Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 30: Dominican/Puerto Rican Food and Basketball

It might just be me but it doesn't seem like there are a lot of places in LA to get Dominican food. We drove to Bellflower for this place.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 29: Vegan Ethiopian and the "D" Word

We had a coupon for this vegan Ethiopian restaurant in the Fairfax District's Little Ethiopia so off we went.
 The interior was pretty roomy, with eight or so tables of 4-6 seats each, as well as a row of round "tables" that I think were set up for the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony but people can just sit and eat, too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 28: 'Tis the Season and My Place in the Asian American Movement

So this is what I bought on Black Friday. That's 8 pounds of butter in the pic, boom. This actually looks pretty small compared to previous years. I think I've finally learned to winnow down the varieties so that I don't have quite so much going on. There's a few things not shown here, I guess, like the dried cranberries (which I already had) and oranges (for the peel).

I've never gone grocery shopping on Black Friday but I'm going to have to make a habit out of it. Not only was it not crowded, at Smart & Final practically everything I bought there was on sale, I guess as a remnant of the pre-Thanksgiving sales. And, the nothing was sold out, unlike the times when I've shopped two weeks before Christmas and find some things like pecans and macadamia nuts sold out in some stores. Good, better, best all in one.

Today's Reading

This was posted last week but I didn't read much over the weekend so I just saw it last night. I haven't really wrapped my head around it all but I want to start putting down some thoughts.

Jean Quan and the Death of Asian America

As a once-devoted student of Asian American Studies, the title caught me by surprise. Hasn't Asian American Studies grown on college campuses nationwide in the last 15 years?Granted, they are likely underfunded and struggling like any other ethnic studies and liberal arts departments, but the fact that there are majors and minors in Asian American Studies at many campuses seemed to indicate some type of recognition of Asian America.

But then again, here I am, merely a once-devoted student and not an active participant in the movement today. What made me retreat? Some of it was personal, because I was immersing myself in the activism and was finding it difficult to balance my personal life with the community life. But part of it, and I feel it more nowadays, is I don't feel very connected to the local Asian American or Japanese American (JA) communities in LA.

As a first-generation immigrant, I never quite felt part of the JA community here. I didn't play basketball, I didn't have families who had been incarcerated in US concentration camps during WWII. I think I was always looking for a place to belong and the JA community seemed like a natural place - I mean, they looked like me, right? So I learned about camp, redress, social justice and economic development in the JA and Asian Americant context and that was my life for a few years.

I definitely don't regreat any of that work and am proud to have participated in it. And I'm thankful of many people and organizations that accepted me. But now that I've stepped away from it all for a few years, and have gotten some exposure to non-minority communities and cultures (ok, yes, White), I feel like maybe I was too one-dimensional.

I've gone through business school, which is kind of the antithesis of the community work I've done in the past, I think. But now that I've studied from the business perspective, I feel like I can't just unequivocably stand behind labor unions without seeing compromises made from both sides. Even in college I was wary of the "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality that progressive student activists tended to espouse but even more so, I feel distanced from some of the hard-core Asian American activists today - I feel like I'm just not "down" enough.

I may be touching on the issue of class and assimilation. As minorities improve their economic status, do they consciously or unconsciously shed their cultural background and traditions to be accepted by the mainstream?

I wonder if that is what Jean Quan is dealing with as well as the political situations she must maneuver. Is that what all of Asian America faces now? I guess that's what this article's author refers to as "embourgeosiement".

Some Asian American communities, though, seem to almost retreat among themselves and build up their own economy. I'm thinking of the San Gabriel Valley or Westminster, where Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian Americans create what seem to be self-sustaining economies. Little Saigon seems to thrive with a strong cultural identity, yet Little Tokyo needs Starbucks and Yogurtland, or gourmet Asian fusion food or bars, to attract people. I think this is partly why I feel more comfortable going to the San Gabriel Valley or Westminster than to Little Tokyo.

I know there are young Asian Americans addressing issues of social justice, cultural sensitivities and awareness, and other important issues today. I don't think Asian America is dead. I'm not sure there ever was a single Asian America. I think we are all struggling to define it still. It's always been a challenge to define Asian America - other than our race, various groups can be very dissimilar, in experience, politics, class, and of course language and culture.

Well this has certainly been a stream of consciousness with no epiphanies or solutions. I'll just have to keep thinking.

I did read a couple of weeks ago about the renaming of Frank Ogawa Plaza to Oscar Grant Plaza and felt marginalized by the OWS movement. But I'll have to write about that another day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 27: Lentil Stew and Eating Out

The photo didn't turn out well since I took it with my BlackBerry. I was at Surfa's the other day and the bag of canary lentils were calling out my name. I knew I wanted to make a soup with kale and lentils, even though I've never cooked with lentils before, so I perused some recipes online and improvised.

The stew is atop some spaghetti squash that was cooked in the microwave. Trying to be a little more healthy, I thought it might be a good substitute for rice or pasta. Oh my gosh, this was so awesome.

I started with sauteeing some chopped celery, onions and carrots, then added red bell peppers and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, then water and lentils. After the lentils cooked, added kale for a little while, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Oh, added some fresh rosemary that was left from the focaccia making a while back. I love how the veggies make this so flavorful.

This turned out to be a really versatile dish, too. I had enough to eat over several days. One day, I sprinkled a little grated parmesan cheese over it. It added a little more depth to the flavors. Earlier, I ate a little for a snack and topped it with some kimchi to add some heat. That was really good, too. Since I didn't use any recipe, I'm not sure if I'll be able to recreate this again but it'll be fun to make another made-up soup one day.

A couple of days ago, I ate out and had a sandwich with a side of fries. I'm always amazed at how large serving sizes continue to be at restaurants. I'm not sure if it's the mentality of "getting your money's worth" that customers continue to demand, but if portions were smaller, I would think the dishes could be cheaper so you'd still have the same food-to-price ratio.

I've been making it a habit to eat no more than half of whatever I order when I eat out. I'm still more than full usually. This last time, even half the portion was more than enough. I ordered what was called a "Cuban sandwich" (although not at a Cuban restaurant) thinking it would only be a few slices of ham and other meats, but it was piled high with the meats like a pastrami sandwich. I could have just had a pastrami sandwich.

And of course, the fries were served by the moundful. I ate a little less than a half, I think. Since I was going hiking yesterday, I thought it'll be okay to eat the meaty sandwich the night before, and also have it for breakfast. I guess because the hike was pretty light, I really didn't need the sandwich for breakfast. So I ate the sandwich and about half of the leftover fries, so I still have some fries left. That's nearly three meals that this one restaurant serving made for me. And the crazy thing is, I'm sure many people eat it all in one sitting at the restaurant!

With all the talk about eating healthy and restaurants claiming to serve health-conscious foods, I still find it mind-boggling that these enormous servings are celebrated, along with heavy seasonings (everything tastes salty to me when I eat out) and lots of meats, cheeses, refined flours and other not-so-healthy stuff.

