Matsutake Gohan: A Recipe, Not A Mortal Kombat Character

It’s 10:00, on a Wednesday night, and I’m snuggled up next to the dog and my husband, in bed.  From the faint glow of the street lamps, lighting the street below, I can see the outline of John’s face.  But I couldn’t quite understand what was coming out of his mouth.  It sounded like he was saying something terribly romantic, and it involved the word ‘rice.’ So, I asked him to repeat himself.

He strokes my hair and says, “It’s a good thing our rice cooker isn’t connected to the Internet.”

I guess I did hear him correctly, the first time.

“Are you talking rice cooker to me, because you’re trying to be in with my people?” I ask him.  “Because it’s working.”

He laughs and tells me, “Well, no. It’s just that if we had a rice cooker that’s connected to the Internet, it would allow us to easily access the control panel, remotely.  But, I guess that exposes it to vulnerabilities. So, maybe the benefits don’t outweigh the potential security risks”

“So, you’re afraid a virus will infect our rice cooker and harvest information on what our super secret rice recipe is?  Who are they going to sell this information to?  Housewives without proper access to”

Apparently, being married to a software engineer guarantees that even rice cooking isn’t safe from tech talk.  Finally, he goes to bed dreaming about fluffy organic brown rice, after I assure him that in the case of a downed rice cooker due to a failure in “the system”, I have been formally trained as an Asian and can properly cook rice on the stove, in a vessel and over a fire source.  If that fails, we can always do takeout.  Or knock on my mom’s door, in Texas.

Like a 1950’s housewife frozen in time and thawed out for present-day living, my mom made sure that each of her three children learned how to properly cook rice.  According to my mother, the way to landing a wedding ring was through thousands of perfectly steamed grains of rice.  Similar to how diamonds are made from the constant pressing of coal, she was convinced wedding rings were formed through the constant pressing of the ‘Steam’ button on a Zojirushi rice cooker.  Without mastering this underappreciated art, she feared that her daughters would end up single and the victims of Uncle Ben’s instant rice.  But mainly, she didn’t want us knocking on her door, for bowls of cooked rice, after the age of eighteen. The idea made her shudder.

But then again, she also told me, “You’ll never marry if you hold a broom like that.”

The way I was holding it was in the same manner one would use when cleaning with a Swiffer.  “Oh,” she added, “Swiffers cause dirty corners and divorce.”  As long as it makes sense to her, I suppose.

On a side note, I cannot wait until I am old enough to form my own unconventional theories on life.

In case you’re in the market for a good rice recipe, here’s one involving matsutake mushrooms.  The original recipe is from No Recipes.  But, I ended up changing the recipe, a bit.  Mainly because I couldn’t find sudachi limes.  The author of that recipe writes that the limes are available during the fall, but I’m convinced he/she lives in a hut, in the middle of a sudachi lime forest, known for its rainbow-maned unicorns.  I visited Seattle’s largest Japanese grocer, Uwijamaya, but the search proved fruitless.

Then, I sat in traffic for 28 minutes, heading toward a Korean supermarket for this mythical citrus. I turned the car back home, when I realized I was sitting in traffic for one single lime, that I was increasingly doubting the existence of. So as not to feel like as if I had wasted the past 28 minutes of my life, I decided to turn it into a charity event and let every car cut in front of me. Eventually, I made it home and this is what I came up with: Matsutake Gohan, using mushrooms we foraged for.


Sushi rice, kombu, matsuba, sake, matsutake mushrooms and Meyer lemon.


2 cups                         sushi rice (or any sticky short grain rice)

2 1/4 cups                   water

3 sheets                       kombu

2 whole                        matsutake mushrooms

1 tsp                            soy sauce

1 tsp                            sake

1 tsp                            kosher salt

1 tablespoon               chopped matsuba leaves

1 whole                       Meyer lemon, zested (sudachi is preferred)


1.  Wipe the sheets of kombu with a clean cloth.  Do not wash.  Then place in a pot with water.  Heat to just below boiling and remove.  Refrigerate for a few hours, but overnight is recommended.  The vegetarian broth you end up with is called kombu dashi.


Kombu is dried kelp.

2.  Next, clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth.  Do not wash.


Considered a delicacy in Japan, we found these matsutakes growing on one of the trails we were hiking.

3.  Once the matsutakes are clean, pull them apart by the stem, into pieces.


4.  Combine the rice, soy sauce, sake, salt, kombu dashi (this is the stock you made from the kombu) and matsutakes in a rice cooker.  Cook, according to the rice cooker instructions.IMG_7545

5.  While the rice is cooking, zest the Meyer lemon and set aside.


Meyer lemon.

6.  Rinse a few sprigs of matsuba and chop into pieces.  You want about 1 tablespoon of this.


Matsuba. I found these at Uwajimaya, in Seattle.

7.  Once the rice is cooked, add the zest and chopped matsuba.  Fluff with a fork and serve immediately.


Matsutake Gohan.


Making Altar-ations

As a child born into a time before TiVo and YouTube, life was unspeakably harsh.  When not playing outside with dirt and other human beings, people of my day were forced to sit through those annoying time-sucks called ‘commercials’.  There seemed to be an endless supply of them.  The act of living was difficult, during those ancient times.  I don’t know how we all made it through those dark days, quite frankly.

