The thorns must be laughing

The thorns must be laughing
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How I ended up at, of all places, a durian restaurant, I don’t know. But yup, even the thorns must be laughing at me. While driving past one the other day, I recall my passenger having mentioned durians twice in the past week. She didn’t exactly say she wanted to eat them but in the Asian culture, many things are never said directly but often inferred from knowing someone well.

Oh yes, about the durian (pronounced dew-ree-ann). In case you’re wondering, it’s a fruit with a thick skin of thorns protecting the luscious seeded fruits inside. It’s a fruit like no other – you either love it or hate it. One whiff of that odor or fragrance (depending on how you view it) of rotten eggs is enough to put some people off forever and transport others to the edge of heaven.

The thorns must be laughing

I kinda think of it as an acquired taste. If you can get past the first 126 and a half possibly nauseatingly pungent mouthfuls, there’s a good chance you may just come to like it? Maybe even crave it? Thing is you won’t know till you try, and by then, it may be too late, your tastebuds may forever be doomed. Or captivated, who knows?

I used to like durians when I was a kid. But after returning from studying in the US, I was totally turned off it aka showed no interest, wouldn’t touch it for years. These days, I’m okay with it but it’s not a big deal to me. If it’s there, I’ll eat it. If it’s not, I’m not going out of my way, as is my attitude with most foods anyways.

So you could think of me as someone who wouldn’t normally give roadside durian restaurants a second glance. It’s too sunny and blazing hot to get out of the car, and frankly, I’m not particularly drawn to (to put it mildly) eating at places that offer scenic views of pails, garbage bins and yucky floors! Then there’s this thing about the sticky, messy business of eating durians in public which I’d rather not have to deal with.

Okay, so I turn to my passenger and asks if she wants durians for lunch, hoping she’d say no. She’s hesitant, but only because she knows me too well. Her answer isn’t clear so I infer it’s a yes. So I turn “excitedly” into the parking lot, hoping not to find a spot. But there it is, right there and I’m like, oh “lucky” us!!

I’m not sure if we’re there at the right time but it sure don’t look to me like there’re as many durians as I would expect. But that’s not the problem. One look at the laminated menu of the different varieties of the fruit and I’m stumped. A menu?! You gotta be kiddin’ me! I read and re-read the items. Apart from a couple of more famous varieties, I’ve no idea about the rest. Besides, all the fruits look the same so how do you tell?

Well, looks like we’re off to a great start already!

I discreetly try to blend in with the people milling around the glove-handed, knife-wielding sellers, hoping to glean some information to use in my own decision-making. Very quickly, it becomes apparent there’s not much information to be gleaned. Everyone seems to know what they want. So where does that leave me?

The thorns must be laughing

I look around at the sellers trying to pick one who looks the kindest and most likely to be patient with me. Ah yes, I see him! A skinny guy with glasses talking to a young man in front of me. Yes, this is the guy I want! He starts going on about the most expensive and raved about variety. And if you know me, you know I really don’t care about brand names.

I’m like, look bro, my brains are running on weekend mode so please spare me the 101 and just find me a fruit that’s bitter. and one that’s sweet for my passenger. and I don’t care which variety. Turns out to be a great decision on my part. He picks us some mighty fine fruits and soon, I’m flagging him down again for more.

The thorns must be laughing

What’s nice is that there’s a ready expert to select and open up the fruit for me. It’s definitely better than trying to pry them open yourself like we (not me) used to in the old days. Thankfully these days, the thorny work is part of customer service and a price you wouldn’t mind paying if you value your fingers.

Given a choice, I’d much prefer having durians drop from the sky like they always do but I’d say this experience has been somewhat bearable? Except for the ambiance, and the hassle of eating it in public (but at least plastic gloves and tissues are provided). Would I do this again? Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe, if I’m under duress. Unlikely, if there’s a choice. Probably not, if I can help it lol.

To Club Med and back

To Club Med and back
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Hey, I’m back from Club Med. Finally found my way into what once used to be an exclusive club. These days, everyone and their pet emu wants in on a piece of the action, or inaction to those who truly understand what Club Med is all about. From Silicon Valley techies to Hollywood celebrities, everyone’s flocking there like ants to honey.

