Monday, June 12, 2017


One of the comfort foods that a roommate used to cook was picadillo, a "mince" of ground beef with an assortment of added flavors. Her version of picadillo was influenced by her Mexican heritage and was made up of beef, tomato paste, cumin, onions, garlic, and potatoes. She ate it on tortillas.

It was only in graduate school when I was attempting to recreate her dish that my Cuban roommate told me that picadillo was Cuban, and the ingredient list was supposed to be far more complex. When I asked how to make the Cuban picadillo, he revealed that he couldn't actually cook so he didn't know. I turned to the internet, where I found a large variety of different recipes all purporting to be the authentic Cuban picadillo. I have decided that picadillo is similar to ragu, that there may be a hundred varieties of the "authentic" recipe.

My favorite recipe is the one from the New York Times. It has a perfect medley of savory and sweet. I have only tweaked it slightly, to add potatoes when I don't want to eat it with rice, and to more thoroughly brown the meat to get that delicious crispness.

Picadillo Recipe (inspired by the New York Times' Sam Sifton)

3 ounces dried chorizo, diced
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 medium-size potatoes, cubed (I prefer yukon gold)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ pounds ground beef
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped finely
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
⅔ cup raisins
½ cup pitted stuffed olives
3 tablespoons capers

Add the chorizo to a large pan at medium-high heat until the fat begins to separate. There should be at least 2 tablespoons of fat, or you may add extra virgin olive oil if there is less than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. Add the onions, potatoes and garlic, and stir fry for around 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and becoming translucent.

In a separate pan, add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with the salt and black pepper. 

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, white wine, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir just enough to combine. Lower the heat, and let the picadillo simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cover and add the raisins, olives, and capers. Cook for another 15 minutes. You may serve this with white rice (traditional), tortillas, or over a root vegetable mash.

Friday, June 9, 2017

finally, relief

Feedly, the news aggregation app that I use, has unveiled a new filter where you can exclude certain words for a period of time. For example, if you have hit your saturation point with reading about the bleating of a certain bloated, bloviating, nuclear Cheeto, you can select his name and apply a mute filter. Oh, if only this filter worked outside of Feedly!

In other news, my attention was completely focused on the Comey testimony yesterday and I missed that the UK election was going on. I am not educated on the ins and outs of UK politics so I don't know exactly what the exit polls results mean to the future leadership. I did enjoy listening to two colleagues discussing the possibilities. It was a welcome change from discussions over US politics, which have been painful of late.

I'm still hoping that I was hit by a bus and all this has been a bad dream resulting from my six month coma.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Mississippi is still burning

After watching a news report about a noose that was left at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, my friend had to explain to her 8 year old son the historic meaning behind a noose. She wrote that his eyes filled with tears and he struggled to understand why black people were treated differently.

It led to a discussion with other friends about color blindness in children. I think that it is beautiful that children seem to be color blind, but it is also naive to be color blind when there is so much inequality still around us based on the color of someone's skin. I just wish that children could be innocent longer before we are forced to tell them about the world but the fact is that this racism is not usually in your face like a noose, or all of the recent "alt-right" attacks on foreigners and minorities. Racism can enter our lives early through seemingly innocuous acts that become normalized. Take my other friend who visited her daughter's daycare and was devastated to discover that her vivacious, talkative child was quiet and always lined up at the back of the queue to go out, and took her blanket to the outer edge of the group during nap time. I'm pretty sure that the teachers didn't overtly tell her that black kids were to be treated differently but somehow the four year old had figured out her place through social cues from the adults around her.

