An extremely wordy post about date flakes.

Wow. Three weeks flies by pretty quickly. I’m dropping back in again, with the hopes that you haven’t totally lost faith in me and my increasingly-sporadic rambles.

But the exciting thing is, in my absence from blogging, I’ve developed so much (SO MUCH!) that I want to share on this blog, ranging everywhere from pack out anticipation, to new work projects, to recent trips across the states, to upcoming trip ideas, to new ideas in general. Excuse this little bit of word vomit, I took one of these this morning. So now, where does one start?

shields date flakes

I know, let’s start at the beginning. Sometimes the beginning means at the header of a page, sometimes it means at a marked starting line, but today, my beginning is starting with breakfast – as many of your mornings do too, I gather. (Caution: If you’re not into wordiness right now, I’d suggest you skip to the bottom, because admittedly, this is a very long entry with a lot of fluff in the middle).

Every morning I wake up hungry- this is a staid fact in my life- which means I have some assemblance of a breakfast every morning. It’s usually more simple than anything fancy, meaning that I generally avoid turning on the stove to make breakfast. I make my slice of toast, or juice, or bowl of oatmeal, and then eat it, in front of my computer, simultaneously checking emails and letting my mind wander to things such as the breakfast routines of other people. You see, it’s a bit of a yearning of mine to have the same breakfast every morning, like many of you claim to do. Fresh yogurt and homemade granola with beautiful fruits every morning is the preferred staple, but I’d get down with a slice of hearty-grained toast with peanut butter too, and seriously even just half a grapefruit every morning. As long as it’s every morning. Though I so desperately want for one of these routines, and have tried so hard in the past for weeks at a time to turn myself into an everyday-same-breakfast-er, I’m never committal enough, nor sure enough, nor decisive enough, nor have planned ahead enough, to have one single item for breakfast every day. It really is one of my desired goals though, and there – I just shared with the world one of my embarrassingly superflous, and highly unnecessary goals in my life.

date flakes- in the bag

Recently part of my breakfast has been a green juice, which has been made semi-routine-ish thanks to the addition of our shiny new *expensive* blender. And interspersed here and there, particularly if it’s cold and dreary out, I’ll heat up a big bowl of oats. If you too like to encounter a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal in front of your face in the AM, I am highly suggesting the addition of date flakes, or date crystals. The name date flakes sounds a bit gross, and look just slightly less so, but I promise you they add a world of flavor and complexity to an otherwise simple bowl of hot oats.

And here, is where the point of this blog post actually starts (I warned you earlier of wordiness, so you can’t fault me for that now).

I first tasted date flakes in Palm Springs, where date flakes have been a raging fad since the 60’s. By now, it can be stated they have outrun their status as a fad and are turning more into a local staple, something for tourists to seek out should they find themselves in the California desert. In Palm Springs, where a date industry has created a name for itself, date flakes are mostly used in hybrid milkshakes, or rather, frozen-yogurt health shakes created from the hippie-bohemian types that tend to frequent Palm Springs.

After consuming one of the aforementioned date shakes, I told myself I would go home and make a date shake every day to satisfy my sweet tooth. However the act of purchasing and drinking a date shake in Palm Springs and making a date shake in your blender at home, somehow, somewhere, presents a large gap of disconuity, where your date shake at home tastes nothing like the one you had in Palm Springs. This phenomena happens often with hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as with milkshakes in general, and sometimes Chinese Food and other types of ethnic foods.

Which leaves you with a lot of date flakes you anticipated on making shakes for in your pantry, to be used now for what….?

date flakes - in the hand

The answer is oatmeal. I previously would always add brown sugar in my oatmeal, but this has since changed. Date flakes are hard and crunchy out of the bag, but when heated in oatmeal become melted and soft and become one with the oats (yes, I just said “become one with oats“). They add a heightened complexity of sweetness that plan old sugar or honey does not, and since they’re natural, they’re infinitely healthier than processed sugar.

