An occasional vegetarian’s dilemma

An occasional vegetarian's dilemma

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.

What’s in that rickety tin bowl?

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

Just when I thought it was going to be an ordinary dinner at one of the most highly-anticipated restaurants on our p.e.a.r.l (our picky eater restaurant list is still very much alive despite having gone through many iterations since the last mention), this Saturday night Korean barbecue came with a question, what’s in that rickety tin bowl?.

We walked in and all the tables inside the restaurant were occupied so we had to grudgingly say okay when the server pointed us to a table outside. Outside, as in on the kerb along the road where cars are double parked.

After the initial clinkety-clang of distributing plates and cutlery (which is apparently the customers’ job now), we eventually settled down to enjoy an ambiance of blue evening skies, natural lighting and lungfuls of a barbecue smoke and carbon monoxide fume cocktail that, we were delighted to note, comes free with the meal! Aah, the joys of kerbside dining!

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

So there we were, alternating between flipping various kinds of meat on the grill and constructing meat morsels and 반찬 (banchan or side dishes) into lettuce wraps. I have to admit that when it comes to cramming fistfuls of lettuce wraps into my mouth like they do in Korean dramas, I’m an epic fail. I bite my lettuce wraps in half and sometimes chomp on just the leaf alone. Duh!

Diners were filling up the tables fast and pretty soon, we were surrounded. Too busy playing musical chairs with cutlery and utensils on a table that’s way too small for everything to fit, I paid little attention to the 40-ish couple at the next table. From out of the blue, Mr Smiley (seems he had this perpetual smile pasted on his face) reached across and asked if we’d like to have the excess rice balls his wife was rolling in her gloved hands.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

I was like, what? say that again, read: eyeing him in disbelief. Now how often does a random stranger offer to share their food? That’s right, almost never, right?! although I’m guilty of having done it myself. One time, we had a bowl of untouched salad that was too much for us to finish and so as not to let it go to waste, I handed it over to the young couple at the next table. And they too had been just as wide-eyed and hesitant to accept my offering then.

Now here was a stranger holding out a rickety tin bowl with 9 rice balls inside and I’m like umm. I could’ve been gracious and snatched the bowl from his hand but my first instinct was to say no. It would’ve been out of character for me to accept. People including acquaintances have been offended. Not that I mean to offend. Truth is although I love to cook and I blog endlessly about food, food is not really a big thing for me.

So then Mr Smiley started explaining that one order of rice balls was too much for him and his wife as they had other dishes as well. Then, he said the magic phrase – they don’t like wasting food, he said and I was impressed and instantly sold. We collectively chimed in and thanked him profusely. Since you put it that way, sure, we’ll help you with that, thanks lol.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

So that was how a rickety tin bowl and 9 rice balls changed hands. We’d never had rice balls before but Mr Smiley assured us they’re delicious and that we won’t regret it. And he was right. Those rice balls were freakin’ tasty (we order them quite often now) and meeting these like-minded folks is always nice.

What's in that rickety tin bowl?

That not so obligatory end of year post 2017

That not so obligatory end of year post 2017

As usual, at around this time of year, I’ll be agonizing over whether to write that obligatory end of year post. Which really isn’t that big of a deal, if you think about it. Because, you know what, no one really cares what kind of year you had. They’re all out taking one last swing at the holidays before going back to the exciting world of work and real life in the new year. Bah humbug!!

Oops, was I being negative? Because it’s something of an online crime these days to be sayin’ negative stuff. Now I’ve done it. Now no one’s going to be reading this post for sure. So scratch that and let me bring on the positive vibes. In the spirit of positivity, let me start with what we had for dinner on that oh-sooo-long-ago Christmas Day. Yup, you guessed it, Korean fried turkey. The real deal – teeny tiny little turkey chunks – crunchy, meaty, sweet and spicy! So good, I tell ya!

That obligatory end of year post 2017

My all-time favorite Korean fried “turkey”!

Okay so I did a lot of traveling this year, zipped across the planet a few times. I’ve stopped looking aghast when people gasp at how I do those 20-hour flights so often. No matter what my answer or expression may be, the unspoken answer in my head is always the same – when you love where you’re going, you’ll do it over and over again and never consider it a chore. Simple, eh?

With all that traveling back and forth, it’s also been the Year of Road Trips for me. I’m now officially wearing my Road Trip Warrior badge. Those were some amazing road trips. I enjoyed each and every one of them and would gladly do them all over again, especially the Grand Canyon, in spite of having done some of them a few times before.

Wait, what else did I do this year? Lots, that’s for sure but it’s hard enough remembering what I had for lunch 3 days ago so try recalling an entire year’s worth of events without looking through a folder of 10,000 photos. Forget it.

All I want to say is: Be attentive to the people you love and who love you most. Before dismissing anyone or their problems, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes (this point inspired by 2 people who would still be alive today if someone close to them had taken their depression seriously).