I remember watching a teenage classmate pat my sister on the head like a dog and tell her how cute she was. They were both high school seniors and this girl talked to my sister like she was something other. The worst part was that Samantha H probably thought that she was paying my sister a compliment. Samantha did not pat me on the head even though I was younger than them; I look far more white than Asian. Even now, I'm not sure what I would have done if I could go back in time to that moment. I hope that Samantha met other non-white people and learned. I hope that it is never too late to learn new lessons.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

coming together

Well, we are at the three month mark before our nuptials and most plans are still a mess but I'm not sweating because the important items are checked off. We have our ceremony and reception venues booked; we are getting married at Sage Chapel at Cornell and having our reception along the waters of Cayuga Lake at the Ithaca Farmers Market. I booked both in December and I am not only very, very excited about the locations, but I am somewhat smug because the Farmers Market quickly became booked for all months in the summer and autumn not long after I made my booking.

In a side story, SB and I were originally going to get married in the Adirondacks but I made the huge error of leaving him in charge of booking the venue that he has wanted to get married at for 30 years..and he in his procrastinating wisdom decided that there was no urgency. He didn't make the booking in August when we were actually in the Adirondacks at the venue, nor in the months following. When he eventually phoned in late December, he was shocked, just shocked that both of their two allowed summer bookings were taken. At the time, I was devastated but also highly annoyed but now I think that Ithaca is a blessing because a surprising number of international guests are coming and it would have been far more difficult to travel to the Adirondacks for people who can't drive. On a side note to the side story, can I just share how delighted I am that our international invitees are coming? I have become a watering pot about how wonderful it will be to see so many of our friends.

So this is where we are getting married:

The bonus is that the bridal party will be assembled in the "Memorial Room" which is what I think that Cornell renamed the crypt to reassure squeamish brides. Being in a room filled with sarcophagi will send my vampire loving best friend into spasms of delight. 

And this is our venue:

While I went into wedding planning with no known preferences, I discovered very quickly that I had some internal bias. As we looked at venues I discovered a strong preference to outdoor settings. This worked well with SB's desire to get married in his beloved Adirondacks. Unfortunately I also discovered a mild aversion to tents, which I knew that I needed to suck up because the weather in the Adirondacks involves a lot of sudden rain showers, even on the sunniest of days. Once our top choice became untenable, we began looking at venues at the Cornell Plantations and Ithaca wineries, but many included the need for a wedding tent. The perfect location was right there under our noses but we didn't see it. SB and I often visited the Farmers Market, but during daytime when the booths are full of vendors. Then I Googled "Ithaca wedding" and came across dozens of gorgeous images of the market at night. I knew that it was perfect. It was on the lake, sheltered from rain, and without walls so that we could enjoy the beauty of an Ithaca evening. SB was more than willing to agree to my request to bump down the level of formality in our celebration from semi-formal to cocktail/dressy casual attire and I happily phoned the farmer/manager of the market. 

And that, folks, is how I discovered that a "dream wedding" or at least a "dream location" had been lurking inside of me. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

call your representative now

The Attorney General, having had to recuse himself from the probe into Russia and Trump due to his own conflicts of interest, is the source cited by Trump for recommending the firing of Comey who was leading the probe into Russia and Trump. Call your representative now; this is not a partisan issue.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hugo Rouillé

It has been several weeks and I think now maybe I can put a few thoughts to writing. I want to tell you about someone who was extraordinary, if you will give me a few minutes. I want to share this because I want to tell as many people as I can about Hugo and what a wonderful young man he was.

Hugo passed away at the age of 29 from an accident while riding his bicycle in Shek O. Even now I feel disbelief at the news. He was an experienced cyclist but accidents can happen, I know that. Just, it feels like the world has turned upside down when nothing is fair anymore.

At his young age, Hugo accomplished so much, which is heartening and yet bittersweet; one cannot help but think of all that was yet to come. That is in essence what gnaws at my stomach when I think about him: the stupendous potential for amazing things that he possessed.

Hugo was a plant engineer for the massive Tunnel Boring Machine that is out there near Yuen Long. As a bit of an infrastructure groupie, I was in awe of the project. I always wanted to visit the site though not as I did, to attend the Bai Sun that the company arranged to honor him. At the site I saw hundred of people from engineers to the construction crew who were deeply affected by his loss. This was not surprising considering how interested he was in each person that he met. SB told me that there was never a conversation that he had with Hugo in three years where he didn't walk away with a smile. Hugo was one of those people who made friends everywhere he went because he genuinely wanted to know you.

