Sun Rise Restaurant, San Francisco

Deep within San Francisco’s Mission District, an area known for its Latin American population, lies a small establishment called Sun Rise Restaurant.

Mission District, San Francisco

While most of the restaurants in the Mission are Mexican, Sun Rise is a combination of Mexican, El Salvadorian, and American foods.

My friend Aiza and I decided to make the trek down there for brunch, as we read positive reviews on Yelp.

Having done a lot of walking that morning, and not having breakfast, our stomachs were primed for a large meal.

Two bus rides and a short walk later, we finally arrived at the restaurant. Inside Sun Rise, the atmosphere is cozy.

Sun Rise restaurant, San Francisco

There are few tables, and the decor consists of cheery yellow walls covered with socially-conscious artwork from local artists.

Aiza and I both ordered chilaquiles, which are a Mexican breakfast specialty. Essentially, the dish consists of day-old corn tortillas or tortilla chips, simmered in a spicy salsa, mixed with scrambled eggs, and topped with queso fresco (a crumbly, white Mexican cheese similar to feta) and sour cream.

Chilaquiles, the breakfast of champions.

These chilaquiles also had chorizo, a soft yet spicy Mexican sausage.

There was even the option to get the chilaquiles with soyrizo, a great alternative for vegetarians such as Aiza.

Alongside the chilaquiles, we split an order of platanos fritos–or, fried plantains.

Fried Plantains

The platanos weren’t greasy at all. They were fried to perfection, and had just the right amount of natural sweetness.

To round everything off, I had a hot beverage called atole de elote. It’s a hot, thick, sweetened cornmeal drink mixed with milk.

All of our dishes were delicious. That, combined with upbeat Latin American music in the background and friendly service, made this a perfect meal to round off the decade.

Christmas Crooning: Top 5 Indie Christmas Songs

Alongside dodging crowds of shoppers at the mall, and elderly family member’s long-winded, eggnog-induced stories, one of the most traditional aspects of Christmas is the music.

Sure, we have the traditional Christmas songs that have been around since the early 20th century. We have the songs that you’ll hear on every radio station, at every party, and in every shop in the days leading up to Christmas.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for Christmas music. Maybe it’s because I never worked in the retail sector, and never had to endure the same songs on loop for hours on end.

Or maybe it’s the copious amounts of Who Hash.

Whatever the reason, I can’t help but get the warm fuzzies when I hear something like Nat King Cole’s rendition of “The Christmas Song.”

Or when I watch the deliciously cheesy music video of “Jingle Bell Rock”, by everyone’s favorite half-mustachioed duo, Hall and Oates:

Over-the-top grins, gleeful head-bopping, and Santa popping out of thin air like magic?? Oh yes, Hall and Oates have the ability to make even the Grinchiest of hearts grow thrice its size!

A Very Indie Christmas

In recent years, it’s become common for indie bands to cover classic Christmas carols, or to even put out their own original Christmas songs.

The following are my top 5 ‘Indie Christmas Songs.’ Some have been around for awhile, and some have just been released this year.

5. allo, darlin’-Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Originally written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, this song has become a pop standard duet that has been sung by, well, just about everyone.

One of my favorite versions of this song is from the movie “Elf”, when Zooey Deschanel’s character sings it with Will Ferrell’s goofy Elf character.

This version by British artist Elizabeth Morris, a.k.a allo, darlin’, was done in 2008. It’s very lo-fi, and is noticeably missing the male part of the duet. However, this stripped-down rendition is still subtly beautiful in its own right.

Scroll down about halfway down the page, and you can listen to it here.

4. The Raveonettes-The Christmas Song

It may share the same title as the aforementioned Nat King Cole tune, but the similarities end there.

Although the Danish duo released this song a few years ago, like the most overly rum-soaked fruitcake, it’s still just as fresh today.

They take aspects of 50s/60s, Phil Spector-esque music, and put a darker twist on it. Listen here.

