In first grade, she hated me and I didn’t even realize it. I’d walk by, smile, wave at her, and she’d never really wave back! I didn’t think much of it–you know how first graders are.

But then, something happened in 5th grade and a best friendship was started. Perhaps it was when she invited me over to her house after school and we discovered our obsession love for folding printer paper in half, drawing our own grids, and playing endless games of Battleship all afternoon together (why we never actually bought the real game is beyond me). Or maybe it was our ability to order two Little Caesar’s $5 pizzas (one for each of us) on a Saturday afternoon and finish it all in the same day while watching movies and ya know, just hanging out. Oh, and there was also our shared interest in making up choreographed dances to 90s pop music.

Whatever it was, a friendship sparked and has lasted through thick and thin since the day Megan invited me over for that first game of Battleship. (Thanks, Hasbro Toys, for igniting an everlasting friendship!)

We went to elementary school together, attended separate middle schools, and then were lucky enough to reunite for high school and even college! But after college, our paths took different routes. I decided that I wanted to explore San Francisco to pursue my career goals, and Megan went to Santa Barbara for grad school.

So last year, the late nights of watching episode after episode of Friends, giving each other life advice, shopping until our legs were sore, tirelessly gossiping about random things, and having a shoulder to always lean on became more of a virtual phone shoulder, constant texts messages, and Skype chats to keep each other updated on life.

It’s strange not having Megan around me like she’s always been but I’m so proud of all her accomplishments in grad school and I think it’s amazing that our friendship is still so strong even though we are 325 miles apart.

And luckily for us, yesterday was her 24th birthday and a group of friends and I were able to make a short trip down to Santa Barbara to celebrate it!

This trip was even more special with some help from Foodbuzz! Foodbuzz’s 24×24 showcases 24 unique meals that happen around the globe within a 24 hour period. This month, the specific day landed on Meg’s birthday! So when Foodbuzz accepted my proposal for their January edition of 24×24, I was more than ecstatic.

It was perfect because then I could make Megan and her friends (old and new) a celebratory dinner! Having sushi is kind of significant since Megan use to eat the plainest food ever! When we were young, she would order a hamburger with “no cheese, no mayo, no mustard, no onions, no tomatoes, and no lettuce“. So what was on the burger!? “Just the patty and a little bit of ketchup, please!

In college, we would go out to sushi with friends and Megan would always claim, “I love sushi!” But when it came time to order, she would always get, “Two cucumber rolls, please!” Our friends would laugh at the fact that her love for sushi consisted of only two rolls: the cucumber roll and the philadelphia roll (salmon and cream cheese).

In due time, though, Megan began to expand her food horizons and now tries almost everything! She revels in sushi (of all sorts), Indian food, seafood dishes, Vietnamese cuisine, even some spicy food, and many other dishes! We’ve come a long way, Meg, we’ve come a long way! :)

The dinner was delicious. Here is the menu for our sushi party:

Garlic Edamame
Japanese Cucumber Salad (recipe below)
Veggie, Shrimp, and Squid Tempura
Sesame Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna
Sushi Rolls with an assortment of tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab, spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, and sriracha mayo! (recipe below)
Green Tea Mochi
Sake Tastings

Not only was the dinner tasty, but it was so much fun having the whole group help make it! Everyone learned a little something. A couple people made the tempura, another group helped roll sushi, and between the rest of us, the sesame crusted tuna was seared, the cucumber salad was made, and the sake was poured!

Here are some pictures from yesterday!

We’d hear some high-pitched, loud screams coming from the kitchen about every minute or so but eventually we got use to the squeals. Apparently, the oil was going a little crazy! Will got the hang of it though, and figured out a solution to the problem…one rubber glove!

He eventually became a pro…check out these onions!

Homemade Spicy Tuna!

We had a great time rolling all of the sushi too!

Some of us experienced more of a learning curve than others…

But eventually, everyone got the hang of it, and the rolls turned out great!

Salmon avocado roll, spicy tuna roll, cucumber roll! (Seared ahi tuna in the back!)

Tuna and avocado roll with sriracha mayo and sriracha; shimp, salmon, and avocado roll; crab and tuna roll

We even had a GoPro on hand to film the entire process! So much fun!

