Thanksgiving 2015

This year, for Thanksgiving, I signed up to make lime jello cheesecake for the lunch gathering at my Aunt Pauline/Uncle Paul’s house (for my dad’s side of the family.) My cousin T volunteered to make macaroni and cheese. Joe got nudged to make sticky rice; he kind of wanted to anyway.

Much will be editorialized about Thanksgiving being the quintessential American melting pot holiday, where we can bring whatever we want from our extra-American roots to the dining table. I have a funny story to add these chestnuts. Most Chinese/Cantonese Americans have a ‘stuffing’ of sticky rice with chinese sausage, mushrooms, etc. as part of Thanksgiving. My friend Casey (who’s Japanese American) was telling me when he went to his first Thanksgiving with Dorothy’s family (she’s Chinese American), he was surprised there was no mashed potatoes and gravy, but there was sticky rice instead!

For the gathering on Friday evening for my mom’s side of the family, we did hot pot, since the Dungeness crab season has essentially been kibboshed. And even though it doesn’t really go with it, I made Minnesota salad.

The twist this year is that I was going to be making these dishes where I’m house-sitting: different kitchen equipment, different stores.

I set off to buy all the Thanksgiving ingredients on Tuesday, and found everything except lemon jello at the family-run, Farmer Joe’s Market (it’s a like a mash-up of Whole Foods and late Andronico’s) up the street.

On Wednesday, I looked at the recipe to start the cheesecake base. I had forgotten to get brown sugar. So when I went to Safeway to get the lemon jello, I decided instead of buying a box of brown sugar, I’d simply take a few packets of the turbinado (brown sugar) from the in-store Starbucks. All I needed was ¼ cup anyway. Yes, I was being cheap, yes I am Chinese, you can put the two together. But I did have a sliver of conscience: I decided to split the difference. I took a few packets from Starbucks, and stopped by Peet’s down the street and take some from them also! (Since I had met Casey for coffee the previous afternoon in another Starbucks, and hadn’t added any sugar to my drink, I was simply making up for that entitlement!)

WTF! There was no lemon jello at Safeway either. There was lime, cherry, orange, but no lemon. 0 for 2 now. Had it been discontinued? (That is a recurring theme in my life: my favourite products keep going obsolete.) I was panicking slightly; I didn’t know what or how to substitute for lemon jello for this recipe. I had lemons at home for juice and rind, or I could buy fancy imported lemon curd, but this is one of those recipes you do not want to mess around with. Especially not less than 24 hours before you’re supposed to serve it to an audience who is very familiar with how it looks and tastes.

Further down the street was a Mexican market. Hallelujah! Mi Tierra had lemon jello. (I think Mexicans eat more jello-based deserts, i.e. I’ve seen to-go cups of fruity yogurt-and-jello parfaits in bakeries and supermarkets).

Even better, they had another bone-based food: chicken feet. I bought some to simmer for soup, to leach out the cartilage, since my knees are still grouchy. (I’m not a fan of the concept of supplements, although a couple of my similarly-doubter friends have said glucosamine does work.)

During my grade-school years in Bangkok, my friends and I would sometimes snack after school on jello powder or instant noodle bricks, straight from the package, no water added. The jello powder was essentially like Pixie Stix, but in packet form. The noodle bricks (either Mama or Wai Wai), we could sprinkle the chili/flavor powder over it. All of our parents scolded us for doing so, because it was supposedly bad for you, but that made it all the more delish. Besides, they could never explain precisely why it was bad for you, just a vague ‘it’s bad for your digestive system.’

It’s neat to see the transformation of the pale green lime jello crystals dramatically becoming a clear “Romancing the Stone” emerald green once it comes in contact with water. The plumes of dissolving powder undulating in streaks made me think of the Northern Lights, which I’d seen for the first time this past fall. There’s different colors possible for them apparently; they appear in greens, pinks, purples, as well as white. But my eyesight is poor, all I ever see when I look up at objects in the night skies is shades of white.

