Chinese New Year in Flushing 2014

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me ūüėČ ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

Manhattan & Queens

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Albany John’s Aunt and cousin were visiting NYC from California one weekend recently. Albany John and I took Megabus down, and it was hands down my worst experience with them to date. I will probably not use them again in the future because of how poor the service was. Their bus was 90+ minutes late with a heat index of 100+F¬† with only one update as I was driving there saying that the bus would be delayed, but not why, and just to stay in the area nearby the bus stop. The driver had extremely limited and poor communication skills, and there was a loose, capped syringe with needle on the bus entry way. When someone mentioned this to the driver, his only response was a frazzled shrug and “Heh, I don’t do drugs. I don’t do drugs!” The ride back was thankfully without incident, but after I emailed customer service, I only received a generic reply 10 days later that answered absolutely none of my questions or concerns. The main reasons I take Megabus is because of their timeliness, safety, and my previously positive experiences with them, but this was so awful… I’ll just drive myself next time I even think about going to NYC. Any way, once bitten twice shy, you know? Thanks for letting me vent.

So after all of that fun (the bus was also jam-packed, roasting), I made my way over to Copia to meet a friend where some of her friends were guest bartending with cheap (for NYC) drink specials.

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And then we continued the party at some pub place after that.

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Tasty fried calamari

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After that we huffed it to Rego Park to crash with Maka & CVS. Lunch the next day was from this place called Asian Bowl. They do some Thai & Chinese dishes. Sure, the name’s a little hokey, but they made some dishes that weren’t very heavy, and they’re all Kosher (no piggie :'( ), and only use olive oil.

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Albany John got Pad Thai and they had some really meaty shrimp in it. The chicken were really thin shreds, though. I thought it was a little heavy with fish sauce, but Albany John really liked it.

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I wasn’t super hungry, so I got some wonton soup, which they use chicken for. Very light, but good simple flavor.

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You know Albany John’s family is in town when we do something other than eating, hee hee. We visited the tenement museum in Manhattan that afternoon.

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Here are some houses that used to be tenements. But aren’t tenements any longer. I thought the tour was a little long, and they seem to really stretch out all of their information through multiple tours, which is unfortunate, because I’d like to be able to see everything in one go, not have to schedule 4 tours to see an entire building.

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Any way, enough with the educational stuff. I managed to convince everyone to walk on up to Big Gay Ice Cream on the East Side.

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The shop is tiny. Like, really tiny. Like, very easily under 400 sq ft tiny.

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So tiny. So very little waiting room. But they are fairly quick.

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I got the Monday Sundae which was a nutella lined waffle cone, soft serve twist, with dulce de leche, sea salt, and whipped cream. I’d read a bunch about them, and perhaps I’d built them up just a bit in my head, because while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was all that amazing or soul shaking. The dulce de leche was tasty with the sea salt, but the actual ice cream I didn’t really enjoy. It was okay, but nothing special. I’d say you can skip the Big Gay Ice Cream if you’re coming from Upstate New¬† York. The toppings are what set this shop apart, if only the ice cream matched it.

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Albany John got a $7 horchata milkshake, and it only dawned on me when we checked out that I’d just spent over $14 on ice cream for two people. Wow, a $7 milkshake makes that $5 milkshake from Pulp Fiction look like a deal.

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It started pouring, so we found the closest restaurant: Caracas for arepas. It was on the same block and reviews looked promising. We were a group of 7, and the guy who sat us told me that they normally don’t seat 7, but since they had the space he’d do it this one time, but they usually don’t. I kind of get the policy, but we 7 were in and out faster than a few other tables of two next to us. Eh, whatever.

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I was starting to drag, when I noticed that they had Blue Bottle coffee on the menu! Yay, my favorite! Unfortunately, this was a really bitter and sour cup. Oh, poor Blue Bottle coffee. All of the other adults went for some kind of boozy concoction, which I heard were quite enjoyable.

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Apps. Soup and fried yucca patties, i think.

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Plantains like woah.

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Arepas galore! These were all under $10 and quite enjoyable. We pretty much ordered half of the menu.

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The next day we wound up in a mall and my stomach reached “Eat something or be a grumpasaurus” level. So Boc Boc Chicken looked like my best option.

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Fair menu prices, and they touted organic chicken. Cool.

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I got the Korean flavored chicken strips/pops. Which were just breaded fried chicken. Sigh. I was hoping for spicy. Or at least some flavor. But otherwise they were fine, just bland. At least they weren’t dry.

Fried calamari at the mall? From a take out counter? And it was good!

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Oh, and if you need a discreet roomie in Rego Park, here’s your guy. These were all over the place outside.

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Boogied out to Flushing on my last day for nibbles with my uncle. We went to Jin Cheng, the place YehYeh used to go to a lot, especially with him. Beef and bitter melon as our nod to Yeh-Yeh.

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Special fried rice, the kind with scallops in it. Not bad for a rice dish.

Flushing Lunch

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I had to go down to the city for a friend’s graduation party. I kind of didn’t want to go, but you know. Social obligations and all. Albany John said I’d be a dick if I didn’t go because it was a big deal to the graduate. I feel like the older I get, the less I connect with a lot of people (or maybe, the more I disconnect with people), and I’m fine with it, but other people. Well, less so. I don’t know. I just don’t feel like there are all that many things I really get worked up about lately.

