San Franola Granola : Lifestyle to Business

By Tsz on March 22, 2011

Small businesses fascinate me.

Perhaps it’s has to do with my childhood aspirations. I had no dreams of grandeur such as creating state policy being a senator, saving lives as a police officer or making millions on Wall Street. All I wanted was to be able to create, to produce something that beautify people’s lives or at least made them happy for a moment.

Yet, I have no idea how to do so and I’ll admit I still don’t. I went to college for art and business where I learned more outside of class than in. After that, I’ve stage in a restaurant for pastries, worked in an architecture firm and am currently designing in a studio. While I enjoy what I do, there’s a gnawing feeling that I still haven’t found my niche.

One thing is certain though, I love to learn about how small businesses get started. In fact, interviewing them and figuring out design can help push them forward is the best part of my job.

Even outside of design, whenever I visit a cool store or a nice eatery, I can’t help but to engage them in conversation. It’s just inspirational to hear about a problem they decided to tackle and how their product/service is able to help.

One such company is San Franola Granola. Started by friends Matt Teichmann and David Miskie, they took on the challenge of creating a healthier granola. After finding them at a party in San Francisco, I got to learn more about their story through Matt.

12 years ago, David’s dad was dealing with health issues due to an unhealthy diet. It was clear he had to overhaul his lifestyle so he worked with David to start exercising and to eat better. From that, he created his own granola recipe.

There’s a common misconception about granola. Its name may paint a picture of health but the product is anything but. That’s because the rolled oats are individually coated with a thick layer of sugar and butter, rendering the initial health benefits useless.

So, David’s dad started experimenting in the kitchen. After hundreds of batches, he landed upon the winning formula: roasted almonds, maple syrup, flax seeds, rolled oats, whey protein, canola oil, molasses and a touch of cinnamon. Using all-natural ingredients, he was able to lower the sugar content per serving significantly as well as provide fiber and protein, making it his go-to snack after his work-outs.

With the combination of a healthy diet and exercise routine, David’s dad was able to shed 40 pounds and feel even better.

Wanting to share this granola with others, David and Matt left their full-time jobs and bootstrapped to launch San Franola together. It’s only been a little over a year, but they’re spreading throughout NorCal. And most excitingly, starting to get carried in Los Angeles.

Here’s to healthy eating!


Trust Your Gut : The Most Memorable St. Patrick’s Day

By Tsz on March 19, 2011

This is for all the girls who have been in abusive relationships, girls currently in abusive relationships, as well as everyone who has a mother, a sister, an aunt, or a girl friend. Take this as a cautionary tale.

I used to be naive. I didn’t understand people in abusive relationships. Why couldn’t they see the toxic environment they are in? And even if they did, why wouldn’t they leave? Don’t they value themselves?

For me, I thought I was above it all. That I would never be a victim. After all, I’m independent, smart, and have a foolproof method for weeding out unsavory guys. I was invincible.

Or so I thought.

From May to November of last year, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. The ironic detail is that I didn’t even know it. In fact, it was only on this St. Patrick’s Day that I had the realization.

I now understood, having been in the same position that countless women have been in. Abuse doesn’t just come in physical punches, but rather in many forms. Insidious tearing downs and having friends taken away is just as bad, because there are no concrete markings for others to see and step in. Your self-esteem takes a beating and it changes your perception of people forevermore. I know it’ll take time for me to learn to trust again.

Looking back, I should have heeded all the subtle warnings made by others while I was in thick of it and trusted my gut—that feeling you get (not unlike indigestion) when something’s off. Because, even though you are influenced by your heart, deep inside, you still know when something is wrong.

The disconcerting truth about being in an abusive relationship is it rarely begins as one.

Instead, it started out as any other relationship with genuine feelings and attraction coming from both parties. Although an abusive relationship begins from a place of good intentions, the path it takes soon strays to a different trail. Due to insecurities, or in my case, I was with someone struggling to maintain the facade of the perfect man in spite of a bad reputation.

