Silk Road Culinary Tour

Lately, I have been very into this area that I realized is pretty much the old Silk Road. I have always loved Tibet and old Persia and Arabia. And I have always loved the strong flavors of this Central Asia area. So I decided to map out the Silk Road, and do a food journey along it.

It was not my best food tour. The possibility exists that I really was not cooking these dishes properly, but to my surprise, I found them to be extremely bland!

Also, because I am a single person following a recipe I cobble together, I ended up with huge portions. Many leftovers ended up requiring, though grossly inaccurate, flavor mending. (For instance, the soup got a healthy portion of coconut milk and chilli to make it more enjoyable..)

But, here it is:

Xian – Central China

Xian Cumin Lamb

(The only truly flavor packed meal)

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Kashgar – Western China

Kyrgystan Apple Cake

(A weird mistake. I am not sure how my wires got crossed during research, but this recipe does not actually come from Kashgar…)

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Pamirs – Tajikistan

Lagman, Uzbek Beef Soup

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Merv – Turkmenistan

Turkmen Chicken Plov, Pilaf

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Baghdad – Iraq

Baghdad Eggs

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Damascus – Syria

Fatet Djaj, Chicken Platter

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Tyre – Lebanon

Mujadara, Lentils and Rice

(I like to try and go out at one point of my culinary tours, eat a meal someone else has cooked, probably better than me. But due to our current state of affairs, I settled for going out and buying from the store. I added some Yogurt, Mint, and Fried Onions, and it was pretty yummy.)

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I also paid a little homage to Marco Polo. (I tried so hard to read his book, but just didn’t find it an enjoyable read ūüėě)

A version of a Pasta I ate at a restaurant called Bella Italia.

Penne with Dark Meat Chicken and Scallion, in Plum Sauce.

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And a recipe by Julia Child called Spaghetti Marco Polo.

Spaghetti, Chopped Olives, Roasted Red Peppers, Toasted Walnuts, Parsley, and Basil.

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I don’t honestly know a lot about the Silk Road. I just have found myself drawn to the cultures that it travels through. So the possibility if my inaccuracy is high. But I thought I’d share the tour anyway.

The Dark Side of Mental Health..

I work in a Behavioral Health unit. The psych unit of the hospital. We get alot of patients, from major mental crisises, to unmanageable depression. The object is to help someone out of their crisis and hope they don’t have to come back.

But there will always be the patients who come back. The ones who count on us to help them, the ones who need us.

Because of that, there are patients that we get to know. We see them when they are at their worst, and we nurture them back to stability. We come to love them, in our way.

In a way, they begin to become like old friends. And each time I discharge them, I give a kick in the pants, and tell them I better not see them round these parts again… And then I give them a hug, and tell them that seriously, we will always be here if they need… And then they are gone.

And days go by, and weeks, and months. For most people, it is, out of sight out of mind. The doors of our unit revolve too quickly to dwell. But for those who have the softest parts of my heart, I imagine I haven’t seen them because they are doing so well in the world. I don’t let my mind imagine the worst.

But sometimes it happens. We live in a small town. And when I happen upon the news article declairing one of my most special patients dead… a piece of my heart breaks away.

There are downsides to every situation, but this is the very worst part of my job. Everybody dies, it is something a hospital is very familiar with, but when one of my patients dies, it cuts me as a failing.

Why didn’t you come to us for help?

I am not a doctor. I’m not even a nurse. I am the person who gets you coffee, who sets up and cleans the shower, the person who wakes you up in the morning, the person who tells you that the sun is out and if you’re not quick, you’ll miss it! I can’t take away your problems, or your pain. All I can do is offer my hand when you’ve fallen, and try my damnedest to help you remember how to smile.

And today, I pushed myself to get up, to go out and see the sun, to smile… because I would never be able to do that for you again. I smiled, because I would never see you smile again..

