Thursday, December 14, 2017

Howl to Be Vegan: Thanksgiving & Exams

Hi everyone, it's been a while. Immediately after Thanksgiving, I had exams so I haven't had a chance to update this blog, but without further ado, here is the menu for our very first vegan Thanksgiving:

Appetizer #1:
Daikon radish, celery, carrot, cilantro, lime, and apple cider vinegar salad
Chef: My mom

Appetizer #2:
Chả lụa chay
Chef: My aunt's mom

Carrot, beet, daikon radish, chayote, tofu, and noodle vegetable soup
Chef: My mom

 Main Course:
Bánh hỏi with Thug Kitchen's citrus marinade tofu, fresh herbs, cucumber, and soy sauce
Chef: My mom and sister

Raspberry oatmeal squares & cupcakes from Frostings in Richmond
Chef: My sister
Cupcakes courtesy of my aunt and uncle

Leftovers & Meals Since Thanksgiving (not including fruit, although I will mention clementines because they're in season)

Because of exams, I wasn't able to cook any besides guacamole and carrot cake cookies from Thug Kitchen for a potluck this past weekend and braised melon (with tofu my sister fried) two days ago so everything listed is courtesy of my sister, mom, or grandma.

Wow! listing things is nice. Most of the ingredients we got from our mom. As a result, we have't spent more than $20 (individually) on groceries in a long time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Halloween BTS

My outfit inspiration came from Ari's performance at A Concert for Charlottesville, which I had the pleasure of attending. It was my second time seeing her perform this year. I had a grey sports bra, so that was easy to imitate. Replicating her signature ponytail was not as easy. My arms got tired from trying to lift my hair up as high as possible, and in the end, it just fell into a regular ponytail. I would have needed extensions to get the hair exactly right. For the makeup, I tried to follow a video tutorial with the makeup I had. You can't even see my eyeshadow in the final black and white image, which is actually good because I did not have a red-brown eyeshadow like the Youtuber or Ari. I think the most important part was the winged liner and full lashes, which I think I nailed given my supplies. 

Outfit inspo
I kind of look like a boxer, but check out the makeup.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Howl to Be Vegan XI: Pre-Thanksgiving

I made $50 in cold hard cash doing experiments at the business school, so I was finally able to buy groceries again! The original plan was to go home for a high school teacher's 50th birthday party, but my sister and I saw the guest list and was like "Nope, our anti-social asses can't handle an event with this many unknown people." While home, we were going to eat our mom's food for free and bring back more ingredients. Luckily with the timing of the studies, it all worked out: we could avoid an uncomfortable social situation and eat comfortably for the week.

For the last few days before the studies and before I was able to go grocery shopping and cook, I ate fermented bean curd, rice, and cucumbers to sustain myself during dinner (the cucumbers were 2/$1 at Kroger. I also bought bananas to eat with oatmeal and sustain myself during breakfast). The rice was still soft even though I had made it who knows how long ago #amazing.

On Saturday, I made vegan brownies for a Vegan Potluck hosted by various vegan-affiliated groups on grounds. The potluck was at such an odd-time: 2-4 p.m., so it was during the UVA-MIA game in which we were leading. As a result, after I brought the brownies and grabbed a plate of food, I snuck out. No one noticed. The food was okay, and we ended up losing. My favorite dish was a pecan pie. I had to eat bean curd again because the plate was not enough to serve as my lunch and dinner.

Sunday consisted of another potluck: my cousin and her roommate's. For this one, I made mashed cauliflower and potatoes. My sister had extra parsley from her vegan meatloaf dish, which she made for the potluck, so I added it to the mashed potatoes for extra flavor. Someone else also made mashed potatoes even though they didn't indicate so on the spreadsheet, so I still have leftovers :P I have made this recipe before so I knew it was good (same with the brownies). The only thing I could eat at the potluck was my mashed potatoes, my sister's meatloaf, some green beans, and cranberry sauce. I also ate two pieces of yeast bread before realizing yeast bread contains butter and eggs. It was really sad. I was hungry at the end the night. How to not overeat over Thanksgiving: go vegan. P.S. The meatloaf is a little on the sweet side.

Anyways, I also used Sunday to make food for the rest of the week, and this time I actually planned, which really helps with saving money. I turned to my trusty Good Housekeeping cookbook and made the following dishes: Bow Ties with Butternut Squash and Peas and Stovetop Chili (click on the hyperlinks to see the recipes).

Let's talk about the Bow Ties first. I actually used a 12 oz. box of bow ties because they don't sell 16 oz. boxes at my Kroger. That was $1. The butternut squash was $1/lb, and the frozen peas were also $1. I replaced the half-and-half/light cream with almond milk ($2.79 for a half gallon) and actually ended up pureeing the butternut squash because after tasting it, I remembered I don't like butternut squash. I used enough milk and vegetable broth (from my sister's meatloaf) so that it would blend. For the fresh sage leaves, I used ground sage, which my sister had just bought for her meatloaf, and last but not least, I excluded the parmesan.

For the Stovetop Chili, I followed the recipe verbatim, except my sister added her leftover tomato paste from the meatloaf to it yesterday. Before my sister added the paste, it was a lot liquid-y than I expected, but it tastes fine with rice. Although my sister thinks both dishes are bland. She made some cornbread to go along with it too, so add cornmeal to the list of pantry items now gone. Anyways, here are some prices for the chili recipe:

Onion: $~2 for a 5lb bag
Chili powder: $1 Kroger brand
Cumin: super cheap at Aldi (we bought it when we went home)
Coriander: $2
Jalapeno: I put it in the green bean bag and forgot to take it out to ring it up oops but it was pretty cheap regardless.
Whole tomatoes: <$1/can (I think it was $0.89, but I'm not sure because I threw away the receipt forgetting about this blog).
Green beans: $1.29/lb so less than $1 for 1/2 pound
Sweet potatoes: $0.38/lb!!!!!
Black beans: again <$1/can

In total, I spent ~$25 for everything I cooked this weekend. I only had to buy sugar for the brownies, and the potatoes were $2.50 for a 3lb bag. The cauliflower was the most expensive thing at $2.99 a head. This should feed me for at least a week maybe more considering how my mom is coming up for Thanksgiving later this week and cooking for us. My sister thought it was illogical that I made so much food given this fact, but hey, a girl's got to eat. I do have to say that the cold season (aka nothing can grow anymore) is making it very hard for me to eat fruit (I only bought three oranges from my grocery trip), but hopefully my mom can find some good fruit at Aldi and bring it up here.

Bonus: my sister made cranberry muffins from the cranberries my cousin used as a garnish for her party punch. She used walnuts, which she bought for her meatloaf, instead of pecans, applesauce instead of a flax egg, and orange juice instead of a freshly squeezed orange. This is what we had in our pantry (the applesauce is also from our mom).

I also broke the no-spending rule enforced in my last post by buying a hoodie at TJMaxx, but that's another story you can see on my Youtube channel. It was only $10, but I justified it as a birthday gift to myself, which means I'm not buying liquid eyeliner anymore aka my original gift to myself. 

Anyways, enjoy the pictures below (yes, this blog actually includes photos for once) and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm saving a turkey's life for this and all Thanksgivings.

