American obsessed: “Those lovely, lovely Irish sheep!”

Traveling to Ireland for the first time, what impressed me the most was neither North Antrim Coast nor the amount of Guinness Dublin-ers consume, but Irish sheep. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said sheep. Along my train ride: from Dublin to Belfast, from Belfast to Dublin to Galway, whenever I saw them, I would gesture excitedly, grab my friend’s arm and cry, “Look, sheep!”

My British friend gaped in awe and said, “Do you not have sheep in America? You know outside London we have sheep, just like these right?”

Alas, how do I explain my conviction that Irish sheep — set against blue sky and green grass — are somehow extra fluffy, and most likely extra special. Thank goodness my obsession is not alone. I was able to dig up an article from Boston Irish Reporter, titled “Hello sheep lovers: Ireland is the place for ewe” to prove my sanity.

Blue sky, green pasture, and fluffy, cloud-white Irish sheep! (image credit:

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Is my $4 ice coffee still amazing if it can be packaged into a milk carton?

No, it’s old news. Blue Bottle, having successfully raised $25.75 million in venture capital January, 2014, launched Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee – purchasable in blue and white half-pints milk carton, that summer. I was aware of the launch. Not only had I read about the initiative in several business publications, I also chatted with a couple Lower East Side-based baristas who informed me that Blue Bottle was no longer true, in the pure specialty coffee sort of way, to those in the coffee community.

I didn’t care then because I had plenty of accessible and equally delicious cafes to choose from. It wasn’t until I grabbed my first New York Blue Bottle on Monday, that I noticed how deeply affected I was by the milk, I mean, coffee cartons.

Artisanal coffee, when mass produced like Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee, can still uphold its integrity? (image credit:

Artisanal/specialty coffee charges a higher price than, say Dunkin’ Donut brew, because more attention was paid to producing that perfect sip. From selecting special coffee beans, to paying special attention to roasting and brewing, and of course, making that cup specially for you, specialty coffee is special in a big way. And consumers, like myself, willingly fork over $4, $5 for cold brew and $6+ for latte in exchange. Continue reading

Breaking Bread, when it’s that good get two

The humble baguette, in its most basic form, requires no more than flour, yeast, salt and water. It’s very white, and very French. But despite the simplicity, a good loaf of baguette is not easy to find.

What makes a good loaf?

The juxtaposition of the perfect crunchy exterior and soft interior complete with large irregular air holes. The crust is rich, dark golden, which indicates the robust caramelized flavor. Additionally, the crust is crunchy yet breakable by hand and the texture moist, slightly chewy and nutty in favor. Like ordering spaghetti bolognese at Italian restaurants, whenever I want to test the quality of a new bakery, I start with baguettes. And yesterday after a visit to the Union Square Green Market, I returned home a happy camper carrying a variety of young kales and two loafs of baguette from Bread Bakery.

Bread Bakery baguette, 2 for $6 (image credit:

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To hurt, to break: the heart beats on

Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place.
Just for the time being.
So she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck.
And that seemed to fix things … at first.

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The above passage is from The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The picture book, which looks into how to make sense of death and loss, is now available in iTunes to buy and download as apps. The version is read by actress Helena Bonham Carter.

In the story, the girl, after losing her father. decided to protect her heart from hurting by putting it in a bottle around her neck. Of course, the problem with safeguarding her heart was that the girl no longer resembled her old exuberant, full-off-curiosity self. No more thinking about the stars or “the wonders of the sea,” she feels no pain, but also no happiness.

(Read previous post: “Ice Kachang Puppy Love”)

"She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…" (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

“She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea.
She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

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Tasting love: “Ice Kacang Puppy Love”

When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona, the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes “Kuih” for dessert.

Traditional "Kuih" (image credit: Hotel Armada/

Traditional “Kuih” (image credit: Hotel Armada/

Kuih(粿)came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version utilizes local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. A herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, pandan leaves lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.

Malaysian sweet, seri muka (image credit:

From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan  custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.

Another must-try include Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the “green” comes from pandan leaves) in coconut milk and palm sugar.

But all in all, my ultimate favorite is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice/Ais Kachang in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia. Simply put, it is shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.

My fondness for Ice Kachang derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》).

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What are shades of grey, when you have 50+1 shades of black

Portraits of Flemish painter Anthony van Dyke (1599-1641) are typically dark, a technique typical of the period using a semi-dark background to highlight the subject.

The mastery of van Dyke’s use of black (various shades of it), white and gray is most alluringly presented in the portrait of Frans Synders. Set against a billowing black drapery and enveloped in a rich cascade of black – black doublet lined with a wired, lace trim collar, black cloak – Synders’ elegantly aristocratic face and hands are further accentuated. There is something grand and mysterious with his stare, and, oh, those beautiful fingers…

One should never gape at a painting with less-than-just-admiration thoughts, especially standing in the Frick Collection‘s handsome West Gallery. But you have to admit, he is devastatingly handsome. In fact, Synders (in addition to being wealthy) is a Flemish painter of animals, still live and, often violent hunting scenes. How’s that for having a darker side, Christian Grey?

Van Dyke, “Frans Snyders” circa 1620/oil on canvas (image credit:

If you have not yet been to the Frick Collection in the Upper East Side, you should take advantage of its Sunday “by donation” program. Compared to other art museums, the Frick Collection, being the former residence of Pittsburgh industrialist/collector Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and a museum, offers an interesting viewing experience. Painting and sculpture aside, the Gilded Age mansion, including ceiling, vase, lamp, furniture, etc., the entirety is art.

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Best of Penang Street Food Fest, Mee Mee Mee

Malaysia’s richness, whether it’s food, dialect or culture, derives from the intermingle of different ethnic groups, predominantly the Malay, Chinese and Indians. In Penang, where Chinese immigrants dominate,  food is further enriched by the marriage of Chinese and Malaysian cultures (known s babas and nyonas), literally and metaphorically.

Best of Penang street food (image credit:

To get a glimpse of the awesomeness of one (Chinese) plus one (Malay) is more than two, just go through the list of noodle dishes the city has to offer:  Continue reading

“What’s in a name” — Oh boy, don’t you know?

Ask what’s in a name, and I’d say plenty.

When introducing myself, I’m either “It’s Sherry like the alcohol,” or “It’s Sherry, like the Frank Valli and the Four Seasons song.” The former usually gets a delayed I-get-it chuckle, and the latter works wonderfully with the slightly more senior folks.

And Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, advises writers to “pay attention to names.”

Names can be fun. Take popular characters in fiction, such as Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane. Or savor Strawberry Bonbons, Glacier Mints, Pear Drops, Lemon Drops, Sherbet Suckers and Liquorice Bootlaces in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, well-crafted names enliven the imagination.

The best literary name of all, is perhaps Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita:

What’s in a name? Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (image credit:

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