1.29.2010

Can You Cut Your Internet Connection & Still Survive?

UPDATE: Well, Mr. DG and I are no longer internet-barren. Truth be told, the internet was re-connected at our house one month after we cut it. It wasn't because our addiction was too strong to deny. I am not on the computer, surfing the web, for hours on end. Can't vouch for Mr. DG ;) I will say that I don't feel as compulsive about using the internet after our one-month hiatus. Plus, I am still proceeding with my Pimsleur Mandarin CDs, and I am really enjoying it. I'm still reading books, and I am still getting to bed well before 2 AM. So the verdict is: yes, you can cut your internet and still survive. Try it, you might like it!
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Hello! I've been out of touch for a bit. Sorry 'bout that! Mr. DG and I have embarked upon a new and revolutionary (for us) path: we've cut our internet service at home.

GASP!! THE HORROR!!

Yes, it's true. I'm a blogger that doesn't have my own internet connection anymore. The impetus for this decision was the fact that Mr. DG and I are internet addicts. I am an information/research/blog junkie with a love for Twitter. Mr. DG enjoys online games, Facebook and researching the latest and coolest photography gear (hope you don't mind me divulging those secrets, honey!).

In order to change some of our habits for the better, Mr. DG suggested the removal of the internet from our home. So as I type this, I'm sitting in a chilly Coffee Bean, using their free WiFi connection. At least I get to have my favorite beverage more frequently now:  decaf soy vanilla latte. That's a perk.

Lest you pity me too much, I will tell you that the change has been immediate and positive since we cut ties with broadband. For one thing, I'm a night owl. However, being an internet addict reinforced that night owlish nature in me, since I could surf to my heart's content to the wee hours of the morning. Now that we are restricted to the hours of our Coffee Bean or local library, web surfing ends by 8 pm (things close early here in the desert).

I've started going to bed at an hour usually reserved for children. Consequently, I've also been waking up, without an alarm, at 7:15 AM. Considering my usual sleeping time was between 1 and 2 AM, 7:15 AM is pretty dang early.

Another positive effect has been being able to read more, and not my usual magazines... I'm actually reading whole books now! Fancy that. The library is a great resource for free forms of leisure, if your leisure activities involve reading or watching movies or learning a language.

Which brings me to the next positive thing I've been able to do since we cut the cord: I've pseudo-mastered the first eight lessons of Pimsleur's Mandarin audio set. I took Mandarin in college for two quarters, but that was it. Didn't retain much except for a word or two, here and there. Plus, my TA said I spoke Mandarin with a "Valley Girl and Cantonese accent" so I probably wasn't remembering the intonations properly. I really like the all-audio emphasis of the Pimsleur set. It would be nice to be able to read and write Chinese at some point, but I'll just take it one step at a time. Shouldn't I know how to speak Mandarin already? Well, I know I'm Chinese, but I was born in downtown LA, so cut me some slack! :) I can speak some Cantonese, so that's something, right??

As you can imagine, not having instant internet access means I can't check email or catch up on my favorite shows (oh, yeah, we don't have cable tv either) or print out a map from Google Maps. I do have a limited amount of internet access each month on my smart phone, but it's a pain to check email on that tiny screen. Slowly, I'm realizing that I don't HAVE to be attached to the internet 24/7. I lived without it for most of my life and I am adjusting to living without now.

So that's the big news from Dishy Goodness HQ. One more thing, I am also playing around with the look of my blog -- I made a new header and changed my profile pic. Let me know what you think. It will most likely be an evolving process for a while.

I promise the next blog will be all about food again. Thanks for reading!

1.16.2010

Cacao Mexicatessen - Eagle Rock, CA

Cacao Mexicatessen in Eagle Rock, CA









This is going to be sort of a long post because I'll be discussing two visits to the barely six-month-old Cacao Mexicatesssen on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock. Mr. DG and I first heard about Cacao from an Eagle Rock resident last summer. Of course, we're always on the lookout for interesting new eateries that we can try on our visits to LA, so we were tempted by Cacao's menu that included duck carnitas and more intriguing, non-run-of-the-mill Mexican dishes.

