Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get me a bubble tea, pronto!

Anatomy of bubble tea. (Illustration:

As transplants from Southern California, where Asian food is plentiful in variety (Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean, Cambodian -- you get the idea), quality (eat in Los Angeles or Orange County and it's like you never left your mother country), and innovation (LA is the birthplace of Kogi Korean BBQ, for example), I'm having a hard time satisfying my appetite here in Cleveland. Finding an Asian joint that parallels what's readily at hand in OC is nearly impossible. Oh Sam Woo, where are you when I need you?

Xiao long bao, soup-filled dumplings hailing from Shanghai, are highly addictive. Eating them is practically an
art form (tip: bite off the top, let the steam escape, then slurp the soup before you devour the meaty filling). 

These days, my cravings are pretty specific: rare steak pho in Little Saigon, shoyu ramen with vegetables from Mentatsu, Taiwanese tea-flavored pork at Tea Station, xiao long bao (Shanghainese steamed soup dumplings), pad thai and tom kah gai (Thai soup with coconut milk and lemongrass), beef rolls wrapped in green onion pancakes from 101 Noodle Express, and of course my mom's spicy kimchi soon tofu and mouth-watering kalbi (Korean beef short ribs). Geez, I'm getting hungry just writing about it.

You don't know what you'll miss until you can't have it anymore.

But perhaps what I'm hankering most is boba -- also known as "bubble tea," "pearl milk tea" or "boba milk tea." For those of you who don't know (you're still in the Dark Ages), boba is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwanese tea shops in the 80s. These delicious, creamy drinks usually come in two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas or milk-based teas. You can get your bubble tea with chewy tapioca balls, ice blended, and even add exotic flavors like taro, lychee, lavender or jackfruit. My personal favorite is the green milk tea (with or without boba) from TenRen's Tea Time.           

TenRen's Tea Time in New York's Chinatown. You can bet I'll be a regular here! (Photo:

My colleagues at the last place I worked thought I was crazy for liking these peculiar beverages with the weird fat straw. They affectionately called my after-lunch refreshment the "drink with snot balls." But of course, these were friends who considered Flame Broiler's teriyaki chicken "authentic Asian-style food" and didn't realize the culinary treasure that was the food court at Mitsuwa marketplace (just a few blocks from where we worked). I was, however, able to triumphantly convert one of my co-workers into a bubble tea connoisseur. For that, I am thankful. 

In the meantime, while we wait for opportunities to open up in New York City (our final destination), I will channel my inner-Indiana Jones in search of an authentic boba milk tea in Cleveland. Will report back with my findings.     

Wish me luck!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar fashion 2013: You got it right this year, girls

What a difference a year makes. Thank goodness the stylists, hair and make-up gurus, and fashion designers took good notes from last year's yawn-inducing Red Carpet. They more than made up for it with gorgeous, inspired looks from Jessica Chastain's glittery Armani gown to Sally Field's diaphanous Valentino frock. 

Like the Academy did with their Best Picture picks, I chose my top nine. In no particular order, here are my favorites:

jennifer garner in gucci

Purple perfection: The best part of this violet confection of a dress
is the dramatic ruffle in the back. The $2.5 million worth of
Neil Lane jewels don't hurt, either. 

amy adams in oscar de la renta

This de la Renta dress makes Amy Adams look every bit the princess she is. The photo doesn't capture its
magnificence, but the beaded bodice and tulle-embellished skirt is absolutely gorgeous.  

jessica chastain in giorgio armani

Va-va-voom! Jessica Chastain channels Jessica Rabbit in this sexy, sparkly form-fitting Armani gown.
Thank you for getting it right this time, Jess (a welcome departure from the disappointment that was your
ill-fitting Golden Globes get-up -- and I still won't forgive you for that awful center part in your hair!). 

charlize theron in dior haute couture

Charlize, you are God's gift to the Red Carpet.
You are every bit of the glamazon goddess in this white peplum Dior dress.
Clean lines, glowing skin and that million dollar smile. Perfection.

halle berry in versace

I think Halle Berry took the Red Carpet by storm with this show-stopping Versace gown.
I love the Art Deco vibe and how the geometric lines of the dress hugged every curve perfectly.
Cool points for the messy, tousled hair and understated jewelry. Nicely done, Ms. Berry!