I’m excited to try to sprinkle these date flakes into a banana or zucchini bread WHEN I GET AN OVEN AGAIN, but in the meantime, these little candied pieces of dates are absolute heaven in my semi-routine breakfast bowls of oatmeal. Shield’s Date Garden is one of the more famous companies who sell date flakes out of the Palm Springs area (and who also offer online ordering), but any other brand you might find would probably be fine. I’ve yet to ever see these at any Whole Foods or health store on the East Coast, so I’d recommend ordering online. Also, sorry for that photo of my extremely dry hands. Winter here in DC is killer.

Oatmeal with date flakes

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup – 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp date flakes
  • accompaniments: blueberries, peaches, and/or walnuts, cashew nut milk or soy millk.
  1. Rinse oats once under cold water and drain. Add up to 1 cup water. Heat in microwave for 1 minute, then add date flakes. Heat for another 1 minute, watching carefully as the oats will have a tendency to overflow (if it does, take the bowl out and stir, then continue heating).
  2. Add accompaniments as desired. If you’re feeling crazy, add a pinch of salt to your oatmeal!

Shields Date Flakes - closeup

I’m also excited because date flakes and oatmeal with soy milk fits into my plan to go Gluten Free for a few weeks. I’m telling you, I’ve got a lot to say since I’ve missed blogging for a few weeks. But there’s more research and planning that needs to be done for that, so for now we’ll leave it as yet another silly and superfluous goal I’m setting in my life.

Vacationing on Vacation; A Market Visit in Phuket

I’m not much of a temple type of gal. Sure, there’s plenty of beauty in the decorative roofs, sculptures that aim to ward off evil spirits, and they tiny corridors scented with centuries of burnt incense in Asia’s finest temples. But to be completely honest, once I’ve seen one temple, I’ve seen them all.

When I was little, we would take family trips all over the world. I remember getting dragged around to the Smithsonian Museums in D.C., the Chang Kai Shek Memorial in Taipei, the Vienna Boys Choir in Austria, the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin, and the weird little Danish Shoppes in Solvang, California. Am I really complaining about doing all these amazing things? Of course.

My sis­ter and I pos­ing for our par­ents in front of a museum or memorial
Taipei, Tai­wan, sum­mer of.…1992?


I complain now, only because I can finally admit my parents were right. They, like they always have, knew what was best for me. Yes, I have finally come to appreciate all those family trips that interfered with my childhood summers at the community pool and with the “coolness” of my teenage years (or, so I’d like to think). Not only was I able to see some of the world and conquer decrease my fear no longer be mortally afraid of flying, but I began developing my appetite for travel on these family vacations. I heard different languages, experienced different cultures, and tasted different foods.

I learned how to go to bed at an early hour and wake up at the break of dawn, ready for a full day of activity. I learned how to sit in a car for 14 hours at a time, though I was never able to make my bladder do the same. I learned to prep a binder full of itineraries, maps, reservation confirmations, and emergency contact numbers (thanks, Dad). I learned how to make my hotel room bed and clean up before housekeeping arrived- something that though I think is completely crazy, I still do today (thanks, Mom). I learned that sometimes, people who love each other tremendously fight fiercely.

I know some friends who, like my parents, have these regimented styles of travel. They book trips far in advance and plan out every hour of their days. Other friends are all adventure, all the time. They scale mountains and cliffs and tackle rough oceans in kayaks. Then there are the fancier of our friends who like to stay at fancy resorts equipped with fancy infinity pools and fancy outdoor showers, those who lounge on white sand beaches and come home beautifully bronzed, not a sunburnt spot on their evenly tanned skins. Some friends have checklists they like to accomplish when they travel, while others have just one vow: to finish a book or two.

Since I’ve ventured out on my own, my travel styles have significantly relaxed from the jam-packed travel schedules from my youth. Admittedly, sometimes I feel guilty about this. I feel that I should be seeing more and doing more and getting up earlier. You know, seeing more temples and stuff. But in the least two years, with each trip that I’ve taken, I’ve come to realize that my own style of travel works to accomplish an important thing, and that’s to re-affirm a lifestyle filled with happy moments and simple pleasures.

