Hello, it's May.
I was wondering if after all these [months] you'd like to... hear about what I've been cooking.
Oh hey, friends. Long time no see. Life has been a whirlwind — work somehow keeps managing to get more intense, most recently with the passage of the American Rescue Plan (more on that later!) and every spare shred of attention I can muster has gone right into wedding planning. I’ve quickly realized that while planning a wedding for 40 immediate family members is less complex than planning one for 200, the raw number of moving parts isn’t as different as I might have hoped. Throw in a few weeks of being under the weather (thankfully not COVID, and all better now!) and my energy to write has just not been there.
There are a few reasons I try to keep this newsletter alive. The main one is that I am, by nature, an enthusiastic person. I discover things — books, recipes, restaurants, wellness routines, whatever — and immediately want to share them with everyone and their mother. This newsletter has been a great way to pass on a little of the joy I experience in these discoveries to someone else, but it sometimes devolves into long, rambling screeds on whatever’s happening in my life.
So! I’m going to try a more structured format today, inspired by some of my favorite lifestyle-adjacent newsletters by folks like Nisha Chittal and Mollie Chen. I’d love to know what you think. (And I promise that it’ll be shorter when I don’t have two months of favorite things built up.)
Turns out, it’s pretty good: work-life balance edition. My beloved morning exercise-and-reading routine fell to pieces while I was feeling crummy, and I’ve slowly been piecing it back together. One thing that’s helped has been making a concerted effort to separate work-time and life-time. I finally deleted Slack from my phone, entirely power down my work laptop on weekends, and don’t pop it open in the morning until I’m ready to actually work. (I should acknowledge this is tough if you aren’t lucky enough to have the kind of boss who literally instructs you to disconnect, like I do!) Forcing myself out into limited cell service with friends also helps — especially when the views are as good as they were during a 7 mile spin around the Briones reservoir yesterday.
Listen Like You Mean It. Being a good listener isn’t one of my natural skillsets, and a year of working and living remotely has caused me to backslide into bad habits. User researcher Ximena Vengoechea’s latest book has been a great refresher on all the active listening skills I learned way back in college during RA training, and includes tons of concrete, common-sense advice. She’s prompted me to stop multi-tasking during calls, and I now shut down tabs for email and Slack to make sure I’m not distracted by notifications. It’s a tiny, obvious thing, but it’s already making a difference.
1lb of ground meat, so many possibilities. Warmer weather means I can finally make my go-to weeknight meal: Leela Punyaratabandhu’s pad ka prao, featuring holy basil fresh from the farmer’s market. But before the season started, I had to rely on more pantry-friendly recipes, like Leela’s stir-fried pork with Chinese olives and black pepper (an unexpectedly great combo) and her lap, a super-fresh Thai meat salad stuffed with herbs that are more easily available at the tiny market next door to my apartment. If it’s still chilly where you are, might I recommend this Taiwanese braised minced pork with mushrooms from The Woks of Life? It’s one of the most savory, rib-sticking dishes I’ve made in a long time.
I’m running out of pantry space. Two new-to-me ingredients have recently made their way onto my always-keep-in-stock list — fermented black beans (thanks for the rec, Alex!) and dried shrimp. The former are dry, extremely salty fermented soybeans that need to be rinsed before using, and keep forever in the fridge. Even a few tablespoons of them are enough to make black bean clams or chicken, two of my favorite new recipes this year. Both recipes I tried were from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice, but the linked recipes from The Woks of Life are similar.
The dried shrimp likewise keep ages in the fridge and require a quick pre-rinse or soak, depending on the type you buy. So far, the only thing I’ve used them in is the stir-fried cabbage with dried shrimp from Every Grain of Rice, but I’ve already made that more times than I can count. Both ingredients are readily available at Asian grocery stores (I usually shop at Manila Oriental Market, which is just south of Bernal Hill, but FYI, 99 Ranch delivers!)
Who says that weeknight dinners can’t be fancy? If you haven’t already discovered the baby racks of lamb at Costco, keep an eye out next time you’re there. Their small size means they take about 20 minutes to pan roast using Daniel Gritzer’s method, and most of that’s pretty hands off, leaving you enough time to prep an easy vegetable in between flipping and basting.
I’m also currently obsessed with slow-roasting salmon in a ridiculous quantity of olive oil — I suppose it’s technically confit-ing? — which yields butter-soft fish with minimal fuss. Use a glass dish that’s as small as possible while still accommodating your salmon, cover it with olive oil, and stick it in a 225F oven until an instant-read thermometer reads 125F. It’s great both warm and cold, and while frizzled baby artichokes are an optional accompaniment, they also come highly recommended.
I’m back on my baking game. Contrary to popular opinion, I only really bake when I have someone to share the results with. Now that I’m vaxxed and relaxed, I’ve re-stocked on butter and cocoa powder and am ready to haul out the KitchenAid again! For my first foray back, I drew inspiration from British pastry chef Nicola Lamb’s fantastic newsletter, Kitchen Projects, and embarked on baby’s first brioche dough for these double chocolate buns. They were phenomenal even without the craquelin hats, and honestly not too tricky!
If you’re in the Bay Area and prefer not to cook for yourself, can I take a moment to hawk a few favorites?
I’ve now eaten Lion Dance Café’s ever-changing Shaobing sandwich twice, and it absolutely lives up to the hype. (I also love this interview with the founders, C-Y Chia and Shane Stanbridge, about veganizing a meat-centric cuisine and using produce native to the Bay Area.)
I quite literally took a day off work to try the Sichuan hot chicken sandwich from Ok’s Deli, and I’d do it again. Spicy + numbing + crispy = bliss
Parcels Project will deliver freshly frozen dumplings to your door - the Lion’s Head meatball flavor is my favorite!
Finally, my neighborhood mainstay Bernal Bakery has started doing croissants and they’re great - get the pain au chocolat and throw in a sando loaf to ensure you have a week’s worth of the best avocado toast bread around.
What about food for the soul, though?
If an immersive, emotionally-wrenching space opera with plenty of political maneuvering sounds like your cup of tea, might I recommend A Memory Called Empire? I stayed up far too late reading it last summer, and the recently-released sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is just as fantastic.
It only took me 10 years (thanks for the push, Joelle!) but I’ve finally gotten around to reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and phew, the intricate twists! If you’re even slightly into epic fantasy, put it on your reading list.
I’ve raved about Talia Hibbert before, and am pleased to report that Act Your Age, Eve Brown is a worthy end to the Brown Sisters romance trilogy. It might even be my favorite of the three!
I devoured Six of Crows last summer and when I heard that Netflix was coming out with a series based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books, immediately went back and read everything set in the universe. Happily, Shadow and Bone lives up to — and dare I say, improves? — its primary source material. Please all go watch it so they green-light season 2. Thank you.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: For All Mankind is one of the best shows currently on TV. The premise: what would have happened to the US space program if the Soviets had landed on the moon first? Come to Apple TV+ for Ted Lasso, stay past the 7 day free trial for this.
Before you go… Back in March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which represents the largest expansion of the Affordable Care Act to date. Long story short, there’s more $$ available to help pay for your insurance than ever before, and no longer a hard income limit to qualify for subsidies.
If you’re uninsured, get thee to Healthcare.gov or hit up my colleagues at HealthSherpa.com — you have until August 15th to enroll in most states. If you’re already enrolled in an ACA plan, go back and see if you qualify for extra savings. And as per usual, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you need a helping hand!