One of the most inspirational people in my mind once said, “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Too Long ; Didn’t Read: I’m providing context to this project because I need you to know that I wasn’t always curious about cooking, and I never paid attention. BUT I started to read more, write down recipes, and forc—encourage my mom to cook, to let me watch and to tell me measurements (because AZN moms/gmas don’t do that, ever). It’s never too late and it’s scary but JUST DO IT, OK? It will be worth it.
(Scroll down if you’d like to get to the recipe.)

Both sides of my family love food. They love eating food, and more importantly, they love cooking food (especially my mom + aunts). I have a lot of memories of my grandma pounding pork with a mortar and pestle to make ruoc, my brother shaping banh bao (with photo evidence somewhere), and big crawfish boils (or is it broils, tell me guys!!!). But honestly, I never paid attention. Step-by-step visuals are vague, but I can tell you exactly how certain dishes should taste (or not taste). I know what pho should taste like or thit kho or mi xao don…but I can’t tell you exactly how to make it. Are you still with me? 

So, the time is college, the place is Austin, Texas — as an Asian American kid, I think when you’re away from your mom’s cooking and Asian food…you develop withdrawals. I wanted some com bo luc lac (aka shaking beef), some pho ap chao (pan fried rice noodle with veg and protein), some banh mi thit nuong…but I had never made it by myself. Of course buying/going out was an option, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Fast forward to present time, the place is San Antonio, Texas. I’ve thankfully had a handful (or two) of people who have encouraged me, inspired me to learn how to cook Vietnamese food…including/especially my mom. My stomach inspires me. Strangers’ comments about how much they love Viet food inspires me. Seeing and eating Viet food inspires me. I hope it inspires you, especially my AZN friends out there. We’re missing out on so much when we walk away from the kitchen while our parents are cooking. Like I mentioned above, you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal and I believe that includes the preparation of the meal.

If you’re reached this part of my post, thanks for sticking around.

Enter “Project Nam Noms,” the beginning of posts like stories from growing up as a Vietnamese American kid, my mom’s voodoo and ultimately recipes that I’ve tried/tested out/loved/maybe hated.

There are a lot of recipes I wanted to start with, but I’m basing this purely on the fact that I have a picture of it. I made this for the first time…a little over a year ago. It’s easy, balanced and a crowd-pleaser. You’ve definitely seen this on a Vietnamese Restaurant menu and I’m picky about how it tastes.

vietnamese shaking beef com bo luc lac

Recipe: Com Bo Luc Lac (AKA Shaking Beef)

Adapted from The Ravenous Couple (which is a GREAT food blog btw!!)

Feeds: 2 people generously, but 4 people realistically
Prep Time: 1 to 2 hours (including marinade time)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Family style meal, but what Vietnamese dish isn’t?

Note: Please bear with my recipe writing skills…I try to be as thorough as possible but it’s friggin’ hard!

Main Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs beef sirloin (or skirt steak), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small to medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of watercress, keep stems but cut into bite size
  • 2 tomatoes, halved & thinly sliced
  • Cooked white rice

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp minced garlic (Note: I guess and use 2 to 3 cloves)
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (Note: the Red Boat brand is pretty solid, but I grew up with squid one. AZN FRIENDS: tell me what you use!!)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp thick soy sauce
    • To make thick soy sauce (which is essentially a sweet, thick soy sauce and great for many things such as fried rice):
      ¼ cup of water, 1 cup of dark brown sugar, ½ cup of soy sauce
      Bring water to a boil, add your ingredients and stir. Then, stop stirring completely — cook on medium to low heat. Watch it bubble until it gets dark and thick. Then, you done!

