Too many cakes

November 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm (chocolate, cooking, dessert, food, friends, international, wedding)

How did our weekend of cake tasting go?  It was fun, and mostly quite tasty.  That was all expected.  But I didn’t expect to be so confused.

Here are the results.  If you want the names of any of the bakeries, let me know and I can tell you.

You can use it to mark time

One egg cake

One egg cake from Mark’s father – He makes this every year for Mark’s birthday.  It’s quite sweet.  Both Mark’s father and the cake, especially the frosting.  But that’s not for the wedding.  That was just bonus cake.


Wedding cake baker #1


Wedding cake baker #1 – We liked the design options and we like the cost.  The design consultant was really nice and we talked about a custom-ish design that combined various designs that they already do.  And since we sort of designed it ourselves, we’re a bit attached to it.  But the cakes were either too moist (chocolate) or too dry (swirl or white).  The fillings were good, but not great.  So this would be a good option, but not perfect.

Wedding cake baker #2

Wedding cake baker #2 – These cakes were considerably tastier.  The flavors are also more interesting and the slices look much prettier (if you ignore the saran wrap – we picked up the slices from the baker and ate them at my sis’s apartment).  This baker would be more expensive, and we’d have to use one of the basic designs unless we want to pay even more money for a custom design.

dry, not good flavor, frosting no good

Cupcake place #1

Cupcake place #1 – Not very good.  Not worth talking about

more like muffins with frosting

Cupcake place #2

Cupcake place #2 – Better.  But not what we’re looking for.  All the cupcake places would be cheaper, but probably more effort for us.

It would have been nice to try other non-wedding cake cake places, but there’s only so much cake you can eat in one weekend.

We’re probably leaning toward tastier but more expensive.  I hope that I don’t see any leftover cake next July!

Speaking of leftovers, Thanksgiving leftovers have been turned into a curry turkey pot pie.  It’s baking in the oven right now.  I used turkey, gravy, and leftover cranberries from a pear-cranberry-almond tart.  And I also used some of the extra onion soup.  The curry part is inspired by our visit to a cooking class that my sister teaches.  It’s a class for HS students at a charter school.  We stopped by and enjoyed some curry chicken and roti and some creamy pasta.  It’s a neat idea for a class.  Each student has to do a little research on a country.  Then they bring in a recipe from that country, often where their families are from, and they cook it together in class.

The curry chicken is stuffed inside the roti before it's all pan fried in butter!

It was all really tasty!

Before all our leftovers turned into a curry turkey pot pie, this is what it looked like:

flavored w/ rosemary, thyme, sage, apple cider


Dinner is served

Designing the pear tart

Look at how the pears are kinda rosy.  It's so pretty.  It's from soaking dried cranberries with the poached pears

The result of their hard work

The curry turkey pot pie is done!  Good timing!

Smells and tastes as good as it looks



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Tin Tins around the world

May 3, 2009 at 2:37 pm (books, international)

Mark picked up some Tin Tin books in Brussels: two versions of the Crab with the Golden Claws.  One’s in English and the other is in Chinese.  It turns out that they have a ton of translations for Tin Tin, many of them are in languages that I’ve never heard of.

They also show the availability of all the Tin Tin books on the backs.  There are 24 Tin Tin books in English, but only 21 in Chinese.

Tin Tins in Chinese

Tin Tins in Chinese

Tin Tins in English

Tin Tins in English

That might be a little hard to see, so here are the ones that are translated to English but not Chinese (simplified):

img_4214 img_4212 img_4213

Why is Alph-Art, whatever that is, left off?

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Why do the French museums want me to be a student?

May 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm (architecture, international, review)

I’m not a student and I left my old student IDs at home, so I was fully prepared to pay the regular adult admission price at all the museums in Paris.  But at two museums, a significant fraction of the total # of museums that I went to, even though they asked me if I was a student and I said no, they still gave me the student price.  Why is that?

Some of the non-standard Parisian museums I recommend are the Musee Pasteur and La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (architecture museum).  The setup could use a lot of improvement at the Musee Pasteur, but I wound up learning a ton about Pasteur anyway.  Man, he did a lot!  Do you think that if I were doing science 100 years ago, I could have made more discoveries than doing science now?