There were commercials that told you how “choosy moms across America choose Jiff,” as you shake an empty Wal-Mart brand jar of peanut butter at your mother and accuse her of not loving you enough to choose Jiff, or at the very least, Skippy.  Giant slabs of fleshy pink canned ham filled our wooden TV’s bubble screen, during the holidays.  Spam’s advertising game was so fierce back then, my immigrant parents were convinced that Spam was the meat of choice for that all-American holiday, known as Thanksgiving.

My first Thanksgiving dinner was in 1991.  We ate Spam, pickled cucumbers, toasted French bread and a head of shredded iceberg lettuce, drenched in two bottles of Wishbone dressing.  We then congratulated one another for unraveling the secrets of an authentic American holiday meal.  It wasn’t until Butterball amped up their holiday commercial budget, years later, when we figured out our holiday meats mix-up.

And through the magic of commercial advertisements, I figured out everything I needed to know about that other major holiday called ‘Merry Christmas.’  Or, as I was told later, just ‘Christmas.’  When the big white polar bear started cracking open cans of Coco-Cola during commercial breaks, I knew the holiday season was upon us.

Raised as Buddhists, my parents’ interest in Christmas rarely moved past the question: “How many days do I get off work?”  It was up to me to get the holiday spirit and tree lit. My reason for this was a purely selfish one: presents.  As a child, it took me one Folger’s commercial and two of Hershey’s to realize that presents were given to you by a gentleman named “Santa Claus”, who shimmied down a chimney and stuck wrapped gifts for you, under an extravagantly decorated but dying tree.  Like catching a bear, we needed baits and lures.  I embarked on a search for a cone-shaped tree and chimney.

Year after gift-less year, I asked my parents for a Christmas tree and a place with a fireplace.  We finally purchased a fake tree, in 1991, but there was still no sign of that white-bearded man.  I was convinced that this was because we were a fireplace-less family.  I was devastated.  I spent years campaigning for this wood-burning hole in the wall. Every time I spotted a fireplace in some lucky family’s home, I turned into a child-realtor. With my hands tenderly caressing the sides of the mantle, I would praise the woodwork and verbally note the ample hearth.  I was obsessed, even long after my belief in Santa Claus waned and faltered.  As a grown adult, I still stop and inspect a well-formed fireplace mantle.

When my husband and I moved into our current place, my one disappointment lay in the lack of a fireplace.  Buying a mantle for a faux fireplace was always in the plans, but I never came around to it.  It wasn’t until I started planning for our wedding that I seriously looked into one.  The idea was to find a vintage mantle to use as an altar for the wedding, then mount to our living room wall, later, as a faux fireplace.

The first stop was at Earthwise Salvage, where the vintage wooden mantle I coveted was $2,800.  Another one, that terribly needed refinishing, went for $900.  Nearby, an antique shop called Pacific Galleries, was selling smaller antique mantles for a range of prices. Every one of them was at least $580.  My next stop was Home Depot, where free-standing and unfinished ones were at least $400.  That’s when I decided to do myself a favor and make my own mantle.  The total cost was around $70. I did use some items I already had though (hardware and glue), but the total reflects all of the wood and finishes used.


To keep the cost down, I used cedar fence planks, which ran for about $2 per piece. This variety is porous and uneven but the blemishes worked toward my end goal of a vintage look. As for the molding, the simpler and thinner ones will cost less. I wanted a simpler design, so I chose these, which were a fraction of the cost of the thicker and fancier ones.


After many many hours of sawing and hammering and forgetting to measure, this is how the mantle looked, unfinished.


To achieve an antiqued plaster effect, I used Martha Stewart’s Crackle finish. There are two parts you’ll need, the crackle paint and the sealer. I bought mine in the color ‘Oatmeal’ which were on sale for $5 each, at Home Depot. The thicker you lay it on, the bigger the cracks. I made some areas super thick and others much lighter. The end result was a layered look.


The cedar wood has natural knots, holes and grains worked into it. I made sure to paint those areas lighter, to show off the wood.


I had leftover molding, so I made a fancy thing in the middle, using a mitre box and saw.


For the day, I added some books of mine to the top, along with my collection of vintage glass candleholders. Photography by Shane Macomber.


Then I added some flowers. These are in crystal vases from my personal collection. Photography by Shane Macomber.


Cut firewood was placed in the middle. This was to add style as well as to stabilize the piece. Photography by Shane Macomber.


More flowers and books. These were placed for looks as well as function. The ground was uneven, so this leg of the mantle was an inch above the ground. The flowers and books covered that. Photography by Shane Macomber.


Finished and decorated. Photography by Shane Macomber.


Fireplace altar was placed on a small island in a pond. Photography by Shane Macomber.


View of the altar, from the guests’ point of view. Photography by Shane Macomber.


Wedding day. Photography by Shane Macomber.

Pants Aren’t Meant To Be Pooped In? Why Didn’t You Say So?

People give you free clothes, when you poop in your pants.  At least this was what I told my five-year old self, as I quietly shit my pants, during television hour in Mrs. Sylvester’s classroom.  As the letter S made its round through Sesame Street, I personally made some figure S’s, but in my pants.  Sometimes combined with the letter ‘pee’.  Only when I felt overly ambitious, though.  Sufficed to say, I was the second least popular kid in the class; next to the boy who’s favorite pastimes included sticking sharp objects into the eyes of fellow classmates.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to relieve myself in rooms specifically marked for that sole purpose.  I knew exactly where my S’s and pees were supposed to go, I just didn’t know how to ask permission, to put it there.  On the first day of school, the only English words I knew were ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘N-O means no!’  That last bit was taught to me by my non-English speaking parents, to be used during stranger danger moments.  You know, just in case their favorite child got abducted, and the only means of escape was to host an impromptu spelling bee showdown.