I can't see any viable solution to the obesity and other health problems in this country without addressing what we eat when we eat out. Sure, the customers demand it, but I think restaurants can be more accountable and proactive, too.

Lots to think about when I eat out. Now I'm off to make a hash-like side dish with the final leftovers of the fries - I think I'll mash it up a bit and fry it up in my saute pan with an egg and maybe some kale. One good thing about leftovers - especially unhealthy ones, it makes me think about how to make it a little bit healthy or stretch it out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 26: New Cookware and Green Space

Say hello to my little friend.

Thanks to two generous gift cards, a sale and a free shipping offer, I'm the proud owner of a new Le Creuset Two-in-One 2-Quart Pot and Pan.

I thought a 2-quart pot might be kind of small but it's actually a good size. Yet it's small enough to look so cute on the stove top. And the pan is small enough to handle but big enough to saute four servings of a carrot side dish. I didn't plan it well so the first thing I made with the pot was a spinach and bean sprout miso soup. Hahaha. I'll have to do braised vegetables or some other dish worthy of a fancy cast iron pan some other time.

Today's Hike

I met up with a friend whom I hadn't seen in about a year. She wanted to try the Temescal Canyon Trail in the Pacific Palisades, because the last time she went she wasn't able to make it up to Skull Rock.

We were a bit unprepared in terms of not being familiar with the trail, and we couldn't find signs that pointed to Skull Rock in particular, but managed to make it up! We were blessed with great weather, which allowed plenty of gorgeous views down the coast and into the canyon. At around 4 miles for the loop, despite some pretty steep areas, it's a very accessible hike. Most people didn't wear packs but just carried a Nalgene bottle of water.

I got there a little earlier than our meeting time, so I just sat on a tree stump near the parking lot and waited, and people-watched. There were lots of people heading up, dressed in nice athletic wear (lots of Lululemon!), mostly Caucasian, a few Asians. Those who drove into the parking lot drove Mercedes and other luxury cars. This is in the middle of Pacific Palisades, after all.

So of course I thought, why can't there be a nicely-maintained, accessible, spacious green space in the inner city? Why did I have to drive up 15 miles up the coast to get a chance to experience this?

But I realized that I've nver really been to the Kenneth Hahn Regional Park. I think I'd like to check it out and see how it compares as green space to places like the Temescal Gateway Park.

More to come on this very informal parks survey!

Friday, November 25, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 25: Curry-Style Veggies and No Black Friday

Lately I've been trying to clear out the pantry. We have lots of boxes of Japanese curry roux cubes (and for hashed beef and cream stew and others) because my mom gets a lot from her work. It's way too much for two people, particularly since I've been staying away from these heavily processed foods. But I suppose I have to use them at some point.

I saw a recipe that used some milk instead of just water for the curry, so since I had some milk to use up, I tried that. I put in eggplant, mushrooms, potateos and carrots. Oh man, this was great. The eggplant and mushrooms soaked up the curry sauce, and they were so flavorful and chewy, that I didn't miss not having any meat in this at all. The milk gave it some more creaminess than usual, also because I didn't use as much liquid.

I recently mistakenly bought some rice vermicelli (long story) so I've been trying to use it up. In an attempt at a relatively healthy, complete meal, I boiled the vermicelli with kale, and after draining, topped it with the curry. Pretty darned good, I must say. I wouldn't mind doing this again.

Today's Black Friday
I had no intention of going shopping today or last night. Honestly, I can't think of anything I even remotely want or need that would be worth waiting in line outside the store in the dead of night or working through hordes of shoppers. I was out on Thursday morning and saw people camped out outside a Best Buy. I hate the commercialism and marketing that forces people into thinking they must do this.

I did, however, go grocery shopping. And wow, it was great. I think I'm going to have to aim to do this every post-Thanksgiving. I had to buy lots of large quantities of stuff for some baking, and not only were the stores not crowded, Smart & Final had a sale on most of the items I needed. Score! More on what I bought and what I'll do with it all, later.

Short entry today because I don't have the heart to look at the economic news and think about it, and also as I'll be going out shortly and probably not getting home in time to post anything longer tonight.

Go Bruins!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 24: Thankful and Platelets

A couple of months ago, after having worked several weekends in a row, I cut work short on a Sunday and drove up PCH to Oxnard. I rolled down the windows, turned up the radio, and made the most of SoCal living. I walked around a semi-private beach in Oxnard, watched some surfers, watched waves and let my mind wander. It was a really nice break. On the way home, I caught the sunset around Malibu, I just had to stop on the side of the road and snap a pic. PCH is really good for that. I'm reminded today of this and all the other things to be thankful in my life.

I went this morning to the American Red Cross donor center in Pasadena to donate platelets. I donated a couple of weeks ago, and was told I could donate again after two weeks and they're open Thanksgiving, so I signed up. I thought wow, they must really need platelets if they're going to be open on Thanksgiving Day (and Christmas Day and New Year's Day also).

Unfortunately I couldn't donate today because the hemoglobin level in my blood was too low. This happens to me all the time, actually. Part of the screening procedure includes a little pinprick to a finger to draw a little bit of blood that gets tested. You can fail once and get one re-test and if you pass on the re-test, you can still donate (assuming other criteria are met). There hasn't been a time in the last several years I've donated whole blood or platelets that I wasn't tested twice.

So the minimum hemoglobin level is 12.5 g/dL (grams per deciliter?). The crazy thing is, it's the same threshold for both men and women, even though women typically have lower hemoglobin levels.

I know I have low hemoglobin levels. I usually test right around 12.3 and 12.7. That doesn't mean I'm anemic, though. I think if you're over 11.0 g/dL, you're not anemic. So I'm well safe in terms of that. I recently had a physical and my doctor confirmed that I'm not anemic, that I'm healthy overall. She did say that I don't have much iron reserve, and that my red blood cells are small. But she said that's really no problem so long as I maintain my iron intake.

I take between 15 to 18 mg of iron daily, both through food (spinach, lentils, seaweed, etc.) and supplements. That's 100% of the daily value but I guess I can't retain much, like my doctor says.

So, after I was turned away today, I wrote in to the American Red Cross website and asked them to lower the minimum hemoglobin level for women to 12.0 g/dL or, barring that, whether they could provide me with a waiver for the threshold, provided I sign a release of liability if ever I feel ill after donating (I'm sure I won't, even if I donate with 12.0 g/dL).

I'm surprised that the Red Cross hadn't thought about this type of distinction for eligibility, given that the need for blood donations is so great. I've been donating blood since I was a senior in high school and really hope I can continue to do so without being humiliated by the Red Cross staff as I was today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 23: Meyer Lemon Muffins and the Opera

I know I posted a different pic of these muffins earlier but I just love this recipe so much.

I cut the recipe out of the LA Times several years ago. I even bought the special cinnamon from Surfa's (although quite honestly, I can't taste the difference, hahaha). I love how the recipe uses whole lemons that get pureed in the food processor and mixed with flour and other ingredients. So easy, yet so tasty. The hardest thing was making the super-thin slices of lemons, until I realized I could put the lemons in the freezer for a bit to make them hard.