Any way, I wanted to go to Flushing for to check in with my Uncle and see how he was doing after Yeh-Yeh’s passing before going to this grad party. Well, I thought it was just going to be my uncle, but it turned out to be a lot of my family! That was such a nice surprise. He called my aunts, and one aunt brought my cousin and her husband (my uncle), plus there were two family friends, and it was great to see so much of the family there. My dad was on vacation, so it was awesome of my Uncle to reach out to the rest of my family when he heard I was coming.

Soy skin snack above.

We went to Jin Cheng for lunch on Saturday. That place is a ghost town on the weekend mornings, I’m guessing because they stopped doing dim sum. They still do lunch specials, but no dim sum. And oh my gosh, they are a million and one times better when they don’t have any guests than when they are busy. They also have a free parking lot – no hunt for parking. It’s definitely starting to grow on me.

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Albany John wanted mapo dofu. Sqidgy, soft tofu pieces in a fairly mild (but flavorful) sauce.

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Whatever the hell this dish is, I want two of ’em the next time I’m there. It was a simple, flavorful dish: rice cake slices (the chewy kind) with some preserved veggies and salty egg. Funky, salty, savory. Definitely a dish I can get down with.

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Moar dishes.

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Crispy Skin Chicken! So good we ordered a second half! It comes with this rockin’ garlic & scallion sauce on the side that you don’t want to mix. Kind of like Chinese chimichurri, except it probably has MSG in it.

Party was okay. Didn’t get much face time with the graduate, but the grad seemed to be happy we came. I think I am just quickly becoming curmudgeonly and not getting “kids these days”, even when they’re about my own age.

Yeh Yeh’s Funeral (The Way He’d Want It – Lots of Food)

Don’t Worry – this post is only contains pictures of the food we ate and written things we did for Yeh-Yeh’s funeral service.

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Albany John & I drove down for the service. My lovely sib-in-laws, Maka & CVS, were nice enough to let us stay with them. We drove down late on a Friday night, so that I could be at the airport to pick up my sister, who was flying in from Seattle.

Once I picked her up, we went to the YehYeh’s condo in Flushing. The parking god must have smiled on me for driving late at night and waking up early to pick up my sister from the airport, because I found (free!) street parking almost instantly. In Flushing. On a weekend. My poor sister was sick, and the flight didn’t help, so she napped in the condo while I went out to lunch at Jin Cheng with my dad and Aunties.

Jin Cheng is stupid close to the condo, and it has free parking, so it’s in my family’s roster of restaurants to go to. And guess what? They actually serve a good lunch. Unlike the rest of Flushing, Jin Cheng was pretty quiet, not even half full. The meal was miles better than when I’ve been for dinner or Chinese New Year. They really can’t handle a crowd.

Seafood Congee up top. Light & gingery. I didn’t mind a bowl.

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I requested we get a plate of black bean squid. Good wok hei on the squid. Bleh to the peppers.

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Beef and gai lan. Very tender beef, also with good wok hei.

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Oop, sorry, this was chicken with hard chives cut long. Tasty stuff. I bought more chives to cook with at home shortly after this.

We hung around and just talked for a while. It’s just a whole other transition, a new step in life, to process with Yeh Yeh passing.

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We went to San Soo Kap San for dinner with my uncle, aunt & her husband/my uncle, and one of my cousins. ¬†That dish with the red strip in the right bottom corner on the big plate? Raw squid. It was soooo freaking good! They only gave 1 plate of it as ban chan, and probably for good reason (I could have eaten about 10 of these). The rest of the banchan spread was also pretty impressive – fresh tofu, konjac (I think…) kimchee, cucumbers, small fish, pickled parsnips (MY JAM!), turnips. So much tastiness.

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One bubbling bowl of scrambled egg ban chan. Very delicate – like a savory custard.

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They grill all of the meat for you. Kind of expensive – most dishes hover around $30! Yikes! You can see tongue above. Thin rounds. Tasty.

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Pork Belly! Yeah!

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Galbi! We got two orders. My other cousin’s girlfriend is Korean and she said you don’t normally get 2 orders of the same thing, traditionally. My cousin said his parents know and do it any way, lol. I can’t argue, that galbi was great. Meaty, juicy, had that nice galbi marinade.

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I think we got some other kind of sliced beef, too.

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I still felt like eating my feelings after dinner, so my dad and I went to Tous Les Jours for some dessert. I was up for anything, but my dad says after going to Korea for a few months last year, he prefers Korean bakeries over Chinese ones because they have better quality ingredients & products, and are more innovative in what they make.

I think they are kind of expensive, but they are also the only bakeries open after 6/7 PM in Flushing. All of the Chinese ones close by then. There’s also a Paris Bakery nearby in downtown Flushing (that you can see from Tous les Jours) and is also open late.

I went for a black sesame doughnut and a cream cheese filled danish.

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My dad got a blueberry cheesecake.

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All sliced up:
Black sesame doughnut – mochi dough was chewy and kind of odd at first, then an addictive texure. Not too sweet.
Blueberry cheesecake – Asian cheesecake. Fluffy and cake-like.
Cream cheese danish – rich, rich rich, and crispy pastry exterior. Indulgent, but really good.

And like that, I was down with the more expensive Korean bakeries. Good stuff, and different than what the Chinese bakeries sell in Flushing.