Spare a thought, some loose change or whatever you can (no good deed is ever too small) for those less fortunate. Make some time every day to pray for lunatics to somehow find sanity, for Mother Nature to figure a way to heal the planet and most importantly, for world peace.

And of course, thank you for reading my humble blog. Have a safe and wonderful New Year! Here’s to good food, good friends (whoever you may be lol), good conversations and a fantastic year ahead!

Newly-minted Road Trip Warrior

Introducing the newly-minted Road Trip Warrior…

(mini drumrolls please!)

Yup, that would be moi!

I even have the swing top to prove it.

Yeah, so this has officially been the Year of Road Trips for me, the person who hasn’t been back to her original hometown in close to 2 decades. Well, okay, I now have a beloved adopted hometown so that explains it. When I’m there, I’m just raring to go every chance I got – road trips to Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon (all of which are in California) as well as our usual shopping pilgrimages to Los Angeles and San Francisco/Bay Area.

This year, we ventured out into Arizona to the city of Flagstaff, the Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon (read about Day 1 and the surprise Day 2 here) and Walnut Canyon. Yeah, I know, I haven’t blogged about some of these trips. I might, one of these days, when I feel like I can go through my photo folders without bursting into tears, duh.

So then, from the number of times you’re seeing the words “national park” and “canyon”, you can pretty much guess that all of these road trips had to do with hiking, winding roads and getting back to nature which, on an ordinary day, isn’t something I’m particularly crazy about. Admittedly, there are only so many places on Planet Earth where you’d find me doing nature or road trips without a long face and fake smile which I don’t even bother to fake so it’s a real fake smile, get it? Hmm.

Yeah, I mean concrete jungles are great and the only kind of vacations I’ve done have always involved shopping and food, in that order. So for me, these back-to-nature kind of road trips are truly eye-openers. No retail therapy involved, only lots of hiking against breathtaking backdrops and that’s my newfound therapy for the soul.

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

Christmas Eve in the city. Bah humbug! Darn the Grinch who stole Christmas from us this year! Still it’s the holidays so we’ll just make-believe this one and get to the mall early to catch a movie. Which one? Naturally the one that turned out to be such a great choice.

Ferdinand.

What a sweet hunk of a bull and a tale that has all the heart-warming trappings of a movie for this time of year – kindness, compassion, friendship, respect, teamwork and a happy ending. And lots of funky dancing. Loved it. I really did. Go watch it, bring your kids!

After the movie at around 2pm, we thought we’d catch a late lunch. No such luck! Apparently the mall had filled up with all of humanity while we were in there, making it impossible to walk without hitting anyone. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to be at the mall.

We were starving and the restaurant lines were insane. We were hoping to have better luck at the food court. Omg, one look and we instantly turned around. The place was one freakin’ mess and we kinda lost our appetites. We simply had to get the heck out of there.

It was 3pm by the time we got home and proceeded to turn the fridge upside down hoping a fulfilling lunch would somehow drop out. But all we had were cold ham sandwiches. Still better than the food court, I guess. Bah humbug!

Still determined to have a good Christmas dinner in spite of our homemade roast turkey having been written off the menu *sobs*, we set out for the swanky part of town with Google Maps for our guide, headed for a Korean fried chicken shop which friends have sworn “serves the best fried chicken ever, you gotta try it”.

We ordered 2 kinds of fried chicken – sweet spicy and spicy hot, or something like that. Sometimes we really wanna trust people’s food recommendations so much but sadly, one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison. We really wanted these to be the best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted but they turned out to be…

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

… far from crispy, drowned in overly-sweet totally-unspicy sauces that sadly underwhelmed; not to mention that there were no signs of the ubiquitous side dishes either. Ugh! Reluctantly we polished off both servings to keep to our family’s “no food wastage” policy.

Then we got up and walked a few steps down the street to a Korean barbecue restaurant that we know and love, and ordered pork neck and pork belly. Ahahaha! Now we’re talking!

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

This meal came with lots of lettuce, side dishes and possibly the best kimchi in town. We even managed to flag down a smiley waiter to barbecue the meat for us while we ate. Aah, this is the life!

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

After spending the day seeing the canyon from different angles and going on a self-tour at the Tusayan Museum hiking through the adjacent Tusayan Ruin to learn about how ancient American Indians lived in the Grand Canyon, it was time to bid the Grand Canyon goodbye.

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

On the drive back to Flagstaff, I was brimming with excitement about everything I’d seen and experienced that day but sad that we were leaving. Glad though that I’d had a chance to visit, there really is no easy way to say goodbye to a place like this. One day is honestly not enough. A part of me was crying inside. I wish we could’ve stay a little longer.

Over a delicious dinner at a Thai fusion restaurant in Flagstaff, we couldn’t stop talking about our day. Back at the hotel room while getting ready to pack and check out the next day, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, we have to go back there tomorrow, we didn’t drive aa-all this way to spend just one day there, we must stay one more night!!

