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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Loaves and Fishes - Serving the Homeless

As I was driving by Pleasant Grove High School, an electronic message board running the word "Valenkinds" caught my attention. I thought to myself Valentine's Day is more than a festival of romantic love, but it's also about kindness and friendship. Thinking about this reminds me of a high school friend of mine. She is smart, kind-hearted, witty and super funny. She and her two happy children live in a home that she bought a couple years ago. But things weren't always this rosy and the past was a dark and scary place.

She left her husband after a short marriage to save herself and her daughters. Surrounded by drugs and violence, she had to free herself and her two children. Her family disowned after her mixed race marriage. Without family support, she soon found herself taking shelter at Family Promise that used to be on the Loaves & Fishes campus. Her children enrolled in the Mustard Seed School which is a school for homeless children, while she enrolled at Women's Empowerment. In a short time, she got a job and left the shelter to be on her own.

Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan. Within a few months, she got laid off. It was a hard time then with the economy tanking and no one was hiring. By sheer determination and strong will, she decided that her children will have a healthy and good life. She managed to get back to school. You would think by now that she would catch a break, yet during her first year of school at a community college, her apartment was broken into and burglarized. They stole the only laptop she possessed which she needed for her graphics communication major. She lost all her work and designs she had saved and subsequently failed the entire semester.

Yet through this hardship, her resolve was not shaken. She managed to enroll into an Occupational Therapy Assistant program at school. She attended school full time, worked part time, and took care of two young babies. She had no money and little time for sleep, but she prevailed. She enrolled for county assistance, Food Stamps, the WIC program, and whatever student loans she can get her hands on. She was awarded scholarships from the MLK Fund and Women's International Soroptimist Scholarship. She finished school and was able to accomplish her goals.

Single parenting is insanely stressful but with all the hardship she endured, she became stronger. Now, she's working two jobs, and raising two smart and beautiful girls on her own. Her girls are happy, clean, fed and doing well in school. She joined in The Spices Of Life charity work to pay it forward to the people who are in the shoes she once walked in.

It was apparently difficult for her to open up to me about a past that she felt ashamed to tell anyone. But her story of perseverance through extreme adversities truly inspires me. I admired her strength and relentless optimism. It's important to know that Loaves and Fishes and their affiliated volunteers played a role in her family's recovery and success. The work that we do has real impact and there are many out there that are currently in her situation. We may never see or hear about the extent of our work, but we know there are needy hungry individuals and families that we can help feed.

So let us continue our work. Please join me on our next homeless breakfast serving scheduled on Thursday, February 16th. You can help serve by participating in one of three ways or if possible, all of the above:

- Cook 20 lbs of oatmeal - Parmjit Sandhu, Loan 
- Cook and Wrap burritos - Sandy Lombella group, Stacy Giacomini, Tamara Warren
- Boil Eggs - Dan Redfearn group

2. SERVING BREAKFAST at 7:15 am - 9:00 am - 10 volunteers (Stacy Giacomini, Sophia McAuliffe Rooney, Kristine Oclarino, Ann, Thuyet, Jenny, Kristin Nebiolini, Rinnie)

3. DONATING Food, Drink, or money to purchase food/drink to serve nearly 300 homeless guests.

Food/Other Items Needed:
1. Breakfast Burritos (meat, rice, beans, cheese) = $180 (funded by Van Thu Vo)

2. Cereal; Hot Oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar and milk = $45 (funded by Yung Huynh)

3. Tangerines = $60 (funded by Maggie and Cynthia)

4. Trail Mix Bars = $47.45 (funded by Yung Huynh)

5. 12 boxes (24 each) Cups of Instant Noodle
= $59 (donated by Cecilia Van (6 boxes); Kelly Phan (6 boxes)

6. Bananas = $45 (funded by Thu)

7. 2 cases (48 cans) V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)

8. Bottles of Water = $40 (funded by c. Duyen)

9. Hot Chocolate Packets = $50 (funded by c. Duyen)

10. 4 boxes of eggs (5 dozens/box) = $24
5 boxes of eggs (5 dozens/box) = $30

11. Dixie Hot cups (donated by Cecilia)

12. Bus Passes (adult $7 each; children $3.50) 
      $100 funded by Kristin Nebiolini
      $100 funded by Hien Nguyen
      $100 funded by Ann

Please let me know if you need a donation receipt so I can notify Loaves and Fishes.