The ironic thing was, if he had been truthful from the very beginning, this would have had a different ending—one that didn’t result in betrayal but rather acceptance. After all, one shouldn’t be judged forever based on their past (unless they were a serial killer), but rather upon their present actions.

Instead, he did everything in his power to protect his seemingly spotless image. When confronted about unsettling information about his character and his actions brought up by others, he would change the subject, putting the blame instead on the so-called perpetrator.

By interjecting gossip and creating fabrications, he would bury the truth by undermining the reputations of those who stood up to him or had warned me. The fact whether they were my friends or his friends were irrelevant—all were fair game. To gain my trust, he also used his experience and profession as grounds for knowing better, always putting emphasis on his desire to protect me.

As time went on, I grew unsure of what’s true and what’s false and my friendships deteriorated. I doubted the sincerity of others, stopped going out and looked to the relationship as my main support.

But by then, the relationship has long changed dynamics. No longer was there communication. In its place, broken dates, exclusions and excuses. When I questioned his many disappearances and trips, he blamed it on work even though there were photos online proving otherwise. More alarmingly, there were flirtatious messages between him and others all over the internet that showed little regard to the relationship or me for that matter. Yet, he always knew just what to say, twisting the situation and claiming I was unsupportive.

I had such a distorted view of him that although it was clear the relationship was ill-fitting, I stayed on due to guilt and obligation. I learned to make due even though I was unhappy. Like a friend had once said, it was as if I was trying to put two pieces of the puzzle that was not meant to be together. You know, the cloud pieces that looks as if they fit so you try again and again, hoping the wear on the sides would give accordingly.

One of the my most regrettable moments in doing so was wavering on my stance on when to become intimate in a relationship. My personal rule is to be in love first. But due to increasing pressure and wrongfully placed guilt, I caved in before I was ready. What was meant to be an intimate and beautiful act became cheapen and debased. It felt as if a part of me died.

After a particularly bad month, my work, family and friends started taking notice. Although I brush off their concern, I finally started looking at the relationship at face value. Making a mental checklist, I realized I was emotionally starving and that there was no hope for the situation getting better.
It was then crystal clear what I had to do.

Over a meal of Chicken McNuggets and a bottle of Mexican coke, I told him I couldn’t continue. He blamed work and everything else as usual and pleaded me to stay one year, promising things will change.

Immediately, my gut hurt acutely and this time I paid attention. I simply said no and told him I could very well hate him by then so instead, I’d like to end the relationship on a good note and be friends. After saying it, I felt like Atlas without the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Yet the guilt remain. He works so hard at his job and was I am breaking up with him based on his work ethics? All because I was unhappy? I felt horrible and tried to make amends by making plans to hang out with him—in essence, putting myself in the same cycle.

I was also slow to let others know of the breakup because of the guilt, but as I started opening up months later, it was as if the world finally spoke up about the elephant in the room and the truth came out.

Every event I went to, I learned something new about him through others—and if I had paid attention, even while I was in the relationship. At first I defended him, but the pieces started making sense. Though the truth was hard to hear, it was really the deception and dishonesty involved in concealing it all that was upsetting. To take advantage of someone’s good will and trust to protect themselves was and still is hard to believe.

I became angry at myself for the time wasted, but looking at it from another light, I am proud of myself for getting out as quickly as I could, before the point of no return. Not to mention I had repaired my friendships even before I had ended the relationship.

But I’ve still got a long way to go. Learning to trust, or specifically, trusting the right people will take time.

And so, I want others to heed this cautionary tale. If I could stop at least one other girl from making the same mistake, then it’s not for nothing. I wish for everyone to be careful and to look out for their friends because the sad truth is no one is immune.

With this journal entry, I want to take notes for myself, to refer back to as need, these promises to myself:

I will trust my gut.
I will only lose my heart to a man who’s willing to fight for me as much as I fight for him.
Do not make due or settle.
Most of all, treasure my friends.

