Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pretty. Fall. Colors.

Right now I am in the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College. It is Family Weekend here, and even though my brother graduated last year, he loved the place so much he decided to work here, breaking my family's heart because he decided not to come back home even though we tried to lure him in with offers of free rent, personal laundry service, and weekly trips to In-N-Out. But his mind was made up, and having visited him here now for the third time, I can see why. There's something about this place that makes you feel happier. I don't know what it is.

Okay, okay, I know what it is. There are actual seasons here. And that great small-town feel. And *real* General Tso's chicken. And people are liberal without being horrifyingly close-minded. (That's right you San Francisco hippie bubble, I'm talking about you!) And there are stores with Mo's Bacon Bar in stock. The most excellent americano I've had. The best, spiciest chai I've had sweetened with honey, not sugar or corn syrup. Pizza with exotic toppings that doesn't cost an arm and a leg for one slice. (The night I landed I tried spicy chicken with sour cream, guacamole, and black beans. Tonight I'll have the pesto tortellini.) And did I mention the pretty fall colors?[*]

Having attended college in New England, fall colors are not a new thing for me. In San Francisco, there are two seasons. Foggy season and rainy season. Trees pretty much stay the some color, and if they do lose their leaves, it's overnight. Here, the tree leaves turn shades of gold and orange and red. When the sunlight hits the leaves and the breeze rustles them a bit, they sparkle. And then there's that nip in the air. It smells like wood-burning fireplaces, and you can walk around in cute scarves and hats and boots and stay toasty but not have to walk fast because you are still cold.

I adore fall. I wait for summer to be over so that I can drink pumpkin spice lattes and hot apple cider. Except it is already November, and last week when I was in SF it was downright warm. We had a few nippy days and I eagerly tried to live it up fall-style. I baked pumpkin biscotti, which was a disaster because I substituted whole wheat flour and some agave nectar for the sugar. I made a beef and guinness stew. I ate the most delicious pork chops with crispy polenta at Park Chow. Okay, actually, the pork chops at Nopa are better, but I think I would sell my soul if I could eat that crispy polenta every day without having a heart attack. But the weather was cruel. It became warm. Then super foggy. Foggy is NOT fall. Fall is crisp and clear and cold.

The pictures I took don't do any justice to how beautiful it actually is here, so I leave you with some from visits past...

See those trees in the back? Right now they are all red and gold and orange. *So* beautiful.

There is an old mill about half an hour away from Amherst, and there is a lovely bookstore, cafe, and restaurant. This river makes a wonderful rushing sound, and the food is awesome. I took my brother to The Night Kitchen last night and we ate the most tender duck breast I have tasted ever. It came with a roasted vegetable medley that had fennel. I love fennel.

[*] Okay, I fully realize that I am visiting here on vacation, and that a few days of being away from the stress of work and school might be clouding my judgment. And *yes* I realize it snows here, and that in order for me to go to work in the winter I do *not* have to scrape the snow off my windshield, for which I am truly grateful.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Drives cats wild!

I recently started teaching at a local university because sooner or later (but probably later) I will actually be done with this whole PhD thing and be totally ill-equipped to handle life in the real world. So I figure now is the time to figure out what I want to do after 7+ years of grad school, since I think the one thing I've learned is that the life of a research professor is not for me. I'd rather stick pins in my eyeballs and eat at Red Lobster than be a research professor. A regular professor though? One who actually teaches because they enjoy imparting wisdom upon young impressionable students? That *may* be the life for me. Hence the teaching.

I had no idea how exhausting it is to teach. It's not that I have classes full of unruly students - on the contrary, they are quite well-behaved. I think part of it stems from the fact that I am five feet tall, and the projection screen is out of my reach, and I don't have a laser pointer. And so the first three weeks, I would grab a stool, awkwardly climb up on top, and attempt to point at things so that the students in the back of the classroom would be able to see that I am brilliantly explaining the difference between dense irregular connective tissue and fibrocartilage. See how they both have collagen fibers? But see how the dense irregular connective tissue has fibroblast nuclei scattered about, but the fibrocartilage has chondrocytes in lacunae? No? Here, let me get down from the stool, move it over a couple inches, climb back up, and try to point out this nice lacuna right over here....

