I spent the last four days in Chicago for business and had an amazing time! It was nice to see the project I put my heart into for the last several months come into fruition at the conference. It was also so wonderful to catch up with my amazing teammates!  I wish I had more time to see the city, but I’m glad my friend, David, who used to live in Chicago, took us on a short but fun walking tour.

magnolia bakery

Here’s me, David, and Marcus, at Magnolia Bakery, where we picked up some heavenly desserts!

I had banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery with tons of fat last night but I have no regrets about this indulgence. The dessert was out of this world and worth every calorie. You might be tempted to try its cupcakes when you’re at Magnolia Bakery, but please believe me when I said that its banana pudding is 100 times better.

I was able to stay on track food-wise during the trip, with occasional, but minor, exceptions. I ate mostly vegetarian throughout the trip, but it was difficult to resist dairy at times. I’m actually kicking myself for eating three shrimps (from shrimp cocktail) at the House of Blues, especially since they weren’t all that spectacular … eeek. We were served filet mignon with lobster tail (and everyone raved about the dish) one night for dinner but I had tofu instead. I’m actually proud of myself for putting my health before my urge!

It’s nice to be home.

Trip to Mason

I spent the last three days in Mason, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and had a blast. It was so nice to see everyone there!  I didn’t take pictures of most of the things I ate during my business trip, but here are some.

Monday, January 23:

Lunch:  I ate sushi during my layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. I know – it’s crazy to fly across the country to NC and backtrack to OH, but that was the cheapest flight I can find (direct flight from LA to Cincinnati was about $900).eek

Dinner:  After I checked in to the hotel, my friend / colleague Mandy and I want to a neighborhood Asian fusion restaurant, Dao Bistro, for late dinner.

Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomach when we ordered these massive amount of appetizers, between the two of us!

I had Ja Jang Mein, sutamyeon noodle with vegetable and pork serviced with black bean sauce.  This was really delicious!  And it came with a side of takuan (Japanese picked radish) and kimchi.

Tuesday, January 24:

Breakfast:  Super-fattening croissant breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, and mushroom from the hotel.  Kinda regretted eating it afterward … I should have totally gone with a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt … redface

Lunch:  (Not pictured):  Had a pan-fried chicken breast with green apple and fennel salad, with a side of rice pilaf and green beans for lunch.  I couldn’t believe how delicious everything were, especially considering that they came from an office cafeteria!

Dinner:  Dinner at Montgomery Inn with the group.  I had its famous ribs and pork chop combo.  They were so delicious, especially the BBQ sauce.  For snack, we went to Ohio’s own Graeter’s and experienced its divine Black Raspberry Chips and Black Berry ice cream.   I wish I took pictures!

After I returned to the hotel, I had to put in a few hours of work, and I was up until around 3:00 a.m. to get it done.mad I was so mad at first that I had to stay up so late but I felt much better when I found my favorite movie, It’s Completed, on TV!

Wednesday, January 25:

Breakfast:  Breakfast biscuit with egg, ham, cheese, and potatoes.  Another bad choice.

Lunch / Dinner:  Ate a smoked salmon bagel sandwich with low-fat cream cheese, onion, tomato, and capers, at the airport.  I also ate half a bag of Kettle Chips.  The only thing I was able to get my hands on once I was on the plane was the cheese and cracker box … so I spent a hefty $8 on four tiny pieces of cheese, four crackers, two strawberries, and some grapes.

By the way, tonight’s flight home was one of the bumpiest plane rides of my life.eekThe turbulence was so severe, I felt like I was riding a roller coaster!  I heard more than a few nervous screams from passengers.

I could have definitely done better food-wise on this trip.  I’m ready to get back into eating more consciously now that I’m back to a regular routine.  It’s so nice to be home!

Sensory Experience: Vosges Haut Chocolat

I am usually very careful about words that I let out of my mouth. I am a true believer in self-fulfilling prophecy, in that what I say or think, especially negative ones, would actually become a reality. Yet, I made a mistake last week of saying something along the line of not wanting to go on an upcoming business trip, and guess what life threw my way? A cancelled connecting flight and a lost luggage! Now, I’m just so thankful that I, and the luggage, eventually made it to the destination safely, and I am counting my blessings as I sit here and type this post in my comfortable hotel in a very lovely city of Roanoke in Virginia (and YAY, Aarti is going to the Food Network Star finale!).

I also believe in serendipity, a happy accident, that a small, unexpected detour can take one to a very special place. I had an accidental encounter while being bounced around from one terminal to another in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on that hectic morning when I walked by a kiosk for Vosges Haut Chocolat, a Chicago-based designer chocolate shop, created by Le Cordon Bleu grad, Katrina Markoff. I remember seeing something about her and her shop on Food Network many years ago on a show that featured up-and-coming food entrepreneurs so I got very curious when I saw a very tasteful displays of beautifully packaged confections.