Musee Pasteur

Musee Pasteur

I’m not so into the old architecture (but if you are, they have lots of casts and replicas of old buildings and it’s pretty neat), but the modern architecture sections were done really well.


Model at the architecture musuem

The Musée du Parfum was okay and worth a stop (it’s free) if you’re around the Opera area.  I was expecting a museum full of stuff to smell, but it was mostly a bunch of objects related to perfume, mostly bottles, and a store where they try to sell perfume.


Empty bottles of scents that would have been fun to smell

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Parisian Carb Count…

April 17, 2009 at 2:03 am (bread, dessert, food, international, travel)

… so far

Baguettes: 2

Croissants: 3

Pain au chocolat: 2

Macarons: 7

Assorted other pastries: too many to count



This baguette is from Boulangerie Julien.  It’s the pain de tradition.  So amazing!  The crust is perfectly crispy and the inside is flavorful and chewy.  The worse “crispy” and “chewy” don’t really capture how amazing the textures are.  When you break into it, it sounds and feels like heaven.  And that’s even before you bite into it.



More on the macarons later. I’m off to take advantage of the beautiful spring day and explore and eat more.

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It’s April, time to go to Paris

April 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm (dessert, food, international, marriage, travel, wedding)

Mark’s on a project based in Paris now and I get to go visit him!  I leave next week.  Maybe I’ll have some stories about April in Paris soon!

Here’s a little preview.  They’re some treats that Mark brought back a few weeks ago:

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Iowa, check!  47 more states!  We’ve already picked a wedding venue, in Massachusetts, but it’s nice to know that now there are 3 states where everyone can get married!

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Some quick reviews

August 2, 2008 at 11:37 am (books, dessert, education, food, ice cream, international, question, restaurants, review, san francisco)

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time – This guy, Greg Mortenson, is doing great things and building lots of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  And doing it with sheer will and good-naturedness and open-mindedness.  I found this to be very inspiring.  It made me more confident that I am taking the best next step for my career.  The writing is a little clunky at times, but the story and lessons are still really good.  Here’s the link to Amazon.  On Amazon, they appear to have pages for this book title as well as the old rejected title… “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations… One School at a Time.”  The rejected title sounds like something Karl Rove would have chosen for the title.  It looks like the terrorism version is hardcover and the peace version is paperback.  Maybe Amazon thinks that people who buy hardcover books would prefer to see what Mortenson is doing as fighting terrorism and building nations while people who buy paperback books prefer to see this mission as promoting peace?

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey to Perfection – Sequel to The Making of a Chef.  Very interesting insights about cooking and chefhood.  The first section is about the certified master chef exam.  The second is about a chef from Cleveland, Michael Symon.  And the last section is about Thomas Keller and the French Laundry.  I’m finding the section on the French Laundry to be particularly interesting.  Hearing Thomas Keller explain his insights and thinking to the author really fits with how, not reading this philosophy beforehand, I responded to the French Laundry experience.  They really spent the time to balance the flavors and portion sizes, and they took great care and effort to get the most flavor and color out of every ingredient, and that really came through when the plates arrived at the table.  I talked about “magic” in my French Laundry reports, but it turns out that it’s not magic.  It’s chilling the vegetables before blanching and then chilling them right away.  It’s straining sauces 20 times so that they’re incredibly smooth.  It’s washing bones before roasting them for a stock.  One thing that really impressed me is that they realize that a lot of effort and sacrifice goes into the raw ingredients – both with meat and vegetables.  And fungi as well?  So because of that, they treat the ingredients with as much care and respect as possible.  And they are careful to use every last bit of every ingredient.  But then again, they do talk about how if something isn’t blanched right or isn’t chopped right, it has to be tossed.  So that’s a bit of a contradiction.  But I guess if you just always do it right the first time, then there’s no need to waste the food?