During the first few times in which I sensed an urgency to go, I simply stood up.  The teacher would reluctantly put Reading Rainbow on pause, and I would plead my case, through the long forgotten art of pantomime.  There I was, performing squats and face scrunches, capped off by endless sighs of relief.  Apparently, my acting wasn’t even good enough for Couples’ Night Charades.  Naturally, Mrs. Sylvester assumed I was mocking her and sent me off to stand with my nose pressed to the corner of her crayon-art lined classroom.  Like Ross Perot, in both presidential election attempts, I had failed.  Though, I did I take this opportunity to do some decent stand-up work that involved some rather intense underpants decorating.  All while LeVar Burton read the nation’s children another story that involved lots of pauses, voice changes and sound effects that were supposed to be foot steps, but were obviously adult hands tapping on a studio table.

It took a week or two for me to learn the magic phrase, “May I please use the bathroom?” It was beyond me as to why I had to beg and plead the woman for permission.  You’d think she would have begged me to go, after cleaning up my bottom for the umpteenth time, week after soiled week, behind the classroom’s bookcases.  Either way, by then, I was addicted to all of the free fashion I was allowed to rummage through and wear home. Every time I made poor decisions in my pants, my teacher would haul me off, by my soiled bottom, to the lost and found.  Once there, I would put together an outfit that had “pre-internet Polyvore” written all over it. I was like an 80’s version of Suri Cruise, but with a few more skid marks.

Nowadays, I tend to look back fondly and wonder what’s become of my beloved pre-school teacher.  As an adult, I don’t poop in my pants for free clothes anymore.  You get sent to the loony bin, not the lost and found one, when you pull that stunt, later in life.

Buying clothing, full-priced, isn’t an easy decision for me.  I actually prefer vintage or thrift store pieces that have been tailored to my exact measurements.  If I can’t find a certain piece, somewhere, I end up making it myself.  This was the case with my bridal veil.

I’ve been walking around with window curtain bridal veils, ever since I was tall enough to climb the window sill and unhook the sheer panels off its rod.  Our neighbors probably thought I was some sort of child-bride in training.  After decades of practice, I couldn’t walk down the aisle without a veil.  My head was meant to be shrouded in gauzy bridal perfection.  All I needed was to get my hands on one that didn’t originate from my mom’s guest room.

But veils are expensive.  There are inexpensive ones that sort of poof, in every which way, and resemble a used cotton ball placed atop one’s head.  And then there are these intricate lace numbers that drape for miles and miles to some faraway land where money is no object.  I think they charge those by the mileage, since they will often set you back by hundreds of dollars.  The one I wanted was cathedral length and trimmed with vintage Edwardian lace.  Its purchase price was $800, or two car payments.  And unlike a car, this head decor thing drove you nowhere, except for maybe down to a town called Broke.  I figured I could make my own veil.  It was actually pretty easy and cost a paltry $50. Below are the steps on How To Make A Lace Trimmed Cathedral Veil.


Things You’ll Need: 1 pair of sharp scissors, length of tulle (or synthetic netting that resembles tulle), enough lace to trim the entire piece, old sheer curtain, head comb(s) and thread. I bought the fabric and lace, at Jo-Ann Fabric, using their 40% off mobile coupon. Both are in ivory. The head comb was for $9.99 in their bridal section but are $1.99 in the kids’ bows/bedazzling/t-shirt painting section. I bought two, since I have a big head. That’s another thing, vendors will hike up the price just by saying something is wedding or bridal material.


You’ll be cutting down old sheer curtains to test out the length and width of your veil. The lightness roughly mimics the drape of tulle, so you can try cutting out different measurements to see how it feels. I’m five feet tall, so I ended up cutting the length to about ten feet long. I kept the manufactured width and rounded off the edges.


Once you have the mock veil cut down to your desired size, place it over your uncut tulle. Anchor it down with something heavy and carefully cut away the excess fabrics.


Photography by Shane Macomber. I hand-sewed the lace onto the tulle, using ivory thread. Because I chose a pointed Edwardian lace, it took me awhile longer to sew in each individual point, but the effect was well worth the effort.


Photography by Shane Macomber. I attached two small silver combs to the underside of the veil, using thread.


Photography by Shane Macomber. On your wedding day, make sure to have a handheld steamer available. My bridesmaids helped me steam my veil smooth, on the day of.


Photography by Shane Macomber. When placed on your head, there should be enough width to the veil to allow a gentle draping of the fabric.


Photography by Shane Macomber. Since my gown has a train, I made the veil extra long to make sure it flowed beyond the edge of the dress.


Photography by Shane Macomber. View of the veil, from behind.

Cake Toppin’ It Off


Wedding cake topper I made, for about $15. It includes some of our favorite things in life: the dog, books for me, and computers for John.