Saturday I went to Flushing not knowing when I was going to leave. I wound up spending the whole day there & taking the subway back to Forest Hills. I was really happy to have late night public transportation – I wouldn’t have been able to drive, I was so sleepy!

The next morning we got up and ready to go to the funeral home for the Chinese equivalent of a wake.

Mama & Papa John had come in and were staying near the funeral home. We went out there to grab an late dim sum at … some place in Manhattan Chinatown. My bad, I forget the name. I was trying not to spill anything on my clothes and get to the funeral home on time (Thanks for lunch, Mama & Papa John!).

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Someone brought treats to the funeral home. Dan tats. Okay, I will have one. Still warm. Yum. Yeh Yeh. Sigh.

And we went in. It was a traditional¬†Buddhist¬†Chinese funeral, even though we’re not really religious. We folded lots of coins out of paper – that was pretty nice – having something to do with your hands at all times. These were burned as offerings. Although my cousins & I were smartasses and couldn’t help but jokingly bemoan how stereotypical it was to have origami at an Asian funeral, or how we were doing arts & crafts.
Showing emotion/sadness was discouraged, and certain curious circumstances before the funeral helped prepare me for this, although, really, I’d been fairly emotionally¬†detached¬†up until then, so I don’t think crying would have been all too much of an issue any way.

Two Buddhist Monks came in and read a chant. We thought it would just be for a few minutes, but it ended up being about 45 minutes. It wound up being very soothing. Albany John was sweet and took a video of it all for my brother, who couldn’t make it. I think he will really appreciate the monks’ chant.

The service was also bilingual, for us ABCs who don’t understand Cantonese. I’m thankful for that, so I could still participate and understand what was going on without feeling ashamed about my lack of Cantonese.

After the funeral, the sons (my dad & uncle) took all of the remaining guests out for dinner at a nearby restaurant on Mott Street. Eh, food was okay, but Manhattan Chinatown is mostly for tourists now.

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This was “special” chicken, in that it tasted like they steamed it one day not quite all the way, and then served it the next day. :X

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Salt & pepper pork – okay, this was good.

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Gummy lobster. Didn’t even finish it. My dad tried it and agreed. His table’s was good, though.

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I always forget how absurd banquet food seems to people who didn’t grow up with it.

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After this, we all went our respective ways. Albany John had to get back to Albany that night, so he took a train back.

The next day was the burial. We woke up early to get to the funeral home. Some more traditions/rituals that I didn’t quite understand. Drive to the graveyard, where YehYeh was buried next to Grandma.

Once Yeh-Yeh was buried, we went to one of his favorite restaurants in Flushing – Mellie’s. Another traditional post-service meal.

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Sticky Rice with lobster, sweet & sour pork, some soup.

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Then I spent the day hanging out with my cousins & sister at my Aunt & Uncle’s place just outside of Flushing. That was great. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. Just spend a few hours hanging out, watching TV, chatting. My sister was all about mahjong. We got¬†Caribbean¬†food & pizza for dinner.

I went back to Forest Hills for one last night with CVS & Maka. Maka took me with her to work in the morning. It was kind of like the world of tomorrow. How did it take me so long to visit this place? There were also snacks everywhere, so I left well fed & caffeinated on my way to Flushing to hang out with my Dad & head back to Albany with my sister.

My Dad and I decided to go out and try a bunch of food from all of the places in Flushing. My sister tagged along for the com First up:

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My Sweet Home Dumpling on Roosevelt for 10 tasty dumplings. Freshly made to order (including the dough rolled out!). So good, and under $5.00

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Then we walked to the underground food mall on Main Street. You know, the one past Starbucks? Any way, we hit up NY Lan Zhou La Mian. The guy at the stall evidently was asking my dad if my sister & I were single, and my dad quickly responded in the affirmative, haha (my sister is single).

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There’s one long folding table and some low stools near the menu board.

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Dad went with oxtail noodle soup. He loves oxtails, and I can’t seem to get enough of them, either. The broth was very flavorful, and came with a few pieces of baby bok choy.

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Hand pulled noodles were great! Springy chew, flavorful, and went well with the oxtails and broth. The bowl was enormous, and there were hot sauce condiments aplenty on the table. Dad let me spike the broth near the end when he was done with the soup. Yeah!

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Then we walked off our gluttony a little more around the edge of downtown Flushing. My Dad saw Forest House, and “Hong Kong Milk Tea” on the sign and wanted to go in.

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My Dad said he hadn’t had Hong Kong style Milk Tea in the US, and the difference between this and other Milk Teas you get is that they steep the tea for longer. He said in Hong Kong when he was growing up, the really legit places would strain the tea through a silk stocking.

It took a few minutes for this to come out, but boy was it good! Now I want Hong Kong Milk Tea ALL OF THE TIME – it makes other milk teas look weak and too creamy by comparison. There was a nice bitterness to contrast all of that dairy, and the bottom of the cup had some tea leaves (in Flushing Chinatown it’s usually a teabag in coffee + cream, and it’s not steeped for very long).

Our mini food tour was a nice segue into leaving (fat and fairly happy). There are plenty of things to think about when one of your loved ones passes. I’m lucky to have been able to connect with my Yeh-Yeh. I was still a kid when my other grandparents passed, and I didn’t get to know them as well.