What it’s like to be Asian…

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As an Asian-American who has lived nearly her whole life in America, I never really felt the negativity of racism. I was fortunate to grow up with a family who were very open about my being adopted, my culture, and being open to other cultures period. It wasn’t until 2016 that I really began to experience a lot of hostile racism. By this time I was 30 years old and knew some about history and what America was built on and it struck me as even more hurtful. America, the melting pot that used to call itself “The Land of Opportunity,” a country that people from varying other countries still look to as an opportunity for a better life.¬†

At the beginning of this year, Covid–19 really began to come to our public eye for its growing cases in China. It’s extreme contractability and death rate creating fear. By mid March, cases of the virus were confirmed in America, as well as many other countries. America went into full Pandemic mode, citizens were panic shopping, and many states issued a stay-at-home order.¬†

The virus was senselessly called the “Chinese Virus,” and the level of racism and anger against anyone who even¬†looks¬†Chinese grew exponentially. To the simple point of walking the other way when they might pass someone of Asian decent, to the extreme level of chasing and beating up someone of Asian decent. Regardless of their actual race, ethnicity, heritage.

As a Korean born American, I never thought I’d be so scared of being Asian as after Trump was elected president. Today, during this national pandemic, I am even more fearful to be Asian.¬†

Here is an article written in USA Today on the growing racial problem during this pandemic.¬†What It’s Like to be Asian During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The most heart breaking thing I had ever heard was from an Black French woman, Surya Bonaly. An Olympic level figure skater who could never seem to get first place, no matter how much training and finessing she did. In an interview she was asked if she thought that in any way it was because she is black. She said no, it was just that, “when you’re black, you know. Everybody knows that you have to do better than anybody else who’s white.”

There have been times in my life lately when I have felt the same sentiment. In my work place, 1 of 3 non-white employees on my shift. I have felt like I have had to face a lot more negative criticism than my peers, that I have had to work twice as hard. 

And even though most of the time, I don’t even think most people even consciously think about it. That a negative view of Asian-Americans is so deeply ingrained. People still blame MSG in Chinese food for feelings of dizziness and headaches. An idea brought about in 1969, despite no scientific proof of the correlation between MSG and the symptoms of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”

Here is an article written earlier this year about “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”¬†MSG in Chinese Restaurants isn’t Unhealthy…

Racism has always been a part of Asian-American history. But American’s forget that it was Asian immigrants who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, which physically brought the country together. American’s forget that it is through Asian companies that we do our everyday communication with others, everyday internet work, stream televison programs… Sony, LG, Samsung, HTC… All companies from Asia.¬†

As an Asian-American who has lived nearly my whole life proud of my Asian heritage, I have never felt more fear and shame of this country I call home.

Playing God

If you have an hour of your time, I recommend you listen to this episode of Radiolab. Things tend to fall into my lap at very appropriate times. While driving home, in the middle of a nationwide Pandemic, this episode fell into my lap.

On August 21st, 2016, Radiolab collaborated with The New York Times reporter Sheri Fink to talk about the difficult process of hospital Triage, and inevitably the idea of deciding who gets to live and who doesn’t. And in some ways, it has never felt more appropriate than right now.

We hear three crisis situations, in which resources were limited, and hospital staff were faced with the difficult task of triaging their patients. Hospitals are not designed to handle a mass surge of patients. So when that happens, how do you decide who’s needs are more necessary? How do you decide who you stop giving care to? How do you make these difficult decisions, and is that too much responsibility for a person?

In the middle of the episode, they talk about a critical situation that happens to be exactly the situation we are in now. And ironically, one of the decisions we as hospital staff are having to make. Who deserves to live, and who does not?

For further reading, here is the original article Sheri Fink wrote for The New York Times on a public debate that she attended, in which a critical care physician from John’s Hopkins asks, how should we make that decision?
Whose Lives Should Be Saved? Researchers Ask the Public

Vacation Pandemic – Epilogue

The Life and Times of Rose edition:

The sun couldn’t decide what the eff it wanted to do. It rained, hailed, and full, spring day sunned, all within 2 hours.

The last trip into town felt like any other, despite majority of shops being closed. We saw familiar faces. Stood in the sun while we waited for coffee. And this was it. This was the feeling of my vacation. My little bubble of peace and warmth. Despite the world around me. And my growing reluctance to leave is palpable.