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • ½ tbsp salt

Dipping Sauce(s):
Option 1: Juice of lime, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp fresh cracked pepper
Option 2 (my personal preference): Leftover vinaigrette in a dipping sauce dish + cracked pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare by combining your marinade ingredients – garlic, sugar, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, thick soy sauce with beef.
  2. Let marinate for ½ hour to 2 hours.
  3. Prepare quick red onion pickle for salad — thinly slice red onion and 3 to 4 tbsp of vinaigrette, set aside for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Cook rice. I advise you to get a rice cooker.
  5. Prepare your bed of salad — watercress, thinly sliced tomatoes (red onion pickle comes in later) — on a serving platter.
  6. IT’S GONNA GET SMOKY. Heat your pan (we use a large cast iron) over high heat. Add 2 tbsp of cooking oil and when it begins to smoke (KEY: IT’S HOT), add an even layer of beef — allow to sear for ~2 minutes before “shaking” or turning/flipping to cook the other sides. This may take an additional 1 to 2 minutes, it goes pretty fast. Do this in batches if necessary, overcrowding is a no-no.
  7. Transfer beef to bed your salad of watercress and tomatoes. Drizzle 3 to 4 tbsp of your vinaigrette and add your pickled red onions!
  8. Lastly, make your dipping sauce of choice.
  9. La table: serving platter + bowl of rice + dipping sauce = voilà!
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Every new place I’ve gone to in my (adult) life, I had this urge to BE a local, eat like a local, go where the locals go, do what the locals do. However, on my recent trips, I had a stark realization that I am a tourist. (I know what you’re thinking. NO DUH. Hear me out.) No matter how much research I do (from other tourists, btw), no matter what alley I go down (not recommended unless you’re in a group), I will be a stranger coming to a new place. I will be a tourist in the place I go because that place is not my home. As much as I want to be where local people are, I will inevitably be where tourists are too.

But that’s okay.

I want to see the Eiffel Tower,
I want to eat at Noma,
I want to go to Ha Long Bay,
and so many more things that you will consider “touristy”.

There is a reason why people flock to places and make it that way. It’s because it’s beautiful, highly-regarded and worth seeing (except Time Square, but also I’ve seen it and maybe it’s why I say that. Sorry to call you out, NYC).

Recently, I went to Yosemite National Park for the first time. It is one of the most touristy national parks I’ve been to, but damn, it is beautiful. I ate the expensive cafeteria food, I bought postcards, I did the hikes, I was among tourists (and locals! or frequenters?) and it was great. I would definitely recommend it, I’m definitely coming back to visit and hike it again. I will be a tourist the next time I come with just a little bit more knowledge than before, but a tourist regardless.

We are all touring an unfamiliar land at one point or another, why not throw up that “double peace sign” pose every once in awhile and live life a little (touristy)?

thu texas

It me.

So…I just found out the month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; and while I’m not a fan of the “Eat Whatever You Want” Day / “National Pickle Day” days (or months), this one’s pretty important to me. Only the last couple of years has this feeling become especially impactful* in my life.

(This is going to sound rhetorical and stupid.) I’ve grown up Vietnamese my whole life. I’ve eaten what’s placed in front of me (most likely rice or noodles), done my fair share of “chuc” during Tet, and I never asked many questions about my heritage. I never needed to; it’s usually told at me.

I listened to my parents/relatives/teachers/Vietnamese strangers tell me what it means to be Vietnamese…I’ve heard the “boat people” story a million times over, and I’ve actually gone to classes for Vietnamese. I had a general sense, and that was enough for me (at the time). However, it is truly only a few years ago that I’ve taken it to heart. It’s like I woke up and realized, “Shit, this is important. This food is good and not just average. I should probably remember how this food was made, where it comes from, why my parents came to America and where I came from.” (This feeling might have started during my undergrad years when I was lacking Vietnamese food in my life and didn’t know how to cook it myself.)

