Sunday, August 24, 2014

Last summer kick-off - papaya salad

Bon Apetit recently released their new "it" restaurants for 2014, ranging from southern comfort food in DC to a buzzing food court in California.

It made me think of what my "favorites" to eat are. Or what would be my last meal on earth? Probably a hard boiled egg and rice - simple, but satisfying.

A "favorite" I can never turn down, however, is a good sweet, salty, papaya salad, Thai or Laos style (both of which are equally delicious in their own way). And what better thing to make in the wake of the waning summer days?

Thai style papaya salad (photo courtesy of Dragfyre)
Papaya salad is a perfect complement of tangy, salty goodness. Young papaya is shredded and tossed in a bed with chopped green beans, shredded carrots, and tomatoes in a lime-fish sauce mixture. While the Thai style spotlights crisp green beans and sometimes features fermented blue crab paste, the Laotian version kicks up the flavor by adding shrimp paste as the salt component. Both versions taste great and have a simple backbone recipe that's free to adjust (as you'll see below).

Laos papaya salad (photo courtesy of Takeaway)
My first experience of a papaya salad was when I was still living in Stockton. There was a park where women would sell a Laos/Cambodian style papaya salad that was served with beansprouts and white rice noodles. The noodles were a great starch substance to an otherwise light salad. To this day, papaya salad is a menu item that I constantly look for in restaurants (not nearly as frequently appearing like pad thai, but papaya salad, if done right, is a major treat!). I think my favorite places to get papaya salad is still at a Thai temple in Fremont, CA (which no longer has a food court, boo).

Papaya salad is very simple to construct. I don't even have a strict recipe I use - everything about this recipe screams laziness and ease of execution. Considering that people like varying degrees of salty and sour, papaya salad can be done the way you like it as well! While easy to make, this salad is extremely versatile and plays well with different textures and tastes.

- 1 whole papaya young shredded (must be green)
- 2 carrots shredded (optional, not a deal breaker if you don't have it)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- Handful of green beans, chopped longways (also optional)
- Lime or lemon, 1/2 lime/lemon at a time
- Fish sauce, 1/2 tbsp at a time
- Dried shrimp (optional)
- Fermented shrimp paste (if you want to do it more Lao style), 1/2 tbsp
- 1 cup grape tomatoes halved or 2 roma tomatoes sliced
- Peanuts for salad topping

1. Add in shredded vegetables, garlic, green beans, and tomatoes - mash lightly with a mortal and pestle
2. When softly mashed (don't pummel to a pulp), add in fish sauce, lime, and paste - I have them in increments because you shouldn't add a ton on your first try. Instead, get a feel for how you want it to taste, slowly adjusting.
3. Adjust levels of salty (fish sauce, or shrimp paste) or sour (lime/lemon) until happy - I like my ratio to be slightly more salty than sour
4. Eat papaya salad alone, with rice noodles, or on top of a bed of mixed greens/herbs/beansprouts! Top with peanuts for an extra crunch!

Until next time, happy eating all!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Costa Mesa restaurant week - olive oils, spreads, and gooey cheese

This week marked the annual Costa Mesa Restaurant Week. MOH and I decided to go crazy on cheese, spreads, and oils. This feels like a deja vu from last week - we walked around the shopping mall, glossing over all the designer stores like Gucci and Prada, only to leave the mall with chocolate truffles and chocolate-dipped strawberries (strawberries were gone by the ride home). We just love food.

But the stuff we got today was REALLY tasty.

Basil olive oil and tapenade - YUMMY

We ventured into two main stores, one a little shop that specializes in olive oil called We Olive. We Olive sells various types of olive oils, balsamics, and spreads that all taste amazing. You have oils that are zesty (Jalapeno Olive Oil), sour (Meyer Lemon Olive Oil), and herb-infused (basil olive oil). These kinds of oils would go great as finishes to salads, pasta, or for bread. They also have a well received black olive tapenade (mixture usually of olives, capers, anchovies) that you can dip with bread or top with cheese. The tapenade has this great salty kick to it that I think can even taste great with salads or as a sandwich spread.