In college, my roommates and I would gather in the hallowed hallways of our dormitory, sharing empty calories and offering up independent theories on why Room 206 smelled like stale sex and green olives.  Two girls occupied the room in question.  One believed she was a vampire, descended from cats and/or unicorns (she was hoping for both, if I recall correctly).  The other hosted slumber parties with the local high school boys, who tried their hardest to look like college men.  For whatever reason, they ended up looking more like the singer, P!nk, but without her namesake’s hair color.  It was all about the frosted blond tips, back then.  We never could figure out who had the olive fixation.

When not discussing the great olfactory mysteries of our time, we were comparing notes on where we’d like to be, in life.  There was the usual grab bag mix of future lawyers, doctors, doctors’ wives and starving artists.  Because when you’re 18 and living virtually rent-free, being a successful artist is both an oxymoron and insult to the craft.  Other dreams weren’t quite as ambitious.  A few expressed interest in sleeping their way to the middle.  Or at least a free meal.  For myself, I just wanted to be able to afford a cartful of groceries, at Whole Foods, one day.  We were young, with goals to attempt to accomplish and bucket lists to fall into and never make it out of.

My love/hate relationship with Whole Foods began in the summer of 2001.  Every weekend, a friend and I would scavenge enough coins, from between the car seats, and fill up the gas tank, to a level “just above E.”  Then, we’d make our way to the original Whole Foods in Austin, and spend most of the day sampling free food and grazing from the bulk bin section.  At day’s end, I’d stand in line with my dollar’s worth of bulk bin granola and pay with the remainder of my car cushion coins.

I’m 31 now, and have come to the realization that Whole Foods’ appeal is that they make sure that no one can really afford it.  A while ago, I filled my cart up with an impressive array of non-essentials.  Fresh pasta made by the grandma I’d imagine I’d have if I were Italian, vegan pastries made by non-vegan trophy wives in Colorado, cider with an alcohol content so low, it’s probably a great one to share with your underaged children (during BYOB playdates and such), and Seventh Generation cleaning supplies that somehow do less cleaning than a cleaning lady hired with a Groupon.

The total was enough to cover America’s national deficit.   I think.  I can’t remember.  I tend to black out terrible memories involving cash.  The cashier read my total, then asked if I’d like to donate my bag refund to some undisclosed charity.  Then, if I’d like to round up to the nearest dollar for another charity involving kids, somewhere.  Finally, she asked if I’d like to just give a specific dollar amount, anywhere between $5-$500, to another one. Maybe it’s the same charity. Who knows.  I think you get a free calendar, keys to the store and a rescue puppy if you do.

And that’s when I realize that I can never truly afford Whole Foods.  Sure, I can afford the cart of non-essential groceries, but I can never afford to adopt that family of four, in Swaziland, with a weekly check-out line donation of $500.  As the college-aged cashier bags up my fair-trade/shade-grown/free-roamed olives, the look on her face reads I guess not everyone can afford to shop with us.  I just don’t shop there as often anymore.  Only when I feel like I don’t need money anymore, but do need that soy-free/dairy-free/gluten-free gulp of air Whole Foods has packaged in a nice recycled box and selling for $6.99. $7.19, with tax and bag refund donated.  $8, rounded up for those kids you keep hearing about.  $508, for that family of four.

When I began the planning process of our wedding, over a year ago, my Whole Foods’ experience came back to mind.  Weddings can be cheap, but the industry doesn’t want you to ever think so.  Your flowers will never be as fresh as that girl’s bouquet, the one from The Hills.  Unless you hire the florist-to-the-stars.  The same one who makes you put down a deposit of “first child” to secure a date. If you tell a caterer that you have a food budget of $10,000, they’ll push you toward the $15,000 package deal.  The plan that includes two servers per guest.  One to peel and hand-feed seedless grapes to your family and friends.  The other to wipe mouths and any other orifice that needs wiping and tending to.  The dress lady will put you in $9,000 dollar dresses, even when you tell her your budget is for two-thirds that amount.  So, like Whole Foods, I just didn’t go there unless I was felt like I wanted to be taken advantage of.  Every time a vendor pushed me towards a higher spending limit, I walked out the door and never went back.

Instead of depending on the wedding industry to give me my dream wedding, I relied heavily on myself.  Sure, I hired a photographer, who I found at a wedding show (that I attended for free, thanks to a Facebook contest); but everything else was either made by me, collected by John and I, created by my family or bought at a steep discount. For instance, my Jenny Packham dress was purchased for 20% off the ticket price.  The rest of the things were bought at thrift stores or foraged for.  I made virtually everything: my own veil, hangers, fireplace alter and even wrote personal letters to each guest (using vintage paper from Goodwill).

We didn’t hire a wedding planner.  I’m sure they work wonders for their clients, but for us, it wasn’t even an option.  We used the extra cash to fly in our parents for the wedding, instead.  One of the first things I made for our wedding was our cake topper.  Here’s what I made.


List of things to get: 4 wooden balls, about 1 inch in diameter with a large hole on one end. 2 wooden balls, about half an inch in diameter and large hole on one end. 14 wooden beads, about half a centimeter in diameter, with a hole through the center. 4 bamboo skewers. 2 wooden dowels (1/2 centimeter in diameter) and about 1.5-2.5 inches in length. 5 pipe cleaners. Some small rectangular pieces of wood. Unused business cards. Wire thread. Felt and/or scrap fabrics. Drill and glue.


Step 1: For the bodies, you want to cut a piece of felt into a circle. Take the 1-inch balls and drill two small holes (large enough for the bamboo skewers to fit through) on the opposite end of the large pre-cut hole.