Howl to Be Vegan X

bitter melon - an update from my last post - my mom braised it with sweet soy sauce this time, and it was so good compared to regular soy sauce! the sweetness really balances out the bitterness

guac - mom gave us four avocados - I used one of them for avocado and toast and the rest for guacamole. I also used the tomatoes and a lime she gave us. the only thing I bought was a red onion and the chips. I highly recommend Santitas Tortilla Chips - they're only $2 and made with three simple ingredients: corn, oil, and salt. other tortilla chip brands like Tostitos have milk in them, which is ridiculous! (wow, Frito-Lay actually owns both Santitas and Tostitos)

mac and cheese - while grocery shopping, I stumbled upon Annie's Vegan Mac & Cheese, so naturally I had to have it. it wasn't worth it. I ended up using it like rice and eating the bitter melon with it. I also had it with some guac, so basically it was good as a base not as a solo dish.

busboys & poets - for my sister's birthday, we went to nova/dc to see Alton Brown Live and dinner at my favorite vegan restaurant. unfortunately, busboys also serves meat, but their vegan selection is so good, I keep coming back (I've been there more than 10 times and have introduced all my friends to it). what's funny is I didn't have a good first impression of busboys because the vegan crab cake made me sick (it's since been removed from the menu...), but the second time I had it (ironically with my sister), I was hooked. I had the vegan beef sliders made with lentils and soy protein (I believe). It was decent (I've had it before). they didn't put enough mayo on the patty so it was a little dry, but I fixed it with mustard and ketchup. I recommended the vegan tuna sandwich for my sister. The meal, which also included a side of sweet potato chips for my sliders and sweet potato fries for my sister, a mixed drink, a coffee, and a dessert only cost $54.52 with tip, which is not bad at all considering I once spent $40 on a meal at another vegan restaurant that I won't recommend.

Read Chanhong L.'s review of Busboys and Poets - Shirlington on Yelp

After going HAM on all these restaurant meals (see previous posts), I realized that my bank account was drained (I have horrible foresight), so I decided I wasn't going to spend any money until my birthday (more on that in the next post). As a result, I couldn't spend any money on food, so we had to use whatever we had at home to sustain ourselves for the next week or so. Here's what we made:

curried/cumin potatoes - poBAEtoes - what more do I have to say? they're cheap, versatile, and tasty. they can also be supplemented with rice for a more calorie dense meal aka you won't feel hungry after eating this dish. my sister used cumin powder instead of cumin seed, but it was fine. she also added tomatoes and lentils to the recipe.

pesto - mom gave us more herbs, so my sister made pesto again. she used the last of the walnuts in the last pesto batch, but she just replaced it with sunflower seeds and peanuts from my pantry, and it tasted the same to me. we ate it with penne. I also made the bow tie dish again because of leftover tomatoes.

gnocchi - "best gnocchi i ever had" - drake; my sister replaced the cashews with almond milk and peanuts aka what we had in our pantry #poBAEtoes

free pizza - midici opened in charlottesville and gave away free margherita pizzas; the 50 minute wait was worth it because we would have starved otherwise. because the margherita pizza has cheese on it, they let me substitute pineapple. I would never pay for the pizza though: it was mediocre and needed the extra toppings e.g. garlic, salt, pepper, etc. the restaurant provides on the side. the ambiance is 10/10 though.

pesto pizza - my sister and I were actually going to go to Midici again for a Yelp Elite event, but we were over it after the free pizza + there's only one option for me so it's not worth the time especially when I had homework and a UVA basketball game was on; my sister did make her pesto pizza again though. She used kale, mushrooms, my leftover red onion from the guacamole, and a grocery store tomato (aka not one from our dad's garden because we ate them all) as toppings. I'm pretty sure these are the same toppings from the last pesto pizza she made. she over salted the first pizza, but the second one was good.

black bean burger - the same night my sister made the pesto pizza, I cheated and spent money at an on-campus cafe except it was money I already spent i.e. I used my student card, which had money I previously deposited into it to buy a textbook. i stayed up really late the previous night doing homework and was really stressed, so I figured I would treat myself and treat myself I did: I added veganaise to the buns, and it was the most gluttonous black bean burger I ever ate. I had chest pains after eating it + along with the side of fries. the meal was only $6 too.

hummus - lastly, I made the hummus in my first "Howl to Be Vegan" post because I had leftover chips from the guacamole and cannellini beans lying around for this exact moment. i didn't have an actual lemon, but I used lemon juice from the fridge and adjusted the taste with peanut butter, a lot of garlic, and other spices. after I ran out of tortilla chips, I finished the hummus with my roommate's leftover pretzel chips.

I also had about four ramen and cereal dinners during this time period, so our pantry is pretty wiped out at this point. Updates are coming in the next post.

Edit: I totally forgot that I got pho at Vu Noodles, arguably the only Vietnamese restaurant and one of the few vegetarian/vegan-only restaurants in town.

A post shared by Chanhong Luu (@justcallmechl_oe) on

Monday, October 30, 2017

Howl To Be Vegan Part IX

First, I forgot to include some home-cooked meals my sister made in my previous posts.

september 27 ravioli
  • Good but super doughy because we don't have a pasta roller-my sister gave up trying to make the ravioli and just made dough balls with sauce
  • My sister actually wrote a blog post about her experience! Check it out here:
october 11 potato pancakes
  • This was more of a snack than a meal. 
  • The onion to potato ratio was off, so the pancake was super onion-y but nothing ketchup couldn't fix!

october 12 quinoa burger

  • I don't think I'm a fan of quinoa, but any burger is good with mayo spread on a toasted bun and tomatoes. 

Next, here is the food I've been eating since my last post.

october 18 fettucine alfredo

  • Once again courtesy of my sister
  • Pasta is cheap and cauliflower and plant-based milk makes stuff creamy. 

october 21 chili and cornbread

  • Hearty without the meat
  • The last thing my sister cooked
  • I got mad at her because she forgot to buy chili powder, and I was like "How can you make chili without chili powder?!" Her rebuttal was "Chili powder is just a blend of spices, and we have most of those spices." As a result, she replaced the chili powder with the same amount of cayenne pepper. As you can guess, it came out really spicy, but she added more tomato paste, and it was all good (although it kind of tasted better spicy).
  • The cornbread was really bitter by itself because she added 1 tablespoon instead of 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, but it was fine with the chili. 

october 21 mom sent with my aunt, braised bitter melon, gourd, and tofu, which I ate with rice for the week

october 22 taste of china with the uncle and sister

Read Chanhong L.'s review of Taste of China on Yelp

october 26 mellow mushroom with the sister for trivia night

Read Chanhong L.'s review of Mellow Mushroom on Yelp

october 27 roots with Sari!
  • I got The Southern as is this time.
  • It was super yummy as always. 
october 28 hibachi with the parents & sister
  • Not vegan-friendly but we went for my parents' birthdays
  • Mom also brought canh chua with okra, bac ha, mong toi (see below), and tofu; stir-fried tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and fried tofu; and braised bitter melon and fried tofu (I apologize for the inconsistent use of Vietnamese accents in this blog)
    • I yelled at her for always including tofu, and she said all you have to do is use your words and tell me, which was valid. She also said she saved it for me when she could have eaten it herself or not buy it at all and that my dad likes it too AKA giving me tofu is a sacrifice she makes for me. My American ass just wants her to ask me if I want the tofu. I can never be a Vietnamese mom, but that's a different story. 
october 30 
  • no class today so I boiled some mồng tơi from my dad's garden and ate it with ramen for dinner because it's too bland for me to eat it alone
    • I also made a soup with some Chinese flowering cabbage or cai ngot (sweet lettuce) from my dad's garden - this will be eaten with rice (as always)

Halloween 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Howl to Be Vegan [At Restaurants]

I was too lazy to cook last week and I finally paid off my credit card debt, so I went ham on restaurant meals.