I've been pretty busy at lab (I had to get here at 5:30am this morning, which was scary) so I didn't have time to go buy a laser pointer until last night. I bought the cheapest one I could get, but it was well worth the $9 investment. Not only does it point at things, and is "great for professional presentations and teachers!", but it also "drives cats wild!" Apparently, there are many uses for a laser pointer. Not only can I drive small animals wild, I will be able to "find a mate across the room! Amuse friends at parties! Find a car keyhole in the dark!" Perhaps I should have sprung for the $20 laser pointer - maybe it will help me graduate by next year, win the lottery, and end world hunger.

After a particularly tasty meal at Burgermeister (my first hamburger in about three years, ever since I found out exactly how much saturated fat is in a 1/4 lb patty; I of course ate a half-pound burger last night, yergh) we walked over to Eos to investigate the to-go pints of ice cream they are selling. The flavor that caught my eye was Thai Peanut. Ah, but here is the dilemna - I'm poor. I'm not going to shell out $7 for a pint of ice cream without tasting it first. So mustering up our courage, we asked if we could taste it before we bought it. A phone call later, the pastry chef was dishing out a small scoop to us grubby grad students in the middle of the restaurant. After all that, *of course* we were going to buy a pint. But it was worth it - peanutty, coconutty, and with just the right amount of kick that hits you at the back of the throat, not on your tongue. Yum...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Yo home, smell ya later!

It's really hard not to read it while singing the song along in your head, and bopping your head up and down.

No food stuff for a while, because I got on this reading kick once Harry Potter 7 became available. I promptly finished it that day, then re-read #6 to remember some of the more pertinent details. Now I figure, hell, eff it, I'll just reread the whole thing over again. Except I'm in the middle of this awesome Genghis Khan book and I need to read The Bell Jar for book club.

When the weather was beautiful, I bought an organic basil plant from Trader Joe's, despite Kevin's warnings that I was just going to kill it. Hmf. The fact that it looks peakish now is only due to the winter weather we have had the past week. In contrast, the organic thyme and mojito mint I bought at Long's Drugs (the huuuuuge one in oakland) are doing quite nicely. Ha!

Recently we watched Alton Brown make tomato sauce with ingredients from the pantry. Although it is more labor-intensive than my usual saute-some-garlic-and-onions-then-simmer-with-white-wine-and-canned-tomatoes routine, it was definitely worth making and I'll do it again. Kevin thinks since I took a canning class, we should make a whole bunch and then can it. I think there's something funny about canning something that has already been canned.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Red Mango, here I come!

Less than 24 hours to go. I should probably pack.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

delicious, delicious spam

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
A week ago I attempted to host a casual dinner party at my apartment. This might seem like peanuts to some, but for me that's a stressful ordeal. It doesn't make sense - I like cooking and baking. Oftentimes recipes are meant for 4-8 people. I am one person with limited fridge space. Having a dinner party should be ideal - lots of fun cooking, lots of people to feed, no leftovers in the fridge. Right? Hmm...

My brother and I have done some self psycho-analysis and realized we have inherited party-hosting-phobia from...that's right, you guessed it, our *mother*. She is an amazing cook. She loves to try lots of new recipes. And whenever we have had a dinner party at our house, it has been amazing. But what our guests couldn't see was the week before, with the crazy menu planning ("MOM! You do NOT need ten different appetizers on top of three different meat entrees!") and the insane need for the house to be spotless. In fact, having anybody over at our house seems to be a source of stress for my mother since the house needs to be "clean" so growing up my brother and I didn't really have anybody over to hang out except for birthday parties. And while I told myself I wouldn't be like that when I got older, I think I am... Even my brother, who is an amazing cook, feels the stress of "entertaining." Gah. So this super casual dinner was quite a big deal.

