No gas at the gas stations, but I found some gas in Atlanta

September 30, 2008 at 5:34 pm (friends, politics, travel)

I just got back from Atlanta, the land of gas shortages.  And the land of really long and disorienting escalators.  For some reason their subway system is really far underground.  So are various parts of the airport.  So they have these really long escalators.  To make it even worse, they put tiles next to the escalators that aren’t lined up with the up and down as gravity sees it.  So in the middle of these escalator tunnels, you can’t see anything outside of the tunnel to orient yourself, and they have these confusing tiles.  So you don’t know which way is up.  And you don’t know if you’re going up or straight forward.  I would hold on to the railings to steady myself, but I recently heard about how someone witnessed a person rubbing body parts against the escalator railings in a subway station… you’ll have to find this person yourself and ask her for more details.

Which way is up?  Is Mark standing straight on a moving walkway?  Or is he going down an escalator?

Which way is up? Is Mark standing straight on a moving walkway? Or is he going down an escalator? This is a photo from a trip to ATL a few years ago.

Other than these issues, I had a fun time.  That brings me to the second part of the title of this post.  I visited Rosa and Baron and their new outrageously smiley and adorable baby Braelynn.  (It’s okay to talk about gas when it’s coming from babies.  Farts and burps are cute when they are baby farts and baby burps.)

Da, for some reason, decided to call her Bubbly while she was still in utero.  It turns out that she was very prescient.  Or maybe she just realized that all babies have gas and make spit bubbles.

It doesn’t take very much to make this baby smile.  Waving a blanket in front of her face makes her ridiculously happy for an amazingly long time.  When she holds the blanket her self, she moves it to her face, makes snorting noises, and has a huge grin on her face and kicks her feet in excitement.  I’m not sure what’s she’s getting out of the snorting the blanket, but it is very stimulating for her.  Actually, this baby is continuously excited and doesn’t stop kicking her feet.  I wonder if she’ll wear herself out!

We also went to the aquarium.  I saw the big whale sharks and the big manta ray.  They’re BIG.  The tank is also big, but you don’t really get that feeling because you can’t see the whole tank at once.

Guess which one is the whale shark...

Guess which one is the whale shark...

Whale sharks apparently are filter feeders.  We watched a feeding… they look like vacuum cleaners and the water just gets sucked right into their wide flat mouths.  I couldn’t get a good photo because when they are feeding like this, they are also moving fast, and those photos came out very blurry.

It was all pretty mesmerizing, for adults and babies alike.

Okay, so maybe the huge football stadium-sized tank wasn't enough to keep Braelynn's attention for the whole time, but there were lots of people to watch also

There were other mesmerizing things at the aquarium, like the blinking lights on my camera.

Now I’m back in DC.

On an unrelated note, I hope I don’t get disenfranchised.  I had to reregister because I moved.  But I’m not sure that it went through.  But this is an important election year!  I’ll be registered in California, so my vote probably won’t matter much for the presidential election.  But there are other issues at stake:

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DC Cupcakes

September 26, 2008 at 7:08 am (dessert, food, review, travel, washington dc)

To break up the monotony of museum-going, I’ve been sampling cupcakes around DC.

Caveat – I’m not a big fan of cupcakes.  No, that’s not true.  I’m not a big fan of cupcakes as they are sold in cupcake stores.  They’re usually too sweet and have way too much frosting.  So, of course, I prefer the way that I make cupcakes:

Hello Cupcake – I tried one with chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting, and one with lemon cake and raspberry frosting.  The cakes were flavorful, moist and tender.  That’s good.  They were a little too dense, in my opinion.  And slightly too sweet.  The flavor of the frosting was good, but I’m not a fan of the texture, which was too crystally and not smooth enough.

I also tried Georgetown Cupcakes.  Mark and I tasted 4 different kinds – Key Lime, Caramel Apple, Red Velvet, and Chocolate (cake) Mint (frosting).  The cake texture was more bready, a little less tender than the Hello Cupcakes.  But still pretty moist.  Like the Hello Cupcakes, I thought these were too dense.  The sweetness level (not too sweet) of the cake was pretty good (but still not unsweet enough!).  The frosting was smoother, lighter and fluffier, which I prefer, but it also wound up being kind of crusty on the surface of the frosting, which was not appetizing.  You can see this crustiness in the photos below where the frosting has shifted around and the crust has cracked.