I carefully poured the lime jello over the lemon cheesecake layer, so that it would neither disturb nor foam bubble. Unlike the apricot shortbread that’s in my repertoire of deserts, I find that dealing with foods in layers where it’s important to keeps the layers clean for aesthetics takes more effort/patience than I can afford, even though it looks so cool.

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Lime jello cheesecake

I remember seeing photos of a rainbow-layered jello desert when I was a kid, probably on the back of the box, and being very impressed with it. I remember wanting one for my birthday, even if it probably wouldn’t taste as good as cake with frosting.

There was a really interesting article in the New York Times Magazine on Betty Crocker food, which I associate both these recipes from that era. Both of these recipes are rooted in post-war iconic American processed foods: miniature marshmallows, Dole canned crushed pineapple, lime and lemon Jell-O, a silver block of Philadelphia cream cheese. But there’s good stuff in them too, like fresh cranberries, walnuts for both these dishes, and whipping cream (no, believe it or not, not Cool-Whip!)

For the Minnesota salad this time, I hand-chopped each of those cranberries with the Migros knife, since that was the best tool I had on hand. I bet most people don’t know that (1) cranberries have seeds, roughly the size and color of mustard seeds, and (2) the inside of a cranberry is white and spongy firm, not mushy, so it’s actually easy to slice. But after a while, the chopped cranberries mixed with sugar bleed, resulting in a juice that is the dark red color that you’d expect. I wonder if it’s due to oxidation? As it turned out, hand slicing left the cranberries too chunky, so there wasn’t enough to juice to tint it the usual shade of pink.

Of the 90% of Thanksgiving meals that feature some sort of cranberry, I wonder what is the ratio of dishes that use fresh cranberry vs. processed cranberry (canned, jellied, prepared sauces). Joe’s family’s Thanksgiving dinners rely on Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. The tradition is really about the opening of the can and sliding the garnet cylinder so that it shudders out with a whomp! when the vacuum of the can fills with exposed air.

Hotpot at Mom’s tends to proceed in fits and starts, since the electrical wiring at her house is very archaic. True to form, there was lots of short-circuiting and re-setting the circuit breakers, since Mom had both an induction hot plate/soup pot, and a shabu grill plate going, and an electric kettle to boil water for topping up the hotpot. She keeps buying different electric hot pots to try out and discarding them. “Why don’t you simply stick to the butane canister stoves?” I asked. “I don’t know how to use them,” even though she had one.

The other Thanksgiving tradition is to acknowledge thanks and gratitude. Instead of talking about the stuff that truly matters: health, family, friends, etc, I’m going to give a shout-out for things which can simply be bought with money. I’m very happy they exist at this point in my life. In alphabetical order:

  1. Asphalt Mix chocolates from Recchiuti, San Francisco.
  2. Blenheim apricots. And mangosteens.
  3. Bundaberg Ginger Beer
  4. Cheetos
  5. Chocolate Showers from Loard’s Ice Cream (East Bay)
  6. Converse Chuck Taylors
  7. Dad’s Cardamom ice cream from Three Twins
  8. Dave’s Organic Red Heirloom Pasta Sauce
  9. Drawn & Quarterly graphic novels, but especially those by Adrian Tomine and Guy Delisle.
  10. Duarte’s, Pescadero
  11. Egg custard tarts from Napoleon Bakery, Oakland
  12. Egg salad sandwiches from Pret a Manger (yes, the chain)
  13. Galaktabureko (desert) at Evvia, Palo Alto
  14. Haig’s Muhammara dip
  15. Hawker Fare, Oakland
  16. Hong Kong-style milk tea from Shooting Star, Oakland
  17. Icebreaker underwear
  18. Jambalaya, fried fish and a sunnyside up egg at Cajun Kitchen, Santa Barbara
  19. Kimchi from the tofu guy at Mountain View Farmer’s Market
  20. Koobideh, barbequed tomato and rice from Rose Market, Mountain View
  21. Lers Ros, San Francisco.
  22. Madras Café, Sunnyvale
  23. Meiji Chelsea Yogurt Candy
  24. The New York Times in hard copy
  25. Newman’s Own Newman’s O’s cookies (their version of Oreos)
  26. Oaklandish Bart Tree t-shirt
  27. Ollalieberry milkshakes at Fatapple’s, El Cerrito/Berkeley
  28. Ortlieb panniers
  29. Pinot Noir wines from Navarro Vineyards
  30. Roast duck and roast pork from Cheung Hing in San Francisco
  31. Sakurambo Vert tea from Lupica
  32. Samosas from Rangoli, Santa Clara
  33. San Jose Tofu, San Jose
  34. Smartwool socks
  35. Swimming at the Eagle Park Pool in Mountain View
  36. Thick crust pizza from Blue Line Pizza
  37. Trader Joe’s Butter Almond Thins
  38. TriSwim Body Wash
  39. Vitamin D lotion from Body Time
  40. Walnut-date candy from Kee Wah Bakery in Hong Kong
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Chile is the midpoint between California, Switzerland and Boston

