Archive for March 2011
I don’t often have deep thoughts on this blog, and I’m totally okay with that. In fact, I’m not even sure anyone reads this, but that’s okay with me too.
A month or two ago, I got a library card in the town where I work. It just happens that there is a decent sized branch about a mile away from my office, so I constantly have a book or two checked out from there. The really funny thing about my library trips is that while I sometimes have a specific book in mind before I go, I usually end up perusing the "display shelf," which is right in the front of the library near the entrance. I’m not really sure who decides what goes on the display shelf, but so far it’s yielded some good finds for me.
This last time, I checked out Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. These were all randomly found on the display shelf. I’d originally gone to get Eugenides’s Middlesex, but these other three caught my eye. (You may be amused to know that I saw Middlesex on the display shelf, but apparently they were all checked out and I would have had to visit the actual shelf to get a copy this time.)
The greatest thing about the display shelf is that I don’t have to think too hard about what to read next. It does the browsing for me and gives me a few suggestions. It’s like an old-fashioned version of Google Ads only better!
I decided to read Interpreter of Maladies first, and I’ve already mowed through three of the stories in quite short order. (I read quite diligently during my lunchtime and on the train each way.) Short stories are perfect for my commute because I can easily consume an entire story without having to invest too much into a much larger plot. Then again, the novels are so much more satisfying because the stories are usually much more complicated and intriguing.
What are you reading lately?
I found a recipe at The Kitchn for Soon Dubu Jigae (soft tofu stew) and decided that I would try making it at home myself. Soon dubu has always intimidated me because it sure seems like a lot of ingredients to get together. Plus, I don’t have the stone bowl or any Korean in me. Then again, it’s probably not that difficult to make good soon dubu, but it just seems scary because I’ve never made it before.
This recipe seemed doable because I already had the majority of the ingredients in my house. The only thing I had to buy was the dried shrimp, which I’ve never used before but turned out to add quite a nice little flavour to the dish.
Since I used kimchi, it has a very strong kimchi garlic flavour, which is great for me, but maybe not for everyone. Also, a friend who came over and tried it remarked that it was at the top of his spicy tolerance, again probably due to liberal use of the kimchi. Personally, I only thought it was medium spicy. Of course, I make mine vegetarian, so there’s no meat or seafood in it. Maybe next time I’ll experiment with trying different meats, but for now I’m trying to keep it simple with just mushrooms and tofu.
Speaking of home cooking, we’ve been restricting our dining out to only a few times a week with great success. I usually bring my lunch to work so I can eat the food that I want to eat instead of heading out to a restaurant, and the Mister is finally understanding that bringing your own lunch is so much more satisfying than eating out everyday. He likes cooking a large pot of food at night and then bringing the leftovers with him the next day to work. It’s been saving us a bunch of money and we don’t feel bad about having to buy a lot more groceries than before, which of course ends up being cheaper than going out to eat all the time. Then again, we tend to eat a lot of cheaper items like cabbage, which helps keep the food bills down. Then again, we just end up spending the rest of our food budget on beer anyway, but we usually justify that to ourselves by reasoning it’s way cheaper than drinking beers at the pub.
I’ve recently started to learn Chinese characters and have been using the site Learn Chinese Everyday. There are a lot of sites out there, but I like this one a lot because it chooses a character to teach you each day (weekdays only) and provides both simplified and traditional forms of the character.
You probably don’t know this about me, but as a child I attended Chinese School every Saturday for about 4-5 years. I never really got far with learning, and was constantly being placed back into classes with younger children. The problem was that most of the kids at the school already spoke Chinese and were just learning how to write the characters. I can write endless pages of characters as much as the next person, but learning how to use them really frustrated me. To this day, a 5 year old can totally crush me with their Chinese language knowledge.
In order to learn Chinese again, I’m relying a lot on the Mister and this Learn Chinese Everyday website. It helps a lot that the Mister is being quite helpful to me as far as answering questions on how to use a word, but it’s also unhelpful that he has a Beijing accent (which he says isn’t so strong, but I still think he’s making me insert unnecessary Rs into pronunciation). That said, he is really an invaluable resource as far as helping me learn how to use the characters I learn.
We’ll see how well this Chinese language thing goes. I was thinking of asking the Mister to institute a Chinese-only environment at home, but it’s quite unrealistic at this point since my knowledge is so little. We do try watching the Chinese news every so often, but I usually end up getting bored and switching it to a Korean or Japanese drama instead. I guess what I should do is just watch a lot of Mandarin dramas in the hopes that being exposed will help get me used to hearing words and sounds, which may help with my listening comprehension when my vocabulary catches up.
I do this bait-and-switch thing where I bring friends to places that serve sweets, somehow convince them to get something, and then I utterly fail to get anything for myself because I don’t really like sweets that much. Well, you could probably chalk it up to me being overly controlling about what I eat and when, and that I can be terribly picky when it comes to desserts. I also get toothaches after eating very sweet oranges, so maybe the overly sweet American dessert scene just ain’t made with me in mind.
But wait, let me start with a little shopping story first.
This Sunday, I got to hang out with a friend around the Tenderloin/Union Square area. We ate Vietnamese food on Larkin and then I sneakily convinced him to go to H&M with me, where I tried on spring coats. (Getting boys to go shopping can be quite difficult.)
I was there to get some stretchy long-sleeve shirts to wear under my summer dresses, but I couldn’t find any shirts that I liked. H&M usually has really good basic lycra/cotton shirts, but I guess it’s too late in the season for the long-sleeved ones. They had plenty of short-sleeved shirts and tank tops, but that doesn’t really help when it comes to keeping me warm in a cold office.
