Category Archives: Travel

Pumpkin Pie

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One of my proudest moments in the past 2 months was getting my mom hooked on pumpkin…foods. No nudging was needed, when she caved to the temptation of those pumpkin spice cakes at Trader Joe’s (yes, they are amazing). After that, the list went on – pumpkin muffin, pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin bread…do they sell pumpkin puree in HK? ah, I hope they do.

So when Thanksgiving rolled around, I naturally had to incorporate some sort of pumpkin food into the meal. In fact, it was the only item I made for Thanksgiving: the glorious Pumpkin Pie.

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I cannot pinpoint when it started; when I would say “pumpkin [something]” and my friends would roll their eyes and mumble “of course”. Well, here it is again my dear friends! But let me tell you, its not a normal pumpkin pie, it is made with a gingersnap cookie crust, a significant life upgrade from the packaged frozen crust I sometimes use.

This recipe was taken from Fork Knife Swoon, a new food blog I found that has recipes simple enough for amateur cooks to follow. At least it seems more manageable to me. If you’ve experienced cooking paralysis from reading fancy food blogs with a list of ingredients you couldn’t pronounce and seven too many steps you know you couldn’t follow, I think Fork Knife Swoon might be a good bet. I’ll have to let you know.

I have also decided to make pumpkin pie my perfected dessert. I am impressed at how other bloggers have the patience to experiment with different ingredients/cooking times/mixing methods and make the same dish a dozen times before posting. I want to try to do that, so lets start with the pumpkin pie. This might even become my new years resolution for 2016 (note to self)!

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Hope everyone had a restful Thanksgiving break. Christmas in a few weeks – let the countdown begin again!

Recipe again is here: Fork Knife Swoon – Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie

Love,
Steph

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I Love Cali (Guest Post)

– By Michael Tu

I hate Chicago! I can’t wait to move back to Cali. I must have heard my Californian friends senselessly bash Chicago at least 100 times the past 6 years here. They claim they would be significantly happier if they escaped Chicago’s frigid hell (paradox?) and returned to their paradisal motherland. I have always found this line of thought to be quite superficial, the outcome of an insufficiently examined life. If the limitless wonders of California do indeed make you much happier, then Californians must be the happiest people on Earth. Sure. I’m skeptical that the weather is a central determinant of life satisfaction. Far more crucial are factors such as whether you are surrounding yourself with people who and engaging in work that bring you meaning. You can achieve this almost regardless of location.

It turns out that this notion of Californian superiority in life satisfaction has also bothered leading behavioral scientists David Schkade of UCSD and Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University (who also won a Nobel Prize in Economics). They performed a study called “Does Living in California Make People Happy? A Focusing Illusion in Judgments of Life Satisfaction”. While the title makes the study seem silly at first glance, I assure you that it is a legitimate one that has been cited 627 times. The researchers surveyed ~2000 undergraduates from the University of Michigan (UM), Ohio State University (OSU), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) about their own overall level of life satisfaction and their own level of satisfaction with specific factors such as the regional climate. Moreover, the researchers surveyed the students about what they perceive to be the overall life satisfaction of their similar other (someone else similar to themselves) in the Midwest and in California, and their similar other’s level of satisfaction with specific factors such as the regional climate.

 

The study yielded many interesting results. I will only cover a subset of them:

  1. The students in the Midwest and in California had a similar level of overall life satisfaction.
  2. The Californian students were more satisfied with their own climate than students in the Midwest were satisfied with their own climate.
  3. Both geographical sets of students predicted that their similar other would have a higher level of overall life satisfaction in California than in the Midwest.
    1. The higher life satisfaction prediction for California occurred because the students believed their similar other would be more satisfied with the climate and cultural opportunities in California.
  4. Both geographical sets of students placed higher importance on the climate’s effect on well-being for their similar other living in another region than for themselves.

