Featured Spotlight: The Little One NYC

Only a few months ago, a new space serving unique high-quality desserts opened around the corner of East Broadway and Rutgers Street in Chinatown. Bordering the Lower East Side, The Little One brings a whole new vibe to the area with its contemporary look and Japanese-inspired menu. Married couple and owners, Olivia Leung and Eddie Zheng, had always wanted to open a place of their own after studying at the Institute of Culinary Education and working besides renowned chefs and bakers at Dominique Ansel, Tour Les Jours, La Sirena, and The Elm.  While traveling in Asia for inspiration, they were especially blown away by Japan’s attention to detail and the quality of ingredients in their productions. “We wanted our store to be similar in a sense where we really care about our ingredients and the aesthetics of the space,” Olivia explained as I asked her how her trip shaped her business.  “When we went to Japan we loved how simple, modern, and clean ALL the little cafes, coffee shops, dessert shop , and sushi restaurants were. They’ve incorporated a lot of wood, white, and even concrete. So with our space, we wanted to use all those aesthetics and put it into our space.”  Though decorations are soon to come, The Little One really does present a beautiful clean space to catch up with a friend or to experiment some new flavors.

If one is not used to desserts in Japan, a menu can be difficult to decipher, so I asked Olivia to explain what some of her signature dishes are (and means).  Here is the breakdown:

Pictured above are the strawberry and the matcha Kakigōri, a Japanese shaved ice that has an icier texture than other types.”Traditionally, kakigōri is made with flavored syrups,” Olivia explained. “But now there are some places in Japan that takes it one step further and garnishes with creams and fruit sauces or other textural elements. This is where we got inspired to take something very traditional in Japan to make it our own but still keep some Japanese roots. For example, we love using matcha and hojicha (traditional Japanese teas) and we get them from Kettl, a tea shop based in Williamsburg that sources tea from their farms in Japan everyday!” To further make the dessert their own, they have also experimented using some Chinese influences such as the coconut pudding that one may find at dim sum.  This resulted in the Coconut Kakigōri.

Pictured here is the Dorayaki, fluffy pancakes made with honey that traditionally contain a red bean paste filling.  Similar to their take on the Kakigōri, Olivia and Eddie wanted to take the traditional recipe and make it their own by using different fillings.  With the most recent menu, they added a red bean cake with matcha cream, chocolate coconut inspired by the Mounds candy bar, and pineapple caramelized in brown sugar and spices with yogurt cream and shortbread crumble.

Above is the unique and light Monaka, thin crispy wafer shells made out of rice flour that are popular in Japan. They are traditionally served with red bean paste, but at the Little One, they are incorporated with ice cream flavors based on likes and seasons.  Currently, they used buckwheat and chrysanthemum.  Why these flavors?  “Buckwheat has a toasted and roast flavor that we wanted while chrysanthemum is a flower perfect for spring,” Olivia answered.  “It’s also a tea that Eddie and I grew up drinking at dimsum and from boxed drinks.  We wanted to keep it simple but thought that adding a local honey from the Union Square Market will also enhance the dessert.”  

While these beautifully crafted, made in-house desserts already have flavors attractive to many, expect some to change every so often as they have a seasonal menu in addition to their regular one. With Eddie’s love for technical aspect as well as working with hydrocolloids in desserts and Olivia’s love and feel for breads and pastries, the two are always concocting and improving their dishes with the best quality ingredients. “The best part of this business is that Eddie and I love doing what we do,” Olivia said.  “Everywhere we go we are intrigued by new and different ingredients that we have never come across before.  As they say, if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life!”  

Be sure to check out The Little One if you get a chance.  A special thanks to Olivia and Eddie for allowing me to share their story with Lilspirations and sharing the photos that I am not able to take during this maternity time!  As always, thanks for reading! xoxo

 

Picture credits for this post:

Dorayaki (Vicky Lee)
strawberry kakigōri (Jacky Chen)
behind the scenes ( Jennah Moon)
chrysanthemum (Alan Li)
matcha kakigōri (Alan Li)​​

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Featured Spotlight: Alimama Cafe

If you’ve ever been in New York City’s Chinatown multiple times for the last 10 years, then you’ll notice how much it has changed.  Luckily there are still a few of the classic and historic spots left, such as Columbus Park where the elder gather, the re-located Tasty Dumplings, the old school bakery known for their buns, and Big Wong famous for their roast pork and meats. There are no more bootleg designer bags spread out on Canal Street (Instead, look for Asians randomly whispering “Coach, LV, Michael Kors, etc.” as you walk by. They’ll show you their stock digitally now! hah).  There are fewer Cantonese-style restaurants and heaps of bubble tea and dessert spots, but most recently, a new addition  has brought a more organic style to Chinatown. That place is Alimama.