Here's what I ate (taken directly from my credit card statement):

Lemongrass: vegetable pad see ew with egg (they didn't take out the egg even though I asked them to, but I was too hungry to send it back) 10/5 $11.03

Read Chanhong L.'s review of Lemongrass on Yelp

Mezeh: completely customizable grains & greens bowl 10/8 $9.78

Revolutionary Soup: spicy senegalese peanut tofu soup with bread and black bean & spinach wrap 10/10 $8.51 (I had a 15% off coupon)

Read Chanhong L.'s review of Revolutionary Soup on Yelp

Got Dumplings: tofu dumplings, seaweed salad (I don't recommend), and edamame 10/12 $9.65

Loving Hut: Thai tea bubble tea, "steak" salad, cheese sticks, and wonton noodle soup 10/14 ~$20 (I split the bubble tea and salad with my sister) 

Note: all prices mentioned are before tip (if applicable)

I cooked green beans and carrot and apple soup today because I should save my money to pay off my grad school loans. Here's a receipt of my Kroger bill. My sister's going to use the other ingredients to make vegan alfredo. We're relying on a lot of pantry staples like pasta.

P.S. It's really late, so I can't figure out a good way to format this post.

I Give Up On Fashion

I give up on fashion because it costs too much, nothing looks on me, and everything is ugly: I just want a nice pair of jeans without any holes or a design on the back pockets!

Fall has descended, which means it's time for me to hate my fall/winter wardrobe again. I got rid of my old coats and exchanged them for "new" ones from Goodwill and a friend (I'm not going into much detail because I think I might do a look book), but I still had a lot of items I'm not satisfied with. 

Yesterday, I tried pairing my mint green sweater with a grey vest and a pair of white jeans. It was not a good look. With this outfit, I transformed into a middle aged white man, and I did not like it. The white jeans looked so bad because it ironically was from the kid's section so it did not hug my curves at all. I tried on the vest with another outfit the next day, and it just felt constricting. These items clearly had to go. I kept the sweater because I still like the look I created with it last year, but later that night, I went through my wardrobe and filtered out more clothes I didn't want. The items I chose to give away were worn, out of style, or just fit me weirdly. A couple of items I had from Forever21 didn't fit me in the shoulder/arm pit area, which is actually a common theme among my sweaters: none of them fit me well, which sucks. I just want a warm and snugly sweater! 

First, I went to Plato's Closet to try and sell my clothes, and they took a lot less than I was expecting. I wanted at least $20, but they only took my vest and weird-fitting Forever21 black long sleeve crop top. I understand why they didn't take a lot of stuff, but there was a cobalt blue long sleeve Forever21 dress I'm surprised they rejected! Maybe they were just done with my shit lol. I took the dress home and lowered the weird-fitting shoulders to make it an off-the-shoulder dress, but it's a fancy dress and I don't go anywhere fancy so who knows when I'll actually get to wear it again. I donated almost everything else to Goodwill. I don't have the patience of my cousin, who has actually gone back to Plato's to sell things they previously rejected. 

While at Plato's, I also looked for a new pair of jeans because I don't actually have a pair of classic-colored denim jeans, but for a second-hand store, a lot of the jeans, e.g. Hollister and American Eagle, were still expensive. They were priced at $20+. I did a quick Google search, and I can get a new pair of Hollister jeans for $25. I chose the ones I could actually afford i.e. the $12 and under ones, only two of them fit. One of them was the one I mentioned in my intro and the other was a pair of worn darker Forever21 jeans. I decided to go home empty-handed, which turned out to be a smart decision because I only got $11.35 for my items. I was sad but accepted that it's okay to wear the same things everyday: quality > quantity. I'd rather spend my money on food. 

That didn't stop me from browsing Forever21's online store though. It brought me back to last year when I was desperately trying to find a cute and simple sweater dress. I finally found one on Wet Seal's website, but unfortunately they have since gone bankrupt. A lot of their clothes may have been trashy, but I liked them because their clothes actually fit me. I also got two outfits from Forever21 around the same time, but I actually had a full-time job back then so I didn't have to restrict myself to the sale/clearance section. Nothing really stood out to me from the sale section today. They were all too crazy, and I just wanted something versatile. Forever21 actually has a lot of nice basics, but they always sell out so quick and you have to filter through a lot of ugly stuff before you find them. I wish there was a store that only sold these items. One day I hope to have the capital to start this brand. Until then, here's to adopting a wardrobe more like Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs's. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Howl Not To Be Vegan

If we're being real, cooking takes a lot of time and effort, which are things I don't have these days. Since my last blog post, I think I've only cooked two dishes: spaghetti, which only lasted four servings, and kimbap (I used Maangchi's recipe without the meat), which I can't eat right now even though I'm hungry, because I'm saving it for lunch this week.

I've also been over relying on my mom to provide food for me, so when she doesn't have enough food for me, I'm at a lost (I went home for fall break and only brought back one dish). My mom giving me food is great, but it throws off my cooking routine and meal prep. My motivation and inspiration are lost, and I don't eat because I'd rather starve than put junk into my body (I can only eat ramen once a week before I start hating myself). I also refuse to spend money on restaurant meals I know I can cook at home for less $.

Eating is not something I should be stressed about, but it has always been an issue for me, which is why I say I have a eating disorder. If I cook something, and it doesn't go well, I get really depressed. The same goes for when I eat something that isn't satisfying. I'm also known in my family for being hangry: this is a habit my mom has noticed in me ever since I was a child (I specifically remember crying one time because my mom didn't offer me food she offered my sister). Food has always affected my mood, but I really wish it didn't because I'd rather not have more things to stress about.

Edit: During this time, I also made a tofu, black bean, and yellow pepper stir fry. I used two cans of black beans at $0.59 each, one box of tofu ~$2, and one yellow pepper ~$1. This dish was not planned. I saw how cheap the beans were so I had to buy them. I bought tofu just to have it, and I stole one of my sister's peppers.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I stumbled across my best friend in elementary school’s Facebook again and learned she’s going to be a teacher too. I discovered how she also suffers from anxiety and has an entrepreneurial spirit like me. It’s amazing how our lives have diverged—she’s super “conservative” while I’m super “liberal” for lack of better words—yet converge towards the same goals. This brought me back to something I wrote after the 2016 Presidential Election:

The aftermath of this election has made me realized how disconnected my privileged friends are from a large portion of the population-the rural working class. I grew up in a small town (technically a city) in Southern Virginia, while the rest of my peers grew up in suburbia, Northern Virginia, some of the richest counties in Virginia, etc. The differences in our lives can be looked at through many different lenses, but today I’m going to focus on friendships.

My first best friend was a white girl, but she’s unlike any white girl at UVA. We became friends because my dad knew her parents. Her dad and my dad both worked in the same textile company. We were also two of the smartest students in our grade—the two shortest too. We lost contact after I transferred schools. I went on to go to UVA, while she never made it to a four-year college. We reconnected on Facebook a couple years ago, and by perusing our timelines, you can see how different we are. She’s deactivated her Facebook since then, but I could definitely tell she was voting for Trump.

My next best friend was a Chinese girl. She fits in with most of the UVA demographic: pre-med, college-educated parents, etc., which in retrospect is probably why our friendship didn’t last long. I told her I used to live in a trailer, and that was probably one of the first times I was judged for my socioeconomic status.

The Chinese girl and I were also friends with a Mexican. I didn’t realize it until now, but I was actually part of a clique in 6th grade that included two other white girls. Anyways, this Mexican girl and Chinese girl connected through Spanish. The Chinese girl actually has roots in Peru, but she eventually shunned this Mexican girl too. This Mexican girl eventually got pregnant in 8th grade, like a lot of girls in my middle and high school, and moved away. I don’t know where she is now. She also never made it to college as far as I know.