I don’t prefer either place.  I think I’d want to combine features of both – the GC had a sweetness level that I liked, but the flavors were a brighter and stronger at HC.  I prefer the cake texture of HC, but I prefer the frosting texture of GC, despite the crustiness.  The only things that really distinguished one from the other were that GC was $0.25 cheaper, and the cupcake display was much lovelier.

Am I alone in preferring cupcakes that are more fluffy and less dense?  Or in preferring less frosting?  Or in preferring less sweetness all around?  Is there a market for such cupcakes?  If I didn’t think the cupcake market was saturated and the cupcake trend on the tail end, and if I thought that there’d be a market for cupcakes like these, I’d consider opening a cupcake place.  But since both of these conditions are probably not met, I’ll stick to my day job.

Here’s my prediction for the next dessert trend – macarons.  These are merenguey cookies made from almond paste, egg whites, and sugar.  And they have filling sandwiched between two of these cookies.  They’re already getting some attention, and their popularity is going to explode.  My friend Hamutal introduced me to them in Paris back in 2002, and it was nice to think of these as our secret treat.  And you had to be “in the know” to know where to get them.  They are more available now in the US, but the tradeoff is that it’s no longer our secret treat.

Eating macarons in Paris

Eating macarons in Paris

The macarons are from Laduree

The macarons are from Laduree

Macaron from Miette in SF, after I took a bite out of it

Macaron from Miette in SF, after I took a bite out of it

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Dr. Chiang Goes to Washington

September 21, 2008 at 6:18 am (travel)

I’m on the east coast.  In DC specifically.  Here’s proof:

The skies on the east coast are so much more exciting compared to the west coast.  Plus, I kinda like how the clouds are only on one side of the Capitol… What does that mean…  Here’s an aerial view.  Of a scale model:

Here’s something else that’s different out here in the nation’s capitol.  I had to go to the ER.  (Don’t worry, everything’s okay!  That’s a story for another day, maybe.)  I signed in with my name and sat down in the waiting room.  I noticed that the triage nurses would come out and call people’s names and look around the room to see who responded.  When it was my turn, the nurse came out, looked directly at me, and called my name.  I feel so special!  Actually, it’s just there are very few Asians around here, and I was definitely the only one in the waiting room.

Another story for the ER:  You know how you have to wait around for a long time in the ER, once you get out of the waiting room?  Here, they have nurses coming around to offer free HIV testing.  While you wait.  So no extra time and no extra cost to any of the patients.  And they test your saliva, so it’s easy to get samples.  Very smart thing to do.

More things that are different in DC compared to SF:  The statues are really statues.  I saw the guy below on a sidewalk.  There were some people taking pictures of him and with him.  I kept expecting his mouth to start whirring and for him to make robotic movements, like all the silver guys that you see on the sidewalks in SF.  Then I thought, wow, this guy is pretty good at being like a statue.  No, he’s actually a statue.  Unless he really fooled me!

I love the free museums!  It means that I can go in and out and I don’t have to worry about getting my money’s worth!  Museums are much more fun that way.  So far, I’ve gone to half of the Natural History Museum – and I can go visit the other half any time that I want!  And here’s a photo of the Nat’l Building Museum.  The building was pretty interesting.  Very over-dramatic, with an odd mismatching roof.  Their exhibits were okay (Da, you might like it), but the exhibits took up less than 10% of the space in the museum.

Mark’s doing a fellowship at the National Academies.  Here’s a photo of a quote on the side of the building:

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Very Good Taste’s Omnivore’s 100

September 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm (food)

Okay, I want to join in.  Very Good Taste, “a blog about eating and drinking,” posted this list of 100 things that “every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life.”  They are suggesting that other bloggers post this list, highlight the items that they’ve tried, and cross out ones that they’d never try.  I’m adding an additional category – italics for items that I’m not sure if I’ve had.  Here we go!

