Category Archives: Mexican

Welcome to Shanghai


Finally the day had arrived — We were on our way to China!  After giving each other enthusiastic high fives, Collin and I packed up his truck (we had 6 pieces of luggage including our carry ons) and headed to DFW airport around 5 in the morning.  Thankfully we had a good friend who agreed to take us (Thanks Cyrus!) or else it would’ve been quite the debacle packing all of our stuff into a taxi.

The night before I prepared plenty of food for the plane, because if there’s one thing I remember about these long flights is the terrible terrible food.  Airplane food is a mystery on it’s own, you never know what you’re eating and whether it is meat, salad or dessert — it all strangely tastes the same: it’s either overly salty, horribly preserved or just plain bad.

I decided to bring along some wheatberry salad with broccoli, zucchini, red bell peppers, arugula and cranberries and topped it off with some crumbled hard boiled egg.  I also brought along some guacamole and pre-sliced all of the ingredients so it’d be easy to assemble at the airport/plane.  Plenty of fresh fruit, granola bars, almonds and Haribo gummies were stuffed in my purse in case we needed a snack along the way. 🙂  Don’t judge me, being on a 14 hour flight, the last thing I’d want to deal with is bad food and feeling hungry the entire time.  Hungry zhang = grumpy zhang.

This trip was a huge deal for me, it’d be my first time traveling to Shanghai on my own.  I guess I never realized how dependent I was on my parents for Chinese.   Over the years my Chinese had evolved into “Chinglish”, my Chinese would sometimes require English as fillers for the vocabulary I had forgotten.  I suddenly felt regretful.  Crap.  I don’t even know how to say “engineer” in Chinese, how am I suppose to explain what Collin does?  I was intensely furrowing my brow when Collin patted my hand — “Hey you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine.  Just nervous.”

Our flight route was interesting.  We left from Chicago’s O’Hare airport and flew over Siberia where I captured some really cool shots.  I couldn’t help but be completely awestruck by the strange scenery — I’ve never seen anything like it.  The images almost looked like it came out of Lord of the Rings (okay that was dorky).

A long nap and a few movies later, we finally arrived in Shanghai.  The minute we stepped off the plane it was evident we were no longer home.  The airport seemed massive, swarming with Asian people, mostly Chinese I’m sure.  I felt at home yet like a stranger at the same time.  All the signs were now in Chinese (which I am unable to read btw) with shoddily written English translations underneath.

My uncle (I call him Jiu-Jiu) was picking us up and after we grabbed all of our luggage we went out to find him.  I searched through the crowds of people thinking to myself “How to hell am I going to find him?” when suddenly I heard a familiar voice “Xin-xin!”.  There was Jiu-jiu with wide eyes as he took one look at our massive amounts of luggage — “WOW, you guys brought ALOT.”  I blamed this on my mother, seeing that one luggage was packed full of presents for the family and the other was packed full of William”s books and shoes…

We had to step aside and think of a logical solution for transporting all of our luggage back home.  As we went out to search for a taxi, all the drivers looked on with hesitation.  I could completely see their minds going “Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me!”  Finally a driver agreed, but not before exclaiming “Jesus Christ, I have never seen two people with more luggage.  Did you guys pack your whole damn house with you?”  I couldn’t help but laugh.  So with half of the suitcases packed into the back of a small early 90s Jetta and then carrying the rest on our laps, we were finally on our way to Jiu-Jiu’s house.

Pictured above is actually the alleyway of my grandmother’s house at the intersection of Tian Ping Lu and Guang Yuan Lu.  My Jiu-Jiu lives at the intersection of Heng Shan Lu and Yu Qing Lu — they are literally within walking distances of each other so I’d always walk to my grandmother’s in the morning to give her her daily dose of hugs and kisses.

