Day Trip to Santa Barbara

It all started with reading a random article about an economical yet gorgeous wedding from Harper’s Bazaar:

“For dessert, guests chose between three gluten-free cakes: coconut, which is Matt’s favorite, a vegan carrot, and lemon-raspberry—all created by Lilac Patisserie in Santa Barbara.”
Ultimate Vineyard Wedding

Of course this merited a visit. With the power of friendship we loaded up into a car and took on the coastal city.

Lilac Patisserie
Starting off the day right with a spot of lunch at a completely gluten free establishment!!!! I stood outside for a moment, worried about it fulfilling my expectations like Rapunzel in Tangled with the lanterns. I thought if things go well I would order one of their cakes for my big day (riddle: which is harder to find, a good husband or a decent gluten free wedding cake?). We lined up and ordered for a sit down brunch. I had the omelette with a lemon meringue tart, lemon bar piece, and a slice of their berry patch cake. The tart crust is a little hard but has a nice cookie texture which I appreciated. Omelette was a little tough, much to my chagrin, but their fillings of bacon and ham were smoky and well sized. My favorites were the key lime pie and lemon bar, and I thought they did a lovely Coconut Cream Cake, and I don’t like coconut as a rule. I thought their quiche had a peculiar flavor which I couldn’t place but didn’t enjoy. I took a brioche and rustic white loaf to go (into our ready cooler in the trunk). I was pleased overall, of course I wish there were more places like this near me even if it’ll break the bank as their offerings come with a hefty price tag. It’s quite a charming place, and their service is nice enough. What I loved was that nothing tasted overly sweet, since they make things in the European style. Bravo, Lilac!

Santa Barbara Mission
Quite a picturesque location where one can meander and learn about some California history. In 1786 this Spanish mission was founded by the Franciscan order. They allow self-guided walking tours around most of the gardens and cemetery. Missions have a melancholy air as they tend to have dark and somber stories. On one level the serious reflection in the cemetery reminds us of our mortality and suffering in life. Then there is the forced culturization of the natives and their population being reduced by European diseases. So many tragic stories of the Chumash tribe and the San Nicolas islanders who were completely decimated. It is heartbreaking to hear about the greed and power of settlers but there is an echo of the simple lives of those who lived before and a hope not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream
A local staple of Santa Barbara where the flavors are unusual and the line is constant. The owners throughout the years were intense in their commitment to quality, from their customized imported dairy machines to their blind taste selection of dark chocolate. I thought it was funny how metal spoons are used for sampling but plastic is for the actual purchase. Seems the workers had it tough with their old fashioned scoops which they use to serve two mini flavors when someone orders a single (genius!). At long last I had a taste of their chocolate covered strawberry along with the pistachio amaretto. I expected a rich, silky smooth taste like that of gelato, but it was just sort of a creamy texture. I think it’s worth a try for their unique menu (clover, strawberry rhubarb, and Turkish coffee, anyone?).

Stearn’s Wharf & Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
Our grand finale on the beach, ya’ll. The restaurant sits at the end of the wharf and you can sit and enjoy fresh seafood while admiring the ocean view. I heard the box crab was delicious and I got more work than I bargained for. The flesh had some flavor and was tender, but cracking the spiny shell almost shredded my hands. As I live and learn, better order the clams next time.

A fulfilling day with tasty food and beautiful scenery. It is a blessing to walk along the fancy white buildings of State Street with its well off citizens. I would be good with coming back to taste more delights and snag a ton more desserts. Til next time!

A Review: Crazy Rich Asians

*************************SPOILERS ALL AROUND**********************

This is a personal movie for me as a Korean American as well as someone immersed in Chinese culture for most of my life. I waited a year to finally watch this and it did not disappoint except for a few scenes where I almost lost it because my point of view is as someone who read the books and tried to turn my comparison switch off but couldn’t. And no, I wasn’t crying, you were…

Q) How do you introduce Asian culture in media to an ignorant international audience and make it entertaining?