kerry washington in miu miu

The soft coral hue and simple lines of this Miu Miu dress reflect
Kerry's fashion personality -- classy, lovely and girly. 

sally field in valentino

I ran into Sally Field once when I was fresh out of college, working on the Disney studios lot.
She's tiny and I almost missed the fact that I was in the presence of Hollywood royalty. But in this
striking candy-red ruffled Valentino gown, she embodies the creative powerhouse that she is.  

octavia spencer in tadashi shoji

Cream bliss: This vanilla Tadashi Shoji dress looks gorgeous on Octavia.
And I love those sexy, smoky eyes and her perfect up-do accompanied
by those perfectly smooth bangs. How do I get mine to do that? 

zoe saldana in alexis mabel couture

Some critics hated this dress. But what I love about Zoe is her willingness to
take a risk. It shows not only in her fashion choices but her roles, as well.
I enjoyed the playfulness of this gown. The ombre-inspired ruffles, the floral
bodice, the belt. Perhaps the bow on the belt was a bit overboard, so sue her. 

The jury's out on the following three dresses. A lot of people liked them. But these are my unfaves

naomi watts in armani prive

I appreciated how Naomi mixed things up. No one else went with the
asymmetrical neckline and gunmetal sequins. Still, I feel like the
dress had a bit of bipolar disorder: "Shall I be a strapless gown with a
sweetheart neckline or a cap sleeve dress?" 

jennifer aniston in valentino

I know Jennifer Aniston is everyone's Red Carpet darling but I'm sorry, this Valentino
number is boring, boring, boring. If I had Jen's hot yoga body, you can be sure I would
be rocking that carpet with something more daring and imaginative. I mean, who in
2013 still wears a strapless dress with banded bodice? So 90s prom.

jennifer williams in dior haute couture

I know, I know. Katniss is on everyone's Best Dressed List. But this Dior Haute Couture
gown screams David's Bridal to me. Maybe it's the weird floral print or the mermaid
fishtail thing. I'm just not feeling it. The only thing I liked was Jen's Chopard
diamond necklace which went cascading down her back. 

Not a lot of unfaves this year. But of course, what's the fun of a Best Dressed article if there's no Worst Dressed roster? 

anne hathaway in prada

Apparently, Anne changed her mind three hours before the Oscar ceremony, opting out of her original choice
(Valentino) for this awful, badly-seamed Prada sheath. I think the Academy needs to send out a dress code memo
like they did for the Grammys -- in this case no, ahem, visible nipples allowed on the Red Carpet.

amanda seyfried in alexander mcqueen

She's only 27, but in this stiff Alexander McQueen dress and with that badly
frosted up-do, Amanda Seyfried doesn't fit the part of young A-list starlet.  

salma hayek in alexander mcqueen

Tacky was the first word that came to mind when I laid eyes on Salma's
Alexander McQueen dress. The black velvet with that gaudy jeweled halter
was just too much paired with that puffy up-do. Sorry Salma, but I expect
more from someone married to a billionaire fashion mogul.

jane fonda in valentino

Jane's lemon yellow Valentino gown with that Xanadu-esque gilded "belt" feels
outdated and uninspired. Ms. Fonda needs to whip her stylist back into shape.

helena bonham carter in vivienne westwood

No surprise Helena Bonham Carter made my Worst Dressed List. I don't
think Helena cares anyway. She doesn't dress for us. I'm having a near
allergic reaction to this Vivienne Westwood gown -- the ruffles of
black, gray and white that make no sense, the boring neckline and
that hair. Please get those strands out of your face!

melissa mccarthy in david meister

Some may think I'm picking on Melissa's David Meister dress because she's not a Size 2.
But that's not it at all. The color is blah, the embroidered detailing on the cuffs and
shoulder is tacky and her stylist went a little too crazy with the Brazilian blowout.
I much preferred her Marina Rinaldi dress from last year's Oscar Red Carpet.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do the jitterbug

William Henry Johnson painted Jitterbugs (III) in 1941.

I discovered the work of William Henry Johnson not long ago and I'm so glad to have met him. An African American painter born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901, Johnson is becoming more widely recognized as one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. And rightly so. 

