Month: April 2014

Movie Review: Tangled

Title: Tangled
Directors: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 100 minutes
Purchase Tangled: DVD

Tangled supposedly tells the classic tale of a girl trapped in a tower who upon beckoning, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”, unleashes her impossibly long golden locks. However, the fairytale is merely a backdrop for what is actually a coming-of-age story that explores self-discovery and empowerment.

He Said
I was not impressed by Tangled‘s trailer back in 2010 and had no intentions of watching it, but my love for Frozen (the tagline on the poster touts it as “From the creators of Tangled and Wreck It Ralph“) made me yearn for more of the same type of animated excellence. Perhaps, consequently, I came into the movie with far too much expectations and initially found the story very boring and the characters just not endearing. The movie thankfully picks up about 45 minutes in and becomes a rather pleasant watch until the end. The “lantern scene” truly encapsulates the movie-magic feel that Disney does so well when it gets it right. I appreciate Rapunzel’s strength (her character offers young girls a different type of “Disney Princess”) and Disney was quite creative with their use of her hair and I enjoyed the modern twists to the story. The surprisingly dark commentary on controlling and overprotective parenting was interesting. I do worry, however, that the story may feed (or initiate?) fantasies that young kids sometimes have about being adopted and actually having “better” [biological] parents (especially when they disagree with their parents).

She Said
From the viewpoint of an aunt screening movies for her nieces and nephews, I wouldn’t recommend Tangled for children. The theme is unnecessarily dark. While I recognize that Gothel is a witch, she has nonetheless raised Rapunzel and one would hope all those years would amount to something more than an abusive and manipulative relationship filled with greed on Gothel’s side and fear within Rapunzel. The exchanges of “I love you” were completely empty. I prefer not to introduce children to these ideations of hypocrisy and schemes. To simply wave this off as “Gothel’s the evil character” doesn’t settle with me either. As an adult watching the movie, Tangled entertains but lacks a powerful message.

We Say
“Rapunzel” is a rather mundane fairytale that Tangled is able to spin into a rather entertaining take on entering society and growing up. It has a dreadfully slow start, but the characters and the movie itself ultimately become likable. Tangled has its moments, but is overall just passable and lacks that indescribable charisma that makes animated features like Toy Story 3 and Frozen unforgettable and far superior.


Into the Kitchen: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

People are most familiar with fried egg/spring rolls, but a much lighter and healthier “version” exists in the Vietnamese cuisine. Summer rolls highlight the Vietnamese people’s adoration for fresh herbs and vegetables. They are absolutely delicious appetizers. The “prep” work for the numerous ingredients is labor intensive, but once you have everything ready, it is a very quick and easy step to roll one from the plate and straight into your hungry mouth!

Vietnamese Summer Rolls (multiple versions exist; below is a type called “bò bía”)

2-3 links of Chinese sausage (“lap cheung”/lạp xưởng)
1-2 eggs
2 tbsp rehydrated dried shrimp
1 jicama
1 large carrot
Large handful of fresh Thai basil
2 tsp minced garlic
Fried shallots (buy packaged at store)
Chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
Vietnamese rice paper

1. Boil Chinese sausage to cook for 5-7 minutes until done. Let cool and then slice oblong thinly.

2. Peel jicama and carrot and slice into thin matchsticks. Over low heat, add oil and stir fry garlic until fragrant. Add jicama and carrots. Sprinkle a pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables soften. Set aside to cool.

3. Beat egg(s) into a bowl. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat with a little bit of oil until hot. Pour egg mixture into pan to form a single layer “egg sheet”. Pour excess egg back into bowl. Put pan back on the heat and cook until surface of egg is “dry”. Flip “egg sheet” onto a cutting board. Let cool, fold it into a loose roll and cut into strips. Repeat with remaining egg mixture until all of it is cooked.