A) Recipe:
– 1 Dash of Mean Girl spice
– 1 Pinch British accents
– 2 Tablespoons each of romance and comedy
– 3 Cups of glitzy scenery and costume porn
– 10 Gallons of family drama

Drizzle with sexy male leads et voila successful dish to impress the world and make history!

Basically Meet the Parents mixed in with Gatsy and Korean dramas rolled into a palatable pork bun of touching family relationships and frolicking romance. Its ambition is matched by its success and I couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful that Kevin Kwan helped usher in a new era with his comedically realistic work.

Personally, I only wanted 4 things: good pacing, good acting, Michelle Yeoh’s presence, and to feast my eyes on Harry Shum Jr. I got most of those; definitely sold me on Nick and Rachel’s love as well as Rachel’s interactions with her modern mother. I was even surprised in a good way with the invented character of Peik Lin who was too real in all her scenes. But I have to cry whyyyyyy did they cut down Charlie’s and Astrid’s story?!!! That was devastating and immoral!!! I read it was a deliberate move and the pragmatic part of me acknowledges there was hardly time to put in the side characters but I still felt ripped off.

The Sexy Asian Man
Hot fantasy with fit Asian bachelors. It’s been a damn long time coming.

That EXTRA Wedding
I mean, it was artisically unique and well shot but I was going wtf so cheesy. Obviously being rich doesn’t automatically give you taste. Let’s throw water down the aisle and have cheap fireflies in a low light jungle landscape. Add closeup shots framed with grass, gah eyesore. Maybe it was a joke or I just didn’t “get it”, but you do you #weddinghater

Accurate cultural points
1) Parents NEVER call just to ask how are you
2) Old guard Asians are shameless nosy gossips
3) That’s why their Asian American children hide everything from them
4) Dat dumpling lyfe
5) Yes, they LOVE free stuff
6) Asians respect authority and live with their family as long as possible, no sending to nursing home, as Eleanor points out
7) The nauseating attitude of the wealthy as splendidly summed up in the book:
“I’ve had enough of being around all these crazy rich Asians, all these people whose lives revolve around making money, spending money, flaunting money, comparing money, hiding money, controlling others with money, and ruining their lives over money. And if I marry you, there will be no escaping it, even if we live on the other side of the world”

The Ending
I was enjoying the ride until the Hollywood style airplane proposal. I read they didn’t go for an elaborate Christian Grey style billionnaire production for the moment, which is a relief. But then really, a flight chase?! Might I add there was no mahjong scene either- in the novel, Eleanor pretty much never interacts with Rachel one-on-one. So everything ends up wrapped up in a nice little bow! Oh so convenient that generations of Asian culture and ingrained snobbery is wiped out with a motherly change of heart. I’m really churning to see how they resolve the jagged plot points they mapped out but I trust them to do a good job, (while eating a bitter melon).

Overall, there is a lot of celebration to be had at present and a lot of hope for the future. Young girls and boys will now be represented and not be ashamed of being Asian. And that is the definition of a beautiful social movement.

A Review: The Greatest Showman

*******************SPOILERS ALL AROUND**********************

An entrepreneur starts what we know as the circus, going through ups and downs in mid 19th century America. I loved the soundtrack when I first saw this movie, the story not so much since there were so many characters and not many affecting scenes. Visually it was stunning, not only the sets and incredible costumes, but of course the delectable Wolverine who brings in Zac Efron for a double dose of hotness on a plate.

