Happy Thanksgiving!

THANKFUL FOR SO MUCH TODAY!

Even though I am thousands of miles from friends and family today, I am grateful to have the means to stay in contact during my work abroad. Thank you Greenhouse Restaurant for the free wifi.

I am thankful for all the help, encouragement and laughs I’ve had from my friends during the past trying year. I have felt as if I were in limbo for so long and finally am getting a sense of direction in life 🙂

I am thankful for my family, who have been supporting me and my passions, allowing me to find my own way and have a job that I absolutely love doing. And also for not freaking out about my new tattoo 😛

Lastly, I am thankful to be alive, healthy and living a life full of music, food and fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

John

p.s. to keep up to date on my cruise adventures, check out my other blog, spinnin’ along and check out my instagram

Summer Travel Recap!

Yo!

So sorry for the lack of updates, but I finally have a chance to update you guys on what I’ve been up to these past months. Aside from taking the GRE and getting my application together for PT school, I’ve been doing a ton of traveling! First stop was back home to Cincinnati in the middle of July to spin a wedding for my close family friend, Carl (congrats to him and his new wife, Arwen!). Despite a little rain shower, the ceremony was beautiful, complete with a full rainbow backdrop. Set in Ault Park, the reception took place in the famous pavilion space overlooking the plaza. This was the first time I have actually ever performed for my hometown friend’s and family so it was pretty awesome sharing my passion with them in such a great setting. Definitely an awesome time!

My family at the Ault Park Pavilion

A brief return to STL and then I was off to yet another wedding in northern California the next weekend. I got a chance to see my grandparents (who were coincidentally celebrating their golden anniversary that weekend as well) as well as my adorable cousins Nicholas and Grace. After venturing up to San Francisco to I catch an IMAX 3D showing of the Dark Knight with a few of my best college buds, I bummed a ride up to Wilbur Hot Springs resort to celebrate the union of my friend Xiaojing and her new husband, Vaughn. Two hours north of Oakland, the resort is entirely solar-powered and “off the grid”. I’ll admit it was strangely refreshing to be without my phone and gadgets during my stay; I can’t remember the last time I was without technology for more than 24 hours. But I guess in retrospect I was not completely cutoff, as the greatest part of the night was that they had brought a generator in order to power the amazing soundsystem that they set up in an outdoor veranda. I got a chance to witness some amazing house/soul DJs rock a dance floor from 10pm to nearly 5am in this awesome secluded resort and even threw down a short set as well. Shout out to DJ Cali for letting me use his tech12s and Rane MP 2016 (first time working with a rotary mixer, very cool!) HOUSE MUSIC ALL NIGHT LONG!

Grandma and Grandpa Huang!

After another short return to STL (and tackling the GRE), I flew out to the big apple for an amazing weekend, visiting old friends, eating way too much food and locking down all the details for upcoming fall cruise tour! The last time I was in NYC was about 5 years ago and I was not quite of age to experience all the goodness that the city could offer. This time, I made sure I got a real taste of the city: Columbia campus crashing, shopping in SOHO, brunching in West Village, late night falafel and hookah in East Village, Times Square rooftop chillin’, barhopping across Manhattan, boating on the Hudson and so much more. Huge thanks to my awesome friends Kate and Tommy for hosting me at their apartments during my stay, love you guys! The main purpose of the trip, however, was to visit Scratch DJ Academy, the umbrella organization that hired me to DJ these cruises I’ve been talking about for this fall. Located in the heart of Manhattan, the academy houses both the offices of SCRATCH as well as an impressive teaching environment laden with no less than 2 dozen DJ set-ups, several private session rooms and a production/teaching studio overlooking the city. I got a chance to meet some awesome DJs, including the budding TJ Mizell a.k.a DopeRoots (the late Jam Master Jay’s youngest son) and observe one of the DJ 101 classes. What an inspiration it was to see proper instruction on mixing/scratching to people who were genuinely interested in the fundamentals of the craft. I decided I will have to return to NYC for an entire week to take some intensive courses later this year!

My friend Julia in one of the teaching studios!