It’s a rare treat to meet up and spend time with family/friends while travelling for such an extended period. We got a double dose of socializing in two days when we met up with my cousin Matthias in Valparaiso for lunch last Friday. Then we spent the weekend hanging out with Loutz and his friend Matt in Santiago.

Matthias is one of my cousins in Switzerland, who happened to be doing a study abroad program in Valparaiso. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years; the last time being our cousin Jason’s wedding in So Cal over 10 years ago. He took us to lunch at a very Chilean place that had good empanadas, but only after 6 PM. We had very good tomaticon (a tomato, beef and bean stew) instead.

Loutz of ice cream fame was doing a bike trip around central /south Chile with his buddy Matt from North Carolina. (Apparently, Dave and Matt, who’ve known each other since college, do a bike trip abroad every couple of years.) So we arranged to meet up in Santiago, which was great, because we hadn’t seen Loutz since 2009 when we went to visit him in Boston.

Better yet, Loutz had been to Santiago 6 years ago, so he was able to be our tour guide.  Even better, Loutz is a transportation planner, so we were able to geek talk, which I haven’t done in a long time. Like discussing . . . .

Santiago vs Buenos Aires: Metro system comparison:

  • Price per ride: US$1 vs. $US 0.35
  • Smartcard name: Bip! vs. Sube
  • Able to ride on negative balance: No vs. Yes
  • Cleanliness: Santiago
  • Age: Buenos Aires  (100 yrs old)

OTHER ODDS AND ENDS

Christmas decorations: We’ve seen some Christmas trees festooned with lights in building lobbies, etc, but Christmas decorations seems more low key here. We could count on one hand the number of homes with outdoor Christmas lights. I think that’s because energy costs are so expensive. The most common small Christmas decoration we’ve seen is a Santa climbing up a rope ladder to get in through a building window. That makes sense, since there are almost no chimneys around here!

Long Bean Slivers: A sandwich universally contains some sort of meat and some sort of vegetable. Back home, the vegetable component is usually sliced tomatoes and lettuce. I usually find it underwhelming. Tomatoes in the winter are tasteless: I used to wonder why they couldn’t be substituted with a slice of orange instead. Lettuce has very little nutritional content, and is insubstantial.

In Chile,  you get sandwiches at fuentes (or fuentes de soda), literally a “(soda) fountain”.  The common fixings in sandwiches are sliced tomatoes, mashed avocado, chucrut/sauerkraut, and slivers of cooked  green beans, which are still green/not overcooked. I really like the green bean slivers, there’s more texture, taste and nutritional value to them than lettuce.  They also remind me of my step-mom, who used to put them in noodle soup when I was growing up, although she would cut them in short twigs, rather than slivers. I wonder why Chileans cut the green beans in long slivers, that would seem to take more effort and knife skills.

Chileans are also very big on mayonnaise in their sandwiches, less you think them all health-nuts. When we went to our first fuente today: Fuente Alemana across the street from where we were staying, we thought the glop was melted cheese. But there was a sign on the wall “Our mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs.”

The sandwiches here are so enormous that you have to eat them with a fork and knife. At Fuente Alemana, they didn’t bother offering french fries or any other potato product as an accompaniment. Very tasty, rather old-school with a long lunch counter like Apple Pan in LA, but very spick and span.