The energy of Shanghai is undeniable.  There are people running around EVERYWHERE.  I thought New York was busy but Shanghai brings it to a whole new level.  All around us there were cars honking, our taxi driver was weaving in and out of traffic like we were in an action film during a high speed chase.  There were highrise buildings everywhere yet also buildings that have been around for awhile — a mixture of the old and the new.  The streets were heavily congested with all different means of transportation: mopeds, cars, wheelbarrows?? and lots and LOTS of bicycles.

When we finally arrived Jiu-jiu’s house I was happy to find they had an elevator, or else I might’ve ripped my hair out carrying all of our suicases up several flights of stairs haha.  As we walked up to Jiu-jiu’s door there was Jiu-ma waiting for us with a huge smile on her face and warmly greeted us.  She pulled me aside and said “Xin xin are you still able to speak and understand Chinese?”  Thanks to the phonecalls my mother and I have several times a week has prepared me for this moment “Jiu-ma I can definitely speak and understand Chinese the only one who’s out is Collin.” (This entire conversation took place in Chinese btw as Collin looked on with a blank smile upon his face)

But do not worry, being the sharp fellow that he is Collin picked up Chinese quite easily while we were there.  To the point where even natives were impressed by his SHANGHAINESE, but I will save that story for another time 🙂  Once we unpacked all of our things and ate dinner, Jiu-ma arranged for us to take a night ferry tour of Pu Dong and Pu Xi so we were able to see all the wonderful lights of Shanghai’s skylines.

It was very cold and foggy that night, so I was unable to capture great shots of the night scenary.  The ferry was also moving at quite the fast speed so many of the photos came out blurry, shucks.

But after a 24 hour journey we were finally here, Shanghai, my second home.  I was excited about all the adventures she had to offer and was happy that this time Collin was with me.  I was ready with open arms to experience all that is Shanghai — stay tuned for glorious dimsum, an introduction to my family, and more photos capturing the everyday life of the people in Shanghai.

Holy Guacamole!


It’s crazy how fast time goes by when life becomes so busy you lose count of the days.  In just a blink of an eye, March is here, Spring has begun and I am on my way to Shanghai.  I can’t begin to express the utter excitement I am feeling now. I realize the older I become, the more I want to learn about the culture that I come from.

I realize the beauty of my original home, it seems that every time  I go back I grow to love it more and more.  I definitely had an adverse reaction when I went for the first time when I was 12.  Maybe it was the “awkward teenager” stage where everything sucks but I thought Shanghai was dirty, stinky and the people were rude, especially in traffic.  My second time I went back with my mom when I was a freshman in college.  I became much more immersed in the culture and felt more comfortable just being around the city.  I also randomly bumped into one of my close friends David (Hey Da ge!), while I was shopping with my mother in Cheng Huang Miao.  Funny story is, neither of us knew we would be in Shanghai then — all I heard was a familiar voice say “Joy??” The minute I saw him I started screaming and hitting him with excitement (his mother probably thought I was crazy) but I just couldn’t believe my eyes!  Truly, what a small world!!   We later met up and went to a bar, and at the time I felt super cool being  able to roam the city at night (by myself!), not only hanging out with people my age but being able to drink at bars (the drinking age was 18).  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a Paris Hilton kind of night but we definitely had our fun dancing to ridiculously mixed American pop music and laughing at all the awkward dance moves.

I have a feeling though, this trip will be one of the best ones yet.  I will be spending a lot of time in Shanghai, eating my way through the city, shopping until Collin cuts me off and learning more about where I originally come from.   I feel as I reach my mid 20s I have a sudden struggle for a sense of identity — a groove in life that I can fit in, understand and be comfortable.  As my friend puts it, your mid to late 20s is the “Junior High of Adulthood” and it’s true.  My god is it confusing sometimes.

All throughout college I felt completely lost.  I hated my major, I didn’t enjoy the stupid prerequisite classes, yet for some reason I felt I had to stick to it.  And I realize now, it’s because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.  I mean they are the two people I look up the most to, all I’ve ever wanted to do in life was to make them proud and happy.  They had held my hand tightly until I left for college and the entire transition was confusing.  It wasn’t until I finally graduated, it dawned on me– What am I doing here? Am I really about to commit 8 years of my life doing something I’m not sure I even like? AM I CRAZY?!!!