 

The professors interpreted the results as follows:

  1. The climate is not an important factor when a person assesses her own overall life satisfaction. That person focuses on more central aspects of life in her evaluation.
  2. Objectively speaking, there is a difference in hedonic experience between the climate in California and the Midwest’s climate. A person tends to over-focus on the salient Californian “advantage” of climate when imagining his similar other’s life in another region.
    1. Note: I inserted the apostrophe around ‘advantage.’
  3. Hence, a focusing illusion occurs that causes the person to exaggerate the impact of climate on his similar other’s overall life satisfaction in another region. He fails to realize that his focus shifts to more central aspects of life when evaluating his own overall life satisfaction.

 

To be fair, this study has a limitation. UM, UCLA, UCI, and OSU are mostly comprised of local, regional students, so the surveyed Californians probably have lived in California their entire life, and the surveyed Midwesterners most likely have lived in the Midwest their entire life. At most, you can solidly conclude that lifetime Midwesterners and Californians have similar life satisfaction despite California’s salient “advantages.” You cannot definitely say that a person who moves to the Midwest from California will not have lower life satisfaction, ceteris paribus (excluding the climate and cultural opportunities). Conversely, you cannot definitely say that a person who moves to California from the Midwest will not have higher life satisfaction, ceteris paribus (excluding the climate and cultural opportunities).

Yet, in the face of imperfect information, I strongly believe there is beneficial value in assuming that the authors’ conclusion is a close approximation of the truth:

“In the context of life satisfaction, the present discussion suggests that people may not be good judges of the effect of changing circumstances on their own life satisfaction, or on that of others. Our research suggests a moral, and a warning: Nothing that you focus on will make as much difference as you think.”

If you are a Californian struggling to adapt to life in Chicago, realize that it is wholly possible to achieve a similar level of life satisfaction here that you enjoyed in California. Instead of focusing your energy on trivial elements of life such as the weather, seek and be present to the crucial and wholesome gifts of life: the people around you who bring you meaning and the work that you find meaningful.

TSNY Trapeeeeeze

How did I move from Chicago to somewhere even colder? Apparently there were signs of first snow in Boston a few hours ago, ekk! After the freezing morning run along Charles River, I’ve strategically planned to stay at a coffee shop all day. It’s nice and toasty in here, so I had to double-check….first snow on Oct 18?

Only three weeks ago, I was still in Chicago waiting to try my first Trapeze class in nice, warmish weather. Trapeze, for those unfamiliar, is where you hold onto a horizontal bar (think monkey bar) and swing in the air, just like Cirque du Soleil. Terrified by the idea? I was too! Convinced that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bar and embarrassingly fall off in a split second, I walked up to write my name on the chalkboard and hear the instructions for first timers.

The basic instruction is to hold on tight to the bar and then follow the rest of the instructions being called out to you when you’re on the bar. READY? um….not really….?

Ignoring my shaking legs, up I climbed on the thin ladder, which was wobbling in the Lake Michigan breeze. Here’s a video of what I could do by the end of class:

I think I’m ready to audition for Cirque! Okay, maybe not, but it wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be. I know you skeptics out there will not believe me when I say that. The truth is all the movements relied on momentum, especially when I had to put my leg up onto the bar, it was much easier than it looked because it used the force you get when you jump off the board. In fact, the hardest part was probably getting your legs off the board, which took me an entire minute, along with ample convincing from the instructor, the first time around (the video became too long to upload…) Otherwise, it’s not bad!

I would definitely encourage you to try if you’re even slightly intrigued. Full disclosure – my muscles did hurt for about 2 weeks after because it used muscles that I never knew I had (possibly similar to the ones used in yoga?) Great experience and great crew!

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For those of you who might want to give it a try, they have rigs in Chicago, NYC, Boston, DC, LA. Check it out at TSNY.

