This Summer’s Guilty Pleasure Must-Read: ‘The Ring & The Crown’

Looking for a good summer read to bring along to the beach? We have just the thing: Filipina American author Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her young adult Blue Blood series, is back with another page-turner.

The Ring & the Crown is touted as a melding of European history and magic, but the book doesn’t focus on magic at all. Rather than a politically-driven fantasy one would expect, the story’s driving force is allll drama, and trust me, there’s a lot of it.

The story shifts between the narratives of four very different girls who lead four very different lives. Marie-Victoria is a sickly princess who wants nothing to do with royalty. Aelwyn is a mage who wishes she were royalty. Ronan is a social-climbing beauty, while Isabelle is willing to do whatever it takes to reclaim her prince.

 

As you can expect, The Ring & the Crown is filled with jealously, betrayal, manipulation and love triangles. Get through the first couple of chapters and you’ll soon find yourself quickly flipping through the pages just to find out who’s sleeping with whom.

So will this make it onto your list of all-time favorite books? We’re not sure. Feminists will be tempted to rip this book apart and there are some plot holes here and there. But should you read this book anyway? You bet. The Ring & the Crown certainly has all the qualifications for a guilty-pleasure read. Besides, it’s summertime. Go ahead and indulge in all the addictive drama. You’ve earned it.

Details Hardcover, $17.99, ringandthecrown.com.

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Kina Grannis: A New Sound & A New Look For Her Latest Album

Story by Ada Tseng.

It’s been half a decade since Kina Grannis began writing her 2010 debut album Stairwells, which featured songs that were practiced, appropriately, in the stairwells of the University of Southern California, where she attended college. Now 28, she’s gone through much personal growth, spurred by everything from the tragedy of her grandfather’s passing to the joy of a new marriage to her frequent musical collaborator, Jesse Epstein. These life experiences gave her the courage to write songs about topics she may have shied away from in the past. She also began working with producer Matt Hales (also known as Aqualung) to experiment with her music sonically.

In the days leading up to her new album release this past May, Grannis uploaded a series of “Making the Album” videos onto her YouTube page, where she let her large and supportive online fan base glimpse behind the scenes, from Hales’ unique instruments (the glockenspiel is featured on the track “This Far”) to her pet corn snakes, Hubert Cumberdale and Jeremy Fisher, who often joined them in the studio. Now that the album’s out, we follow up with the Japanese American hapa.


Audrey Magazine: Why the title Elements?

Kina Grannis: I was looking over the titles [of my songs] one day — “The Fire,” “Dear River,” “Write it in the Sky,” etc. — and the word “elements” came to mind. The idea of the basic elements of life really struck me. To me, that’s what this album is all about: family, love and loss. Beginnings and endings, past and future.

AM: You wrote a lot of the songs in a cabin in the woods. Have you secluded yourself in nature to write before, or was this a new experiment?

KG: I’d actually never done this in the past. A sophomore album is an interesting thing. For the first album — in my case, Stairwells — you basically have your pick from all the songs you’ve written in your life, up to that point. And before Stairwells, I had all the time in the world to be writing. Since then, however, I’ve been touring and posting videos almost nonstop, so by the time I needed to start working on the new album, I had very few songs to start from. I started doing these retreats as a way to get out of my normal routine, connect to myself and nature, and really give myself a safe place to start flexing those creative muscles again. Thankfully, it ended up being a really natural and inspiring way for me to get back to writing.

AM: Can you talk about what inspired the song “Winter,” about the impending ending of a relationship?

KG: Strangely enough, “Winter” was inspired by a vase of dead flowers. I found them in one of the cabins I stayed in, and they were so beautiful, but there was something really sad about them to me. Soon enough, I found myself singing the chorus. This song really hit me hard emotionally when I was writing it — when I realized I wasn’t singing about the flowers at all.

AM: The song “My Own” features your two sisters. What was it like growing up with musical siblings, and how did that collaboration come about?

KG: My parents had a lot of instruments in the house [when we were] growing up. We had a grand piano, and under it, there were about 15 different assorted instruments, from violins to recorders to an accordion to a Japanese koto. Most of them didn’t really get touched by us, but just having them around led me to really experiment with music as a kid. My sisters and I used to sing together all the time — usually Disney songs, Christmas carols or whatever our favorite albums were. “My Own” came about one day when I was thinking about my family — how they are so unique and amazing and entirely mine.

AM: Looking back, was there a moment when you realized music was something you wanted to pursue more seriously?

