Posts by Karen Man

a student, teacher, sister, daughter, friend, baker, thrower of dinner parties, jumper at the opportunity to fail, made of unicorn breath and Danish summers, and lover of sunflowers.

spending the 4th not here (but there)

I flew over 12 hours so I could lay next to a friend and stay up way too early into the morning talking about love, life, and living in a new decade. There’s always so much to catch up on. There is no substitution for physical exchanges in words.

This is my second summer to spend the 4th away from my US home. Copenhagen, over the years, has become a second home to me. I cultivated my first Danish friendships over 6 years ago. We have shared our cycles of love, heartache, living as foreigners, and healing over the quickly evolving technology.

the pause in falling

Over the past years, I have become the student of the artfully falling, with physical scars to show for it. If you didn’t believe in gravity, I could convince you otherwise. I thought my tattoos would be a unique identifier, but I found the unvisible scars much more unreplicable and hold a deeper beauty.

The more often I fell, the less often I cursed what could be seen as a misfortune, and the more resilient I became. Getting up became a muscle memory. Now when I fall, I acknowledge the pause in my life, inhale and exhale into the experience, and practice softly lifting myself up. The measure of time melts away during the healing process. It just goes as it goes, flows like seaweed riding the vastness of waves. (Sometimes the flow cramps my style.)

Tejas Heritage Farm

Things that require unmeasurable work and passion tend to be known as labors of love. Bread may be an obvious labor of love to bakers and their friends, but so too is raising guinea hens, chickens, turkeys, and three coyote-hunting dogs—all free range, could-be-if-they-wanted-to-be certified organic—on a small farm.

Oxheart supported David and Cheri Glover of Tejas Heritage Farm for a few years now, and only now after we shut our doors did I set aside time to visit the farm in Cleveland, Texas. I asked my father to join me because he was blown away by the flavor of their chicken. It reminded him of how chickens used to taste back home in Hong Kong.

I learned that it’s about a 4:1 ratio of certified-organic feed to realized protein on the chicks, and the birds here take almost twice as long to grow up to market size (than conventionally raised chicks) because they get to grow naturally. The feed is necessary to supplement the pasture diet. The birds need a balanced diet to grow and stay healthy.

The ducks hang out in the pond.

Baby guinea hens are easily scared.

The chickens, they are pretty much only interested in eating.

Their turkeys—my Thanksgiving tradition.

I totally stuck my nose into their pen and responded with, “It smells pretty good in there.”

There are sunflowers and wild dewberry on their farm. Two things I love.

David and Cheri can never both travel away from the farm or have a date-night in the city because if they did, who will rally the birds into their pens at dusk so they can be safe from coyotes? In case you missed the first time we served turkey at Oxheart, it was because the coyotes ate the rest of our allocation.

Everything sold at market is hand-butchered. Hand-butchered on the farm by David himself. This means no big processing plant with chemicals to keep your chicks clean from another farm’s chicks.

David handed me two packages of chicken hearts before we left. Cheri shared with me her recipe for cooking them. They know how to take care of others. This is a poultry farm you want to visit.

Visit them at the Eastside Market or Woodlands Market for your retail needs. Learn about their rabbits, hens, chickens, wild boar, ducks, and more: tejasheritagefarm.com

Sweet Liberty Bake Sale x PAIR

Two Sundays ago (4/30), a group of women came together and created a really special moment. Special because it created a feeling, an environment that I and probably all of us don’t get to experience often enough. The vibrations of this higher energy moved within me for many days after. I am only now getting a chance to fully process the experience.

Kelly Helgesen started the first Sweet Liberty Bake Sale. In her words: I have a very hard time keeping my mouth shut when I see things going wrong or people being mistreated. But usually, yelling and being mad doesn’t solve problems or make changes. I had to stand up and say, ‘I think this is wrong’ with the hopes that I could get like-minded people to join me and help people that really need it right now.

In this Sweet Liberty Bake Sale, hosted at Axelrad, proceeds benefited Refugee Services of Texas. Kelly asked a number of Oxheart alumn (Willet Feng, Sam Chang, Jason White, and I) to help. We, happily and warmly, baked our way to a donation of $1,800.

Kelly inspired me to continue the bake sale idea. I chose to partner with PAIR, Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees. PAIR’s mission is “to empower refugee youth to navigate American society, reach their academic potential, and become community leaders.” I first learned of PAIR at a film screening at River Oaks Theater a year or so ago.