After our clique dissolved (the Chinese girl started ignoring me, and the rest were assigned different 7th grade classes), I had difficulties finding friends until sophomore year of high school.

Actually, let’s go back to 9th grade for a bit. My best friend in 9th grade gym was a girl people made fun of because they thought she was a lesbian. What’s funny is a lot of people I went to school with have now come out as gay. Kids can be so mean. I always wish I had done more and stood up for those who were made fun of in school. One of the kids who was made fun of actually died from an infection stemming from cancer treatments. Everyone was super nice to her posthumously.

Back to 10th grade: in 10th grade, my crew (i.e. the people I ate lunch with) included three Mexicans and a black girl. One Mexican girl I had met earlier in middle school, but I can’t remember exactly the moment we became friends. She went on to college and majored in psychology like me, so we get each other. She even defended me recently in one of my “controversial” Facebook posts. She was raped as a child. The other Mexican girl has two kids now. I don’t remember when she got pregnant—I think it was after high school. Her sister, who also joined us for lunch sometimes, had a baby while in school though. I think the first Mexican girl’s younger sister had a baby too. The last Mexican in our group was a boy. He was a good student but didn’t take the traditional route post-graduation. I think he has his own photography business now. I wasn’t friends with any of the white boys, but I was friends with him. Last but not least, the black girl—she was one of the first people to get me to come out of my shell. She helped a lot of people but she didn’t go to college either. I recently found out she had a baby too.

Junior to senior year, I went to a magnet school for half of the school day, so the people I was surrounded by were more like the people I eventually met in college. We developed a bond over the hardships of school, but I didn’t really make any lifelong friends among this group.

Outside of school, I had a group of Vietnamese friends. We know each other because of our parents—none of whom are college educated. The majority of us have gone on to college, but one of them now lives on a chicken farm in Arkansas. She followed the father of her two children there. She had her first child when she was 16. A lot of these childhood friends moved away when the recession hit. When my sister recently visited this friend in Texas, where her family had moved, she told her my major: she didn’t know what it was.

One of these childhood friends now shares a studio with me. She is college educated as well, and like a lot of college-educated students, she was anti-Hilary but very anti-Trump, which is a shame. I’ve always been with Her, but I was too ashamed to admit it because of my roommate. Hilary honestly lost touch with the working-class voters, which she was so close to earlier in her career. My roommate’s dad voted for Trump because of Catholic values like pro-life. My dad voted for Hilary because of women’s rights. Who knew my dad would the most woke dad in Martinsville?

These were my friends before college. They’re a lot different than the friends my privileged college friends had.

Almond Milk and Agave Syrup

I've decided to be ugly because
even when I was pretty, 
you still didn't want to love me

- me trying to be Rupi Kaur

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Prophecy

*Spoiler alert for those who have never read or watched the last Harry Potter*

I feel like Harry Potter. Why? Because my life is being controlled by a prophecy. Based on my birth date in the lunar calendar, I'm supposed to be a teacher. This is according to some random Vietnamese fortune that I've never actually seen. The fortune doesn't even explicitly say "teacher!" It just says dân sư, which doesn't even have a translation in Google Translate. The closest definition I could find is for dân sự, meaning civil. Yet, I believe this shit. Why do I believe this shit? Because my mom, grandma, and oldest uncle (Voldermort) keep reinforcing it in my head. My grandma even told me a story about how when she was working as a vendor in Vietnam, she prayed no one would come because she wasn't good at selling things. The only thing she could do and liked to do was teach, which she was forced to give up as a result of the war. Except, I'm not like you, grandma: I have other passions besides teaching. I am good at and enjoy doing other things. I tell my mom I want to drop out of grad school, and she keeps insisting that she never forced me to be a teacher, but what do you call all this divination talk?! I told you what I really wanted to do, and you told me to "quit dreaming." I am a Vietnamese American, which means that while I like to think I'm an independent American, I still feel obligated to do what my elders tell me to do. My more Americanized cousin doesn't get why I feel so tied to this prophecy (easy for her to say: her prophecy says she can do whatever the fuck she wants). She thinks it's stupid, but I can't help wondering if it's true: what if I try following my dreams and fail drastically and end up getting my Master's in Teaching anyways? Why should I delay the inevitable? I honestly don't know what to do right now except pray Neville Longbottom shows up as soon as possible and puts me and all my Snapchat friends who are tired of my complaining, out of our miseries.

Edit: My dad is pushing me more than my mom right now. Mom also told me I need to take responsibility for my own actions i.e. not blame her for my current situation, but she won't let me quit?! *confused*

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Get You A Pair of Shoes That Can Do Both

Black is a good neutral color, but these sandals were silver AND gold.
I've unwillingly said goodbye to a lot of excellent pairs of shoes in the last two years including these. I got them at the kids' section (they were a Size 2 in case you're wondering) at Kmart and they lasted six years. I started wearing them after my favorite pair of silver braided sandals broke first year of college, and they have become my go-to sandals ever since. My mom yelled at me for always wearing the same raggedy shoe, but they were comfortable, stylish, and went with everything, so I wore them until they died. I also had to part ways with my navy Toms and blush flats after the New York rain destroyed them, a pair of torn white flats, and dirty cheap white sneakers I bought for $12 at H&M. Minus the white flats, those shoes went with everything.

I replaced the Toms with a new pair of floral gold ones, but I'm left with only one pair of childish black flats and a pair of uncomfortable black sandals because I sold a pair of glittery navy flats which were too big for me. I keep these around because there are no better options at the moment.

Because of the lack of dress shoes in my closet now, I'm forced to wear my nude pumps, which is a good thing, but they're so uncomfortable (I also have a pair of nude and hot pink flats, but hot pink doesn't really go well with a lot of things). As far as the other heels in my closet, I gave away the ones that weren't versatile, including a pair of navy & green pumps I started my fashion blog with. Some of them were also old, but most importantly, they weren't flexible or comfortable (I saved my wedges and a great pair of pointed low black heels because I've worn them on more than one occasion and they haven't killed me).

While it's good to give away shoes you don't wear (and not buy them in the first place), it's really sad when you're forced to throw away a pair you love because of wear and tear. Those are truly the great fashion purchases.

*Honorable mention to my tennis shoes, which I am starting to wear more because I don't care as much about how I look now*

Friday, September 22, 2017

Howl to Be Vegan Parts IV-VII

School is in full-force now so I unfortunately haven't had time to blog :( I was also working two jobs at one point, but thankfully I quit one of them (after much back & forth with myself). I'm also not sure if teaching is the career for me, but that's a different story. Even though I've been super busy, I've still maintained my vegan diet. I still eat healthy, which I can't say I did when I was an undergrad. The difference is I don't have a social life anymore so I use that time to cook. My sister has also been a big help.

I ended my last post with DC VegFest. It was okay. The variety of food at Richmond Veg Fest was better. I think you can really see a city's food culture through events like these. The DC food scene isn't great, so the vegan food scene is going to reflect that.  The DC vegan food scene consists of a lot of soul food and processed food/meat replacements, while the Richmond and Charlottesville vegan food scene consists more of ethnic whole foods. New York City also does a lot of American vegan food, but it is so much better than DC's, and I think this has a lot to do with the superiority of NYC's overall food scene.

I also don't find vegan festivals beneficial since I'm already vegan and I'm not a big socializer. My uncles love chatting people up, while my sister and I are just there for the food and free samples and. Speaking of free samples, there was a lot of vegan cheese samples, which was awesome but like I said very American and processed. I think I would get more from the experience if I was a volunteer. My sister and I also had some hot dogs and tacos, which were okay (and expensive-that's another thing to note about vegan food in DC)-should've gotten some soul food instead.