Opera Thoughts

So last weekend I went to see LA Opera's production of "Romeo et Juliette" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It was pretty amazing. For some reason I had forgotten, or maybe never knew, that "Romeo and Juliet" was a Shakespearean play. The program mentioned he wrote two tragic plays about lovers - R&J and "Antony and Cleopatra", the first in the early stages of his career and the latter much later. Apparently "Antony and Cleopatra" was the better work, but of course the timeless story of the young star-crossed lovers has remained spectacularly popular. Now I want to read both of Shakespeare's work.

I think the only plays of Shakespeare I read were in high school - "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Merchant of Venice". I remember having a tough time with both, but for years after, I remember thinking about certain characters or scenes as they were referenced in other plays or magazine articles or books, and really appreciating the complexity of the characters and the stories, the humor and the tragedy. I know we specifically talked about the anti-Semitism in "Merchant of Venice" back in high school, but I didn't really appreciate the depth and meaning until I was working with organizations like the ACLU.

So this production was the French adaptation of the play into an opera. The entire show was in French, but with super-titles shown on a small screen at the top of the stage.

I'm not entirely convinced of the value of the super-titles. For sure it enhanced the understanding of what was going on from moment to moment, as I wouldn't have understood the French. But, and maybe it was just because I was on the orchestra level, it was difficult to keep looking up to see the super-titles, and I thought it took my attention away from the stage and acting and singing. At times I would just be entranced by Romeo or Juliet's singing, but realize I've let a couple of lines pass by in the super-titles, so I would look up, then miss some action or facial reactions in the actors on stage. Maybe next time I should try to get a seat on the mezzanine levels.

Since the story is well known and the program laid out the synopsis pretty well, I think I could have done without the super-titles altogether, and just gotten immersed in the acting and singing. Wouldn't that be an ultimate mark of an actor - that despite not performing in the same language as understood by the audience, the audience understands what's going on?

Anyway, so there was one minor issue with this production - the singer who was to play the part of Romeo had gotten sick. Which was really unfortunate, since I had read such high reviews of him. But it was nice that Placido Domingo himself came out on stage to explain it all. And apparently, it just so happened that a tenor who got his start with the LA Opera, was in town for the group's 25th anniversary gala, and he was convinced to stay in case the main singer wasn't able to perform. I wondered why there wasn't an understudy but maybe that's not how operas work.

So the part of Romeo was performed by Charles Castronorvo, who is apparently very famous in his own right. I'm not a good judge of opera singers but I thought he was very good. The most amazing thing though, was the thought that he stepped into the role just a day or two ago, and yet the performance seemed to be flawless - there was no awkwardness, no hesitation, no trip-ups, nothing. It was as if he had been cast in the role for this entire production. I believe he's performed the role for other opera companies. But do opera singers, once they perform a part, maintain all the words and actions in their heads in perpetuity? Isn't each production slightly different in where people walk, talk, etc.? I was just floored by his talent and professionalism.

I also very much liked the character of Mercutio, performed by a Korean American singer, Museop Kim. Maybe it's just my ignorance about opera but it was really exciting to see an Asian American face in the cast. And I loved his baritone voice, so strong and clear. His acting I thought was also very good - he came off as playful, mischievous, dapper, and loyal. Not necessarily characteristics one would associate with an Asian American face. So that was really cool.

I was also very impressed by the soprano who performed the role of Juliette, Nino Machaidze. I don't think any of the singers were mic'd, but the strength of her voice was so clearly above others, it was incredible. It's like the theater crew turned up the volume three notches every time she sang, even though there weren't such effects.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience but would definitely like to see another opera from the mezzanine seats.

One thing that was kind of ironic/sad - after the show, everyone was filing out of the theater toward the stairs/escalators to the parking levels. Of course there were way too many more people than can fit on the stairs or escalators at one time, so human traffic started to back up. Which is fine, I thought, but for whatever reason, people were getting upset ("WHY are we stoppping?!) or pushing ahead into the lines and such. And I thought to myself, didn't we just watch a tragedy ensue because people let their silly personal interests or prejudices color the world around them and the way they treat others? Is it really worth the extra seconds gained  - cutting in front of others or jostling or throwing hands up in the air exasperatedly? How does that make others feel?

What did the other audience members take away from the opera and the story? Was it all make-believe, just an escape for them? I'm curious to know what others took away from the experience. Maybe I'm the one over-thinking it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 22: Lemon Shortbread and Freeloaders

In preparation for another bumper crop of Meyer lemons, I was going through photos of the lemon snacks I made with last year's batch. This I think is the last of the photos I have. A lemon shortbread.

I thought it was just "meh". A little too crumbly? But I was thinking that I haven't really eaten shortbread much; never really got its appeal - so maybe I'm not the best judge of shortbread. The lemony frangrance was nice, though.

Today's Thoughts
Tonight on the bus home, I saw someone sneak on the bus through the back door just as it was closing. I used to get really incensed at people like that. It's like people cutting in line, or those drivers who bypass a backed-up lane of cars just to cut in right at the off-ramp. Argh, I'm getting frustrated just thinking about those people.

Anyway, I don't know if I was just tired or not paying attention but I didn't get too upset at seeing the person jump onto the bus without paying the fare. The first thought that came to me was, "Freeloader." And the second thought was, "Oh, that sounds like an economics problem I used to know. Hmm, I wonder what the economic approach to the freeloading problem is." Oh, that sound is the Nerd Alarm going off. Let me shut that off for you.

This wasn't the first time that I've seen someone jump into the bus from the rear. I only ride the bus maybe 30 times a month (actually, about 60 unique bus rides, since I have to transfer), and I see free riders maybe three times a month. But the buses I ride are just a fraction of a fraction of all buses running throughout LA, right? So if I extrapolate the three free riders I see out of 60 buses out to the hundreds of thousands of buses that are running in any given month, that's tens of thousands of free riders on the bus system each month! I'm sure that's over $100k in lost far revenue per month, maybe more, a lot more. So someone else is bearing that loss, obviously. It's part of the $1.00 (Big Blue Bus) or $1.50 (MTA) fares that are paid by the rules-abiding majority. So I wonder, if the fare-dodgers were eliminated, how much would the fares go down overall for everyone? I suppose in the aggregate, not much. A mere pennies, or less. And obviously to completely eliminate the fare-dodgers, there'll be a big cost for enforcement. And that cost will likely outweigh the revenue recovered. So the fare-dodgers keep jumping on the bus (if I feel feisty, I curse and hope that they get squished by the door).

This writer makes an interesting point about distinguishing between Free Riders and Freeloaders, mainly that Free Riders are people without the Ability to Pay (I'll shorten to A2P) and thus need subsidies to partake in certain goods and services, like riding the bus for free. One the other hand, Freeloaders are those who, regardless of A2P, scheme to get more than their fair share, "to beat the system" as the writer puts it.