 

Squeezed between various small shops on Bayard Street around the corner from Columbus Park, this little spot catches everyone’s attention because of its modern looking front with its cute, slanted, easy-to-miss concrete seating. Inside is a crisp, clean look where you’ll find a friendly face greeting you while making her products fresh. Meet Janie of Alimama.  I had the opportunity to chat with Janie a few times pre-baby after walking in spontaneously one day to check out the menu. Although she was never professionally trained, her parents and her love for exploring and experimenting with cuisine blossomed into cooking and baking.  “Some of my earliest memories are of the energetic frenzy of my parents’ kitchen, and their passion for food has really rubbed off on me,” she explained as I asked about her motivation to start her own business. “It’s just genetic.”  If she isn’t in the kitchen, she is always hunting for new inspirations in food, arts, and culture.

While Alimama has been in its soft opening phase, you can definitely find Janie concocting goods everyday from different flavored mochi donuts to ube charcoal bread to lightly sweet drinks. However, her mochi donuts and cream puffs seem to be the signature items as of now.  Unlike any other I’ve tasted, these desserts don’t make you walk away feeling guilty. They are much lighter in weight as well as in sweetness than the ordinary donuts and puffs.  Since Janie is gluten intolerant herself, her products also appeal to those who can’t eat gluten, which makes Alimama one of the few places in Chinatown that offers gluten-free desserts.  Although the protein is not in her diet, she has a strong sweet tooth especially for Japanese desserts. “That has been a strong influence across all of my desserts, from the ingredients to the flavors,” she says. “My cream puffs are a lighter take on a classic dessert that I’ve always loved. Mochi naturally lends itself quite well to all of those, in addition to its wonderfully chewy texture, so I’ve tried to incorporate it throughout my menu.”  My personal favorite is the ube and matcha cream puffs, both with a crisp textured outer layer and a creamy filling that tells you what flavor it is without being overly strong!

With almost 5,000 Instagram followers in less than two months, Janie plans to have her grand opening before May 1st.  I asked her what the best part of being in this business is and doing what she does.  “Seeing my customers’ eyes light up, the uncontrollable smiles, the gasps of delight and satisfaction,” she responds. “All of these are what gets me going every morning!”   For anyone looking to start something new, not having any background experience didn’t stop her from opening this shop. “Very few people know exactly what it is they want to do,” she explains. “So it’s okay to feel lost or confused – you’re not alone! Instead, just be open to new opportunities and take them one step at a time.”  

If you get a chance to be in Chinatown, be sure to stop by Alimama to try some of these treats out.  A huge thank you to Janie for sharing your behind-the-scenes with me and to all the readers!  xoxo – Lilian
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If I Were An Olympian …

2018 was the year of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea. I’ve been a fan of the games since I was little, following mostly ice-skating in the winter and gymnastics/swimming in the summer.  However, 4 years ago during the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I became interested in learning about all the other sports and felt an urge to do a self-portrait with my then-second graders.  I’ve always been adamant about doing self-portraits with children because of their ability to see and show their growth over time.  Some of my favorite portrait related posts include photography work with my co-teacher Rachel, black and white portraits inspired by fashion designer Isabel Toledo, and the first year I did portraits monthly with my class.  This time around with portraits however, is perhaps my favorite of all with my current third graders.  I gave birth towards the end of the project, so a huge thank you to Rachel for finishing the project and sending me some pictures of their work!

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A Whole New World

I hope you all had a lovely Easter.  It was quite sweet to scroll through my Instagram and Facebook to see all the fun Easter pictures people take. Though bunnies and eggs have nothing to do with the holiday, it’s nice to see people gather together and find joy in the day.  Meanwhile, this was the first Easter I actually missed in terms of going out for festivities and brunch. Instead we were home all day (or on my part, home all month…) celebrating this little one’s one month. That’s right!  Baby came early, hence my disappearance right after the last entry.

Meet Baby Kairi who so loves the world already.  Well, the world inside these 4 walls anyway because due to Chinese traditions, new mothers go through a “sitting month” where we don’t step outside and have to rest at home for an entire month! I know.. crazy, right??  Partially true depending on what traditions you’re told to follow, this article just about sums up this confinement period in the most hilarious ways.  As for being a new mother, I can’t even begin to describe the experience except that I understand now that we won’t really know what having a child feels like until we bear our own (emotionally, physically, socially). It’s quite the journey.  While there are struggles, the love is so huge, I feel like Jasmine sometimes with this whole new world I’m living in.