I found myself wanting to plan the perfect menu and stress out about having enough food. And while Kevin told me to chill out and relax, it turns out I was the one who convinced him that three and a half pounds of flank steak is more than enough for 12 people, and no, we don't need to roast a chicken on top of that. His cousin came early to help cook and we ended up with so much food that I spent the next day in a food-and-cooking-induced coma, and ate Otsu and flank steak for lunch every day the next week.

Here is what we ate:

Spam sushi (mmm, Kevin's cousin brought the ingredients)
Crabcakes (also made by Kevin's cousin. Her boyfriend decided to make a sauce with my handblender and then a mild disaster occurred and there was sauce all over the floor. Yum!)
Stuffed mushrooms - Randall made up the stuffing on the fly. We used one of the portuguese sausages I smuggled back from Hawaii.
Salad with strawberries, feta, and marcona almonds - I got this recipe from the chronicle food section. The dressing was made with honey, roasted red peppers, vinegar, and oil. So delicious!
Marinated flank steak - my mom's secret recipe (okay, not so secret, it's in a Sunset cookbook) that is a foolproof party favorite. People would request it when my mom had dinner parties...
Otsu - used Heidi Swanson's (101 Cookbooks) recipe but left out the tofu
Low fat cheesecake - this deserves its own post. The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen, and it honestly tastes like the real thing.

Phew! I look forward to doing that again! Well, maybe in five years.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Ha! I'm not crazy!

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
I recently went to Hawaii (the big island) with my family and we bought some tropical fruits to eat. They all thought this guanabana was tasty. I thought it tasted like sour vomit. They all made me think I was crazy. I just googled it and it turns out this fruit is also known as a soursop. That's right, SOURsop. Ha.

Friday, May 04, 2007

B Star Bar - Go go go!!

An early evening stroll down Clement uncovered a goldmine - B Star Bar. We first walked by and barely gave it a second thought. It was pretty empty and looked new. A quick glance at the menu showed a reasonably-priced establishment that served tea leaf salad just like Burma Superstar on the next block. As we passed by Burma Superstar, I noticed a handwritten sign that said "B Star Bar now open <-----" We decided to eat there for dinner.

What luck, seeing as it was the very first night it is open! The food was delicious - they offer appetizers (in "mini" and "shareable" sizes), well-priced entrees ($8-$12) and salads, including the famous tea leaf salad that has always been sold out when I try to order it for dinner at Burma. We tried:

Deviled Tea Eggs with Tobiko - wow. I loved this. Instead of mixing the yolk with mayonnaise, they filled the cooked egg white half with a sriracha aioli that had a great kick and topped it off with tobiko and lemon zest, which made it really zingy.

Tea Leaf Salad - delicious and nutty

Claypot Chicken Biryani - nice indian spices, not too overwhelming. It would have been nice if there was a rice crust like in traditional claypot rice dishes.

Pork Chop Sammy - like banh mi with a fried porkchop. The bread had a delicious buttery bread smell. Came with an apple-carrot-red cabbage slaw.

The service was very attentive and friendly, and the portions were spot on for the prices. I'd rather pay $8 for a slightly smaller entree than $12 for something where I have to bring a tiny bit home and then forget about for the next three weeks while it dies in my fridge. There were a lot of other entrees we wanted to try, but it doesn't matter, since we'll definitely be back!

posting is so much harder when your laptop has been STOLEN

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
My locked laptop was stolen from my lab. My whole life was on that laptop so you can understand my devastation. And yes, some of my stuff was backed up, but not all. Mostly, I feel violated and want those bits of my life back.
I guess I've had a bit of bad luck lately.

I want to say that Pinkberry was worth the drive down to LA. I wanted to love it, I really did. But I was expecting something like Red Mango, which is the creamiest, tastiest frozen yogurt imaginable. Has real yogurt flavor with just the teeniest hint of sweetness. Delicious with fruit. Swoon-worthy.

Pinkberry is just the opposite. Sour. Icy. Not at all creamy. Each bite a shock to the tastebuds. Waaaaay too expensive for what it is.