Stay Warm! xx

Reducing Youth Violence

I was listening to a Freakonomics’ podcast “I don’t know what you’ve done with my husband but he’s a changed man” episode and learned something related to the topic of this blog that I want to share with you.

The episode was on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy in which Psychologists and patients work to overcome difficulties through discussions and problem solving. Most of the time, it means changing one’s thinking, actions, or emotional responses to their surroundings.

Chicago was mentioned several times in the podcast. Ever since living in Chicago, I have had a tendency of getting very excited about the topic being discussed when Chicago is mentioned. I feel that the general population is referring to Chicago more and more now, or is that my illusion? Either way, I decided to look more into BAM (Becoming A Man), a youth program in Chicago that was mentioned in the podcast.

The program is super interesting. It’s part of University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, where they implement research-based policies to reduce crime and violence. This program, BAM, was a one-year program aimed to reduce youth gun violence that is so prevalent in Chicago. In addition, they wanted to reduce skiving and school dropouts.

The Crime Lab went into schools and taught Grade 7-10 males on a variety of social cognitive skills, including self-control, conflict resolution, and social information processing. These are crucial knowledge for everyday functions that is curiously not taught as part of the school curriculum.

Results from the implementation were remarkable. Before the program, the average youth missed 6 weeks of school and had a grade point average of D+. After the program, students missed fewer classes and performed better. More importantly, they were 10–23% more likely to graduate and violent crime arrests reduced by a whooping 44%!

The long-term effects of this program are still being evaluated. The after effects of an experiment are something that is important to think about when implementing programs in the real world. Firstly, the results of the program itself could have positive or negative impact on the participants (though you hope that it’s positive of course!) However, researchers should also think about what happens to the participants after the experiment is “over”. The long-term impact might range from positive, where the situation continues to become better, neutral, where there’s no impact, or worst-case negative, where it has adverse effects. In this case, the worst case scenario could be that the Grade 7-10 males immediately resorted to gun violence after the program because they didn’t have cognitive behavioral therapy sessions anymore.

Hope this was new and educational! It was for me. Have a productive week!

Steph

 

Source: University of Chicago Crime Lab Research and Policy Brief – “BAM – Sports Edition”

A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)

By my friend, Jenny Xia, who also wrote about Eataly exactly a year ago

Having lived in DC for the past year, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by how much bigger Chicago seemed in comparison. As Steph and I explored the city, I began to convince myself that Chicago has to be larger than NYC. In a moment of nerdiness, I Googled this and it turns out that NYC’s over 30% bigger in square mileage.

It also turns out that I experienced a psychology phenomenon called the “contrast effect.” The term describes how undergoing two contrasting experiences can skew a person’s perception of the latter event. During my stay with Steph, Chicago seemed enormous, though I probably wouldn’t feel the same way if I had been visiting her from NYC. In a way, the cognitive bias worked in my favor as it made my visit to Chicago feel even more exciting and the city grander.

The rest of the weekend Steph and I spent together was as exciting as the day Steph recapped in her last post, here’s some of our activities that weekend:

  1. Touring Pilsen

Continue reading A Summer Weekend (Guest Post)

NEW REBOZO

Hello everyone, Happy Sunday! Hope you’re enjoying your weekend. My weekend has been a combination of new experiences – brunch spots, dishes, and some not-so-new chores – doing laundry. One of the highlights of my weekend was in itself a mix of new and familiar experience.

My friends and I went to New Rebozo, a mexican restaurant in River North, Chicago. It’s a familiar experience because I’ve been to this restaurant twice before. The first time was after I signed my lease for my first apartment (woop!) That itself earned New Rebozo a special place in my heart. Then, I went again with Shraddha after my first (and only) attempt at aerial yoga. For those of you who have not heard of aerial yoga, lmgify here. That time, we established that they have pretty good margs.

