31 October, 2007

can can

I'm sure it sounds silly to most people in this modern age of "I can get that at the megamart," but Banik and I would like to learn to can our own foods. Why? There are a few reasons.

1. It's a way to store food that doesn't require space in the freezer or fridge. This is an issue for foods that we like to make in larger quantities (a big pot of soup). It's also useful for preserving foods fresh from the garden or made immediately after harvest (like the tomato sauce and apple butter taking up room in the freezer).

2. If we canned it, we know exactly what went into it. Well, as much as we ever know exactly what goes into anything we make. But it means no unnatural additives or preservatives, no chemicals that I can't pronounce, and no absurd amounts of salt. Salt is probably the most important thing because although Banik loves it and can apparently have all he wants, I have to eat as little as I can. Our own cooking means that we can each salt to taste.

3. We can have prepared foods around that are actually good for us. We know fast food is bad for us, and we try to make sure that when we eat out it's because we want to instead of because we've had a long day and feel too tired to cook. We could have soup, chili, and more tomato products than even I know what to do with all ready to make dinner. And if we need something to use for a dessert or to top pancakes or waffles? Nevermind your store-bought jellies and fillings; I've got cherries I pitted myself and pear butter that contains nothing but pears.

If it lets us stock our pantry with good ingredients, cook at the drop of a hat, and enjoy home-grown produce all year it seems like a good idea. Both of us are fortunate enough to be from families with lots of foods that are homemade rather than "something-or-other-brand home-style," and we recognize the difference. Our friends seem to appreciate it when they benefit from our hospitality, and with any luck the next generation will, too.

25 October, 2007

"The Thai Place"

So, this post is in regards to the Thai place on Pearl street in Cambridge. I think it's call Thai Spice, maybe not.

Ayway, I've been twice, so I figure that I'll givea bit of a review.

It's a small place that seats perhaps 25, with a mocha-themed decor, deeps woods, and a giant Red canvas on one wall...

My first visit, I had a seafood soup that was A)very hot (hot enough to burn my tongue... I hate that) and B) pretty good. It was a bit spicy, with basil, vegetables, and seafood (shrimp, calamari, scallops, etc). No, I don't remember what it was called.
My main course was Basil Fried Rice. It was excellent. One can choose the meat that it comes with, if any, and I chose chicken for the first try. The rice was very good, with many kinds of vegetables in it, a strong flavour of basil and a smokey sesame oil esque flavour too. It is listed as "2 Chilies" which is the spiciest the resturant offers, and it was only a hint of spice but a good chilie flavour. I plan on seeing if they offer anything a bit more potent in the future.
My second trip there involved many, many dishes, since a couple friends and I shared appetizers, etc. First, the appetizers.
1) Satay Chicken. Very Good. This consists of grilled chicken tenders on kabobs seasoned with tumeric and yogurt which you dip into a satay sauce- ground peanuts and... other stuff?
2) Chinese Ravioli. Also good. Typical potstickers, but with a single shrimp in the middle of the ground pork. Thesse were then pan fried and served with the typical dipping sauce (soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil). These were good. The shell was thinnish, maybe a bit thiner than I would've hoped, but the sauce was very well balanced- no film of sesame oil, nor was it too punchy from the mirin.
3) Crab Rangoons. These were also very good. Not oily at all, and I think they even had real crab in the mixture, which was also very good. These were served with a non traditional sweet chili sauce which complimented them very well. Also, there was something green in the filling- spring onions? Leeks? Chives? It was good, lended a nice flavour.
My main course was called a Beef Jungle Curry. This was described as a green curry made without coconut sauce. It had basil, chilies, and perhaps some kaffir lime leaves flavouring the broth. In the broth were mostly vegetables, green beans, bamboo shoots, minicorn, and some carrots and ginger, I beileve. Topping these were a few slices of charred beef sliced very thinly- the charring wasa nice effect imparting a smokey essence which I enjoyed. I could've done with a bit more meat, but that's my cleanivore nature coming through.

It's good, I'll go back.



