Ariel. We stamped our feet. We booed at Ursula. And we sang all the iconic songs that made The Little Mermaid so great. And while princess movies may be sending the wrong ideas to children about gender roles and romance (seriously Ariel, you’re 16 and you’re “in love” with a guy you saw just once?), that’s not going to stop my inner child from loving this movie. At one point during “Part of Your World,” I got both the tingles and teary eyedness of nostalgia. There is no better way to re-watch a Disney classic.

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What do they got? A lot of sand
We got a hot crustacean band!
Each little clam here
Know how to jam here
Under the sea
Each little slug here
Cuttin’ a rug here
Under the sea
Each little snail here
Know how to wail here
That’s why it’s hotter
Under the water
Ya we in luck here
Down in the muck here
Under the sea

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Grape and Rosemary Focaccia from 17 and Baking

This is probably the easiest and best yeast-based bread that I ever made. Even my mom liked it and she’s usually skeptical of my baked goods. The olive oil and rosemary really shines through, especially if you heat them up together before you add it to the dough. I accidentally left the focaccia in the oven longer than I intended, but fortunately, it came out with a nice crispy crust with a soft interior.  Next time, I would use the regular red grapes instead of these wine grapes, which were a wee-bit too small and didn’t keep shape as well.

I don’t get to see my dad often, so it’s always a little weird when I do see him the few times that he’s able to visit from Hong Kong.  I always catch myself looking at the tufts of gray hair poking from underneath his cap.  And mentally measuring how much girth he’s gained since the last time I’ve seen him.  No butter.  No eggs.  Less carbs.  More fruits.  I nag him as he bites into his piece of french bread smeared with a huge dollop of butter.  He whines, I don’t get to eat this often.  So I let him, because I always do.

While we wait for our food, he whips out his smart phone and begins snapping pictures.  Of everything.  The restaurant’s front.  The flowers beside our table.  My mom as she pretends to ignore him.  My mom as she gives in and flashes her camera-ready smile.  And then me, even though I’m doing my best to look annoyed.  He pats my head and tousles my hair like I’m still nine.  But I let him, because the little things matter.   Because I know these pictures would be his reminders of what I look like until the next time I see him.

After our meal, we walked to the Palace of Fine Arts Theater.  It’s the first time I’ve been there and I wish I could’ve stayed longer.  But it was also crawling with tourists and couples in the middle of their wedding/engagement photo shoots. I bet the place would look even more gorgeous at dusk.  Next time.

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I can’t remember the last time that my parents took a photo together.

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And….giant bubbles!  We saw these while my mom and I were visiting Sausalito two weekends ago.  They’re intriguing to watch, these over-sized amorphous blobs.  And menacing up close, since I imagine it’s not very pleasant to have one of these babies pop over your head unless you like strings of soap in your hair.  But you can’t deny that they look super fun to make.  Who wants to get two sticks, a piece of rope, and some soap water?  Me!

Two weekends ago, I went to the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon to gorge myself on chocolate samples.  If you’re interested in reading about it, I wrote an article for my school newspaper.  Chocolate

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There was a booth that was selling special infused olive oil.  I fell in love with the basil and sun-dried tomato.  But I also didn’t want to spend $30/bottle.  Maybe I will try to make my own!

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Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands.  And then eat just one of the pieces.
— Judith Viorst

I had something to look forward to after two grueling weeks of school.  Juan came to visit for Thanksgiving!  On his first day here, we went home to Cupertino and feasted on my mother’s delicious cooking.  Which includes my favorite “mom dish:” stir fried shrimp in tomato sauce.  We spent the rest of the holiday in San Francisco where we walked through some pretty neighborhoods and I had an excuse to finally pull out my camera.

Our first destination was to the Mission District where I forced Juan to eat a taco with me at Pancho Villa Taqueria.  When he started licking the salsa verde off his plate, I knew that Mexican food has finally won him over.  Then we walked over to Clarion Alley where almost every inch of space is crammed with murals and street art.

These Koi fish are actually from a sidewalk near Mission Dolores.

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The old man picture on the left is one of my favorites.