Dandelions: I’ve mentioned the llao llao, which are very unusual orange fruit-looking fungus which grown on tree trunks in Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego. They looked so wonderfully exotic to me, that it shock to see another plant so familiar: dandelions. I wonder if they came with the European immigrants, or if they were indigenous to the New World. And if so, did dandelions first appear in North or South America? They were all over the trails in Tierra del Fuego park outside Ushuaia. Of course you’re not supposed to pick the flora in national parks, but if I were hungry and scavenging young dandelions leaves for salad along the trail, wouldn’t I actually be doing a good deed of weed eradication?

Seafood and fruit vs. beef and ice cream. In Argentina, it was all about the steaks and helado. In Chile, to my relief, good seafood is everywhere, and relatively good value for price. Most of it is fish (white) and conger eel and lots of bivalves like mussels, clams, razor clams, and some abalone/geoduck. Most salmon is farmed. Scallops are called ostiones, which confused us, since that refers to oysters in Mexican Spanish. But they are really good here. I missed erizo (sea urchin) season, which is a pity, because I’d love to know how they prepare it here.  There are two types of crabs: king crabs (centolla) and jaibe (stone crabs.) I don’t eat king crabs in California, because they are usually frozen from Alaska.  But here, they are fresh, and very tasty, and better yet, they are usually served peeled. Still, my palate is tuned to Dungeness. There’s not a lot of shrimp (most are labeled Ecuadorian).  I tried to convince my parents to come travel for a bit with us in South America, but they were intimidated by the distance. I think if I told them how good the seafood is here, they’d be more willing to come. The preparation styles are relatively simple as well, which lets the 鮮 (sweet/fresh) flavor of the seafood shine through. Lightly cooked in their own juices, with some aromatics (onion perhaps), lemon juice, and a dusting of chopped parsley, cilantro.

There’s not as much ice cream here, but since it’s summer here, there’s good stone fruit like strawberries, cherries, peaches,  apricots and pears. It’s easier to find jugo naturales (fresh fruit juice) here, than in Argentina.

A lo pobre: A common style of food presentation is some sort of meat or seafood, served with french fries, sauteed onions and topped with a fried egg.  We’re very happy to find it in Chile, as it tastes great with fried fish. I wish it was as easy to find at home.

Reading vs. speaking Spanish: We’ve picked up a fair amount of survival Spanish, at least for reading menus. In some cases, even when there are English versions of the menu available, we prefer to read the Spanish version, since some restaurants simply applied Google Translate and came out with dish names so mangled, it would take us much longer to figure out what they meant in English. “A lo pobre” comes out as “at the poor.”  “Media luna” is literally “half moon”, which is a croissant.

The other thing I like doing is when we’re hanging out at a cafe (really, travelling life is just like life at home in some respects) is to read the local magazines (glossy pages of fashion, ooh!) and the newspaper (it’s good to get a sense of what goes on in real life for people who are living here, as opposed to just passing through.) And usually there is something that is relevant to our travel as well.

I can generally get the gist of newspaper articles, since a lot of the vocabulary is similar to English. But occasionally it backfires, as people might ask me something in Spanish, like “can I have that paper when you are done,” and then my response is a confused look of incomprehension. They’re probably thinking “why doesn’t she understand what I said, when she must know Spanish, since she’s able to read a Spanish newspaper?”

Interesting things can be gleaned from advertisements. Like credit card payments and discounts. Maybe I’ll get around to discussing that next time, but I need to go to sleep now.

To be the second opinion when you doubt your spouse

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It had been about 20 years since I last talked to her. She sounded the same, but I had forgotten her particular diction, prefacing each question with an insistent “Celia!” as if she was interrupting me talking to someone else at a cocktail party, even if it was solely she and I on the phone.

 

I’d just visited Nancy’s sister in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, and she was planning to visit Brussels for the first time later this summer. So she called me to compare notes.  What airlines, what city to fly into, etc. Nancy had never traveled abrd, so her concerns were understandable. It reminded me of what it would feel like to be in the shoes of a newbie traveler; I’ve traveled so much that I’m quite jaded, and take much about it for granted.