So Pinkberry, I was just kidding. I don't need you to come to the bay area. I'm perfectly content with my liquor store vanilla frozen yogurt (on Fillmore and Union, absolutely delicious) and I'll even try to make my own...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pinkberry Trip 2007

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
I really don't know what to say. I spent about two months getting myself all worked up with excitement because I heard that Pinkberry is kind of like Red Mango, and then...

...well, it's *nothing* like Red Mango.

To be continued...

Monday, March 19, 2007

I made my own sushi...

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
...and I'm still alive! Last Friday I had a big sushi craving but instead of going out Kevin and I decided to make our own. By the time we got to Yum Yum Fish all that was left was some salmon and tuna. We made spicy tuna rolls (using just chili sesame oil and sriracha, much better than the mayonnaisey kind), salmon skin rolls and salmon nigiri.

I attribute my sushi-making skills to Liv and Madora, who for my birthday bought me a sushi-making class at Ramekins. It was a really great class and I recommend it to anyone who would like to take a fun four-hour class that is hands-on and you actually learn a lot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

St. Francis Fountain

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
My friend Liv and I have always wanted to find a place that was "ours" - you know, a go-to, could-eat-at-anytime place where you say "hey, I'll meet you at our place" and then we'd both show up 30 minutes later. Because we are both poor (well, at the time we were both poor, but Liv has since grown up and gotten herself a fancy-schmancy JOB) we perused the Chronicle Bargain Bites list. After reading the description of the "Nebulous Potato Thing" at St. Francis Fountain, how could we NOT make that our place?? But somehow we never made it there, and then Liv moved to Denver, so now we can't have a place. :(

Look at that picture. Don't you want to lick the screen? That's a pile of homefries topped with melted cheese, green onion, salsa, and sour cream. Mmmmmmm. And that's just a half order. Liv was in town so we headed over to St. Francis Fountain, which incidentally, is in the cutest neighborhood ever. We sat at the counter and ordered like we would never eat again. Everything looked so good we couldn't just get the Nebulous Potato Thing and leave it at that. I ordered an avocado, bacon and cheddar scramble with biscuits, and they kindly substituted fruit salad for the home fries. Liv got "The Mess" which is eggs scrambled with homefries and topped with sour cream and salsa. We tried pretty hard, but barely made a dent in the potatoes. I did some pretty good work polishing off my breakfast, but Liv has a stomach the size of a pea. To her credit, she did some pretty good work too, I was much impressed. :)

This will definitely be our "place" - it was pretty much clinched by the fact that one of the dinner options is a bowl of mac and cheese, soup, and a small salad. That's my idea of the perfect casual dinner. Other points in its favor:
1) As far as bread options for breakfast goes, you can get toast, biscuits, english muffins, cornbread, or banana bread. Where else can you find choice like that?
2) The lighting is awesome for taking pictures of your food.
3) There's a tamale restaurant nearby. Mmmm, tamales.

DSC02496 DSC02494

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I wasn't able to post this morning because some silly blogger robots decided my blog was a spam blog. Wha??? How the hell does this blog look/sound like a spam blog? I haven't even once mentioned my undying love for Spam (yes, the potted meat product. Yes, it's delicious.)

Blogger, I shake my fist at you!!


Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
My cousin recently came to San Francisco with her family and my aunt and uncle so we all had dinner at Gourmet Carousel on Friday. My aunt and uncle live in Minnesota but have recently decided to spend the cold harsh winter months in Palm Springs. Apparently Palm Springs is the Medjool date capital of the world (I had no idea) and my cousin gave me a container. I've never really eaten dates before (other than boiling those big dried red ones in korean chicken soup when I'm sick, or throwing them at various people in hopes they will have many girl children, but that's a different story) so I didn't know what they tasted like or what to do with them. But my cousin's cute baby daughter ate one with relish so I knew it must be good.