Sam Won Gak

The last time I saw Yeh-Yeh was when he was in New York Hospital Queens in Flushing, NY. He had suffered some more mini strokes and had an NG tube in. He slept for most of the time I was there, and only started waking up an hour or two before my dad, Albany John, and I left. There were flowers by his b

The time before that, he was in a rehab facility after his first stroke was discovered. He was awake, but didn’t recognize any of us, not that we could really tell. That really freaked me out. It made me anxious to see someone I love not recognize me, or his kids. He couldn’t even talk. After that visit I was probably more edgy, reserved, irritable, and anxious (or all of the above) than normal. It’s hard for me to know I’m unable to do anything to change a situation.

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Any way, the last visit. I had stayed up way too late the night before (1 am, 2 am, 3 am?) having a pointless snip fit with Albany John. Later that morning when we woke up, I asked if he’d come down with me. Of course, he said yes. I’m glad I had the company in the car with just a few hours of sleep, and the support while we were there.

We got in around noon, and YehYeh snoozed for most of the time we were there. I found this very comforting. Like he wasn’t sick, and he was just tired. Some family friends/extended family were there, and left a bit after we got there. We had several hours just with YehYeh, and spent a few minutes in our chairs snoozing right next to him. I really liked that. No rush. No fussing. Just some time with my YehYeh.
My Dad & Auntie showed up later in the afternoon. Some time around 4 or 5 the potassium they were administering to him really must have started kicking in, because he started waking up and looking around. He’d look right at you. My Dad had told me earlier how he’d give anything just to have him around for a while just blinking. Man, I had that same feeling when he opened his eyes.

We left a little after that, some time close to 5:30 or 6 pm so my dad and Albany John and I could get some dinner. I kind of didn’t want to leave, especially because he had just opened his eyes, but it had been a hard day, and it was nice to have someone else tell you to do something, or to go.

We wound up at Sam Won Gak in the Murray Hill subset of Flushing. I had mentioned I could go for Korean, we drove around and found free(!) parking outside on the street, and Sam Won Gak sounded pretty good. Turns out, it’s Korean-Chinese fusion. They start you out with some pickled yellow daikon, raw sweet onions, bean paste, and kimchi as the banchan. Not the most plentiful, but not bad.

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The waitresses were all older auntie type ladies, who worked together like an efficient military group. Sam Won Gak seems to be a hang out and drink kind of place, at least on a Saturday around 6 PM. Most of the other patrons were middle aged guys or older hanging out and putting away soju like it was their job. No rush, spacious tables, minimal decor. I’d probably like going here a lot if I lived here, because there’s more space than a bar, and it’s much quieter than a bar, too.

I forget what this was exactly called, but it’s basically like a Korean take on General Tso’s chicken, but less greasy/gloppy than the¬†Americanized¬†Chinese dish. But still a bit gloppy. $13 or $16 or something like that. A big plate of battered and fried chicken pieces in a lightly spicy cornstarch sauce with a smattering of veggies. The waitress double checked on wanting it spicy, and I was kind of bummed by the heat level. Didn’t even require a second glass of water. Flavorful, but not very spicy. Even my dad agreed that this was tasty, and not painfully spicy.

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My Dad spent a few weeks in (South) Korea this past year. He was in a fairly rural part and couldn’t really get down with the food served in most restaurants because it was usually so spicy. He liked this seafood soup a lot, and said it was really flavorful, and nothing like you’d be able to actually get in Korea. It was something like $8-9 and came with a ton of seafood and veggies. Massive bowl, flavorful and light/non-greasy broth, and tons of seafood. I liked it, too.

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Albany John went for the spicy crab soup ($9-10). Oh man, was that also a good choice. Like my “spicy” chicken, it was also not very spicy. Like, probably a 2/10 in terms of heat. Flavorful, though, and also a clean broth. A bounty of seafood, and plenty of real crab – no fake stuff here.

We drove home that night.

NYC Christmas

I went down to Queens the weekend before Christmas to see my family. Stayed with my bro & sis in laws, Maka & CVS. CVS is too good of a chef and insisted on cooking for us while we were there. He made smoked chicken wings, and this mezcal-brushed smoky pork chop with a side of spicy BBQ sauce. Dude, so good. I think I like mezcal now.

The stuff on top is a jerusalem artichoke puree. SO GOOD. He uses cream in his dish, but I’d just sub in chicken broth. Because I am so making Albany John make this at home – I wanted to eat a bucket of it. I think it was in a recent edition of Gourmet magazine? Or some kinda food magazine.

I stopped by to see YehYeh, my uncle, and my dad and his lovely lady on my way out through Flushing. I lucked out and found street parking – wahoo! It’s becoming so hard to find in Flushing now, and the public lot is always full on the weekends.

We grabbed some yum cha at Grand Restaurant. Taro cake.
Har cheung! We got about 3-4 of these. My YehYeh knows how much I love this dish. My fave dish at yumcha – supple rice noodles, and briny shrimp in a sweet soy sauce.
Some steamed spare ribs & siu mai.
Fried taro with meaty stuffing. Ok, but kind of cold.
And a plate of chow fun (cow). More fresh rice noodles! So good!

Then I wandered around for a while (but it was SO cold). I recognized the characters for Xiao Long Bao at a stall in the Flushing mall (the one that’s pretty much all food stalls), but I was too full to order them. 8 for $3, too! Sadness.