When the DiploMan and I travel, we visit maybe one or two of the tourist sights, and spend the rest of our time seeing the city and experiencing the simple pleasures in life. Meaning, we walk around, exploring dark alleyways and popping into intriguing antique stores. We stop for a drink at a respectable-looking bar or a shanty local tea house. We eat snacks when we’re hungry and skip meals when we’re not. We rent cars or mopeds or bikes and speed around rice paddies and country backroads. We get lost- a lot. And given the location, we preferably squeeze in a snorkeling trip. We talk a lot about our hopes and ideas, about dreams of learning to sail, living in Africa, and turning writing into a career (one is his, one is mine, and one is ours- I’ll let you guess which is whose).

Many couples I know have similar travel styles- and the DiploMan and I are one of those couples. I’m lucky to have found a partner who I can see and eat and experience wonderful things with. After all, the couple that travels together stays together.

But there is one thing that I love to do that, though the DiploMan dutifully will tag along, isn’t on his travel radar. That one thing is to seek out a local market. Ideally, it’s an outdoor market, and ideally it will sell prepared foods as well as fresh produce and fruits. But really, I’m not too picky. Give me the supermarket; the equivalent of that country’s Safeway store, and I’d be happy combing through the baking aisle and seeing what intriguing potato chip flavors are stocked on the shelves. Or it could be the local corner store, where I can see what type of cheap instant coffee the locals like. The little fruit stand works for me too- this way, I can get a fresh juice while I take in the sweet smells of seasonal melons and lychees. Frankly, anywhere where the purveyance of fruits, vegetables, dried and canned goods, and weird local products are sold, those places are as good as gold. To me, this is where I experience my travel rush.

Recently on Cup of Jo I read about the idea of couples spending a day apart during travels, doing their own thing. I loved this idea. And while the timing and our similar interests won’t always allow us to do so, it worked out perfectly one morning in Phuket. On our last morning in town, the DiploMan slept in and caught up on some of his newspapers, while I set out to get a pedicure and visit the local market that I had been eyeing for some time.

The market was amazing. The Thai people have such an interesting array of fresh produce and chilis and curries. After being in China for so long, it was refreshing to see the produce of another country. There were stacks of limes- a rarity in China. There were more varieties of eggplants than I’ve ever seen before in my life, little round knobs of eggplant next to eggplants the size and shape of my fingers. Strings of flowers and sheets of banana leaf were being sold in the aisles, and crates of fresh shellfish- clams and shrimps- were being stacked on iced palettes.

The Thai like to use small air-filled plastic bags, tied with tiny rubber bands, to package much of their produce that had already been portioned out. I can’t say exactly why, but I was enamored with this.

I loved my morning at the market, and was thrilled to be able to take some time on vacation to do something I was genuinely happy to do. After all, that’s what travelling is all about, isn’t it? Ultimately, it’s not how many things you saw or being able to boast about how many places you’ve been. It’s about being able to satisfy the simplest of pleasures, see something enjoyable, and truly experiencing happiness within.

What is your travel style? Have you found YOUR travel nirvana yet?


Sleepy Terengganu was a small town that offered a lot less than we thought. Compiled with the fact that it was an area of Malaysia still devoutly Muslim, there was not much for us to do on a boring Sunday afternoon.

Except of course, eat.

Hawker stalls are huge throughout Southeast Asia (they don’t really exist in the same capacity here in China), perhaps no place more popular than in Malaysia. Each Malay city seems to have its pockets of hawker stalls just as Los Angeles has its strip malls, New York has its parks, and Chicago has its rooftop farms. Local families and tourists alike were seen dining at these humble establishments, although this one seemed to get a little less fanfare than some of the other ones we visited.

After sitting down and getting our hands on some flimsy menus, this old man came and sat down with us. For about five minutes, he didn’t say a word, and proceeded to puff on a cigarette that didn’t seem to get any shorter. Finally after deep discussions over the translation of several meny items, he finally piped up saying “ikan, FISH.

So that proved it, somehow he worked at one of the hawkers, maybe he was a regular, who knows. He continued to help us through the menu, though his “translation” were probably not any better to what we could have figured out ourselves. A welcomed guest at first, we all soon realized he did not speak more than five words of English (rice, chicken, fish, soup, and yes).