Indeed the Club Med I’m talking about has nothing to do with the fancy beach resort where you chuck your kids to resident daycare and happily dance off into the deep blue in your bikini. This is the other Club Med. Club Meditation, that is. A clever play on words for a retreat where you pretty much spend all of your waking hours in meditation, one of the central tenets of Buddhism.

While Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, famously switched off his phone at a 10-day meditation retreat, I chose a non-residential one instead. I figured if I can pull off one whole day of nothing but meditation, I might well be moving one step closer to enlightenment. Maybe. Hopefully.

So! I arrive at the meditation center bright and early. Eighteen minutes early, to be exact, as others are just beginning to trickle in. After checking in, I survey the large hall where thin cushions have been laid out neatly in rows. Okay, okay, I’m feeling all gungho already! Go me!

To Club Med and back

Image credit: depositphotos.com

For starters, we’re told to switch off our cellphones and place our bags on some designated shelves far away. I’m not married to my phone so I was quite happy saying “goodbye, phone, see ya later!” – a welcome chance to spare myself the daily chore of scrolling through and relentlessly deleting dozens of rubbishy messages and videos that I don’t even bother opening.

The day starts with a bit of chanting and brief instructions on meditation. No details are given about the day’s agenda except that we’re to observe silence throughout the retreat. We’re not allowed to speak. Okay, that’s easy enough. I’m probably more talkative on this blog than I am in person anyways.

At 11:30am, there’s a one-sentence announcement to proceed to the dining hall. Each person is allocated a box of simple vegetarian dishes over rice and a half cup of light sweet tea which I enjoy tremendously and wish I could get a refill (but no, no refills). As we eat, bowls of fruit are passed around to each table. I gingerly place 2 pieces of fresh pineapple and a banana on my box lid but pass on another fruit that looks questionable to me.

We’re encouraged to take a half hour to finish our meal, which is wa-ay longer than what we’d normally need to scarf down a meal this size. The point is to eat slowly, paying attention to what we’re eating. Which, of course, runs contrary to how we typically rush through a meal so we can move on to the next thing on our busy, crazy agenda.

As it turns out, it’s not that difficult to do and it feels pretty nice too. Taking my time to chew through each mouthful before refilling my fork and raising it to my mouth, I notice that the burst of flavors is much more distinct and I’m more aware of the taste. Hmm, this is interesting and you know what, I kinda like it!

Meditating for hours on end, however, is a whole new experience for me. I won’t say it’s easy but it’s doable. I went in without any expectations and I’m glad it didn’t feel like too much of a chore and somehow I didn’t even notice the hours going by. I think I did good (don’t you?) and for that, I’m happy. So yeah! or should I say, hooyah!

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Carrot at the end of the yawn
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I’ll be honest. Grocery runs are getting to be a big old yawn. Things seem to be the same old, same old at the grocery store every week. I can think of grocery stores where each season brings new and exciting fruits, vegetables and products and where there’s always a yummy surprise waiting around the corner. Just a mirage, I tell myself, just a mirage, ain’t happenin’ here, just keep movin’, let’s get this over with.

The only bright spark in my grocery runs these days is lunch. Yeah, that’s right, at the very least, if nothing else, there’s that delicious carrot dangling in front of me as I run into the same old grocery dead ends. The thought of lunch inspires me to get my shopping done faster and if there’s self-checkout, you can bet I’ll be rushing over there versus the regular lines.

Once out the door, me and my shopping cart will be racing in the direction of food. Okay, so it’s obvious that a picky eater doesn’t have a whole lot of choices. What to eat, what to eat? Most times, to make life simple, I just go for the same thing. No point taxing my brains too much. I just wanna plant myself at a cool spot and chow down, know what I mean?

After eliminating a whole bunch of the things I don’t or won’t eat, there’s not much left really. But on occasion, I do get lucky and manage to assemble a small feast such as this. Freshly-made spring rolls, ondeh-ondeh (desiccated coconut-coated balls with brown sugar filling) and sushi, that’s a meal right there.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all of this. I couldn’t if I tried nor would I want to try. Years of lunching with the Folks from Finance have taught me to do the math. If it works out cheaper in ‘bulk’, go for the ‘bulk’. This worked out even better because everything came in boxes that I can just chuck the leftovers into my ecobag and be on my way.