Below are some pictures from our December serving.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cua Đút Lò (Garlic Butter Roasted Crab)

There's nothing quite like fresh, salty, and succulent crabs. Every year, I patiently wait for November to come because that's when crab season opens in California. When the supply swells, I would seize the opportunity to buy them at the lowest prices of the year at my local Asian markets. This year, I was able to get them for $4.29 per pound, not the cheapest by far but still pretty good for dungeness crabs.

My girls and husband are crab lovers. Their favorite crab dish is this finger-lickin-good garlic butter roasted Dungeness crabs. The sweetness of the crab basking in the myriad of spices, garlic and butter fills the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. It will heighten your senses and fill your culinary subconsciousness if not your tummies. 
RECIPE: Garlic Butter Roasted Crab

2 Dungeness crabs
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 heads of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 head of garlic, optional
1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns
1 lemon, sliced, optional 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. 
Roasting Garlic

I like garlic in pretty much any forms, but roasted - it's outta this world. It's something that you can never have too much of I think. My older daughter loves garlic especially roasted garlic that are soft, and creamy, so I always toss in some extra heads of garlic when making roasted crabs for extra savory boost.  
Trim the heads of garlic to expose the garlic cloves.  Drizzle olive oil over, sprinkle a bit of sea salt, and ground pepper.  Toss it in the oven and roast it while preparing crabs.  Garlic should be done in 30 mins when it's soft and creamy, and you can literally squeeze the garlic clove out of its shell. 
Preparing Crabs

To make it easy to handle crabs, put them in the sink and pour on sink hot water. Clean the crabs by using a toothbrush to brush the body, claws, and legs of crab, and rinse thoroughly.

Twist off the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside. Hold the crab upward and pull the shell away from the body. 

The liquid that will come out from the inside of the shell is called crab butter. Reserve the crab butter. Using a small spoon to scoop out the brown and corals from the inside of the crabs into a bowl. Discard the shell if you don't want to use it for presentation.

Pull the spongy, feathery inedible gills off from both sides of the body and discard them. The mandibles are the mouth parts at the front of the crab. Break them off and discard.

Using a cleaver, cut the crab into quarters and slightly crack the claws.

Cooking Crabs

In a large skillet, cook butter and garlic over medium low heat until the butter melts and garlic fragrant, but not brown.  

Add sugar, chicken bouillon powder, crab butter and cracked peppercorns, stirring occasionally, a minute or two, until the sauce has thickened slightly. 

sauce for 4 crabs

sauce for 1 crab

 Add crabs and toss them well.  I usually cook crabs in large portion and the skillet is not big enough for all the crabs, therefore, I arrange crabs in a baking tray then pour the sauce over the crabs. 

Roasting Crabs

Transfer crabs to a baking tray.  Add a few slices of lemon on the crab tray, if preferred. Remove roasted garlic from the oven and continue to cook it with the crabs.  Drizzle olive oil over the lemon slices and roast the crab tray for about 12 minutes.  

Switch from roast or bake to broil and cook for a couple more minutes until crabs have a nice golden brown crust. Make sure to keep a close eye on the crabs roasting or broiling in the oven to prevent it from burning.

It's finger-lickin-good kind of food so don't be afraid to dig in. The crab sauce can be eaten with steamed rice or a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lobster Ceviche (Gỏi Tôm Hùm)

Just two more days and you may hear the Fiery Rooster crowing. It's gonna be the year of the rooster. Lunar New Year is the biggest festival for the Vietnamese families, at least traditionally, as it brings family members together to celebrate and give blessings to one another for a healthy, happy, prosperous and spectacular New Year. 