My favorite scene besides the breathtaking Rewrite the Stars number, was the suspenseful premiere of Jenny Lind. The snobby audience was putting Barnum down who has never actually heard her sing up to this point when he presents her. Then the orchestra starts up and Jenny appears alone on the stage. She sings with a rich lovely voice and Barnum stands starstruck in the wings, his gaping in tears is everything. Jenny receives a standing ovation and the critic resists but finally gets up to applaud. Jenny gives Barnum hopeful looks during and after her performance. Charity sees what’s going on and knows there is trouble ahead. Phillip holds hands with Anne and he drops it when he fears his parents’ scrutiny.
So much goes on in this concert, not to mention the song itself was sweeping and powerful. Like the circus shows, Jenny’s singing is inauthentic in that it is dubbed, fitting with the theme of the movie.

Cue the lights, bring on the choreography, and all those show tunes!

PT Barnum
A tailor’s son who pursues his dreams with a heart to better his family’s situation. Disregarding the cost to himself or others he cons his way to riches. His ideas earn him fame in equal parts adoration and violent hate. He is a study of an oily businessman who takes salesmanship and exploitation to a whole new level but pretty much gets away with everything at the end. It’s ironic how he hates being put down by his father-in-law but rejects his performers mixing in with the fancy after party. Still, it’s hard to dislike him when he has all the nicest selection of top hats and coats this side of the Atlantic.

Charity Barnum
The better half who always accepts and supports her husband in all that he does no matter the circumstances. I really admire her for rolling with a positive attitude (leaning on saint-like) handling manual labor to keep up a household as equally molding into her original upper crust status. The way she stays with him when he goes off only in love with himself, must take a lot out of a person.

Phillip Carlyle
A respectable but miserable playwright who falls in with Barnum as a junior partner, I mean, overcompensated apprentice. He struggles with leaving his station and forbidden love with Anne, a black trapeze artist. His chemistry with Barnum is off the charts!

Jenny Lind
Easily the most fascinating character in the movie, a picture of elegance and grace. She partners with Barnum and brings legitimacy to counter his reputation as a purveyor of immoral, distasteful shows. It’s obvious she wanted Barnum from the start but I have no idea what she hoped to accomplish when he was tied to his family. Even so, I don’t blame her going for Hugh, I mean I totally would.

Magical Moments
– A million dreams from two kids writing long distance letters
– Barnum creating a wishing machine for his daughter’s birthday on the fly
– Recruiting exotic locals for the new museum
– Barnum making good on his promise giving Caroline ballet slippers
– Barnum bringing his family to their new house by zebra drawn carriage
– Barnum and Phillip slinging back shots and dancing together ❤
– Queen Victoria and the oddities from America
– Jenny giving a toast to save the mood of the after party
– Mr. Bennett’s exchanges with Barnum
– Phillip investing in the circus again

Humbug Quotes
– Men suffer more from imagining too little than too much
– Mr Barnum, I can’t just run off and join the circus
– God, I hope she can sing.
– You really are better on the page, Mr. Bennett, hard as it is to believe.
– Comfort, the enemy of progress
– It’s hard to understand wealth and privilege when you’re born into it
– Napoleon didn’t have a 60 piece orchestra
– Mind you, I wouldn’t call it art, but putting people of all kinds on the stage with you, all colors, shapes, sizes, presenting them as equals. Another critic would have called it a celebration of humanity.
– You know Barnum, when I first met you I had an inheritance, acclaim, an invitation to every party in town. And now thanks to you all that’s gone. All that’s left is friendship, love, and work that i adore. You brought joy into my life. (just kiss already!)

Peanut for Thoughts
– For some reason I love Mr. Bennett, the theater critic.
– I don’t acknowledge Zendaya as an actress (snap, I said it). She can definitely dance and wows me with her singing voice but seriously, I can do a better job at emoting. Why people make such a big deal about her overall, I have no clue.
– People who bring up the historical inaccuracy need to be consistent and put down Hamilton
– I could never have the courage to be in a relationship where class and culture differ as much as the one portrayed in this movie
– Love, love, love seeing the business aspect of the circus, the large posters and half pricing for a negative article was brilliance incarnate
– In the beginning, Barnum says the sun can’t stop the show, when circuses typically perform during the day, but the interesting change at the end is they say walls can’t stop them instead when they move to a tent, shapow!
– Read a review wishing the story was about the star-crossed lovers and Barnum as the villain, uh, go watch Water for Elephants, dear