I accept that we can't have one of every animal we like; in the end we would quite literally own a zoo. So certain conflicts develop, ie. would it be better to have a pet Chinchilla or a pet Rabbit? Chinchillas are amazingly soft, adorable little balls of fluff that sleep most of the day and roll in dust; they never require bathing. Rabbits are also cute balls of fluff, and despite being higher maintainence than cats or dogs, they can be harness and litterbox trained. How is anyone supposed to choose?

Theoretically I wouldn't have to because I have found the solution: the viscacha rat. I discovered these little critters over on Cute Overload, and then found them again on Disapproving Rabbits. Wikipedia also has a little information. Oh sure, you're thinking "who wants a pet rat?" Well if it looks like a bunchillla hybrid I suppose that would be me. The only problem is that they're pretty rare rodents which are undomesticated and should be left to their own devices.

*sigh* Back to square one....

21 October, 2007

Go Forth and Hug (really!)

For as long as I can remember there has been this old newspaper clipping stuck on my parents' fridge titled "Hugging is Healthy." I've read it many times over the years and believe it to be completely true, probably because I come from a relatively large and extended family with French and Celtic heritage. They're very physically friendly from my understanding, and also the likely source of our "everyone is family" attitude.

So in a country where hugging is apparently for hippies, imagine my surprise to keep reading articles around how important and healthy hugging and other forms of physical contact are. Hugging is the favourite of course, being the most platonic and universal, but in fact it's contact in general that seems to be essential to our physical and emotional well-being. An article I ran across that focuses on how India is changing is particularly interesting; it seems our way of life may be bleeding out and damaging other cultures in addition to our own. But the benefits of a good hug are obvious, even without the science to back it up. Women especially seem to benefit from the effects of hugging, and I wonder if that has anything to do with women seeming more naturally inclined to touch than men.

This webpage for a burn survival group has a nice list of rather common sense reasons why hugging is good for you. A few of my personal favourites? They're free, returnable and recyclable. The duration can be adjusted for any situation, and they even keep working after they're over. They help with stress, share happiness, and generally tell people you care. So go hug someone, and at least two people will be happy you did.

19 October, 2007

the perfect fit

So I have this urban planning class about designing for non-motorized transportation (pedestrians and cyclists), and while researching stuff about bike culture at different colleges I ran across this article about Terry Bicycles. I haven't ridden a bike in over a decade and don't know much anything about them, but I was impressed enough to remember most of the article's content. Why? I was fascinated by the idea that someone actually researched and designed a bike to fit a woman rather than just making a smaller version of a man's bike. "For example, a women's upper body is proportionally longer than a man's. So, a bike that fits men in the legs and upper body, will fit women in only one of these areas. The key to making a women's bike, she decided, is getting them into a slightly more upright position. " The result of this is that female riders don't have to endure the shoulder pain that develops from leaning too far forward.

I can tell you from personal experience that when speaking of items that are used directly in relation the the body, smaller versions of men's things often don't fit women well. For example: T-shirts (uncomfortable for anything over an A-cup), jeans (men are apparently less curvy), chairs and seats in cars (again with the curving- we need more lower back support), and power tools (don't fit comfortably in hand or have terrible balance). And with things like tools I hate being told that the problem is that women are underdeveloped in the wrong places or simply weak. Worse yet, we get patronizing versions of things "for the ladies." Does it come with nail polish and high heels to match the case? What am I supposed to do with that mostly-plastic drill that probably puts out as much power as an electric toothbrush? I'll take the one designed for the hand of a 300-pound tank of a construction worker, thank you very much- even if it does make my wrist hurt.

Whatever it is, something that fits well is worth extra research and money. Look at it like this: how much is it worth if you don't like to use it or simply won't? I wear the pairs of jeans that I love all the time and the ones I don't almost never. Banik and I love Henckels, and one day we'll spend the extra money for them because cooking is something we enjoy. And although it will likely cost more than most of the alternatives, if I ever decided to get a bike I'll think about getting one from Terry Bicycles. Goodness knows I could stand to exercise, and I think the $650 investment for the basic version would be worth it if I'd use it a couple times a week.