It doesn’t help that one of symptoms of the death virus is tightness of the chest. Why do I suddenly keep feeling it? How do I differentiate between illness and anxiety?

Pretty soon I’ll be back on the road, headed south towards the place I suppose I call “home.” But not to the life I left behind. I will return to a life I have never lived, not sure I know how to live. Back to a world that changed while I wasn’t looking.

And that is how it will start…

A return to a small, 1 bedroom apartment. Alone, save for 2 cats and 2 tortoises. Unable to leave except for work. Lonely, isolated. A spinster by the time this all blows over…

Vacation Pandemic – Day Last

When you’re stuck in quarantine and don’t know what to do…

Here are a few ideas, brought to you by Pets:

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1: Sleep in Late

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2: Do some Puzzles

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3: Cuddle a Stuffed Animal

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4: Or even just stay hidden

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But always remember to keep smiling.

Vacation Pandemic – Day uh…?

It is quiet.

Quieter than it’s been in a while. Not a creepy, killer waiting around the next corner quiet, but a natural quiet. It reminds me of early mornings Out the Road. The very, very end of it, where we would park our cars, then trek around the cove by foot. I remember the smell of low tide, that deep scent of brine, of salt, but such a richer and more flavorful salt. I remember the rocks slippery with sheets of wet seaweed, maroon red clumps of sea hair caught upon the rocks. I remember the laughter, because we were young, and full of life. And I remember the moment we rounded that last corner and the ranch finally came into sight. I remember the early mornings. Only the sound of birds filled the air. Small birds singing in the trees. The sort of song you only hear in the early mornings, or if you’re very quiet, and very lucky.

The birds are singing now. My head still hurts, and the world still spins underfoot, but the air is brisk and fresh now the rain has stopped. After nearly being run over by a black Dodge Charger, the dog and I set off in earnest. Which involves much sniffing on her part, deep breaths on mine, and the slow tempo of my foot falls. Everything is green. The tall reaching evergreen trees with their low sweeping branches. I reach out and stroke the lowest of them, bringing their piney scent towards me. The other trees, the ones who have shed their leaves for the Winter, are now beginning to show new leaves. Baby buds of green tip each skinny branch.

We slowly pass a thick bunching of low, lush trees into an opening of a driveway, and there, in the yard, a single, large cherry blossom tree. Snowy white blossoms in full bloom. Stark white against the verdant trees all around it. My steps actually falter and I take one step back, to stop in the moment.

(It was at that particular moment that the dog had decided to also stop. And drop a load. I quickly wrestle a small plastic bag from my pocket and scoop up the mess from the lawn like it is some prized treasure. In this quiet and pristine neighborhood, they are strict, and I am not entirely convinced that there are not cameras hidden in the trees.)

We walk on. Dog sniffing, me breathing, footsteps falling. Birds singing. Leaves rustling. I never walked an area like this in Alaska. Though indeed, surrounded by evergreen trees and birds. It was different. Larger, wilder. The trees heavy with mosses. Old Man’s Beard, or that’s what we used to call it. Pale green and draping off of branches, catching any gentle breeze. The ground underfoot, dirt, and moss, and twigs. Every step clearly made with snaps and crunches. Foot falls were so audible we once scared ourselves as children. Imagining into reality that we were surrounded by ghosts, their foot steps so real in our ears, but our eyes saw nothing. And when you truly did hear the snap of a twig, not brought on by your own feet, you did not stick around. For wilder and meaner things resided within the thick forests of Alaska than neighborhood watchmen.

By the time we turn back, the sun is starting to kiss the horizon. The trees are bathed in a different sort of light. Above me, a tree, naked save for a few brown and dead leaves still hanging on, bursts golden in the last love of the day’s sun.

The house comes into view and the dog becomes excited. She no longer needs to sniff. She turns her head towards me, excitement in her eyes and a smile only a Golden can wear. I know she wants to run. I give her the end of the leash, but it is too heavy and she drops it, which scares her and causes her to bounce away into the ditch. I pick up the stupid leash and apologize. She picks up a stick, renewed excitement. Her ears flop. The flop of a happy dog. She will walk that stick home in victory. But the stick is a little too big and it breaks as she drops it. She picks up the smaller piece, no one needs to know it used to be bigger. She could still walk this stick home in victory. But she eventually drops it too. So I unhook the leash and she bounds the last few steps to the front door. Happiest that the walk is finally over.