The Greatest Debate: Did PT have feelings for Jenny?
Totally – He was tempted by her beauty and talent. She can relate to him as an illegitimate daughter feeling like an outcast in society. He cared about her because of her sweetness and willingness to partner with him.
Humbug – He only appreciated her amazing skill and ability to boost his credit to the upper crust audience. When she got closer to him, his emotions didn’t waver for an instant. His loyalty to his family surpassed any potential with another woman.

What was Lost
A tragic fact of this movie is how it portrays historical days gone by. The circus will never be what it was, a spectacle of trained animals, most likely abused to perform their tricks. Not to mention the display of “freaks”, I mean in this day and age that kind of thing don’t fly. The political correctness of society took away the classic circus from my childhood, replaced by French acrobats and motorcyclists.

Grand Themes
– The circus is home to the outcasts if you were born this way
– If you have talent and a dream, go for it
– Choose being there for your family over ambition
– Choose saving Zac Efron in a fire over your family
– Break free and come alive if you are feeling trapped in a role
– Don’t put all your money into a proposition with a Swedish nightingale
– Dare to move beyond what roles society puts you in
– Being typical or conventional all the time will be your death, risk it all for freedom!

Lovely Bites

Established in 1798, they boast being the oldest restaurant in London and graced by the presence of the likes of Charles Dickens and Laurence Olivier as well as countless other talents.  Known for their wild game, their menu is of traditional fare such as pies and puddings.  Their game includes pheasant, venison, and hare, mentioning they “may contain lead shot”.  Our New Year’s Eve meal was Sunday Roast, with a rib of beef for two accompanied by savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding, and dauphinoise potatoes.  The meat was tender and the au jus was heavenly.   A highlight was horseradish sauce they serve on the side which was mild and creamy.  We finished with a white chocolate vanilla brulee.  All in all, it was a nice experience.

Oxo Tower
It’s easy to spot this tall building with blazing red letters.  Going up an elevator we stepped into a sort of loft that overlooked the downtown skyline.  The atmosphere was loud and hip.  I ordered scallops which were sort of tasteless, I much preferred the crispy pork belly my companion ordered.  For dessert we had a traditional Christmas pudding island in vanilla bean sauce.  There was brandy butter on the top and the figgy cake was comforting and delicious.



I was pretty excited walking around Chinatown for the first time.  After much prodding and wheedling my friends let me choose a place for dinner.  I looked over menus and decided to go here, and boy, was that the best choice I ever made!  Their menu outside caught my attention with their crispy aromatic duck for two with a fair price.  Crispy aromatic duck is not a common dish I had only read about so I was curious to try it.  The server came with the duck and pulled it apart into pieces with utensils which I didn’t expect.  The duck was smoked and juicy, with a crunchy outer layer.  Their rice pot was adorable, and the rice was seasoned with garlic and onion.  We were seated at a large table in the back and treated very well.  I missed Asian food very much and a little sad to say this was my favorite meal during my trip.  When I get old and gray I will think fondly of this place…

Basic good food for the locals, it is a hole in the wall with lots of construction workers.  Their menu consists of sandwiches and the common English breakfast which was simple but good.  I would only add that British love their baked beans and tomatoes.

A wedding party rehearsal dinner took place here downstairs where we saw cooks working with a large brick oven.  Their menu had loads of certified gluten free and vegan items, and they are careful about every allergen I could think of.  I split a pasta carbonara which was flavorful and cooked al dente identical to regular pasta.  Their gluten free pizza had a chewy and tasty crust which I devoured with abandon.  With dozens of locations in England, I can only hope and pray they make their way onto my humble continent someday.

