Upo! (a vegetable, not the Greek saying at weddings)

upo 2

My parents visited last weekend and handed over one of their prized garden vegetables, squash, also known as upo or opo. Unfortunately, I chopped it before thinking of taking a photo. It had to be at least 1.5 ft long. Upo, a mildly flavored squash/gourd, can usually be found at your local Asian market.

image from Epicurious, A Visual Guide to Asian Fruits and Vegetables

image from Epicurious, A Visual Guide to Asian Fruits and Vegetables

Upo with Shrimp

  • 1.5 cup of upo (peel the skin, scoop out the seeds, and dice into bite-sized pieces)
  • ½ lb of shrimp (I used half a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
  • cooking oil (I used coconut)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • fish sauce (optional)
  • chicken broth

In a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon of cooking oil and sweat the garlic and ginger, then add the diced upo and a few splashes of chicken broth and cover. After about 5 minutes, add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and shrimp and cook until shrimp and upo are tender. Add more soy sauce if you need more kick, and add fish sauce if you’re daring!

And I’ll definitely be trying one of these recipes in the near future!!!

24 Hours in Wilmington Celebrating 4 Years of Marriage

Wilmington, NC is a special place for Paul and me to return and celebrate our 4-year wedding anniversary a little early (August 27, 2011). We came here a couple of years ago for our Babymoon, visiting famous Dawson’s Creek sites and driving down the coast. On our visit this time around, we did a little bit of old and new.

At Hieronymus Seafood (named after the Greek owner), Paul and I tried their clam strips, grilled flounder with sides, shrimp with bay seasoning, and peanut butter pie. The shrimp I ordered were freshly caught and perfectly steamed. A family-friendly establishment, we can’t wait to bring Lucas to Hieronymus Seafood. He’d especially love the shadow box dining tables full sand and seashells. Eating seafood always reminds us of our days in Baltimore, MD where Paul and I first lived as a married couple. We used to treat our friends and family to local crab restaurants or oyster bars.

After lunch we headed to Wrightsville Beach, one of the most popular beaches near Wilmington. It could not have been a more perfect day! We sat on the beach reading our books on the sand, cooling off in the ocean, and collecting seashells for our son.

For dinner Paul and I headed to Front Street’s famous French restaurant, Caprice Bistro, in downtown Wilmington. With its tall mirrors, intimate seating, and impeccable wait staff, Caprice Bistro succeeds in giving you a French dining experience (I even saw a waiter whisk past us transporting two baguettes in straw basket from one side of the kitchen to the next). We ordered their curry mussels, gazpacho, asparagus, and grouper. The curry mussels was my favorite dish. Just don’t ask the wait staff to take a picture of you. Ours said she didn’t have time to. I tried not to take it personally, but it was a little disappointing. Perhaps wait staff are trained not to cater to this request (?).

The next morning, Paul and I drove to one of the best new restaurants in the area, Wake N Bake, a coffee and donut shop. But of course these aren’t your average donuts. The staff member behind the counter, wearing a red shirt and baseball cap, was a terrific cross between beach and grunge. We asked him to describe about half a dozen donuts and he did so graciously. After much debate, we settled on the Samoa, crème brulee, and glazed donuts. I couldn’t believe how closely the Samoa donut aesthetically resembled and tasted just like the Girl Scout cookie (did I just use ‘aesthetically’ to describe a donut?). Of course the crème brulee donut was out of this world! Good thing it was hot outside, otherwise we would have bought more to take home!

In the afternoon, Paul and I drove to Fort Fisher, another beach we returned to since our Babymoon. It was peaceful to walk on the coast, explore more of the area by the gracefully windswept (literally!) trees, and talk with a few couples who were sitting at a gazebo lookout by the coast. One young man walked into the gazebo and started taking photos, bursting out that he was going to get married in a year and this was a potential venue. One young couple (ok, very young) with a set of dogs told everyone they had been married in this gazebo a year ago. I couldn’t stop thinking about how simple and poetic their ceremony must have been. Sorry to be sentimental but the scene felt magical for a moment. Those two young lovebirds were a good representation of love—love is simple.

Paul and I looked out at the sea, taking everything in for a few breaths, not having to say anything but just being present. When I turned around the couple was gone, they were already halfway up the path with their dogs, going who knows where, but it didn’t matter, they had each other.

Discovery at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences

museum

On Saturday Lucas woke up early and in a good mood, so we finally trekked the whole 40 minutes to Raleigh to explore the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Once entering the museum, we paid a suggested donation of $1 for a museum guide and asked the rep which exhibits were appropriate for a toddler. He mentioned the Discovery Room, which is a hands-on discovery room (playroom) for little kids. Before reaching the playroom, we looked at artifacts including a whole whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling as well as live creatures such as fish, snakes, and bugs.