Realizing how special it is to have places like Axelrad to host events like this, I thought, why not host one at Oxheart while it’s laying dormant until its next iteration? Sure, there was some missing furniture and everything was in the center of the dining room, but the kitchen was fully functional and had a new work table island. Jillian Bartolome and Kelly helped me in the kitchen. Justin Vann brought over every folding table and chair from Public Services.

While I didn’t thoroughly think through the details of a brunch bake sale, and it didn’t go as smoothly as it could have, I knew having Diana, Ceci, Brittany, and Justine helping in the FOH would make the moment what it needed to be. Marianne (and later my sister, Angela) jumped in to help on dishes because I somehow thought I could wing it without one. I looked at Marianne when she asked how I could help, and as my heart sank to tell her the help was in the pile of dishes quickly piling into a Dr. Seuss disorder, the fullness in her eyes said it was okay. Washing dishes is the least glamourous job, especially because everything is done by hand at Ox. I soon realized that it literally takes an army to coordinate a pop-up. I also quickly learned that my skill set does not lie in looking at a line of orders coming in and properly communicating what needs to come out of the kitchen next. Thank goodness for Jillian to calmly accept the lead. A friend and amazing home cook, J.Jop made gravy for the biscuits, set up the front and helped us get food out. When her supporting half, Peter, arrived to eat, he looked at us and without asking, decided we needed help instead. The ladies of PAIR were even bussing tables to help out. It truly was a team effort, as are most things in life.

Greenway has always been a happy participant in events like this, and after we ran out of coffee quickly, came in with backups of iced coffee and more beans to brew. Tejas Heritage Farm donated all 10 dozen duck eggs that we pickled and served with toasted breadcrumbs and herbs. We found garnishes to the dishes from farms like Plant it Forward, Animal Farm, and Dos Brisas.

Here is a menu in case you missed the event: PopUpMenu_Sweet Liberty2.

The amount of gratitude I have for each of these women that helped make this event successful in spirit and in an amazing $2700 donated to PAIR settles quite deep into a fullness of my heart. The next one around, I will ask for more help beforehand, plan a little better, and continue to exhale loads of gratitude for all the amazing humans that make our world a much more inspirational place to live.

Look for this image in the future and share in the fullness that living on and with Mother Earth can bring.

SweetLiberty_color(designed by Dave Hess)

traveling with paps

I waited until the last possible moment to book my tickets. I wavered on the thought that traveling with my you for 10+ days could destroy the something we had. We’ve never really had a relationship outside our required commitment to each other as family. I’ve always loved you, but because I was taught to. I’ve always wanted less hierarchy, but I didn’t know how to ask it because we were taught to respect our elders, which meant never talking back and just bowing to their commands.

i knew this trip would be important. i knew in order to learn more about the translucent layers in me, i had to get to know you. your dna runs deep in me. i knew it would not be easy. i knew there was a chance your snoring would keep me up at night. i knew i would be predisposed to reacting un-emphatically with the side-effect of a living with historically faulty lenses. i knew there would be times i would want to yell at you. i knew i would hear you vocalize what you were thinking when you looked through your lens. i knew there would be times i would just want to tell you to “Stop”. i knew there would be room for special moments. I knew that we could re-write history and muscle memories, one second at a time.

and so we go.

i learned how to hold my tongue. i learned how to hear you. i learned how to listen deeper. i learned that my choices do not make sense to you, that they are unexplored parts of your universe you haven’t conceptualized. i’ve learned that we will continue living very strikingly different lifestyles, wanting very different things, but that our experiences will always be unique to us. i’ve learned to increase my tolerance of listening to your unsolicited advice because it makes you happy to say it and because it means you care. i have learned to tell you if your words or actions are hurting me. I’ve learned that being an immigrant to the US was not actually the better path for you, but in your sacrifice, it gave me and Ange something far greater.

 


you have given me the chance to live a life that is joyful. you have given me just enough material comfort that i could live a life that leans towards non-attachment. You have created a strong, loving, independent woman. Make that 2 strong, loving, independent women.

as much as i love you, i am ready to come home to my unscheduled, attempting and always failing to be scheduled life.

thank you for not judging the dress and all the whisky i bought.

my HK family

It’s been a new experience this trip to Hong Kong, getting to know my family that loves, breathes, and could only imagine living in HK. It takes me a few trips to the same place or at least a total of a month’s worth of days to feel like I know even a small part of a place.  My entire father’s side lives here. On my 5th trip here, they finally acknowledge me as a real Chinese person and not just this American that pretends once in a while. Their test: you must love to eat (and appreciate the thousand-year-old egg). When I’m in town, their weekly extended family dinner dates ends up being daily make-it-if-you-can dates.