Though everything here was passable, I wish the spring rolls were less sweet and the ondeh-ondeh much less diabetic. As for the sushi, I’m not usually a big fan but these ones are okay because of the ratio of rice versus filling.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

These sushis are scarce, almost non-existent on wasabi, hence BYO handy-dandy wasabi! Sure, they do sell little wasabi packets at checkout but the portions are tiny and they somehow look stale and unappetizing to me. And that’s all, folks, as far as lunch is concerned. till it’s time for the next big ya-aawn!

Humanity at its best

Humanity at its best
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As I watched the events around the Tham Luang cave rescue of the Thai soccer team and coach unfold, I began to realize that this was more than a miracle, that there was something mystical, maybe even spiritual about this whole thing (one of which was the fact that the water pumps only failed after the last person had been rescued and the remaining rescue crew were able to get out in the nick of time).

I also began noticing some pretty amazing things happening on many levels, things we see too little of these days. My observations are based on what I’ve culled from the news, of course and these are merely some of my thoughts.

Humanity at its best

It’s interesting to see how the kids and their soccer coach were a team from start to end. I’m inclined to believe they survived because they worked and stayed together as a solid team, leaning on each other through the entire ordeal. From all accounts, it was the coach who was instrumental in keeping everyone together but it also helped that the boys listened to him and followed his lead.

To me, it seems like they’re a family. We may not normally think of a family as a team but in actual fact, it is. Very much so. So why are there families pulling away from each other, showing little compassion or empathy towards each other and sidelining each other? Food for thought, eh?

Then there were the expressions of gratitude all round. In the first video of the team being found, you can hear the kids saying ‘thank you’ to the British divers without being prompted by anyone. In handwritten letters, parents thanked the coach for taking care of their kids, and the coach apologized to the parents. In hospital videos and the press conference, the kids thanked their rescuers and parents over and over.

What’s more amazing is that the rescuers in turn thanked the survivors for trusting them to pull off a successful rescue. I mean, getting a regular thank you from people is hard enough these days. What more for someone who’s saved your life to thank you for putting your trust and your life in their hands? And to dismiss their heroics as merely ‘putting their skills to use’ – wow, that humility! Man, this is so beautiful *cries*!

Then there were the thousands of random strangers who dropped what they were doing and came running from all over the world to help in any which way they could and I’m just going, wow, just wow. It didn’t matter what they could offer, they just rolled up their sleeves and figured a way to dive in (literally and figuratively) somehow, even risking their own life and limb. I really salute these people.

Those who couldn’t help directly in the rescue found other ways they could jump in. One lady collected the rescuers’ soiled clothing from the cave every evening and stayed up all night doing their laundry which she returned before the dawn of each new day of rescue operations. One man spent his days offering free rides to and from the cave site on his motorbike. Farmers allowed their crops to be ruined by water drained from the cave. So many unsung heroes who made sacrifices for a bunch of kids they likely don’t even know!

So yeah, I think these past weeks have shown us humanity at its best. Most days I don’t bother reading the news because it just gets too depressing and ridiculous sometimes. It’s been refreshing to look away from our daily fixation on food and material life for just a bit and redirect that energy instead to cheering for the efforts of our fellow human beings and praying for a positive outcome to this crisis. My faith in humankind has somehow been restored.

What’s dessert got to do with superheroes?

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?
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I came across a tweet last night that reminded me of Thai food which I happen to love. Yup, like half the world out there, I’ve been sitting here obsessively refreshing my tweet feeds and mentally praying that the Thai cave rescue of the last 4 (out of 12) boys and their soccer coach will go safely, smoothly and swiftly.

So to keep that unstoppable finger off my left mouse button, I figured I’d distract myself and keep my spirits up at the same time by talking about my favorite Thai dessert. Yums.