KG: Before I even started taking singing seriously, and before it ever occurred to me to touch a guitar, I had that moment. I was at an annual Christmas concert when I was about 15. Something struck me so deeply, watching all these people standing in front of us and singing their hearts out, that I basically ran out of the concert balling. I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the night trying to figure out what was wrong, and that’s when it hit me. I felt if I didn’t make singing a main focus in my life, that I was going to be missing out on who I was.

AM: By the way, we love your new look! Was this just a fun change, or does it feel like the start of a different phase in your life?

KG: It definitely coincided with a new chapter in my life. I had been touring around, living a Stairwells-driven life for the better part of three years. When I got home after the last tour, it just felt different. There were also a lot of other significant changes going on in my life at the time. I felt the need to start this chapter fresh and uninhibited, and that’s when I said goodbye to 19 inches of hair.

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here

De-stress With These Earth Day-Friendly Products

In honor of Earth Day, here are some Earth Day-friendly products to help you de-stress:

1.) The new green line from a Victoria’s Secret model. Kora Organics by Miranda Kerr Daily Hand Creamkora
2.) Cleaning may be therapeutic, but cleaning with toxic-free products is divine. Simply Spotless New York Essential Cleaning Kit.
SS-NY

3.) No more toxic, smelly manicures at home with this unique water-based nail lacquer. Scotch Naturals in Roasted Mellow.
sn

4.) Their focus is on safe-for-baby products, so it’ll baby your sensitive skin, too. Erbaviva Body Wash.

bw

 


Speaking of stress…

Nagging headache? Can’t sleep? Not very productive at work? It could be stress. Left unchecked, chronic stress may play a part in up to 80 percent of diseases and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — everything from insomnia to hypertension to premature aging to even death.

And boy, are we feeling it. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey for 2013, 43 percent of women say their stress levels have increased in the last five years. In fact, the APA report showed that Millennials and Gen Xers experience the most stress and the least relief — they have higher stress levels than older generations and they are not managing it well. This is supported by a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which found that not only were women more stressed than men but 20-year-olds were more stressed than 30-somethings.

If that doesn’t scare you into de-stressing, how about these unsavory tidbits: Chronic stress leads to obesity, acne and infertility, and a recent study found that men found women with a high level of the stress hormone cortisol less attractive.

Stressing about de-stressing yet? Relaaaaaax. We’ve done the research for you and found a variety of experts to provide easy tips on how to take it down a notch in our everyday lives. CLICK HERE.  

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.

(image source)

Don’t Distress: De-Stress

Story by Anna M. Park. 

Nagging headache? Can’t sleep? Not very productive at work? It could be stress. Left unchecked, chronic stress may play a part in up to 80 percent of diseases and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — everything from insomnia to hypertension to premature aging to even death.

And boy, are we feeling it. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey for 2013, 43 percent of women say their stress levels have increased in the last five years. In fact, the APA report showed that Millennials and Gen Xers experience the most stress and the least relief — they have higher stress levels than older generations and they are not managing it well. This is supported by a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which found that not only were women more stressed than men but 20-year-olds were more stressed than 30-somethings.

If that doesn’t scare you into de-stressing, how about these unsavory tidbits: Chronic stress leads to obesity, acne and infertility, and a recent study found that men found women with a high level of the stress hormone cortisol less attractive.

Stressing about de-stressing yet? Relaaaaaax. We’ve done the research for you and found a variety of experts to provide easy tips on how to take it down a notch in our everyday lives.

 


MEDITATE
According to Marilyn Tam, the author of the best-selling book The Happiness Choice, meditation is natural. If you’ve ever “been in the zone,” where “there is no other thought; you are fully present and immersed in whatever it is you are doing” — that, she says, is a key aspect of meditation.” Here, Tam’s step-by-step guide to meditating.

1. Find a quiet space where you will be undisturbed. Turn off all electronic devices.

2. Give yourself a window of open time; to start with, it can be as short as 15 or 20 minutes. You may want to set a timer so that you don’t have to keep checking on the time.

3. Relax your body, stretch, move your arms and legs and gently roll your head from side to side and front to back. Sigh. Move your face muscles. Loosen the tightness in your body and mind so that you are able to be fully present.

4. Sit comfortably with your back straight in a chair or on a cushion. Let your hands lay comfortably on your knees or rest your hands on your lap, right hand on top of left, with your thumbs touching each other — this is the Samadhi mudra, the hand gesture that promotes calmness. Close your eyes or keep them half open, focusing on an object like a lit candle. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly and gently. Repeat without using force in your inhale and exhale. Observe your breath as you breathe in and out. When thoughts come, mentally push them aside without judging them. Return to your breathing. Continue on this cycle of breathing, clearing away thoughts, breathing.