The counter at CacaoYou go up to the counter and place your order, then they bring the food to your table.

Playing card table number; chips and salsa from CacaoThe table numbers are stylish playing cards and you get crispy tortilla chips with tomatillo salsa. The salsa has a nice heat with a tangy bite.

Bacon, potato and cheddar taquitos

On our first trip, I had one of the specials of the day ($10.50): three potato, bacon, and cheddar  taquitos topped with crema and garnished with guacamole. A pyramid of rice and a bowl of beans were also included. This is a lot of food! My eyes were bigger than my stomach because I'm a sucker for anything that has bacon, potato and cheddar in it. Plus, taquitos are one of my favorite items, so I didn't need long to decide this was what I was getting. The taquitos were crunchy, but I could have used a little more seasoning in the potato filling. I enjoyed the guacamole and the rice and beans, but I was in a carb coma shortly thereafter. Note to self: avoid getting a carb wrapped around more carbs, served with more carbs.

Cochinita pibil taco


Mr. DG ordered a cochinita pibil taco (roasted pork in achiote and citrus). The taco was garnished with pickled red onion, sliced radish and wedges of lime. Mr. DG usually adds salsa to his tacos, but he said the meat was so flavorful, it didn't need any enhancement.

Sopa de fideo

Mr. DG paired his taco with a comforting bowl of sopa de fideo. The soup is made with chicken broth, tomato and fideo noodles. Mr. DG enjoyed the soup very much; it was a thick broth topped with what looked to be cotija cheese. The soup's flavor reminded Mr. DG of the spaghetti his mom used to make for him when he was a kid. It was a hearty, homestyle soup -- great for wintry days. Mr. DG also ordered a jamaica (hibiscus) drink. The jamaica was not too sweet, but just sweet enough for us.

Cochinita pibil taco & carnitas de pato (duck carnitas) taco

On our second visit, I remembered to not indulge too heavily in the carbs. So, instead, I ordered two tacos a la carte: the richly-flavored cochinita pibil and the carnitas de pato (duck carnitas) taco. The duck carnitas taco is garnished with slivered radish, pickled red onion and diced avocado. The duck was shredded and had the familiar gamy flavor that duck is known for. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I thought I would -- this is no fault of Cacao's. Just simply my own taste -- I guess I was hoping the duck flavor would be a bit less pronounced and the carnitas seasoning a bit more pronounced.

Papa con chorizo taco & closeup

Mr. DG ordered two a la carte tacos as well: papa con chorizo (potato w/chorizo) and marinated roasted chicken. The potato filling was deep-fried and stuffed in a blue corn shell. Bits of chorizo colored the mashed potato "fritter." Mr. DG felt that the potato filling could use a little more seasoning. With such a dense starch, a heavier hand in seasoning is most likely necessary.

Roasted chicken taco
The roasted chicken taco was topped with a red salsa, some diced onion and a bit of cilantro. Mr. DG said the chicken tasted "real" as opposed to the rubbery stuff you might find at a fast-food joint. The marinade and roasting added extra layers of flavor not ordinarily found in other chicken tacos. He gave it a thumbs up.

Grilled Mexican corn on the cob

The standout of our second visit was the grilled Mexican corn on the cob! Mr. DG had never had it before, and with one bite, he was an instant convert! My camera phone doesn't do it justice, but, believe me, the corn is a must-try. White corn is grilled and slathered with a lime aioli, queso cotija and dusted with powdered chili. The creamy aioli is zesty; the cotija gives a bit of a salty tang; and the powdered chili provides the "pow!" that keeps on giving. I could barely feel my lips after a while, but I didn't care because the corn was delicious!

Handmade tortillas freshly made daily; the sign says it all
Fresh tortillas are handmade daily. You can also purchase freshly-made guacamole, tortillas, imported cheeses, mole sauces and other items to go (hence, the "mexicatessen" part of the name).