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Looks like Escher’s “Relativity,” doesn’t it?

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I don’t really have to describe how beautiful the artwork was; it clearly speaks for itself.

We also tried a bunch of restaurants that were all great, but the one worth mentioning is Parada 22 in the Haight.  Few weeks ago when I discovered this small Puerto Rican eatery, I was super excited to take Juan there and see whether the food was legit.  And it was!  At least, Juan claims it actually tastes like his mom’s cooking.  If you ever try this place, order the Mofongo con Camarones.  The shrimp comes with a creamy garlic sauce that is to die for.

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I forgot how much I loved strolling through neighborhoods and taking pictures with Juan.  We covered a fair amount of ground.  Cupid’s Span and the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building (where they sell amazing flavored olive oil–perfect “grown-up” gifts!), North Beach and Russian Hill (to see the view from curvy Lombard street), Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and then Chinatown for dinner.

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Fisherman’s Wharf.  We were tempted to buy some calamari, but we held out for dinner.  Instead, we amused ourselves at Musee Mecanique where they have the antique arcade machines (like Pong, Pac Man, and pinballs) and tons of those “fortune teller boxes” like Zoltar from Tom Hank’s “Big.” There went all our quarters.

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City Lights Bookstore is around the corner.  It’s sort of touristy and pricey, but worth browsing through if you like cozy independent bookstores with “San Francisco’s liberal flare.”

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Yes, we took a picture of Juan laying down with the bow and arrow in the background so that it looks like he’s getting pierced.

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I’m not a coffee connoisseur but Juan grew up on this stuff.  We visited Ritual Roasters (Mission), where Juan fell in love with the their “El Cipres,” which apparently is infused with citrus and carries no bitter aftertaste.  Not that my taste buds can discern such subtlety.  Blue Bottle Coffee at the Ferry Building tasted just like Peet’s, although that may be because the coffee at that location isn’t representative of the main Blue Bottle somewhere downtown.  And the Mojito Mint at Philz Coffee was MY favorite.  Juan bought three packs of their “Greater Alarm” light roast grounds to take back to Boston. 

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And finally, the best part about the holiday was cooking a meal together.  We made empanadas from scratch; I was in charge of the dough and Juan took care of the filling.  Even though we couldn’t get all the Latino ingredients, they still turned out fantastic.  We chose to bake these instead of frying them the traditional way, so they taste so much healthier.  Juan’s a miracle-worker when it comes to spicing up meat.  Mmm, can’t wait to make these again next month for Christmas.

I didn’t really have plans for Halloween weekend, but somehow ended up watching a free screening of The Shining at Park Chalet on Friday night.  Red Rum! Red Rum!  Definitely will check back to see what other movies they’ll be showing on Fridays, especially since they offer happy hour priced drinks/food from 9 PM.  $3 beer?  $3 garlic fries?

Saturday night, my friend persuaded me to join the annual Journey to the End of the Night street game.  Basically, it’s a public zombie game where “humans” must travel by foot or public transit to five checkpoints in the city and make it to the finish line without being tagged by the “zombies/chasers.”  The turnout was amazing.  When we went to register, the line almost stretched from Cupid’s Span to the Ferry Building.  Numbers were definitely in the hundreds, which meant that there was a mad rush/stampede out of the starting point.

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The checkpoints we had to reach before the finish line were spread out across the city: Pagoda Pl (near Chinatown), Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Levi’s Plaza (on Embarcadero), Broadway Tunnel West Mini Park, and finally end at Crissy Field in the Presidio.  Fortunately, each checkpoint is located in a safezone which includes several streets.  Bus shelters and train stations were also considered safe.

I don’t think I’ve ever ridden the bus so much since I’ve been here.  I’m terrible at directions, so I was really glad that my group was very smart-phone and direction savvy.  Our strategy was to use public transit to get as close to the checkpoints as possible and sprint when necessary.  Of course, there were definitely runner enthusiasts who just sprinted the whole way.  We were not that ambitious.

The purpose of the game was to also help acquaint you with the city.  And even if you are familiar with all the places, it’s still a thrill to run through these neighborhoods at night.  I especially loved the fantastic view from Crissy Field Beach where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge shine across the waters and hints of a light fog hovering near the coastline.