And if that tickles your tinsel, you might also enjoy their cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

3. Coldplay-Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of Coldplay, there are certain songs of theirs that I can’t help but love.

This cover of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is one of those songs.

It’s very simple, with just a piano accompaniment to Chris Martin’s vocals, but it’s emotional and sweet nonetheless.

2. Julian Casablancas-I Wish It Was Christmas Today

Lead singer of one of my favorite bands of all time, The Strokes, Julian Casablancas released a solo album this year: Phrazes For The Young.

Alongside putting out his own album, he decided to cover this comedic Christmas song from Saturday Night Live, a famous sketch show from the U.S.

The song was originally performed as part of a Christmas skit by Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kataan, and Tracy Morgan. In the original skit, the comedic value lies in the intentionally silly lyrics, and out-of-tune singing. However, Casablancas manages to put a cool and sultry spin on it, that oozes his New York attitude.

Here is Julian’s version, and here is the original, for comparison.

1. Jomel-Untitled Christmas Song, 2009

Today, I logged onto Facebook to find a notification that I had been tagged in a video.

Curious, I clicked ‘play’ and found that it was an impromptu song by one of my best friends, Jomel, written and performed in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve.

The song is filled with inside jokes, over a background of acoustic guitar playing. It definitely put a huge smile on my face when I watched it!

I have to say, there is no better Christmas present than something that comes from the heart; something unique and not mass-produced.

And that’s exactly why this is my number 1 indie Christmas tune of 2009!

What are your favorite Christmas songs of this year? Leave a comment with your top tunes, the reasons why, and links!

Merry Christmas to all!

Tamale-Making: A Mexican Christmas Tradition

Every year at Christmas time, without fail, my mom likes to tell the same joke:
Q: Why do Mexicans always have tamales on Christmas?
A: So that they have something to unwrap!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine, tamales are a concoction of cornmeal and various fillings (sweet or savory), wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.

Once a tamale is cooked, you unwrap it from the corn husk and enjoy.

For many Mexican families, especially in California, tamales are synonymous with the Christmas season.

Many families turn their kitchens into mini tamale-making factories, churning out dozens of batches at a time.

The tamales are eaten throughout the entire holiday season, and also given away to friends and family members.

I’ve always liked the idea of everyone getting together to make tamales. Unfortunately, my Mexican side of the family lacks the know-how and culinary skills to actually take part in this tradition.

Instead, we turn to our local taqueria owner, a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who sells tamales of your choice by the dozen.

Joining the Tamale Production Line

This year, however, I had the chance to get together with a couple of my friends in California—who are both of Mexican descent—and join their families in the tamale production line.

I always had the idea that tamale-making was a very laborious process, but it turned out to be relatively simple.

We bought a bag of prepared masa (a mixture of corn meal, water, lime, salt, and lard) from a nearby taqueria. The dried cornhusks, chicken, and green chili sauce were purchased from a Mexican market.

To make the tamales, you first have to soak the corn husks in cold water to make them pliable. Then, a layer of masa is spread on the smooth side of the husk. In the middle, you add the filling. Wrap everything up, and the tamales are ready to go in the steamer.

We ended up making two types of tamales. The first were sweet tamales, with a combination of brown and white sugars, and a heavy-handed pouring of ground cinnamon. The second was a savory mixture of green chili and shredded chicken.

Both types turned out really well, and it was fun to partake in this traditional activity.

It’s a nice way to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, and to create something delicious in the process!

Graduation: One Year Later

Exactly one year ago, I was nervously standing on stage in front of hundreds of my peers, receiving my diploma.

I distinctly remember the feeling of achievement, excitement, and anxiousness that I had on this day.

After working hard for four and a half years, I had reached the end. I was now a college graduate.

The whole day was a blur of emotions. Thank God for the invention of waterproof mascara.

Growing up, graduating college is one of those things that seems so far off. So adult. The beginning of a new chapter of your life.