I’ve woken up because of the people around me, and the people I encounter at the grocery store or coffee shop. They’ve gone beyond the frequently asked question, “Can you say something in Vietnamese?” (The answer is yes, but it’s so I can talk about you in another language.) They’ve asked me deeper questions about where and why and how…and I didn’t know these answers. I’d have a vague answer or say, “I don’t know, it’s just always been this way.” I still don’t know all of the answers, but I’m slowly learning. Whether that’s through cooking or research or asking my parents myself, I’m learning (again). I don’t know if many Asian Americans have had this experience, but I felt compelled to tell a little schpiel. I’ve definitely taken homemade pho for granted. Or should I say pho-granted? (I’ll stop.) (Spoiler Alert: I don’t have many Asian American friends and I can’t stop the food puns.)

I’ve also woken up because I’ve seen more “Cafe Sua Da” at non-Asian shops, reinterpretations for Banh Mi and people asking me where my favorite pho shop is. (The answer is Home.) What seemed so normal and average to me seemed like a discovery to others. When thit nuong seemed to be a staple of family parties is almost a treat now. With this slow learning, I’m entering this discovery process too. From a different perspective, I think, but definitely with perspective. I try and not take it for granted. Instead, I try to take it and appreciate it. Maybe even elevate it (in regards to food, and it will definitely take time). I want to do my parents proud, my grandparents proud and my heritage proud.

I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t know where her food comes from, why we have tea ceremonies on the morning of a wedding, or why there is liquor on every table at a Vietnamese wedding. (The last one…I actually have no idea and if you know, holla at yo girl. I figure this was cost-effective and well, Asian people like to drink one thing aka cognac.)

Before this sounds like dribble (because I may or may not have written this while drinking), I wanted to celebrate and toast to my heritage. It’s not often I do this in writing…or at all. I’ve tried to show it to others in conversation and food (the best education there is), but I wanted to write something. I’m proud to be an Asian American. A Vietnamese American. It’s truly a blessing. Who knows how long it would have taken me to discover the amazing-ness of Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng (with pâté, obvi) or Chao Tom or Bánh Chung or Cha Chien…this list could go on…

Wow, okay so it’s been a hot minute seven months since I’ve written my last post. And I can give you many-a-excuses as to why I haven’t been writing, but I will only give you one: I thought I lost all creative sense for writing. I still briefly feel that way, but with my one small stroke of inspiration, I’ll attempt. There may or may not be some (Houston) liquid courage involved…**

I’m writing about how I feel about Houston, Texas. The 713, 281, HOU, HTX, Clutch City, etc. The city has many (debatable) names. I’m writing about how I miss it.

YERP. I miss it for a multitude of reasons even though I’m in the city I’ve wanted to be in for nearly two years. The reasons that kept me from moving are the reasons I miss it (of course):

  • The people
  • Supper club
  • The [diverse] food
  • The Vietnamese grocery stores
  • The Heights and its esplanades
  • Some dude I have my blinders on for, whatever

This seems like a short list, but you’d be surprised of its impact. I mean, the whole lack of Vietnamese grocery stores (yes, I know about MT) could be a whole blog post itself. Yes, I’ve only been here a month and I know it takes time (ugh). I’m keeping an open mind, I promise. However, if you ask me, ask anyone, don’t you find Austin different than what you remember when you visited last? You can’t deny its growth. I mean, look at the new medical school on Red River…or the multiple complexes that have popped up on the east side (where it was once scary AF).

All in all, I’m saying something my thoughts will probably change again…because it happens. Change happens. (Gosh, Thu, what a revelation you had…) Houston will change, Austin will change. Heck, Dallas is probably changing (but who cares as long as the State Fair is still there?). This post is my appreciation and apology to Houston, its people and its food. How did you wedge yourself into my heart?

Recently, while driving in the rain I thought about Houston like this:
You’re like dry socks on a rainy day. (Caveat: I’m not very good at analogies, but go with it.) My friend, Eric, always told me to have a pair of extra dry socks, especially in Houston weather. There’s nothing like putting on dry socks after running from a flooding parking lot to your dry location. It’s kind of amazing. I guess what I’m saying, Houston, is that you’re amazing. When I have those “rainy days,” I’m glad I can look back and put on those dry socks and think of 8th Wonder Brewery, Coltivare, supper club and Viet Hoa (among many, many other things you have to offer).