I wanted to try White Bear. I’d heard great reviews on other blogs, and all signs on Yelp seemed to indicate that these were some of the best dumplings hands down in Flushing. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type restaurant. But slightly larger. There are 3-4 small tables, but it’s hard to fit a group of 4 in here. Better for groups of 2-3.

One of their popular dishes is #6 – wontons in chili oil, $4.50. It’s not actually spicy, despite all of the chili oil, but my main point issue were the gummy & overcooked skins. I think these had been sitting around too long, because a dude behind the counter was just like “Number 6?” and I was like “yeah” and he was like “here” about 30 seconds later.

I decided I liked my wontons I make at home better. So, at least on the bright side, I won’t be lusting over dumplings 200 miles away.

Fam in NYC, oh and food, too.

Just took a whirlwind trip to NYC. Aunt Cali & one of my fave cousins were in town! So we drove down (on the Taconic, like hell I’m paying $12 on the GW plus the 87 tolls to get in to NYC!) one night, and spent it with Maka and CVS, my awesome bro & sis. Ordering sushi, natch.

$1 sushi & sashimi slices makes me a happy girl.
$6.50 Naruto roll. Cucumber outside, avocado & tuna inside. Tasty and refreshing!

Albany John got a roll with hamachi, sake, and toro. Plus some cuke and tobiko. Tasty, too! I wanted to meet up with YehYeh, but I had a cold and I didn’t want to get him sick, too. I feel so badly being in the area and not seeing him, though, or even telling him I’m there.

Mmm, more sushi rolls.
Spicy tuna, white tuna, and a specialty roll of some sort. I think we ordered about $70 between the four of us, $35-40 of which was me. Hey, I like sushi. Albany John was like “Hey, make sure you take it easy honey, this is usually where you hit the wall,”

And then I ate all of my food, and started eating his sushi. To be fair, I have been extraordinarily hungry lately.

The next morning we woke up and went to the Barking Dog on the UES. I even found parking on the street after trying to pay for parking twice, and no attendants being around. Yaaay, lucky! I consider it my reward for driving through 5 miles of Queens Blvd and catching every. single. light. on the way there.

Started off with some beverages. To quote my awesome DC cousin (who was also up for the event), “Boozy cousins brunch!”. Yaaay!

Rare burger for me! More like medium, though. Premade patty, too. But there was some pink, so I was happy enough. And it actually tasted quite beefy. So that was nice. Coleslaw was gross, though. Prices were totally awesome for the UES. I always get a kick out of dining in the UES of Manhattan because all of the meats are super low fat. Those UESers love their low fat meat on buttered carbs, heh.

Albany John got a waffle, fruit. Nom. Yes.

I don’t ever think I’ll spend enough time in the city.

YehYeh’s 80th Birthday

I didn’t do the best job of photo-documenting the food of my Yeh-Yeh’s 80th birthday weekend. But let me tell you, I’d never have it any other way, ’cause I focused tons of the people with me. Namely that goofy-eyed little hellion above. Well, the smaller one more than the bigger one.

Bro, Margarita, and Baby Dubs (bro & BD above) flew up from Mississippi to celebrate. Baby Dubs was a little fussy around Chinese food (must’ve inherited that from my side of the family. My sibs & I were cheeseburger kids…). Here he is eating vanilla ice cream at the Flushing Mall food court.

We went to this place near my YehYeh’s place for dinner the night before. I think it was called Jin Cheng on Roosevelt Ave. Now I know why he walks to his beloved Mellie’s so much. This place wasn’t bad… but compared to Mellie’s it wasn’t great either.

The food was fine. The service was bad. Even for a Chinese restaurant (more on that in a second). Slow, slow, SLOW to have the food come out, and there weren’t even that many people in the dining room. Like, 20-30 minutes for the chicken to come out. And it was a little greasy.

Above are some plates of Mapo Dofu, lamb & veggie, and I think duck tongues on the right (deep fried). Albany John & Bro loved the duck tonguies. Bleh, no thanks for me!



Some sweet and sour pork, so-so fried rice. Dishes were okay, but a lot were on the American side of things.

Here’s the chicken that took forever to come out. Just okay. Nothing I’d go back for again when there are so many better places in Flushing to eat at.

And soon enough it was Yeh-Yeh’s birthday celebration! Here’s my very beautiful sister dancing with the birthday boy. He was rocking out all night!

The dinner party was held at Grand Restaurant (3rd Floor of the New World Mall on Main Street). Their Yelp reviews aren’t that great, but trust me, it was an awesome time. We had a small banquet rooms with 4 tables all to ourselves, and the food came out piping hot. And TONS of it. Lots of seafood. Seafood everywhere.

Abalone & Sea Cucumber for one course. Walnut shrimp was another (best walnut shrimp I’ve ever had, and I usually really don’t like this dish coz of all the mayo – but this was lightly creamy in a good way, and the walnuts were perfectly candied, and the shrimp perfectly fried and SO huge). Naturally, we had some lobster. And chicken. And whole fish. And fried rice. And mango pudding dessert (I ate like three cups of them – never had that before and I want to eat it all the time now! SO GOOD and refreshing).

Mama and Papa Amherst joined us for the festivities, and after the app courses were done, they were like “Wait, how much more is there?”. TONS MOAR!