Vacation Pandemic – Day 6

I turn to food when I’m stressed. Not in a binge eating sort of way. But rather in a binging cooking show, researching and conceptualizing recipes. You know how they say, guys think about sex every 6 seconds? (…do they still say that?) I am almost entirely certain that I think about food every 6 seconds. (It might actually be a problem, but I’m not ready for meetings…)

And currently times are hard. Hard on many, but hard on the foodies. It stresses me out to see restaurants struggling to stay afloat. It stresses me out more, to go to the grocery store and find food shelves stripped bare of even their dust bunnies. And most of all… it stresses me out to still see all these damned food commercials. Take that shit off the air, it’s rude!

So I watch alot of food tv. None of that Guy’s Grocery Games shit, or Kids Baking Challenge… But like, I love watching professional and up and coming semi-professional chefs. The people who take their food seriously.

Ugly Delicious.

I have followed David Chang’s career for maybe a decade or more. The man loves food, he loves learning about food, he loves developing out of the box ideas.

This episode I randomly threw on this morning was less about food, but all about his first child. They say that Nursing School is the destroyer of marriages. I think that Restaurant life can often be the destroyer of families.

In this episode Dave did alot of interviewing veteran chefs on How. How did they manage to maintain their wildly successful restaurants, AND raise a family?

He eventually talked about how he and his wife learned they were pregnant, the day after Anthony Bourdain passed. He said he knew it was that day because he couldn’t stop crying. That it felt unfair to lose someone so great, and to then be bringing a new life into this world. But it turned out to be one of the most terrifying, and amazing things for him.

And it was kind of nice. Facebook, one of our most used and greatest ways to stay connected during these isolation and social distancing times. It was nice to see… I don’t know, children. To see new life. To see hope. Because, right now, it doesn’t feel like there is a whole lot out there.

Vacation Pandemic – Day 5

I had promised myself I would never do this again. And yet here I am, third time. And just as miserable.

Withdrawal.

Withdrawal from one of the worst meds to come off of.

The first time, my best friend didn’t believe I felt as bad as I did, and accused me of hitting on her boyfriend when I’d asked him to change the time on our wall clock.

Top most symptom of the withdrawal, brain zaps and dizziness.

While, probably not the clinical term for it, it is the most accurate to anyone who has experienced it. It happens any time I move my eyes. Zap. And because you then try not to move your eyes, zap. You close your eyes, and the pressure of your eyelids, zap. Sometimes it rocks thru your whole body. I feel it in my chest. I feel it in my elbows. This electricity that wants out, but is stuck.

And so, because of the care you try to take in conservatively moving your eyes to avoid the electrical storm headache in your brain, you develop this dizziness. You close your eyes and the world slips out from under your feet. Your stomach roils, but you’re just standing there. You sit. You lay down. But even the ground can’t help you.

I am fortunate to be here at home with my parents while feeling this way. But also, have never felt more scared to look and feel sick.

The last time I came off this med, I got so bad I wanted to die. I actually wanted to die. Brain zaps and dizziness are one thing, but I developed sweating and shaking. I found myself curled into the fetal position majority of my time. I had one pill left, I was mean’t to be off them completely, but I would hold the near empty bottle like Smegol stroking The Ring. And I was home all alone.

On the one hand, I gained a new sense of empathy towards drug addicts trying to come clean. On the other hand, I added one more line to the list of reasons I would surely die during the apocalypse…

I tell myself that I will never do this again. My brain is such a jumble I can barely read, I can hardly write. This time I gave myself off of work, to live and write and plan out my future. Not really in the cards…

Vacation Pandemic – Day 3 & 4

Yesterday, while at the store I stood in an aisle looking for something. I noticed an older man watching me from the end of the aisle. Once I had found what I had been looking for, I grabbed it and walked past him. I noticed him then hurry down the aisle to find his own items.

