My afternoon beverage: 3-in-1 Coffee

 

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I really, really like 3-in-1 coffee. For those who do not know, this is an instant coffee mixture that is premixed with creamer and sugar. I get super excited when I travel to places where 3-in-1 is the norm. I tell myself to not consume it too often because the ingredients in non-dairy creamer are not the most healthful. Once I read the ingredient list, I don’t enjoy my coffee as much anymore. I drink it anyways.

Recently, I have felt the need for some enjoyable beverage around lunchtime. After spending that much time with 17 year olds, I look for anything that brings me some joy and some relief from the exhaustion. I got myself some Korean 3-in-1 to keep at work. But as my supply is running low, I am hesitant to get more of that stuff. I wondered why we could not just use powdered milk instead of non-dairy creamer.

So I started experimenting with making my own coffee mix. I searched the internet for tips and ideas for this attempt. Here are some of the results of my trials.

INGREDIENTS

Milk powder: I grew up with milk powder so it is not as gross to me as it might be for some. Non-fat milk powder, I find to be, actually disgusting. Most people on the internet seem to be working with non-fat powdered milk but I can imagine the end product is likely to be more watery than if you used whole milk.

For the creamer, I mixed whole powdered milk with a little bit of coconut oil. Not enough to make the powder clump or to taste the coconut but enough to make the coffee a little “softer” tasting.

If one were interested in a mocha like beverage, this is where you would want to add the cocoa powder. I assume one could add any other flavors one would like in their coffee.

For it to be a true 3-in-1 you need the sugar. Powdered sugar works well because it creates an uniform mixture but if you want to use granulated, just make sure to shake your mixture before using.

 

METHOD

Mix the instant coffee and creamer in the proportions you like. I like my coffee quite “white” so I like the coffee to creamer ratio of 1:2. Add the sugar, if using. If you usually measure sugar by the number of spoons per cup, remember you will be using more than a spoon of this mixture for your beverage. 

 

I made my mix and put it in the fridge. When I am ready for my afternoon coffee, I heat up water in the microwave and add some of the powdered mix. In my opinion, it tastes better than the store bought stuff. It might not be as convenient for travel but for my workplace, it works wonderfully. It also ends up being significantly cheaper and creates less waste than the individual packages.

Do other people enjoy coffee mixes? Any brand recommendations?

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Favorite K-Pop vocalist

On one of my K-Pop group chats, someone asked for people’s favorite K-Pop vocalists. Since I mostly listen to boybands, my favorite vocalists are also male. I cannot quite explain why I like these particular singers but they are voices that are super distinct and easily identifiable for me .

1. Jonghyun– One of SHINee‘s main vocals, his voice is definitely my favorite in all of K-Pop. All three of his releases are on my list of (physical) albums, I want to own. His voice is one of the reasons I love SHINee’s songs so much. I have a hard time picking one of his tracks as a favorite because I love them all. But here is one from his latest album, Story Op. 2.

 

2. Jung Joon Young– Another one of my favorites who released one of my favorite K-Pop songs, Sympathy. His music makes me all sorts of happy as it brings together his very unique voice and the rock genre. And here is a live performance of my favorite.

 

3. NiihWA– I am not sure he counts as K-Pop but everyone needs to be listening to this singer/ rapper. You might not find much his work on YouTube but he has more on SoundCloud. Say Yes was his first song I listened to and it continues to be my favorite.

 

4. G.Soul– A talent that was hidden away for 15 years JYPE dungeon. The expectations were high for his debut and it did not let us down. The lead single, You, was a powerful piece that allowed him to truly shine. I have never been disappointed by his releases. Now that he has left JYP, we get to hear more of him and for that I am glad.

 

5. I’M– This singer made it to my list with just two releases. When I heard that he was an ex-TopDogg vocalist, I was so glad that he had the opportunity to do solo work because it would be super sad if we missed out on this awesome talent. Here is his debut

 

It was surprisingly easy to make this list. I looked through my music and these are the artists that I could recall the voices of before I even played their songs. There are many awesome vocalists out there. I find HIGHLIGHT’s Yang Yo Seob, VIXX’s Ken, and EXO’s Chen to be good examples of artists that sound great. But none of them make me want ot listen to songs just for their voices. These five draw me to their songs with their voices.