After Vegfest, we went to Loving Hut for dinner. I'm glad I ordered something instead of saving money (I would have starved later). I had the com tam bi chay (broken rice with shredded pork). I've had it before so I knew it would be good. We also tried the steak salad, which wasn't as good as the regular salad. It's funny because I really wanted to try it when I first came here with my uncle. My sister and uncles had noodle soups, which were apparently very clean and tasty. I'll have to come back to try them, especially the wonton soup my uncle got.

That same weekend, my mom visited, so she provided some much needed food. My dad's garden was thriving in bau or calabash, a gourd, so my mom brought canh bau with tofu (gourd soup) and bau kho or braised gourd with bitter melon and tofu. She also made banh hoi again because of the abundant herbs from my dad's garden. The last dish she made was stir-fry chives and bean sprouts.

After mom's food ran out, my sister made vegan clam chowder. It was pretty good. It obviously didn't taste like seafood, but it was creamy, which is something a lot of people don't think can be done with vegan food. She's been wanting to make this recipe for a while after finding it online, but we didn't have a blender.

With the leftover seaweed my sister bought to try to make the clam chowder taste more sea-like, she made sushi with cucumber, carrots, and leftover mushrooms. I'm not a huge fan of cucumber and carrot rolls, but this one wasn't bad. That same night, I made the Bow Tie dish again with tomatoes, limes, and herbs my mom left. This time, I halved the pasta knowing I didn't have enough tomatoes.

I also ate ramen with herbs-you can never go wrong with ramen when there's nothing to eat especially when you can add garnishes to it.

My sister used the rest of the herbs and bow tie to make pesto again. I think it was much better this time. We also had olive oil this time. I bought a cute little bottle from Kroger for like $3.

For snacks, I made buffalo cauliflower bites from my Thug Kitchen cookbook because cauliflower was on sale at Kroger and I was craving wings. I also made fries because I was craving them and didn't want to do my homework. They were good but too bland for me: I have a fear of over salting things.

I got finally got my salt fix from my sister's vegan Shepherd's Pie. She used leftover cauliflower stalks and celery, instead of the celery root called for in the recipe, to create the creamy mash and found the recipe online after trying to decide what to do with the beets my mom left her. It was so flavorful.

Speaking of flavor, I finally put the right amount of salt on something and flavored green beans successfully yesterday! They were on sale at Kroger so I bought them because I've always loved green beans and I rarely see them fresh in American grocery stores. I think I was helped in not having real soy sauce, which I usually use to flavor them, so I had to use a generous amount of salt, sugar, and vegetable seasoning (I also learned from past mistakes). My sister also made raspberry bars last night because the raspberries she bought weren't good so she decided to find a raspberry dessert to make with the oatmeal I had. THEY WERE SO GOOD.

As far as breakfast, I've resorted to carrying around a bag of bread and just eating it slice by slice because carbs give you energy! I've stopped eating peanut butter with the bread because it's fat, but I'll eat it on the weekends as a treat. For fruit, mom and grandma came through once again. I was disappointed in the unsweet plums my mom gave us though. Eating low quality fruit really is a bummer. My uncle spit out longan he bought from NOVA because it was not as sweet as he expected it to be. Thankfully, I have a lunch break every day so I don't starve.

Last but not least, here are the restaurant meals I ate: a Roots bowl with some new friends from a student CIO called Veggies of Virginia. I didn't expect them to be so cool, and I'm sad I haven't gotten to hang out with them more. My sister and I went to Cafe 88 last week for some fake chicken. I was hype for it, but it tasted like any old soy protein, but the vegetables on the side were on point. The curry was good too.

Here's a picture of the Roots bowl:

A post shared by @justcallmechl_oe on
I unfortunately forgot to save my Snaps of the cauliflower and fries, but here are the raspberry oatmeal squares my sister posted on her new food account! There are also pictures from the actual recipes I linked.

The moral for this week: my sister and I had no idea what we wanted to cook, but we went to the grocery store and picked out what we could buy and thought about it later using Google and the staples we had in our fridge/pantry to create some very delicious food. I also cooked on multiple week this what adulting is?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Howl to be Vegan Part IV

Update on last week's dishes: I didn't flavor the water spinach enough so it was kind of bland. I needed the secret ingredient: sweet soy sauce. I also added tomatoes to my bitter melon to dilute its strong taste. My mom usually makes bitter melon with egg and tomatoes so I just did that without the egg.

This week, I made curry, one of the easiest and cheapest vegan dishes to make. I had already bought two cans of coconut milk on sale along with a bag of yellow curry powder (cheaper than curry pastes). All I needed to add was vegetables! Here's the recipe I used this week:

Yellow Curry good enough for a week and a half

2 cans of coconut milk ($2/can at Kroger)
2 sweet potatoes
3 russet potatoes ($2/5 lb bag)
4 carrots (still from the same bag as the spaghetti)
1 onion
3 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt for seasoning

Peel and cut vegetables. I actually hate prepping sweet potatoes because their irregular shape make them really hard to peel, and they're really hard to cut/slice, but the flavors are worth it in the end. Because my sweet potatoes were huge, I had to add an extra potato to balance out the sweet and savory.

Heat coconut milk in pot. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar (taken directly from the instructions of Thai Kitchen's Red Curry Paste lol) and 3 tablespoons of yellow curry powder (taken from an old bottle of yellow curry powder I had). Mix well. Add sweet potatoes, potatoes, and carrots. Cover and cook until tender (15-20 minutes). Add onion and season with salt, msg, or whatever. Serve with rice or vermicelli noodles.

I've also been eating a lot of free food at various events hosted by the University and its constituents. Last Friday, I went to the 7th Annual Gazpacho In the Garden hosted by the Morven Kitchen Garden. There was such much vegan friendly food! This wasn't the case at the UVA Arts Grounds Day on Saturday. There was a veggie falafel, but I don't think the BBQ chipotle sauce was vegan (I should have gotten ketchup instead). The patty was dry, and I ate a hush puppy knowing it wasn't vegan. The veggie baked beans were meh too, so I basically ate junk in terms of taste and health. I did eat some delicious vegan BBQ with avocado slaw at the Curry Picnic though.

In addition to my curry and the free food on grounds, my sister also contributed since my last post by making pesto with the leftover herbs from our mom and the avocados our grandma gave us, flatbread pizza with the leftover pesto, and quinoa with the leftover pizza ingredients. She put mushroom, kale, and onion on the pizza and added canned beets and carrots to the leftover mushroom and kale for the quinoa bowl flavored with lime and tahini from Mezeh. She kind of went overboard with the lime though, but it tastes fine to me. I ate the pesto with my leftover penne (there was definitely a lack of tomatoes), spaghetti, and a new box of cherry tomatoes. 10/10 would recommend the pizza recipe.

Last but not least, my sister and I went out to dinner on Thursday night to celebrate my new jobs and me being done with two weeks of grad school, but really we just had a $10 coupon to Maharaja that was expiring. From left to right: 1) Vegetable Kholapuri 2) Mushroom & Pea Malai 3) Baigan (Eggplant) Burtha 4) Bhindi Masala. I don't think the top two dishes aka my sister's are vegan because they were rather creamy/buttery. You can see Maharaja's menu here: The food was on point as always.