It felt as though he had been glaring at me. No one has been outright rude to me, but I can’t help feeling higher amounts of judgement..

We drove through town, taking notice of all the places still open. Places desperately remaining open, places stubbornly remaining open. People are trying to survive. And ironically, while in an attempt to physically survive this pandemic, people are losing sight of basic survival needs…

We went to the store again today. It’s hard to stop needing things. It is a state of mind I am not used to. That Costco trip mentality. We walk into the store and dried pastas, dried beans, frozen veggies… depleted. Sensible. Sensible items if you’re going to survive the end of the world…

And for as many zombie movies as I watch, disaster movies about all electric power shutting off, post apocalyptic survival movies… it’s easy to say you’d know what to do. But I really don’t. I don’t have a means to set myself up for that.

Instead I joke that I’m resigned to being one of the first to die. I need too much food.

Ironically is my father’s community title. Head of the Disaster Preparedness Committee.

So I’ll continue to live day by day… I don’t know any other way. I will continue to live paycheck to paycheck, buying groceries as I need them. I will continue to go to work, because I work in a hospital. I will continue to go to bed at night, and wake in the mornings…

The small coffee shop that uses the pink breast cancer awareness paper cups was still open. We blessedly went in. The woman behind the counter seemed either high on caffeine, or high on hand sanitizer fumes. But extrordinarily friendly. Giving us more cookies than we’d asked for and pretending it was an accident.

Because, during these times, we can’t forget to be good to each other… we have surely failed as humans, if in the middle of all of this, we forget that..

Vacation Pandemic – Day 2.5

Don’t Kiss Me, Even Though I’m Irish..

I cook because it is the only thing that can fully occupy my mind. Even more so than reading a great book. I always play music. I think it helps fill the negative space. While I work, self soothe.

It’s St. Paddy’s Day. The world is encouraging “social distancing.” What a slap in the face for perhaps the most social holiday, second to Mardi Gras. But these are Pandemic Times.

I choose not to mix the cake dough by hand. While generally it is a good way to work off a stressful day at work, it also leads to much over mixed dough, and in turn, dense ass cake. Today, I use the kitchenaide, keeping it on a gentle spin, just enough to mix. In the background, my attempt at Irish(ish) Folk music fails. The Loreena McKennit station begins playing tracks from Last of the Mohichans, the song from a Christmas movie I haven’t seen in decades, and then some Pachelbel Canon a la The Scottish Royal Dragoon Guards bagpipe band. It’s actually really good.

I research and scratch out lentil recipes while the cake bakes. I don’t even like lentils, but… these are Pandemic times..

I can’t stop from taking a nap. I nap always. I joke that I am half cat, but actually I really am tired all the time. My doctor recently changed my meds. Taking away the fatigue inducer in replacement of one more… ass kicking. In turn, also taking away the med that helped with the chronic back pain. A fortunate side effect. My back has been hurting all day.

I crack open a beer, saving the Guinness for dinner. The Corned Beef has been bubbling in the pot. I boil potatoes and saute some cabbage and leeks in butter and garlic. Colcannon. I mix whiskey, ketchup, and soy sauce. Some odd, but delicious glaze. I pour an extra splash of whiskey into the measuring cup and take a sip. It might be more than a spash. But it’s St. Paddy’s Day and tomorrow the world might end.

The dwarves of Middle Earth begin singing their haunting mountain song. Dwarves singing. While not entirely an Irish classic… I don’t really know what to expect from this station.

I toss some broccoli florets in oil, garlic, and salt, then throw it in a high heat oven. Roasted broccoli, a gamble, but while my back is turned, I stir a pot of cheese sauce. Surely even cheese sauce can give the scortched broccoli redemption.

A quick 10 minutes in the oven for the whiskey glaze to get friendly with the beef, and it’s all done. No boiled cabbage or carrots. The meat is tough from unsupervised aggressive boil while I took a nap. But shit, we can’t all be perfect.

Besides.

These are Pandemic times, and tomorrow the world might end.

Ps: The cake wasn’t dense.

Vacation Pandemic – Day 2

Thoughts on a Lonely Day.