Tucked into Waterloo station, we entered a take away restaurant that had individually wrapped packages of sushi.  Legit Japanese chefs worked in the kitchen making their staple curry bowls.  I ordered the chicken curry bowl which was fantastic, made like the Golden Curry of my childhood.




Of course, what visit to England is complete without giving fish and chips a go?  This famous restaurant is located by Piccadilly Circus and is ranked one of the highest on must try lists for the dish.  Entering a garish 70’s type diner with toys and waiters wearing wigs, it is casual to the max.  We were seated and ordered their fried cod and haddock with chips.  Everything had the Poppie’s brand on it from the sauce to their still water.  I liked the breading, which reminded me of beer batter, and the fish was most and fresh.  I especially loved their tartar sauce but their vinegar was weak.  I’m glad I tried this place, but honestly I don’t think it’s my preferred meal by any means.

Once again, London, you stole my heart and my gluten free stomach.  Let’s eat again sometime!

British Sites

Just some photos and captions from our exploring this week…

New Year’s Eve fireworks at the London Eye












Westminster Abbey

Evensong New Year’s service












Stonehenge aka the aliens did it 

Yup, these are the famous bunch of rocks near Salisbury


Pretty sure the mysterious powers that be added 10 years to my life force



Broadway near Piccadilly

Watched Aladdin, marvy show, lots of bromance xoxo













Hittin’ the chocolate room













Rushing to King’s Cross station


Magical Harry Potter photo time!



St Paul’s Cathedral

A whole new worlllllld at 1.161 steps #almostdied












Borough Market

Can I live here












British Museum 

Collectors of the world’s ancient treasures

Grand and very dim

Around the World in 90 minutes with our lovely tour guide!









Buckingham Palace

Giving our best to Her Majesty








Woodford for friends’ wedding ding ding ding

Church ceremony and reception









Tower of London

Strolling by the Thames



Afternoon Tea (Gluten Free)

I learned that England has long been a food hub, but what blew me away were the variety of gluten free venues.  At first I expected one or two places to serve tea with gluten free options, then was overwhelmed when I had a list of five locations doing a simple search.  Upon further digging, there were over a dozen such places, which really blew my socks off!  We only had so many days to enjoy proper tea – how could we choose among all these fabulous options?  I felt the barriers of food intolerance disappear with such a dilemma and I tip my hat to the great kingdom of England for accommodating guests like myself.  I’m exceedingly grateful that everything is transparent through website menus and blog reviews from fellow gluten free eaters, technology can be such a blessing.

Q: When is the optimal time to book for January?
A: October

It’s really quite mad, but thanks to OpenTable all the best rooms were saving our spots in advance.  All of them required confirmation emails or calls the week of the reservation, which goes to show that flaking out of appointments is a universal plague.  Of note, please bear in mind I only go for the white or green teas.  I could not speak for any of the royal blends or black teas offered by the following establishments.

Side note: expect to shell out 70 to 90 for these afternoon tea services, bon appetit! 

Fortnum and Mason at Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Although the business opened in 1705, the tea salon was actually established by Her Majesty in 2012.  There was a clean elegance to the decor and china sets, and their selection of teas is quite extensive.  This being my first formal tea service, I wasn’t used to the individual strainers for the loose leaf or the option of switching teas as often as I chose.  Also a pleasant surprise was that we could reorder anything we liked from the set menu.  This particular service gives you the option of choosing a cake from their table to package and take away.  They had a gluten free apple option, which was nothing to write home about.  My friends said their choices of Battenberg and chocolate weren’t exciting either.   The gluten free sandwiches had tasty filling and soft bread.  Their desserts and scones were unfortunately on the tough side.  The other floors of the building are dedicated to boutiques as well as tea products.  I was very well pleased with the quality of the teas and took a tin of the Fujian White Silver Needle Pekoe home, as well as the Pistachio Clotted Cream.