Step 2: Place the ball, large hole side up, on top of the felt. Add glue to the large hole and tuck the edges of the felt fabric into it. Trim the fabric to fit into the opening. Place the half-centimeter dowels into the hole. It should fit snugly.


Step 4: Feel out the two small holes you drilled and poke in two bamboo skewers. You can trim the length later. I stabilized it with a ball of yarn in a pitcher.


Step 5: You will need arms. Take the piper cleaners and twist two together. Place on top of the wooden dowel and add a dab of glue.


Step 6: I added a head by placing a 1-inch ball on top.


Step 7: Because every cake topper needs pants, I sewed a pair out of felt. I took two pieces of fabric, about two centimeters wide and three inches long. I sewed along the length and turned it inside out.


Step 8: Thread each “leg” through a skewer. Then thread a half-centimeter wooden ball to either end. Secure with glue. I wrapped a piece of wire to hold the ball in place while it dried. While that was drying, I cut a piece of felt to form a cylinder around the abdomen of the cake topper. I sewed with a contrasting thread, about two-thirds up the length.


Step 8: Using sharp scissors, I poked two small holes where I wanted the arms to be. Then I pulled out the pipe cleaners. After, I folded the top of the cylindrical fabric over, to form a collar. The same red thread was used to sew a ‘hem’ around the neckline.


Step 9: I sewed on a button to the collar and added in the coat arms, in the same manner as the pant legs. I also folded up the sleeves for a cuff.


Step 10: Using old business cards and wooden rectangles I had, leftover from a past project, I fashioned mini-books and a laptop. Cut the business cards just a bit smaller than the wood pieces. Glue the paper together. Then add one wooden rectangle, to either end. On one side, cut a strip of wood to form the book’s spine.


Step 11: Paint the books. The laptop is just one wood piece, painted.


Step 12: For the dog, I wanted her to peek out from underneath a book. So, I fashioned an “open book” using a business card and three wooden pieces.


Step 13: The dog’s book was “Beo-woof.” For the dog, I used the half inch circles. One for the head and one for the body, under the book. Both were connected with glued pieces of pipe cleaner. The tail and legs were fashioned with the same material, but with small wooden balls glued to the ends. Felt was fashioned into ears and a nose was made from a dark ball and some bamboo skewers.


Step 14: I used the same methods to make the cake topper version of myself. Except, I trimmed by outfit with lace and had my own favorite literature to hold. A few steps ago, I also found an old book by Melville. I drilled two pairs of holes into the book. I then cut the ‘legs’ to about half an inch past the small balls. I put some glue into the holes and poked the ‘legs’ into them. Drill deeper for a more stable hold.


Step 14: I added a messenger bag onto John’s replica, since I accidentally got paint on that side of his coat and needed to cover it. But basically, paint your faces on and you’re done!

My Standards For Choosing A Pet And Photographer Are The Same

Like some sort of bipedal gopher, most of my childhood was spent moving one pile of earth from a primary location to a secondary one.  My parents claimed that I was helping them dig their version of a Cambodian villager’s garden, right in the heart of a famously tropical land called Texas.  This garden’s main purpose was to cultivate plants previously only seen in their native land.  And perhaps, the airport’s customs trash bin labeled “invasive species.” I harbored doubts, though.  I just figured we were digging our way back to the motherland.  Like every child who’s raised in the “migrant working conditions” method, breaks were only given to do homework, and to feed the animals which constituted our backyard version of Noah’s Ark.  Peeing and bathing were considered leisure activities and saved for three-day weekends.

Since my parents are loyal subscribers to the idea of raising children in the ways of the old country, we were regularly gifted a seemingly endless supply of pet fowls to feed, chase after and subsequently pretend we didn’t eat.  A covey of quails was the fowl du jour in the summer of ’96.  They promptly vanished and left us with a disappearance mystery unheard of since The Lost Colony of Roanoke.  Chickens and ducks came clucking into our hearts and ultimately our stomachs.  But the most memorable pet fowls were the roosters.  For many years, in the late 90s, our roosters were the unofficial assholes of our neighborhood.  And the adjacent neighborhood, as well, come to think of it.  Like clockwork, those birds were up at dawn and on a mission to awaken the dead, or at the very least, the sleep deprived.  

Like our pet roosters, of yesteryear, I am a creature of habit.  I walk the same route, in the morning, for coffee with the same dog and the same husband.  My order rarely varies from my usual 16-ounce coffee with skim.  If I’m drinking something different, it’s because the barista messed up.  It’s hard to mess up a cup of coffee with a splash of skim, but she’s a woman of many talents.  Pouring liquid caffeine into a paper cup just isn’t one of them. 

The car radio’s volume is always set at an even number, or one that is divisible by the number five.  Sometimes, enterprising individuals attempt a game of “Amateur DJ Hour” with my vehicle’s volume levels, but they’re usually never heard from again.  Once I find an equation that works, I keep repeating it like a Taylor Swift song on FM radio.  

I have a set of life equations, that I pull off from my dusty thinking shelf; and put to use, from time to time.  Like Nutella, I’ve used these life equations on almost everything (bread lubricant, wall caulk, crafting adhesive; just to name a few).  For instance, I have a dog. She is absolutely perfect.  And more importantly, the dog fulfills a set of very low standards, I’ve preset for a pet.  I used a similar set of standards to figure out my love life. In this case, I also inserted a clause of “by hook or by crook.”  And finally, the set of standards proved helpful in finding a wedding photographer.  