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This time, I decided to try mole poblano, a traditional mexican dish. Even though I rarely venture outside of my fish tacos, chipotle burrito bowl, and guacamole for my mexican choices, I wanted to see what this featured item on the menu was all about. So here we go, mole, pronounced “mo-lay”, which is slightly different from guaca”mole”, is a chocolate based sauce that is poured over your dish. I ordered the Fiesta Mole, which was a platter of 6 moles over 6 enchiladas, the best way to try out all the varieties. To put inside the enchiladas, I chose chicken and cheese, though you can also choose beans, guacamole, or chorizo.

The experience was interesting, though I confess I’m not the biggest fan of this traditional mexican dish. The different mole flavors were chocolate (plain), pistachio, pumpkin seed, almond, etc. Each of them tasted very different from the next, making each bite an exciting experiment. The chocolate mole, which I was told is the most basic or traditional version of what people call mole, is probably my least favorite of all. I’m usually a big proponent for mixing sweet and savory food, but the chocolate mole had a strange after taste to it. A few of the flavored ones tasted better and complemented the chicken and cheese enchiladas.

margs

I’m glad we tried moles at New Rebozo. It was definitely a new experience for me, though I’m most likely going back to the tacos and margs next time (which are great, btw!)

Lastly, while we are on the topic of mexican food, here’s a game for a BOGO chipotle if you’re a fan (or not): Chipotle Friend or Faux

Have a great week!

Steph

MATCHA OREOS

the weeks seem to be going by faster every month. can you believe it’s already the end of April? where did the time go? in other news, i’m starting to think that my desire to bake is linked to the season. from november to february, i had no interest in experimenting with flour/sugar/butter/vanilla extract/brown sugar. but now that it’s getting warmer, i’m really excited to fire up the oven again!
for those who know me well, you might know that i’m (slightly) obsessed with pumpkin products. the pumpkin spice lattes, yum. why can’t we have that all year round? i also tend to bake a lot of things with pumpkin purée during the fall (and all year round). but at the request of my friends, i’ve decided to branch out and search for a new ingredient to bake with.
that’s when i came across this blogger: my name is yeh. her food features a combination of the east and the west. as an example, her latest post is drunken zucchini noodles. the post that really caught my eye was Matcha Oreos.
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Continue reading MATCHA OREOS

GUEST POST: CHICAGO TRAVELOGUE

By Linda Li

 

I recently visited Steph in Chicago for Spring Break. As a New Zealand native and east coast college student, I had never visited the city before. To my surprise, Chicago was grand but not imposing, filled with smart and friendly people, and featured an incredible number of things to see, do, and eat. To those seeking an urban adventure or weekend getaway, I cannot recommend Chicago enough. Here are some of the highlights from my trip:

 

DAY ONE

I flew into Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon and after dropping off my stuff at Steph’s gorgeous lakefront studio, I met her downtown for dinner. After carefully reviewing the options on Yelp, we decided to meet at Big & Little’s, a fast food place that specialized in gourmet offerings of classic diner standbys. I ordered the pork belly po’ boy, which was filled with little pieces of pork belly that crunched pleasantly like chicharrones, while Steph ordered the fish tacos. We split the foie gras fries which, let’s be honest, was why I wanted to go there in the first place. The fries did not disappoint – the combination of deep fried carbs and foie gras was decadent beyond imagination.

 

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Big & Little’s Pork Belly Po’ Boy 

 

We followed up dinner with drinks at Charcoal Bar, a subterranean establishment in the beneath a Japanese restaurant. The bartender there was extremely knowledgeable about her craft and, after discovering that I liked gin, made me a Last Word, a sharp and delicious concoction consisting of equal parts gin, Chartreuse, maraschino cherry liqueur, and lime juice.

 

DAY TWO

Steph went to work early in the morning, so I was left to my own devices until dinner that evening. I began the day with brunch at Ann Sather Restaurant in Lakeview, where I had the Swedish Breakfast Sampler. This involved a ginormous Swedish meatball that was like a richer, more sophisticated version of what I had tried before at IKEA (my only reference point for Swedish food).

