my 2 cents

3 things I do to stay, feel, be young

I turned 36 Saturday. I still consider 36 mid-thirties, but the hubs likes to annoy me and say I’m in my upper thirties now. When I was young, 36 sounded so grown-up. Now that I’m actually a grown-up, I don’t feel much like an adult at all. Example: I still shudder when someone refers to me or my girlfriends as women.

“You mean us girls?” I’d say.

At family weddings, I’ll ask, “Where’s the kids table?” because I still classify myself separately from the adults/parents.

Age is often a state of mind. I’m happier now than I was in my twenties because I am more grounded and self aware. Even so, aging does concern me. I actually think I might be better off blind since I’ll never know how many wrinkles have formed. The downside is if I miraculously regain vision one day, I’m in for a total shocker.

But because I want to be young as long as possible, there are a few pillars to my “youth.” (Like how I put that word in quotes?)
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LookTel Money Reader, KNFB Reader & Be My Eyes: Apps that help the blind

Without asking a sighted person, how does a blind individual differentiate between a $1 bill and a $100? How does a visually impaired person read their prescription labels?

No, this is not one of those Singaporean logic problems that recently took the world by storm. They’re common questions I and other visually impaired people get whenever we meet sighted people who are curious about how we go about our mundane everyday tasks.

I say, thank God for technology.

Technology is a big part of our lives, and perhaps those of us without sight depend on it even more. I use my Macbook to write, email, create recipes, and curate menus. I use JAWS to post blog entries and conduct web research, among other work. I use my iPhone to post on social media, communicate (obviously), and read the news. I also utilize a few specialized apps designed with the blind in mind. Life ain’t easy when you’re blind, but it’s made just a tad easier with the help of certain technologies.
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12 tips for a healthier, happier life

**This post was originally published on NMO Diaries and has been slightly edited for this blog.

Many who have watched me on “MasterChef” or listened to me speak or follow me on social media often wonder what’s my secret to life. Unfortunately, like any other human being (except for maybe the Dalai Lama), I have no key to the universe. I don’t know what the hell is going on half the time, and the other half, I spend wondering how I’m going to make it through the hour, day, week, or year.

In spite of never having complete control over my life (which, if you are human, chances are you don’t either), I’ve been doing my best to control what I can. That is, I’ve been on a steady (albeit slow) path towards healthier living for almost two years now, and here are twelve tips I’ve picked up along the way. I must insert a caveat first: I am not going to pretend I have it all together and follow all twelve rules 100% of the time. But I do try to follow them to the best of my ability given the particular circumstance at any given moment. I’m no sage when it comes to enlightenment—even though we know what we should do, we often don’t do it—but these are twelve things I’ve been giving more thought to ever since: (1) being healthy got trendy, (2) I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and (3) I became more proactive at improving my standard of living.
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Everything you ever wanted to know about cutting boards

Having first learned to cook as a college student with very limited funds, I’ve had my fair share of crappy cutting boards. Moreover, as a novice cook, I did not know how to take care of these cutting boards, thereby contributing to their crappiness. My first cutting board was wooden, and although I knew not to run it through the dishwasher—oh wait, my first college apartment didn’t have a dishwasher—I had no idea wooden boards needed to be oiled to keep from splitting.

So for a long time, I used these dry, cracked wooden boards, ignoring the idea of bacteria teeming from within. I sliced raw beef on the same board I’d use to chop spinach. I left the board sitting in the wet sink until my roommates and I had our weekly argument about whose turn it was to do the dishes.
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Eating Saigon 3.0: Love the Lunch Lady & hanging with my pops

For now, this is the last in my Saigon series, covering my most recent trip to HCMC in January. (Read about my eats from early July 2014 and late July 2014.) This time, as usual, I ate more street food, but I also ventured to less traditional places and had lunch outings with my pops, who has since moved back to Vietnam after retirement.
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Eating Saigon 2.0: So much crab, I got hives + one of my favorite street foods in Vietnam