The second shop we explored was a cute little cheese shop (called The Cheese Shop at The Mix) that had a restaurant week special: get a baguette, wildflower honey, and fromager d'affino cheese for $7. MOH and I love cheese.

Cheese galore (photo courtesy of Tomas Regner)

Cheese that's soft, hard, creamy, rich, harsh, savory and sweet. We love it all. One of our favorite food memories was sitting in a dinky hotel room after going to a wedding, cramming our faces with beef jerky and truffle cheese - classy I know. Since that memory so many years ago, one of our favorite things to do while grocery shopping is to browse through the cheese gallery.

Cheese goodies with basil olive oil and tapenade on the side

This cheese was PHENOMENAL. If you're at all partial to soft cheeses, you'll love this (though I still attest that my favorite cheese is sharp cheddar, call me a simpleton). Very similar in taste to Brie, fromager d'affino is a double cream, soft cheese that is particularly soft and tastes like butter. If you drizzle some honey atop, the sweet and creamy taste goes together so well. This cheese would taste great with bread or a hearty cracker. And the honey? So rich and delicious - the honey is so concentrated that it's like eating honey in applesauce consistency. Yummy.

If you have a restaurant week in your hometown, definitely check it out. You get the chance to sample different foods for slashed prices that you probably wouldn't think about trying in the first place.

Until next time, happy eating all!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When life gives you bad dough consistency, you make dumplings

I had this grand goal for the weekend - I was going to make steamed buns... and it was going to taste amazing. You know when you're eating dimsum and see the cart roll by with BBQ pork buns? Or when you walk into an Asian grocery store and see the fresh hot buns ready to be taken home and eaten?

My little dream for the weekend ended up a flop. I used a recipe I found on another site but couldn't get the dough consistency right. The dough kept on sticking to my fingers and the steamed product was a rock-hard bun. I spent the latter half of my Saturday evening sulking around and giving the leftover dough mixture the stink-eye.

So what happens when you can't make steamed buns, but went through the trouble to make a really yummy veggie filling? You forget about your initial plan and convince yourself that you intended to make wonton dumplings from the get-go!

Dumplings are really easy to make, and are so versatile. I like to eat dumplings just steamed, boiled, or placed in a rich broth with noodles. Whenever I eat dumplings, I think back to my mom's dumpling soup that my family would eat with egg noodles and vegetables.

This time, I made a filling of oyster mushrooms, onions, black fungus*, cabbage, and tofu. Dumplings however, come in a variety of different flavors.

Probably the best part of making dumplings is folding them into cute little shapes. It doesn't matter how you fold your dumplings, just make sure you eliminate as much air as possible - if you leave little air bubbles, the cooked dumplings look like little Pillsbury dough boys!

I like to lay out my dough and use water as a gluing agent (some people use egg wash, which is perfectly fine). Simply outline the dough with water and place your ingredients in the center. You want to make sure your filling isn't too much that you can't close the dumpling, so it's a matter of adjusting how much filling you have to the size of your dough piece. Then you can close the dumpling either by creating a triangle shape (connect all the corners together in a 90 degree fashion), or money bag shape (haphazardly bundling up the dough) - any way you choose is perfectly fine and a total matter of preference. I like to do a hybrid of the two types.

Then, once you have a few, you can boil them in either a broth or boiling water. I like to boil my dumplings until they are floating to the surface (2 minutes), but depending on your filling (if you have raw meat), you may want to adjust your cooking times. I love this veggie filling because you get a hefty portion of tofu and mushrooms and crunchy fungus. Fungus has this incredible texture and tastes great in soups and stir fries (you may have had it in ramen unknowingly).

Then, take out and enjoy with some sauce or alone! MOH and I spent our evening alternating in the kitchen between cooking dumplings, cooling dumplings, dipping dumplings, and folding dumplings. It was a vicious cycle, but our tummies were satisfied, and MOH was ever the gentleman with not once mentioning the words "steam bun."