I think finally telling my parents that I wanted to pursue my passion in food, was one of the scariest moments of my life.  I thought the world was going to explode.  Thankfully, it didn’t.  And yes, they were disappointed.  But finally being able to stand up to them and make such a major decision in my life has really set me free.  One of the most important things I’ve recognized is that my parents are human (not superheroes like I thought) — they make mistakes, they don’t necessarily have all the right answers, and all they ever want is the best for their child.

I really have Collin to thank for it.  He was the one who pushed me to pursue my passions in life: Art and Food.  Life offers you all the right elements to become everything you’ve ever wanted to be and it’s up to you to make use of the opportunities that are presented to you.  My father’s strong passion for photography and my mother’s love for food has naturally placed me in the spot that I’m in today.  I could eat, shoot and write about food for the rest of my life, and not have it feel like work.  Perhaps it’s not the practical route in life, but I never thought life was meant to be easy.

I am packed and ready to go for Shanghai — I am eager to see my relatives and my grandma and I can hardly wait to be immersed in the crazy intense beautiful culture that is Shanghai.  Collin has stocked his bag full of antibiotics, anti and pro diarrheals, all topped off with a huge bottle of antacids.  I hope China will be good to him :).  For the 10 days I’ll be there I will:

  • Take engagement pictures
  • Make Collin a couple suits
  • Visit Wu Xi where my grandparents are originally from
  • Make my wedding gown
  • Go shopping for gifts
  • Visit Hang Zhou and see Xi Hu and visit tea plantations
  • Hug and kiss grandma every day 🙂
  • Eat, eat and oh yeah more eating…
  • A ferry tour at night of Wan Po River
  • Hitting up a couple local bars at night
  • Checking out and eating famous soup dumplings at Cheng Huang Miao
  • And too many other activities that my mom made me write down but I’m too lazy to type out, ha!

Since Shanghai probably won’t have Guacamole, I thought this would be a nice, simple recipe to share.  No cooking necessary, only six ingredients and it only takes like 10 minutes to make! The best part is, everyone freaking loves guacamole, so this makes the perfect pot luck item or perfect dinner appetizer or heck even during sports games and intense wrestling matches.  I uncontrollably yell “HOLY GUACAMOLE” every time I do a taste test when I make a batch of this stuff — partially because I am very silly but mostly because it’s so gosh darn good yall!  Over and out.

Ingredients for (Holy)Guacamole:

(serves 4-5)

  • 3 ripe avocados, pitted and skin removed
  • 2 ripe roma tomatoes, small diced
  • a handful of cilantro, cleaned and finely chopped (omit if you do not like cilantro)
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a mortar and pestle or large bowl.  If you do not own a mortar and pestle you can mash the avocados with a fork or potato masher.  Thoroughly mix the ingredients — if it needs more acid add more lime, a little at a time, same goes for salt.  Place in large bowl and serve with tortilla chips.  If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate.

You can also use Guacamole on sandwiches, salads, meats and use it for dips for pita wedges, pretzels, crackers, etc.  I actually use guacamole to make my chicken sandwiches so it omits the mayo — avocado has a nice creamy consistency that contains heart-healthy monosaturated fats so its a lot better for you.


Trio of Salsas – Roasted Tomatillo, Spicy Habanero, and Pico de Gallo


Before I start, I’d like to take a moment of silence for my beloved dog, Gogo.  He was put down today due to a failing heart– he was 12 years old.  He was not only the best dog in the world but my best friend as well.  I’ve had him since I was 13 and literally took him everywhere I went til I moved out for college at 18.