I agree with this author's definition of Freeloaders and why they're a problem. But I'm not sure I entirely buy into his argument that Free Riders should be given a pass. Looking at the public transportation system, there are some efforts are trying to address the people with limited A2P, right? Like discounted fares for the poor, elderly, students, etc.? There are plenty of people taking advantage of these opportunities to ease the financial burden of paying for bus and train fares. Why should one person with limited A2P who follows the rules and gets discounted passes or tokens bear the cost of someone else with limited A2P who doesn't go through buying passes or tokens and just jumps onto the bus from the back? Well, maybe the issue is that the people that I see jumping onto the bus are Freeloaders indeed, not just Free Riders.

I guess in the end what bothers me most are exactly the people who try to game the system or best others who are "playing by the rules". And what's a little scary is that I think this tendency is condoned here in the US, maybe even celebrated. It's sort of what's behind the tax loopholes, right? And the whole mentality of the mortgage brokers and bankers and other architects and drivers of the current financial crisis?

What about the big online coupon craze (a la Groupon, etc.) these days? It's one thing to "find a deal" but should retailers and restauranteurs feel like they have to participate and give everyone 30% off or whatever, just to compete? What about the regulars who don't use the coupons? Do they get punished with higher prices, because in order for the restaurant to make money despite the severe online coupon discount, they just have to increase the menu prices overall, so even after the 40% discount or whatever, there's still enough of a margin?

So these are the things I think about on the bus, when I'm not reading or sleeping. And that's why I love riding the bus.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 21: Chili Lime Tofu and Local Food

I'm far from being a vegan, but I really love the cookbook "Vegan Yum Yum" by Lauren Ulm. I'm very sad that she doesn't update her blog anymore.
I first encountered the cookbook in a bookstore, just randomly browsing. I liked the fact that every recipe had a photo of the dish, and many dishes had photos of the cooking steps. The ingredients weren't all that complex and and the flavors sounded very appetizing.

When I first get a cookbook, I read through it all and mark with a sticky note which recipes I want to try. By the time I was done flipping through this book, I had marked nearly every page! I've made about 10 different recipes and I've loved every one of them! I especially love the sesame baked kale and this chili lime tofu with kale dish.

Today's Reading
As usual I'm behind in reading, but saw this on the sidebar at the Freakonomics blog.

The Inefficiency of Local Food

In it the author argues that small farms can do more harm to the environment while lessening the impact of agrobusiness on addressing the problems of hunger. He uses economic concepts like specialization and economies of scale to make his case.

As an admirer and believer of the food policies and philosophies of Michael Pollan and Michelle Obama, among others, I was dismayed at this article. Of course as an aspiring economist, I agree with the approach he's taken. But I feel like he's left out a lot, and certainly simplified the local food argument too much.

He first posits that a local farm system can't possibly grow all products as efficiently as they can be where the crops are best suited. I can agree that perhaps oranges are best grown in Florida or California and cherries are best grown in Washington. But is the local food movement really saying that each region should be self-sufficient in its agro-production? That there is to be no interstate trade, no regional varieties, no specialization? Somehow I don't think so. I would hope, and this is my believe, that we've become over-reliant on specialization and big farm businesses and local farms don't get the chance to find out what they can produce.

It's a similar line of thinking about economies of scale. Industrialized farms in remote areas have the capacity for large-scale production where they can employ cost-effective irrigation, fertilization, waste management, etc. But what the author seems to mention is the tendencies of these agro-businesses, with their focus on the financial bottom line, to seek out ever-cheaper production materials, thus potentially sacrificing health and safety standards. The economies of scale seems to work in the negative, too - witness the periodic outbreak of e. coli and other bacteria that come out of one production facility but affects hundreds or thousands of people in multiple states.

Small farms might be higher cost, but if that is the true cost of producing quality food, what's wrong with higher cost?

Yes, the poor communities will be challenged with higher cost. But are they any better now with agro-business in charge? I live in a low-income neighborhood and the only restaurant choices are fast-food and the large chain super-markets carry under-ripe, non-organic fruits and vegetables. There is a farmer's market, thank goodness, but one outlet for fresh produce once a week just doesn't seem enough. And, what about all the subsidies the agro-business get? Why not route those to the local farms? What will happen to the costs to consumers then?

I think what draws me to the idea of local farming is the thought, however naive, that there is a connection between the farmers who devote their lives to producing food that will be consumed by people they know. That the spinach they produce, or the tomatoes they grow, will be used in the school lunches at their children's cafeteria. I would hope that connection would instill a sense of responsibility about the quality of the production process, including the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

I would also think that local farming provides an opportunity for the consumers to get more educated about what they eat. It was so sad to see on Jamie Oliver's TV show a couple of years ago where elementary school children didn't know what a bell pepper was or an onion when shown the actual produce (I know there's editing and dramatic effect but the fact is, they didn't know, right?). By providing more access to local foods, I hope that children learn about produce and learn to appreciate where their food comes from, so that they can learn more about it and learn to like them. I certainly wasn't a model child at eating my vegetables - but now that I cook on my own and think about the food I'm cooking and what went into growing it, I feel very appreciative and I'm less inclined to cover up ingredients with excess salt or sauces or butter or anything like that.

The agro-businesses are too big and strong and that scares me. That their lobbyists were able to convince Congress to overturn the FDA's recommendations for more health-conscious school lunch guidelines is disgusting to me. One of the arguments that was put forth was that it'll just increase the amount of food served that kids just won't eat. That is such a short-sighted argument. They don't eat it because they haven't grown up with it and they don't know it. If kids grow up eating pizza and chicken fingers, I feel that their sense of taste is forever conditioned to accept and eventually seek out the processed nature of food, and therefore not accept food in its true form - whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.

I'm guessing, like all problems, the solution isn't clear-cut. It's not all-small-farms and it's certainly, hopefully not all Con-Agra. I won't argue that oranges be grown in Montana instead of Florida or potatoes be grown in Texas instead of Idaho. There's probably a place for specialized industrial food production, and with responsible environment management including the use of clean fuels, it may be a good solution, in conjunction with local farms.

The article doesn't even touch upon the cost of raising cattle or chicken but I suppose that's a separate argument.

Now I feel like I have to go and read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and other books, to educate myself more. So much to read, so little time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 20: North Beach Italian

Day 20! 2/3 done!

I realized that maybe I should have been tagging my posts so I can organize them later. That's been kind of helpful in my Japanese blog. Oh well.

A while ago, we went to this Italian restaurant in SF's North Beach district. Maybe it's because I don't go to the fancy places in Hollywood but it seems like there are better Italian restaurants in SF than in LA. I definitely feel like they're more accessible by ordinary folk like me, not super-trendy or rich people.