 

But the more we talked, the more I realized this wasn’t so much a research call, as a quest for reassurance.  Her husband had done his research, but she didn’t quite seem to trust his homework.

 

I smiled wryly when the lightbulb flickered on. I’ve done the same thing to Joe. “You don’t believe when I tell you something, but when someone offers you the same advice, you simply accept it unquestioningly!” Touché. It felt a bit awkward. Not only was I probably going to be the subject of Nancy’s husband’s “See I told you so,” indignation, but when the dispute stemmed from someone doing travel research and planning, I felt more guilty, even as an disinterested bystander.

 

“Oh, Nancy actually doesn’t want to go,” said Nancy’s cousin who had provided my phone number to Nancy. “She’s scared and intimidated by traveling.” 

Again, to be in the shoes of someone who . . . doesn’t want to travel. I can’t quite understand it, but I acknowledge that it takes all sorts to make up the diversity of the human race, and that would include people have the resources, but not the desire to travel.

 

I’ve been kind of worried that I’m losing my ability to feel joy and wonder while traveling. On this most recent trip (which included the visit to Nancy’s sister to Brussels), I felt like it took me way too long regain my travel ‘sea-legs’. I kept getting lost, which was shock to my innate ability to navigate by instinct or by map or landmarks. I didn’t take enough photos. I was stressed out and impatient. I had slackened off on trip planning arrangements, which meant I paid a bit more than I needed to for train tickets, and subjected poor Joe and Biker to the unnecessary burden of biking 80 km on 3-speed bicycles, instead of 7 speed ones; and rushed to White Hart Lane straight from the airport, only to find out that match had been moved to the next day.

 

But it was OK, by the end I’d mostly come around. I ate jellied eels, and swam in the Serpentine, where I lasted ten strokes before fizzing out like a melting cube of champagne  (It was about 30 degrees F outdoors. At least it was five strokes longer than I lasted in Crater Lake.)  We Velibed along the Seine.  I didn’t get to put my name down as ‘Albert Heijn’ when wait-listing for a restaurant table in Amsterdam, but at least I remembered to take a photo of the chocolate- and rainbow-colored sprinkles which I discovered that the Dutch sprinkle on toast as part of their nutritionally complete breakfast (After all cold cuts, cheese and bread can only get you so far)!

 

The small ‘aha’ moment of the sprinkles was as exciting to me as the first whiff of skunk was to Biker’s 9-year-old son three weeks later, as we were driving along the Central California coast. “Let’s roll down the windows, I want to smell more skunk!” (They don’t have skunks in Thailand, where they live.)

 

It’s wonderful to see kids amazed by the first time they smell skunk  and relive that moment from your childhood; it’s an incredible relief that as an adult I haven’t completely lost that capacity for being amazed by the little things you only learn about when you travel. If Nancy goes, I hope she finds out that you are never too old to discover the joy of travel.

Bon appetit, poulets!

It’s snail season, so we’ve been encouraged to put some effort to picking out and getting rid of the snails in the community garden. In the past I’ve simply squished them underfoot, but one of my colleagues who raises hens for eggs told me chickens love snails. So I picked snails from my garden plot and put them in a lidded yogurt tub one morning and brought them straight into work. When I went by his cubicle, he wasn’t there. So I left them on his chair, and then emailed him that I had left the him some snails as snacks for his chickens.

He emailed back with this:

“Rita and some of the others in Customer Sales and Marketing often bring me goodies like cookies or other sweets. Imagine my surprise when I opened that yogurt container. Those are really healthy looking snails. The hens will love them!”

I hadn’t been thinking: I guess I should have wrote a post-it note and slapped it on the yogurt container instead of email, since he might not check his email before opening the yogurt container. I’m also lucky he’s not squeamish, i.e. if he’d been an uptight kind of senior manager . . that would not have bode well for me!

“Healthy snails. . .” that’s actually not the type of compliment a gardener wants to hear. And then he told me the next day his hens didn’t particularly care for the snails, which was odd because the flock of hens he had last year were crazy about snails. But he was kind enough to bring half dozen of eggs anyway!