I am so honored and proud to be part of such a group and am excited to see where the future takes them. A humongous thanks to my good friend Julia for encouraging me to apply in the first place, I am forever thankful for your friendship!

So now I am finally back in St. Louis for a solid 5 weeks before my first official cruise DJ gig! Focus is now on completing my PT school applications and prepping for some of the wildest months of my life this fall 😀

For all my favorite pictures of the summer, check out my public facebook albums here: PART 1 || PART 2

Until next time!

John

Sorry for the hiatus…

Dear readers,

Alas, it seems I have broken a few of the resolutions I had set back in January (I’m only human, right?). I know it has been quite some time since my last post and I apologize to you all for the long wait. I attribute the lack of updates to the tumultuous turn my life has taken in the past few months. A lot has happened since the last time I had posted: DJed my first wedding (plus 2 more indian wedding receptions), returned home to Cincinnati to celebrate my little brother’s 15th bday, got offered to sign with a DJ talent agency, finished out my post-baccalaureate program with a 4.0 GPA… and finally, found out that I would NOT be going to medical school this fall. As you can imagine, it’s been a pretty big disappointment that my plan A, a goal which I’ve been working almost half my life towards, did not come to fruition.

To be honest, I have been putting off posting in this blog b/c I knew I could not post an update without at least mentioning this. I needed some time to get my head around things before I was able to really channel how I am feeling on here. Also, I’ve been terribly busy juggling all the craziness that is figuring out my plan for this coming year. So I guess many of my friends are thinking: “What now? Why don’t you just reapply?” I know many people who were not successful their first application cycle and got in on the subsequent tries, yet when faced with this time-sensitive decision, I ask myself, just how bad did I really want it?

I’ve spent many years thinking that being a physician was the job for me, a path I am not afraid to admit was influenced greatly by the wishes of my Asian parents. But despite these external pressures, I still have always had a passion for helping others and combining that with my love for science just made sense to direct myself towards a career in medicine. Even with all this, I have consistently struggled with the question of whether I would be truly be happy as a physician 10-20 years down the road. Up until recently, I tried to avoid coming up with a genuine answer and kept thinking that I would cross that bridge when I got to it. And now here I am in the middle of that bridge, with many options ahead of me and little time to make them.  Having had so many instances of doubt and uncertainty, I have to consider if it is really worth it to grind and fully dedicate myself to something I know will be extremely challenging and may result in a life of dissatisfaction?

It has been a very tough call, but I’ve decided that I will NOT be reapplying to medical school. However, this by no means signifies me “giving up” on my career goals. Not getting into medical school has been the biggest rejection I have ever faced, yet I find that even though the initial days following the news were full of dispair and confusion, I have since risen up with much greater clarity and confidence for what I want in life. So after much soul-searching, I believe that the lifestyle of a medical doctor is just not for me; instead, I have switched gears and am focusing on a related career that I believe I am much better suited for and know I will absolutely love: Physical Therapy. With the exposure I’ve had to the field through all these years of volunteer work, classes, shadowing, research, applying etc. this is the first time I feel like I’ve made a decision solely on my own accord and it feels fantastic. These collective experiences have distilled over time, and left me with what I truly want out of a career in healthcare: to be the personal support and guide for those undergoing the healing process. To me, PT is all about giving someone his or her independence, an aspect which is often taken for granted, yet so crucial to a happy life. Restoring movement and providing comfort to others on a daily basis is something I truly look forward to. Not to mention, the lifestyle and career-track of a PT is much less intense/stressful (in terms of malpractice/responsibility) than that of an MD, which would give me more flexibility to enjoy my other passions. For once, I am genuinely excited and looking forward to the entering this new stage in my life with a definitive plan.  So perhaps this rejection was a blessing in disguise after all…

In any case, this means that I will be staying in St. Louis for another year at least (though Wash U’s PT program is quite awesome – #3 in the country), a city which I have grown to love the past 6 years, however strange that may sound. I finally have a plan, a goal and the drive to get it done, and the fortune of having an awesome interim job that can float me in the meantime! Speaking of which, if you haven’t already checked out my other blog Spinnin’ Along, you may want to keep some tabs on that as I have some VERY EXCITING NEWS (hint) to share soon. Despite a rocky start, I have a feeling this next year is going to be my greatest yet and I cannot wait to share it with you.