Mexican flag coconut candy; Pico hot, sour and orange candy powder

Mr. DG was happy to see that a selection of Mexican candies were also available for purchase, in particular, Pico packets. Pico is a hot, sour, and orange sugar-like powder. This is right up Mr. DG's alley as he loves tart flavors, and Pico was a favorite he enjoyed as a kid growing up in the Coachella Valley.

Stoneground and organic Taza Mexican chocolate in pure cacao and cinnamon flavors

Besides the fresh guacamole, mole sauces, and Mexican candies, Cacao carries a number of imported items including Mexican chocolate, sea salt from the Sea of Cortez, Mexican vanilla beans, and organic cacao nibs.

If you are looking for a change of pace from Starbuck's, you can also purchase a variety of coffee and cacao drinks here. The "Azteca" Mocha Latte sounds very interesting: it contains sugar, cinnamon, almonds, chile de arbol and chipotle. Iced drinks, teas, and aguas frescas are also available.

Cacao decor

Cacao is a warm, homey eatery accented by wrestler figurines, masks and Mexican artwork. They serve breakfast; have a happy hour menu; offer daily specials; and serve menudo on the weekends. For those of you who want a stress-free Super Bowl party, order a chips/salsa/guacamole party pack from Cacao. If you need something more substantial, Cacao also offers family packs that include a self-serve taco bar with rice, beans and tortilla chips (serves 4-5 people).

I grew up near Eagle Rock, in neighboring Glassell Park. Eagle Rock has become the offbeat alternative for those who want a more independent feel than the more commercial areas like Old Town Pasadena or the Americana in Glendale. It's nice to see the abundance of unique food and retail that has populated Colorado Boulevard in the past 10 to 15 years. The rejuvenation of this neighborhood has extended to Highland Park, and it'll be exciting to see how Highland Park evolves. I look forward to exploring the areas near my old neighborhood for more delightful food finds that I can share with you!

Cacao Mexicatessen
www.cacaodeli.com
1576 Colorado Blvd. (two doors from Trader Joe's)
Los Angeles, CA 90041
323.478.2791
Tuesday - Saturday 8 AM - 9 PM
Sunday 8 AM -7 PM on menu; 8 AM - 8 PM on Facebook page
Closed Mondays

Cacao is on Facebook (link opens in a new window)

1.05.2010

Shanghai Restaurant - San Gabriel, CA

xiao long bao or special pork steamed buns













































Happy New Year, everyone!  Above are the famous "xiao long bao" or "XLB" that entice foodies from near and far to seek the most delicate and flavorful of the soup-filled dumplings. XLB are a specialty of Shanghai cuisine, and mediocre dumplings are often heavy with a thick skin/wrapper and bland filling. XLB that are done well are savory pillows of ground pork (you can also get it with crab, but I'm a purist and prefer just the pork), with a thin but sturdy wrapper enveloping the filling with a couple teaspoons of brothy, rich soup. These particular XLB are from Shanghai Restaurant in San Gabriel. On the menu, they are simply called "special pork steamed buns."

My parents introduced us to this restaurant about four months ago. The restaurant formerly occupied a smaller, second-story location at what I call the "Great Mall of China," which is better known as the Focus Plaza on Valley and Del Mar. The restaurant became so successful that they moved two doors down to a larger restaurant space. The new space accommodates about 2 to 3 times as many guests, with room for private parties. Before I found Shanghai Restaurant, Mr. DG and I would most often visit Mei Long Village with my parents for our Shanghai food fix. When the owner is working, the food at Mei Long is usually done well. When the owner is not working, the food tends to suffer, including the XLB.