Following my early July 2014 trip to Vietnam where I attended the KOTO fundraising gala, I returned to Saigon just a few weeks later to do another guest appearance on MasterChef Vietnam season 2 and work with the show’s sponsor, Knorr Vietnam. You know I can’t go to Vietnam without eating Saigon, so here’s what I had this time around.
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Eating Saigon 1.0: 3 different regions, 1 city in Vietnam

Happy new year (again)! In continuing the closer look we’re taking at Vietnamese traditions, like those of lunar new year, today I’m actually taking you back to Vietnam.

I was born in California and didn’t visit the country of my heritage until I was 18. It would be another 16 years after that first pilgrimage before I’d returned to Vietnam again. Consequently, this second trip was after MasterChef, and I was going to Vietnam to appear in the inaugural season of “MasterChef” Vietnam as a celebrity guest judge. Since then, I’ve been back to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City an additional three times, and on each trip, I eat to my stomach’s content.

Food in Vietnam, especially the “street food,”* is delicious and inexpensive—it’s my absolute favorite stuff to eat over there.

And so in the spirit of street food’s no frills, no nonsense attitude, I’ll get right down to business and deliver the goods.
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Eating NYC 2.3: Sushi Nakazawa


Created with flickr slideshow.

Chronologically preceding theMasterChef reunion spanning three generations and my first visit to the Bronx, here’s my final installment of my New York City 2.0 series. Upon touching down at Newark, I checked into my hotel, freshened up, met up two friends and my cousin, and headed straight to Sushi Nakazawa.

If you’ve ever seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you may recall Daisuke Nakazawa, the chef who, under the tutelage of sushi master Jiro, learned to perfect tamago, a beloved Japanese egg custard, but only after having prepared it 200 times.

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Eating NYC 2.2: My first visit to the Bronx


Created with flickr slideshow.

I know very little about the Bronx. Actually, I’ve never been outside Manhattan to any of the surrounding boroughs, with the exception of getting to and from LaGuardia airport and a couple of trips to Brooklyn. I only knew three things about the Bronx: (1) it had a zoo, (2) the Yankees play there, and (3) J. Lo is from the Bronx.

From what I’ve gathered from media over the years, I pictured the Bronx as home to the blue-collared working class. Tell me I’m not that far off…?

The thing about the working class is they are a no-bullsh*t type of people, which means their food is usually unpretentious, inexpensive, and flavorful.

Eating was, however, the secondary reason as to why I came to the Bronx in June. Danielle, founder of Global Pop-Up, asked me to visit the Lavelle School for the Blind to inspire the kids with a little talk and cooking demo. I’ve been so fortunate to be placed in such a position—to be able to inspire others towards unbound heights—so I accepted the invitation since I was in NYC already for the AFB 2014 HKAAs.
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Eating NYC 2.1: Fior di latte, raw baby octopus, and fish sauce cocktails


Created with flickr slideshow.

Even though I was in New York City this June for the AFB 2014 Helen Keller Achievement Awards, I made sure I set aside time for some good eaten’ since NYC is such a gastronomical destination. Because MasterChef season 4 winner Luca Manfé’s cookbook, My Italian Kitchen had just published, I also made it a point to meet up with Luca to get my copy signed and for a little MC reunion.

Luca set up an evening of cocktails and pizzas at Zio Ristorante, a bumpin’ Italian restaurant from his friend, also named Luca. (Who would’ve thought?) There I met Christine Silverstein and Elizabeth Cauvel from MasterChef season 5 (which was currently airing at the time). That’s right, three generations of MasterChef contestants getting together to eat and drink. I was also ecstatic to meet up with some familiar faces from crew: Perry, Trask, and JP, who were like my guardians during my sequestered time away at MC3. (Perry and Trask even refer to themselves as my MC3 “mom and dad”—they’ve seen all of us contestants at our best and our worst.)

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