And now it’s really time to get this blog going. This break was definitely needed, but I have so much else prepared for bananalife; time to unload!

Until next time,

John

The noodle soup to top ALL noodle soups

It has been a while since I’ve returned to my hometown of Cincinnati, and what a great visit it has been. Catching up with old friends, playing video games with my fam, and, of course, chowing down on THE absolute best homecooked Chinese cuisine in the western hemisphere. After a long day of travel, nothing satisfies me more than the comfort of my Mom’s zhongcan.

But as much as I’d like to go through all the goodies my family stuffed me with this trip, I am going to be sharing my most favorite noodle soup (yes, it surpasses even my love for pho), which my mom prepared me the morning I left to come back to St. Louis. To me, it is the ultimate comfort food: thick, pillowy rice noodles and savory shredded pork shoulder floating in a rich, mouth-watering broth topped with fresh scallion and dried chili flake. It really is very simple, yet I can never get tired of it. The dish is a regional specialty out of my parent’s hometown in Ping Xiang (Jiang Xi Province) and my mom has been making it for us ever since I can remember. It’s one of those sentimental foods that represent so much more than simple nourishment – just like that scene in Ratatouille,  I am instantly transported back to my childhood with each bite.

Lucky for you, I managed to restrain myself long enough to take a picture:

Approximately 2 minutes before this was inside my belly.

While I have never attempted to recreate it (yet), I asked my mom to walk me through the steps in case some of my readers were curious as to what holds the number 1 spot in my noodle bracket. This recipe derives from what used to be a small hole-in-a-wall noodle shop called 杨胡子米面, which literally translates to Yang’s Beard Rice Noodles. However, up until I asked my mom for this recipe, I thought the owner’s name “Yang” was the character for “goat” and had always remembered this dish as “Goatee Rice Noodles” (probably because I thought that’s how you look whilst slurping up these white noodles?); just one of my many lost-in-translation tonal switch-a-roos, lol. Anyways, I distinctly remember eating at this spot when I visited China in 2002, and it is the type of place that screams “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. All the ingredients were prepared fresh in front of the restaurant; small wooden tables and stools cluttered the floor and loud Asian women were yelling all types of crazy while dishing out deliciousness left and right. The best part: bowls were only 5 RMB! That’s less than 1 USD for the greatest soup there ever was to slurp. I immediately wolfed down 2 bowls and demanded to come back the next day. No objections there, since it happened to be one of my family’s favorite local eateries from when they were growing up as well.

Anyways, here are the directions for awesome-in-a bowl. Keep in mind, the key to this soup, as is with most noodle soups, is a well-prepared broth. The entire process can take up to 5 hours, but the broth and pork can be prepared ahead of time and then frozen for later use. If you are too lazy or don’t have the time to procure the broth, you might as well just forget trying at all (trust me, it’s worth the effort). If you are a vegetarian, then… I feel sorry for you:

Yang’s Beard Rice Noodle Soup

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):

  • 2 lbs broad, ribbon-style rice noodles (fresh)*
  • 2 lbs pork shoulder (with bone)
  • 3-4 scallions (chopped)
  • 5-6 slices of fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • Dried chili pepper (flakes or slivers)
  • 2 tsp salt (preferably kosher)

Equipment:

  • Large soup pot w/cover
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Large colander for noodles
  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

Preparation:

  1. Trim fat off the pork shoulder and place the meat (w/bone) into a large pot, adding water to cover. Boil for 5 minutes, remove and rinse the shoulder under cold water.
  2. Clean the pot and then refill water to cover the meat again. Add the slices of ginger root, bring to boil and let simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
  3. Remove the pork and cut most of the meat off the bone; shred with hands and set aside in a small mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of soy sauce and about ¼ tsp of salt. Mix well and place, covered, in the refrigerator.
  4. Return the remaining bones (w/some meat still attached) to the pot of water and ginger. Cover and simmer for an addition 1-4 hours (longer the better) until the broth is ready.
  5. About ten minutes before you plan to eat, heat another pot of water to boil and add your fresh rice noodles. Cook for 2 minutes, remove and drain.

