The Blog
Inspiration from Chef Keller's flagship, The French Laundry.
I started Four Tines and a Napkin back in April 2010, but didn't make it fully public until August, mainly because I was worried about its upkeeping. But in the end, I realized it was something worth pursuing and maintaining, and I've been having so much fun sharing my adventures in the blogosphere and formally documenting it for myself!

I've mentioned it here about how I came up with the blog's name, layout, etc., but I'll mention it again! For the color scheme, I wanted to keep the color scheme very minimalist, so my influence (as mentioned in my pilot post) is from The French Laundry, Chef Thomas Keller's flagship restaurant. However, my main inspiration came from CBS's situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory, and its episode from Season 2 entitled, The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem. In this episode (see exact clip and subtitled screenshot here), a new graduate student, Ramona, wants to take Sheldon out on a dinner date, but he tells her he "never eats in strange restaurants" because "one runs the risk of non-standard cutlery" as he "lives in fear of the three-tined fork." He claims "three-tines are tridents," and thus, "forks are for eating--tridents are for ruling the Seven Seas." Anyway, as I was thinking about what to title this new food blog of mine, I knew I wanted to keep it simple and asked myself one question. What do we need to eat? A fork (sometimes with the exception of chopsticks, but for the most part, a fork with four tines, per Sheldon's explanation) and a napkin (to maintain etiquette, of course). Pretty basic, no? I think the image I found on Getty Images was perfect. Cutlery in hand, napkins tucked in, ready to eat. So there I had it--Four Tines and a Napkin.

As for the tagline, "An ode to gourmandise and epicurean delights," it is meant to sound a little pretentious (the inner nerd in me showing herself off a little), yet on the other hand, I wanted to pay homage to the French culinary arts and the resulting gastronomic field as well as to the general idea of seizing the opportunities to enjoy the amazing foods that the world has to offer. This is my philosophy: while great meals can be found in the highest caliber of fine restaurants (Michelin-rated, and for the most part, wallet-bleeding), it doesn't necessarily require that all great food needs to be found in restaurant tables covered in tablecloth. Ultimately, good food isn't always about tablecloth. Yes, there is a certain elitism when it comes to fine foods (e.g., organic options or rare delicacies), but I find a street vendor that sells greasy goodies just as delicious and worthy of praise as a lovely paté of foie gras. The company with whom you share a meal or snack (even if it's a solitary one with yourself) is what counts the most for me. You can strip the tablecloths, the toques, and the pretension, and as long as the food remaining is delicious and leaves you wanting more, you're on the right track. I take this philosophy with me during all the culinary adventures and gastronomic outings I have, and I hope I can convey this through my thorough documentation and findings that I share with you. Thanks again for reading :)

All written content is the original work by me unless otherwise noted. All photographic content (unless otherwise linked) have been taken by me and directly uploaded to Blogger or linked from original photographs posted to Flickr. These original photographs are taken using with one of these three devices:
  1. HTC Incredible (Android) 8-megapixel camera phone
  2. Nikon D5000 12.3-megapixel DSLR camera with either a AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens or with a Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens
  3. Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 8-megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera
Header image is licensed from Getty Images.

The Gastronomes

Me at The Modern: Bar Room.
For a brief introduction about me, the main blogger for Four Tines and a Napkin, please see this previous blog post and this one, too.

But as you can tell from my self-given title that resonates throughout this blog (bean counter by day, morsel marauder by night), I studied Accountancy during my time at university. While I count proverbial beans as my day job, I dream and think about food all the time.

I guess I've been writing for pleasure for all of my academic life through being a real person now (aka, having a desk and a 9-to-5 job). It was the two writing classes during my college days that really underscored my enjoyment of it. I was so preoccupied with filling my schedules with business classes in order to fulfill all the necessary core and major requirements that I nearly forgot that college is also about exploring interests as well. It was so nerve-wracking when I gathered the guts up to enroll in a writing class, mainly when I found out I was the only business major in the entire class. Surrounded by English majors, I thought I'd be outnumbered in talent and writing abilities.