Cheers to you Houston, but not to your traffic. I will see you again soon. Thanks for being those dry socks.

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Thank you for my reminder, JT.

**Drinking a 11th Below ‘Oso Bueno’ beer

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Missing. What a wonderful feeling. Or, horrible feeling.
It’s all about context.

It’s wonderful because you miss something/someone so much that it hurts, but at the same time wonderful. It’s a sign of true missing. It’s not filler. It’s not unauthentic. It’s real, and it’s visceral. It’s an aching feeling that can only be fulfilled when it/they come back. I say “it/they” because it can be your favorite tv show, your favorite YouTube channel, your favorite jeans or person.

It’s horrible…because it’s an aching feeling that can only be fulfilled when whatever you miss comes back. It’s even more horrible when you know that it/they can’t come back. When that show you love so much has ended, that YouTuber has decided to stop making videos, that company stops making jeans or person is no longer here.

What a juxtaposition. It’s confusing. How can you miss something or someone and feel so wonderful and so terrible, simultaneously?

I bring this up, because I feel this way currently. A simultaneous feeling of happiness and sadness, wrapped so closely that I can’t sort it out. What do people say? “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” Winnie the Pooh said that…or his maker, A. A. Milne.

It’s true, isn’t it? How lucky are we to have something that makes saying goodbye? Even if it’s heart-wrenching…for a couple of days, weeks or even years. What I’ve realized and preached, is with some time, the feeling dissipates. Sounds insensitive, but that’s how we process and move forward. Breakups, loss of life, loss of tv show (not to trivialize the former two).

This was mostly a process, stream-of-consciousness-type post. To get through how I’m feeling and to…eventually move forward. I do feel lucky. You should feel lucky if you ever come across this feeling, too.

Remember: It’s about context. And it takes some time.

It’s 5:30 AM, and this…could be a terrible blog post.

I’m really not a person to wake up in the middle of the night. Nor am I the person who wakes up every hour, on the hour. Nor am I the person who decides that 5 AM is as good time as any to wake up for a full day of work…and write a personal blog post.

But that’s what you do sometimes. When you know your brain is rattling, and if you don’t get thoughts out, that it might actually be bad for your health. This doesn’t happen often, it’s not a stroke of genius, by any means — but you can’t ignore it. At least, I feel like I can’t.

So I’ll put myself on a time constraint because after this, I actually have to get ready for work.

Work.

It’s been my life lately (sort of). Transitioning back to full time work hasn’t been difficult in the sense that I feel like I’m drowning…it’s just been difficult. When you’ve become used to a certain lifestyle (or developed a habit), other things fall to the wayside. For me, it’s been my creative hobbies…such as your writing. It’s been difficult in the sense that I don’t feel compelled, or even inspired to write anything. Because the majority of my work is writing, I feel burnt out by the time I get home (and that’s on a good day). I feel the same way about social media. You guys know that I have my reservations, but I love social media. It’s also been part of my professional work for…forever. Lately, it’s also fallen to the wayside. I’ll get on here and there, but it’s no longer this priority? (I’ve even turned off Notifications because I feel so indifferent about it.) And while that may sound like a good thing to you… it’s been ingrained in me for so long. When I feel like it’s leaving my person/habits, I FEEL LIKE IT’S NOT ME. I’m asking myself, “WHO AM I?” Does that make sense? It sounds so silly… I promise this has a[n] good ending.

So, then we watched this video (below) at my work’s weekly team meeting. Andrew Stanton, for those of you who do not know, worked on films such as John Carter, Finding Nemo…Wall-E…Toy Story — ever heard of those?

I took notes that reside on my desk now:

“Make me care. Life is NOT static. Stories are inevitable, not predictable. WONDER. Send jokes to Andy.”