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
– Don’t get mad!  I don’t eat this regularly.  I just tried it once.  To see whether I thought it was so delicious that it was worth torturing geese.  It’s good, but not that good.
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper – Yikes!  I don’t think I’d survive!  I can’t even touch one.  My skin is really sensitive!
27. Dulce de leche – This is the filling in alfajores!
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda – Sounds yummy!  Definitely want to try these
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi –
not as good as a mango lassi, though.  But that may be because I’m a mango fiend!
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float – I’ve definitely smelled scratch and sniff stickers with this scent.  But not sure if I’ve actually tasted them.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo – I made this once and didn’t have a good idea of how hot the cayenne pepper powder!  I had to go out and get extra okra so that I could double the recipe to half the power of the cayenne.  And it was still way too spicy!
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insectsI had to get it into my mouth really fast and without thinking. Tastes like ro song!  Aka pork song.  That’s another thing to add to the list.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk – One time even straight from the goat’s teat!  (I didn’t suck the teat, it was squirted from the teat into my mouth!)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone – One thing that I can’t bold is abalone diving!  That’s one thing that I want to try!  You have to free dive and it has to be below a certain depth and the abalone that you take has to be a certain size.  So it’s tough!  But just the idea of getting your own abalone, grilling it on the beach with some lemon… yum!
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal – I probably won’t wind up eating this, but that’s because there will be other, better things to eat.
56. Spaetzle – Sounds like it’d be fun.
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin – What’s that?  Couldn’t even find it on Wikipedia!
64. Currywurst
65. Durian – I tried to try it.  But I didn’t want to buy a whole durian to try one.  And when I saw a woman with segments of durian (I think it was Thailand), she wouldn’t sell me any.
66. Frogs’ legs – My relatives tricked my little sister into trying this.  In Chinese it’s literally “field chicken.”  So that’s what they told her.  She caught on when they started talking about how this kind of chicken likes to jump.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake – All of the above and more please!
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho – Made some for the first time a few weeks ago!  Yay for having an abundance of tomatoes and leftover bread in the summer.
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill – Yikes!  I think this theoretically depends on how long it’s been killed and what it is, but very unlikely.
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie – I have a confession:  I used to love these as a kid!
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
– A lot of these things are just snacks that I ate all the time!  It probably helps that I grew up in an “ethnic” household.
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurantFun and exciting!
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare – Ha ha!  I first read this as ha-re rather than hare.  What’s ha-re?  I think it’s actually just hare, like the rabbit-like animal.
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish – The best is cha ca in Hanoi!  Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi is fun.  You can find a decent version at Bodega Bistro in the Tenderloin in SF.
95. Mole poblano – Just had a really good version a few days ago by El Buen Comer.
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor – I may be too young!  Where does one find this dish?
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake – Ha ha, my relatives tricked my other sister into trying this soup.  They wanted her to try it to help her skin.  Again, they claimed that it was chicken.  It tastes much more like chicken than frog does!  I saw an episode of Man vs Wild.  He was in the Deep South.  He caught a snake and broke its spine with his teeth and then ripped the flesh also with his teeth.  Apparently, you have to be really carefully not to eat the partially digested and rotting meals that the snake has eaten.  He also killed an alligator with his bare hands and a knife.  He also caught a catfish with one hand.  I wonder how many of this list of 100 he’s eaten.

I’d add this Thai street snack – these coconut custard crispy things.  They’re really good.

53 plus 3 maybes.  1 (very likely) no.  I guess I have to keep eating!

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Finally, a tasting event that didn’t leave me disappointed!

September 13, 2008 at 10:48 pm (dessert, food, recipes, restaurants, san francisco)

I often get lured into going to these tasting events.  Like Ghirardelli Square’s annual festival.  Or the chocolate festival.  There have been others.  I wind up thinking that I paid too much to enter and the things that I tasted weren’t worth the money.  I finally went to one that turned out to be as great as the tasting events of my imagination.