Serving:

  1. In a large soup bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.
  2. Add 1.5 cups of the broth to the bowl and mix well.
  3. Add noodles until the bowl is about ¾ full and then scoop in 2 tablespoons (OR MOAR) of the shredded pork. Mix well.
  4. Top with 1 tablespoon of chopped scallion and 1 teaspoon of dried chili flake (can omit if you are a wuss). Stir and ENJOY!!!

Optional Yummies:

Sometimes we get fancy and add extra goodies such as steamed (bai cai) bokchoy, roasted peanuts or a fried egg (over-medium so the yolk can thicken the soup).

ENJOY!

John

p.s. If you ever find yourself hanging out with me in Cincinnati and are invited over for dinner, don’t hesitate to ask for this! My mom usually has all the ingredients on hand b/c she knows we all love it so much. Can’t wait for the next trip home!

*you can find fresh rice noodles at your local oriental market; these are the ones that are vacuum sealed in plastic and may come in a wide sheet that needs to be cut (but definitely NOT dried). You can substitute using rehydrated dried rice noodles, but if you have the option, definitely go fresh.

Family Feature: Tommy Huang (弟弟)

This week I’m gonna shift gears and focus on one of the other purposes of this blog: my family. As I mentioned in my first post, I created bananalife to not only be an outlet for me to share all things ABC, but also to keep a space dedicated to my large and loving family. For this first family feature post, I am proud to introduce you to my one-and-only younger brother, 黄瑞 欣 a.k.a. Tommy.

He used to look like THIS:

scavenging the bed pillow chocolates on our cruise in 2001

Now he looks like THIS  -__-

The wasabi challenge (2011)

Here are the basics on Tommy Huang:

  • Loves video games, especially Dynasty Warriors and Pokémon franchises (as do I)
  • Has a great knack for baking, especially desserts (creme brulee, anyone?)
  • An absolute BOSS at origami. No joke, check out some of his work HERE.
  • A ladies man (I came home to celebrate his 14th birthday last year and found our house filled with a dozen teenage girls o_O)
  • His favorite color has always been pink, no matter what he tells you now.

I honestly don’t remember the exact moment when my parents told me I was going to get a younger sibling. I do know that I had just turned 8 years old and that my initial reaction probably involved some ninja jump-kicks along with hi-pitched squeaks of joy. My mom tells me that not 5 minutes after hearing the news, I asked: “Can we name him… Tommy… after Tommy Pickles???” (90’s cartoons FTW).

Despite looking more and more physically similar as the years go by, Tommy and I are quite distinct in terms of personality. I attribute it partly to the fact that as my parent’s first born, I grew up in a much different environment than my brother.  I like to joke that I was the guinea pig – a human beta test, if you will – for my parents who had just moved to the states a couple years prior to my glorious world entrance and were still learning how to be American themselves. Subsequently, I was definitely given more freedom as a kid, dabbling in everything the typical all-American childhood has to offer: boy scouts, soccer, baseball, summer camp, et cetera. Tommy, on the other hand, got a more streamlined tiger-treatment from the start. Not that he wasn’t allowed to pursue these activities, it’s just this time around I think my parents were able to reflect off of other ABC families they had met and got a better idea on what was more “efficient” – i.e. he started playing violin when he was very young, joined the local swim team and (recently) started to play tennis like a good little Asian. It’s kind of like the first time you play Pokémon where you don’t really care what the best ones are and just explore/experiment; then during your next play-through you go in with an agenda to raise the best team and find all the items. I believe there are merits to both avenues, and my family can definitely show for that… wait, did I just compare my development as child to the training of fantastical monster-slaves?

… Anyways, another difference and something I’ve always been jealous of Tommy is that he’s been able to travel back to China much more than I have. Busy high school and college summers have prevented me from going for the last decade, but Tommy was able to take advantage of his grade school breaks along with the benefit of our mom being able to travel to China for work each year. I think being able to go on these trips (6 times in his 14 years vs. my 4 times over 23 years) has given him a better appreciation for our family’s heritage and Asian culture in general than I was able to have growing up. As a result, Tommy’s mandarin is much stronger than mine when I was his age and I envy him for that!