I remembered a recipe from Amanda Hesser's "Cooking for Mr. Latte" that involved dates stuffed with almonds and served with a wine sauce. So I went to Trader Joe's, picked up a bottle of beaujolais, and set to work. First you simmer the wine, add the dates, then after the skins blister, take them out and peel off the skins. You cut open the dates, remove the pit, and add two almonds to the center. Then you pinch the date closed, and it stays closed because it is so damn sticky. Meanwhile, you add some honey, orange zest, and various spices to the wine, simmer, and reduce by half. The book says it takes 20 minutes but it takes more like 40. At least the house smelled yummy. Then you strain the wine, put the dates back in to warm up, and serve them with a little sauce spooned over.

I initially thought it was weird, but then grew to like it. Maybe because I was expecting the wine sauce to taste different? But you boil it with a whole bunch of peppercorns and it becomes really spicy. And yes, the date is really sweet, but the crunchy almonds and wine sauce really cut through it. So I think it's a great thing to make with dates. Thanks cousin!

Apician Spiced Dates
I'm posting the original recipe printed in Amanda Hesser's "Cooking for Mr. Latte" but I didn't follow it directly. I didn't have allspice berries so I grated in some nutmeg. I used a bottle of beaujolais as suggested, but I think I would have preferred to use the bottle of lighter and sweeter merlot that I was also eyeing. And I didn't have mascarpone, but I think that would be key for further cutting through the sticky sweetness of the dates and adding a little richness to the dessert. Also, you've got a whole bottle of wine. You could probably double the number of dates you make. I've got a whole jar of wine sauce left over.

8 medjool dates
16 whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 bottle light-bodied wine, like beaujolais
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon fresh or dried orange zest
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
1 dried bay leaf
4 allspice berries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup mascarpone

1. Pour the wine into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add dates and simmer until skins blister, about 5 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon and while still warm, remove the skins. Cut each date down the long side and remove the seed. Put in two almonds and pinch back closed.

2. Add the spices, zest and honey to the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 (or in my case 40) minutes. Strain the wine and add to another saucepan. Put the dates in the sauce and warm them until medium hot.

3. To serve, put a dollop of mascarpone on a plate, place two dates on top and spoon a little wine sauce on the whole thing. Serves 4.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Please bring Pinkberry to northern california!!!

Two years ago I tasted the most delicious frozen yogurt EVER at a place called Red Mango in Seoul. It was so good that last year when I went back to Korea, I dragged my poor mother around looking for the place so that I could eat it again, but alas, failed. Turns out this Pinkberry place is supposed to be very similar. They have many locations in the LA area and a few in New York. I am making Kevin go on a weekend trip to LA at the end of March (woo hoo, Cesar Chavez holiday!) so that I can eat delicious Pinkberry yogurt. I'm not even kidding. That's how good this stuff is.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

mmm, curry

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
Until I was in high school, the only curry I knew about was the japanese kind. Bright yellow from turmeric, and thick with carrots, potatoes, and chunks of beef. It was such a homey and satisfying meal. It fell to the wayside after I discovered indian and thai curries, but in the last year I've been craving this concoction.

Unfortunately, I've been having a hard time finding the curry powder pouches my mom used to use when I was a kid. Now they sell these blocks of curry roux that have curry powder, vegetable oil, potato starch, and unfortunately, MSG. So I've been putting off making this curry until a recent trip to LA where I ate chicken katsu curry at Hurry Curry. Oh. My. God. The curry craving kicked into overdrive.

Luckily, the latest edition of Saveur 100 lists japanese "Waafu Curry" at number 12, complete with a recipe!! I made it two nights ago, and it was is the recipe (or at least, as much of it as I can remember, since I left the magazine at home):

3 cups chicken stock

1 tbsp oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1" cubes (I used chicken breast)

3 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, half chopped finely and half diced into 1" chunks
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp curry powder (S&B brand, comes in a 3oz can)
2 tbsp crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf
1 medium russet potato, 1" cubes
1 medium carrot, 1/2" rounds

1 small apple, coarsely grated
1 tsp honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat and brown the chicken pieces on all sides, about 4 minutes. Take out the chicken and set aside on a large plate. In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and saute the finely chopped onions, ginger, and garlic until the onions are clear. Scrape up the brown bits left from the chicken. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook until light brown, about three minutes. Add curry powder and tomatoes and combine well. Whisk in half a cup of the hot chicken stock. Remove skillet from heat.