So this is where I have to mention that, for a girl, I’m pretty bad at clothes shopping, usually getting annoyed in less than an hour by the crowds and frustrating sizing (too big/too small in all the wrong places). I try to stick to places like H&M where the sizing has been rather consistent and none of that vanity sizing business. Also, the fit at H&M seems to work for my body shape for the most part, but it looks like that might be changing soon.
Seems that I’ve shrunk a size in their clothes, which is odd because all my clothes at home fit me exactly the same as they use to. Is H&M starting to use vanity sizes? Or maybe the clothes are just running a bit large this season, since the style has been more floaty loose clothing than previously. But you know what? I’m blaming vanity sizing!
However disappointing, I still managed to find a nice spring trench coat and two cardigans that still had a slim fit. My friend was looking for a jacket, but all of them were either too trendy looking or just plain large, so he settled for a pair of pants instead.
Afterwards, we wandered around Union Square and ended up heading into the big mall at Powell Street to escape from the rain. Of course, we eventually ended up at the food court in the basement, walking around and checking out all the treats.
And this is where I did the usual bait-and-switch with the desserts. I managed to lead my friend to Beard Papa, where he ended up getting two cream puffs, one cookie crunch puff and one regular puff, both filled with regular vanilla cream. Then we found an empty table and I took photos of the cookie crunch cream puff while he was eating it.
I like taking photos of food, especially popular sweet desserts, but I often don’t like eating them, so it’s good having friends who are willing to buy and eat them with me so I can take photos. Most of my sweet-toothed friends don’t really complain when they end up getting something sweet while I just sit and watch, which is probably why we’re still friends. I can’t imagine that someone who thought this was torture would continue to hang out with me, but maybe some of my friends are masochists.
I haven’t been baking bread nearly as much as usual, but when I do, I like to use a rather high hydration bread dough. When baker’s talk about percentages, you are comparing the percent of whatever item to the amount of flour. I always weigh out my ingredients because it’s more accurate, but not all recipes give weights, so I like to think about things in percentages instead.
Example: For a regular loaf, I usually use a 70% hydration dough. This means that for every 500g of flour, I would put in 350g water (with 2g salt and 1g yeast).
In mathy terms:
Amount of water = Amount of flour X percentage
Amount of water = 500g flour X 70% = 350g water
This produces a quite wet dough. It’s not so wet that you can’t knead it, but you do have to use a modified method. It’s more like stretch&fold and not really fold&push, which is the more conventional way of thinking about kneading.
So this brings me to a neat little article I found this morning on Serious Eats about working with very wet dough. You basically lay the dough on the counter, oil up your hands (and the counter so the dough won’t stick) and then you take each of the edges and fold it into the middle, origami style. Now, the dough won’t behave just like a neat little piece of paper, but the more you "knead" it, the more it will start to behave and act the way you want. You usually fold all the edges to the center (start with the farthest edge, fold the near edge, then do left and then right), turn the dough packet over and then let it sit for a little while. While it sits, the dough relaxes a bit and organises its gluten strands.
(The whole point of kneading is to organise and align the gluten strands in the dough.)
My alternate method is the slap and fold from Richard Bertinet, but it requires a lower hydration dough (about 65%) than what I’m used to working with.
(Note to self: pick up a dough scraper already so you can stop using spatulas to scrape up the dough while kneading.)
I’ve been taking photos of these "Lost Pet" posters for quite some time, but never posted any of them before. When I saw this one, I finally had to post it.
According to this poster, this dog was stolen out of a parked car. Someone actually saw the dog in the car, smashed the window, and stole the dog out of the car. How weird is that? Are Pekingese dogs really in such high demand? Can you sell this dog for money?
I had no idea.
Anyway, seeing this posters always bothers me, especially when there’s a cute photo accompanying the notice. Someone out there is missing their pet. I recently found out that someone actually recovered a lost pet due to plastering the area with posters, canvassing the area every evening, and constantly checking the local shelters. That was a really great story and made me happy that the person got their pet back.
It also made me think that maybe I should post these Lost Pet posters somewhere online. If someone is making the time to create a poster with their lost pet on it, and I take the time to snap a photo when I see it, maybe I should post it somewhere. If anything, I can simply collect photos of lost pet posters and keep some kind of eerie collection on a tumblr account or something.
Is that weird?
Maybe it is, but maybe it’ll be useful to someone someday.
When travelling abroad, I find it very disconcerting to visit some kind of shop where the salespeople are extremely helpful. I get so flustered when someone sidles up to me, all bright smiles and eagerness, and asks me some kind of question in a foreign language. They’re probably just asking if I have any questions, letting me know that they’re here to help me, or just acknowledging my presence, but I never know quite how to respond.
Now, I understand that a lot of shops are really into providing customer service, and that’s great, but damn, I often do not know what to say when the helpful salesperson approaches me and asks me something with an expectant look on his/her face. Sometimes, I smile and nod, but most of the time that confuses the person and he/she tries harder to help me, pointing out various things about whatever product I’m looking at. I wonder if it’s better to just ignore the person, or is that very rude? Maybe I should just say, “Thank you,” to the person.
Sometimes I try asking the person if they know how to speak English, but usually the response is no, so I think it’s sort of a useless question.
Regardless, it’s really interesting that in Asia, there are usually a lot of salespeople working at shops, especially the large department stores, and it’s not uncommon for there to be more salespeople than shoppers at any given moment. I always find this amazing, and I love that someone is right there to help me if I need it, often following me around the store while I look at things. Of course, this would be infinitely more helpful if I could speak with them and ask questions. Sometimes in the states, it’s difficult to find someone to help you at stores, especially when you actually want to ask a question, so it’s quite luxurious to have a bunch of people waiting around to help you.