At the same time to be honest, I look and feel like this little one sometimes with just enough energy
to walk from one room to the other.
(Note: I am currently wearing pajama pants and an oversized tshirt as I write this entry) 

People are right though. After having a baby, there really is no shame (in how you look, dress, etc.) That bundle of joy literally keeps your world turning despite the fact that she refuses to nap and keeps you on your toes for hoooouuuuurrrrrssss… the random never-ending sounds she makes, the smiles, the incredibly loud farts she makes, the cute whimper sounds, the sudden cries that wake you up and then becomes silent (almost to say “WAKE UP! Oh, just kidding”) … yup, all worth it. She is already my inspiration and I hope that she will grow up to be a strong woman who fulfills what she believes in and aims to make a difference in this ever-changing world.  Girl power… oh yes.  🙂

Just an FYI for those who are wondering, this isn’t going to become a mommy-blog, but if you are a mommy and would like to know some of the coolest spots in New York City, recipes, and things to do with your kids, check out my friend Yvonne’s new blog, Hopscotch_Mom.  She has quite the fun ideas with her 3 adorable daughters!

As always, thanks for reading! xoxo, Lil

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Lunar New Year, #1 Seattle Instagrammer, Baby, and Toys!

Hellooooo, dear friends!

There is so much going on, I don’t even know where to start!  First off, a happy LUNAR NEW YEAR to all those who celebrate (it lasts 15 days so it’s not too late!) This year, I wasn’t out taking photos and parading with the lion dancers like I usually do in Chinatown, New York, but it was most definitely nice to stop by and join in for a little bit!  Here’s a photo of the Southern Praying Mantis group getting ready to march across Canal Street.

Second, a HUGE shoutout to my friend Samantha Leung for kicking @$$ on social media and her business. Remember her from one of my first featured spotlights and giveaways back in 2015? (http://lilspirations.com/featured-spotlight-samantha-leung) She is now the #1 Instagrammer in all of Seattle!  You can see her highlighted in this recent article on Narcity.  I don’t know how she does it, but her work is absolutely beautiful.  If only I had a green thumb!  Congratulations, Sam!

Third, I am now 38 weeks – CRAAAAZYYYY!  They say many women go through a nesting stage where they scrub, clean, and organize like crazy to get ready for the baby, but who knew I would go through that!  I thought I’d be out and about, traveling, scrambling to get to every bookmarked restaurant I can and mingle with my friends while I still can.  Okay fine, I still try to do all that in my little waddling ways.  Little did I know the energy runs slightly lower and weird things start happening to the body that prevents a bit of that.  So, here I am cleaning like a mama, sniffing and getting high off of baby detergent smells, and baking as if I was catering a party for 50 sweets eaters.  Do check on me please, friends.  We don’t want me to get TOO high off of these things now!

Lastly, I did get an opportunity to go to the exclusive non-public Toys Fair 2018 at the Jacob Javitts Center.  (Thank youuuuu Wendy).  It was fascinating to see the never-ending amount of toys that exists but even more interesting to see how business people interact with one another to get the toys into the market.  My favorite toys had to be the education-related ones because there was so much thought put into them and engages the next generation of children into the modern day tech world. I want one of these Botley coding robots myself!  The Bump recently wrote up an article about some of those STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) toys that you might be interested in if you have or work with children.

As for all of you who have been looking to this blog for food and places to go, I’ll try and keep you updated as much as I can before baby comes!

That’s all for now!  Thanks for popping by 🙂 xoxo, Lil

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A New Year cute video & giveaway!

Happy 2018! 

Remember I told you in my last entry to think about all that you’ve accomplished and not what you couldn’t get to (because we all have a never ending list of to-do’s!)?  Well… this little one surely was shocked at all that she succeeded in 2017!  One of my favorite YouTube stars, Claire Crosby, shares her successes with her family. She has QUITE a few considering she’s only five years old.  Oh-so-adorable I can’t stop watching her and listening to her sing – she is practically best friends with Ellen!

This year, I really hope to share with you more inspiring stories and people to connect with. To start off the year with this entry, I teamed up with Jeanne Chiang from @jeminidesigns just for fun to do a New Year’s giveaway for our Instagram followers!  Head over to my Instagram account @lilspirations for your chance to win one of her unique elemental earth bracelets.

I’ve known Jeanne for years and watching her shop grow has been incredible. (You can find her on Etsy here).  She has a keen eye for architecture, so when it came to jewelry design, you can imagine her merging the two well. I asked her where the idea for these particular bracelets came from and she responded with the following: “It came from studying soil samples for architecture.  Soil is the very depths of our earth – so rich in color, texture, and material.  Elemental earth is my tribute to our planet, for appreciating its rarity and uniqueness from every particle. In these pieces, no stone is exactly alike. The raw and organic, harmonizes with the crystalline perfection of the crystal seedlet clusters. Just like architecture, man’s integration of form into its natural environment.”  Indeed when you look at them closely, the stones are all different.

What are you waiting for? Head on over and enter now!  Wishing you all a joyous, adventurous, and healthy new year!  xoxo, Lil

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Goodbye, 2017!