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Vietnamese New Year, the traditional celebrations of the festival include new clothes, cleaning the house to get rid off all the bad luck gathered in the past year, decorating the house, cooking traditional food, firecrackers, giving red envelopes, new year wishing, gathering around the table and enjoy the food and time together. 

Celebrating Lunar New Year is a good way of preserving heritage and family values. As difficult as it may be, when Lunar New Year comes around, it's my opportunity to teach my girls about their cultural heritage. I would make an effort to decorate the house, prepare a few tradition dishes with my daughter (the food will usually be gone before the new year even arrives), and encourage them to wear traditional dresses called áo dài to school.

So to share in the joys of this wondrous tradition, I am also preparing a non-tradition meal. This lobster ceviche, along with a seafood hotpot would bring your loved ones together for a yummy good time.
RECIPE: Lobster Ceviche
3 lobster tails
kosher salt or pink Himalayan salt 
fresh lime juice, about 2 limes 
fresh ground pepper
1 medium sweet purple onion 
3 green onions, sliced diagonally 
for broth
4 parts chicken broth
2 parts coconut water
1 sweet onion
1 whole garlic, peeled
1 piece of rock sugar, about a teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preparing Lobsters

Remove lobster meat from shell: use a pair of scissors to cut the center of the shell all the way to the base of the tail. Remember to cut only the shell not the meat. Crack the shell firmly along the incision, then pull the meat up through the shell. Remove the meat from the shell.

Cooking broth to blanch lobster meat: In a pot, add chicken broth, coconut water or water, lobster shells, some cloves of garlic, onion, rock sugar and salt then bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 5 minutes. 
Bring the broth to a rolling boil. Add lobster meat once at a time. Cook for about a minute or less depends on the size of the lobster since you just want to partially cook the lobster meat. Remove it and continue to blanch the remaining lobster meat.  Keep the blanched lobsters in the fridge while preparing the remaining ingredients.  Keep the broth to make soup or hotpot.
Preparing Vegetables

Julienne onion and cut green onion diagonally.
Soak onion and green onion in separate bowls of water to reduce the strong sharp taste. 
Mixing Lobster Ceviche

Slice lobster into half inch slices. 
Drain the water from the onion and green onion and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine lobster, onion, green onion, lime juice, salt, a pinch of fresh ground pepper, and toss them well. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lime juice, or salt as needed.

Whenever I serve lobster ceviche, I also like to serve seafood hotpot as a main meal. Use the broth that you cooked the lobsters as broth for the hotpot. Toss in some beef fat or beef bone if you have to add a rich, naturally sweet, and robust flavors to the broth.

What you see on the hotpot table are wagyu beef, clams, shrimps, salmon, scallop, lobsters, fish egg balls, udon, tofu, and lettuces. 

There are two kinds of dipping sauce that I like to use for this type of hotpot.  The first dipping sauce is the mixture of fish sauce, wasabi, and garlic chili sauce.  The second dipping sauce is the the mixture of egg yolk form our home-raised eggs but you can also use quail egg if preferred, ponzu sauce, crunchy garlic, truffle oil and toragashi (a spicy powdered assortment of dried red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed).


Place lobster ceviche on a serving plate. Garnish with cilantro, lime slices, and wasabi. I recommend using a small amount of wasabi on the tip of your chopstick and enjoying the lobster ceviche and wasabi together with each bite.

Happy New Year!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Gà Hấp Muối Hột (Whole Chicken Dry Steamed on a bed of Sea Salt)

Happy New Year!'s been over a month since my last post. Time sure does fly especially when the holidays are around. There are a million things to do but so little time. When winter comes, the icky cold is going around. I tend to catch it easily and it would drag on for 3-4 weeks. I've been wanting to share with you a few new recipes that I cooked for my family recently. My mind screamed, "Blog it," but my body was too tired to listen. 