More tempura! And Sake! We used a box mix for the tempura. That made it really simple (just add water!) so that we could focus more on the actual ingredients we were using in the tempura! We also tried two kinds of sake: filtered and unfiltered. I think we unanimously agreed that we liked the unfiltered better! It was sweeter and easier to drink.

 

Tempura and two kinds of sake!

More rolls!

And we all had a wonderful time catching up, laughing, and eating the delicious meal that was created.

Everyone digging in! We were a hungry bunch.

The birthday girl passing out green tea mochi for dessert!

The whole, wonderful group at dinner!!!

The weekend couldn’t have been a better one. Great food, wonderful friends, and so much fun exploring beautiful Santa Barbara!

Happy 24th birthday, Megan! Thank you for always being so wonderful and amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend!

RECIPES

Japanese Cucumber Salad Recipe

  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Wash and cut off the ends of the cucumbers. Then, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and using a spoon, scoop out the seeds in the middle. Slice the cucumbers about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and put them in a bowl.

In a separate small bowl, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt together. Mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved (you can pop the bowl into the microwave for about 20 seconds to help this process along).

Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and add the sesame seeds. toss everything to combine.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

Sushi Rice and Sushi Recipe

  • 2 cups sushi rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Cook rice in rice cooker or heavy bottomed pot. After the rice has just finished cooking, combine the rice vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Heat for about 20-30 seconds in the microwave to let the sugar dissolve.

Spoon the rice into a large shallow dish (I used a casserole dish) making an even layer. Drizzle the vinegar mixture over the warm rice, and mix well with a wooden spoon without crushing the rice. Let rice cool completely (either with a fan or in the fridge) mixing every 15 minutes or so.

To make sushi rolls:

Gather whatever ingredients you want to have in your sushi plus some nori seaweed sheets. You will also need a bamboo sushi roller.

Lay a sheet or nori on top of the bamboo roller. Using a wooden spoon, add a single layer of rice across the entire surface of the nori sheet. Place your desired ingredients in a line about 1/3 of the way on the rice. Then lift the bamboo roller and roll the sushi away from you. Once you roll the entire sheet, cut into pieces and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

[A special thanks again to Foodbuzz for making this dinner possible!]

 

Our beautiful view :)

Alright, friends, prepare for a recap of my traditionally untraditional family Thanksgiving experience. The actual day of Thanksgiving is where we have the biggest gathering. We don’t eat traditional Thanksgiving food on this day. It’s a big potluck with a main course of steak and lobster–surf and turf, anyone?! Then on Fridays, my parents and I usually do a smaller Thanksgiving day dinner with the traditional turkey, stuffing, and all the other Thanksgiving Day goodies. This year, since my step Dad was away on business, we skipped our Friday tradition. But Thursday was just as fun!

Now, I have an extremely large family.  Does anyone else have large family gatherings? They’re so crazy and fun!

I know a lot of people say that they have big families, but I’m seriously not joking. My mom has TWELVE siblings, NINE of which (including my mom) live in the area. Along with them, their significant others, all their kids (my cousins), my grandpa, and family friends…it’s hard to fit all of us under one roof. But we manage, every year. It’s amazing!

Here’s an example of what happens when you have a large family:

My aunt was video taping the event so she could show it to family who couldn’t come. While she was video taping, she had my cousins and I line up so we could all say hi into the camera.

Aunt (as she goes down the line with the camera): “So this is Kevin…say ‘hi’ Kevin! This is Stephanie…and here’s Mygan…look how tall she is now!”

[Stops the camera at my 14 year old cousin.]

“Uhhh….umm….ummm…”

My cousin: “Sabrina! I’m Sabrina!!!”

Aunt: “Oh, yeah! And THIS is Sabrina…haha, oops!”

The rest of the family cracks up.

See? We can’t even get everyone’s name straight sometimes. And it’s not like we only meet up once a year, we see each other ALL THE TIME!

Anyway, I digress. Our Thanksgivings are always lovely. Kids are running around everywhere, people are chatting away, and the aroma of food is constantly filling the entire house. My uncle and aunt host the main dinner at their house but the party always starts around 1:00PM. We all get together then and start chowing down until we pass out.

Literally. I passed out in a chair. My cousin passed out in the chair next to me, and when I woke up a third cousin had passed out in the chair to the other side of me. I blame my aunt for having chairs that are way too comfy for our own good. And maybe I blame all the food as well.