Anyway, this place was a bit off the main street in North Beach. We went kind of early for dinner so we got a prime seat by the window.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 19: Lemon Bars and a Bittersweet Memory

If I have lemons, I have to make lemon bars. Even though I don't like to eat them - waaaaay too sweet. Hahahaha. These sure go fast at work, though. I do like the way they look, dressed up with powdered sugar and all.

I'm feeling a little tired of writing. I hope I can make it until the end of the month.

I'm also feeling a little giddy right now, having come from the UCLA football game where they beat Colorado 45-6. I don't think I've ever seen them score so many touchdowns in a game I watched in person. I am excited about the win, but I do realize UCLA didn't play the best team in the nation or anything. I think UCLA was very fortunate that the sloppy penalties and the fumble didn't cost them much. I'm glad that the seniors got to play their last home game with a resounding win.

I'm also super-excited about going to see an operatic production of "Romeo et Juliette" tomorrow at the Music Center. Although I am a fan of classical music, for whatever reason I've never been too enthused about opera, the little of it that I've heard on the radio.

But this production of R&J sounded interesting, and I thought that a familiar story may be a good intro for me to get into opera. But I had given up on it after seeing that the tickets that I wanted were in the $120-$180 range. That seems like a bit much even for me.

But on Friday, a woman at work who I believe has season tickets put up her $122 face value ticket up for sale for $25 so I scooped it up without a second thought! What a deal. Even with having to pay $9 for parking, that's a steal! I'm so indebted to this person!

I haven't seen a show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion since I saw "Phantom of the Opera" back in high school. I was thinking back on that experience and I realized I was quite a brat.

In high school, my friends and I were totally enamored by musicals, especially "Phantom", "Les Miserables" and such that were popular back then (1988-1991). We were in band and orchestra, so we would play the music on our instruments or on the piano and sing, as we hung out in the music room before and after school. Those were fun times.

Anyway, when "Phantom" was playing at the Music Center around 1990, I was set on going. I knew I wanted good seats, though, so I looked up the seating choices, saw some of the prices, and was saving up money.

I can't recal if it was for my birthday or for graduation, but my then-boyfriend, R, got together with another friend K, who was dating a friend of mine D, to plan a surprise. D and I were taken out to dinner, and then were put in a car and blind-folded. Hahaha. Such a high-school thing, no?

Anyway, the guys parked the car, walked us out still blind-folded and led us out to a courtyard where they took off our blindfolds, and I saw that we were standing in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the big Phantom banners hanging. And I still remember feeling crest-fallen, because I wanted to buy my own tickets and somehow I knew that the tickets R could afford wouldn't be the ones I wanted. And, the immature, rude brat I was back then, I let my disappointment show and I said something like, "Oh, gosh, I really wanted to buy my own ticket for this." How rude, right? Thinking back now, I can't believe how inconsiderate I was. I suppose that goes toward why I'm no longer with R (among other reasons) and perhaps why I don't do well with relationships.

I remember too that I didn't enjoy the performance much, which was such a shame considering how much I love the musical. I read the book, too, and I could still recite some of the lines and sing some of the songs. The seats were much higher than I would have liked but I think if I had a more open mind, I certainly could have enjoyed it. It just goes to show, how a negative outlook can color a whole experience. I feel bad that I basically wasted what could have been a great experience and ruined it not just for me, but for others who cared enough to plan something like that for me.

Remembering this episode was a good lesson for me. I'm glad for "Romeo et Juliette" for giving me a chance to recall this and be humbled.

Friday, November 18, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 18: Poundcake and Slavery Today

A little more baking. I bought milk to use for some recipe and had some left, so then I sought out recipes to use up milk. I found this Japanese recipe, which also called for using tea leaves, which I also had a lot of, so this was the result - milk tea poundcake.

I still seem to have a problem with converting Japanese recipes to American measurements.I don't think the cake is supposed to have those large air holes. And some parts are denser than others. Oh well, more to improve next time. I forget if it was this recipe or another, but it called for making milk tea (boil milk with tea leaves in small pot) and adding it to the flour mixture, instead of adding the milk and tea leaves separately. That was awesome, it made the cake so much more fragrant, will definitely have to remember that step even for other milk tea cakes.
Today's Reading
I've known that slavery isn't a thing of the past. I remember when the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking was founded. I remember the freed workers from the El Monte sweatshop and the great work of Julie Su and others at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. I know women and children are still trafficked and used as slave labor in various industries like agriculture, manufacturing, restaurant work, and of course the sex trade. But until I tried out the Slavery Footprint tool developed by Free the Slaves (found on Tiger Beatdown), I hadn't realized or thought about the pervasiveness of slavery in products and services we consume every day.

I apparently have 41 slaves working for me. Holy moly, how awful. The major culprits seem to be cars, clothes, shoes and electronics. Stuff that everyone around me has as well. Like the blogger on Tiger Beatdown says, it's great that this Slavery Footprint tool has a pretty explicit "Take Action" section. I appreciate the thought of mobile apps to find out the slavery history in various products but I can't imagine a lot of things these days that don't have some sort of slavery in its production history, whether they are all "Made in the USA" or not.

I didn't even realize that the Department of Labor has released a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. (Way to go, Hilda Solis!) It's an important study and I hope more people can be made aware of it.

This is such a heartbreaking issue, yet it's sort of mind-numbing, the magnitude of the situation today. It's hard to imagine what I as one person can do, even if I try to consume less and spread the word. But I guess that's better than nothing, so hopefully I can educate myself a little more on this issue and get the word out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NabloPoMo Day 17: Cute Tea and Journalism

If tea can ever be considered cute, this would be it. I wasn't planning on buying more tea, but when I stopped in at the store to see if they had the Chrismas/Winter teas like they do in Japan, I found this tea for fall.

In Japanese, the name of the tea is "Imo Kuri Kabocha", which translates to "Potato, Chestnut, Pumpkin" - the bounties of fall. But the best thing about this tea is, the "cha" in "kabocha" is written using the Chinese character for "tea" - so it's a pun, crossing the name of the squash (kabocha) with tea (cha). Oh my gosh, I about died. I love puns like this. With that and the cute animals and veggies on the box, I couldn't resist, I had to buy this.

Today's Reading
I wanted to read and think aloud about the Progressive Tax but I don't think I'm going to be able to finish reading this today. I started to read it at work but sheesh, I actually to do some work today. Imagine that. I do appreciate Brad DeLong for thinking highly enough of his readers just to provide the link. I'm sure all the rest of his readers are just fine with it but for the non-academics, or rather, non-rigorous readers like me, I wish he could just summarize? :P I promise I'll finish reading it someday, because this passage is just too rich and I want more:
For example, a policy prescription such as taxing height (Mankiw and Weinzierl, 2010) is obviously not socially acceptable because it violates certain horizontal equity concerns that do not appear in basic models.
But then, I saw his latest post about the future of journalism education and was intrigued. He cites three examples from the New York Times, which I have held in high regard, at least among the daily print papers. In all three examples, until he pointed out the "hidden" information behind what the reporter actually wrote, I completely took the reporters words at face value. That is, in Mr. DeLong's words, I am the typical "low-information voter" or reader.