Well, y’all know me, I’m not much of a desserts person. Never quite fancied how overly sweet most desserts are that’re out there. No, seriously, where do you find a dessert that isn’t diabetic?

And yet, on an unbearably hot day last year, I surrendered to the call of tub tim krob. That’s not the name of a person, mind you, though it does sound like that distant grand-uncle who ruffled your hair when you were six?

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?

Okay, okay, so I’ve been having a hard time with the name, calling it tum tim tom, tim tum rom, tim tom kob, no, that’s not right either! Hopefully none of these are vulgarities I may have let slip without knowing their meanings but you get the idea. I just couldn’t get it right.

Yet it’s one of the best things ever. Although tim tub krob looks as scary as your white-haired grand-uncle at first sight with that thick coconut milkiness, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on underneath that mountain of shaved ice – thinly sliced jackfruit, red and green rubies of water chestnuts and whatever else is in there, it’s all good.

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?

This is sweet but not grab-you-by-the-throat sweet. Having all those rubies inside helps cut through some of that sweetness. And of course, in weather like this, I love all things chilled and icy.

So then, back to the newsfeeds. It’s crazy to even try to comprehend what it’s taken to get to this point in a rescue that’s fraught with so many dangers and factors beyond human control.

What’s truly incredible and heartwarming are the stories of kindness, compassion and sacrifice, the many levels of brainstorms, tough decisions and planning, and the thousands of real-life superheroes who have literally emerged from out of nowhere in this time of need. Truly amazing!

Today is an important day in the rescue. They’re trying to wrap up the mission and get everyone out of there quickly and safely before the brunt of the monsoon. Okay, back to refreshing my feeds, sending positive energy and praying (join me, there can never be too many prayers for something like this).

Lockstep day

Lockstep day
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I had a simple lunch today. Alone. All I wanted was to eat and absolutely not have to talk to anyone. The result of two mornings of dealing with organizations that specialize in runarounds, excruciating headaches and leg cramps. It’s beyond me how something so incredibly simple can become so insanely complicated??!

Anyways, there’s this cafe I go to that’s the perfect hangout. There’s nothing fancy about it. In fact, it’s plain, dull and rather dimly lit as cafes go, which probably explains why it’s so cooling inside. It has the feel of  a big cave, spacious and cool with ample angled corners and small spaced-out tables where you can sit and relax without feeling trapped.

Some simple noodles and a glass of cham (an ingenious concoction of coffee and tea) and I’m happy. These noodles aren’t that good but at least I have the peace and quiet to eat slowly and enjoy my book.

Lockstep

After lunch, I decide to take a stroll around the mall. No sooner do I get on the escalator when a young man with a backpack decides, at that same exact moment, to descend on that very same step and I’m like, what the heck is happening?!!

We’re squished together on one step when there’s like 35 other steps he could’ve picked. I give him the slanted eye as he continues to stand there like a bag of rocks, never once moving or turning his head. Okay, so maybe the poor boy needs his 20 seconds in the orbit of a mother, so sad for him lol.

At the top of the escalator, he turns right and I turn left (goodbye, my escalator friend) as my attention turns to… oh, nothing of interest in any of the clothing stores. I wander into Uniqlo for no reason and note that their current collection features jarringly obvious prints. Great but if I were to wear that, I’m guaranteed to run into 50 other people wearing the same exact thing! So no!

I walk around some more and wander, again for no reason, into Muji where everything is either gray, brown, white or black. Absolutely nothing wrong with that if I were feeling foggy but today, I’m feeling and looking like neon pink. So no!

And that brings me to the end of my nothing-interests-me tour of the mall. So what’s left? Not much except the grand old grocery store to scout for random veggies. I decide on avocados, pumpkin, bread… and after running the length of the vegetable aisle and finding only a pitiful selection, I’m forced to rummage through the organic section. Which, by the way, I find quite amusing.

As I’m coming out of checkout, another random young man falls into lockstep with me as he tries to get me to sign up for some credit card. Most times, this gets me slightly annoyed, especially when I can’t understand a single word of what they’re saying so my signature bored and beechy resting face is my unspoken answer right there.