Wine, and drunk karaoke (by my uncle and dad’s buddies), some dancing, and a very touching speech by my dad. Connecting with cousins I hadn’t seen in a while. Cake. YehYeh’s German friend spilling wine on the cake. Noming cake. Bro finding a suit jacket on the side of the road and wearing it in (dude, I refuse to believe you paid for that thing).



At some point we also went to some beer place in Rego Park with my siblings-in-law, Maka & CVS.

They had these fried coins of freshly sliced jalapenos and other spicy pepper things. Kind of a russian roulette of “am I going to need to chug my drink?”

Fried pierogies were okay, but gummy on the inside.

Not a big fan of the way they pour drinks – refilling with the same glass and letting the beer go over the tap = breeding ground for germ cross contamination.

The morning after the party… or maybe the next day… we went back to Grand Restaurant for dim sum. I guess that they cost a lot more (almost 2x as much) as Mellie’s, but oh man…

Any way, I loved how big and full of shrimp the har gow were here. They might be pricey, but they were worth it.

Spare ribs and black bean sauce in the center & left bowls. Pig intestine in the right bowl. Not a big fan of the pig intestine – it’s kind of… pungent, lol.

NOM, CHOW FUN! Margarita and I could eat a plate of these ourselves, so great is our love of this dish.

Got a plate of 3 dan tats on da house ’cause they remembered my dad from the night before. Mmm, hot & flaky.

This was a great trip for everyone. First time YehYeh got to meet his great grand son in person. Family, food, good times.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

I’ve had this cold that won’t go away for about a month now, so I decided to see a Chinese medicine doctor when I was in Queens this weekend. I was kind of debating putting it up here, but Chinese medicine is pretty much herbs and dried food, so it’s kind of food related. And if nothing else, you get an American experience of going to a Chinese herbalist. Feel free to skip this post if that kind of thing is a little too hippy dippy or boring for you.

I asked my Dad to ask around Flushing, NY for some recommendations for a Chinese medicine doctor. He got some, and as we were walking, he noticed a sign in the window of Shing Fat Trading Inc. that said they had a Chinese medicine doctor on staff. Not the most scientific method ever, but we walked in to give it a see. It’s located at 13357 39th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354 on the corner of Prince St.

Tip #1 for going to see a Chinese herbalist is to bring someone who speaks and reads Chinese. I don’t, so I never would have known.

It’s a very tiny store packed with dried herbs and vegetables, some food, and some tea. It looks pretty much like a trading store. We got there early and spoke with a woman at the counter, who said the doctor was very good, had a lot of clients, and said he was a retired professor (of herbs or Chinese medicine, I’m guessing?) from China. This and all subsequent conversations were in Chinese (I want to say Mandarain, but maybe it was Cantonese. I don’t know. I’m terrible). My Dad translated for me.

I sat down near the doctor/professor’s counter. It’s all visible in the store, not back room or anything. It’s the back right counter. He checked the pulse in both of my wrists, used a stethoscope to listen to my lungs, looked at my eyes and throat, and also checked my blood pressure. Pretty legit. No puffery or anything. He also asked me/my Dad some questions. This is where you really need to have someone who speaks Chinese. The English is really limited there, and the questions are complex. The Dr/Professor asks a lot of pretty in-depth medical questions that I’d normally be a little embarassed to answer in front of my Dad (bodily functions, etc), but I was so miserable that what little shame I had was gone.

Here were some of my symptoms: stuffed/clogged ears with lots of pressure; eye pain, discharge/crusting, and pressure; swollen throat; fever; congestion; head pressure. Basically, a lot of head stuff going on. Not fun.

He listened thoughtfully for a while. This wasn’t a quickie once-over. It didn’t take a super-long time, but I felt like it was more attention and concern given than my usual experience in a typical doctor’s office (and bonus, I didn’t have to change into one of those stupid gowns) where they usually look at these symptoms and go “Yep, you’re sick. Nothing we can do. $200 please.” I’m not discounting MDs, but I just know my body and this is the type of sickness I usually get, so I’ve learned that going to an MD for these symptoms usually does nothing for me other than cost money, and tie up staff over people they can actually cure. I’ve generally been the sickly sort with ear, nose, and throat stuff, so… yeah. Can’t hurt to give it a try!

Any way, after the analysis, they discussed a course of treatment. At first there was talk of 30 days of medicine, but then we realized I’d be back in a little over a week, so we settled on 15 days of medicine and some accupunture.

The cost was $10 for the consultation, $20 for accupunture, and $7 per day for the prescriptions ($105 total for 15 days) for a total of $135. Not exactly cheap, but… cheaper than it would be for me to visit a regular doctor (and omg, prescriptions would be another arm & leg).

I’m pretty sure it was cash only (most places in Chinatowns are cash only). I’ve learned to carry cash on me when I’m visiting my family in Flushing so I can quickly throw down money to cover at least some of my expenses so they don’t generously pay for everything.

I paid up and went to breakfast with family while they prepared my “prescriptions”. We got there a little before 11 am on a Sunday, I think when they just opened up, and the dr/prof mentioned something about blood sugar levels and wanting to do accupunture on me.

Above is a picture of some other prescriptions being made. The woman in the store we initially spoke to is like the pharmacist. The doctor/professor gives her the (long) prescription and she starts weighing and portioning it out on to paper plates (they get reused, so if you have allergy concerns, just FYI).