I admit I'm not an engaged consumer of news. I don't listen to NPR regularly anymore since I often don't drive to/from work, I don't read mainstream news outlets online on a regular basis, not all the blogs I read report the latest news (they're more analysis and snark). I certainly don't hear or read something and think much beyond what's reported.

So I've been led to believe that the Occupy movement is not cohesive and just disruptive. Or that Obama is being soft on policies about the economy, health care, deficit, etc. I did at times feel like I wasn't getting the whole story, that there must be something else out there, but I haven't until recently given thought to seeking out more. But then, how different am I from hundreds of thousands of voters in America?

I'm lucky I have a job where I sit in front of a computer with a fast internet connection much of the day so that whenever I want to take a break, I can read up on news or blogs and such. But if I still worked all day at the Japanese restaurant I used to 20 years ago, I couldn't afford such time. How are people then supposed to get fully informed?

It is a little scary to think that an esteemed journalistic organization like the New York Times can lend different shades of truth to the news. What about the people who only get their "news" from clearly-biased sources like Fox News? I feel like there is so much burden placed on the general public to suss out what's real, what's a cover-up, what's misleading. In a way, this information age is a blessing and a curse.

I also feel like these days, there's very little room for debate. People form their opinions based on what they read or hear and it just doesn't seem like they are willing to see other perspectives or consider changing their minds. Although I suppose this isn't really a new thing. And I'm not even saying this is a conservative or liberal thing, I've seen it on both sides. I feel like I've tried to keep an open mind, but then I feel like I've been wishy-washy of late. I guess the lesson is, it's hard to be objective.

I hope those in power to affect the future of journalism is spurred to think and act by Mr. DeLong's piece today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 16: Veggie Dinner and Occupy Democracy

It's not that all I do is bake. I like to cook, too. I like to think I'm following Michael Pollan's dictum: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Vegetables."

This is from a little while ago, but I've totally fallen in love with a vegetarian cookbook by a Japanese blogger. She uses very few ingredients, very simple techniques, and some unique flavors to accent her vegetable dishes and they are so good. The main dish below looks like sauteed scallops but actually is king trumpet mushrooms! The stalk part of the mushroom was cut crosswise so each piece looks like a scallop. They actually kind of feel like scallops, too. Weird. It's lightly sauteed with some Chinese greens.

It's paired with a slice of Spanish omelette because I had to use up some eggs and potatoes. And broccoli soup. I guess this isn't strictly a vegetarian dinner since I used eggs and milk but it was still good.

Today's Reading
Robert Reich, as always, has succinctly summarized the state of things. When he puts it this way - the Supreme Court says money is speech and corporations are people, but Occupiers can't Occupy - it seems so clear, and so scary to think how powerful and how right the Supreme Court has become.

I totally agree with him that the Occupy movement can't turn violent. They'll definitely lose me if they do, not that I've been an ardent supporter, at least not of the Occupy LA movement. Maybe it's because I haven't gone there yet, seen and participated in the organizing meetings, but I don't see any concerted effort at clarifying demands, engaging civic organizations, student groups, unions, etc., - basically, building a movement. The website seems to be just reporting and giving support to other Occupy movements around the country, or doing random teach-ins and days of actions on weekdays. I get that the movement is about the disenfranchised who presumably are not workers, but lots of us in the 99% are working, too, and it seems wrong to not target some messages and actions to them/us.

Robert Reich ends his post today with a challenge - it's time to occupy democracy. I'd love to see some thoughtful discussions about what this means.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 15: Focaccia Again and Negotiations

Another attempt at focaccia, this time using a recipe I cut out from the LA Times some years ago.

I didn't clip the entire story that went with the recipe so I didn't realize until well after I started making this that the recipe was created by Nancy Silverton of the La Brea Bakery fame. As in, professional baker?! Yikes, I think I've bitten off more than I can chew (no pun intended).

The recipe starts out by making a focaccia sponge of yeast, flour and water and letting it sit for 24 hours. Then it uses the sponge and other ingredients to make the dough, which rests in total for about five hours. Did I mention that I started to make the bread around 6 pm? Very poor planning indeed. So of course toward the end, I was rushing the proofing process a bit, not paying enough attention to the baking time and I burned it.

But, I have to say this was pretty darned good. I didn't follow the recipe exactly - the recipe called for putting small chunks of mozarella cheese into the dough along with the olives and rosemary but I was too cheap. It was fine without. The recipe uses a lot of olive oil and it made the bottom so crispy and the whole thing very fragrant. When I think focaccia it's more of a chewy bread; this was more like a rustic bread but the recipe is definitely a keeper, although I'll have to be more careful about what time to start the sponge and baking, so I'm not up so late watching the oven.

Today's Podcast
Found this series of podcasts on about Negotiations. The two journalists took an MBA negotiations class as well as interviewed professional negotiators and other experts. It's pretty basic but I found it totally useful. Even after taking the Negotiations class in b-school, I have to say I'm a terrible negotiator. I think this set of podcasts is a really nice complement to the b-school class. I felt like I got a lot of theory in class, and this podcast has some really basic but useful tips and compelling real-life examples like peace negotiations.

Today in the News
Speaking of negotiations, if what he wanted was to address safety and health concerns, couldn't he think of a better way than to send in the heavy artillery of the NYPD and force a mass evacuation? Clearly, then, that wasn't the actual intent behind the clearing of Zuccotti Park. What did they actually want to accomplish? Disruption, intimidation, criminal prosecution, discouragement of future protests, are what comes to mind.

It's reminiscent of the forcible incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII - for the safe of the Japanese Americans? Nope, guns were pointed inside the camps. Because of suspected espionage? Nope, no proven cases and many men volunteered to risk their lives for the country that imprisoned them and their families, to prove their patriotism. The real reasons could be found in racism and politics back then.

What about now?

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 14: A New Addition

Every year I add to my collection a magazine or two on holiday cookies. This year, I didn't find a magazine that spoke to me. Every magazine I looked at had some versions of cookies that is in the other magazines I already have. That might be a sign that I have too many magazines. Hmmm.

Anyway, I was in a small bookstore and finally got my hands on this Gourmet Cookie Book! I had totally forgotten about it! This came out in 2009, I believe. Gourmet Magazine, before its untimely demise (sniff), had selected a representative cookie from each year that the magazine had been published. Each decade has a brief narrative giving context to the era and styles of cookies, and each cookie has a little note of origin. Not only are the recipes and stories fascinating, Gourmet, true to its form, has a beautifully laid out photo of each cookie type, laid out in kaleidoscopic designs. It's a treat to flip through the book.

When the book first came out, or maybe while it was being finished up, Gourmet actually published many of the cookie recipes online, so I still have them printed out. In fact, the Chocolate Wafer cookie recipe has become one of my favorites and I've been making them for three years straight, going on four.