After what seemed to be the worst St. Patrick’s Day where I only wanted to stay home, my friend Christina dragged me out the the most random and fabulous party in an Austrian mansion across from Oscar De La Hoya’s home. With a night full of authentic Irish meal of corn beef, dill potatoes and boil cabbage, good conversation and better company, I felt renewed.

And yes, even got my chocolate fix with Irish Car Bomb cupcakes—rich and sinfully delicious. As I walked into their bathroom to wash my hands of incriminating crumbs, I looked upon the endless mirrors and in my best Marie Antoinette accent said, “let them eat cake!”


Bacon Card Giveaway Winner

By Tsz on March 17, 2011

First of all, I’d like to give thanks for everyone’s support and votes for the Alaska Fish Taco contest. Although my taco didn’t win, we put up a strong fight!

Plus, the contest lead me down an interesting route and gave me the chance to cook with the talented Chef Diana of BLD to create the perfect fish taco (at least in my humble opinion)!

Secondly, I’d like to congratulate Diana of Diana Takes a Bite, the winner for the Bacon Card Giveaway!
With bacon on the mind one evening, I decided to immortalize the tasty goodness in card form—and thus, the bacon card was born!

Here’s a sneak peek of the porcine cards—be sure to be on the lookout in your mailbox!

Ps. Whoa. Chef Diana and Diana Takes a Bite. It’s fate.


2011 Food Trends & Being Snubbed by Barefoot Contessa at the Fancy Food Show

By Tsz on March 14, 2011

I confess: I’ve got a thing for entrepreneurs.

There’s just something so awe-inspiring as creating a business from scratch, to take the road less taken and most of all, to believe in an idea so much that an entrepreneur would do everything in his/her power to rally a team of a few (or hundreds) to bring said idea to fruition.

To me, meeting Martha Stewart trumps over the biggest movie star du jour any day. Having met Tom Ford and other notable entrepreneurs, I feel they are down-to-earth and often ready to share a wealth of information.

So, imagine my delight in attending the 2011 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco for work. Not only was there to be 3 days of tasting galore, there was also the chance to meet with food entrepreneurs, one of which was Barefoot Contessa, the easy-going personality of Food Network.

Alas, a friendly on-screen personality doesn’t always translate to real life. It was evident as an artisan cheese maker in line earnestly praised Contessa and presented her with a wheel of his best cheese only to be thanked in a bored sigh and with directions to place the wheel away from the display.

I fared no better, as my request for a photo was met with explicit directions to stand at least a few feet away. Sadness.

The Ace of Cakes booth was even more disappointing. They had roped off the entire booth and only a few buyers were invited in the space. When did TV personalities had bigger egos than their actor counterparts?

Fortunately, Chef Paul Prudhomme was a more welcoming figure (not to mention a legend), chatting and joking with passerby’s.

The food also didn’t disappoint. From cured hams from Italy, cheeses from around the world and enough sweets to satisfy the most formidable sweet tooth, I felt like a kid in a stadium-size candy shop.

After tasting (and re-tasting) at most of the 1,300 booths, here is my report on 2011′s food trends.

1. Black truffle “caviar”
Taking the latest molecular gastronomy techniques, Tartuflanghedisguises concentrated black winter truffle juice in caviar form through spherification. Served on top of toast with smoke salmon and mild cheese, the truffle perlage samples were in such demand that the server had trouble keeping it in stock. I alone had more than a handful. Each day.

2. Duck Proscuitto
Hudson Valley may be known best for their foie gras, but their myriad of delectable duck products stole the show. There were duck salami, smoked duck breast and duck proscuitto. Sweeter than their ubiquitous porky cousin, it was smoky, silky and addicting. Lesson learned? It’s great during breakfast, lunch and dinner!

3. Flavorless Water
It seems water has come a full circle. With the carbonated, vitamin infused and fruity flavored water now considered passe, the hot new water are ones that are flavorless so they can better hydrate and cleanse the palate. Claims made by such are SanTasti and Blk… I think marketers are running out of things to promote!

All in all, a wonderfully delicious show!