The class was entitled Writing Personal Narratives and used Elizabeth Gilbert's best selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, as a model for the three assignments we'd write during the semester to earn our grade and credits. The first segment of the class centered around the Eat section of her book (i.e., the pursuit of pleasure). We were asked to write about food, so I decided to write about the first time I ate in a restaurant (yes, one with tablecloth) by myself. I entitled it "Table for One, Please"--very cheeky, I know. The second segment centered around the Pray section (i.e., the pursuit of devotion), and we were asked to write about something spiritual (and not necessarily religious)--just something bigger than yourself. I wrote about my family's visits, particularly my first visit, to the cemetery and the Chinese traditions tied to those visits--more specifically, a feast and an offering brought to pay respect to the ones who have passed before us. In Cantonese, this act is called bai saan.

My mom and me at a local restaurant in NJ.
The last segment of the class focused on the Love portion of her book (i.e., the pursuit of balance). Here, my professor gave us full reign of what to write about--as long as it related to love somehow. It is funny when I look back now, with the "Tiger Mother craze" that Amy Chua brought to the public eye with her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, illustrating the ways of "Chinese" parenting through her own experiences with her daughters, mainly because I wrote about my own mother, garlic, and how I've come to associate its pungent aroma to expressive love (one that is typically unseen in Chinese families). I titled it "Garlicky Love." My old childhood neighbors were this fun, loving Italian family, whose kitchen would be covered in the smell of garlic that their mom would cook in preparation for dinner. I would witness the casual (yet meaningful) outbursts of I-love-you's, hugs, and public displays of affection by their parents, and be so confused when I came back home for dinner to a quieter household with no open displays of love in that way. On top of it all, my mom hates garlic, so the story I had to tell had many facets I worked in very well. I love my mom very much, and I know how much she loves me--we just don't express it as openly as, say, the Italians do. The lesson learned in this narrative of mine is that sometimes actions speak louder than words, with some garlicky spaghetti on the side :]!

I enjoyed writing each of these pieces so much--none of them even felt like assignments where I had to churn out BS after BS to hit the "page requirement." Then I finally realized that what I had written, for all three assignments, concentrated on food in some way. It was quite peculiar because only one of the three assignments from my professor was to write about food. That's when I knew I had found my calling, something to find solace in. Writing about food.

A semester or two after the Writing Personal Narratives class (incidentally, my last semester as an undergraduate), there was a class offered by the Anthropology Department entitled, Food for Thought. I read the description, and it appeared to be a class about the history of food. So I thought to myself what better way to learn to write about food than to read, learn, and analyze its history across different cultures. There were four books, along with other articles, that were required reading for the class. The first was ¡Que vivan los tamales: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity by Jeffrey Pilcher which delved into the history of Mexican cuisine (basically the history of the corn versus wheat debate). The second, Priscilla Ferguson's Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine, explored the detailed background behind how French cuisine became what it is today. This was probably the most difficult book to get through, yet the most interesting. The third, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century written by Laura Shapiro, discussed the development of domestic science and how this scientific approach to healthful eating led to the debasement of mass produced processed foods. The last, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, is a manifesto against the Western diet that has been correlated with bringing about "Western diseases" like diabetes, heart disease, and obsesity. Mr. Pollan, in his book, attempts to bring to light the importance of staying away from "healthy alternatives" and asks the question of where all the "food" has gone in America, as most of it is highly processed down to a science, literally.

Incidentally, this food history class I took was a writing intensive course (required for liberal arts students but not for business students), so basically I volunteered willingly to take a class that would require at least 30 pages of writing. But however much the gruel from writing, however many all-nighters I pulled, and however many other classes I cut to catch up on sleep I missed from staying up all night, I loved every minute of the essay-writing torture. And it wasn't just a total of 30 pages--I estimate that I must've written at least 80 pages by the end of the semester. Up until that point, I had never taken a class that solely required written papers as assignments, so the liberal arts culture was totally different from what I was used to having. Also up until that point, I was a timid student, always ferociously taking notes, making sure I got every word any professor dictated. However, with this class, it was different. I volunteered my opinion and my thoughts during every discussion, and I actually cared about the matter at hand. I still look back at the papers I wrote in this class, and I can't help smile at how much I had learned and how much I still remember years later. It was just so unfortunate that I truly discovered my love for food, cooking, culinary literature, and the like so late in my academic life. But not all is lost--there is plenty to do in the kitchen, in dining out, and in reading lots of food writing to make up for the lost time.