Helloooo, everyone!

Your first question is probably where in the world I’ve been.  Let’s just say 2017 was quite the busy year, and as close as I was to ending this blog due to a lack of time, I just couldn’t do it. In fact, I renewed it for another 3 years.  As I look back on the 3 years of Lilspirations, I remember why I started it in the first place.  To learn, to share, to be inspired, and to inspire … and indeed I felt it was successful. I met so many wonderful people whom I still connect with thanks to their collaboration or even just all of your support with this site. I created so many new things that I never thought I’d have the talent or skills for because I was motivated and encouraged to, and I learned so much about people, places, and myself.  It has truly been an inspiring journey.

However, I can’t say that things will ever be the same again in 2018 because it won’t be.  In a good way though.  I don’t have the time to travel, go out and explore as much as I used to so I can share with you all the special events that happen here in New York City, but I will continue sharing with you the people that make this city what it is.  I will share with you the stories behind the places you visit and the food that you eat (which by the way, just 3 years ago when I started, Smorgasburg wasn’t even popular yet and now we’ve got food halls everywhere!)  Lastly, I will hopefully share with you something very new – a glimpse of my journey as a first time mom.  We are so excited to have a baby girl this spring.  She just may be the lil’ in Lilspiration!  Here’s a GIF hubby and I made for our announcement that I’d love to share with you!

 

As I close the year with this entry, I want to remind you to celebrate all that you have accomplished, not what you wish you had accomplished (because we all know there is plenty on our lists!)  Ask yourselves – What are you most proud of? What did you learn? What do you want to make happen in 2018?  Don’t let the little things slip away – you’ll be surprised how accomplished you feel when you recognize even the smallest things you’ve done.  Remember sometimes, it’s the little things that inspire.

Happy New Year, friends!  xoxo – Lil

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A 4 to 6 Seat Restaurant : Sushi On Jones

I was first told about a “restaurant”called Sushi On Jones that has 4-6 seats only a few days before I had the special opportunity to visit. Thanks to my aunt and cousin for taking us there! This one-of-a-kind outdoor sushi counter is NYC’s first, making sushi-on-the-go in an intimate yet somewhat casual experience. Intimate because you are face to face with the sushi chefs, Tashi and Kenny, and the manager, Tom. It was casual because you don’t need to dress up and it is not awkwardly quiet and high-end like other omakase experiences. As soon as you sit, they begin to serve you tea or water and individual pieces of sushi are made right in front of you. You have 30 minutes to enjoy your reservation (yes you need to reserve in advance!) before the next lucky batch of 4-6 get to go through what you just had. Those 12 pieces of sushi come by incredibly quick, but the flavors linger long after you chew and swallow them.

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A Brand New Look!

Helloooo everyone!  Whew, it has been a long time!  Thanks for checking back in 🙂  As you can see, Lilspirations has a new look!!!  It used to be hosted by Tumblr, but we are now on… ::drum roll please:: … WORD PRESS!  A huge thanks to my hubby, web designer and developer for the site – I love keeping things minimalistic and that’s exactly what he did with the colors and design! It’s a simple layout I simply love!  Here are some of the new things on the site!

  • a search button (whaaaaa!) –  You can now type in any key words to see what posts/articles are related
  • monthly archive – Go ahead and look back at some of the old posts!
  • new tabs – everything I write will be categorized into one of the following categories:  Life (anything related to me or life in general); New York City (places and events); Travel; Teaching; Featured Spotlights (all the awesome people I interview to inspire you!)
  • comments – YES! Some of you have been asking me for such a long time. I was against comments for a while, but why not give it a try? Please do share your thoughts with me! I’ll always reply as soon as I can 🙂

I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next! As I work on the blog and also catch up on some new big things in my life, I’ll keep you updated. For now, go ahead and check out some of the old posts in the archive on the right for ol’ time sake.  I’ll be working on some new ones soon! xoxo, Lil

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What Goes On During CNY?

Hellooo, there!  Happy Chinese New year to all those who celebrate! It was a little hard planning a post this year around the holiday given everything that’s happening in world news. There’s just so much to be said about this year’s changes in 28 days, but what we need is some positivity and a great hope for our future.  My one advice is that now more than ever, stay updated and stick with one another.

In the meantime, so many people have been asking me about the customs, traditions, and events that revolve around this huge holiday celebrated by so many. Last year, Chinese New Year was officially dubbed a holiday in NYC so public schools had the day off!  I am far from being an expert and I am still learning every year, but based on the people around me and the traditions that I see, I made a very simple checklist of what people do to get ready for the new year and what they do or can’t do during the first 15 days. I did a FAQ on it last year, but comparing that to this year’s, either I’ve forgotten some or I’ve learned a couple more things, haha!  (Related article: 10 Things to do during Lunar New year) . Hope this helps!

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