I picked up two bars from the Exotic Chocolate CollectionsMatcha Bar with Japanese matcha green tea with deep milk chocolate, and Black Pearl Bar with wababi, ginger, black sesame seeds and dark chocolate. I found it so cute that there are instructions on how to enjoy the bar: see, smell, snap, taste, and sense.

I didn’t think anything of it when I purchased those bars initially, assuming that they would be just another overpriced designer candy bars. I simply put them in my bag and continued with my business. After walking around aimlessly in the nation’s largest airport, I sat down, broke off the piece of the matcha bar (I was ready for a snack), and popped it in my mouth … and the rest was nothing short of magic. If you have seen the movie, Ratatouille, I’m sure you remember the scene when Ego, the food critic, took the first bite of Remy’s ratatouille. The flavors took him back to his childhood, where his mother made him the delicious homemade French vegetable stew that made all the bullying and sadness in his life go away. I felt a little bit like that when I took the first bite of the bar, that the frustrations of all the walking, the red-eye flight, and the unexpected canceled flight faded away, and felt like everything was going to be okay. I can truly say that I was saved by Vosge’s deep, relaxing, subtle yet intoxicating chocolate.

I think chocolate should be exactly that – not just a sugary snack, but an experience that would transport us to a beautiful place where nothing negative exists. With the chocolate from Vosges, I was suddenly ready to take on the world (and those customer service agents at the United Airlines counter — bring it!).

Relaxing at Chancellor’s in Indy

There is a hotel in Indianapolis where I like to stay when I’m there on business. It’s in a convenient location very close to downtown, and the food here are pretty darn delicious, especially its carrot cake. I actually look forward to an Indy trip because of it!

So you can probably imagine my disappointment when I found out that the hotel recently stopped serving the cake at the downstairs restaurant, as well as for room service. None of the servers knew the exact reason why the head chef decided to pull the cake from the menu, but I was tempted to talk to the chef directly and beg him / her to bring it back!

Well, the good thing is that other items on the menu are still worth getting excited over. On one of our free nights, three of my friends / colleagues and I went to Chancellor’s, an upscale but affordable restaurant, located inside the hotel. It was a perfect place to unwind from the busy day at work, without worrying about driving to the city.

I started the night with a piece of fried biscuit with what tasted like an apple butter …

… followed by Fillet, a char-grilled beef tenderloin with lobster and chive potato puree (delicious). My friend / colleague K ordered the same dish and we loved it!

My colleague B ordered the Thai Shrimp Salad with gilled Gulf shrimp and vegetables with Thai basil vinaigrette …

And D ordered the shrimp cocktail to start, and Risotto, with butternut squash and Mascapone as an entrée.

Working can be tough, especially when you’re away from home, but good food and company definitely make the time less stressful. I could have not asked for a better group of people to share the week-long trip with. Go team!

Dessert for the Soul: Carrot Cake

carrot cakeMy father brought home a whole carrot cake for my 12th birthday and I knew immediately that he no longer loved me. Giving a teenager a cake, especially for her birthday, with bits of vegetable chunks is like passing out boxes of raisins to trick-or-treaters at Halloween. It’s just wrong. And totally not cool.

It was only later that I found out that my father bought me the carrot cake because it was the biggest and the most expensive one he saw in the glass showcase at a local bakery. He wanted me to have (his interpretation of) the best cake possible for my special day.  He must have been so disappointed seeing my face turn sour after opening the pink cardboard box, wishing it were one of those colorful cakes with lots of strawberries on top of the sugary icing. I was too young to appreciate my father’s kind gesture then, as well as the delicate and spicy flavors of a carrot cake.

This must be why I feel warm and protected whenever I have a piece of carrot cake now, like my father is giving me a big papa bear hug (though we’re Asians and we don’t hug … but you know what I mean).  As it turns out, carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting has become my favorite cake of all time over the years, and I enjoy it every time I’m away from home and feeling a little homesick. So it was no coincidence that I ordered a big sliver of the cake when I was in Indianapolis for business last week. I was in Indy for only two nights but I ordered it each night for dessert!

windowOn my second night of the carrot cake indulgence, I invited my coworkers P and J over to my hotel room to enjoy this gigantic, six-layer carrot cake together lying around in bed, and watch So You Think You Can Dance. It was so nice to relax after a long day of work and enjoy the cake with grated carrots and zucchini, a hint of sweet maple syrup, smothered in delicious cream cheese frosting! And the waiter who brought up the cake to the room was so handsome, J was tempted to order another piece just so that he will come back to the room. I didn’t care too much about the waiter, but I would not have minded ordering another piece of the cake. And after we licked the plate clean, I called home to let my parents know that I love them very much.

(A side note:  Above is the picture of Downtown Indy taken from my hotel window. I heard that Michael Phelps was in town for the swimming championship and was staying at the same hotel.  I wish my sister could have been here because she is the biggest Phelps fan!)

Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument

I just cannot get over how beautiful the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument is — standing tall at 284 feet overlooking the city of Indianapolis! (You can read about the history here.)  It is truly impressive!

monument 1

momument 3

momument 4

Indy definitely grew on me and I am sad to leave this city behind as I head home to the sunny Southern California tomorrow morning. The last four days flew by so quickly and I didn’t have a real chance to explore the culture and the rich history of Indy but when I return next month (more traveling!), I will make sure to take some quality time to walk around the neighborhood and enjoy it a little more.

I did take a quick stroll around Downtown Indy to check out the nearby shops and the mall and I even made a new friend!

horse 2

Oh, hello there.

It was quite surreal to see carriages in the middle of office buildings like I was in a fantasy movie or something.  I would have loved to see Hugh Jackman appear, dressed as Leopold.

horse 1

And a big thanks to Qdoba Mexican Grill for its fresh mango salad which helped me get my healthy eating back on track! I feel much better now than I did in Denver, and I even managed to squeeze in a couple runs on a treadmill at three miles each at the hotel gym.

mango salad

I had a wonderful time in Denver and Indy the last two weeks. Although the trip was long, it was certainly worthwhile. I am now looking forward to coming home and finally sleeping in my own bed. I can’t wait to see my boyfriend, family and friends!

Bringing Back the Cocktail Hour!

barI can cross off “attend bartending school” from my “things to do in your lifetime” list, thanks to the fun team-building activity D organized for the five of us tonight at Indy!

We headed over to this little dive bartending school tucked away in a shopping center after work to learn how to make cocktails from an instructor who turned out to be … well … the most unenthusiastic person we’ve ever met (and a prick!). We had to look at each other to make sure that we’re in the right place because we all expected a bartender / instructor to be friendly, social and a burst of energy – characteristics you would think come with the profession – and not, you know, a plain vanilla!

cosmoThe class, however, was pretty interesting and we learned some new things about the art of mixology. Did you know that the only difference between a Martini and a Gibson is the garnish (Gibson is served with three cocktail onions on a pick, and martini, of course, is served with an olive) and four seconds of pouring equals to an ounce?

Each of us had the chance to go behind the bar and make our favorite cocktail. I made Cosmopolitan because it was the prettiest drink (the light pink from the cranberry juice is absolutely adorable). The funny part about standing on the other side of the bar was discovering that everything in bottles were just a colored-water. I guess it’s too expensive to use real alcohol for practice. What you see in the picture, therefore, is not a real Cosmo (the lime slice made out of a cheap sponge should be a giveaway) — but it looks cute, doens’t it?

2 oz. Vodka
½ oz. Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
Splash of Rose’s Lime Juice
Splash of cranberry juice

For aspiring bartenders to pass the final exam, they would have to memorize 100+ recipes so they come up with creative ways of memorizing them. One way to remember the Cosmopolitan ingredients is by using the first letter of each ingredients (V for Vodka, C for Cointreau, L for lime juice and C for cranberry juice) and call it, “V-ery C-lassy L-adies C-ocktail. I know it’s silly but it seems to work!

Although I don’t drink much, this mixology thing got me interested in learning more about cocktails! Maybe a bartending school is in my future … ? Or not.

New City, Renewed Lifestyle: Indianapolis

Hello from Indianapolis 🙂

monumentI arrived to Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon and although it’s already been two full days, I can’t seem to get used to the time difference here. It was funny to depart Denver in the morning and arrive to Indianapolis in the late afternoon, although the flight was a mere two hours. It’s even stranger because it doesn’t get dark here until way past 9:30 p.m. 🙄

The part of the city I’m staying (called Monument Circle) reminds me of Rome, with Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument standing tall and proud. It’s quite a monument, and I saw a couple weddings taking place there on Sunday. I can’t wait to venture out the city … but not just yet. I gave myself a permission to be lazy over the weekend without feeling guilty, and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday in bed, watching Gladiator (I heart Russell Crowe) and reading In Style magazine, and just relaxing – something I’ve been waiting to do for weeks!

I am, however, more conscious about what to eat here in Indy. Refusing to repeat my poor eating patterns and sedentary behaviors that I displayed in Denver, I am eating healthier options and staying more active. I even hit the gym and ran three miles on Sunday (and it felt great)! The real challenge begins tomorrow when I report to the office but I know I can stay disciplined — yes I can 😮

starbucksI had Perfect Oatmeal and Greek Yogurt for breakfast today (I know that Starbucks is not exactly a place for heathy food, but they are much better than breakfast sandwich with eggs and sausages I ate in Denver). I’m proud of myself that I discarded the granola that came with the yogurt and ate only a teaspoon-full of honey, and used only a sprinkle of brown sugar for the oatmeal. I know that I need to be twice as strong to offset the gluttonous days I spent in Colorado but I’m taking it one (oat) meal at a time!