His paintings -- evolving from realism to expressionism to an indelible folk style -- remind me of Picasso's Cubist period. The geometric shapes, the bold colors, the subjects often transitory and seemingly ordinary. But perhaps most important is how Johnson's work widens the lens of how the Black historical experience has been captured. He often painted witty and poignant scenes of daily life in New York City (jazz musicians, couples dancing the jitterbug, the Harlem Renaissance) to the rural South (black farmers, riverside baptisms, schoolhouse children). His own life is an American drama -- equal parts inspiration (overcoming poverty and a grade-school education) and heartbreak (facing racial prejudice, love lost, mental illness).

One of my favorites: Harlem Cityscape with Church (c. 1939-40).

Born into poverty in the Deep South, Johnson, like so many of his generation, had little education. His mother cooked, ironed and washed for white families. The eldest child, Johnson worked in the fields during the season and helped look after his younger brothers and sisters. His interest in art blossomed as a young child. He copied comic strips and often drew pictures in the dirt. At age 17, Johnson left South Carolina for New York to study art. But he worked as a cook and hotel porter in the city for several years, saving up for tuition.  

He enrolled at the National Academy of Design and steadily made a name for himself, winning several prizes and coming to the attention of teacher Charles Hawthorne, who took Johnson under his wing. Although he was acknowledged as the most talented artist in his class, Johnson was passed over for the most prestigious award -- a traveling scholarship to Europe. Blaming it on prejudice, Hawthorne took matters into his own hands and raised enough money for his student to go to Europe. In 1926, Johnson left New York and boarded a ship for Paris.

Hard work in the scorching sun. Chain Gang, c. 1939.

Johnson flourished in Europe, influenced by the prominent artists of the day including Gaugin and the Expressionist Chaim Soutine. He also met and fell in love with Holcha Krake, a Danish textile artist 15 years his senior. Johnson and Krake traveled together extensively, mainly in Denmark and Norway, where he exhibited widely and produced hundreds of works. Though he enjoyed notoriety and established a strong reputation, financial success often eluded him. 

Fearing the impact Nazism would have on a black artist and his white wife, Johnson and Krake left Europe and moved to New York in 1938. But life was difficult there. He rarely found work and it was impossible to find a sponsor in Depression-Era America. Plus, the couple faced interracial prejudice.

Toward the end of the 1930s and into the early 1940s, much of Johnson's work depicted everyday life of African Americans -- particularly in New York. The most memorable being four paintings of the jitterbug, a dance craze born in Harlem that made its way into American swing culture just before World War II. 

Johnson captures boogie-woogie rhythms of mid-20th century
New York in Jitterbugs (V), c. 1941-42.

With two notable US exhibitions, Johnson may have thought Stateside success would follow. But the country's involvement in WWII turned public attention elsewhere and the untimely death of Krake in 1944 proved to be too much for Johnson. The grief-stricken Johnson began a gradual descent into mental illness. He stopped painting in 1956 and spent the last two decades of his life at Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island, where he died in 1970.

Johnson's life is marked by great happiness and great tragedy. But in my mind, he will always be remembered for the meaningful works of art he presented to the world. Filled with story, song and dance.

(Sources: The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts; Smithsonian American Art Museum; and William H. Johnson by Carol Sears Botsch, University of South Carolina-Aiken)     

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Daddy's little girl

At the center of every little girl's existence: to be loved and cherished by her father.
That doesn't change much. Even into adulthood.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I spy a Grammy

Love + passion = Inspiration.

I was dusting the bookshelf this morning and this was staring at me, beckoning me to hold her. Before I met my father-in-law, I had never seen a Grammy Award up close. Sure, we've all seen them on the Internet and TV and in newspapers and magazines -- the proud recipients clutching that gilded gramophone with joy and elation. But to see one in the living room next to everyday knickknacks and books and trinkets? At the risk of sounding cheesy, it's pretty inspiring holding one of these in your hands (not to mention pretty heavy). It reminds me that love and passion coupled with belief and hard work can lead to unimaginable opportunities and fulfilled dreams.