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He never failed to make me laugh with the way his tongue never fit in his mouth, or how he was a vicious little shit for something that only weighed 10 pounds ( I am pretty sure he’s taken a bite out of the majority of my friends).  But most importantly of all, he was my best companion and has been there for me through thick and thin.  He knew when I was sad, he would lick away my tears and give me a look of ” everything will be alright” .  He always gave me the best greetings when I came home, he’d hop on his hind legs and yap as loud as he could, barely being able to contain his excitement.  He was probably my biggest fan.  I will miss you Gogo and I know you are happy in Heaven.  Thank you for being my best friend for all these years — for making me laugh and smile, for melting away any anger or sadness, and for understanding me when no one else did.  I love you.

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I just came back from a wonderful camping trip this weekend, I will be doing a post on it soon.  I prepared a bunch of salsa to bring since it is easy to eat and take a long.  I made three types – Roasted Tomatillo, Spicy Habanero and your traditional Pico de Gallo.  I actually learned all three of these recipes while working in restaurant kitchens from my fellow Hispanic coworkers.  These go great with chips or on top of some breakfast tacos or eggs in the morning.  You can control the spiciness of the salsa by the number of peppers you add in — my fiance and I are capsaicin masochist so we enjoy making it EXTREMELY spicy but for the recipes I have cut down the number of peppers so my readers will not complain about extreme heartburn and other spicy surprises that come hand in hand with spicy food.  O_O

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A few things you should know about peppers:

  • For fresh peppers, choose ones that are firm and bright to dark green in color, avoid any bruises.
  • For dried peppers, pick ones that are flexible and do not crumble when you squeeze them in your hand and ones that are uniform in color (red to reddish dark brown).
  • The capsaicin is stored mostly in the seeds and the ribs of the peppers, so if you are not a big fan of spiciness but still would like the flavor of the peppers, remove as much of the seeds and ribs as you can.
  • Some peppers will develop “corking”, or small stress stripes on the skin– (i.e.Jalapenos, Habaneros) this means they are ripe and ready to use.

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Ingredients for Roasted Tomatillo:

  • 8-12 tomatillos, quartered
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced
  • 3 serrano peppers, rib and seeds removed
  • 1 jalapeno, rib and seeds removed
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 lime squeezed
  • salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

For the Roasted Tomatillo salsa, take a large roasting pan and line with foil or parchment paper.  Coat the tomatillos and garlic evenly with the oil and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and carefully empty the contents, juices and all, into a blender.  Blend on high with garlic, onion, cilantro, and peppers.  Add lime juice and salt to taste.

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Ingredients for Spicy Habanero:

  • 1 cup Japanese dried chiles
  • 1 cup dried Ancho chiles
  • 4-6 medium sized tomatoes, quartered
  • 6 cloves  garlic
  • 4 habanero chiles, ribs and seeds removed
  • 2 serrano chiles, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt to taste

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Pre-heat oven to 400F.

For the Spicy Habanero salsa, take a large roasting pan and line with foil or parchment paper.  Coat the tomatoes and 4 cloves of garlic evenly with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes.  Boil water in large pot.  Heat a large saucepan at medium heat and toast the dried chiles with the remaining garlic, about 5 minutes. (This helps bring out the smokiness of the salsa) Reduce the heat if chiles start burning,  be careful not to burn the chiles too much or it will make the salsa bitter.  Immediately take the toasted chiles and place in the boiling water for 5 minutes, this process rehydrates them.  Remove from heat and pour contents into blender.  Add additional peppers, cilantro and sugar and blend on high.  Add salt to taste.

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Ingredients for Pico de Gallo:

  • 4-5 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 serrano peppers, minced
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lime, freshly squeezed
  • salt to taste

Mix all of the chopped ingredients in a bowl and marinate in lime juice, at least 15 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

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You can always adjust the spiciness and saltiness of the salsas to your personal preference.  If you like thicker salsas you can add more tomatoes or peppers and if you like thinner salsas simply add more water.  These are really simple dips to make for large dinner parties, or in my case, a camping trip.  🙂