Latest dessert idea: fruit cobbler

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Blackberry Cobbler; Photo Source: pastrystudio.blogspot.com

I have been trying to eat more fruit and less dessert. It has been working for the most part. But every once in a while there are days when I feel like I absolutely need the added sugar. Lately, that dessert craving is being satisfied by cobblers. It has the fruit, it has the sugar, and it is baked so it feels special.

A cobbler is not that different from the crisps I have talked about.  Instead of the oat based mixture that is added over crisps, cobblers have a biscuit like topping. You could think of it as a variation of a pie.

After making these a few times, this is the version that appeals to me the most because it is the quickest and dirties the fewest dishes. I always make mine in a 8×8 inch square pan so here are the approximate measures for a batch.

What you need: 

Butter, Milk, Sugar, All-purpose flour, Baking powder, Fruit

 

Method:

  • Melt about 6 tbsp of butter and pour into baking dish.
  • Mix about a cup of flour, 1/2 -1 cups of sugar, and a teaspoon of baking powder. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add 1 cup of milk and mix. Do not stir. Mix less than you think you need to.
  • Pour biscuit mixture into pan with butter. Do not stir.
  • Add fruit on top. I would approximate about 2 cups of fruit. Do not mix.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove when the biscuit looks golden.

Notes:

  • I have made this with peaches and blueberries but I imagine it would with pretty much any stone fruit and many berries as well. Apple cobblers are common too.
  • If you are using a glass or ceramic dish you could use the microwave to melt the butter in the baking dish itself.
  • The texture of the biscuit completely depends on the mixing process. If you mix too much, you will end up with a chewy dough that is not as appealing.

A great Kpop week

I wrote a post about my favorite K-Pop tracks from the first half of the year. I also shared some of my favorite albums of the year. But, overall, 2017, especially in the past month or so, has been quite disappointing. Then sometime last week, things changed. I came across a few great tracks one after another. These could all be classified as pop-rock. DAY6 released my favorite song of last year but I have been disappointed by their releases this year so maybe I just needed some songs to fill that rock void.

N.Flying- The Real

Probably the most popular one on the list. I have been looking forward to an N.Flying comeback for about 2 years. Their last album, Awesome, is one of my favorite K-Pop releases. I was surprised by their decision to add a new member to the group but if that was what it took for them to make a comeback, I was totally ok. The track definitely did not disappoint. The crazy meta music video was the highlight for me. And of course the special appearance by our beloved Jang Moon Bok.

 

Buzz- The Love 

They are a pretty old rock group that are known for their ballads. They don’t seem to be too popular with the international audience probably because we don’t love ballads like they do in Korea. This kind of anthemic rock ballads are right up my alley. The sadder, the better. It’s all about the lead singer’s vocals and his ability to constantly hit those high notes. I know I will continue to get goosebumps every time I listen to this song. Jung Joon Young does not have quite as impressive vocals but I would love to see him to a cover of this track.

 

JJ Project- Tomorrow, Today

I had to look them up to learn that they are GOT7 members, JB and Jinyoung and this subunit had debuted even before GOT7. I am not a fan of GOT7’s recent music so I was very glad that these two took a very different route. This sounds very much like it could be a DAY6 track. The harmonies are absolutely fabulous and it’s just super comforting.

 

The Rose- Sorry

I had absolutely no clue who these guys were. It turns out that they are a new band under J&Star Entertainment and this is their debut song. They might be considered K-Indie but I learned that their lead vocalist is a winner of one of the reality shows. Whatever the case, their company needs to get on promoting this group. As for myself, I found a new group to stan.

 

I listened to these four songs on repeat as I wrote this and they still sound excellent. This year has had a many good tracks but I just happened to find all of these in the past week and it has made me very happy. Thank you K-Pop 2017.

Beverage Idea: Switchel

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Ingredients for Switchel; Source: The American Table 

I had been drinking this beverage for about a year before I learned the name for it. Switchel is a vinegar based beverage that is thought to have originated in the West Indies. When I worked on the farm, I drank this a few times a day during the summer. It is a refreshing, non-alcoholic, beverage for work hours. Although alcohol is a perfectly acceptable daytime beverage when you are a farmer 🙂

The reason I decided to share this “recipe” was because I have been drinking a lot of it this summer and realized that not many people are aware of this beverage. It is the best thirst quencher I have come across and many would call it a health tonic as well.