But how? Our hotel was fully booked and couldn’t extend our room. So began the frantic phone calls to look for another hotel. Last-minute rooms are notoriously hard to find especially at the peak of summer and the rates are much higher. At some point, I said, to heck with the rates, let’s take what we can get. And that’s how we ended up moving to a very modest suite at the Marriott next door ahahahaha!

Completely energized and with a spring in my step, it was – Grand Canyon, here we come again!! – after a fashionably healthy hotel breakfast the next morning. This time, we rode the free guided bus tours taking us to various stops with even more exciting views of the canyon which we hadn’t seen the day before. We hopped on and off the bus, hiked on foot, had our lunch…

Okay, let me stop here and talk about a lunch that truly takes the cake! Sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that the most expensive meals at the most exclusive restaurants are always the best meals. I say, far from it. I say nothing can beat this lunch – munching on simple sandwiches perched on rocks with the Grand Canyon spread out before you in full view. This is the ambiance you can’t get anywhere else. This is what I’m talking about!!

The other thing that’s truly mesmerizing about this place is its stillness and tranquility. You stand there and it strikes you that the air’s so still and quiet your ears are completely at peace. There’s complete silence. The air is completely still. Nothing is moving. Everything is still. It’s so peaceful, so tranquil, so calming. And that’s a strange feeling for me.

I can’t think of any single instance when my ears aren’t being besieged by the jarring sound of a vehicle going by, the voices of people calling out to their kids/pets, the persistent whirring of the fan or AC… Take all that away and there’s this silence, this stillness. If only I could sit there all day listening to the sounds of nothing! Wouldn’t that be grand!?!

Well, we’d spent the better part of the day hopping on and off those tour buses, hiking long distances on relatively safe trails and enjoying every bit of it. Peering down the side of the canyon all day, we’d been fascinated by the lines of teeny tiny people weaving along the narrow ledges like ants and we wanted to see what all that was about.

So we made our way to the Bright Angel Trailhead and mind you, we weren’t even going to be overly ambitious. All we wanted to do was walk a little ways down the first part of the sandy trail (which is pretty wide and safe) to where there’s a poster map, take a peek at where the trail leads and come straight back up.

But guess what happened?

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

We ended up hiking quite a lo-oong way down the narrow ledge sometimes coming a little too dangerously close for comfort. Yeah, it was scary because there were no rails, no bars, nothing, yeeow! I know, jelly legs, right!! We tried to keep close to the canyon wall and stopped for selfies and wefies only where the path was a little wider and safer.

Now that was kinda fun and exciting. Now I can say I’ve not only been to the Grand Canyon but hiked a little ways down into the canyon itself too and that, I consider, to be quite an accomplishment! So yes, Grand Canyon, it was great, you were great and so was I lol! Merry Christmas!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

So after spending an entire afternoon at a 50,000-year-old meteor crater, we’re up and out the hotel first thing the next morning making the 1.5-hour-long drive from Flagstaff to an, oh 70 to 80-million-year-old canyon whose name can only be the Grand Canyon.

Meandering through the Kaibab National Forest and Tusayan, we let out gasps of wonder as each canyon came into view. Each canyon is breathtaking in its own way but what we didn’t know then was that these early canyons were merely a taste of what was to come.

When your heart’s pounding with excitement and you’re craning your neck out for the next amazing canyon to grace your windscreen, you don’t notice the many twists and turns, and then you’re right up there on the South Rim and the first of the Desert Views opens up before you like a page straight out of a geology textbook.

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

Now, if I were a character in a movie, this is the part where my jaw would drop and I’d be standing there in the wind holding on to my hat, eyes scanning and transmitting these images to my brain for processing (surely you can tell a geek wrote this pffft!) and all the time, my heart is racing and I’m speechless!

This is a view that’s impossible to see only with your eyes. It’s a view you inhale with your entire being. With each breath you take, with each quickened heartbeat, the enormity and complexity of this work of art sinks a little deeper into your soul and leaves you in awe and disbelief. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

Some of you may say what’s the big deal? it’s only rocks, and some of you may think I’m over-dramatizing, and that’s okay. You can’t know how it feels unless you’re right there yourself. But trust me, it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring when you’re standing on the edge of this boundless beauty gazing at it, into it, and wondering how this place came to be.

When my university professor told the class about his hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I certainly didn’t imagine it to look like this. Sure I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon even then but nothing can compare to soaking it all in with your own eyes. You look this way and that and still you can’t find where it starts and where it ends. Heck, this is only the South Rim. Maybe this canyon actually stretches into eternity.

We spend the day driving along the South Rim stopping at every viewing point to take in pieces of the canyon from fresh new angles. It’s truly amazing all these formations, shapes, layers, textures and colors Mother Nature has chiseled out and molded together over millions of years! How the heck did she pull this off?

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

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