Tata for now! I'm off to DC Vegfest, which you can read all about in my next post.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Streaming Is The Present

I remember thinking in 2015 how I'll never stop downloading music because I like "owning" and organizing my music. I haven't downloaded a song in more than a year. Never did I think I could have access to any song I wanted for free. There was a time when I wanted a new iPod with more storage so I could fit my entire iTunes library on it. Now there are phones with more memory than iPods. It's amazing how quickly technology has changed in my lifetime (remember floppy disks, guys?) Seeing these changes through the lens of music is pretty cool in my opinion.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Howl To Be Vegan Part II & III

Last weekend I went home solely for eating purposes: my dad's herb and salad garden is overpopulated and my mom needed my sister and I to eat.

She first prepared for us banh hoi with tofu and herbs. The Country Crock and onion dressing is to die for (literally because it's so unhealthy). I also had banh xeo with a chayote, jicama, and cabbage filling served with herbs and soy sauce. Other typical vegetarian fillings include mushrooms, tofu, or carrots. My favorite part has always been the actual crepe (misleading name because there are no eggs in a banh xeo).

In addition to these special meals, I also ate a very simple dish of fermented bean curd, cucumber, and rice. My mom mixed the bean curd with a little bit of sugar to dilute the strong fermented taste. It was actually my first time eating it, but I loved it: I was afraid of its pungency before. 

Fruit (blueberries, strawberries, nectarines, mangos, plums, and bananas) was also a must have. 

Along with leftovers, she sent home with us canh chua made with Chinese water spinach, basil, and bean sprouts. You can also make it with pineapple, tomatoes, and colocasia gigantea (the plant kingdom is so diverse, yet people are satisfied with only eating beef, chicken, or pork all their lives). The canh chua was super sour because she used fresh lime instead of a prepackaged canh chua seasoning, which includes seafood. I ate the canh chua with ramen, and it was so much better. The second dish she made for us to take home was stir fry chives, bean sprouts, and tofu. She also gave us bitter melon, cherry tomatoes, and more water spinach, herbs, and fruit. You can get familiar with the herbs here: 

Today, I simply cooked the water spinach with garlic and cut the bitter melon and cooked it with soy sauce. My mom actually made us the water spinach and stuffed the bitter melon with tofu for us our first week in Charlottesville. I used the box of cherry tomatoes (you'll actually need need two, but I just made use with what I had), basil, and mint in addition to a box of unused whole wheat penne my sister had to make a pasta dish I've made before. The recipe (Bow Ties with Tomatoes, Herbs, and Lemon) is from Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Vegetarian Meals. I made it with lime instead of lemon this time because that's what my mom gave me and took out the olive oil for health reasons (we also didn't have olive oil). The oil definitely would have dispersed the salt better, but I think it tastes fine without it. 

My sister contributed by baking tofu ($2 at Kroger) with a Sweet Citrus Marinade from Thug Kitchen. We didn't have ginger, so she excluded it, and she used regular vegetable oil instead of olive oil. I used the tofu as a savory component for summer rolls. I used whole wheat rice paper, the herbs, and added julienne carrots for the crunchy component. I learned from experience that all delicious summer rolls need a savory, crunchy, and herby component. Top it all off with a good dipping sauce. My go-to is peanut and hoisin. I added the chili sauce from Thug Kitchen last time for a spicy kick.

I will be eating the dishes we cooked today all week, which is why now would be a good time to mention that what I cooked in my last blog post did not last me all week (more thoughts on meal prepping here: I did have to supplement with tofu sausages my sister bought and hot dog buns. I cut the sausage into quarters because it was too "meaty" and ate each quarter with a bun. I had two buns per meal garnished with fresh carrot sticks for a less heavy meal.

In conclusion, the moral of this post is be creative with the food available to you. I also saw this Tweet (see below) in a Buzzfeed post, and it really speaks to how my mom has always taken care of me with food. I didn't realize how much work she put in for us to have something new to eat every other day until I started cooking for myself. My parents also don't make that much money, yet, we've always had good food to eat, which goes to show you how much creativity really does help.

Asian parents always ask their children if they've eaten yet because that's how they show love. I've always been annoyed by this question because I thought it was a stupid one: of course I've eaten, but this Tweet really puts their love in a new perspective: nobody will ever love me as much as my mom. She's literally been feeding me my whole life. 

Oh, I almost forgot about dessert! My mom made this delicious silken tofu and ginger soup with coconut milk and sugar. I was lowkey cheating by eating frosted blueberry donuts she bought for my sister before she made this. Vegan desserts are usually really complicated to make because you have to make a lot of substitutions for cakes, etc., so it's really easy to cheat, but the tofu and ginger dish is really simple and easy to make. God bless Vietnamese cuisine for broadening my palette and reminding me that I can be a vegan and have my cake too (okay not literally, but I had to make this joke). I guess another moral of this story is to learn other cuisines because poor countries know how to not eat meat lol. 

Fruit for this week: blueberries, avocados (courtesy of my grandma), bananas, and $0.99/lb grapes from Kroger! My grandma is retired, and she is still able to feed me. Food banks seriously need to step their game up. I can't believe the junk (hello, sheet cakes) I saw delivered to homes on A Place At The Table.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Howl To Be Vegan Part I

Update: I'm still a vegan. I feel the need to say this because I haven't posted any food pictures on Instagram in a while (Did it really happen if you didn't tell the whole world on social media about it?). I don't normally post food pictures for several reasons: 1. I'm way too excited to eat my food to take a picture of it. 2. Just because something looks good doesn't mean it's going to taste good, which is why I need to do a taste test first. 3. Lighting really sucks sometimes.

Because I haven't been posting any pictures of food, I feel like I've failed in showing people how to be vegan. I've been sharing snippets of vegan documentaries and books like What The Health and Proteinaholic on Snapchat, but I haven't been sharing my meals. One of my friends responded to my Snaps saying how he's more interested in how to become a vegan. He has this belief that it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of effort to be vegan, and I want to disprove that. At first, I was going to vlog how I prepare a meal from going to the grocery store to cooking it, but I'm too lazy for that, and a blog post seems easier and more my style. I might someday vlog one of my meal preps, but today, I'm going to tell you what I've cooked since moving back to Charlottesville (I've lowkey been struggling in how to show you guys what I've eaten until I thought of this idea today. My move made it the perfect time to start this series).

A couple of disclaimers first: 1. I know people are more drawn to pictures, but this series will be more text-driven like most of my work because of the reasons I mentioned in the first paragraph. 2. The name of this series was inspired by Lost Dog's Cafe Howl To Be Vegan menu, which some restaurant employees don't even know about.


My sister bought some spaghetti sauce with no intention of using it (that's another story), and she had a bunch of leftover pasta lying around. Spaghetti is also a relatively simple dish to make, so the choice was obvious to make spaghetti for my first self-cooked meal in Charlottesville. I usually make spaghetti with mushrooms and onion, but mushrooms were expensive at Kroger, so I decided to replace them with carrots I had in the fridge instead. I actually prefer it over the mushrooms now. Here's the recipe:

Serves 4

Classico Spicy Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce/your favorite pasta sauce 24 oz $1.98 (according to
Spaghetti $1 or $2 at your local grocery store (any type you want but I suggest whole grain)
2 garlic cloves
4 carrots (You can get a bag for a few bucks at your local grocery store)
1 onion of any kind ($2 for a bag of sweet or yellow onions)
Fresh tomatoes

Chop garlic, carrots, onion, and tomatoes to whatever size you like. Heat up some oil (this is an unhealthy step that I will try to avoid in the future). Add the garlic and cook until brown. Add carrots and onion. Cook for 10 minutes or whenever you feel is adequate. Season with salt, oregano, and whatever seasoning you like. Stir in pasta sauce and fresh tomatoes, and cook until the carrots are soft enough for your liking. Add more seasoning if necessary. Cook pasta separately. Enjoy.