This drink is not for everyone. I have been drinking apple cider vinegar for about five years so, for me, this is just a more appealing way to consume it. There is no consensus on whether apple cider vinegar is good for you so I am just going to leave it at that. What they do agree is that ginger is really good for you; especially for immunity. Here is what you need:

Ingredients: Apple Cider Vinegar, Ginger, Sweetener, Lemon Juice (optional)

It’s not that complicated to make switchel. You mix the three ingredients and dilute it with water. Add ice if you like or just use cold water. Seltzer water makes it even better. Personally, I like to add qual parts of vinegar and lemon juice. It might sound counter-intuitive to add more acid but it really does make the drink more enjoyable.

You can use fresh ginger root or powdered dry ginger. The traditional sweetener of choice was molasses but that is not for everyone. Honey is a popular alternative but the trendy “hipster” versions are made with maple syrup. Use whatever appeals to you. I have even heard of people using it as a mixer for alcoholic beverages but I have not tried that.

It sort of bothers me when I see people pay good money for something that can be made at home, so easily, for so much less. Half a  quart of this stuff sells for around $8. I did the calculations and it costs me less than 25 cents to make the same quantity, even if I used maple syrup. You can make a bigger batch of this and keep it in the fridge much like iced tea.

As I said this is not for everyone. It is an acquired taste that has really grown on me. If you are not in the habit of drinking apple cider vinegar and would like to try it, this is a nice introduction. If you are just an adventurous person and want to add a new drink to you list of summer beverages, this is an interesting choice. I would encourage you to try it even just to know what the hype is all about.

Throwback Thursday: My First Drama

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Mei-chan no Shijsuji (2009); Source: wiki.d-addicts

I have had an interesting Asian entertainment journey as my horizons continue to expand. I started with manga sometime in high school. Anime seemed like the sensible next step. It was a predictable jump from there to dramas. And now 10 years later, I venture into different genres and languages. But this is where it all started.

Mei-chan no Shitsuji (Mei-chan’s Butler), was my very first drama. I watched it around when it first came out. I was completely drawn in by the live action version of this shojo manga. The story was so unique and unlike anything I had ever seen. The totally unrealistic plot was understandable in manga form but when I discovered that this was translated into a real live action drama, my mind was blown.

For those who have not heard of this show, Mei-chan no Shitsuji is about a poor, orphaned girl who ends up in an elite high school. It is an all-girls school where all students are in training to become “ladies”. The best part is that each student has a handsome, male butler. The school is set in a ridiculously large campus where students are transported by helicopters. The drama explores Mei-chan’s journey as she goes from being an outcast to a well-loved classmate.

I was in love since the very first episode. This drama introduced me to three of my favorite Japanese actors, Nana Eikura as Mei-chan, Hiro Mizushima as her butler Shibata Rihito, and Takeru Sato as Shibata’s younger brother and aspiring butler. They do not get a chance to completely showcase their abilities. But these are the same individuals who went on to capture my heart in N No Tame Ni, Hana Kimi, and Rurouni Kenshin, respectively.

As one might expect, this show is a comedy. There is a little bit of romance and a love triangle. For me the highlight of the drama has always been the stories behind the lady-butler relationships. Every episode focuses on a different pair and their challenges. This might sound odd but they are some of the most touching stories I have encountered in drama. They really emphasize the loyalty of the butlers but they also show that it is a two way thing. The ladies are equally concerned about the well-being of their devoted butlers. The drama highlights a few different relationships; friends that grew up together, a butler who is essentially a bodyguard, and another pair who are lovers.

After having watched many dramas since my first experience with Mei-chan, I have come to accept that strange things do happen in drama-land. Our heroines are often poor and forced into strange situations where they have to interact with the ultra-wealthy. Most romantic relationships include a love triangle or two, and our leads can always use their charms to save the day. My first drama was not all that odd.

I have learned that I tend to love the live-action adaptations of shojo mangas. In fact, I seek them out from time to time. In the midst of watching realistic dramas like Valid Love, and Candy House, I crave dramas like Mei-chan and Hana Kimi. In fact, these are two of my most re-watched drama. They are both funny, unrealistic, but heartwarming stories of relationships and community. They are simple stories that take me back to a time when my own life was more simple.

As I said in my last post, there is a drama to fit every mood and every life situation, it’s just a matter of finding the right one when you need it. There has never been a time when Mei-chan no Shitsuji has failed to lift up my spirits. I hope that all of us find shows that fits our moods and make us feel better.