The first month or so after graduating felt like an extended winter break, with the added bonus of not having any assignments to do. It felt good to be able to relax and not have to worry about school.

GRADUATING IN AN ECONOMIC CRISIS

Unfortunately, the time I graduated was during one of the worst parts of this economic recession. Many of my peers were having a hard time finding jobs anywhere, especially in the media field.

Slowly, it began to sink in that I could be in a very tough position if I didn’t find a job quickly. There were student loans to start paying back, among other living expenses.

By the end of February, almost three months after graduating, I had finally landed an internship at a company called Ustream. It was unpaid, but it was better than sitting around at home, so I took it.

Luckily, I was offered a full-time job as Marketing Coordinator, just after a little over a month of interning.
Sure, the pay wasn’t the best, and the hours were even worse, but it felt good to be working in a career related to my degree.

A NEW DIRECTION

Despite being happy about having a job, I felt that if I continued on down this path of marketing, I would move further away from my career goals.

I wanted to be the person producing media, not the one marketing it.

Over the summer, I made a big decision to go to graduate school in London. It wasn’t an easy choice, especially considering my economic situation.

But it was the right choice.

I haven’t looked back since making that decision, as I know that by doing this course, it’s putting me closer to where I want to be.

NEW GRADUATES

This year, I watched some of my best friends walk the same stage that I did.

I’ve watched them work extremely hard over the years, and I was proud to be able to watch them be honored for their achievements.

It seems that landing a job is getting harder than ever, but I have high hopes for them.

I think that, as long as you work hard and have clear goals set out, you can achieve them. Maybe it will be a difficult journey along the way, but sometimes you learn the most from going through hardships.

So, to my lovely friends who graduated this year, congratulations! Keep doing what you’re doing, and welcome to the post-grad world.

As Monica once said in Friends, “The real world sucks…you’re gonna love it!”

Flying Home: The Long Journey

After four different modes of transportation, and over seven hours in the air, I’m finally back on US soil.

My journey began by leaving my house in London in the early hours, when it was still dark outside. I stupidly left my packing until an hour before leaving, so was unable to get even a small wink of sleep.

I lugged my suitcase the fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, took the bus to a tube station, and then caught the tube to Heathrow airport.

While transferring stations, a kind stranger helped me carry my suitcase up a large flight of stairs to a different platform.

The same thing happened when I first came to London. It’s nice to see that there are still kind and helpful people in this world.

Eventually I made it to Heathrow, only to find out that my flight was delayed by a few hours.

HEATHROW’S HIDDEN OASIS

After wandering around aimlessly for about an hour, I discovered paradise within Heathrow’s Terminal 4—there is a ‘quiet prayer room’ that has, wait for it… RECLINING CHAIRS!

And they turn down all of the announcements to keep the atmosphere peaceful.

Anyone who has ever had to endure the long layover, especially running on no sleep, knows how irritating those constant announcements can be.

Apparently not too many people know about this prayer room, so I was able to land a prime seat in the darkest and most private corner.

After a couple of hours of intermittent sleep, it was time to board the flight to my layover destination: Newark, New Jersey.

NEWARK AIRPORT

Unfortunately, there is no hidden oasis near my gate here in Newark. The announcements are loud and constant. A steady stream of background noise comes from people walking through the terminal.

There are all types of people rushing through. Business men dressed in suits, glued to their Blackberries and laptops, unable to lose a minute’s worth of work.

Harried-looking moms trying to simultaneously keep on eye on their luggage and their rambunctious children.

Young tourists, speaking in their native tongues and appearing excited to be in the United States.

Weary travelers, trying to find the most comfortable sleeping position on Newark’s hard seats.
FLIGHT DELAYS

My flight to San Francisco keeps getting pushed back. Apparently there was a mechanical problem with the first plane, so we have to wait for a second plane to be ready.

I’ve discovered that, besides people-watching, blogging is a good way to pass the time. Who knew?

This has been a long journey so far, and I still have a while until I’m back in San Francisco.