I told my mom this story and she said: “You are funnier than the story.  Giving people snails.  Next time you can bring weeds for their compost.”

Coffee jello

I’ve been making cold-brewed coffee, since it’s summertime. It’s very simple. Grind beans. Pour 1/3 cup coffee grounds and 1.5 cups of room temperature water in a glass jar and let it sit overnight. Strain, and store the coffee in the fridge.

However, my current work gig has me commuting to Oakland, so I don’t really have time to enjoy the cold coffee (really, the nice foggy mornings call for hot coffee, or a HK-style milk tea from Shooting Star in Chinatown.) So I made coffee jello simply by using the recipe for almond jello, but substituting the cold coffee for the milk and almond extract. It’s a black coffee jello. I guess I could keep the milk in if I wanted milk-coffee jello, but then, if you want something creamy, with the mouth-feel of fat, then just have the jello with vanilla ice-cream.

Anne came by, so I offered her the cold coffee with vanilla ice-cream, since the jello hadn’t set.

Next time, I’ll try making tea jello. We were given two bags of jasmine tea leaves as wedding favors. I’m not a fan of jasmine tea, since I think it’s too ordinary, too floral, and at dim sum it doesn’t cut the grease as well as pu-erh. But I’ve been making ice tea out of the jasmine, and it’s not too bad.

The last time Anne was here was for the joong party a couple of weekends ago. This year’s difference was that (1) my dad’s sister Aunt P. came for the first time, and had us making lotus leaf joong (bigger) and red-bean paste joong (desert). Each year, Uncle YY has asked me if I would make red-bean joong each time I announced the joong party, and my response each time was, “You are perfectly welcome to bring red-bean paste and make your own red-bean joong.” He never showed up.

I am not a nice niece. Aunt P. is a nice sister-in-law, because she made the red-bean joong for him! (He didn’t show up this year either.)

This year’s other innovation is to cook the joong in the slow-cooker. Overnight. It turned out pretty well. But we still had to cook most of them on the stove-top, because our slow-cooker capacity is quite limited.

Hamburgers and Ice Cream

“Wow, I didn’t know she used to be good looking!” – Joe’s reaction to the online news of Elizabeth’s Taylor’s death. He’s pretty much known her only as some overweight broad with too much mascara in the days of her fundraising for AIDs. I think that the website he saw used a photo of her from her 20s or 30s.

I made pancakes this morning, because last night Joe had been watching some basketball game. When a player on the winning team was interviewed afterwards, he said he had a craving for pancakes. When Joe went to bed, he said, “Now I have a craving for pancakes.”

I used the recipe in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”, which of course isn’t simple. It’s about the only recipe for pancakes I’ve seen that has you separating the egg; beating the yolk in with the milk; then beating the egg white into soft peaks and folding them into the remainder of the batter. To heck with that, I simply crack the egg into the milk and give it a brisk whisk. The good part about the recipe that I do follow is 3 tablespoons of melted butter.

While we ate our rather rich, partially buckwheat pancakes, we read the newspapers. The oversized burger on the front page of the NY Times food section this morning gave me the urge to go out for hamburgers. (Even though the Times article was about vegetarian burgers.) Five Guys, an East Coast chain, opened a branch in Sunnyvale, so we figured we’d go try it out for a late lunch.

Scanning the Yelp reviews beforehand showed it to be a mixed bag. I’ve finally figured out that the value of reading the Yelpers doesn’t lie in getting an overall report card ‘grade’, but in the details that let you know what to order or to avoid, and other useful tips to know in advance. In this case, it was very helpful to know that the difference between a ‘little’ and a ‘regular’ burger was one patty vs two – especially since it wasn’t spelled out on the store menu. And that there were free peanuts.

We decided to split a little bacon cheeseburger, with all the condiments (they call it ‘all the way’), excluding pickles and raw onions, adding on grilled mushrooms and relish. (Most of their toppings are free, which is nice, considering how most other burger places nickel and dime you for them.)
I though that two patties might be too heavy. As it turned out, with so many toppings, the single patty was overwhelmed by the taste of everything else. We also ordered fries.