Hotel Cafe Royal
Anticipating the elaborate decor for this venue, I just had to dress to the nines topped with a tiara (trust me, it enhances the experience) .  The walls were heavily adorned with gilded Roccoco accents.  The server was helpful and attentive and the piano player near us was on point with his selections (ranging from Beauty and the Beast to the Game of Thrones theme).  Though the sandwiches were unbelievably bland and the tea was average, they more than made up for the loss with the iced tea palate cleanser and array of gorgeous French desserts.  My favorite was their version of the opera cake, which had a sumptuous layer of gianduja and featured a crunchy layer on the espresso cake.  Also, the rich dark taste and texture of their jam and silky clotted cream were so marvelous I was almost moved me to tears.

Last but certainly not least. we checked our coats into a hotel met with art deco surroundings.  Claridge’s is a name I came across in Crazy Rich Asians and comes up frequently in top lists for afternoon tea.  My friends loved their Marco Polo gelee which seems to me like a bland marmalade jelly in lieu of any jam.  Their clotted cream was flavorful as were their sandwiches.  I have to concur their famous fresh baked soft gluten free scones earns favor as the best gluten free tea service I’ve encountered so far.  Their regular flour scones were crisp on the outside and buttery on the inside, I envy those who can have them.  My favorite tea was the Japanese Hojicha and could not get enough of the duck egg sandwiches.  Also, I was quite impressed with the chia seed yogurt with diced fruit, an innovative offering to gluten free guests.  Bravo, Claridge’s, I am eager to visit again.



Down to London Town (again)


On my own I wouldn’t be too keen to go to England in the middle of winter.  However, since my friends had a wedding come up, I could not resist hijacking their holiday so that I could too escape from the mundane trappings of the familiar.  Plus, the tickets were super cheap!

Our duration being only a week, the nerdy planner in me burst out, researching the best sites, afternoon teas, and winter events few and far between.  From my last European trip, I knew there was a certain art to scheduling tours and meals.  Overall, the week totaled $1K not including the plane ticket.

I hung on through the dreary last days of 2017 anticipating the trip, singing from this golden movie:

I had in mind some differences for this trip compared to last time.  First, I no longer had a constant paranoia of being mugged.  I used to be on high alert and was afraid of carrying any currency or ID, but this time I was carefree running around midnight on the streets in search of the next point of interest (or Pokemon).  Second, I was able to speak to some locals to dispel or confirm my perspectives on English life.  Yes, they are very aware of Americans, or shall I say obsessed with us, like the rest of the world.  I still couldn’t get a hang of their currency, but it seems they have trouble with it as well.  Lastly, I had to brave the bitter winter conditions.  I expected constant rain and some snow but apparently London doesn’t encounter much in terms of snow and I was only drenched a few times during my stay.  My group stayed near the Waterloo Station, which I highly recommend as it is pretty accessible to most of the sites one would have to see.  The station has an array of shops of restaurants, as did some of the major stations, which is a convenient and safe way to get food and other essentials.  My only regret is not having more time to enjoy the local Netflix selections, the options I saw overseas disappeared as soon as I returned home, much to my chagrin.  That, and not being able to find a sim card.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and fell in love with London.  I can totally see myself living there, with the juxtaposition of old and modern, tasting authentic chocolate and gluten free delights, basking in the nearness of Ed Sheeran.  If it’s meant to be, here’s hoping it will.

Time stamps:
– Harry ❤ Meghan
– Trump’s new book
– Layover during Bomb Cyclone
– Gas $5.79 in London
– Exchange rate =  x1.34
– Big Ben undergoing plastic surgery 😦


1) book everything well in advance
2) spend all your money on the last day
3) get preloaded Oyster card for Underground transportation (we ran around $70 for the week)
4) Harrod’s chocolates are easy, elegant, and unique souvenirs
5) ear plugs and extra coats are musts for the plane ride
6) always arrive early to famous sites
7) for gas pains, Gas X = Windeze