5. At the end of the meditation time, slowly bring your consciousness back to your surroundings; make note of any insights you may have glimpsed in your quiet time.

A former corporate executive, Marilyn Tam, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, consultant and certified coach. Her radio show, The Happiness Choice, on FMG Network is broadcast globally to more than 30 million listeners. Find out more at marilyntam.com. 


SCENT
With rampant stress, “our bodies have lost the balance between our sympathetic (fight or flight response) and parasympathetic (repair and restore response) nervous systems ,” says Marc Zollicoffer, director of Aveda Spa Education. “We are in a constant state of flight or fight and not spending enough time resting and regenerating.” Based on studies that show that aroma has an effect on the brain’s hypothalamus, which controls the stress cycle in the body, clinical aromaologist Pierre Franchomme and Aveda created the Stress Fix aroma. Clinical testing showed that the aroma, a combination of certified organic French lavender, clary sage and lavindin (a hybrid of true and spike lavender) essences, relieves feelings of stress, significantly increasing positive moods and feelings of relaxation.
Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.37.22 PM

 

 


MASSAGE
Perhaps nothing is as stress relieving as a massage. At OleHenriksen Face/Body Spa, the Hot Stone massage uses volcanic basalt river rocks for their heat retention properties, combining thermotherapy with massage techniques. The treatment revs up the parasympathetic system, but it also has a metaphysical “earth energy component” for energy balancing — the masseuse literally bathes the stones in full moonlight every other month. You lay on a sheet, your spinal column nestled between two rows of river rocks, while the masseuse kneads your arms, feet and legs, placing warm stones on your chakras (along your torso, under the knees, even between the toes). According to the masseuse, the heat from the stones relaxes muscle groups and increases circulation and lymphatic drainage, allowing for deeper massage work due to increased blood flow. It’s like being kneaded with rounded, solidified silk, and afterwards the kink in our shoulder was almost gone and we drove home stress-free. Details Olehenriksen.com.

DIY MASSAGE
Can’t get to a spa? Treat yourself to a mini-facial massage at home to knead out tension, especially in the jaw and forehead. A luxurious massage milk with micro-collagens to plump skin. Massage on and go straight to bed — no rinsing necessary. Koh Gen Do Royal Massage Milk.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.42.29 PM

 

 


SLEEP
According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey, stress keeps 46 percent of women (and more than 52 percent of Millennials and 48 percent of Gen Xers) lying awake at night. And yet it’s sleep that we need to lower cortisol levels. Take steps to ensure you get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Cut back on caffeine, stop screen time (TV, iPad, smartphone) at least one hour before bedtime and go to sleep at the same time each night to set circadian rhythms. Spray your sheets with calming lavender and get a cooling orthotic pillow (like Proper Pillow, proper- pillow.com) specially made to properly align your neck and spine for a truly restorative sleep.

 


 

YOGA
Yoga instructor Sunina Young shows us how these poses can help de-stress, even if you’ve never done a downward dog in your life.

Yoga helps you retrain your stress response by encouraging you to fully focus on your breath through poses. You can use this practical breathing technique in any life situation as well. As you go through each pose below, breathe and simply let it go. If a stressful thought sneaks into your mind, mentally say a calming affirmation like,“I now release all feelings of stress.”

Breathing Technique for Poses:
Inhale through your nose for seven counts, exhale through your nose for eight counts. Let whatever you are feeling pass naturally. Repeat this breathing pattern throughout your poses.

Calming Pose 1 (Moderate)
Hero pose (shown below, left) is great for improved digestion, better posture and knee, calf, ankle relief (calling all ladies in heels!). Start by standing on your knees so they are aligned with your hips. Press the tops of your feet down and into the ground. Open your calves out to the sides and sit your hips down to the ground, your behind between your heels. (If your butt doesn’t touch the ground, sit on a yoga block or a rolled up yoga mat.) Sit up tall, twist to the right, right hand placed behind you, left hand resting on top of the right thigh. Stay for seven to 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side. Affirmation: “All the tension in my muscles release freely.”

Calming Pose 2 (Dynamic)
Camel pose is a back-bending pose that creates space in your chest and lungs for better breathing. Be sure your body is warmed up before you get into this pose. Start with your knees hip width apart and hands at your lower back, spine lengthened and tall, crown of the head neutral, shoulders rolled back. With a deep breath in, lean back slowly with your chin tucked in. Thighs are spiraling inwards to maintain a strong foundation as you lean back further. Lift your chest as you lean further back. Only lean back where your body threshold permits. Reach your hands back to your heels and extend your head back slowly. Stay for seven to 10 breaths. Affirmation: “I am cool, calm and collected.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.56.17 PM

 

Sunina Young is a yoga instructor and blogger in New York City. Check out her blog at sunina.com.