My New Years Shmoo Years resolution was simply to make change. Stop being so stagnant in my own life.
I admit I woke up one day with the crazy notion that maybe I could be a lawyer. My parents always said I was stubborn as an ox, and loved to argue. But more importantly, my desire lies in helping and advocating for people. The seed of the idea was planted and I loved it.
But reality seemed to sink in some. And, the way someone mentions a car, and suddenly you see that car everywhere… Suddenly all these movies and tv shows popped up. And I wasn’t so sure I liked the depiction of the lawyers. Worst yet, they were all true stories.
One case that I believe is controversial among law folks anyway, was the case of Robert Garrow. A serial killer the defending attornies knew they’re only chance for him was an insanity plea. The controversy happened when he told his lawyers where he buried 2 missing girls. They went to check the validity of his story, and found the girls.
At this point, the lawyers were placed in a difficult position. Bound by attorney-client priviledge, they had to keep the location of the bodies a secret, as they were truthfully, no longer at risk of harm or death. At one point the father of one of the victims approached one of the lawyers and implored him to just tell him if he knew anything. He was told that there was nothing they could tell him.
In other situations, I watched as attorneys became so focused on simply winning the case, that they actually began to lose sight of the actual crime, and whether or not their client was actually guilty or innocent.
As a born caregiver, it is shocking and disheartening to see this. This is indeed the way the world works. But I find myself scared to begin down that path. I find myself scared of losing the humanity and empathy that makes me the great caregiver I am.
I have always had a strong interest in crime, and innocence, and above all, mental health. I had thought that becoming a lawyer might be the best and strongest way to advocate for them. But I honestly cannot say what I would do, were I placed in a situation of defending a client’s innocence, when they were very obviously guilty.  I don’t know.

Vacation Pandemic – Day 1

I remember a time, not long ago, I woke up thinking I was in a dream. Surely any moment I would wake up and it would all be over, surely we didn’t elected Trump as our nation’s president…

I woke up this morning after being awake for nearly 20 hours, after 8 hours of work, then driving 277 miles in 4 hours and 40 minutes. I woke up thinking I was in a dream, and that any moment I would wake up.

But time keeps ticking, and I slowly realize that my eyes are really open. There is no waking from this. No number of dystopian novels, or zombie movies can really prepare you for this. This thing that happens on your TV screen, not outside your door. But the truth is, we are in a pandemic. And I watch as it spills outwards, ripples off of a dropped stone into a pond. I watch as it oozes closer, erupted lava, and we are running out of pillows to jump on. There is no where to run.

I still find myself laughing a little on the inside, who says things like that and really means it? But I close my eyes and all I see is Jason Voorhees coming towards me at his slow, but inevitable pace, machete full of virus…

But what really scares me, is the madness, the hysteria around me. The store shelves stripped empty by fear. Thoughtless fear. People buying the bandaids, but not the Neosporin. People shunning Asians as if each one of them carries the leper virus. Avoiding their shops and restaurants and forgetting that Asians once put their blood, sweat, and tears into helping build this country.

I find myself shaking, twitching, just trying to flick the remnants of this bad dream off and try to get back to my life. But the world is shutting down around me. Schools closing for the safety of our youth. Businesses trying to stay strong, to be a source of comfort and normalcy for people, slowly dropping like flies. Highway traffic tapering off to trickles. The world is shutting down around me. Like in Hollywood videos, when the power to a large city gets shut off. You watch the town from some high vantage point, maybe a birds eye view, as sections go dark, one. by. one. Until all there is is darkness. And silence.

Four years ago I woke up to a newly divided nation. Angry. So much anger and hatred bubbled to the surface. And there was fear. Fear of our own safety, fear of our neighbor, fear of our own president. And I didn’t believe that things could get worse.

Today I woke up to a shattered nation. Fear. We are afraid of our very selves. And to some extent, I think, afraid of what could come next.

I drove up to my parent’s place to spend my days off. Sometime during the drive it seemed, this town shut down as well. It, at first, felt almost pointless to be up here. But the truth is, the situation is no better at home. And at times like this, I would rather spend it with loved ones, than by myself, in true isolation.