The free peanuts are camouflaged in cardboard boxes against the backwall. There’s a metal scooper you use to scoop some of the unshelled peanuts onto a cardboard plate and bring them back to your table to snack on while you wait for your burger. Joe and I wondered if we were supposed to do here what gets done at the Long Bar at Raffles: drop the shells on the ground.

The bacon in the burger was really good. Crispy, made its presence quite known. (My pet peeve about Barney’s burgers (a local burger chain the East Bay) is that they pre-fry their bacon, so that by the time it’s added to you order, it’s limp.) However, the Five Guys buns were too squishy and soft, and the patty itself was nothing to write home about. Joe detected a canned taste to the mushrooms.

I liked the fries here more than those at In-n-Out, they had more substance. But you also get way too much – one order of fries means half of them are in the paper cup holder, and the other half are spilled into the brown paper bag in which your foil-wrapped burger is handed to you. Sure, eating hamburgers means messy hands, but this is gratuitous. I wish they’d downsize the fries portion and price.

The other annoying thing is – since they wrap the burger in foil, they should provide recycling bin for the foil. But they don’t.

Overall – Joe wasn’t impressed enough by it to want to come back. I might come back, more for the fries than for the burger. Too bad they don’t serve alcohol, they’d be very good with beer.

On our way back along ECR, we stopped to check out Loard’s ice Cream. It’s a new branch of an old-timey ice cream chain that’s based in San Leandro. Apparently it got bought out by some Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had made his fortune, and was looking for something else to do.

Actually, I’ve had been to a Loard’s before. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Loutz and I were in the same grad school program. Our classes were in the steepest NE corner of campus; I lived waaay downhill, so I got a good work-out biking uphill to class everyday. Loutz, let’s just say he ran and biked a lot. So even if his commute to classes from I-House was relatively flat, he was quite skinny.

We became friends in part because we liked ice cream. We started going on ice-cream runs, checking out different ice-cream places. (We each had a car.) We’d go into an ice-cream shop, I’d order one scoop, or two, if I really couldn’t decide on just one flavor. He’d order a pint of ice cream. And it would take us the same amount of time to finish eating our respective order of ice-cream.

A couple of years ago, Joe and I went to visit him in Cambridge, MA. He took us to an ice-cream shop after dinner. He ordered a pint of ice cream, everyone else had a cone, and it took us all about the same time to each finish our ice-creams. Yup, Loutz is still as skinny as he was in grad school. I am decidedly not.

Back to the ice cream exploration of grad school days: we found Loard’s . . . in the yellow pages on the phone-book. While the handful of branches were nearby as the crow flies, they were still quite a drive to get to, located as they were in the more ‘obscure’ neighborhoods. Otherwise I think they could have given Fenton’s a run for their money, Fenton’s being more centrally located on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. They both have old school flavors; and the sherberts come in technicolor shades of orange, green and fuschia.

Today, based on the quality of the ice-cream, Loard’s has the edge. I had the apricot sorbet. It was little bit icy, but it tasted like intense apricot, nothing but intense apricot, so help me god. Joe had toasted almond: the nuts in the ice cream were fresh and in large pieces.

Loard’s just opened here 5 months ago. They’re a shorter bike ride from our house than Rick’s in Palo Alto. I hope they stay in business here through the warmer weather!

Recent baking

Sorry – no food p0rn shots.

I’ve been baking quite a bit recently, following the banana dessert series. Motivation – saving money, using up ingredients I have in my pantry, and eating less processed food. I figure if I’m making my own junk food (i.e. cookies, pastries, etc.) it’s ‘healthier’ than the store-bought version because it doesn’t have ‘industrial’ ingredients like corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, or what have you.