11 October, 2007

Two points of order

First, a note. This is pretty much the main reason, if I recall correctly, that this blog is here- keeping all those random pieces of information in one place- easily added, easily edited.

On to business- http://www.openlist.com/-/detail/?olv=local&ole=387014658&oll=Cambridge%2C+MA&k=Cambridge+restaurants

This is the link to a North African resturant recommended to us in Cambridge. Tasty Tasty- we hope.

and... - http://www.sushiencyclopedia.com/sushi_menu.html

Man we like sushi. Quite possibly more than is good for us. Here are the types, pictures, explanations, etc. I may convert this into a "I like, this is why" list also.


08 October, 2007

Fire and Ice

Since we're on the subject of Boston area restaurants, let us discuss Fire and Ice.

Clay first took me to the Cambridge Fire and Ice last January, and we've gone back at least once since then. I really like it, which might surprise anyone who's been to a Fire and Ice and who knows me at all. As it turns out there is a more or less "trendy" social experience that won't kill me. But I think this may be the only one so don't get your hopes up.

The experience is all about food as improvisational entertainment. The stage is a hole in the wall filled with brightly colored industrial decor, dim lighting and dance music; the people are the actors. You move through the crowd to pile whatever combination of things you want cooked into your bowl- say udon, mahi-mahi, pineapple, mushrooms, and sprouts- and then taste some of the sauces and pick from them- maybe half sweet and sour and half fruit. You take it up to this huge grill surrounded by people and hand it off to a chef who has undoubtedly been hired for both cooking ability and outgoing personality. As you're waiting there you're surrounded by this crowd of other waiting people who end up talking and laughing with each other and with the chefs and wait staff. If you're bored it's pretty much your own fault.

Oh, and there's a bar. From the looks of it the bar is pretty capable, but since most people are eating as they drink they aren't getting trashed. Instead of the bar being the most important feature here it's all about the grill, which is why this place is frequented by both families and college students. Even as someone with a bar aversion, that suddenly makes me not mind the bar at all. In fact Fire and Ice is where I finally sampled my first alcoholic beverage, and though theirs is a bit heavy on the alcohol part, a Mudslide continues to be the only such drink I like.

So the entire experience is up to you. Your food is as good or bad as your choices. You talk to whoever you want, drink what you want- hell, if you could find space probably even dance if you want. If you get the chance to, go for dinner; if you want something quieter instead, go for lunch.

07 October, 2007

Chinese and such

So, there are a number of chinese places here. Imagine that- Boston? And I can never rememeber exactly which ones I like, what certain dishes actually are and how good they taste. So I thought to my self, "Self, why don't you write down these things?"

I thought that was an uncommonly good idea.

So, Happy Garden:

Good General Tso's. A little spicy, and the breading almost tastes a little seafood-esque. A one time thing? I don't know, but it's tasty. Skimpy on the brocculi .

Yu Hsiang Shrimp. Juicy, wish it came with brown rice instead of white. It's shrimp in a garlicy sauce with lots of vegitables, which is nice. It's also very good cold.

Szechuan Chicken. Good while still hot but congealingly unappetizing when cold. It's slices of chicken in a spicy gravy with vegitables. Not sure how to describe the difference between the above sauces, other than it's not as sweet and more garlicy.

Their eggrolls are subpar.

Their crab rangoons are an 8 out of 10.


06 October, 2007

We should really write stuff down.

Which is actually why this blog exists. The most continually painful example of this is cooking. We make pretty awesome stuff, we don't write it down, and we can't figure out how to make it again. This is a sad, sad cycle in our culinary adventures.

When I was visiting up at MIT last year we made these hand pies. They were fabulous. We used leftover chicken korma we'd made the night before for savory ones. We also made two fruit versions that were kind of dessert-like but without being much more than naturally sweet-- apple with walnut chunks and raspberry with almond slices. Although we make it slightly differently every time we do more or less have the korma recipe, and we might be able to recreate those. But the fruit ones were completely on the fly with whatever was at hand, so we didn't write anything down. A lot of people dropped into the kitchen to see what smelled so good (which is per norm for us cooking somewhere), but I doubt any of them wrote it down either.