Range – This last one is a restaurant.  I was pretty impressed and if I weren’t moving to NYC soon, I’d probably go back.  There were some really good items that we ate, and there were some things that really made me say “wow.”  For example, it turns out that lime and chive are a really good combination and really made the goat cheese and sorrel stuffed ravioli with lime butter and chives appetizer really pop.  Other highlight dishes included the

  • puree of squash soup with sour cream and dill – This soup had a really nice kicky flavor.
  • roasted chicken with a broccoli rabe, toasted almond and sausage bread salad – different from Zuni’s version; equally good, but in different ways.  Zuni’s version has really tasty big pieces of bread.  And a few other ingredients, but it’s mostly bread.  Range’s had vegetables, lots of nuts, and sausage, so there was more variety for your bites.  And I liked the lemony-ness.  Chicken was impeccably done.  One thing that could have been improved was that the veggies in the salad were too salty.  But overall, I enjoyed the dish.  It also makes really yummy leftovers – I tossed my leftovers with some extra bread, tomatoes, and some of the dressing that I had made for my tomato bread salad and it was a spectacularly delicious lunch.
  • cornmeal crepes with blackberries and wildflower honey gelato – the cornmeal crepes were so delicately flavored and textured.  Really yummy.  I expected the wildflower honey gelato to be delicate as well, but it was more like “pow!”
  • bittersweet chocolate and armagnac souffle – Pretty perfectly done souffle.

I also tried one of their cocktails.  I had heard that they were supposed to be good.  And when we arrived in the restaurant, the air smelled like fresh citrus.  Figuring that the citrus smell was from all the drink preparation, I decided that since the air smelled so good, the drinks must be good too.  So I tried the sungold zinger which is 209 gin, sungold tomatoes, agave nectar, and lemon.  I love sungold tomatoes.  It turned out to be much more lemony (Meyer lemony) than sungold tomatoey.  So it was good, but it was not what I was expecting, so that was disappointing.  If you call it a sungold zinger and not a Meyer lemon zinger, I’m going to expect more sungold tomato flavor.

One last thing – I saw balut eggs being sold at the egg stand today.  If you don’t know what balut is and you want to find out, you’re going to have to do your own google or google image search.  I don’t want to put in links or images and then be responsible for grossing someone out.  But my question is if I buy balut eggs from the egg guy at the market, can I incubate it and get a duckling?

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Houston, that’s really embarrassing

July 29, 2008 at 7:47 am (environment, international, random, san francisco)

From an article from NYTimes about Houston’s recycling:

It is the worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities.

Houston recycles just 2.6 percent of its total waste, according to a study this year by Waste News, a trade magazine. By comparison, San Francisco and New York recycle 69 percent and 34 percent of their waste respectively. Moreover, 25,000 Houston residents have been waiting as long as 10 years to get recycling bins from the city.

Yay, San Francisco!  I love San Francisco.  Plus, the city collects compost!  That’s awesome!

Here’s info on other cities:

I guess it’s the NEW YORK Times, which is why they quote the NYC number, but it’s also pretty embarrassing for NY to be so far behind other cities like SF, LA, San Jose, San Diego, and Chicago.  It’s barely above the national average!  And why did they exclude Boston?  Is this a Red Sox thing?

Okay, here’s the update after looking at

It looks like they cut it off based on population, and the cities in their bar graph are the most populous cities.  Here’s the rest of the list that’s available:

  • Austin 27.3%
  • Memphis 26.0%
  • Fort Worth 22.2%
  • Baltimore 42.0% (That’s unexpected, but that’s not bad)
  • Charlotte 10.6%
  • El Paso 16.0%
  • Boston 15.0% (Boston, you should be ashamed!)
  • Seattle 44.0%
  • Washington 22.0%
  • Milwaukee 24.0%
  • Denver 10.3%
  • Las Vegas 16.0%
  • Nashville 28.0%
  • Oklahoma City 3.0% (It’s a good thing there’s Houston, otherwise, you’d be getting the shameful headline.)
  • Portland 62.0%

Doesn’t seem to be correlated with size.  So that’s no excuse.  Based on the patterns that you do see, my guess is that weather and willpower are key factors for having high recycling.  But Baltimore is pretty high.  As is Chicago… so I don’t think weather can be an excuse either.