Whisk the curry powder mixture into the remaining chicken stock in the saucepan. Add the bay leaf, diced onions, potatoes, carrots, and chicken. Bring curry to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is thickened. Stir in the apples, honey, soy sauce, and salt to taste. Cook another five minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve over steamed white rice.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

my kiwi can beat up your kiwi...

Originally uploaded by starchmouse.
Kevin bought this guy at the Alemany farmer's market on Saturday. It got cut up for a fruit salad. The salad fed four people, two of them very tall.

The very tall people were my dear friend Madora and her boyfriend Matty. I invited them over for brunch and got to try out a recipe from my Tartine cookbook. Every time I go to Tartine I order the brioche bread pudding (um, along with several other things...) because they put crack in it. Surprisingly, crack was not one of the ingredients listed in the recipe. It was delicious, although next time I will add some more brioche (I didn't want to overcrowd the pan, but perhaps I was too conservative since the pudding at Tartine seems a lot denser) and put a baking tray underneath the pan because egg custard oozed out and dripped on the oven floor, where it turned black and smoky and made my whole house smell like a strange barbeque pit. After opening every door and window in the house, the air was breathable enough for company, and Kevin took to the task of scraping off burnt black egg custard from my oven floor. Awww, what a guy!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Oops, it's been a long time...

I guess I thought that after I advanced to candidacy I'd have tons of time to fulfill all my New Year's resolutions. Work out more. Use my cookbooks more. Hm. Nope. Until a week ago I was madly trying to gather enough data for my two poster presentations for the annual Orthopaedic Research Society conference in San Diego.

I realize I have not done enough "business travel" to accurately describe the phenomenon, but my trip to San Diego is pushing me towards the "no no no! Don't get a job that requires it!" side. And there are several factors that mostly likely skew my perception:
1) Undoubtedly, business travel as a grad student is different than business travel as a jet-setting professional. We're not really encouraged or allowed to go out anywhere fancy or nice (expensive) since we're not trying to woo a client. So we looked for places that weren't too pricey, but given our location in San Diego (the Gaslamp) that was very difficult. Would I have loved to try out Aqua al Due, which I went to in Florence? Most definitely. Would our administrative analyst have a mild stroke and yell at me upon seeing the bill? Absolutely.
2) Eating out for ALL of your meals sounds attractive, but when you are in a place like San Diego for an academic conference, can actually suck. Ugh. I just wanted a salad sometimes, which I ordered, but it was usually doused in dressing or came with something fried, and was so big I couldn't finish it all. Nothing feels worse than to pay a whole bunch of money for a crappy half-salad that you can't take the leftovers back to your hotel room so you throw away. I hate throwing away food, even if it's yucky :( And there are only so many times you can eat a $3 "healthy morning muffin" and drink a $4 latte from the Starbucks kiosk because it's the only thing open at 7am. I can't believe I gave $4 for a Starbucks latte. But it was that or buy a $2.50 apple or a $3 cup of saccharine yogurt.
3) Ironically, as a food geek/science geek, I failed to do any research beforehand about what was good around where we were staying. I also agreed to go to such places as "Fred's Mexican Cafe" and "Dick's Last Resort" when other people suggested it, because I was afraid of being a food bully. Next time: do research. Put foot down.

It wasn't all horrible though. If you ever find yourself staying in the Gaslamp Quarter because you have a conference at the San Diego Convention Center, you'll do just fine if you eat all your meals at The Cheese Shop (5th st, across from the Westfield Horton shopping plaza) where they make their own granola and you can get it with fruit and yogurt. The morning I went, they said they had run out of fruit. How do you run out of fruit at 8:30am??? But, they said, we could have bananas and blueberries. Um, because that's not fruit? Another place was Sushi Deli, on Broadway between 1st and 2nd. Cheap. Large portions. If only I had known about it sooner in the trip...