Last night, I went to an event by La Cocina, a SF organization to help low-income women start up food-related businesses.  Great goal – supporting people AND yumminess.  And they have a really cute logo – it’s a bird with a whisk in its beak.  It was a $5 donation to enter.  And we got to taste lots of yummy food.  The highlights included:

  • a really tasty tamal from El Buen Comer – the mole was really flavorful and chocolatey.  You can find them at the Noe Valley farmers market.
  • Embrace Sweets had nearly perfect brownies.  It was perfectly cakey and fudgey.  Chocolate flavor was pretty good.  Sweetness was slightly too sweet for me, but it was close.  Viva La Brownie!

  • Sabores del Sur!  They are the ones that make the delicious alfajores and they are the ones that gave me a cookie for free last week!  And they make delicious empanadas.  I had a veggie one.  The crust by itself is really flavorful – unusually so.  And the filling was pure yumminess.  They can be found at the Alemany farmers market.
  • Claire’s Squares – these are bars with a crust, caramel, and chocolate.  Quite yummy.  But they didn’t seem to want to sell any.  Christina waited for several minutes, money in hand, to buy stuff, but the woman at that table didn’t want to take her attention away from the really chatty man talking to her.  But they are still really delicious treats.

  • CMB Sweets has really yummy jams and preserves with really interesting flavors.  I got one small jar of kiwi-lime-ginger, and one small jar of pomegranate.  I love the small jars of jam… they are perfect for me!
  • They had wine and a couple of different punches.  The wine that I tried was a Malbec, which was the first one of this variety that I’ve tasted.  It went really well with the spicy foods.  One of the punches was spectacular and ingenious.  It was chai (specifically, Morning Glory Chai), vodka, simple syrup, and peppercorns.  Maybe there were other ingredients.  It was yummy.

Another thing that made this event so great was that everyone was friendly.  We were packed like sardines.  Or like the filling of an empanada or a tamal.  But everyone was smiling, joking with each other, and talking to each other to coordinate their movement.  There was one group of people who wanted to take a picture of themselves and stuck their arm out with camera in hand.  Some other person was looking at their camera LCD screen to help them to all fit in the screen.  They eventually realized that it was just easier to for the other guy to take the picture, but I like the sentiment.  All the people at the various tables were also really friendly and generous and helpful.  I don’t feel like we got scammed like with other events, so it makes me want to buy more stuff from these businesses.  And it definitely makes me want to spread the info about how delicious their stuff was.  The stuff was delicious.

On an unrelated note, I think that the thing I will miss most about San Francisco is how the city collects compost.  What will I do with all my food scraps and other compostable items?  It will kill me to have to toss them into the trash.  It already kills me when I have to do that at my parents’ house.  Maybe I can find a convenient place for me to drop compostable items off in New York City?

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The science of juicing lemons

September 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm (cooking, fruit)

Here’s a video of an experiment about juicing lemons. They juiced a lemon that had been cut crosswise and one that had been cut lengthwise.  The lemon cut lengthwise yielded almost three times as much juice.  I would have liked to see experiment repeated with multiple lemons, different people, different juicing methods, etc. before I’d accept the results as conclusive.  But I’ll probably start cutting my lemons lengthwise to juice them.

But here’s the really interesting question.  At least in my mind.  Why do you get more juice when you cut it lengthwise?  And how would you test whatever hypothesis you come up with?  Maybe McGee has something to say about that, but my copy is all packed up and ready to be loaded into a storage/moving cube tomorrow!

And apparently having the citrus at room temperature is also good.

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Last things

September 6, 2008 at 2:37 pm (dessert, food, random, san francisco)

I took my last trip to the Alemany farmer’s market today.  I got lots of sweet summer goodies!  Corn!  The alfajores lady was giving away samples, so I got to eat half of one of their large alfajores.  I would be much more sad to leave SF if I had to leave without eating one of these.  They’re flaky, light cookies that are filled with dulce de leche. Here’s a photo that I took of one from a year or so ago.

I also I had my last earthquake last night.  At  least, I hope that’s the last one!

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