Food and cooking as part of culture is so inextricable and makes life so, so interesting, I just can't get over it. It can build bridges, start revolutions, trigger memories, inspire creativity. I feel very fortunate to live in a culturally diverse place like LA where I can get exposed to so many different types of foods and cultures. It's truly an adventure.

Today's Reading
I guess this was posted on Friday but I missed it.

Why Everyone Hates the Boss

The brief post cites research by a UCLA professor about the neuroscience behind leadership, and how leaders with great technical skills may have less-than-great social skills (or vice versa?). The thing I thought was fascinating was this:

...the circuitry for thinking analytically, such as thinking about the future or about concepts, switches off the circuitry for thinking about others.
The point being that the more strategically-minded a leader is, the less capable s/he is to think about others, namely, I'm assuming, downline managers and staff. If this is really true from a neurological standpoint, it's fascinating! So, I'm wondering, is this circuit switch a strict on/off thing? Or is there a way to tape the switch open somehow, so people can do both? It seems like there are people who can do both - but just maybe not in the same moment. Very, very interesting. Would need to see what other research finding Dr. Lieberman comes up with.

I have to somehow figure out how to fit in online readings during the weekend. I'm so behind on Krugman and other favorites.

I just love that Krugman says things like "...Italy's economy minister[,] threw a hissy fit..." and "supply-side policies -  structural reform that makes workers more productive, prices more flexible, or whatever...". Hissy fit! Or whatever! How can anyone not love economics after reading him?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 13: Pizza Breakfast and Chamber Music

Argh! 30 minutes left in day 13!

Breakfast might be my favorite meal of the day. I think I like the fact that I have the entire day to work off whatever I eat.

A while back, we went to a restaurant that serves pizza for breakfast. Technically, brunch, but how awesome does that sound. I'm not a fan of "cold leftover for breakfast" concept but real, wood-fired pizza? A must-try if ever there was one.

A cozy place in Hollywood, with a wood-burning oven front and center. Very promising.

I had the smoked salmon and tomato pizza. Holy smokes, this was good. I guess after the crust was mostly baked, the chef put on the toppings - good quality salmon, tomatoes, onions, etc., then fired it up in the oven ever so briefly, so that the tomatoes got even sweeter and everything melded together oh so well. And a great, crispy thin crust, none of that yicky gaseous smell like a certain place in Gardena we did not like.

Also had the breakfast calzone - I thought we ordered the bacon-and-egg but this looks more like sausage and egg. Maybe that was the special for the day. Another great dish, this one of the hearty variety. I hadn't ben a huge fan of calzones in the past, I thought they were too doughy but the crust on this one was relatively thin, just like the pizza, and so crispy.

Definitely worth a repeat trip.

Olio Pizzeria & Cafe
8075 W 3rd Street, Suite 100
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 930-9490

Musical weekend
Got a chance to finally hear the Mansfield Chamber Choir perform. A few people from work are a part of it and I missed the chance to hear them in concert last year. I'm so glad I went. It's a much smaller group than the Angel City Chorale and while a 120+ person choir has its upsides (think THX sound effects trailer but live and in parts), I very much enjoyed this 20-or-so person ensemble. You can hear individual voices, as well as the parts so clearly, and it's so nice to see the expressions of joy on the singers' faces.

What I really enjoyed tonight was also the accompaniment by the four-string quartet. With a real viola player! Woot! I've always held viola players in utmost respect ever since I attempted playing the viola freshman year in orchestra and gave it up after 3 months or so - too hard! Plus, not all the scores had a viola part so I remember trying to change the keys and rewriting the third violin score into a viola score. I suppose there is software or more likely an app now to do that but in 1987 I could only do that by hand, so that didn't last long.

Anyway, it's so amazing to hear live string music and harmonic voices. It's like they reach directly into my heart. So fun and soothing. The song selections were, I thought, quite inspired as well. Very classical pieces by Caldara, funny songs by Haydn (I didn't know he was such a jokester!), a modern (1977) cantata using text from Walt Whitman, and a Beatles song in madrigal style (!), among others. Just an awesome, awesome night.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 12: Down to Mexico

Plaza Mexico, that is.
I had seen this shopping center off the 105 for some time and had been wanting to go. So last October, I think it was, we finally went on a clear, cool, sunny Saturday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 11: Baseball and Sports Fanatics

Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to all who have or are currently serving this country to keep us safe and protect democracy and freedom worldwide.

Today's writing prompt from BlogHer is to make three wishes.

Wish 1: I wish for a peaceful world where reasonable heads prevail and weapons are not needed to settle disputes.

Wish 2: I wish for an equitable world where everyone can get educated and receive quality healthcare without worrying how they will pay the next month's rent or mortgage, all the while mowing the lawn or cleaning the house of a multi-millionaire.

Wish 3: I wish for this (High-->1 En 8). (I can be selfish for once, right?)

I wonder just how many texts, emails and blog posts will be put up right at 11:11 am/pm today. I hope the mobile carriers, ISPs and others are ready.

It's Beginning to Look Like Baseball Season
OK, not really, but the college baseball season will start in February so it is time for the countdown to begin. They've had some fall scrimmages as well, and other practices, one of which I happened to catch. So excited.

I don't know how it happened but I am just so fascinated by college baseball. I love watching the players, watching them develop their skills and grow in maturity over the years. I love the various strategies employed by the coaches on both teams. I love it when a batter puts down a perfect bunt that meanders right up along the third baseline, making the pitcher and third baseman helplessly watch as they hope the ball rolls foul...but doesn't. I love the long arc of a curveball that freezes the batter. I love the spectacular catches in the outfield, but also the routine plays in the infield. Practice makes perfect.

I do enjoy professional baseball, too, but in some sense, I feel like college coaches have a tougher job - they're not always working with the most talented players, or the most experienced. I know big league managers have to deal with egos and motivation and all that, but still, they are working with professionals, being paid to play baseball. The college coaches, though, have to work with kids 17-20 or 21 years old, who balance rigorous coursework (at least at UCLA!), with not just practicing baseball but also working out, studying videos, and also just enjoy being a college student. I worked part-time while I went to undergrad but still can't believe what these student athletes do. I like to see dedication and commitment in people, as well as watching them do what they love, and I guess that's why I like college sports so much.

I feel so fortunate to have seen pitchers Trevor Bauer (pictured left) and Gerrit Cole for the last three years. The entire nation's eyes were focused on them (in the world of baseball) and they played their hearts out. Their individual skills, strategy, development, and dedication was really neat to see. I can't wait to see them play in the pros.

But It's Just Sports
But it is just sports, after all. Sports can't trump human and civil rights. It should be about playing by the rules, not gaining unfair advantages all for the sake of the "Ws". And it most certainly shouldn't excuse liars and criminals.

I'm quite shocked and disgusted at all the news surrounding the child rapes and other crimes in the football program at Penn State. I'm not even going to link since it's been all over the news. I'm disappointed in Paterno, who I thought was an admirable, principled coach. He may be still, but he certainly had at minimum a lapse in judgment by letting this happen under his nose.