Besides the cold, we've been drenched by the Pineapple Express particularly here in northern California. Can you believe this short storm added over 33 billion gallons to Lake Tahoe?  I am sitting on my couch looking out the window and watching the pouring rain. It's quite relaxing, but I had to muster some courage to put together this post.

So, here is the Whole Free-Range Chicken Dry Steamed on a bed of Sea Salt and Earthy Herbs. My husband would do anything to eat this steamed chicken, so he didn't mind weathering the storm and venturing out to our garden to gather the lemongrass and pick the kaffir lime leaves for me to prepare the chicken. After her first bite, my little one expressed how she didn't like it only to ask for more moments later. The older girl didn't bother to try because one of our chicken just passed away due to the bitter cold. 

This dry steamed chicken recipe would make a wonderful dish for the up coming Luna New Year. It's simple, quick, and super easy to prepare. And by dry steamed I mean there is no liquid added. As it heats up in the clay pot, the natural moisture from the chicken and herbs is sufficient to not only cook the chicken but keep it tender and moist. Once done, the chicken reveals a beautiful super moist and golden chicken. The sea salt bed locks in the moisture and flavor making it juicy and tasty. In addition, it has a wonderful aroma imparted by the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and ginger. It tastes even better with the spicy ginger dipping fish sauce.
RECIPE: Whole Chicken Dry Steamed on a bed of Sea Salt

1 whole free-range chicken, about 2.5 pounds, about $11-$13 each, available at Asian supermarkets
1 pound coarse sea salt, available at Asian markets in a 2 pound bag
3-4 lemongrass stalks 
a handful of kaffir lime leaves or lime leaves or lemon leaves
1 large piece ginger root
for Spicy Ginger Dipping Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic 
1-2 red chili pepper
about 1-inch ginger root, peeled
a few prigs of cilantro, finely cut, optional
some Asian basil leaves, finely cut, optional
1 clay pot to fit a whole chicken, available at most Asian markets, cost about $17
6.5" diameter opening
about 29.5" circumference of widest part of the clay pot
7" tall
Preparing Ingredients

Remove and discard innards such as gizzards, etc, from inside the chicken, if included, and rinse the chicken inside and out, draining thoroughly.
Cut lemongrass stalks into 2-3 segments, long enough to fit in the clay pot. Bruise the lemongrass stalks with a heavy knife or a meat tenderizer hammer to release the essential oils from the lemongrass which will then add more flavor to the chicken.  If your lemongrass stalks have leaves, keep the leaves for later used.
Cut ginger roots into 1/4 inch thick slices.
Wash lime or lemon leaves, and set aside.
Steaming Chicken

In a clay pot, pour in sea salt and make about 1/4 inch thick layer at the bottom. 

Arrange lemongrass, lime or lemon leaves, ginger slices on top of a bed of sea salt. 

Tuck the chicken feet inside the chicken to keep them in place. Place the chicken on top of the herbs. If you have the lemongrass leaves, use them to cover the chicken to seals in moisture and flavor and infuses the contents with a subtle, grassy aroma. Banana leaves would also work.

Cover with a lid and cook clay pot at medium-high heat for no more than 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. 

Preparing Spicy Ginger Dipping Fish Sauce

While the chicken is cooking, place chili pepper, garlic, and ginger in a mortar and pound them into paste to release their fresh flavors. Add sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice, chili garlic sauce if used instead of fresh chili pepper. Mix all the ingredients well. Toss in some cilantro and basil leaves. It should have a subtle balance of sour, sweet, salty and spicy.


Transfer the steamed chicken to a serving plate and serve with some herbs such as cilantro, Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), and of course the spicy ginger dipping fish sauce. 

You can also chop it up and pour the sauce over before serving. However, we are fond of tearing the whole chicken apart and eating it with our bare hands.  

Eat well. Stay healthy.