The Fab Four at a local gourmet diner in NJ, circa 2006.
Additionally, I did a lot of scrapbooking in high school, mainly documenting the crazy times I had with my three best girlfriends at the time (we called ourselves the Fab Four, haha). And you'll never guess what we did best together. Eating and dining together, of course! That's when I started taking photographs of the food I ate. We loved trying out new restaurants together, and to document the things we ate, I would take photographs of our dinners and included them in our scrapbooks. I even collected more business cards and matchbooks from the restaurants to fully get the whole experience at a said restaurant on those pages. So now, every time I'm out trying a new restaurant, chances are I'll be whipping out a camera (it used to be just a simple point-and-shoot, but now I have my Android smartphone, and of course, my beautiful Nikon DSLR that I splurged on last year) and reprimanding anyone who took a bite of a dish before I got a snapshot of it!

I'll admit this here--I didn't always know how to cook, and when I finally learned basics, it didn't always taste good. Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine saved my life during my last year as an undergraduate. During my first year, I stayed in a dormitory room with no kitchen, so it was mostly the dining hall for me. The middle two years I shared a kitchen with three other roommates at a campus apartment, but all the appliances were electric, not gas. It was so difficult learning how to cook on an electric stove without having known how to cook before. I basically burned everything I attempted to cook.

I nearly gave up on learning how to cook, until senior year, when I lived in an off-campus house, with a kitchen that had a gas stove and oven! Finally, a chance to finally redeem myself and learn how to cook! I started simple, of course. That's why I love Martha's recipes so much--the ingredients are very basic and can be found in most grocery stores. The steps are also clearly explained, and sometimes comes with a photo to make sure you're on the right track.

Me and Amy at Buddakan in Atlantic City, NJ, 2008.
I promised myself I wouldn't eat out so much that year, and I stuck to that promise, leaving college with the ability to bake a flourless cake without drying it out, to cook chicken thoroughly, and to even attempt to make things like tomato sauce and other things from scratch without preoccupation. I owe my confidence in the kitchen now to Martha (and now to America's Test Kitchen, as I'm using a lot of its recipes these days) and my friend, Amy (who incidentally went to a regional high school with a focus on the culinary arts) where I can now replicate things I've had in restaurants or things my friends have described to me pretty closely. Amy taught me the secret tricks of the trade for which I'll forever be indebted to her--she's a great cook, and I hope to learn more from her in the future!

And lastly, I light up when I talk about food. It's something that I can talk about with ease and with no reservations. It's something I have an opinion about, and it's the subject of most of the book purchases I've made in the last few years. I find myself wandering automatically to the cookbooks and the food writing sections of bookshops now without hesitation. My cousin Bill and his wife Pam were actually the ones who really suggested I put my food experiences in words and share them with the world, as I've had so many interesting ones. Up until April 2010, I had talked and talked about starting one, and at one point, I was just like, "Eff it. What am I waiting for? I'm going to start this damn blog!"

Marcus and me at Highbar on New Year's Eve 2010/1.
Marcus [x], my amazing boyfriend, has definitely been a great influence and motivator, too. It helps that he has an appetite for trying new restaurants, too, and that there aren't many things he isn't willing to eat or try for the first time. He also knows not to touch his flatware until I've gotten all the photographs I need. I can't wait to embark on many new culinary and gastronomic adventures with him. Keep your eyes peeled for his future guest posts!

Anyways, enough about background. Here are some other random tidbits you should know about me. Wednesdays are the "Fridays" in the foodie world--i.e., when The New York Times' "Dining & Wine" section is published in print. My Twitter feed is lined with the latest foodie news  (e.g., culinary icons, food news blogs, restaurants, food cart locales, and the like) and nothing else. The French Laundry Cookbook is food porn for me. I'm crazy about book signings, as most of the ones I attend are related to gastronomy, cooking, food, etc., so much so that my bookshelves bleed food literary fare. I'm always think about my next meal (what? where? when? who with?!), and I see "bucket lists" as a catalog of all the establishments I wish to dine at before "the bucket is kicked." As my dear friend Linda has said, we see chefs as the "rockstars" of the culinary universe, so my version of a "backstage pass" would be a tour of a chef's kitchen--the most sacred of all his or her spaces. My "Super Bowl" is not the actual Super Bowl, but rather the announcements of the James Beard Foundation award winners and of the year's Michelin star-rated restaurants (I'm also a cinephile, so I feel similarly with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards).

The Social Media
Four Tines and a Napkin on Twitter and Facebook
my other blog at medley-happy
photography collection on Flickr and Instagram
tumblr for Four Tines -- the abridged version

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