Strangely though, this guy’s super cheerful, speaks English and refuses to be shooed away. So now even I have to smile when giving my standard answer – “No, no thanks”. Of course, he insists his card is like no other and that I simply must sign up now or forever regret it. He’s funny and frankly, I admire his enthusiasm. He’s prattling on like a train even as he tries to keep up with me. His is not an enviable job and I wish I could help him but the best I can do is tell him “No thanks but good luck”.

Some days, you run into random people that bring up question marks in your brain and other days, you run into someone that make you smile. I ran into both types today. Lucky me!

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup
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I’m a picky eater. That’s long been established. There are some eateries I go to once and never go back and yet there are some that I just can’t resist going back to again and again. Recently I found a place that serves an almost perfect wantan (little dumplings) noodle soup. Great but what exactly is so good about it to a picky eater like me?

The real test of great wantan noodles is in how rich and flavorful the soup is. To that end, it must have a natural sweetness without being insanely salty (as is often the case) or so watered down it’s plain salt water. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been disappointed by soups like that.

To me, the soup is what counts, everything else is a bonus if it tastes good. If I’m ordering at an unfamiliar eatery, the dry version is the one I go for. It comes with a small bowl of soup which makes the perfect test sample to help me decide if I should order the full-blown soup version the next time.

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

So that’s what I did when I first tried out a certain ‘new’ eatery stashed away at the top of a mall. Surprise, surprise! Their soup is pretty darned good, even by the standards of my picky palette. It’s richer than most and flavorful without tasting like it came from the Dead Sea lol.

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

Veggie-wise, there’s definitely more than the usual 2 or 3 sad-looking green slivers you find floating in most soups. These are actual bokchoy stems in their own right.

Their wantans are not the usual pathetic skins with nothing more than a comma of meat inside, so small they instantly get lodged in your teeth. These are stuffed with abundant minced pork and like a whole shrimp? wow! and plump to the point of obesity that you have to eat them in two bites. So good!!

The (almost) perfect wantan noodle soup

Their charsiew (or barbecued pork) is unattractive and boring but I don’t mind that they lack the gleaming glamor of their caramelized melt-in-the-mouth cousins which would usually render them overly-charred and blackened and quite unpalatable to me.

So then, this, to me, is as close to a perfect bowl of wantan noodle soup as it gets. Good soup, plump meaty wantans, real veggies and unglamorous charsiew. This picky eater is laughing and has gone back several times since.

The receptionist and the food seller

The receptionist and the food seller
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And so when Wesak Day (the Buddha’s birthday) rolled around, I signed up to be a volunteer. I mean, why not? It sounded like the perfect excuse to get out of the house, meet new people and do some good. I was all gungho and excited and signed up for not one but two ‘jobs’. I had no idea if I was being over-enthusiastic but decided that I’d go with Nike and “just do it”!

For two days, I played receptionist at an art exhibition that was being held in conjunction with Wesak Day. Never having been a receptionist before, it was good fun pretending to be one (lol) welcoming visitors, having them sign in the visitors’ log and handing out guide books, all while baring my teeth flashing a toothy smile!!

On Wesak Day itself, I took on my other job, one that involved, you guessed it – food, lots of food, so much food – only this time, I got to be on the other side of the counter. I started my food selling stint with a partner who pretty soon was called to help out at another counter. A manpower womanpower shortage apparently!

So off she went and I was left manning the entire counter all by my lonesome. At this point, I should mention that my only other bit of volunteering experience was at a food pantry in California handing out bags of groceries to the underprivileged. Which doesn’t really count for relevant experience, if you ask me, but I guess it’s close enough.

So there, I found myself fearlessly going the whole 9 yards from promoting and bagging to collecting payment and replenishing stock, all while baring my teeth flashing a toothy smile!!

Yup, I sure did a lot of smiling. I mean, heck, it was such a lot of fun who could resist smiling to themselves? Not me. And you know what else, half the fun and amusement was seeing this whole new side of myself that I’ve not seen before lol.

To sum up this whole experience in a hashtag: stuff you never got to do when you were running mom’s taxi. So worth it!