Peter Salaff won this Grammy 17 years ago for Best Chamber Music Performance with the Cleveland QuartetAs one of the world's leading string quartets for more than two decades, Dad and his fellow bandmates were quite the rock stars of the classical music world. From Paris, Tokyo and the former Soviet Union to festivals in Salzberg and Berlin -- and even a private recital at President Jimmy Carter's White House, my father-in-law played more than 2,500 concerts, recorded nearly 70 works, and spent 26 years traveling the world and playing beautiful music for hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. 

President Carter loved the Cleveland Quartet so much he asked them to stay for a private recital following
their performance for Carter's inaugural celebration on January 20, 1977. That's Dad on Jimmy Carter's left.

"The most important thing is to do what you love," he told his grandson last night during dinner. "Whatever you want to do when you grow up. Choose something you love." I hope my son takes grandpa's advice to heart.

That's my father-in-law on the left. Rockin' that 70s hair and beard.

And at age 71, he's still doing what he loves. Dad's teaching the next generation of classical musicians here at the Cleveland Institute of Music as well as coaching renowned quartets and playing concerts around the country. 

His life is one long, beautiful melody.  
Izzy watches as grandpa makes beautiful music.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


"I'll always protect you," big bro says to lil' sis.

We celebrated Izzy's third birthday at her new school yesterday afternoon. Big brother Caden wanted to help and couldn't wait to see little sister's classroom, meet her new friends and pass out the pink heart-shaped cookies we brought. 

The moment she and her friends arrived in the school's play area, Caden grabbed her hand. Taking care and being gentle and tender as all big brothers should. "Are you excited to celebrate your birthday, Izzy?" he asked her, his voice scaling an octave -- his way of sweet talking. "I'm so happy to see you!"

For as much arguing as they've been doing the past few weeks, (He: "Izzy. It's not knowed, it's knew." She: "No it isn't." He: "Yes it is." She: "No it isn't!" He: "Yes it is!" She: "NO IT ISN'T!!" He: "YES IT IS!!" Mom: "Can't we just all get along?" She: "No we can't!"), it was such a relief to see them enjoying each other's company. Dare I say it, even adoring one another.

With siblings, sometimes it feels like all you do as a parent is referee. You mitigate fights, negotiate treaties and almost always call timeouts. But moments like these, when she snuggles against his chest and he lovingly holds her hand, make all the ref work worthwhile.        

Monday, February 4, 2013


Isobel: [meaning] God's promise. Myung-Sung: [meaning] brilliant star.

Dear Daughter, 

Happy Birthday! On this day three years ago, I couldn't have imagined the fun we would have. You're full of surprises. My little girl with a fierce heart. Warrior princess. Unbreakable spirit. Lover of all things pink. Nurturer and defender of stuffed animals, Barbies and baby dolls. 

You stop passersby with your soft brown eyes, ruby lips and those always perfectly-placed bangs. You love to laugh but you're not easily impressed. You think your brother is the coolest cat. Your daddy is your knight. And your mama? I am your greatest admirer and will always be here -- as a mother when you need comfort and as a friend when you need someone to understand you.

You give me so much strength, Izzy Bee. You handle life with such humor and grace. Your personality packs quite a punch. I'm always amazed at how such power can come in such a tiny package. 

My little girl, you've captured my heart. I love you. 

With infinite kisses,

This face. She kills me with her cuteness. Every. Single. Day.

Precious by Sherri Lawrence

When the times seem too hard to bear and I feel like giving up
I vision your beautiful face, the twinkle of your eyes and things of such
The bond we created from my womb to the day you were born
Is a mother and daughter bind that can never be torn
With the strength and guidance of God and the blessings he pours down from above
I want to be the best mom I can be to you and embrace you with all my love
You are as precious as a flower and as gorgeous as a rose
You have been specially made to the very tip of your nose
You are as sweet as honey; such an innocent young child
You are brighter than any other star in the sky every time you smile
I want you to be proud of who you are and strive to be the best
Put forth your efforts to achieve your goals and let God do the rest
I will always be your mother first, but I'm also your friend
You are the most precious gift that I have ever been given.

You and me. Two peas in a pod.

A Mother's Prayer For Her Daughter by Tina Fey
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Apple of my eye.