If all else fails, just laugh. “The very act of moving your facial muscles to form a smile is already prompting your body to release endorphins,” says Tam. “Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and to increase feelings of euphoria, so we feel fewer negative effects of stress.” At the very least, we’ll look more attractive to the opposite sex.

 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.

Audrey Women of Influence: ELAINE QUIJANO

Story by Shinyung Oh.

“Bridgegate” breaks on the morning of Wednesday, January 8, 2014. In New York’s CBS Broadcast Center, correspondent Elaine Quijano heads to the National Desk to seize the assignment. After talking to her producers, Quijano obtains a copy of the newly released emails regarding the shutdown of lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., allegedly ordered by Gov. Chris Christie’s staff as political retribution. First, she works on verifying their content. Then, she pores over the heavily redacted documents to try to decipher what is going on. At the same time, her team works on tracking down Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the rumored target of the retribution, to schedule an interview. Quijano fires off a draft outline to her producers before dashing out at 2 p.m.

Quijano hops in a cab to head to Fort Lee on the heels of her team members who left earlier in their satellite van. Unexpectedly, they encounter a traffic accident on West Side Highway. Panic sets in. The mayor has limited availability. The show airs at 6:30 p.m. Quijano calls her senior producers to update them while her mind races to make alternative plans. Should she hop on the ferry? Track down the mayor elsewhere? For Quijano, missing the interview is not an option. This is no time to be meek. She has to get the story.

The cab makes its way through West Side Highway and Lincoln Tunnel before finally pulling up to Fort Lee. Quijano interviews Sokolich and heads over to the George Washington Bridge where she will do her live shot. There she hunkers down in the satellite van to pull her story together.

In the segment that airs later that evening on CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, Quijano displays none of the panic that ensued shortly before. She gazes calmly into the camera, her shoulder-length hair pulled back with not a wisp out of place and white pearl earrings dangling placidly, as she reports the story that has the potential to bring down the rumored Republican presidential favorite for 2016. She’s home by 7:30 that evening to put her three kids to bed. It’s just another workday for Quijano.

Quijano, who is in her late 30s, lives a journalism student’s dream. Upon graduating from the University of Illinois, she worked at a couple of local stations before landing at CNN Newsource and then at CNN where she covered various beats, including the White House, the Pentagon and the Supreme Court. Now at CBS as a correspondent, Quijano reports for CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning. Ask whether she thinks of herself as a success, and she’ll brush it off. “Everyone defines success differently,” she says.

But by anyone’s standards, Quijano has climbed to the top of her field. She’s reported on stories as far reaching as 9/11, the election of George W. Bush, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On CBS Evening News alone, more than 6 million viewers watch her nightly as she reports on events like the inauguration of Pope Francis, the trial of “Whitey” Bulger, and the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. She works with some of the most renowned names in the field, including Scott Pelley, Charlie Rose and Bob Schieffer.

She talks as if she simply willed herself to reach these heights. “I’ve just been persistent,” she says about her career. “It requires absolute commitment. Your will has to be such that you endure.” But any ascent requires toil, and Quijano has had her share. Take this example. When Hurricane Sandy unleashed on the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, Quijano bundled herself in her down jacket and winter boots to meet the hurricane in Belmar, N.J. From 6 a.m. until noon, she stood in boots filled with frigid water, pants drenched, with sand pelting her as she clutched the exterior handrail of a nearby house to anchor herself. She worried about hypothermia and felt as if she was having an out-of-body experience. In the aired footage, the ocean bellows behind her and Quijano fights to keep her eyes open against the punishing rain and wind. But what you see is a reporter at work, steadily describing for her viewers the overwhelming force of Mother Nature and the imperative to evacuate.

At such moments, Quijano blocks out all else and sees only the mission at hand. “I live in the moment,” she says. “I concentrate on it 150 percent.”

Above all else, she is prepared. In her office, she has a closet where she keeps two bags, extra clothes and weather gear, like snow boots, hand and foot warmers and everything else she may need for wherever she is sent. On any given day, at any given moment, she may get launched on a story hundreds of miles away. “This is the worst,” she says, “to be unprepared.” She doesn’t even like wearing her suits to work, preferring to change once she gets to the office, for fear of getting a stain during her commute.