Just What I Needed: Secret Forest

 

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Secret Forest (2017); Source: AsianWiki

It’s been a while since I last posted. I have been job hunting and that consumed all of my brainpower. Now that things are falling into place I can get back to writing about all the things I actually love. During my time away from the blog, I did not have the chance to watch much drama. I have not completed a single drama in the past 2 months (not including re-watches). I was surprised that it was in the midst of all the stress and lack of interest that I found one of my new favorites.

Dramas have been a part of my life for many years now. It has provided me with entertainment, stress-relief, food for thought, comfort, and connections with new friends. A week ago I, once again, looked to dramas, to take a break from the job hunting process. I think there is a drama that fits every mood of mine and its just a matter of finding the right one for the right time. This time I decided to try Secret Forest aka Stranger. I had read good things about it and it was a detective, investigation drama so I was pretty sure it would not be terrible.

Secret Forest is everything I needed and more. It is K-Drama at its best. It reminded me that there are always great new dramas to discover. Secret Forest is just excellent television. I am not sure how well this show did in Korea but it seems to be pretty popular with the international audience. Some might say that Signal is the best drama ever made but, for me, Secret Forest is even better. But I cannot quite put a finger on what makes this show so remarkable.

Writing interesting reviews are not my thing but I wanted to mention the two best things about the drama, the acting and the pacing. The acting is brilliant. This was a great introduction to both the main leads. I had not heard of Bae Doo Na until this show.  We have definitely been missing out in dramaland. This is her first drama in 7 years. I think she picked an excellent show for her comeback. Her acting chops combined with her awesome character has quickly made her one of my favorite leading ladies in KDrama.

I was equally unfamiliar with Jo Seung Woo, the star of the show. He plays an emotionless prosecutor tackling corruption in the South Korean justice system. His ability to go through sixteen episodes with no emotions, save two smiles, was impressive indeed. I can only imagine how good the man would be when given a role where he actually had to emote.

If one were to go by plot alone, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about this show. As with many Korean detective/ law shows, the focus is corruption. But it is not an episodic procedural. What is worth mentioning is the flow. At no point did I feel like the show was dragging or that I was beginning to lose interest. It is very rare that I go through an entire drama without skipping at least bits and pieces of it. I watched every minute of this one.

Not only did the show maintain a constant pace, it also managed a great ending. It is an intelligent show. It required my full attention. But it didn’t leave me pondering the meaning of life. Neither did it leave me with that hollow feeling after having binge watched a great drama. I didn’t leave feeling unsatisfied and wishing that the show would keep going. The sixteen episode format was what drew me to Korean dramas and this was a perfect example. I was absolutely content. I don’t need a second season.

The problem with a drama like Secret Forest is that it completely changes my expectations for dramas. Last night, as I updated my drama list, I had to re-rate some of my other top dramas and re-organize my top shows as I had to make a spot for a new favorite. Now I have a drama that’s giving some serious competition to my all time favorite Cruel City. I do not expect or even want all my dramas to be this good but I keep wondering when I will next come across such a gem. What if I never get to it because it got buried in my long list of plan-to-watch?

After watching this show I realized that a lot of how much we enjoy a drama comes from what makes us feel good at that given moment. I like my fluffy romance when I am pretty stress-free myself. Nothing makes me feel uplifted like a good Japanese slice-of-life. On “normal” days, I do enjoy the messing-with-the-mind type shows. At this time in my life, Secret Forest was just what I needed. Now I am ready to start a new job and get back to enjoying my dramas.

Concerts Galore: Monsta X and G-Dragon

There have been so many K-Pop concerts, in Texas, lately. In 2017 alone, we have had SHINEE, B.A.P. and, DEAN. Tonight MONSTA X will be performing, in Dallas, while       G-DRAGON will be in Houston. SEVENTEEN and Taeyang have already announced Dallas concerts in the coming months. I am happy they are all coming here. If only I had the money to attend all of them 😦

I must admit that I am not too familiar with either MONSTA X or GD’s discographies. Neither of them have, consistently, put out music that draws me in. Today I decided to put together a list of my favorite 5 tracks for each of the artists.

 

G-DRAGON

  1. Crooked – This is essential K-Pop listening. This is GD doing what he does best and showing why he is one of K-Pop’s biggest stars.

 

2. Untitled, 2014 – I did not think I would like this track as much as it did. It is not typical GD style and it is refreshing to listen to his singing voice.

 

3. Today– An excellent B-Side that greatly appealed to me because of, Nell singer, Kim Jong Wan.

 

4. ROD (feat. Lydia Paek)- Many consider Coup D’Etat one of the best K-Pop albums. It’s not really my style of music but this particular B-Side is one I greatly enjoy.