At the service that our rugby club hosted for Hugo, we met so many different people whose lives were touched by Hugo and it was astounding to realize how engaged Hugo had been with so many varied activities. He was an exceedingly talented rugby player and that is how I best knew him aside from the engineer, but we heard stories from members of the ultra running community who shared how Hugo was one of the 33 people who finished the 50/50 challenge put on by the 9 Dragons Ultra. They have retired his number 24 race number. The stairmasters held a moment of silence to honor him recently. Several runners shared anecdotes of chatting with him about a diverse range of subjects during some of the ultra-marathon events, revealing that they wanted to talk more but eventually succumbed to fatigue and had to tell Hugo to keep going without them.

Other people talked about Hugo's trip to Nepal last year and how he was in the process of planning a return. In lieu of flowers, Hugo's family is asking to donate to a Nepal NGO that supports children. Oh, and then there is his family. Each member of Hugo's family was just as fascinating and wonderful as Hugo, causing me joy and devastation. His father is a scientist, his mother is an education professional, his sister is an art hurt me so much thinking why, why, why why? Why Hugo who had so much to offer the world?

I don't have answers and I don't know how long it will take for this acute pain in my stomach to subside. I only know that I want to share with my readers who Hugo was. We have lost a most lovely and fascinating young man far too soon.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


So the conundrum...I am actively trying to avoid ranting about Donald Trump and have deliberately not posted any spiels; you can find plenty all over the internet that are more thoughtful, interesting and informative than anything I have to say. On the other hand, this blog is supposed to be a record of my life and it isn't truthful to omit current events as though they haven't been overtaking my thoughts and concerns constantly.

The reality is that I am deeply troubled by the turmoil in my homeland. I don't want to jump straight into invoking Godwin's Law but boy are there some concerns about a president who undermines the intelligence community, courts favor from authoritarians, attacks the judiciary for disagreeing with him, and generally seems unconcerned about the United States Constitution.

SB and I were in the air, having launched our CNY holiday, when the executive orders regarding banning refugees, legally admitted workers, and visitors from several Muslim countries were signed. We entered the San Francisco airport to a surreal situation: the lights seemed to be dimmed at the international terminal just outside of the Immigration security point and there was a strange drumbeat reverberating throughout the area. We turned the corner and saw hundreds of protesters screaming with palpable rage while facing stony faced security personnel in riot gear. As we walked through the terminal we passed several hundred more people who were rushing to join the protest, carrying signs and shouting angrily, "Let them in! Let them in!"

I broke down, crying. I could not help but think of my own family, and how they were desperate, downtrodden, homeless refugees only 40 years ago. The US welcomed my family with open arms. I don't want to think of what would have become of the Tran family if the president had decided to ban refugees from countries in conflict with the United States. A ban against people from communist countries, or against countries at war with the US would have been a death sentence.

Later, I saw the Twitter account Stl_Manifest, which memorialized the Jewish people aboard the St. Louis who were turned away by the United States in 1939 and later died in the Holocaust. I broke down some more. I am sad, I am angry, I am in bewilderment and shock. I don't know what has become of my country that we can be so inhumane.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

let's talk about mental health

On the MTR, two men got into a huff because they were crammed into a packed train car and kept bumping into each other. There was a lot of yelling and gesturing but that was all. Outside of my neighborhood local, a drunk man tried to pick a fight with another drunk man and their friends stepped in to calm them down. I think about this a lot - that we experience annoyance and offense as frequently in Hong Kong as we do in the US, but somehow we manage to avoid going lethal with our conflicts. All too often, we hear about arguments escalating into physical confrontations or worse. We have police forces that arm themselves like Rambo but are so terrified of certain stereotypical people that they fall into shooting sprees at the slightest hint of discomfort. We have "stand your ground" laws that protect hair trigger gun owners for shooting anyone who they might possibly feel scared of, even unarmed, teenage boys that they chased down and tackled. Every day is another story on the news of another panicked or enraged American using their gun instead of their head. Couldn't you have stepped away? No, I must stand my ground.