Here are a couple pics from our family gathering!!!!

 

Fish belly soup and lobster

Ohhh, and my favorite part of Thanksgiving? When we all get to eat lobster sashimi. My uncle prepares it for us every year…best. dish. ever.

Lobster Sashimi

And this year, everyone there under the age of 25 played a classy game of chubby bunny…yes, the game where you try to fit as many marshmallows in your mouth and say “chubby bunny”. Let’s just say I failed miserably and even lost to my 5 year old cousin (the small one in the dark blue long sleeve shirt)…what’s up with that?! I want a rematch!

Anyway, as you can see, we eat hard in our family. Go big or go home! This is hands down our favorite holiday to celebrate together.

Thanksgiving was wonderful this year, as always. I am so thankful to have such a big, loving family. The only thing missing was my step dad who was away on a business trip and my cousin Brian who’s on the east coast for school! We missed you guys!

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was wonderful, relaxing, and full of delicious food! :)

Every single one of us is on a continuous search for happiness–what that happiness may be comprised of, though, is different to each individual. I think that for me, I find joy and happiness in pushing myself to experience new places and things especially if it’s with great people (and of course, food!). I have this natural tendency to want to try or be a part of every opportunity I am offered, and honestly, it gets tiring! But the guilt of not participating in something and missing out on that particular experience is something I am starting to allow myself to accept. Lately, instead if trying to do it all, I have been trying to do what’s best. What’s best for me, that is. And I know that sounds a little selfish, but that’s not my intention.

Throughout my life, I have taken into consideration every single person’s feelings around me and in fact, prided myself on that very characteristic of mine. But I have slowly started to realize that in exchange for the welcoming environment I always tried to create, I sometimes ended up compromising my own, personal experience. I am not saying that it was a bad choice–on the contrary, I believe that every person should consider the feelings of those around them–but sometimes we just have to take a step back and remember that we have needs, too. We have dreams, desires, goals and achievements, and it’s ok to give ourselves the necessary time and space to reach them. Recently, this thought has been pressing on my mind, and I haven’t been able to let it settle. I realized that I have been trying so hard to make everyone happy that I forgot about myself. So, I finally stopped trying to attend all of the events I was invited to, stopped offering my spare time to the professional opportunities that had just the slightest possibility of advancement for me, and let go of the idea of trying to make everything fit into a finely packed schedule. Simply put, I tossed out the bad (and unnecessary) apples and started to de-clutter and rearrange my priorities. And what was left? Everything that makes me happy. My blog, cooking, sharing food, my friends, family, going to the movies, taking trips to visit other places, and simply enjoying a day with nothing to do but relax–all the things that I am going to focus more on because they make me happy. And although I’m still working on this new journey and making sure I haven’t missed anything, it already feels like I’ve taken all of my favorite ingredients and mixed them into one giant bowl that has all the essentials I’ll ever need. It’s so refreshing!

And I’d like to share with you a recipe that, well, physically does do this: stuffed bell peppers!

This dish can be comprised of anything you want and love! For me, I added cous cous, shrimp, onions, jalapenos, zucchini, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, mushrooms, mozzarella and feta cheese. So choose what you love, combine everything in a bowl, cut some (cleaned) bell peppers in half, and stuff those bell peppers to the brim with “happiness”. Then pop them into the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, and they’re ready to eat!

Remember, pick out the things (even if they are little) that make you unhappy, and replace those empty slots with people and events that make you feel the most alive and truly satisfied. We all deserve to be completely happy.

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Note: The picture above is not the final product. I added the cheeses on them afterward, and then baked them but forgot to take pictures before I ate them (silly me!).

Intimacy and close relationships are essential in our everyday lives. In the book, The Art of Happiness, the author states that an individual’s most basic fear is the threat of being separated from other human beings. The book also dives deeper into explaining that the notion of intimacy also benefits an individual physically. Scientists have proven that the chances of heart disease and cancer significantly decrease if a person has a spouse or close friend they can trust in their life. This idea of intimacy is a strong tool that we sometimes forget to use. I have always been someone that seeks new friendships while trying to maintain the old, and I truly feel defeated if someone I once cared so much about is no longer a part of my life but that digression has influenced me try even harder to keep the bonds with the people I truly care about. So no matter where life takes us, we must remember that having people close to us is a very important factor in our happiness, health and mere existence as human beings.