Quijano says that she was first attracted to broadcast journalism in part because of the adrenaline rush. But she does not look like an adrenaline junkie. Instead, she talks like a second grade teacher, ever patient, always calm. Watch her interview the parents of Newtown victims as she listens with the intensity of a psychotherapist, her face intent with empathy. “My objective is to hear what they want to say,” she says about her interview subjects. “I try to be compassionate and respectful and try to listen a lot more than I talk.”

Interviewing Sandy Hook parents was particularly difficult. At the time, her daughter was 6, the same age as the young victims. “I found it too easy to stand in their shoes, to know how to convey the stories for those parents,” she says.

When she has a choice, she prefers a walk on the lighter side. “I like stories where the viewer is left with the feeling that the world is not such a bad place to be — people coming to the aid of others, people overcoming things,” she says. “These resonate with me.” Her recent favorites? A story on Kid President, a 10-year-old boy with brittle bone disease whose homemade videos went viral. “I always root for the underdog,” she says. Then there is the story of Diana Nyad who, after several failed attempts, finally swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. This story appealed to Quijano because she takes to heart the message that failure is never final. “For many people who are struggling with whatever they have in their life, [Nyad] represents this goal — that you should do what you do. It’s a human story told within the parameters of a swim.”

When asked if she identifies with the underdog and what she had to overcome in her own history, she refuses to go there. “We’re not ones to navel gaze,” she says, referring to herself and her Filipino American family. “You do what you must.” For Quijano, failure is not an option, and it certainly does not have the last word. It barely registers on her mental barometer. She is too busy. She has stories to tell.

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.  

Phyllis Chen Proves Toy Piano Ain’t No Child’s Play

Story by Jimmy Lee. 

When you tell people you play the toy piano professionally, hearing snickers or getting a blank stare just comes with the territory. It’s something Phyllis Chen is not unfamiliar with.

“People used to turn their noses when they heard I played classical music as well,” says Chen. “But that’s OK. That’s not a major concern of mine.”

The more pressing matters on her mind include finishing her latest commission, a composition for string orchestra and toy piano, which she will debut in April in Austin, Texas.

Chen is just one of a few musicians demonstrating that the toy piano is not just a plaything for children. “When I touched it, it was like how I felt about the piano. I just loved the tactile experience of playing it and fell in love with the bell-like sound,” says Chen, who first came across the miniaturized instrument when she was 21 (it was being used as a prop in a puppet theater). Now she’s composing new pieces and releasing CDs highlighting the toy piano. “I knew that there wasn’t a lot of music out there for it, and it made me feel like I can create new repertoire for something that doesn’t have boundaries and the traditional thinking that is expected in classical music.”

There is, however, a lot of misconceptions about what Chen does. For one, she is not anything like Schroeder of the Peanuts comics and cartoons, playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on her toy piano. And she’s not the child whom producers from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno assumed she was when they inquired about her appearing — they weren’t interested in adult toy pianists, apparently. And some people who venture into one of her concerts might walk in with wacky expectations, like the one time a few audience members told Chen they thought she was going to be a miniature pianist (as in a small person).

“It’s a profession filled with misunderstandings,” says Chen.

Another refrain she hears often is that people who hear toy piano automatically assume it’s music meant for kids. But what she’s playing is verging on the avant-garde, and could even be construed as too arty; it’s music not for the masses. One of the first pieces she performed publicly was written by John Cage, the master modern composer most notorious for “4”33’,” which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the orchestra sitting in silence.

So how does a classically trained pianist, who started playing at the age of 5 and has music degrees from Oberlin (undergrad) and Northwestern (master’s) and is nearing completion of her doctorate from Indiana University, end up behind a toy piano? For Chen, it started with tendinitis that affected her hands. The doctors told her to take a break from the piano. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the actual chance to do my own thing,” says Chen.

Her hands, since childhood, have gravitated toward sonic-producing objects. She was the one who wanted to start the piano at age 5, not her immigrant Taiwanese parents, who moved Chen, born in Schenectady, N.Y., and her brother to the South when she was 1, after her father became a professor at Virginia Tech. “Now, thinking about it, I rented bassoons, oboes, clarinets and flutes — all these things when I was a kid. I just wanted to get my hands on them and play them,” recounts Chen. “It was again the tactile experience.”

She does still play the piano, often with the International Contemporary Ensemble that she co-founded. She has also tackled the violin and yet another keyboard instrument: “I was completely in love with the accordion, and I totally thought I would become an accordion player,” says Chen. She even joined a klezmer band, but bearing it on her shoulders was too much while dealing with her tendinitis. The toy piano, on the other hand, “was an easy instrument to play because of the light touch.”