Luckily breaking down a Malaysia menu is simpler than in other parts of the world. Like most meals that were had on our trip, our options consisted largely of different preparations of rice (Nasi) and noodles (Mee), various selections of friend chicken (ayam), or soups like Tom Yam. Naturally we kept our eyes peeled for goreng, meaning fried, as in fried rice and fried noodles.

And of course, we could not help but order a favorite dish of the trip: Nasi Goreng USA, or USA fried rice. Fried rice served with a fried egg on top and a side of soy sauced beef bacon and vegetables. The DiploMan got this for every other meal of his, I think.

Shrimp Rolls

In a city with such a diverse history of immigration, trade, and consequently the mingling of various cultures, Tainan surprisingly retains a strong regional sense. Think of the pride that SF’ers talk about the Bay Area, or the way New Yorkers boast about the Big Apple, or how Chicagoans are so proud of the wind and unnatural living condition that they call Winter. That’s the sort of boasting that occurs in Tainan, perhaps most apparent in its pride for its local dishes.

Shrimp rolls are at the top of the local dishes to try while staying in Tainan. Shrimp, combined with other ingredients, make up a filling that is wrapped in pig belly membrane (stomach? casing? This part got lost in translation somewhere), then battered and deep fried. What you would think to be fishy and offal-y and heavy and oily is very surprisingly light, crispy, savory and flavorful and totally not funky at all. If you can stomach a spring roll, you’ll be able to handle this.

My uncle proudly boasts that he only frequents places that are not tourist traps, and much prefers hold-in the walls in alleyways and shady corridors than anything off a main strip or in a guide book. How he finds these places- well, that is beyond me. But I certainly don’t complain.

The shrimp rolls at the one eatery we visited were sold as quickly as they were made- while we were there, I observed an endless stream of motorscooters pulling up to the counter empty-handed, and leaving with clusters of plastic takeout bags dangling from their scooters. As in-house diners, thanks to the endless turnover of orders, the shrimp rolls were presented to the table scalding hot, freshly fried and perfectly crispy. And what’s fried food without condiments? Each order also came with a side of sesame oil and chinese mustard. Chinese mustard, in case you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting it, is a bright yellow paste that tastes of a combination of wasabi and dijon mustard flavors. Definitely one of my favorite condiments in Chinese cuisine (sweet and sour sauce is NOT a condiment, in my book).

Looking around me, there were many tables of singles and two-tops. Everyone was eating the shrimp rolls and a bowl of house fried rice, some with a bowl of fish ball soup. There are many things I love about going to new places, but nothing beats experiencing new and exciting foods of a new region- then seeing the people of the city eating the same thing I am.


I’m on a boat!

During our stay on the Similan Islands, we ate some pretty traditional Thai grub on the deck of a small boat, used to shuttle snorkelers from one point to another.  The chef on board was a tanned, afro-haired smiling buddha of a man in bare feet (the health department in NY would surely have a fit), and cooked up a king’s feast for ten of us in a small, nine foot square “kitchen”.  My stomach was doing flip-flops in my gut so I couldn’t hold down too much of the food, but it was a lovely home-cooked Thai meal, perfect for watching the lovely Thai sunset.

Phuket recap

Phuket did not disappoint.  I will blog more in detail and share some great moments captured in the next few posts, but in the meantime some quick highlights
– the Similan Islands: white sand beaches, seeing a sea turtle within two feet whilst snorkeling, camping again, watching an octopus change colors as it moved across the bottom of the sea.
– the food! Some of the best iced coffee and fried chicken I’ve had (I thought I was back in Brooklyn for a sec!), noodle soup carts on every street, my new found love for coconuts.
– when in rome: renting a scooter for two days, riding on the back and taking in the scenery- a super benefit because it kept us cool in the 90° F heat!
–  NYE party central: the sky filled with paper lanters, people lighting off fireworks every which way on the beach, rocking with B to the best Green Day cover band I’ve ever heard, gogo dancers and lady boys galore!
Cheers to a great 2011!