Cucumber, Tomato & Hummus Sandwich

My mom gave me some cucumbers and tomatoes from my dad's garden, and before I didn't know what to do with them. Then, I saw a hummus sandwich on a restaurant menu. The rest is history jk this story's a little more complicated because I needed hummus but wasn't going to spend the money (it's expensive) on it at when I've thrown away the last two or three hummuses? I've bought at the grocery store. Because my sister had a can of cannellini beans left over, I told myself I would just make my own because a girl in one of my fourth year seminars brought in some homemade white bean hummus one time, and it was banging. The only problem? I didn't have a blender. I was about to give up, but then I was like eff it-I'm just going to make a "deconstructed hummus" and see how it goes. I also didn't buy tahini because that shit's expensive, but I did have leftover sesame seeds, which I had to use whole too.

Serves ? idk I'm still eating it

1 can of white beans ($0.99 max)
1 lemon (I bought one for $0.79, but you can get one cheaper)
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
1 garlic clove
1 cucumber
5-6  tiny tomatoes (or 1 big tomato)
Bread (I'm using 6 pita pockets aka pita halves, which I got for $2.50 at Kroger).

Rinse and mash beans. Add sesame seeds and mix. Squeeze in juice from lemon and mix again. Make the garlic clove into tiny pieces somehow and add them as well. Mash and mix some more. Maybe season with salt (I don't remember if I did or not). Toast bread. Spread hummus mixture on bread or inside pita. Add some slices of cucumber and tomatoes, and enjoy.

This ended up being pretty tasty. If you recreate this recipe and it doesn't taste good, then I probably left out an ingredient in these instructions. I've also been eating the hummus with some of my sister's leftover sesame rice crackers, which complement the sesame seeds in the hummus really well.

Breakfast & Dessert
Donut from Moon Maiden

For breakfast, I've been eating my sister's leftover almond butter, which she got for free, with whole wheat bread, and for dessert, I eat fruit. This week, I got bananas and two packages of strawberries for only $3, the special deal at Kroger this week so fruit can absolutely be affordable.

That's all for now! I hope you guys enjoyed. Let's see if I can keep this up, but in the meantime, here's a picture of an okay donut I got at the Farmer's Market yesterday. In addition to being vegan, it was also gluten free, which is probably why it didn't taste that good (it was super dense). It was also $5, so it was definitely a treat.

Edit: A previous version of this blog forgot to include fresh tomatoes in the spaghetti recipe.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

San Diego

In the middle of my sister's graduation a month ago, my dad blurted out that my uncle, who I call Chu Ut, was dying and that he only had two months to live. After suffering an accidental fall, he was taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that he had liver and lung cancer with only 4-8 weeks left to live. My dad told my mom, sister, and I not to worry. 

A week later, my dad and I made plans to go to see him in San Diego. My dad hadn’t seen him in 23 years, and I only met him once at his wedding when I was 10 months old: it’s funny how it takes a death to bring everyone together. My dad was afraid of going by himself because of his old age, bad hearing, and spotty English, so I volunteered to go with him. We forgot to include my sister in the conversation. Thankfully, my mom, the great planner that she is, made us include my sister in the trip. I didn’t include her because I thought she didn’t like hanging out with my dad. I’m so glad my mom intervened. Otherwise, I would have been super lonely.

Booking tickets was a struggle because I wanted to spend as little money as possible. As a result, I only looked at the prices and completely disregarded the times. I had to cancel the flight I purchased because we would be wasting an entire day if we flew Friday afternoon. I went into panic mode, and luckily my sister took over and rebooked the flights with her prior flying experience.

Two days before our flight, my cousin Brian texted me saying that our uncle had only three days to live. He died later that night. Mom was worried we wouldn’t be able to see him before he passed. She’s more heartbroken by his death than her own grandmother’s death because he died so young. We joke that he was afraid of my dad yelling at him. My sister never got to meet him. I never got to apologize to him for unfriending him on Facebook because I thought it was creepy how he told my dad I was pretty or for never calling him back on Facebook messenger after he called me countless times (I just don’t like it when people call me on Facebook because I’m not sure if it’s a video or voice call). I regret not trying to get to know him. My cousins say he was a good uncle and role model. Although if I had known he was a life long alcoholic and smoker, I would have realized his mortality and made more of an effort to get to know him. Years ago when they were roommates, my dad remembers going to sleep, seeing my uncle with a six-pack, waking up, and the six-pack being gone. Thankfully my dad is only a social drinker, but my uncle needed alcohol to sleep.

I think I last spoke to him on my birthday when my dad called all his siblings in America and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving and subsequently asked them to wish me Happy Birthday because Thanksgiving was the same day as my birthday. I’m not 100% sure if I did talk to him though. If I did, then he sounded perfectly healthy. No one expected he would be dead seven months later: the youngest of seven children, dead before his own mother, and leaving a twenty-year old son to fend for himself.

The day before our flight we learned that his funeral would be three days after our last day in San Diego. It would be too much for my dad and I to request extra time off. We couldn’t believe we would miss him alive and dead, but luckily, we were able to say our good-byes at a fee of $145 to see him early on our last day in California.

Uncle was dead, but there was no use in crying. There was nothing we could do now except enjoy our trip to my dad’s American homeland.

We made it through security just before our boarding time at the airport. My anxious self would not risk going any later. From Greensboro, we flew to Charlotte, where we would board our flight to San Diego. We had to trek through the whole airport to get to our gate, so again, I was afraid we were going to miss our flight. Because we got last minute tickets, we all got middle seats. Luckily, my dad had an empty seat next to him, so I was able to sit with him on the five-hour flight.

I bought him food on the flight, but he didn’t hear me tell him we had to buy it, so he chose an $8 croissant sandwich, which according to my sister was stale and not good. Oh well—I didn’t want him to starve. I worry about him a lot.

Brian and another one of my cousins, Kevin, picked us up from the airport along with my dad’s sister (Co Ngoc). We hugged, but it was kind of awkward because we had never met before. We were in a van so it was not very conducive for conversation between the front and very back seats, so it would take a while for us to get to know each other. I had expected to connect with everyone instantly even though my sister and I had never met these cousins, and again, I had only met my aunt once when I was 10 months old. As a result, I didn’t know at first whether it was my dad’s sister or sister-in-law (Thim 6) in the car.

Once at my other uncle’s house (Chu 6’s house), we ate some vegan banh canh Co Ngoc made. I’ve never liked banh canh, but this one was really good. I had it again the next morning. Then, we rested, but my sister and I were ready to explore! But the old Viet people were worried about our health and wanted us to chill the Cali way. Brian aka our only ride had to pick up a friend, so we waited and waited until finally they came home and took us somewhere! That somewhere was a mall -_- womp not what I had expected.

I admit the Forever21 was nice: it had areas I’d never seen before in a Forever21 like the lifestyle section, and I did finally get an off the shoulder top, but I was a little disappointed we went to a mall. We spent the majority of our time in Forever because the store was huge. As a result, my sister and I would ditch everyone and do our own thing in the store because it was still a little awkward between the cousins and us (by this time, Kevin’s sister, Angie, and Brian’s friend, Tammy, had joined us). The awkwardness started to subside when we left Forever and went to Starbucks, where I interrogated Kevin and asked him a little about his education, etc.

After a long discussion of where to go next #indecisiveasians, we settled on La Jolla Cove because it was on my list. The locals didn’t really want to go anywhere because they were afraid of traffic. There was indeed traffic, but it wasn’t that bad. We saw some sea lions. My sister and I walked down to the beach, and my cousins were attacked by a sea lion. We spent way too much time there for my liking, but we did leave eventually. Our next destination? 85C Bakery.