Their friend circles know when I’m arriving. I’m like that mutt that must be shown the ways and taught the food and culture of Cantonese people. My palate must know what is the best. I have since decided the Instagramable things and reviews online by Westerners have missed some of the best foods this place has to offer (including the people that give away constellations). On this trip, the universe granted me an amazing opportunity to learn how to make dim sum. Usually, dim sum masters don’t trade secrets and definitely don’t let you into their kitchen. I want to preserve some knowledge of my dna’s food culture and incorporate that into my own expression of baking. A plead for knowledge, promise to keep our craft alive, and being the niece of an uncle who loves to eat convinced them to allow me in their kitchen.

Another unique identity of my people comes with addressing women as “beautiful lady” and men as “beautiful gents.” Age doesn’t affect whether you are beautiful or not. I asked my father how you know if they were speaking to you or the person next to you. His response: “You just know.” Fair enough. I’m turning my head every time.

The parks here are exceptionally beautiful.

They also really love their cell phones.

Who doesn’t like a properly made 蝦餃? 🦐

Much love, Oxheart

You have offered words of advice: to enjoy, to savor, to live every last minute of those 5 years. With about 21 hours left of these 5 years, I focus on breath. The air I share with you, we shared 5 years ago. It has matured. It has lightened. It has evolved. It moves more energetically through my somewhat tired body. I am older now. My skin is less tight on my face. My forehead (finally) moves. My hands more wrinkled and dry. My eyes can hardly handle contacts anymore.

I look into the mirror, peering past the eyes—gratitude—she takes over. Sharing my last dinners with new friends, old friends, and a dining room of humans who supported us before we knew the name of this 31-seat restaurant brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t realize 5 years ago that places could touch people the way that they do. (Cathi, I found the last message you sent me, which was in 2013, asking me if you could bring me cake for my birthday. You may have been the first person to ever bake me a birthday cake from a home oven. I should return the kisses you gave me the other night.) Our city welcomed us into its community, watched us grow up (have you seen that they-can’t-seriously-be-over-16 pre-opening photo of Justin, Justin and I?), helped us tell and share our story, watched with compassion even when we showed our age, and celebrate our youth. If you feel any of the sentiment I do, think about how you support other establishments in our world. Make a conscious choice in whom you support: where you spend your resources, how you spend your extra gifts. Teach us, challenge us, help us, nurture us. We need you.

Writing my first book helped me time stamp more than the past days. The past few months have been incredibly moving. I cannot wait to reread the journal entries of this year.

I’ve learned to be less sad about things of the past. The universe gifted me with the memories of Oxheart. It taught me I am a good baker. It taught me how to love the people I live with. It taught me that breathing moves me forward. It taught me that my anger wasn’t something I (and probably others) liked to experience. It taught me that I will always be imperfect. It taught me to lean hard into my imperfect. It taught me that tears don’t show weakness. It taught me that being a woman is quite special. It taught me that if I push my body too far, it will give out. It taught me that I live to love. It taught me that sustainability wasn’t a definition meant for just the environment, eco-products, grass-fed, or sourcing locally.

From the beginning, we struggled to find and create a work-life balance. We, on closing day, still work on finding that balance. Better is better. Everyone has asked me what I will do next. I am doing what I am doing next now—and that is being joyful.

I don’t know where I’ll land, how much space I will take up, or what my joyful balance of life looks like. I know to take each day as they come, to live in gratitude for the moments I get with you (with me), and to practice often so that it becomes more innate. I choose to walk with courage, conscious fervor, and softness. I’m searching and working on stillness.

I re-wrote my creed. I wish to share it with you:

I will learn something new every day. I give myself the freedom to love. I strive to be vulnerable and compassionate. I will build up my friends and community to help us see our full potential and expression of joy. I will show myself love and compassion. I will pour energy into outlets that give me strength, creativity, and freedom. I will insist on experiencing more everyday awe. I will not be motivated by material wealth, for it doesn’t equate with my measure of joy. I am participating in this ironman, not a sprint. No matter where the finish line waits, I will breathe in inspiration from the past, present, and future, breathe out with gratitude, sun salutate my way through stuck time, keep moving when the fibers tire, and love endlessly. I will flow like a river, carving my experiences in the canyon walls that echo my gratitudes. I will create memories. I will leave a legacy.

Thank you for being a part of my life. I am truly blessed.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 10.43.45 PM

Early 2012 (not sure to whom I should credit)

Us now (still nerds):


Come celebrate and karaoke with us, starting at 8pm tonight at Public Services.