Until next time, happy eating all!

Veggie filling (extremely simple, but delicious!):

- 2 cups of green cabbage shredded
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 cup of oyster mushrooms chopped
- 1/2 pack of firm tofu, chopped
- 3 tbsp of oyster sauce
- dash of salt

1. Chop up ingredients and throw into mixing bowl, tossing until fully mixed.
2. Use as filling for wonton wrappers.
3. Fold, avoiding as much empty space in filling as possible
4. Boil 2 minutes
5. Scoop out and cool prior to serving

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New favorite read and detox breakfast recipe

A week after Comic-con and MOH and I are finally back to our familiar routine.

Comic-con this year was fantastic. It's a chance in the year for people to celebrate all types of art, whether it's great literature reads, stunning art pieces of your favorite book characters, or film and TV series that you watch all year round. This year, MOH and I really made the most of our time:

We were able to sit in on some of our favorite TV show and art panels.

Jim Lee - artist, writer, editor and publisher. 
 We managed to grab art pieces from our favorite artists - Comic-con has a huge Artists' Alley where many artists come together to show off their works of art (art ranges from watercolor, stencil, ink, pastel, and digital).

Oil pastel rendition of Vertigo's Sandman by Stuart Sayger
And lastly, we got to meet the writers and artists behind some of the comic series that we've been reading.

Rob Guillory and John Layman - creators behind Image's Eisner Award winning Chew
A new series that we're starting is Chew. Chew is probably the strangest comic I've read so far... and I've read some weird stuff (good, just weird). The series is currently on issue 42 out of 60, and has been awarded an Eisner Award  for Best Series as well as a New York Times Bestseller.

As the photo suggests, Chew is zany, out-there, adventurous, and entertaining. It's a contemporary take on sci-fi and crime. The main premise of the comic is how an FDA detective named Tony Chu solves crimes using his abilities as a cibopath. 

What is a cibopath? A cibopath is someone who can experience memories and sensations of anything they consume... except beets. Take for example eating grilled mushrooms - after eating the mushrooms, Tony can feel everything the mushroom felt prior to dying, such as what soil it grew in, where it as harvested, etc. But the fun isn't about Tony eating random things - instead, he focuses using his abilities to identify key suspects involved in homicidal investigations, or using bagged evidence to figure out the next step in solving the case. And if it involves eating decomposed stuff for the sake of solving the case... well, Tony is just that dedicated of a cop. 

It's been a great read so far and MOH has even gotten into it - on a daily basis MOH's go-to comment about that series is "it is sooooo weird." Yet he still reads it, so it must be good, right?

Other than the joys of Comic-con, we have been detoxing from the event as well. There are over 130 thousand people that attend this convention, so germs are amok like nobody's business. 

Slew of people at Comic-con (photo courtesy of Pat Loika)
So this week has been eating as clean and healthy as possible. On our menu was soups, oatmeal, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Happy colon is happy human!

Hot quinoa/oatmeal cereal - great breakfast or anytime meal
Hopefully everyone has been enjoying their weekend!

Until next time - happy eating all!

Hot oatmeal/quinoa recipe (inspired by Bon Apetit)

1. Soak quinoa in water for at least 2 hours
2. Boil 1/2 cup of quinoa and 1/2 cup of oatmeal in a little pot with 3 cups of water (stir over medium heat until cooked) with raisins - takes about 15 minutes
3. Place hot cereal into bowl and top with your favorite fruits and nuts (my favorite mix is almonds with blueberries, apples, and blackberries)
4. Pour almond milk on top and drizzle maple syrup over for a little sweet
5. Enjoy! 

*Cereal can be placed in a tupperware in fridge for later

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Too hungry to think - brain will sacrifice memory when you're starving

Ever experience "brain fog?" That feeling where you're so tired, you can't make sound decisions?

I did a previous post about the science behind "hangry" pangs, but what about how being hungry affects our thinking?