During a wedding show called Weddings in Woodinville, we met our photographer.  His name is Shane Macomber.  He was rather difficult to spot, at first, amidst a sea of future brides (and ten accompanying bridesmaids) killing each other over free crab cakes and wedding directory handouts.  It was like a Battle of the Bulge, but with three times the heels and half the bulge.  But he was perfect for the job.  His photography is beyond beautiful, and we’re really lucky to have found him.

Here’s my guideline for finding a photographer/partner/dog that’s right for you (but mainly, me), followed by our engagement photos done by Shane Macomber.

Is he/she available?

  • Photographer: Make sure your photographer has your wedding date open.
  • Partner: Make sure your partner isn’t married to a wife, his mom or himself.
  • Pet: Make sure your dream dog isn’t microchipped to the address, down the street. The house with the greener grass.  I think their name is Jones.

Is he/she dependable?

  • Photographer: Does your photographer call when he says he will?  Does he show up to appointments on time?
  • Partner: Can you depend on your partner to show up to his wedding to you?
  • Pet: Comes when called.  Shits in designated areas.  Can solve differential equations, when given a calculator and three Milkbones.

Can he/she give you what you want?

  • Photographer: Typically, a photographer who has built a career out of photographing babies sleeping inside giant vegetables, personally grown by Jolly the Green Giant in collaboration with Monsanto, isn’t going to be wedding material.  Know what you want to see in photos, and compare that to what they have to offer.
  • Partner: I wanted a man who didn’t mess with my radio volumes.  John satisfies those desires.  He’s a keeper.  He can stay.
  • Pet: This is also called ‘fetching.’

Can you bring her/him around your friends and family?

  • Photographer: Make sure your photographer isn’t creepy.  I attended a wedding, when I was 15, and the middle-aged photographer kept pestering for my phone number.  Presumably, this was so that he could call me about modeling opportunities, done in the comfort of his basement dungeon, and then circulated to an underground network of prison inmates.
  • Partner: Example, partner does not sleep with wedding guests.  This is non-negotiable.
  • Pet: Example, dog does not sleep with wedding guests.  This is negotiable.

Where do you see him/her, in relation to you, in five years?

  • Photographer: Can you call them up in five years and say, “Hey!  Can you do maternity pics too?  Or do I have to call that lady with the giant lettuce props?”
  • Partner: Do you see your partner there for you, in five years?  After all of your terrible vegan jokes and annoying habit of sleeping on 75% of the bed, 100% of the time, even though you’re 50% his size?
  • Pet: The answer better be “with me.”  Please don’t be an asshole and give away your dog just because he/she considered your garbage bin as an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet.  You weren’t going to eat it.  Might as well share the wealth.

How much is he and can you afford that amount?

  • Photographer: You don’t want to remortgage your mom’s home or sell a kidney to finance your wedding photos.  Some people negotiate the price.  I didn’t negotiate with our photographer, since I do think he was worth every penny, and probably more.  They spend countless hours acting like as if they enjoy being around your drunken wedding guests.  And then they go home, only to spend countless more hours on Photoshop, to make you look like a decent human being. 
  • Partner: He shouldn’t cost anything.  The ones who do are called gigolos or deuce bigalows.  One of those.
  • Pet: Cheaper than therapy.  More expensive than alcohol.  More legal than most drugs.

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When To Share One’s Underwear

My sister and I used to look alike.  Back when all Asians looked alike and dinosaurs roamed Earth.  That was in the early 90s, and George Senior was the reigning president. But now, with the spread of diversity and enough Asians telling non-Asians, “No, we don’t all look alike” my sister and I look, well, only somewhat alike.  In summary, we are virtually identical from the forehead, up.

Once a year, my sister and I take that somewhat likeness show on the road.  We call this our “Sista Sista Trip!”  Oftentimes, a location is determined using a precise algorithm which involves: number of coffee shops per square inch, dog population in relation to human population and absence of chain link fences.  It is an exact science that involves no scientists, whatsoever.

In preparation for this trip, my sister will undoubtedly remember to forget her underwear and toothbrush.  Upon arrival, she will unpack her luggage that’s been filled with every magazine that LaGuardia’s Hudson News, in Terminal B, has to offer.  Then she will announce that she’s forgotten those pesky little fabric pieces for one’s “down under” and that stick instrument that aids in cavity prevention.  If her Tumi had a life story, it would be titled When One Packs Nothing At All.  And thus begins, the one-sided sharing of underwear and toothbrush.

Our last sisters’ trip was to Austin, Texas.  This wonderful southern city is the home of many barbecue pits.  It also serves as the final resting place of thousands more pigs and cows. There’s a special sacrificial offering that the locals like to perform, during the hot summer months.  We believe that this is to appease the angry sun gods, while seeking favor from the rain gods.  A fire pit is built, usually in some sort of black altar fashioned out of metal. The locals refer to this as a ‘grill’.  Marinated flanks of meat are tossed into the fire, after being massaged with seasoning.  We have been told that this is solely to add flavor. Note to self: pagan gods love flavor.