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To be honest, I didn’t think we would last very long in the game.  But when we finished our fourth checkpoint, I knew we had to push on to the end!  It’s actually kind of scary walking down the streets and not knowing if there were zombies that would pop out from a corner.  We were lucky that most of the chasers that we spotted didn’t notice us back, but we did have to sprint at one point to make it to our fourth stop.  We also had a lot of help from our zombie friends.

After a good four hours, we finally made it to the finish at midnight!  Whoo!  We didn’t win anything, but I left feeling very accomplished and somewhat confident that I may just survive a zombie apocalypse.

Panna Cotta Tart with the chocolate almond graham cracker crust that I used from the last post.  I paired these with roasted grapes that I roasted with balsamic and honey.  I would use a regular tart crust instead of a crumb crust if you don’t want crumbs to float to the surface, but mine tasted just fine.

It looks like an enormous drop of glowing honey.  As it is pulled from the furnace, it dazzles with a bright shade of amber orange.  Slowly, the steaming blob turns shiny and transparent–glass.  I am transfixed.  The crowd around me jostles to get a better view.  We are all waiting, eyes trained on the molten glass, to see how this formless mound will transform into a new piece of glass art.

Hot Glass Cold Beer is a monthly event hosted by the Public Glass studio in San Francisco.  For $25, patrons choose a custom made glass cup blown by the studio’s own artists, which will be theirs to keep after the night.  Each cup has its own flair; there are vase-like cups, lop-sided cups, and cups with thin spouts.  I chose a small, simple cup decorated with swirls of orange and yellow; the sides are perfectly uneven–exactly how I like it.

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Vicky and I headed to the glassmaking area where they also serve unlimited wine and beer in your newly purchased cups while you enjoy the entertainment.  This is the hardest part to describe. If you’ve never seen glass being made before, like me, then you will find the experience exhilarating.  It almost feels like you’re given a sneak peek into an alchemy show; except, instead of Harry Potter music in the background, there’s a live band playing Johnny Cash.  It’s so “country lively” that I half expect to see an ironsmith making horseshoes or whatnot–but no, it’s all about glass here.

The red hot glass balls are attached to the ends of long metal rods, and they are carried from furnace to furnace.  Before it has time to cool, the glassblower rolls the still pliable glass on the surface of a steel table.  It does not look easy.  There is sweat and quivering muscles, swift practiced movements and furrowed brows.  It is amazing to think of the precision required to balance the pressure applied to the glass in order to achieve a symmetrical shape.  These artists are not using any sort of casting mold.  No, they are literally crafting this by hand.  That thought alone should be enough to inspire awe.

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To elongate the structure, air is blown through the metal rod, which is hollow, to inflate the glass at the other end.  Hence, the name, glassblowing.  Initially, it looked like the artist was making a glass vase, which would have been an impressive feat on its own.  But when eyes and ears started to appear, I realized that they were aspiring for something much more complex–a glass horse head.

I wish I could say that I saw the end product, but I could not stay for the finale.  Before I left, however, I was able to visit the next workroom where other studio artists were making glass baubles.  Definitely do not miss out on this side demonstration, because if you are lucky, like my friend Vicky, you may leave with an additional souvenir.

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We saw an artist create round trinkets with spiraling colors inside.  And another who carefully pieced together an intricate goddess pendant, complete with hair and bellybutton.

After these amazing demonstrations, the audience is invited to sign up for classes and workshops offered at Public Glass.  Even if you’re intimidated by furnace work, there offer many other varieties of glassmaking courses.  It’s definitely not a cheap hobby, and I probably won’t be blowing glass anytime soon, but Hot Glass Cold Beer certainly warrants a second visit.  And if you haven’t been before, it’s an incredible event to go and be inspired by glass art.

*Some of these pictures were taken by my friend, Vicky.