Our brain works hard for us everyday. Whether it's trying to remember what items to pick up at a store, solving a Sudoku puzzle while waiting for the bus, or stealthily maneuvering your car through the tricky traffic hour - our brain is phenomenal... at a cost. To operate at its fullest capacity, the brain is a metabolically demanding organ. In fact, it's probably the most demanding organ in your body, requiring nutrients like sugars to continue to function properly.

So what happens when you're running on fumes, low on energy? It's happened to all of us at some time or another. Maybe you were trying to meet a deadline and forgot to eat lunch, or you were too excited shopping to stop and grab a bite. Whatever the reason, no one can deny the end result of trying to use your brain, usually unsuccessfully, when on an empty stomach. I even think that a hungry brain is probably worse than a sleepy brain... maybe.

It seems that nature has a way of trying to save every ounce of energy in order to survive, even if it is at the expensive of using your noggin. In the instances when an organism is facing a shortage of food, the brain will forgo costly memory in order to survive. Don't believe me? It's true - at least in flies, that is.

Photo courtesy of A. Rivera
In an article published in Science last year, scientists found that starving flies switch to a cheaper form of memory as a way to avoid high usage of their energy stores. Flies have two types of aversive memory (memory that a particular odor or food is bad for you or tastes gross)*: one type of aversive memory is highly expensive, but lasts long - this type of memory requires the creation of new proteins. The second type of aversive memory is the cheaper, bargain brand alternative. This cheaper memory doesn't require protein synthesis, but doesn't last as long as the expensive memory type. What researchers found was that while regularly fed flies use the expensive memory type, starving flies switch to the cheaper alternative. In this situation, it appears that the brain shuts down the default expensive memory to save on energy.

Why even switch memory types? The long term memory that lasts longer is just too costly. The brain seems to be weighing costs of using different types of memory - this is a great case of adaptive plasticity, where the body is adjusting to the environment appropriately. For flies, starving flies shut down the machinery that uses costly memory. Exactly how costly is this memory? Researchers found that mutant flies that used more expensive memory and less cheap memory actually had shorter lifespans than control flies. In this instance, it actually kills to use your brain! (a bit dramatic, but you get the point)

Although there haven't been any findings that show this same phenomenon in mammals, it would be interesting to consider how this could be affecting humans. In the short term, it probably doesn't matter what type of memory you're using (as in, doesn't matter how you get to a point, so long as you get there, right?). However, in the long term, using the cheaper memory may have its pitfalls. If similar to flies, the cheaper memory doesn't last as long as the more expensive brand - in this case, you may find that your precious memories are at risk for being erased. The brain then, is constantly surveying its environment, and making internal calculations about what is the most cost-effective way of storing memories.

Just when you thought the brain couldn't get any better, it decides to sweep in when you need it most (when you're hungry hungry hippo), and switch to a mean surviving machine.

Hope everyone is doing great! On this week's agenda: MOH and I are going off to Comic-Con in San Diego. We've planned most of our trip, just need to finalize some last minute details.

Happy eating all!!!

* The two types of aversive memory are long term memory (LTM) and anesthesia resistant memory (ARM). LTM involves protein synthesis and involves dopaminergic neurons (MV1 and MP1 type).

Placais PY and Preat T. 2013. To favor survival under food shortage, the brain disables costly memory. Science.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Anniversary of blog - thanks and appreciation!

I realized today that this blog has been up for one year! About a year ago, MOH and I were walking along a nature trail and the idea of a food-themed blog came to mind (thanks MOH, you're the best). The blog has evolved from highlighting the science behind food perception, to food recipes inspired by my culture, to restaurant reviews around Orange County.

I've had a beautiful love affair with food, and it's been wonderful sharing all my food ramblings, recipes, and thoughts with every one of you.

Chocolate ecstasy - souffle to die for

Whether you're reading this by chance, or tuning in on a regular basis, thanks for stopping by and supporting this blog! It may not seem like much, but seeing viewers tune into this blog has been very fulfilling - makes me feel like these thoughts and recipes are worth sharing! Sending love to everyone on this warm summer night.