You know what other city is doing embarrassing things?  Beijing is erecting screens to hide some areas for the Olympics.  Beijing, we can see the screens and we can tell you’re hiding stuff.  And this whole issue appears to to beyond appearances, so there are other interesting bits in the article.

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Be inspired to dance and travel

July 26, 2008 at 1:32 pm (international, random, travel)

This video made me laugh and smile.  And it made me want to dance.  And it made me want to travel around the world and see all those amazing sights and meet interesting people.  Fortunately, I’ll be able to have a post-PhD trip so I’ll be able to do all those things!

Here’s a video of outtakes:

If you still haven’t had enough of the silly dancing and of the beautiful sights, here’s one more:

Any suggestions for where we should travel?

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Bei jing, not Bei zhing

July 4, 2008 at 12:30 am (games, international, sports)

Why do people say “Bei zhing” and not “Bei jing?”  Not only does pronouncing Beijing as “Bei jing” make more sense because that’s how it’s spelled in the Romanized form, “Bei jing” actually sounds more like how Beijing natives pronounce the name of their city.  Where did this “Bei zhing” come from?

I love a good cheesy Olympics athlete story.  Dara Torres is 41 and competing to qualify for the Olympics, 24 years after her first trip to the LA Olympics in 1984.  Competing against people that could barely walk or who weren’t even born during her first Olympics trip.  She volunteers for urine and blood tests to prove that she is not doping.  And her times now are faster than her times from 24 years ago.  In fact, she set her personal best tonight in the semifinals of the 100 M freestyle race, qualifying for the finals in 2nd place.  That’s spectacularly amazing.

From a NYTimes article from Nov 07:

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Pagolac – Space and Time Warp to Vietnam

June 20, 2008 at 8:24 am (dessert, food, international, restaurants, review, san francisco)

I went to Pagolac (Yelp, Menupages) in the Tenderloin last night with a fun crew of dinner eaters.  We were in San Francisco, but throughout the whole dining experience, I kept having all these flashbacks to being in Vietnam.  It was an unusually warm night for San Francisco, so that helped.  The rest of the effect is probably from the comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere inside and from the great food.  One result of all this good Vietnam food and the Vietnamness was that I had this flash of worry when one dessert came with ice: “Oh no, we forgot to ask for no ice!  We can’t eat this.” While this is a common thought when traveling in places like SE Asia, I don’t usually have that instinctive reaction in the U.S.  (I should note that this reaction wasn’t because the place looked unsanitary… I think it was because I felt like I was away from home.)  Also, when passing through the tiny, cramped kitchen in the back, because it was extra hot back there, I felt like I was a kitchen in Taiwan or Vietnam or another hot Asian country.

More about the food:  pretty much everything was great.  I especially liked the imperial rolls (with taro inside!).  There was also a really interesting noodle (fat rice noodles) dish with dried shredded pork, coconut milk, and other toppings.  Anything wrapped up in rice paper with noodles, herbs and greens, and fish sauce (assembled ourselves) was great.  The imperial rolls were really yummy eaten this way as was a shrimp ball wrapped around sugar cane.  Such a symbiotic relationship with the sugar cane and the shrimp – both components come out way tastier when cooked together.  (You’re supposed to chew the sugar cane to get the juice out rather than chew to swallow.  But if you’d like a little bit more fiber in your life, it can be eaten, as we all witnessed last night.  Mark, thanks for the demo!)  The best dessert we had was this rice pudding and taro dessert – it also had coconut milk.  It was so warm and pleasant and comforting and yummy!

I’d recommend staying away from the ice cream because while it was flavorful, the texture wasn’t great.  There are way more yummy things to eat at Pagolac so there’s no need to order the ice cream, in my opinion.

I haven’t reviewed the dishes and pottery of a restaurant in a while, probably because I haven’t seen anything memorable.  But Pagolac had some great pieces.  They had this one black bowl with pale yellow flowers carved to look like they were scattered on the inside of the bowl – really pretty.  And they had this four-sided teapot with an amazing glaze job – a tenmoku-like (black/copper/red) top, a narrow yellow band, and most of the base was blue.  The different glazes all flowed together and it was very fiery and organic at the same time.

Happy travels!

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