AC MontageAfter last month’s  Vietnamese lunch for The IRC, we head West across the Chinese subcontinent to Burma/Myanmar, also known as The Golden Land for the sheer numbers of golden pagodas around the country. I met April Chou, our next host, two years ago through our common interest in Ashtanga Yoga. A side effect of knowing April is discovering the world of Burmese cuisine. Coming from another Southeast Asian country, I found the salty, sour, bitter and spicy notes comfortingly familiar, even if they were presented differently. My favorite aspect of the Burmese way of eating is how each person is encouraged to make each dish truly their own by using the condiments at their disposal: limes, dried chilies, fresh chilies, peanuts, seeds, etc, to season each dish to one’s taste. This is how one develops an intuition for flavors and how a food culture renews and sustains itself.

Read on for April’s story or head over to Eventbrite to peruse the menu and purchase tickets.


April Chou was born in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, a month after the coup d’etat of 1962 ushered in the military junta. The youngest of 10 children, her family lived in the middle of the city, next to Zegyo Market, Mandalay’s most famous and largest market.

She recounts, “I used to go to the market as a child with our cook every morning.  At night, the market and 84th Road in front of us turned into the night market so it was just as busy, crowded and colorful as it was in the day.  We would either go for an evening stroll or watch the scene from our balcony.”

The absence of TVs or phones in the home meant that the family entertained many friends who dropped by to visit and lingered for a meal. “My mom always ensured that we have enough food for any visitors who might join us for lunch or dinner,” she said. “The Burma that I remember was full of celebrations and festivals and food was always involved.  My family is Catholic so we celebrated Christmas with Mohinga (Catfish Chowder) or Ohno Khoi Soy (Coconut Chicken noodle soup) every year.  Most of my friends are Buddhists so I attended many religious ceremonies.  My childhood friend Marlar is Muslim so I used to go to her house for Eid and Ramadan.”

IMG_4747

April (first row, first from the right) with her parents and some siblings, around 1968-69. Her three eldest siblings were already in the US at the time this portrait was made.

The youngest of 10 children, she arrived in the US at the age of 15 along with two of her sisters. All of them were sponsored by her eldest sister Peggy, a doctor in Chicago. At that time, just travelling to another town within Burma required government approval so a trip to America was a big deal. Though excited about taking a plane for the first time and travelling halfway across the globe, she left unsure if she would see her parents or her childhood friends again (her parents eventually moved to the US in 1984), or if she would ever return to Burma.

“In 1962, the junta took over all private enterprises when they came into power, including my father’s bar and liquor import business,” she reflected. “To make ends meet, my mother worked as a tailor and my parents had to sell their jewelry (my father was born in Mogok, a town renowned for its rubies and sapphires). Food was often rationed so we had to get creative with our cooking. Our education was constantly disrupted because of school closures and student uprisings.”

The sisters first landed in Honolulu, where one of her older siblings worked as a Pathologist. The island’s tropical climate and laid back vibe was too similar to their home country that it contradicted the impressions they formed from pictures and letters of an America that was covered in snow with a skyline of tall skyscrapers. They eventually settled in Chicago, joining Peggy and her husband and their older siblings. For April, the early years were a challenging adjustment to American life and mastering English was not easy. She spent her high school years working 15-20 hours/week at different jobs after school, motivated by a desire for financial independence.

“When I arrived here, I was told, if you work hard, you will succeed,” she shared. “My first job was flipping hamburgers at Burger King.  I then worked as a sales clerk at a dime store called Woolworth’s on Michigan Avenue, and after that, spent many years working at Marshall Field’s, the largest department store at the Water Tower. I saved hard and was able to afford a trip to Spain with my high-school classmates in junior year.”

IMG_3144

April (first from left) in 1977 with her best friends just before leaving for the US .

April obtained her degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and moved to the Bay Area in 1995 to work for Cisco Systems. After a long career in tech, she now pursues her interests in Ashtanga yoga, Vipassana meditation and plant-based food and nutrition. She’s received certificates from Cornell University’s Plant-Based Nutrition program and an Ayurvedic food and nutrition program from Mysore, India. In 2016, she enrolled in Bauman College’s Natural Chef training program that included an internship at The Ravens, a prominent vegan restaurant in Mendocino. These food-centric pursuits echo the role that food has played in her life and the communal family gatherings of her childhood. This Tapestry Suppers meal features one of her family’s recipes, “I am making Kyauk Kyaw (Coconut Agar Jelly) for dessert. My mother used to make this for community gatherings in the ’70s but over time it’s disappeared from our family meals as more American and French desserts took their place,” said April.