Austin holds a special place in our frigidly cold hearts.  It was home to both of us, for many years, and we absolutely loved it.  Back in the olden days, South Congress was where people would go to score drugs and have their shoes stolen, right from under them.  Or trade in their shoes for some drugs.  You walked home barefoot, either way.  It was a neighborhood of shoeless people, back in its heyday.  Now, non-druggy people go there to people-watch other non-druggy people people-watch.  And they all wear shoes.  Oh, how the times have changed.

It’s rather nice to take a trip with your sibling; I highly recommend it.  It resembles a romantic vacation, but you aren’t expected to put out at the end of the night.  Or in the morning.  Or ever.  With a sibling, one can share the same bed, skip hand-in-hand and tell the hostess that you’d like a “table for two” in the coziest corner they have to offer.  When you’re finally seated at a 6-top, by the bathroom, with a panoramic view of the bussers’ station; you’ll have the rest of the night to compliment one another over your shared (and obviously, superior) genes.  It’s great.

Here are a few photos (with accompanying commentary) I took, from our 2014 Sista Sista Trip! to Austin, Texas.


Hotel San Jose on South Congress. My favorite hotel, next to the Ace Hotel in Portland. They both offer typewriter rentals, just in case you forget to bring your own and have to travel back in time to retrieve it.


Austin’s Tourism Committee must’ve paid off Al Roker and/or The Weather Channel. The temperature they cited was high 80s. It felt more like 106 degrees with a side of sunstroke.


Quote of the trip: “We’ll be back!” and The Petition Signature Gatherer tells us “That’s what my daddy said, and he ain’t ever come back.”


Is it creepy to take pictures outside of people’s windows? I sure hope so



My sister, on her way to borrow my toothbrush.


Beds feel better when someone else makes them.


The hotel leaves you cryptic poems in your room. I interpreted this one as “You should eat more chicken”.


Bottled rainwater. Next up, prepackaged snow.


Drinking coffee and thinking about how the Aztec pattern, on my hotel robe, brings out the brown in my eyes.



TOMS makes coffee now. From shoes to coffee. They really do know their way into the hipster heart. One might assume that they’ll give you half a cup of coffee and the other half to a kid in a coffee-poor society. But no, they give you a full serving of roasted goodness.


Austin is like Pinterest, but in city-form.


Trying on shoes made by kids in Guatemala. Not the sweatshop kind. The “Make us one pair, and we’ll let you make yourself your own pair to wear (even though you’d rather have a Nike)” type shop.




Skirts & Stairs.

Pennybacker Bridge.

Pennybacker Bridge.



Texas sunset during our drive to the hotel. My sister drove the car like the rental that it is. Windows rolled down and music up, like high schoolers on a Friday night.



Museum that used to be an artist’s home. And every artist’s home needs a moat, a turret and a few grave sites underneath the oak grove.


Trying to order something from a vintage Sears catalog. Maybe some hardtack and a tin of blackstrap molasses. Oh, and a typewriter. Just in case the one at Hotel San Jose doesn’t work properly.


My sister showing me the proper way to sit, like a lady.


Bangles, all day.


Acting our age. Obviously.


Having a romantic dinner with my sister at a farm/restaurant-ish. The kind of place where you can pet your chicken before you eat it.


One word comes to mind and that is ‘Windex.’


Airstream/Funhouse mirror.


Some people use lights to decorate their garden. Others use it to grow their pot farm in the attic.


Chandelier on a tree. Where it belongs.


Our bartender in the airstream, serving up free (FREE!) Deep Eddy booze. Somebody definitely secured his golden ticket into heaven.


Austin summarized in one photo: plaid, red cooler, deer head and airstream bar.


A lesson in font or a farm stand menu. Depends on your perspective.


Mood lighting over the sink, for when you want to sensually wash your hands. It’s fantastic.


Looking into the farmhouse, from outside. It’s exactly how I envisioned a gentrified farmhouse to look like. Low on produce, high on gently weathered decor.


Herb picking by the glow of her iPhone. Just like the days of yore.


Going up the stairs of Mount Bonnell. My sister ran up the stairs; I just shimmied myself up the rail, as evidenced by my position in this photo.


Rose petals strewn on the limestone path. I hope she said yes or else that would’ve been an awkward walk back down the stairs.


Some men get t-shirts, as a souvenir, for when their woman returns back home from a trip. John gets tomatoes and fresh tortillas.


Tomatoes on a window sill, hoping to end up on top of a grilled pizza with some basil and fresh milk mozzarella made in someone’s urban bathtub. Because ending your tomato life in a pasta dish is so last year.


Tomatoes, side by side. Just hanging out.


Chairs everywhere.


Geraldine the Rainey Street Guinea Fowl. She was the neighborhood’s famous feral fowl, until her hit and run death awhile back. Fowl play is suspected.


My sister, in East Austin, taking pictures with a giant flying piece of toast. We couldn’t find anyone to take a photo of the both of us. The only person around was a man, who was too busy stealing someone’s stereo, to lend us a hand.



Stupid Invitations

Ever since I was old enough to help my dad clean a carburetor (age, 5), he told me, “You can be whatever you want in life, you just can’t be stupid.”  I wasn’t expected to become a doctor.  Or even a magician on the side of an infrequently traveled road.  I was given free range to become anything in life, except for stupid.  Speaking from personal experience, that request is harder than it initially sounds.

Me: “Why can’t I be one?”