— the last bit was a reminder for myself.

Sometimes, I forget about TED talks. Most times, it’s because I’m watching dumb YouTube content like “You Suck At Cooking,” which isn’t actually dumb…it’s actually very creative. ANYHOW, this video struck me like a chord.

  1. b/c it’s Andrew Stanton. Anyone from Pixar, really. You know it’s going to be good
  2. “Make me care” is what anyone aspires to do when they’re telling a story, right? It sounds so obvious…but not until someone else points it out is when you feel like they’ve told you some sort of secret
  3. Life is not static. Are you kidding me, I literally have that written in my About Me section
  4. WONDER. Everyone seeks that (conscious or not). I remember feeling that way when I first watched UP. Or when my brother tells me what he did at work. Or when my roommate tells the shit out of a work story. Or when my best friend tells me…anything.
  5. The moments that he remembers, bringing him to where he stands today
  6. Woof, he knows how to tell a good story. Amirite *sob*

All’s to say is that TED talk was what I needed (for now). A cup of refreshment. Something to lift my spirit, a break in the monotony, a note that says, “Keep going. Make me care.” We all strive for greatness, and as long as it finds you working — it will come.

I think, don’t quote me on that.

 

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Too dramatic? 

So I sit here again, at my computer with a cup of coffee. This is usually how it goes, we both know this by now.

What’s on my mind today? A lot of things. A lot of moving parts, a lot of flux – but again, we both should know this by now.

Here on Thu’s News, this just in: she has a new job. And typing this out gets me teary-eyed. (DID NOT SEE THAT ONE COMING.) Yes, I accepted a new job. Yes, I left what is “the dream job.” Yes, it was absolutely my choice. Why am I sad? Because I’m an emotion investor.

What does that f*cking mean? I made it up. It was “emotional investor” until about 2 seconds ago when I decided to delete that last bit. I invest in emotions, mostly my own (because I’m the proprietor of those said emotions). Or maybe I’m a broker. If I explain it, can someone tell me if I’m an investor or a broker?

In every job that I’ve ever had, I’ve invested quite a bit of emotion into it. Good and bad. Sadness and happiness. Everything in between. Whether it was in my actual day-to-day duties, clients or my teammates- emotion was poured into it. How much did I invest? Depends on the return, OBVIOUSLY. Teammates are probably the largest invested group. You see them (or communicate) with them for a large part of your day. If you’re lucky, your teammates are the ones that are in the trenches with you and can pick up slack. And if you’re super lucky, they’ll accept the GIFs you send them, play pranks and they’ll have a beer (or 5) with you…even if you’ve left that place of work.

WHICH IS WHEN THEY’VE BECOME YOUR FRIENDS, and that’s a whole ‘nother chunk of investment. Am I actually replacing the word ‘commitment’ with ‘investment’? idk

…Where am I going with this? I “had promise of high return,” and thus I invested a lot. Unlike a financial investment, these emotion investments came with strings (i.e. the feels), not just dollars. But like an investor, if something (logistically, and otherwise) comes your way- it’s advisable to invest (right?). It’s extremely conflicting, personally. I had a lot of emotion equity in my last job. Have you felt this way? Am I being too emotionally invested in a job? Probably. But maybe you get it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled about my new job. It’s overwhelming, it’s just the beginning and there are so many things for me to learn. But consider this is an ode to my old job, and the ones that preceded it. Because leaving a job is never easy. Even the ones I didn’t like, it was hard. Why? Let’s all recap: I’m an emotion investor, and I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to invest my emotions so deeply. DAMN YOU ALL. You know who you are. Why can’t we all work in the same place, doing what we want, forever?

Oh yeah, because that’s not how Life likes to work.

We’re actually all emotion investors at our work, whether we see it or not. Think about it. Why would you stay? JUST ‘CAUSE THE DOLLA BILLS? No. Or maybe. I don’t know your life. BYE.