Between a cuppa and a sippa

Between a cuppa and a sippa
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So one exceptionally fine morning on the dawn of a new day maybe, I found myself sitting in some corner cafe having ordered myself an early lunch. When it came, I noticed the portion was rather yuge. My lunches aren’t usually this heavy but I had a growling tummy to appease so what the heck!

Between a cuppa and a sippa

Not only did I dig in shamelessly, I licked the platter clean! If I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t care if it’s the right or wrong time to be eating like a pauper or a king, or how many “guilt trips” I’m supposed to run round the park afterwards. Bunch of bologna! Our grandparents did just fine before all this nonsense started circulating. So yeah, just do what your body tells ya and you’ll be fine!

Oh yes, and I even ordered a drink!

Which I’m so not in the habit of doing. Instead I’m used to getting the slanted eye for refusing to order a drink. Oooh, I’m so shivering in my shoes! But like it or not, it’s a habit of mine cultivated from when I was that new kid on the office block. A group of us would frequent the cafes and eateries near the office daily.

When most everyone else would order a drink, I would almost inadvertently say no. My logic is really quite simple. Why order a drink when the office is 5 minutes away and all the drinks I could ever want are right there in that pantry? It doesn’t make sense!

But if I’m feeling happy and relaxed or craving a certain kind of drink, I’d certainly pamper myself with one. Like on this particular day when I really wanted something to sip on while settling in to read a book.

Between a cuppa and a sippa

A book, you say?! Yeah, this is probably the first book I’m reading in something like 20 years but I’m not ashamed to admit it. Hey, I’ve been busy devoting all of my energy on being the best mom I could be and somehow in the midst of all that rushing around, never found the patience nor the inclination to sit through a book.

What good fortune that I should suddenly find a book in my hand and the time to read it at leisure over a glass of coffee and tea! And that’s got to be a good thing, right? *lifts up glass* Cheers!

An occasional vegetarian’s dilemma

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma
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So another vegetarian day rolls around and this time, it falls smack on a weekend. And weekends are when I do my grocery runs. Simply because I so enjoy mingling with the rest of humanity. If you want the skin of your ankles scraped off by stroller wheels or your bum pancaked against your grocery cart, this is the day and the way to do it!!!

Okay, so now I’m at the mall and I’m walking aimlessly trying to think where I can find a decent vegetarian lunch. Nothing comes to mind. This is when it hits me. Sure, going vegetarian every fortnight is a good thing (both from a religious and health perspective) but vegetarian food is notoriously hard to find when you’re out. Probably not to some but to me, it is! ’nuff said!

Wait, I do know one place – a newly-stumbled vegetarian restaurant. So we head on over, only to find a parade of smiling staff leaning against empty tables and chairs, arms folded, turning people away. Wh-whot?!!? What’s goin’ on?!!! Well, here’s the story one-liner – there’s a “problem with the gas”. Darn, what could be wrong with “the gas” on a day we’ve got nowhere else to go??!

Well, I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I took it to mean, better get out of here quick before the fireworks begin!!! Okay, so maybe I overreacted. Still, better safe than sorry. I herded my group to higher ground. We wandered around wondering what we could eat but almost everything I could think of had some element of either meat or eggs in them. Think, come on, think harder! Well, good luck with that. When your tummy’s growling like a bear, you can’t even hear yourself think!

So we bummed around and eventually wound up with a miscellany of this and that and called it lunch. Okay, let’s see what we had. Lonely french fries, without the chicken.

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

A reluctant salad for sharing. Trust me, this wasn’t love at first sight. Unwrapped self-service food in open glass coolers are a huge red flag for me and I stay clear of them for obvious reasons (golly help us if someone were to sneeze over them!! and believe me, I’ve heard a big old sneeze in a bakery but was too afraid to look back, so yes!). But desperate times call for desperate measures so I crossed my fingers and dug in.

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

Not that the salad tasted half bad but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with room temperature salads. I’m not. Clearly that cooler belongs in the junkyard. That said, there’s nothing that a good old cup of cold bubble tea can’t fix, right?

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

Do you have an interesting vegetarian story to share? Either leave me a comment, or post it on your own blog and leave the link below.

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