This notion has also opened my eyes in the food realm. As strange as it may sound, I feel like one of the intimate relationships I have in my life is with food. Now I know that sounds a little abnormal, and before you start thinking how unhealthy or that is sort of sad, let me clarify by saying that this relationship is a healthy one. And don’t worry, I’m not a binge eater or do anything so drastic that it becomes unhealthy, it’s just—I am in love food! Every crunch, bite, texture, and aroma leaves me bright-eyed and yearning to taste more. To say that I don’t have a strong, intimate connection with food would simply be a lie. And I think it’s safe to say that my relationship with food is an everlasting one—it has always remained loyal to me, when I travel it encourages me to try new things, it greets me every night when I come home from work, and never ceases to surprise me in the most random moments. Like any relationship, we have our tiffs (burnt chicken, flat soufflé, etc.) but for better or worse, I wouldn’t change a thing. My day consists of reading, thinking, watching TV shows, and even blogging about food! If food were a human being, I think it’s safe to call me a stage 5 clinger! All humor aside, I feel (and I think many would agree with me) that if the ability to cook, explore new dishes, and taste flavors were all taken away from me, that basic threat mentioned earlier of being separated from something would severely overwhelm me.

Strong and positive relationships are a key ingredient to living a happy and healthy life, and with anything (people and/or hobbies) we should not cut corners on our investments in them. Everyone deserves to have people in their lives that they can share healthy and close relationships with whether it’s family members, friends or a spouse. I am incredibly lucky to have many people in my life that surround me with love and support each day. So, remember to show how much you care about the ones you love and take a bite out of something delicious today. After all, life tastes like food.

[Happy birthday to the strongest woman I know and one who I share one of these loving relationships with: my Mom.]

“Sharing food is the best way to experience other cultures.”

Lately, I have been obsessed the TV Show Bizarre Foods. For those of you who have never watched the show, the host Andrew Zimmern visits cities around the world and explores their culture through their food. He finds many traditions and foods that our culture is not use to and gives insight on how they give character to that particular region. Although many of the things that Andrew Zimmern eats do not appeal instantly to my taste buds, his encounters and perspective keep me hooked episode after episode. I still giggle every time he mentions durian (a fruit with a hard, spiky shell that gives off an odor you can smell a mile away after you open it) and how it is one of the only things he still can’t eat. His references to it makes me smile because I use to eat it all the time as a kid and still do sometimes when I’m with my family–I think it’s delicious, but it is very smelly. The important thing though is that he still tried it. Simply attempting something is one of the most prized risks and joys in life!

I think what keeps me interested in the show is that a) he is willing to try anything at least once, and b) he finds culture and lifestyle through food–sort of like me with this blog!

Whether it’s ants that taste like lemon found in a the rain forests of Ecuador or fried bees from Taiwan, he almost always willingly pops the food right into his mouth. Some people are down-right fearless and willing to try anything at least once whether it be a new food or something crazier like base jumping. And this notion of being fearless–so bold and courageousmakes me wonder why people go to such extremes and to what extent. What does it mean to be completely fearless? And in what sense? Can anyone actually be completely fearless? I have been pondering this word for a while and it’s meaning (probably not as much as Taylor Swift has though), and I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t a concrete definition of being completely fearless in life. I think Andrew Zimmern is fearless with food, but to be completely fearless in all things is just, well, close to impossible! Although a rare feat, I still think the idea is a wonderful way to explore new foods, activities, emotions, and other aspects of life.

And through his explorations and being fearless with food, Andrew Zimmern is able to offer the viewers of the show up-close glimpses of the unique food, background information on the particular region and why they eat those certain foods. Trying food from different places around the world sounds heavenly but I don’t think my mouth salivates much when I picture eating pickled tuna fish eye balls or roasted guinea pig! Nonetheless, I admire the show and Andrew’s commitment to food along with his non-judgmental attitude. He has made me believe that I, too, should do the same if ever in a foreign land and offered a taste their culture. I strongly believe that you can discover a myriad of qualities and traditions wherever you are in the world that you wouldn’t have found otherwise through food.

So, let’s follow in Andrew’s “food”-steps and be fearless in something and embrace the unique qualities that surround us! What’s the craziest thing you’ve eaten fearlessly?

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