Hope everyone's weekend is off to a great start! What's on my agenda for the weekend?

Easy to make tofu spring rolls with peanut hoisin sauce

Tofu spring rolls for dinner, and some amazing poke for lunch tomorrow!

Bear Flag Fishing Company - best tuna / salmon poke around (photo courtesy of MOH)
Until next time, happy eating all!!!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Run them legs - physical activity restores function following sensory visual deprivation in mice

I finally mustered up the strength to sign up for a half marathon in Huntington Beach for 2015. It's something that I've wanted to do for a while, but have always been too scared to see if I could run the 13.1 mile distance.

Although I'm not training until roughly October, I'm trying to run a couple times a week just to keep up endurance. What's the best thing about running?

For me, it's probably running in the early morning (before the sun rises), or late evening (dark runs). Sometimes I'll wake up around 6AM, have trouble sleeping, and just roll out of bed to get ready for a run (I even have running clothes near my closet so I can make a quick getaway without fumbling in the dark).

Photo courtesy of McKay Savage
Running, or any exercise, has several physical and mental benefits. While we've heard about how an active lifestyle wards you away from sickness more frequently, stimulates higher learning capacity, and even actually increases more brain growth, what about physical exercise following an injury?

Recently, running has been shown to help mice recover visual function following visual deprivation. A study published in eLife (Kaneko and Stryker, 2014) has shown that mice with monocular deprivation have recovery of visual function following sessions of running on a treadmill while viewing visual images.* The researchers created monocular deprivation only to one eye by suturing shut one of the mouse's eyes for 30 days. As a result, very little input comes into this sutured shut eye - in fact, this simulates a condition that often happens to some children called amblyopia, or "lazy eye." Amblyopia is where vision doesn't develop normally, sometimes as a result of eyes not aligned appropriately (an issue when eyes point in different directions). Think of your eyes as requiring training for them to function at their best - if during development one eye receives more information and training than the other (this eye being the dominant eye), the eye that receives less training is often the weaker eye and sometimes not even used. For kids that have amblyopia, one of the treatments is to force the weaker eye to train itself by closing shut the more powerful eye. By shutting the more dominant eye, the hope is that the weaker eye eventually becomes strong enough to work just as well as the dominant eye.

Form of treatment for amblyopia (Photo courtesy of National Institutes of Health (NIH))
 In this study, researchers tried to see if physical activity would help speed recovery of visual function after suturing shut the eyes. Mice that had deprivation to one eye were divided into the following groups: had no post-operative treatment, were allowed to run on a spherical treadmill (I'm trying to imagine cute little running mice), viewed different images to stimulate visual training, or had exercise while looking at different images. Surprisingly, the mice had recovery of vision in their sutured eye! What was strange, however, was the recovery observed was ONLY when the mice were running and looking at different visual images - the control groups showed no visual improvement.

These findings are incredibly exciting, but running won't necessarily solve everything. It's important to keep in mind that restoration of vision in this case, happened only in the situation of combining visual stimulation with physical activity.  As in running only promotes recovery following an injury in the specific brain pathways that are activated while you're running. So for example, running would only help you recover from damage in the area important for food processing only if you are smelling or even eating something (as in stimulating your food processing pathways).

It's a bit extreme, but these findings serve more to demonstrate the remarkable flexibility of the brain to recover. Also, just think - next time you decide to get all judgmental on that person on the treadmill reading their magazine, maybe they're stimulating and increasing their brain function!

Blur of legs at the gym sweating it hard (photo courtesy of Brandon Wiggins)
Until next time, happy eating all!

*Monocular deprivation was done by shutting one eye of mouse from postnatal day 21 (within the critical period) until mice were 5 months old. Mice that had visual deprivation were then either given a treadmill alone, treadmill with visual stimulation, or visual stimulation alone. Recovery of visual function was measured using optical imaging.

Kaneko M and Stryker MP., 2014. Sensory experience during locomotion promotes recovery of function in adult visual cortex. eLife.