The accupunture was really quick. And clean. I was kind of iffy about it, because $20 for accupunture is stupid cheap. But all of the needles used were from sterile commercial packages, and the professor/doctor wiped his hands down with alcohol, as well as the areas I was poked, hee hee. He took one needle and poked it in my right hand, kind of near the web between thumb and pointer finger. It was like he lassoed some kind of ligament or tendon or whatever – it didn’t hurt, but there was a bit of a tingle and some movement. That was really quick. Maybe 30 seconds. Then he poked behind an ear with some kind of a lance a couple of times and that was it. Maybe 1 minute tops of accupuncture. He said it should help with eye pressure and drainage (also that I have an eye infection).

An hour or so later, I noticed that my eyes weren’t incredibly painful when I wiped them. Wait, no eye pain at all. Psychosomatic, or real effect? Heck, I didn’t care at that point.

I had to do a LOT of driving that day, and all weekend I hadn’t slept very much. Exertion related to travel is generally a spell for me to relapse into sickness/get way sicker. Always is. I was like “Great, now tomorrow I’m going to feel terrible or worse.” When I got home I made some medicine, and the pressure in my head was a lot better the next day. I thought it was odd it would work so quickly. There are two baggies for my “medicine”. They handily stapled them together, and I have baggies for every day I need to take the medicine. The big baggie is supposed to help my ear, nose, and throat (cold) problems. The smaller baggie is… um… for constipation. Whatever. My herbalist told me to take it. It’s the internet. Maybe you have these same problems if you find this page. At any rate, here is the process for making the medicine: You can use a clay pot. I didn’t really feel the need to, but then Yeh-Yeh insisted I take his, so my Dad packed it up for me. They said it was safe to use on a gas stove, but… I’m not sure if it already had a crack in it or I broke it, because it had a little hairline crack on the bottom when I heated it up. Ugh, so clumsy. I used metallic pots instead.

So here is the inside of the bag. Looks like a bag of yard clippings, I know.

Here is what the bag says. If you can read Chinese feel free to translate it for me, ’cause I have no idea what it says. Any way, we’ll dump it out and see what it looks like out of the bag:

Oh, now it looks like dried mulch, wood chips, and yard clippings. Hee hee. Yeh-Yeh warned me that Chinese herbal medicine would be stinky, and bitter. This didn’t have much smell. Granted, my sense of smell and taste are rather limited with this cold, but Albany John didn’t really notice anything either.

Soak the big bag of herbs with water for 30 minutes before boiling. They said to soak it with 2 pints to 5 cups of water and then have it lightly boil down for 30 minutes to reduce to 1 cup of liquid. I’m not sure if maybe I misunderstood something, but I cannot get it to boil down to 1 cup of liquid from 2 pints in 30 minutes at a low boil. Maybe I should be using 2 cups.

Then boil it for 25 minutes. Toss the small bag in and boil an additional 5 minutes (30 minutes total). No real smell while boiling, either.

I pour it into a bowl with a strainer, in case any large pieces fall out.

Then you’re left with this. Bowl of hot dark brown. It doesn’t exactly scream delicious. And it is pretty potent stuff. It’s got a vicosity somewhere between water and milk. Not quite as thick as milk, but thicker than water. Flavor-wise, it’s bitter, but not unbearably so. It tastes better than liquid cough syrup, but I’m not going to be craving the stuff once the course of treatment is complete. There’s a brightness in it that makes it a little more bearable. Kind of lemony/tart. I try to think of it as tea that’s been steeped for way too long. You know how if you make a cup of tea and then forget about it for an hour and leave the bag in and it tastes super bitter? That’s kind of like what this tastes like (or what I’m making myself say it tastes like to keep drinking it, heh).

It’s not the best stuff in the world, but I’ve been noticing I’m feeling less sick the day after I take it. I’ve been drinking it at night before dinner, so I feel better in the morning when I wake up. I’m still maintaining a skeptical observation, because it could very likely just be psychosomatic wishing. But when you’ve been sick for 4 weeks psychosomatic cures are totally fine with me because I just. want. to. be. not. sick.

I’m also supposed to not eat fried or spicy foods for the next 13 days (remaining days in my treatment). Yeah, we’ll see how well that works. Any way, I congratulate you if you’ve made it this far!

Cosimo’s, 5 Burros, and Maple Bacon Ice Cream

This weekend my future sister in law Maka had her bridal shower. Very cool thing to be a part of. Her family is fairly large and went all out in throwing her a party at Cosimo’s in Poughkeepsie (120 Delafield St, right off of the highway). Mama Amherst and I were there reping the groom’s side! Girly weekend! One of my girlfriends used to work at a location further down state, and I’d never managed to try it, so I was excited to give it a whirl. Salad. Little heavy on the dressing for me, but lots of flavor. It was some kind of a prosecco vinaigrette. Tasty.

Got a margherita pizza. Nice thin crust and chewy edges with cornmeal on the bottom. It was a large “personal” pizza. I ate about half of it and took the leftovers with me. Tomatoes were nice and bright. I’d get it again.

Dessert! They brought in a cake for the bride, and the menu came with tiramisu. Good tiramisu. Lots of kahlua flavor, hee hee.

And then we packed my car with all of the gifts Maka received. I wish I’d taken a shot of the car. It was so packed! We drove from Poughkeepsie to Queens. She never would have made it on the train with all of that stuff.