I’m looking forward to the sweet sensation of those wheels landing on San Francsico’s runway.

But even more so, I’m looking forward to that moment of bliss when I’ll be able to plop down on my bed and pass out for as long as possible.

In the meantime, I’ll let my distaste for Newark airport fester until this plane is ready to board!

Good Shoes at ULU

Somehow I’ve developed a habit of taking people to their first concerts in foreign countries.

Back in San Francisco, I remember taking a Japanese friend to see Late of the Pier and The Whip. I also took a Mexican friend to see Spinto Band.

Now, in London, I took two of my classmates (Richa, from India, and Junjie, from China) to their first concert in the UK: Good Shoes, at ULU.

Music is something that can be enjoyed by anyone around the world, no matter where you come from.

It’s one of those things that spans every different type of culture. You don’t even have to understand the language to appreciate music. It’s more about the feelings that are evoked when you hear music.

Since music is such a big part of my life, I was happy to be able to share this concert experience with my new friends.

Thanks to TFL’s weekend ‘upgrades’, we had to take the long way to get to central London, and ended up missing the opening bands.

We did make it in time for Good Shoes, luckily. Good Shoes are a band that I’ve been a fan of for a number of years, but never had the chance to see them in concert.

They’re from London, and they have never toured in San Francisco. Because of this, I was especially excited to finally get to see them.

At concerts, it is not uncommon for audience members to take pictures of the band during the show. You can’t go to a concert today without seeing people pull out their digital cameras or cell phones, trying to capture every moment.

In an unusual role reversal, the lead singer of Good Shoes came out and decided to take pictures of us, the audience.

It felt weird to be on the other side of the lens, but it was nice to see that even band members enjoy capturing these moments.

A ROWDY CROWD

I don’t know if it was the median age of the crowd (perhaps 17 years old), or the amount of beer being consumed, but the audience was particularly raucous for this show.

We started out in the middle, near the stage—for the first song, anyway. Then, the moshing started.

I usually associate moshing with more hardcore punk shows, and not with a band like Good Shoes. I’d like to think that, at least for a short while, we put up a good effort to keep up with the crowd.

However, we eventually got pushed out to the side, on the outskirts of the pit.

Despite the rowdy crowd, the show was a lot of fun. The band exuded energy and excitement, and played a good mix of old and new songs.

More than anything, it was nice to be able to share this experience with my new friends.

Music is a great way to connect with people, and I hope to continue to explore and share London’s music scene with anyone who wants to take part!

Best Headline EVER!

‘Stoned wallabies make crop circles’: As I was browsing the top news stories on the BBC’s website, this headline immediately caught my eye.

Many of the news stories that we read every day are simply factual, and far from entertaining. Day in and day out, we hear of the horrors and injustices going on around the world.

Bombs exploding, and killing innocent bystanders. Women being stoned to death for extramarital affairs. Floods tearing apart entire towns.

Not to say that we shouldn’t hear about these things, but it was refreshing to see this silly headline as one of the day’s top stories.

As journalists, we become like sponges in our quest to soak up as much information about the world around us as possible.

We’re always looking for the next story to share with the world. Most of the time, these stories portray the uglier side of human existence. After awhile, you can’t help but become at least a bit hardened from everything you hear.

‘Stoned Wallaby’ Headline

I’m not sure who wrote this article, but I can imagine that this was their highlight of the day.

I can imagine the scenario of what it must have been like to read through all of the copy stories, and land upon that gem:

Supermarkets start fuel price war

Climber dies in mountain accident

Stoned wallabies make crop circles…hang on a tick…what?! Stoned wallabies? Crop circles? Jackpot!

So what’s the story all about, anyway? Basically, wallabies in Australia have started roaming into poppy fields. They eat the opium poppies, get high, and run around in circles.

Have we cracked the mystery behind crop circles? The article says that sheep have been known to do this as well.

Crop circles: the mysterious work of aliens, or the result of stoned animals? You decide!