The proceeds from this lunch will benefit the Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, an organization in Indiana that works to support and resettle newly-arrived refugees and asylees in the US. Fort Wayne, IN is home to the largest Burmese community in America (estimated at over 6,000), most of them refugees fleeing ethnic and civil war in Burma. Check out their site for more information about what they do and the services they provide.

AC-Montage-2_webNext steps to consider…

  • To attend April’s Burmese lunch on Sunday the 23rd, head over to Eventbrite to purchase tickets and register.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.
 I hope to see you on the 23rd or at one of our other events!
FL:R

TS-March2017_1We held Tapestry Suppers‘ inaugural event in Palo Alto yesterday and if empty plates and happy faces are any indication, I suppose you could say that this gathering was a success. AND we raised $350 for the International Rescue Committee (IRC)!

I owe a major debt of thanks to the friends and family who showed up early to help, ran errands, kept our glasses full and cleared the dishes after. Most of all, a huge thank you to Thoa for opening your home and sharing your incredibly moving story with us.

We’ve started to plan for our next event which will be a Burmese luncheon in Sunnyvale on Sunday, April 23. Tickets will be available for purchase starting Monday April 10 at 9am PT. I’ll link to the event registration page in a post here or you can sign up for our newsletter to get notified. Our first event sold out in a matter of days so if you’d like to join us in April I’d suggest signing up sooner rather than later. Until then – enjoy the photos and I hope to see you next month!

TS March2017-1 TS March2017-4 TS March2017-18 TS March2017-52 TS-March2017_2 TS March2017-49 TS March2017-41 TS March2017-55 TS March2017-47 TS March2017-57

FL:R

Thoa van Seventer Tapestry Suppers 2017Regardless of your politics, I’m sure we can all agree that the past two months in America have been rather chaotic, as if we’re all actors in a show where the Director changes the storyline every other day. It is hard to keep up with the multitude of narratives and voices, and it can be overwhelming.

As an immigrant – this November marks 10 years of our lives here – nothing unnerves me more than watching the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country play out in actions and words. The travel ban in January 2017 was deeply unsettling. For the first time in ten years, I saw how my identity as an Asian woman could undermine my safety. That life for the past decade has been one where my gender and ethnicity are (mostly) invisible reflects the privilege that I have taken for granted and throws into sharp relief those groups for whom these privileges were never a reality or have recently been undermined (see: Muslims, African-Americans, etc).

The anger and distrust of the Other is distressing. And it is endless.

A lot of the rhetoric directed against immigrants is borne out of fear – or in the case of some media outlets, designed to breed it – and that fear stems from a lack of understanding about cultures different from one’s own. A lack of relationship. An absence of connection.

So I propose an alternative: Bring people together for a meal. We all have to eat, so we might as well do it in the company of others, away from screens and news feeds. Tapestry Suppers is a supperclub series focused on the food and stories of immigrants in Silicon Valley and beyond. At a time of strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the US, our gatherings are the antidote to this zeitgeist by bringing people around the table to share a meal and learn about the multitude of cultures that make the Bay Area such a vibrant place to live. We believe that a society is made stronger by the diversity of its parts, and that the best way to learn about cultures foreign to us is through their cuisine.

TvS Montage2Our first event is a Vietnamese lunch scheduled for Sunday, March 26, cooked and hosted by my friend Thoa van Seventer in Palo Alto (pictured above). Click here to purchase tickets, check out the menu and read about Thoa’s story. Proceeds from this lunch will go to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to support their work in rescuing, resettling and supporting people impacted by conflict and disaster.

We are just getting started, so if you’re interested, here are some ways you can help:

  • Sign up for our newsletter to be updated about upcoming events (we’ve got Burmese and Iranian meals planned for the next few months).
  • Attend one of our events!
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.
 I hope to see you at one of our events!
FL:R

Edible Beauty, Grapefruit Coconut Scrub

APA Awards 2016, First Place – Emerging

Five months ago I started a new role as a Studio Manager with a commercial photography studio in San Francisco that, as part of its compensation arrangement, provides use of the studio for personal shoots. Given that we were seriously considering the prospect of remodeling our home to build a studio space, I saw this opportunity as fortuitous and immediately started planning test shoots with local stylists to fully leverage this benefit.