See? I told you. It was a LOT of stuff! haha. Thank goodness for granny carts. We made it within three trips.

Then we met up with some of my bro-in-law CVS’s friends who were VIPs at 5 Burros (7205 Austin St, Forest Hills, NY). I’d been there once before for drinks and it was jam packed. It was pretty much impossible to get a table for more than two people during prime time hours (like, the only time I’m ever there to visit)… unless you knew someone.

We still had to wait about an hour (brr!), but man. I don’t even wanna know how long we’d wait if we didn’t know someone.

We crammed into a table in the back and got a pitcher of strawberry margaritas. Frozen. Yum! I only wanted half a drink because I’ve got this stupid head cold that won’t go away, but they were way too generous and gave me a full glass. They give you a little toy in the drinks. I got a goldfish, he he.

I got tacos al pastor ($14). Three tacos stuffed with deliciously moist pork meat and some minced red onion and cilantro. So freaking good.

At first, I was kinda like “Eehh, $14 for three tacos?” But the tacos were so good and so generously portioned, AND it came with a side of rice, beans, some mild salsa, guacamole and sour cream. I quickly changed my tune. Everything was flavorful enough for me to taste something, even with the nagging head cold. I even liked the rice! It was like fried rice, but Mexican. And really good. Sadly, I could barely make a dent in the sour cream and guac because of the cold (texture weirded me out).

Albany John was hanging with his folks in Amherst, and I missed his dish nibbling. I don’t think I’m used to eating an entire meal on my own when I go out to eat! I had a whole taco left. It seems kind of wussy (who can’t eat three tacos?), but they were so big! If Albany John were there, he could have helped me out.

Oh, and Maka gave me some goldenseal, and that stuff really helps drain your sinuses! I could actually breathe through my nose that night!

The next day I went to Flushing to meet up with my Dad, Uncle, and Yeh-Yeh.

I checked out a Chinese Medicine doctor guy before we went to breakfast just because this stupid cold won’t go away and nothing is working, and it’s one of those colds where if I go to a Dr. Dr. they’re just like “Yeah, you’re sick, drink some Gatorade, there’s nothing we can do.” I figured why not? Worst case scenario I spend some money on some herbs that won’t hurt me any way, and best case scenario is that I get a homeopathic cure that’s been used by people for thousands of years.

So they said we should get breakfast because of blood sugar levels or whatever, so we went to Jade Asian Restaurant for yum cha. Got some har cheung (shrimp rice rolls). Oh man, those were good. Really silky and tender noodles. They must make them there.

Joong. Maka and CVS joined me, and they really liked this dish.

Steamed chicken and rice. I wasn’t really hungry because of the cold. I just don’t get as much motivation to eat when I’m sick because I can’t really taste anything and my throat hurts, so what’s the point? But I guess that’s what family is for, because Yeh-Yeh and my dad were piling food on my plate and encouraging me to eat. That was really sweet of them. You’ll never go hungry in a Chinese family.

Steamed spare ribs, tripe, and shrimp dumplings.

Chow fun to end the meal. Again, really silky noodles. I want to get more fun dishes here. And by fun I mean rice noodle, although eating good food is fun too. Hee hee.

Oh, so this is the place I went to see the Chinese herbalist. Shing Fat Trading, Inc., located on the corner of Prince and 39th Street. Who’da thought, right? They’d readied my herbal “prescriptions” for the next couple of weeks and gave me some quickie accupuncture. I’ll do another post on this in a few days with some more detail.

The short of it, though, is that I did start feeling a little bit better. Still sick, but just not as sick. But at that point who really knows if it’s the work or just the psychosomatic effects? I mean, either way, whatever works to get rid of this cold. Seriously. Cold. Go away.

Then it was time to head to Amherst to pick up Albany John. I cut through Connecticut on I-95 to I-91. It wasn’t much longer than my normal route home. It usually takes me about 4 hours to get home from Queens with the routes I take, and this only added, like, an extra hour (maybe) of total travel time. Plus I always like trying a new way home. Keeps the drive more interesting. Unless there’s traffic on the way to the Whitestone Bridge. It took me about half an hour to go like, two miles. Ugh. C’mon. Let’s speed it up! But slow goings on a Sunday around the city isn’t exactly surprising.

Funny thing is, after this E-ZPass sign was another sign saying “No Picture or Video”. Hmm. Okay.

It was still a little slow once I got on I-95, but not as bumper-to-bumper.

Once we got into CT it was a lot faster. Yay! Although CT drivers: WTF. Can no one maintain their speed on the highway? I know some of you have cruise control.

Blessedly, I made it to Amherst and was greeted with happy faces. And Maple Bacon Ice cream. Albany John picked up the weirdest sounding flavor from Maple Valley Ice Cream.

Can I just say how much I love MA dairy? They nail dairy products. I love getting ice cream in MA. It’s always so ridiculously rich and awesome.

Ingredient list. Cream, milk, cane sugar, maple syrup, bacon, vanilla extract, and some unnamed natural stabilizers. I like the local lables. Too cute.

I still couldn’t taste very much, but the texture was great. Creamy with bits of bacon in it. I’d get it again. It really wasn’t all that odd.

And then I got FLAN ON A COOKIE!!! Papa Amherst made them. SO DELICIOUS! And then I made Albany John drive back so I could nap in the car. Good man.