Chen exhibited that touch at a concert last September at New York City’s Joe’s Pub, while seated on a short stool. Yet she still loomed large over two toy pianos, one in the shape of an upright and the other a baby grand. You not only hear the bell-like tinkling of the notes she plays, but also the movement of the keys as they’re being depressed. And it’s really noticeable when Chen’s fingers are flying across the few octaves that fit on the keyboards. Her instruments project a clangy sound that dissipates quickly. There are no rich, resonant tones that you’d expect from a concert Steinway. And Chen is perfectly fine with that.

“[Toy pianos are] really kind of like a voice. They all have their own weird quirks,” says Chen. “It’s funny, but I’ve met instrument makers who say, you should put this into maple wood, and I could tune it for you [to make it more like a real piano]. Well, then, it’s not a toy piano if it’s perfect, beautiful sounding.”

With the toy piano, there are no unwritten rules to be bound by. Rather, the toy piano is pushing Chen to be a better artist. “I don’t feel as musically stuck anymore, or stifled by the classical tradition,” she says. “Now I could finally give myself the permission to do whatever I want and take responsibility for it.”

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

FAKY: A Multiethnic J-Pop Group On The Rise

Story by Taylor Weik.

Japan has produced a number of girl bands over the years. You have Perfume, the vocal trio who formed in 2000 out of the talent academy Actors School Hiroshima. Then there’s AKB48, the 88-member group that has sold more than 21 mil- lion CDs worldwide. But no J-pop band has ever been compared to other international vocal groups, like Britain’s Little Mix or America’s Fifth Harmony. FAKY has been likened to both, and they have only been in existence for about a year.

It was last April at Avex Academy, a Japanese school for performing artists, that the five-member girl group formed. Tina, Lil’ Fang and Anna (at 21, the oldest and so-called leader of the group) had known each other through dance classes; Mikako was a part of the same program in a different region in Japan; and Diane was the winner of Avex Audition MAX 2013. Their name is “a combination of ‘fantastic’ and ‘Tokyo,’” says Tina, the youngest at 16. “Even though it sounds like ‘fake,’ we like to think we’re the most real group here in Japan.” Since FAKY’s formation, they have already released two music videos for their iTunes chart-topping singles “Better Without You” and “Girl Digger” (they sing in English and Japanese), and are currently putting the final touches on their debut album, due out in April.

Tina says she represents the reason why they consider themselves to be so “real” — the teenager is biracial Japanese American, born in Atlanta, Ga., where she lived for four years be- fore moving to Japan. There are two other bilingual members of the group: Diane, who is also biracial Japanese American, and Anna, who is Japanese but born in New Zealand. Though Lil’ Fang and Mikako were born and raised in Japan, they’re both learning English to help establish FAKY as a global sensation.

“What sets us apart from other J-pop groups is our independence,” says Tina, acknowledging the comparisons to various international groups. “We don’t wear the same clothes like others do. Each of us has a different personality and we’re multiethnic. We’re not identical robots!” Indeed, each member boasts varying vocal inspirations: Anna is a Britney Spears fan, Tina and Lil’ Fang prefer the strong vocals of Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, Diane leans more Lady Gaga, and Mikako is heavily influenced by J-pop bands.

Their fans are surprisingly diverse as well. FAKY takes special pride in the fact that their fanbase is largest in Turkey, and they hope to be able to visit the country one day on a world tour.

Right now, the girls are concentrating on voice and dance lessons, flying out to Los Angeles last October for training and to establish themselves overseas in the U.S. FAKY’s biggest goal as a girl group is to become role models for young girls, the demographic they most appeal to. “We want to encourage girls to be independent and not feel pressured by society,” says Tina. “As multiethnic girls, sometimes it’s hard for Diane and me to live in Japan. There are moments we feel like outsiders there, and even when we come to America, where I was born, we still feel like we don’t belong. We’ve grown to have strong cores, and we want to help others do the same.”

faky 2



This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.

Get Your Greens On

Story & Photos Christina Ng. 

With the exception of bok choy, most people are not all that familiar with Asian greens. But with springtime just around the corner and perhaps the novelty of salad waning, maybe it’s worth looking into. Asian greens are chock full of vitamins and contain a wide variety of textures. Unlike their western salad cousins, Asian greens are rarely eaten raw and can be quite filling as a dish. The best thing is most of these greens can be prepared in minutes and can satisfy whatever flavor mood you’re in.