The Discovery Room was abundant with things to do! I spotted a costume corner and couldn’t resist putting Lucas in a bumblebee outfit (I often sing a bumblebee song to him). Lucas also enjoyed playing with wooden blocks, natural objects, and stuffed toys. There are too many things to mention here about the ways Lucas has grown. His speech has taken off and he can identify a number of animals. I think what’s key is that the museum allows him to see animals and objects that we talk about in books, TV, and real life, and reinforces these associations. In other words, a museum trip is good for learning and of course, fun!

Burger and Milkshake Cravings

burger

Buns in Chapel Hill

If your burger taste is a touch above the White Castle burgers of the Harold and Kumar movie, then you’re in luck, the Triangle has plenty of good quality burger establishments. I have to admit that I haven’t been to Raleigh enough to know about the scene there, but I look forward to finding out! Here are my favorites for Chapel Hill and Durham:

Buns in Chapel Hill. I’ve taken friends and family to this establishment and they all love the burger and bun! While I usually get a beef burger, there are other options such as turkey or veggie, or chicken or salmon sandwiches. My friend loves the salmon sandwich topped with wasabi mayo and Asian slaw. Buns also whips up a diverse range of dipping sauces for their regular or sweet potato fries, and their milkshakes are reasonably priced. Flavors like salted caramel and vanilla Cheerwine (cherry-flavored soda) are local favorites!

Only Burger was mentioned to us by our Durham friends when we first came to the area. They have two locations in Durham—the American Tobacco location just opened—and a food truck. Their burger meat is fresh and locally sourced. Sides like pickle chips, onion rings, and fried green tomatoes are another reason to travel the extra mile. With the unique ambiance of the American Tobacco location, and the addition of milkshakes and local craft beer to the menu, this is the only place to get a burger in Durham.

Other favorites:

Bull City Burger and Brewery (downtown Durham) has good beef and veggie burgers.

Al’s Burger Shack (Franklin St in Chapel Hill) serves burgers, hot dogs, sides, custard milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches made with Maple View Farm’s ice cream.

Paternal Leave and Paid Leave Movement

Netflix

Netlflix is one of the latest companies to offer paid leave to new parents (but the policy only applies to salaried workers). The subject of family leave became important to my husband and me only when we learned we were expecting. The Family and Medical Leave Act (F.M.L.A.) of 1993 allows parents to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Your employer can require you to use your vacation or sick days during these weeks. After giving birth to our son, I used up my sick and vacation days to cover a few weeks, but I also had some unpaid days. I was fortunate to do this at my workplace; most low-wage workers cannot afford to take time off from work.

The U.S. Department of Labor is spearheading a paid leave movement and reports that the U.S. is the only ‘developed’ or ‘industrialized’ country without a national paid leave law (#LeadOnLeave). We’ve got a long way to go, but there are some successes at the state level. California, New Jersey (shout out!), and Rhode Island all have family and medical leave laws.

The paid leave movement already includes several cities, localities, and states and the District of Columbia. Pittsburgh was the latest city to pass a bill that requires employers to offer paid sick leave, which can include taking time off to care for your newborn baby. (And, if for whatever reason you have something against Jersey, you should click on the map below because Jersey is doing something right).

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 7.33.35 PM (source and detailed report: National Partnership for Women and Families)

If you’re a father and work for one of the companies on the list below (NY Times), consider yourself fortunate to have the option to take paid paternal leave:

paternal leave

I realize this post is very scant in information and analysis, but I think it’s really important to keep an eye on these issues if you’re thinking of having a kid, or if paid sick leave is a priority for you!

Peachy Summer Menu Ideas

peaches

Prepping South Carolina peaches for cobbler

It’s peach season in the south! Fortunately I had an introduction to the south early on in my childhood, so moving to North Carolina wasn’t my first time to experience the culinary charms of the south. For a few summers growing up, my parents would drive my brother and me to visit our relatives in Williamsburg, Virginia. One southern dessert they introduced us to was peach cobbler, the southern counterpart to the northern apple pie, and I became hooked! After spending a day in the Virginia heat, nothing’s better than enjoying a generous serving of gooey, buttery, peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream (or whipped cream!).

Here are four easy peach recipe ideas for your summer menu. Ideally you should use ripe peaches.

  1. Peach cobbler. The recipe I use is from Virginia Hospitality which includes peaches, flour, sugar, butter, egg, salt, lemon juice and almond extract.
  2. Peach salsa. Dice a few peaches and put them in your favorite salsa fresca recipe.
  3. Grilled peaches. My brother grills peaches drizzled with honey and serves it to complement steak. When you eat them together it’s like that moment in Ratatouille:

Ratatouille

4.   Peach smoothie. I recently tried blending a combination of avocado, banana, soy milk, and peaches. Because my peaches were ripe, I didn’t have to add extra sweetener.