However, I’m not sure that all that butter I’m consuming in my baked goods is all that healthy either. Cost-wise, I may not be saving money: butter, flour and sugar are expensive. I haven’t done a full-blown cost-analysis. But the fulfillment of doing my own baking can’t be beat, not to mention the learning process. Here’s a run-down

Green-tea (matcha) cupcakes – Someone gave me a Hummingbird bakery cookbook. I said a polite thank-you, hand copied the green tea cupcake recipe, and promptly flipped the book on Half.com. It didn’t turn out too bad, but I didn’t realize that the amount of cocoa in the batter would overwhelm the matcha flavor. It turns out that blast of matcha flavor is from the frosting. I usually don’t make frosting, but I did this time. I might make it again, and skip the cocoa powder, for a true matcha cupcake.

Olive-oil brownies – from a recent recipe in the New York Times. I threw in coconut for one batch, and the other had nuts. Not too bad. Definitely a tinge of savoriness.This one I would make again on a voluntary basis. Like when I want to consume less butter.

Lemon Bars – Better Homes and Garden recipe. Marcella had brought her signature lemon bars to crab feed# 1. Sue Jane had bought Meyer lemons from her garden to crab feed# 2 as a hostess gift. I didn’t have Marcella’s recipe, so I turned to the cookbook at hand. I misread the ingredients, so not enough butter in the crust. I didn’t like the lemon layer, but that might have been because I doubled the amount of lemon juice (didn’t want it to go to waste), which affected the texture. Also the lemon layer batter sat for a while, so it separated a bit. I didn’t beat it again before pouring. The lemon zest floated to the top, in chewy strands, but I didn’t mind. I love lemon zest. Overall, edible, but disappointing, since I consider Marcella’s recipe the golden yardstick by which all other lemon bars are mentioned.

Oatmeal cookies – I just had a craving for oatmeal cookies. I had some sad, dried out raisins left from last year’s camping trip. Better Homes and Garden recipe worked well. These fresh-baked cookies had an unbeatably real/true flavor, compared to store-bought.

Lemon Bars # 2 – I asked Marcella for her recipe and followed it to the T. I even chopped up the zest. However, I baked it in the convection-toaster oven, since Joe was roasting spare-ribs in the main oven. I didn’t adjust the time or temperature down, so I overbaked it. It wasn’t carbonized burnt. But the texture has fused and caramelized, into something quite tasty, but with very little lemon flavor. It was like a rich buttery chewy cake. It was quite unrecognizable from Marcella’s usual lemon bars!

Chocolate-ginger cookies – I had leftover crystallized/candied ginger from the Chinese New Year candy box. I remembered seeing a chocolate ginger cookie recipe on Food Gal. It turns out it was from Martha Stewart, and it also had chocolate. It called for ground ginger and grated fresh ginger, not candied ginger. So I followed the recipe and didn’t put in candied ginger.
It didn’t seem like it would be too sweet, the batter only had molasses, and the balls of dough were rolled in a bit of sugar – for a frosted crystalline appearance. But I forgot – semi-sweet chocolate is actually quite sweet. So it was too sweet – I should use bitter-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks next time.
It called for Dutch process cocoa – I only had a tin of Dagoba unsweetened cocoa powder. I don’t know what difference it makes.
Overall, it is very rich – in a ‘jai’ way (Chinese term for ‘filling’). If you eat more than two cookies at once, you will feel slightly queasy! So that made the cookies last a while. It helps if you eat them with milk, coffee or strong tea. It also helps that Joe is not crazy about ginger.
These are also chewy, rather than crunchy. I prefer crunchy, so I might make them again in smaller sizes, for a higher surface to volume ratio.

It turns out the Food Gal-featured cookie recipe I was really thinking of, which used candied ginger is this one. That’s next on my to-try list. Although she mentions they’re chewy – maybe I can overbake them to be crunchy. I don’t know enough about baking principles to know how tinker a chewy cookie recipe to become crunchy.

Also I need to figure out a way to make use of the dried Chinese jujubes I have on hand. I give lots to my uncle, but still have some left. I used to make cucidati, but it’s more work than it’s worth. I’m thinking of date-paste filled crepe/pancakes, Shanghai-style. Need to find a recipe.

Also to try next – the Lamington, from Down Under – a cake with chocolate and coconut. And khanom moh kaeng – to use up palm sugar/jaggery.