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.22.40 PM
SAVORY: YU CHOY 

Yu choy or choy sum is a favorite in Chinese households. Both its mild flavor and firm yet tender texture make it an extremely versatile green. Depending on how old the yu choy is, the stalks can become mildly bitter and usually require a slight trimming before cooking. It’s usually sautéed with oil and garlic and topped off with a dollop of oyster sauce, which really brings out the yu choy’s sweetness. Yu choy is packed with iron and vitamins A and C, and has been referred to as a super green.

Yu Choy with Oyster Sauce

-Blanch yu choy in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on how crunchy you want the greens.

-In a pan, heat oil with chopped garlic until fragrant.

-Toss in yu choy and turn off the heat.


-Top with 1-2 tablespoons of oyster sauce and serve. 

 

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.23.47 PM
SWEET: CHINESE WATERCRESS

Chinese watercress is very similar in flavor to western watercress. The juicy stalks and peppery leaves lend itself well to soups, which is how the Chinese love to prepare watercress. As the watercress cooks, the pepperiness mellows and the leaves become sweeter. Watercress is known to be an anti-cancer superfood and is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and also in minerals like iron and calcium.

Sweet Watercress Soup

-Simmer 1⁄2 pound of cubed pork, a small handful of goji berries and a small handful of jujubes or dates with a quart of water for about 1 hour.

-Add in watercress and some cubed tofu and continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes.


-Add salt to taste. 

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.24.02 PMBITTER: BITTER MELON 

Bitter melon is similar to a lumpy, bitter cucumber, so by no means does its appearance or taste seem appealing, but surprisingly, bitter melon is very widely eaten across Asia. It’s packed with vitamin C and is used regularly in herbal medicines for digestion and diabetes. It’s also good in pork dishes, and many people will cook the melon with sugar or a sauce to diffuse the bitterness. Do remember to scoop out the center of the melon, as the insides are quite tough.

Bitter Melon with Minced Pork

- In a pot of boiling water, cook two bitter melons cut into 1⁄4-inch slices for 2-3 minutes.


- In a frying pan, brown 1⁄4 pound of minced pork with a teaspoon of minced garlic, soy sauce and rice wine. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.


-Toss in bitter melon and sauté for 30 seconds. Remove onto a plate.


- Deglaze pan with several tablespoons of water mixed with a little bit of cornstarch. Cook for 30 seconds until sauce thickens.


- Toss sauce with the meat and bitter melon. Serve warm.

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.24.11 PM
SPICY: TONG CHOY

The Chinese also call this water spinach kong xin cai, which literally translates to “hollow vegetable.” Tong choy is known for its crunchy, straw-like stalks. In the past, the green has been known to grow in waterways and canals, giving it the reputation of an unclean or unhealthy green. However, today tong choy is grown in farms across the U.S. and is a good source of vitamins A and C, folate and other minerals like magnesium and iron. Tong choy is traditionally eaten with fermented tofu, which is slightly fishy, spicy and creamy, and can be found in your local Asian grocery store. Some quick tips when cooking tong choy is to wash the stalks thoroughly as it does get very sandy. Also when cooking, try to put in the stalks first because it takes a little longer to cook than the more delicate leaves on top.

Tong Choy with Fermented Tofu

- Wash stalks thoroughly and cut stalks in half so that the bottom stalks are separated from the top leaves.


- In a pot of boiling water, cook stalks for about 3 minutes. Then put in leaves and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.


- Drain and add several cubes of fermented tofu into the greens. Mix until cubes are creamy and well combined
.

 

 


Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.24.22 PM
SOUR: SUAN CAI 

Sometimes referred to as the Chinese sauerkraut, suan cai is a lacto-fermented mustard green. Lacto-fermentation is different from pickling in that it doesn’t use vinegar, but instead uses the vegetable’s natural bacteria to ferment itself (like kimchi and sauerkraut). There are numerous health benefits associated with lacto-fermented foods, as it introduces good bacteria back into your body. The Chinese use it as a condiment, mixed with pork dishes or sprinkled on top of noodles. A word of caution: Although suan cai translates into “sour vegetable,” it is also very salty, so feel free to rinse the fermented greens prior to serving.

Minced Mustard Greens

-Chop packaged mustard greens into a fine dice.

-Put on top of noodles, mix with ground meat or use as a condiment. 

 

 

 

 

 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

ON THAT NOTE: Clara C

FULL NAME Clara Fisher

HERITAGE Korean American

AGE 26

CLAIM TO FAME After an eventful year (she got married, hence the name, and she released an acoustic album, Organika), the New York native singer-songwriter is currently working on, in her own words, “*drum roll*… Brand Spankin’ New Songs!”