On the way there, Angie and Tammy asked my sister and I about our hobbies and we got to know a little about them. My sister and I didn’t realize what we did on a normal basis counted as hobbies, so we compiled a list on our respective phones for future conversations. Brian bought everyone drinks and pastries (minus me, of course, because I’m vegan), but he did offer to buy me my shirt at Forever. He’s such a good Anh/Em. Dad’s family is definitely nicer than mom’s.

I learned more about Angie, Tammy, and Brian at 85C, while we waited to pick up Kevin’s twin brother, Andy, from a bus stop. He goes to school in San Francisco, so he also didn’t get to say bye to Uncle.

After we picked up Andy, we went to Native Foods Café, a vegan fast casual restaurant Brian happened to find located across the street from 85C. We talked about Uncle and really started to bond. Brian learned my sister and I drank, and I think that was when all awkwardness evaporated. We bought alcohol after dinner at Von’s, a California grocery store, and played [drinking games] the night away.

The next morning, our cousins went to a friend’s graduation, which my dad was going to force us to go to, but my sister and I vetoed and said, “We got it.” This was our only day exploring the city alone. We went to the Science Museum at Balboa Park and got vegan donuts at Nomad Donuts beforehand (we didn’t tell dad about the donuts, so we technically lied when he asked us if we were at the park yet, and we said yes). My dad called in the middle of our museum trip worrying about us and telling us to come home early, which really irked me. I also got my period at the same time, which intensified my emotions. As a result, I became really cranky until I took two Advils and ate. I don’t know what I would have done if my sister didn’t have a bottle of Advil or if the museum didn’t have “feminine tissues” aka a pad dispenser.

The museum was kind of meh—a lot of thinga ma bobs were broken, but the IMAX movie about civil engineering made it worthwhile. My sister also made her own fidget spinner, but we missed all the cool temporary exhibits.

Next, we went to one of the few free attractions at Balboa, the House of Pacific Relations, featuring “19 cottages and the Hall of Nations representing 34 nations exhibiting culture, traditions, and history.” I was really excited to see this, but then I realized why it was free: it was very underwhelming. I thought that once we walked into these cottages, we would be instantly transported to the country we were in, but it was just an American “house” with relics from the foreign country we were in.

The gift shop at the “United Nations” was way better. That’s when my sour mood started to subside, but unfortunately, I was getting hungry and it was getting late, and I’m a daddy’s girl who listens to her dad, so we left Balboa without fully exploring it to go get food at the last place on my list, Civico 1845, an Italian restaurant with vegan options in Little Italy/Downtown San Diego.

Service was really slow like Yelp said, but the food was good and we received our check at a decent time after finishing our meal. But because of our curfew, we went home right after and didn’t get to explore Little Italy. Yet, when we got home, my dad was nowhere to be found. The hypocrisy and double standard was real.

We rested, went to my dad’s friend’s house to be introduced to his friends, and went back home. We didn’t go anywhere else because it’d be awkward to leave again. For the rest of the day, my sister and I slept, showered, and ate banh mi way past dinnertime. I ate mine with bi chay provided by the temple Thim 6 goes to.

In the morning, I had vegan heo quay (also provided by the temple), banh hoi, and veggies for breakfast. Then, Brian, Andy, my sister, and I went to the mall again—this time to go to other stores—while we waited for Ba Co, dad’s aunt on his dad’s side, to come down from LA. My sister got crop tops; Brian got a smoothie, and I got a pretzel, so it wasn’t a total fail (we have all these stores in NOVA). Ba Co didn’t end up coming even though the whole day was planned for her and because she told us so late, we couldn’t drive to LA ourselves to see her.

I spent the rest of the day finishing my sister’s leftovers from Native Foods because for some reason, I wasn’t really hungry.

The rest of the time was spent hanging out, talking, and playing 13 (Tiến Lên) (I’m sure there was a nap in there somewhere). I learned on this trip that Californians call stuff differently from us East Coasters like how Chandelier/Stack Cup is Rage Cage and 13 is Killer. Kings also has different rules on the west coast. It was very interesting. And they don’t drink cider. Yet, they name their kids, Jefferson and Thomas. Those are the names of the kids Thim 6 babysits. Small world, right? Anyways, we taught them how to play 13. Learning how to play Tiến Lên is like an unofficial rite of passage into adulthood in Vietnamese culture. I’m making this up, but knowing how to play an adult gambling game is pretty cool.

I also bonded as best I could with Anthony, late uncle’s son. I tried but failed at beating him in Tetris. I met him the first day, but he really wasn’t in a talking mood. My sister and I also helped him access his dad’s bank account. Brian joked that the torch as the family translator had been passed from him to us.

I feel so bad for Anthony though. He’s like the little brother I never had. I hurt for him, and I feel like he has issues, but then again, I shouldn't judge him on the one time I see him after his father’s death—anyone would be messed up after a tragic event like that.

The day ended with late night munchies, which Angie bought on her way home from work (Angie, Brian, and I all work at sushi restaurants lol), and family stories like how Chu 6 was the slowest of the siblings and how everyone in the family was a pimp. I clearly did not inherit this from my dad.

I started my last day in Cali with a banh mi, and we finally got to see Chu Ut at the funeral home. My mom was afraid he would be in a morgue so she didn’t want my sister and I to see him and be scared, but thankfully, he was in a homey visitation room, so we all got to see him. My sister didn’t go close to him though. The nice Vietnamese translator lit incense so we could pay our respects. I apologized for unfriending him, and my dad’s heart beat rapidly, as he would later recall to his friends.

Then, we were treated to lunch by my dad’s friend, whose son, Michael, we met our first night in San Diego (he brought every non-vegan tacos). It was also at his graduation party from UCSD where my sister and I met all of my dad’s friends. The Thai place my dad’s friend chose was closed, so we went to a buffet his family used to go to all the time. It was my dad’s friend and his three children: Michael, Josephine, and Danny, who were all younger than me. Everyone was shocked to hear I was almost 25 though. I surprisingly ate a lot, as there were actually a lot of vegan options. I ate more than my dad. It was stunning. I even cleaned up the smallest bits of lo mein.

After lunch, my sister and I napped until it was time to go to Chu Ut’s apartment to help clean up and get rid of his belongings. His ex-wife, who came back to take care of him, wanted to move ASAP because she was afraid of his ghost. Anthony didn’t want to leave though. My mom just told me they’re planning to live there now, which is ridiculous considering how we threw almost everything away. I wasn’t really much help, but I just wanted to go to get to know my uncle by seeing how he lived, and he lived by drinking a lot of Sunny D. Anthony got mad because he couldn’t find something after we left. I hope he found it.

For dinner, I ate fried rice, another delicious meal cooked by Co Ngoc. Chu 6 took my dad, sister, and I for another 85C run because my sister is a momma’s girl and wanted to get my mom pastries as requested. My sister also took family pictures for my mom literally minutes before we left. Again, thank you mom because without you, we wouldn’t have any family pictures. At home, we chilled and played more 13 until it was time for us to leave. And just like that, we were on our way home.

Our flight to Charlotte was a red-eye flight so it wasn’t a big deal that we were separated on the plane—we could just sleep through it. Although I was really sleepy and kept yawning, I couldn’t fall asleep right way, which was kind of annoying. Even though it didn’t feel like I slept a lot, the next thing I knew, we were landing. In Charlotte, we finally had a long layover where I could relax after our first family vacation in 10 years and get a peanut butter cinnamon bagel from Einstein’s.

For a full review of the restaurants I visited, visit my Yelp page.