I think that this very American attitude is troubling to the point where I wonder if it is a mental health issue. Surely we can't call people healthy if they have no ability to cope with conflict and are so indifferent to other humans as thinking, sentient beings that it is easy to dismiss their right to life? When did we become a society of sociopaths?

I'm not going deep into the gun ownership debate because I don't think it is really the problem though it is very much a symptom. I think that our failure to treat mental health is the bigger problem, however I don't think that we should be making it so easy to access guns if we aren't taking on mental health issues. I don't know how many more mass shootings we need before we start to take steps to provide better services to vulnerable and disturbed people. Almost everyone will need some help at some time in their lives. Everyone becomes sad, angry, stressed, etc. and we need ways to relieve pressure and work through it. We shouldn't stigmatize people who need help and I think that we have plenty of reasons why ignoring troubled people is a very bad idea.


My friend Stephen was all over the news this weekend. He was a very fortunate man whose Macbook and backpack absorbed a bullet at the Fort Lauderdale airport. He gave several interviews discussing his concerns regarding mental health awareness and treatment in the US. In the end, he was a five second sound bite. He is understandably disappointed about this, so I will use my little blog to tell the story for him. Below are his words.

"What has disappointed me the most:
After that Friday of Fridays, I agree to a Saturday 5:30am pick-up at my hotel to chat with Good Morning America and ABC News. While no compensation too place, the handler/booker insists on my story's exclusivity (which seemed to have indicated a comprehensive story to my naive self) -- and we drive around the airport aimlessly in circles, with the driver pretending not to know where to park (Bueller, maybe where the 50 media trucks are lined up?), clearly eating-up time so that the competitors have less of a window to talk to me after the sun comes up. Then we arrive after the fourth loop at the obvious media lot. I then sit in the car to wait my turn on camera for way too long -- the engine running and car beeping because the driver was outside talking with a co-worker. (Do you know what that kind of beeping might do to a nervous mind who didn't sleep the night previously? Edgar Allan Poe Tell-Tale Heart kinda head games. I had to turn the car off myself from the passenger side.) I tell my expected story, including how I want both justice for the victims and their families AND more attention for our country's mental health care protocol. Total air time for GMA: 5 seconds. All that stress, mental energy at dawn, and expectations of exclusivity for that? I was told that a lot of content needed to be included, so sorry. Didn't you know that before you asked me for 10 minutes of story-telling? Lesson learned. This is how the game is played. The cutting-room floor is gigantic.
So in advance of any additional media requests:
(1) Yes, you need me to talk about the laptop. I get it... And we MUST lean-in and talk about our country's mental health needs for 60% or more of the interview. I am 17-year counselor yet will always be the son of a Chief Master Sergeant. In this and many ways, I know how to hold a set of opposites in each hand.
- OR -
(2) Please leave me alone. My uncompensated and wasted time in your ratings pursuit is time that I'm not on the phone with my mom, boyfriend, coworkers, friends -- or trying to sleep."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

back in the saddle

I didn't post much of anything regarding the Brexit, Trump, etc., here or on social media, but the same couldn't be said for most everyone else and as a result, I spiraled into deep fatigue at the close of this year. I've had to self impose a media blackout. Even now as I'm typing, I'm out of anything substantive to say. Looking back on this year, there were many things to be joyful about. However, at this moment I feel the shadow of losing first SB's beloved aunt D, then her sister A. And then there is a lawsuit that is about to take place which will be fought to the bitter end, being more about carrying out the last wishes of both sisters than caring about any monetary success. How happy I am to have seen the last of 2016.

So Happy New Year, everyone. May 2017 bring gladder tidings than 2016.