4. Chop up dried shrimps. Heat a frying pan over medium low heat without oil. Add shrimps and “dry fry” to toast.

5. Get a large bowl of lukewarm water. Dip 1 rice paper into the water until the entire surface has been exposed to water. The paper will continue to soften/rehydrate as you work with it. Lay it flat onto a plate. Arrange the ingredients above as depicted below onto the rice paper:

6. Wrap summer rolls as depicted below:

7. Enjoy with peanut dipping sauce!

Cooking Tips
– These rolls are best eaten freshly rolled. The rice papers can stick together and worse, become hard in the fridge. You cannot microwave them. You can wait for them to warm up to room temperature (more palatable), but nothing compares to fresh rolls. We recommend only making enough to eat per meal time and storing the “filling” separately to assemble when ready (if you have extra filling).
– For this recipe we like to use “lạp xưởng Mai quế lộ”; this is a special type of Chinese sausage that is made with wine. It is sweeter and offers a unique taste.
– Feel free to modify the recipe according to your taste and available ingredients. The Vietnamese summer roll has these essential main components: (1) protein (i.e. grilled meats), (2) fresh herbs (i.e. Thai basil), (3) vegetables (i.e. pickled daikon/carrots, cucumbers), and (4) thin rice noodles. To minimize carbohydrate intake, some people opt not to have any noodles and pile on the herbs/vegetables.

How to Declutter Your Mind

Birds are chirping. The weather is warming up. We’re getting rainstorms to assist the promised blooms in May. Well, all that is true unless you live in Minnesota. :P But regardless of where you are geographically, there is one Spring cleaning you can do year-round: declutter your most valuable asset. Follow the steps below to regain your focus in life and live with a decluttered mind!

1) Hone into priorities instead of give into procrastination
Know what your life’s calling is (be that a tall order of changing the world or the pragmatic goal of providing for your family – or both) and prioritize your daily tasks to align with that calling/purpose. When you are passionate about the reason(s) for your existence, the everyday tasks become a lot less mundane and more tolerable, whether they are in direct alignment with your goals or just a small hurdle on your path to realizing your goals.

2) Clean your mental desktop
I will introduce you to two important C’s: Core dump and Compartmentalize. The act of core dumping involves writing down any wandering thoughts so they’re off your mind and you can revisit these thoughts later. You can write on post-its, on your smartphone, or on a simple text document. Once they’re off your mind, you’re freeing your mental capacity. Next, compartmentalize the rest of your mental desktop and flag them with deadlines. For example, my tasks can be categorized as personal, teaching, and research. Each task can be prioritized by how much I value its category *and* the impending deadline of each task. This way, you are not only prioritizing by urgency, but also importance and impact. It’s important to assign deadlines to your personal tasks, as well, even if no one else is holding you accountable for them.

3) Keep lists simple
Lists are extremely helpful. But don’t overdo them. Sometimes, we get so overwhelmed with long lists of to-do’s that we simply don’t know where to start. So, we don’t start. Avoid this problem by simplifying your lists. Give yourself 3 important tasks each day that you really want to tackle. The rest are bonuses. Reward yourself accordingly.

4) Change your scene
We may get stuck in mental ruts that are associated with a particular activity or place. Moving the activity to a different location can help us look at it with fresh eyes and a new focus, relieving the mental boredom that might lead our mind to wander to other things.

5) Get in shape
A healthy body nourishes a sharper mind. Say no to chronic sleep deprivation. Say no to overusing caffeine and fatty foods. A healthier body increases energy levels, keeping you off the lazy mode so you can more efficiently tackle your agenda.

6) Rid negativity
Let go. Worrying about something? Angry about somebody? Frustrated? Harboring a grudge? While these are all natural emotions and thoughts, none of them are really necessary. See if you can let go of them. Don’t be afraid to erase contacts or rid relationships that are toxic to you.

7) Stay grateful
Really focus on what makes you happy. Be thankful for those moments, those people and their influences. Many researchers advise that before going to bed, we should list at least three specific moments that we are grateful for that day. However, I believe it more beneficial to begin the day with these grateful thoughts. Think about all the opportunities you will have that day and be grateful for them. (I am thankful for the opportunity to present my research, to eat a delicious dinner with my friends, etc. etc.) This will keep you motivated throughout the day and help keep you stay on task.

We Say
Quiet your buzzing mind by getting rid of noise (aka excess and negativity) and focus on what’s truly important. Tackle your everyday tasks with your life’s purpose in mind. Stay committed. Stay motivated. Be grateful and happy. And then, you will find yourself embracing success. Good luck!