Dad: “Cause that career has already been taken by too many people.”

Me: “What’s stupid?”

Dad: “Those kids down the street who spend their entire day watching the MTV and painting fake moles above their lips.  That’s stupid.  Pass me my cigarette, will you?  Don’t smoke, either.  That’s stupid, too.”

Like tofu, his definition of ‘stupid’ was never a solid one.  He molded and seasoned it to fit whatever life-learning situation was present.  His recipe for disaster consisted of: 1 part smart and 1 part stupid equals all stupid.  Like SARS, my dad warned us that stupidity was a highly infectious disease that was transmitted when stupid people opened their mouths.

In his eyes, his three children were never stupid.  But some of us toed the line, from time to time, which he was always quick to point out.  In ’96, when I came home crying, because I lost out to a fifth grader at the area spelling bee competition by misspelling ‘insomnia’; he calmly explained to me that the word itself is stupid anyway.  When I had my first serious breakup, he told me the guy was too stupid for us Chhengs and would’ve dumbed down the family line.  And besides, he had stupid looking hair.  But the biggest act of stupidity was paying full price, for anything; especially wedding invitations.

Wedding invitations are a necessary evil.  Little squares and rectangles, usually ranging in price from “too much” to “way too much”; will be stamped, sealed by spit and sent out to wedding-worn guests.  Then into the trash bin, they go. A very popular paper company in Seattle quoted the paper costs for our 50-guest wedding to be in the range of $1,500 to $3,000.  It included Save-the-Dates, invitations with one too many envelopes to lick, RSVP cards that no one ever returns and Thank You cards that the bride and groom dread having to fill and send out.  After fainting from the quote, I realized that what I needed was a No Thank You card to send out to this company.  Like Google Maps, I began searching for alternate routes for invites and other wedding items that involved paper and ink.

For our Save-the-Dates, I was on a time crunch.  The holiday season was fast approaching, and I was having a difficult time locating a living “Dr. Seuss-esque” type Christmas tree for our living room.  We settled on a Nootka cypress, by the way.

Luckily, had a 15% discount for Save-the-Dates.  So, I jumped onto a comfortable spot on the bandwagon and ordered 40 cards for about $55, addressed enveloped included.  The design I ordered was a library card look with an engagement photo shot by Shane Macomber.  It’s my favorite photo of the two of us.


Clockwise, from top: Unlined envelopes from, library card styled Save-The-Dates, pages torn from a book and lichen covered twigs. Not sure why the twigs are there. I collected them, during a walk, and thought they looked Save-the-Date-ish.

The Save-the-Dates came out okay.  I regret not designing it myself, but I did manage to sneak in some personal touches.  I glued lining to each envelope, using pages torn out of old books.  The books I used were from Girl With a Pearl Earring and A Beautiful Mind. The ones I owned were torn already, so it wasn’t a big deal to rip them apart.


Vintage paper-cutter I bought for $8.99, years ago, in anticipation of cutting my own wedding invites. Books to weigh the glued envelopes down, while drying. No bubbling, that way. Coffee to drink and then spill onto said envelopes. Personalized stamps for your envelopes, cause nothing says “I’m getting married” like a $50 stamp from Paper Source. Bird’s nest, for no reason at all.

For our invitations, I spent $35.  I know, I was tempted to marry myself after scoring that deal.  What I did was design my own invites.  I wanted a vintage botanical look.  Simple and pretty.


Drawing of a blueberry sprig. We pick a lot of blueberries. I later added blueberries to my wedding flowers.

For the invitation itself, I started off by sketching a blueberry sprig.  Then I photographed and adjusted it via Lightroom.  After that, I downloaded (for free) Inkscape.  Using Inskcape, I turned the sketch into a vector image.  Then, I added a free font called “Dearest Script” for a handwritten look.  It was finally sent to for printing.


Vector rendered and ready for application.

The invitations were printed on an ivory card, but I wanted a thicker look since nothing screams ‘fancy’ like some 222 pound card stock.  So, I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and bought a bunch of thick linen-type scrapbook paper in light grey.  I cut the grey paper down to invitation-size and glued it to the back.  While drying, the cards were held down with book stacks, for an even finish.


Thick scrapbook paper (the kind with a rough edge surface, like linen), semi-finished (I guess that’s called unfinished. But semi-finished sounds so much more optimistic, doesn’t it?) invites and paper stamp cutter thing.

I wasn’t going to send out RSVP cards, since no one except unmarried great aunts with multiple poodles, return them anyway.  But after cutting up all of the scrapbook paper, I had a ton left.  So, I made personalized cards with the guests’ names on it.  It’s not useful, but I thought it was cute.  And besides, I had time on my glue-stained hands.  Long ago, I bought a Martha Stewart paper cutout stamp thing from TJMaxx for an amount between pennies and “not much.” I finally put it to good use for the wedding.  I stamped out a bird design on leftover ivory scrapbook paper. Then, I did a backing of grey.  On the grey side, I sketched out ferns and the recipients’ names, with a grey calligraphy pen.


Finished cards, addressed envelopes and invitations.


For the envelopes, I considered outsourcing it to a professional calligrapher and then I thought, “Screw it. I got an A in penmanship, back in the second grade.  I’ll write it out myself.”  So I did.

In all, my Save-the-Dates and invitations totaled a paltry $100.  Pretty good for not being stupid.  Things to make a father proud.