I'm also dismayed at the student reaction, at least portrayed by mainstream newsmedia, at Paterno's firing. How can these students stand up for him, even though these serious, serious crimes persisted under his watch? He can't claim ignorance. A head coach of a major football program can't claim ignorance on goings-on within his program. That's his job, to keep watch and weed out the wrongs, and most of all, protect the students.

I'm sad that all this casts college sports, and sports in general, in a negative light. There is so much good about college sports, with caring, smart coaches like John Savage, Gary Adams, Al Scates, Cori Close, and others who care about the well-being and development of students, not just how many wins they can get in their career.

A Little More on Yesterday's Post
So I really wonder if someone, somewhere, put a 24-hour hex on me by mistake. From 8 pm Wednesday to 8 pm Thursday, almost to the dot, it was one mishap or miscue after another. In addition to the things I listed yesterday:
  • Mixed up a couple of meeting times for work and personal appointments (fortunately, no harm done)
  • Took the bus to the mall, which should have been a 30-minute ride but due to traffic, took 1.5 hours
  • On the way home, I got off at another wrong stop, so had to walk about 15 minutes to my transfer stop (which, I suppose in the end, was good)
  • Dropped a piece of daikon radish which almost rolled behind the stove
The daikon drop was the last thing that happened, around 8 pm, and I took the fact that it DIDN'T roll all the way behind the stove, and that I was able to retrieve it with the aid of some long chopsticks, as a sign that the curse had lifted. I sure hope so, and 12+ hours since, I think that may be the case.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 10: Failed Macarons and the Day

Feeling a bit out of sorts today. So I thought I'd go all the way and look at a spectacular baking failure from last year.

These are supposed to be Parisian macarons.

Parisian macarons have been huge in Japan for several years and it's recently caught on in the US in the past couple of years. So I finally bought a book (shown below, with pics of what real macarons are supposed to look like) and tried out the basic recipe last year and this is what I got.

I have no idea what I did wrong. I have a feeling the almond powder I got from Surfa's wasn't the same as the almond powder called for in the recipe. I know I also have problems with the uneven/unreliable heat in the oven, and maybe I didn't get the baking time right.

Oh well, more to improve on next time.

Daily Life 
Today, or rather, the past 18 hours or so, hasn't been great. I don't know if these things are happening because I feel down, or they're getting me down because they're happening. Plus, I don't know if I'm just manufacturing some fake "sky is falling" symptoms just because all these things seem to be happening at the same time. But just for future reference so I can maybe laugh at it one day, here's the list:
  • Dropped a jar of kosher salt on the kitchen counter and floor (5% damage)
  • Dropped a bag of steamed lentils on the kitchen floor (10% damage)
  • Burned focaccia in the oven (20% damage)
  • Got out of morning routine, forgot earrings, necklace and hair clip (15% damage)
  • Got off at wrong bus stop (10% damage)
  • Got bad news from a friend (35% damage)
So I'm running on about 5% life right now. If I was a character in a video game, my life indicator will be flashing red. I guess I shouldn't be too negative. At least it gave me something to write about.

Busy day at work, haven't caught up on the news at all. Glad it's gloomy outside, kind of fits the mood. I might have been kind of annoyed if it was sunny.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 9: Pea Rice and a Book

Green Peas Rice (mame-gohan) is a popular dish in Japan and among Japanese in the US. When I was little, I used to hate it. I hated the mushiness of the peas and how it made the rice smell stinky. Over the past few years, I had read various Japanese bloggers rave about making peas rice with English peas from the farmers market, and the one I go to had a big box of shelled peas so I gave it a try last summer. Oh my gosh, heaven in a bowl.

The recipe I referenced included a splash of sake, and also cooking the peas separately and letting them cool by dumping the whole pot of peas and hot water into a bowl, then putting that bowl into a larger bowl with ice and water, to let the water and peas cool at the same time. The water that the peas were boiled in was used to cook the rice, then the peas were added toward the end of the rice-cooking. This kept the peas firm and perfectly brightly green, like emeralds, and the sake made the fragrance of the peas so much sweeter.

I made it about five times last summer, but this year I was only able to make it once. Below is this year's, made with brown rice and accompanied by miso-sesame broccoli and simmered bamboo shoots, carrots, chicken and shiitake.

In the News
Well, thank goodness Amendment 26 was soundly defeated in Mississippi. I guess "personhood" is a pretty extremist view even among the anti-abortion circles. I'm glad cooler heads prevailed in this fight, and kudos to the grassroots movement in Mississippi that advocated No on 26.

But Mississippi approved a voter-ID requirement for voting. One step forward, two steps back. Even though I'm just a bystander, sometimes I feel discouraged by the myriad of assaults on human and civil rights. Why do we have to keep revisiting voting rights??

Today's Reading
I just finished reading a book earlier this week. It kind of started out slow, and I wasn't sure if it was really my kind of book, but I got really hooked about halfway through, and by the end I was so engrossed that I missed my bus stop.

"Shokudou Katatsumuri" (Little Snail Diner) by Ito Ogawa is a book from 2008. It's already been made into a movie of the same name (in English: Rinco's Restaurant).

The story revolves around Rinko, whose live-in boyfriend disappeared one day with all of their belongings and money, and she was left with a jar of pickling base that was handed down from her grandmother.

In shock, she leaves behind her life in the city and heads to her rural home. She realizes that she's lost her voice from the trauma. At home, she is found by her estranged mother, and gets help to start a small restaurant on her mother's property.

Trained as a cook in many different restaurants, and with a deep, soulful connection to food and cooking, Rinko creates many magical dishes from locally-sourced meats, vegetables and fruits. She only serves one set of customers at a time, and when she can she'll interview them (meeting in person but writing on paper) so she can assess foods important to them, what they're desiring now, etc.

The story gets a little predictable but I really, really enjoyed this book. Normally I don't read these "chick-flick" type stories. Ms. Ogawa's writing is so lyrical. She goes into great detail about the freshness of the beets grown in the neighbor's garden, the fresh bread she bakes daily for her mother's pet pig (!), the feel of the little depressed rabbit suffering from anorexia (!!). It's a little fantasy-like, but doesn't really get unbelievable, and there are successes and setbacks, and they are all dealt with reasonably, I think.

I'm trying to pinpoint why exactly I liked this book so much. I think it's the respect the writer shows to nature, food, cooking, and people. But it's not like the writer is too nice or naive - she writes frankly about relationships, brash nature of some rural people, possibly evil people. I also loved the use of language - a modern-style narrative, peppered with what I can only describe as "classic" words - beautiful descriptive words and phrases that are generally only seen in classical texts (I think, maybe it's just my ignorance - it's certainly not seen in newspapers and magazines and such).

Interestingly, this book (the main story, anyway - there was a side story included at the end) had NO chapters. Maybe that contributed to the lyrical flow of the story. It felt like I was gliding down a peaceful river in a lush, green forest amidst rays of soft sunlight. I hope that's what the writer was trying to convey.