 

5. One Of A Kind- This track was my introduction to GD. It really highlights his unique rapping style as well as personality.

MONSTA X

 

  1. Fighter– This track is quite different from the rest of their discography. The B.A.P style with the rock sounds make it a clear favorite of mine.

 

2. Hero- This is probably their most iconic song. When it first came out, I was a little surprised by the choreography and even now it is impossible to listen to this track without thinking of the dance routine.

 

3.All In- One of Monsta X’s most melodic tracks. Although it did not receive great reviews when it came out, I was always a fan. It seems to be inspired by some of BTS’s successful music and the epic music video makes it all the more memorable.

 

4. Beautiful- One of their latest releases that took a while to grow on me. The combination of the aggressive, Monsta X style, combined with the falsetto chorus makes for a very interesting production.

 

5. Hieut (with Nochang, Junggigo, and Vasco)- Technically not Monsta X since this track came out before the group was officially formed. This was one of their first tracks that I listened to and I was pleasantly surprised.

 

What do you think of these artists? What are some of your favorite tracks? 

Savory Pies with Olive Oil Crusts

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Tomato Pie; Source: Food Network

I ate a lot of pies in university. Not the sweet, fruit sort. But a savory kind. My friends and I were CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and would get huge boxes of vegetables each week. The only problem was that it was a lot of the same vegetable. Whether it was summer tomatoes, fall kale, or winter squash, we always had too much of something. As agriculture students we were used to dealing with excess produce. We just needed  to get creative with our ingredients.

One of the most interesting ways creations, that I learnt, were savory pies. You can think of them as similar to a quiche but without the eggs. You almost always cook the vegetable before using it as filling. I lived in France so cheese was a part of all pies. As with all of my favorite foods, the possibilities for fillings are endless. A few of my favorites include, roasted tomato and Emmental cheese, squash/ pumpkin with Béchamel sauce, and potatoes with Reblochon cheese.

Savory pies are meant to be a quick and easy dinner. A slice of pie, a salad, and a glass of wine was a lazy but nice meal. For a while, I was very hesitant to make this on a regular basis because making pie crust is a pain. That’s when a friend shared a trick. Make a press-onto-pan pie crust. It’s similar to a cookie or graham cracker crust used in some sweet pies.

Method:

Mix flour (I think whole wheat actually tastes better in this case) with a decent bit of virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of water. You don’t need a dough; just a crumbly mixture. Using too much water will lead to a chewy crust.

Dump the crumbly mixture into the pie pan. Use your fingers to press the mixture around the bottom and edges of the pan.

You do not need to pre-bake the crust. Just add your fillings and bake. The liquid from the filling will help the crust to come together a little better during the baking process.

 

Breakfast Idea: Baked Oatmeal

I wish I liked oats more than I actually do. Oatmeal porridge is definitely a no go for me. I am very particular about my granola so I no longer bother to find/ make the perfect one. Every time I try muslei, I hope to like it unfortunately I never do. There is always the crisp idea that I posted but I am always looking for variety.

The one oat-based breakfast that I do know I enjoy is baked oatmeal. The first time I ate, a very plain version of this, I realised that it was something I could probably actually enjoy if I modified it.

What is baked oatmeal? It as a baked dish that cooks oats in a custard mixture. Other than the oats, it contains milk and eggs. Any other additions are optional. This means that the possibilities are endless. My favorite addition, as always, is fruit. I have tried it with stone fruits, apples, and bananas. I am sure it would work just as well with berries or pretty much any other fruit you could think of.

Method

Make a custard mixture with milk and eggs. Add vanilla if you desire.

Make a dry ingredient mixture of rolled oats, salt, and a bit of baking powder. Add any spices like cinnamon or nutmeg if you would like.

There should be an equal volume of dry mixture as liquid mixture. In my experience, 2 cups of oats mixed with 1.5 cups of milk and 1 egg makes about 4 servings.

Mix wet and dry ingredients. Add sugar if you so desire.

Use a baking pan or a pie pan. Add fruit to the pan and then cover with oatmeal mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes and you will be able to cut the oatmeal into slices. It is enjoyable eaten warm. I eat it with yogurt and sometimes maple syrup.

Baked oatmeal is a very filling breakfast and can be made ahead for a few days at a time. I am going to try and come up with some savory versions of baked oatmeal and will share any good finds.

Do you have any ways in which you enjoy eating oats?