The worst case? An instance of perfection in the form of fried zuchini. Most people don't know that I love fried zuchini... probably more than is healthy. This was another visit to MIT, and goodness only knows what we put into the breading. Oh sure I know the technique for how we layered it before frying, that the white pepper was just right, and that there was, of course, salt involved (Banik in a kitchen for goodness sake, of course there's salt). But I have no idea about everything else. This zuchini was so perfect that if you had merely suggested the idea of dipping it into marinera sauce I would have stabbed you with my fork. But alas, all successive efforts have failed to equal that batch.

We really ought to write things down once in a while. Oh, and maybe measure stuff so we have something to write (as it turns out "some" is not a reproducable quantity). It's going to be very sad to spend the rest of my life trying to find good zuchini again, but I suppose everyone needs a goal in life.

03 October, 2007

I'm a planner.

So, here's the deal. I'm a planner. I don't mean that I must have every activity determined before hand or even know when I'm going when I get in the car. Instead, when it comes to large purchases or choices, I find that I experience buyer's remorse much less often if I spend time researching the subject and at least gettign a good working knowlege thereof. An example, you say? Sure!

Let's talk... Aquariums.

I used to have an aquarium. I was between 10 and 12, and kept a small 10g aquarium for a couple years. It was nice to have in my room.
Fast Forward a Decade. I decided to set up a marine (saltwater) aquarium in my dormroom at the beginning of a year. This is not as bad an idea as one would think. I knew that I wouldn't have to move it for a couple years, etc.etc. Long story short, I go home for the summer with the promise of a dear friend to take care of the tank while I'm gone. But Then. I return that fall to find my tank Dead. It was sad. The only thing living was algae.
Fast forward to the future. I would like an aquarium one day- build it into a wall, make it part of a room, etc. Of course, the requires a room of intransient proportion- hence the future.
Anyway, this means that some of my liesure time now is spent reading about aquariums. Such places as www.bostonreefers.org , www.reefs.org , etc. It's a lot more complicated than one would believe. There are theories regarding the proper trace minerals, the best species to use to attempt to create a relatively complete nitrogen cycle, the best spectrum lights to use, etc.
Now if my dear pet-loving significant other and I are going to spend some amount of money on a nice set up, then the best bang for the buck is a laudable goal. Anything less would be... inelegant and inefficient.

Now, take this example and apply it to anything. Computers, paintball, houses... There ya go. A little window into me.

02 October, 2007

Disapproving Rabbits

It may or may not be for the best, but I've discovered another blog that I can look at without channeling sarcasm. I've already been visiting Cute Overload and Stuff on my Cat, which I highly recommend to anyone who deals with a lot of stress. For those of you who aren't cat people there is Stuff on my Mutt, but I don't find that to be cute so much as people forcing their poor dogs to wear stupid costumes and other items of clothing. Still not your cup of tea? CO keeps a running list of links that may suit your fancy. Anyway, I'd like to think I already have enough cuteness in my life, but apparently not. This is all your fault; you know who you are, with your cartoon-pig-in-a-dragon-costume post-its.

For anyone who likes cute fuzzy animals in the first place (read as "anyone with a soul") Disapproving Rabbits has the potential to become a sinkhole of time... or at least a webpage that occupies time when your brain is useless following a late night and a relentless day of class but you have to work til 22:00 anyway. They're overflowing with all kinds of rabbits with one thing in common: overwhelming disapproval.

Perhaps the reason I don't channel sarcasm is that the rabbits do it for me? If so, I'm going to need an army of hopping minions. Certainly the ones that resemble powder puffs are out, but I have no idea if the upright or floppy earred ones would be better for maximum damage. Clearly this will require some research.

Will there be rabbits in our future menagerie? Perhaps. They'll have to join the waiting list along with everyone else. There have been maybe a dozen nominations, but I suppose that's another post for another time. At the moment it seems like having any pets is a very long way off.