I connected with Zoe Armbruster, an up-and-coming local food stylist on these series of images focusing on edibles as beauty products. It’s a step outside the traditional ‘food photography’ paradigm by exploring the subject in a different application and embarking on this tangent proved inspirational in freeing me up to present the subject in a whole new way. So it was absolutely thrilling to learn that one of the images we created has won First Place in the 2016 APA Awards, in the Emerging/Student Photographer category. The APA is a leading national organization for professional photographers, assistants and other visual artists and their annual awards feature some of the best imagery in the business. To say that I’m exhilarated by this development would be an understatement. It’s a major confidence booster to be recognized and an important milestone in this career that is really more like a marathon than a sprint. The journey is just starting and I can’t wait to see where this leads.

You can read more about the selection process for these awards here and check out the full gallery of winning images on the APA site.

For more images from this Edible Beauty series, head over to this gallery.

Edible Beauty, Peony Water Toner Edible Beauty, Blueberry Aloe Mask

  • Soooo excited for you!!!ReplyCancel

  • […] in the Emerging category, so I saw to it that it got distributed as widely as possible online (with a blog post, social media announcements and an email promo), and a mail promo to a selected list of editors and […]ReplyCancel

  • […] in the Emerging category, so I saw to it that it got distributed as widely as possible online (with a blog post, social media announcements and an email promo), and a mail promo to a selected list of editors and […]ReplyCancel

  • left of the fall season or next year!}, be sure to check out this button tree from Debbie at Happy Clpniipgs! The festive colors make the tree come to life and the scrabble tiles are simplyReplyCancel

FL:R

Ubud Market, Bali Ubud Market, Bali, Ingredients for spice paste Ubud Market, BaliAfter a quiet week in North Bali, the car ride into Ubud foreshadowed what lay ahead for the next leg of our trip: crowds and crowded streets. There’s an abundance of yoga studios, juice bars and trendy coffee shops filled with “tech nomads“. For regular tourists, there’s a Starbucks on the main drag a block away from the Ubud Palace, along with an array of farm-to-table plant-based dining options to fit any aspiring yogi’s diet.

Taking it all in after days of rustic, small-town ease was a shock to the system. On the surface, Ubud – Bali’s cultural center – was fashionably dressed in all the trappings of the ‘conscious’ Western lifestyle, but if you know where to look, you’ll see that the character and culture of the place remains intact despite the hordes of tourists and Westerners who’ve settled there. Case in point: the Ubud Market. Depending on the time of day, you’ll either be presented with fellow tourists looking to score bargains on art pieces or get swept up with hordes of locals haggling with vendors as they shop for the day’s groceries. You could also spend your days browsing the endless rows of shops in the heart of town, punctuating the schedule with massages and spa treatments, or rent a scooter and head out of town to explore historic temples. If you do, I highly recommend a pit-stop at Pura Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring. Constructed around a sacred spring that is believed to be of mythical origins and it’s still an active temple despite being practically ancient.

Balinese Prayer Accessories, Flowers for offering Bali 2015-196 Rice Terraces, Ubud, Bali Bali 2015-281 Tampaksiring, Bali Bali 2015-182Our time in Bali taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to travelling: even highly popular tourist destinations have surprises lying beneath the surface if you’re willing to take the unconventional route and carve out your own itinerary. The time in Ubud revealed a vibrant culture firmly rooted in tradition and history, yet flexible and accommodating of foreign influences. Quintessentially Balinese.

Ubud Market, Bali Bali 2015-481 Ginger Flowers, Ubud Market, Bali Ubud Market, Bali Grated Coconut, Balinese rice cakes Casa Luna Cooking School, Balinese Sambal Bali 2015-503 Balinese Spice Paste, Ubud Market, Bali Nasi Campur, Casa Luna Cooking School, Bali

  • We spent a few days in Bali in 2015 and you’ve splendidly captured its food vivid joyful vibrant fantastic colors. Thanks for sharing ! 🙏🏻ReplyCancel

FL:R
P r e s s
C a t e g o r i e s
L i n k s
A r c h i v e s