In my own opinion, I have to say that Shanghai Restaurant's dumplings are just a little inferior to Mei Long Village (on a good day).  They aren't terrible, but Mei Long's XLB tend to have a more delicate wrapper and more flavorful filling than Shanghai.

vegetarian duck and pork jelly






We started our meal at Shanghai Restaurant with two cold dishes: a "vegetarian duck" dish made of wheat gluten, with shiitake mushrooms and a sweet and salty flavor; and the other was pork in jelly that  reminds me of something akin to head cheese. Head cheese isn't the most poetic description, I realize. The chunks of pork are encased in jelly and what appears to be part of the pig's skin.  Usually, this would freak me out a bit, but since I grew up eating this dish, I have to say I really enjoy it, suspect parts and all. Dipped in Chinese black vinegar and eaten with shredded ginger, the pork jelly is savory, acidic and aromatic all at once. The vegetarian duck is made of wheat gluten and has a spongy, but not unpleasant texture. It is a sweet and salty dish, accented by the firm shiitake mushrooms, bean curd sheets and gingko nuts.

salty meat and vegetables with rice



Above is the star of the show (for me), described on the menu as "Salty Meat and Vegetables with Rice." It's rice cooked in an earthenware pot with bites of ham and green vegetable. The vegetable reminds me of bok choy in texture. This dish is delicious, even though it's a bit oily. The saltiness of the ham flavors and permeates the rice and vegetable, creating a appetite-stirring aroma. The best part of the dish, for me, is the crunchy, darkened bits of rice that are stuck to the bottom and sides of the pot. The crunchy little nuggets are positively addictive.

sauteed water spinach with garlic and mixed delights in casserole


I specifically request an all-vegetable dish when dining out with my parents so I can feel like I got a little bit of fiber with my meal. Otherwise, it'd just be an all-protein-fest. We ordered the sauteed water spinach with garlic, and it was crunchy, garlicky and had good "wok hay" or "breath of the wok." Water spinach does not get soft when cooked, unlike "regular" spinach. The hollow stems of the water spinach stay crisp. The mixed delights in casserole was a bit bland. I've had this at other restaurants, and the broth should be well-seasoned. This one was not, unfortunately. The mixed delights included napa cabbage, cellophane noodles, squid, shrimp and pork meatballs. I would not order this again at Shanghai Restaurant, as there are other tastier dishes to be enjoyed.

spareribs in sweet vinegar sauce and braised fried tofu in spicy brown sauce


Gosh, it seems like we ate like pigs at this meal, doesn't it? There were  only five of us but we had nine dishes. Wow. I still have two dishes and the dessert to describe!

The spareribs in sweet vinegar sauce were sticky, vinegary fried bits. The flavor was good, but there was too much bone and too little meat for my and Mr. DG's tastes. I'd say it was about 80% bone, which is great if you like to gnaw (like my mom). Otherwise, this was mostly a tangy, tasty sauce on bits of battered bones. The braised tofu in spicy brown sauce was garnished with whole edamame (soybeans) and wood ear mushrooms. Wood ear mushrooms are thin, almost cartilaginous fungi. They give a crunchy, springy texture to dishes; they do not impart much flavor of their own. I could have taken a bit more heat in the "spicy brown sauce," but it was a decent dish overall, and I enjoyed mixing the sauce into my bowl of jasmine rice.

tang yuan filled with black sesame paste



For dessert, we enjoyed "tang yuan" filled with black sesame paste in fermented rice and wine soup. The yellow bits are dried sweet osmanthus flower. Visually, this might be a bit dull, or even strange-looking. Truthfully, I wasn't that keen on this dish when I was a kid. But as an adult, I now appreciate this Chinese dessert. The soup is served hot, and the tang yuan are made of glutinous rice flour, which makes them slightly chewy. The black sesame filling is nutty, contrasting with the sweet (but not overly so) wine soup. This dessert needs to be experienced in person to fully appreciate the floral notes of its ingredients. If you'd like to try making this yourself, check out Rasa Malaysia's recipe and photos.

Shanghai Restaurant
140 W. Valley Blvd., #212
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626-288-0991
Open 7 days a week: 11 AM - 10 PM
Visa and MC accepted (min. charge $20)
Lunch specials: M-F 11 AM - 5 PM
$4.50 - $6.95, includes steamed rice and soup of the day

Photos taken with the Dishy Goodness camera phone

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