Go-to karaoke song: “Forgot about Dre” or “Always Be My Baby.”

Last time I cried: Laughing with my friends.

Always makes me laugh: Stand up comedy.

Go-to comfort food: Ramen. No joke. I’m an addict and recently gave myself an intervention.

Last thing I ate: Garlic brussel sprouts, roasted butternut squash and agedashi tofu.

Currently on “repeat” on my iPod: Pharrell’s “Happy.” Trying not to listen to it too much because I don’t ever want to feel annoyed by hearing it.

A guilty pleasure I don’t feel guilty about: The. Spice. Girls.

Current favorite place: Any tropical waterside location. I dream of moving to Hawaii.

Favorite drink: I’m a whiskey lover with a growing collection.

Current obsession: DIY things. I’ve been building my own furniture, and it’s so addicting. It’s arts & crafts meets functional avant-garde artistry!

Pet peeve: Bad smells (breath, body odor, feet, etc.).

Habit I need to break: Hot Fries, Hot Cheetos, Hot Cheetos Puffs … the whole damn Hot Cheetos family needs to leave me alone! Or rather, I need to leave them alone.

Hidden talent: Latin ballroom dancing, i.e. salsa, mambo.

Talent I’d like to have: Drawing. Although my stick figures will give yours a run for their money.

Word or phrase I most overuse: I try never to over- use words or phrases. Keep it fresh on the daily.

Someone you follow on Twitter we’d be surprised about: I just logged in to see and I have no clue why or when I started following Harry Styles of One Direction.

Greatest fear: Spiders. Nasty little buggers.

Motto: Live, love, learn, laugh.

What’s cool about being Asian: Getting cash- money on New Year’s and Korean food.
My job in another life: Actress!

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

VOICES CARRY

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.34.43 PM
1) YUNA
“The Malaysian singer has gotten a lot of questions about her Muslim heritage since her debut in the United States, a country not accustomed to seeing a pretty girl in a turban singing and strumming her guitar onstage…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.36.48 PM
2) AWKWAFINA
“Nora Lum — the Chinese- Korean American rapper known as Awkwafina— admits that her catchy moniker doesn’t really mean anything. She chose it mostly because it sounded ridiculous as a rap name…” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.37.56 PM
3) PRISCILLA AHN
“Priscilla Ahn — the biracial Korean American singer-songwriter — was so skilled at creating music from feelings of sadness and loneliness that when she suddenly found herself happily married, she realized she was a bit lost. “ CLICK HERE to read full story.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.39.21 PM
4) ALLEY HER
“The fiery, scarlet-haired vocalist of the alternative metal band Fields of Prey never even listened to hard rock before she met her friend and former bandmate Ricardo Guevara in 2010. “All the screaming frightened me, to be honest,” remembers Alley Her…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.49.47 PM
5) HOLLIS WONG-WEAR
“That girl singing the hook from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit song “White Walls?” That would be Hollis Wong-Wear, a frequent collaborator with the Grammy-winning hip-hop duo — and the one who inspired Macklemore to write a song about his Cadillac…” CLICK HERE to read the fully story. 


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.50.49 PM
6) CHHOM NIMOL
“Chhom Nimol, 35, the lead singer of the Los Angeles band Dengue Fever, is part of a family of well-known musicians in Cambodia. Chhom’s brothers and sisters taught her how to sing while they were growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand…” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.52.13 PM
7) TERESA LEE
“While the 28-year-old is counting down the days to new motherhood (“I know this sounds insane, but I swear the baby is tapping out very distinct rhythms in my belly,” says Lee), she continues to write music and can’t wait to take their child on tour with them one day…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.53.21 PM
8) NADIA ALI
“Nadia Ali first garnered attention in 2001 for her band iiO’s hit single “Rapture,” the quintessential early 2000s dance song that inspired partygoers to get on their feet and lose themselves amongst the strobe lights…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.54.24 PM
9) THAO NGUYEN
“The first song I ever wrote was a rap song in the third grade. I had a choice to write a book report on Charlotte’s Web or to do something else, so I wrote a rap about Charlotte’s Web. My secret dream was to become a rapper, so it was a no- brainer that I would do a rap song at that age….” CLICK HERE to read the full story. 


Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 3.56.03 PM
10) CARISSA RAE
“One day in 2011, at a friend’s music video shoot, she met a boy, a fellow singer-songwriter named Michael Alvarado, and little did she know that after three hours of talking and laughing, he had told his friend he was going to marry her…” CLICK HERE to read the full story.

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here