My Day in the BLD Kitchen

By Tsz on March 13, 2011

It was 4pm and I stood in BLD’s employee’s bathroom fussing over about my motley outfit of Banana Republic dress pants, a pair of boys socks, black crocs and a collared shirt.

Only a few hours ago, I was on the phone with Anuar, BLD’s general manager, proposing the idea of me shadowing Chef Diana and her crew since I had won their Tweet-a-Dish Contest. My goal was to help out and observe the conception and execution of a dish as well as to see how their kitchen ran.

Intrigued, Anuar said he’ll discuss with Neil and Amy Fraser, the husband and wife team behind Grace and BLD. After what seemed to be an eternity (aka an hour), I was given the green light!

And so, after a design presentation, I rushed over and quickly changed into the only pair of pants I owned and ran to meet Chef D. With a warm smile, backwards baseball cap (the unofficial uniform of the crew) and speaking a mile a minute, she quickly showed me the facility and kitchen.

Because I have worked in pastry at the now closed Sona, it was comforting to be back in a commercial kitchen. However, there are changes between two. Back in Sona, I was coddled in the cool (temperature-wise) side of kitchen as the pastry station was next to the garde manger and had low boys and a freezer.

The BLD kitchen however, the cooks are sandwiched between a wall of scalding hot grills, ranges, a deep fryer and the other side, heating lamps. To keep cool, I gulped ice water.

As Chef D had other matters to attend to as she oversees the entire kitchen, she introduces me to Adonis (Doni) where he showed me the ropes. I also made acquaintance with the all-male staff (where are the girls?) and then it was business.

To create Chef D’s version of the fish taco—beer batter fish taco with cilantro ginger slaw, Thai chili Aioli and corn tortillas to be exact—it starts with homemade corn tortillas made in house that day.

Next was star of the show, the fish. A fresh shipment of rock cod arrived that morning, so Chef D had prepared a marinade of coconut cream and an in-house blend of curry paste made with fresno chilies, shallots, ginger, amongst various spices.

As the fish is marinating, Doni and I ground Arborio rice till it became a fine powder to be used to flour the fillets. He also taught me the secrets of making a crunchy yet airy beer batter: 1 parts flour, 2 parts corn starch, baking powder, lots of beer (Pilsner for taste), soda water, salt and freshly toasted cumin and coriander seeds to build flavor. Don’t forget at the end 1 egg white beaten to soft peaks, the key to a light batter.

The cilantro ginger slaw was given similar care. The cabbage, carrots and green onions were finely shredded and lightly salted to draw out moisture. Right before serving, the slaw was dressed with a dressing of cane sugar, fish sauce, sesame paste, chilies and lime.

My main contribution of the day was making aioli, to which I added lime juice, lime zest and an ungodly amount of Sriracha to homemade mayo.

With all the components ready, it was time for a test run!

Doni carefully dusts the generous fillets of fish in the rice powder, then dunks it in the beer batter and lightly lowers the fillet into hot oil. Then, a corn tortilla is sprinkled with water and thrown on the griddle to warm and soften. Chef D then smears on a generous helping of the Thai aioli, and places on the freshly fried fish and slaw. To serve, a sprig of cilantro and crushed macadamia nuts are sprinkled on top. It was a sight of beauty.

After the wait staff gathers, we all divvy up the test taco and my oh my, my recipe pales in comparison to Chef D’s masterpiece. Crunchy, spicy and fresh at the same time, it was as if my mouth was on vacation on sunny Cabo.

I stayed a little while longer to watch them prepare a few other dishes—one of which was an interesting vegan dish that packs a party of flavors—but I knew I couldn’t wait much longer for the full fish taco experience.

With that, I changed back into my dress, met up with my friend and got our grub on!

Thank you to Chef Diana and Anuar for making a foodie’s dream come true. And to Doni and the kitchen team for patiently showing me around. Lastly, to Christina of Food J’taime, Kevin of KevinEats and Matt of Mattouille for coming out!

Note: The photo of Chef D and me is courtesy of Kevin.