This week, I moved into my new apartment in Inner Sunset.  So far, I’ve already tried soul food at Farmerbrown, which boasts live music and bottomless mimosas for Sunday brunch.  I’ve enjoyed Ike’s incredibly delectable sandwiches while chilling in Mission Dolores park. And I’ve tasted the Peach Ginger ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.  Not to mention the many times I’ve dropped in at La Boulange in Cole Valley which is right next to my best friend’s apartment.  This is going to be a good year, I can tell.

The only misfortune has been my Ikea delivery, which was supposed to come on Monday, but somehow became a weeklong delay as I waited for them to deliver the last item — my mattress.  So for the past three nights, I have been sleeping on the floor with a sleeping bag.

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Last night, my friend, Vicky, goaded me into trying a free lesson at Quantum Martial Arts.  It’s a small dojo nestled in the Mission district.  Normally, karate is not my thing, but in the spirit of “new home, new experiences,” I decided to take a chance.  Besides, I asked her, it’s not going to be too hard, right?

Oh no, it’s a yoga/martial arts thing, she says.  Throwing the “yoga” in there to entice me.  She adds, and maybe some calisthenics.

What???  You mean push-ups?  I haven’t worked out for half a year.  And even then, the last time I did push-ups was in high school.  I maxed out at 7.

Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  Be sure to drink a lot of water.

It better not be like a boot camp.  It’s not, right?

Nah.

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We arrive at Quantum at 7:30, greeted by a friendly rottweiler and Master Rachel Evans who owns and teaches at the dojo.  She looks like–and I am not joking here–Sarah Connor from Terminator 2.  If she busted out in leather pants and a tank top, with a rifle strapped to her back, and proceeded to do upside down pull-ups, I would not even be surprised.  Because, holy crap, this woman’s got muscles.  I have no doubt that she can — if she fancied to do so–knock both of us out in ten seconds flat.

But despite appearances, Master Evans is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about what she loves and does best.  She begins to explain the structure of the class; the first hour is “warm-up” which would be a mixture of yoga and heavy push-ups and crunches.  It’s not only important to practice martial arts techniques, but to really strengthen your core strength and engage your spirit.  This might be one of the hardest things that you will have to do, she warns.  I will yell at you, she says, looking straight into my face.  “It will be like boot camp.”

At this point, I could not wait for Master Evans to turn around so that I could shoot glares at Vicky.

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We are led to our mats where she hands us some plastic blocks.  You may need to use them as support when we stretch, quickly demonstrating some sort of wide leg split.  I turn to Vicky with a look of alarm that said, “I’m supposed to do what?!”  Master Evans notices my terror, because she laughs and reassures me that our bodies are designed to do this.  I am somewhat comforted.

But that comfort didn’t last long.  After the initial yoga portion, which Vicky and I were semi-able to do, we completely lost our cool.  First, we did crunches in sets of 30 with our legs held up in the air.  Master Evans kept count with piercing yells that would have scared me more if I weren’t too distracted by the burning pain in my abdomen.  After the third set, I thought with relief that we must’ve been done, but I was wrong.  We went straight into another set, and to my dismay, she goes right past count 30.  40.  50.  Omg, this woman’s really going for a hundred.  60.  70.  I really want to fry that sausage sitting in my fridge right now.   80.  90.  100.

I don’t even have time to breathe before we turn to the push-ups.  Which were not only impossible, for me, but super embarrassing.  Why make push-ups even more painful than they already are?  I think I completed five normal ones, before I tried one where I start with both my elbows sitting on the ground and try to push up with my clasped hands.  I push as hard as I can, I make straining sounds, my body shakes with exertion; it was not happening.  And it did not happen.

Thankfully, the rest of the lesson was much more enjoyable.  When I was younger, I used to watch my brother take his Tae Kwon Do lessons and think to myself that I could do that, easy.  But actually learning the moves, adjusting the angles of my stance, and balancing myself after a kick, were much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Overall, the experience, though physically painful, was awesome.  I really appreciated Master Evan’s energy and obvious love for the art.  I left with a newfound respect for karate, and a really sore body the next morning.

Quantum may not be for me, but I would recommend it to anyone who have thought about martial arts and wanted to test the waters out before committing.  Or, if you want a really good work out.  The first month is free.

Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake from Diana’s Recipes.