Bros at Keystone, CO (2008)

To conclude this feature, here is a short letter I’ve just written to Tommy, b/c I know he be reading bananalife:

Dear Tommy,

After moving to St. Louis almost 6 years ago, I realized I have missed much of your transformation from cherubic yet devilish tagalong baby brother to too-cool-for-school wisecracking teenager. That can’t really be helped, though, with our almost 9-year age difference. You’ve grown so much since I last shared a home with you, both physically and emotionally; and it was been so much fun to watch you grow each time I visit. I won’t lie, you used to annoy the crap out of me and I have absolutely no regrets locking you out of my room when I was trying to play Magic cards with my friends. But as we both have matured and continue to do so, I am glad that we are becoming better and better friends even though we aren’t able to spend as much time together. I’m proud of you and look forward to the next time we can destroy some n00bs on xbox together.

Sincerely your 哥哥,
John

p.s. I’m sorry I used to shoot you with my AirSoft gun.

p.p.s. I can’t believe mom let me have an AirSoft gun.

Before the Linsanity…

Yes, I know I’ve been posting a lot about JLIN these past three weeks, but c’mon, how could I resist? I wanted to share with you this great article I came across via my friend Alvin who is a true hardcore pre-NBA Lin supporter and has been flooding my facebook newsfeed with everything Lin this past month (forget the Linsanity app, just add Alvin as a friend for updates, lol). Anyways, the article entitled “Understanding Jeremy Lin” was written by Annie Wang, a classmate of Jeremy’s who was in the same Asian-American Christian fellowship at Harvard. She does an absolutely fantastic job at delivering a sincere and personal look into the man behind Linsanity (a real breath of fresh air, given all these reiterated media slices).

I really love this section of the piece:

The truth is, Jeremy does represent movements much bigger than himself. He is at once the timely savior of a struggling franchise, a profitable posterboy for a rejuvenated league, a champion for the often-overlooked Asian-American population, and a provocative agent of change within a conflicted China. And, of course, he is making the biggest splash as outspoken flagbearer for the cause he has steadfastly and intentionally pursued – the advancement of the Christian faith. But though much of our initial interest in Jeremy stemmed from a basic shared commonality in one of these aspects of his identity, or his appeal as the protagonist of a Cinderella story to which we might aspire, we have since nearly forgotten that Jeremy is just a man after all.

Check out the full article HERE

After reading, I couldn’t help but wish I had known Jeremy in college – what a charismatic and humble dude. I am not at all religious, however, if I were interested, I wouldn’t mind learning about faith through someone like Lin. GOOD GUY JEREMY.

Also, check out this DOPE shirt I got from MYNINJA!

FIERCE!

Also, THIS HAD ME DYING:

 

Lastly, if you need a crash course on Linsanity, check out this awesome infographic depicting Jeremy’s rise to fame. Ok, I’ve posted enough about him this week, lol.

John

p.s. I got tickets to see the Bulls vs. Knicks at the United Center in Chicago on March 12th! My first NBA game! Drop a comment if you’re going; I’m rockin’ nosebleeds in section 330, woot!

Why I always eat my vegetables…

Growing up in an Asian household, I think one of the things I am most thankful for is the eating habits I’ve acquired. I guess I have to attribute most of this to my family, which is FULL of fantastic cooks, but I realize that there is something innate in Asian culture that has led to such healthy and flavorful cuisine. As a people, we are very resourceful, especially when it comes to food. If you think about it, traditional chinese cuisine is not really rich or extravagant, but rather wholesome and always full of flavor. We find ways to utilize almost every part of an animal or plant and can stretch a couple dishes to feed an entire family. Not to mention it’s all pretty healthy too! When was the last time you saw a chinese dish that used butter, cream or cheese in it? Never, because it simply isn’t done (dim sum desserts don’t count). And you wonder why your Asian friends are all so thin (though international McDonald’s and KFC have been changing that as of late).