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Swedish Breakfast Sampler at Ann Sather

After brunch, I took the bus south along the lake to Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo. One of the best things about traveling alone is you have complete control over your itinerary and can do precisely what you want to do – like go to the conservatory and the zoo, which few of my college-age friends would have an interest in seeing.

Spring Time at the Conservatory
Spring Time at the Conservatory

To Chicago’s credit, the conservatory and zoo (both of which are free to the public) were stunning, and I managed to get some good pictures while walking off the one and a half absurdly large Swedish pancakes that I consumed. I’ve always had a lot of respect for cities that make their cultural institutions free to the public. To me, that demonstrates commitment towards the civic and cultural betterment of that city’s people.

A Siberian Tiger at Lincoln Park Zoo
A Siberian Tiger at Lincoln Park Zoo 

Of course, no visit to Chicago would be complete without visiting the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park 🙂

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Cloud Gate

 

For dinner, I met Steph at The Purple Pig, a lively small plates style restaurant on Magnificent Mile that I would conservatively describe as a kosher Jew’s worst nightmare. But it was perfect for adventurous foodies like Steph and myself: the Purple Pig prides itself on a multitude of tapas-style dishes that push the boundaries of cooking swine. We ordered the pig’s ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers & fried egg (my favorite), the roasted bone marrow with herbs (unexpected), the milk-fed suckling pig pork belly (delicious, but tiny), and the roast pork tenderloin (enormous).

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DAY THREE

Continuing with the theme of doing whatever the heck I wanted to do in Chicago, I visited Shedd Aquarium. According to Wikipedia (#college), the Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor public aquarium in the world and contains over 25,000 fish. Unlike modern aquaria, which seem to stress sleek minimalism and function, the beaux-arts architecture of the octagonal aquarium meant that there were ornate and beautiful things to look at in every ceiling, lamp, and tile – which made the 40 minute wait in line somewhat more bearable.

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An Octopus Light at Shedd Aquarium
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Interior of Shedd Acquarium

I saw some really cool specimens, including:

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The Fish from Your Worst Nightmare, aka Lampreys
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Noma Japan’s Next Revolutionary Dish (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/11379809/Worlds-best-restaurant-Noma-serves-live-ants.html)
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Seahorses (the Cutest)

For dinner, I joined Steph and her coworker at Tank Noodle for a steaming hot bowl of pho.

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Tank Noodle

 

I had been feeling under the weather so this pho definitely hit the spot – and gave me the strength to partake in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations the next morning!

Thanks so much for being a wonderful hostess, Steph, and for letting me share some of my favorite Chicago experiences on your blog!

—-

and Thank you Linda, for joining my pure barre workout madness at 8am, partaking in Wrigley Field’s St. Patty’s Day celebration and reminding me of how amazing Chicago is, even as a stare out into the pile of snow slash slush right now.

BrainandtheWind-(Small)

 

 

 

-S

 

 

Guest Post – SOCIAL PLACE: MODERN TWIST ON DIM SUM

By Ashley Lee
Hong Kong has always been known as the city where the East meets the West and the integration is very much evident in its exotic cuisines offered at almost every corner. In the past few years, Hong Kong dining culture has become more of a competitive sport as new restaurants seek to create unique dishes and attractions. Hong Kong-ers, who always have a passion for eating, do not hesitate to jump aboard on the next food trend.
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When Stephanie returned to 852, I thought the best way to welcome her back was to introduce her to one of the new, hip restaurants. After a little bit of research (mostly on Sassy HK), I recommended the popular dim sum place called Social Place. Hong Kong is home to yum cha fans so to create traditional Chinese dim sum with a modern twist is very ambitious. I am very glad to say our experience at Social Place definitely lives up to its expectation.
Continue reading Guest Post – SOCIAL PLACE: MODERN TWIST ON DIM SUM