Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Zhuang people in Jiuzhai, Sichuan China

The one thing about Louisiana is that I miss the mountains so much. As I mentioned in a previous post, I got to spend a few weeks in Sichuan last summer. One leg of the trip was to Jiuzhaigou, Valley of Nine Fortified Villages, located at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau at about 4000m above sea level. High altitude living indeed. The air is more crisp, fresh, and absolutely rejuvenating. 

One ethnic minority group that lives in this region are the Zhuang. They are actually the same ethnic minority as Tibetans and share the same language and culture. The Zhuang people here are mountain people. Those that still decide to live traditionally herd their yak and invite people to their homes to share their rich culture. Being mountain people, they are naturally sky people as well. Their dead are offered to the sky, their heirlooms are tian zhu, "pearls of heaven*," and the winds of the mountains fluttering the prayer flags endlessly send their devotion towards the open skies. Spinning prayer wheels is another ritual that Zhuang people practice to continuously chant the sutras. They claim that they are simple people though, for they love living close to the skies, herding, and singing. 

At this family's home, I was able to try the original bulletproof tea. Yak butter is served with their hot tea for a sharp savory tea with cream. Not much grows at such high altitude, so vegetables are not as prominently featured as their stewed and smoked yak. However the highlight of the meal was the rich broth that the stewed yak was served with. It was soothing and warm and went well with the live performance of their operatic singing. 

*Tian zhu / "pearls of heaven"are mysterious stones that are designed by divine 
means. They collect positive energy and provide the beholder with health and 
fortune. The more you meditate, the more transparent the stone becomes. 
They are worth fortunes and are currently a commodity in China. Especially 
the original ancient red-colored stone ones are finite. Even the goverment are 
buying them up from locals to sell to domestic tourists to meet demands.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Creole Tomato Festival, Homemade Marinara Sauce, and Caprese Salad

This past weekend was the annual Creole Tomato Festival at the French Market! There were plenty of tomatoes for sale and I also go to try some tomato, strawberry, and bell pepper sorbet. After telling my grandma about the festival, she suggested that I make my own marinara sauce. Yes, she has all the secret chef recipes stored in her head. Because tomato sauce is so easy to come by, I have never even considered making my own red sauce (or gravy as they say down here) from scratch. But trust me, once you make your own marinara sauce, canned tomato just won't do it for you anymore!

At the end of last week, my classmate Mallory gave me the largest bouquet of fresh basil from her ever growing garden. I had already made a large batch of pesto with it, but I still had some left, so I stewed my marinara sauce with her fresh basil and tossed together a delicious caprese salad. So here are two recipes with fresh tomatoes and fresh basil.

Creole tomato, strawberry, and bell pepper sorbet


Homemade Marinara Sauce (about 4 cups)
8-10 tomatoes
1/2 cup basil
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. In the meantime, lightly cut crosses on the butt of the tomatoes. Once water is boiling, add all tomatoes into the pot and boil until skin starts to come off. Remove from water and peel off and discard all skin. 
2. In a separate sauce pan, heat olive oil. Crush tomatoes into the pan and bring to a boil on low heat.
3. Mix in the basil and allow to simmer for 2-3 hours. 

Use this sauce as a base. Try sauteeing with garlic and fresh herbs or vegetables when reheating sauce. Freeze any sauce you don't use for next time!

Tossed Caprese Salad (serves 4)
1 cup fresh bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 cup arugula 
1/2 cup basil, minced 
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch brown sugar 

1. In a small bowl, mix together garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and brown sugar to make the dressing. 
2. Toss together bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, and arugula in a large bowl. 
3. Drizzle dressing onto the tossed salad and serve immediately. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cowbell & Port of Call, Burgers in New Orleans

After much discussion about where to get the best burgers in New Orleans, I dropped by Cowbell for their organic grass fed beef burger. I was never really a french fry person, so I opted for a side of mixed vegetables instead, which were so garlicky and delicious. The burger I must’ve finished in about a few minutes because I was starving and it was hitting the spot. I used all the homemade ketchup and tried to take it easy with their a-go-go sriracha mayo aioli. Their grilled potato bun is definitely A1. Definitely a solid burger, but I must say their veggie side stood out more because of how flavorful and fragrant it was. 

I went back to Cowbell a second time recently and ordered what more than enough people have told me was their favorite macaroni and cheese in New Orleans. It's a creamy decadent lobster mac and cheese that was indeed quite delicious, though I must admit I prefer Capdeville's truffle macaroni and cheese as my favorite in the city. Again, definitely order a side of their garlicky herby veggie of the day and enjoy this all with their unsweetened mango iced tea. 

8801 Oak Street
New Orleans, LA


Sometimes you just need a burger fix. Last week before I headed to my night job, I biked over to Esplanade to finally try Port of Call. It's an established divey French Quarter institution known for hefty burgers and large cocktails. All burgers are half pound cooked to your liking and served with a big baked potato. I had the mushroom cheeseburger medium rare with chives and butter on my baked potato. And I ate it all. It was no Paul's, but this will do for my home away from home. 

Tip: They only seat when your whole party is present. I'd bring only a friend or two and grab seats at the bar! 

Port of Call
838 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, LA 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich

A few weekends ago, I finally made it to the Barataria Preserve of John Lafitte National Historical Park. You thought now that I live in Louisiana that you won't get any great outdoors posts, but let me tell you about the swamps down here. Bayou also means "sleeping waters," and out here in the bayou live hundreds and thousands of plants and creatures that make Louisiana swamps distinctly lush and green. The draping Spanish moss, the crooked cypresses, and the murky waters give the bayou a sense of mystique. It draws you, chills you, and hypnotizes you.

After a long walk in high humidity, you definitely need to replenish with a snack. I packed a double decker peanut butter banana sandwich and green grapes, which was perfect to refuel for a second wind. Peanut butter banana sandwiches are one of my favorites. It's sweet, gooey, and will definitely have you smacking your lips. Be sure you have enough water with you!

Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich (serves 2)
3 slices of whole grain bread
1 medium banana
2 tbs peanut butter
ground cinnamon

1. Spread 1 tbs of peanut butter on a slice of bread.
2. Place a layer of banana slices and sprinkle of cinnamon.
3. Place another slice of bread on top and repeat.

✓ whole grains
✓ potassium 
✓ unsaturated fats