Nevertheless, I haven’t always loved Chinese food. In fact, I used to be quite a pick eater when I was younger – go ahead and ask my parents; there was a time when I demanded Happy Meals and pizza rolls day in and day out and had to be force fed my spinach. But gradually (I think traveling back to China so often had a large part to do with it), I began to appreciate zhōngcān, and even started to crave it when I had too many sandwiches back-to-back. There is a certain comfort in a blank canvas of white rice: that foundation of clean, pure and unadulterated nourishment that marries with practically any sauce, meat and vegetable – what’s not to love? Grabbing up a bowl of the finest short-grain and sitting around sharing plates of food “family-style” is something I’ve always loved about Asian cuisine:

HEY! QUIT TAKING PICTURES, WE TRYNA EAT!

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about in this post was how being Chinese has instilled in me a love for fruits and vegetables. I know it sounds strange, but I am very thankful for it. Despite my finicky palette as a kid, I remember always asking my mom to buy us juicy mangoes, seedless watermelon and those delicious, crispy Asian pears. Being introduced to fresh produce at a young age, I really can’t imagine what it would be like without it. It wasn’t until I started having sleepovers with my white friends that I realized how lucky I was. I mean, the only fruits and vegetables my friends ever ate came out a yellow can and were either drenched in blindingly sweet syrup or frozen solid. That’s no way to live!

One particular childhood memory I have regarding food was having dinner down the street at my white friend’s house when I was about 8 years old. We had roasted chicken (yum), fresh dinner rolls (YUM!) and… some odd, yellowish/brown item I later learned was… buttered broccoli (-____-). Why must white people do such horrible things to their vegetables? Strange as it may sound for a third grader, broccoli was actually one of my absolute favorite foods… and it sure as hell it wasn’t supposed to look like that! What I’ve always seen as a bright, crunchy and fragrant green was reduced down to a soggy, fattening, denatured mess. But being the polite guest, I forced it down and pretended to enjoy it. My friend saw this, thinking I actually liked it, and shoveled his broccoli onto my plate while his dad wasn’t looking! Infuriated, but not wanting to cause any trouble, I woefully ate his portion. And that was the last time I ever ate there.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my friend; that he had to be subject to this culinary injustice is such a travesty! If you’ve always hated broccoli, then I blame your parents. I also blame butter. And if you’ve only eaten broccoli that’s been doused in cheese or ranch dressing, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Try some of mama Huang’s 西兰花 and you’ll be wondering why you’ve been so silly all these years.

So for my first bananalife recipe, I am going to share with you one of the simplest and best-tasting ways to prepare broccoli (credit goes to my mom!)

STIR-FRIED BROCCOLI W/GARLIC (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2x broccoli crowns
  • 3-4x cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water or beef/chicken broth
  • kosher salt to taste
Equipment:
  • Stovetop
  • Large skillet or wok
  • Slotted spatula
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
Preparation
  1. Remove any leafy parts from the trunk of the broccoli crowns and wash with cold water.
  2. Take the crowns and tear off florets into bite sized pieces (larger florets can be halved). You will be left with the tough trunk section which can be peeled and sliced into thin pieces (don’t throw it out!)
  3. The garlic should be sliced into very thin rounds. Like in Goodfellas. Well, maybe not THAT thin, but you get the idea.
  4. Heat the oil in your skillet to medium-high heat; add the garlic slivers and toast until fragrant (should only take a minute or so). Don’t let the garlic burn!
  5. Add your broccoli florets to the pan and stir to coat with the garlic infused oil.
  6. Add the 1/2 cup of water or broth to the pan. This will prevent the garlic from burning; the steam will start to cook the broccoli (but you don’t have to cover it).
  7. Sprinkle salt to taste and continue to stir occasionally for about 5 more minutes.
  8. Once the broccoli is bright green, tender yet still crunchy, you can take it off the heat and serve!

This is how it should be done. Butter, GTFO.

I think the reason why this is so delicious is that it accentuates the great texture and color of the vegetable without compromising its taste. Since broccoli on its own is rather bland, the garlic adds the right amount of flavor without overpowering its natural floral fragrance. YEAH, I KNOW WASSUP!!!

Hope you guys enjoy! If you have young kids, this is the way to introduce them to broccoli 🙂

John