Saturday, May 16, 2015

Convenient Food

At my aunt's suggestion (thanks, T!) we tried Blue Apron. They deliver recipes once a week along with the pre-measured ingredients to make them. We were happy with the food and liked that it gave us a chance to expand our cooking repertoire (okay, so far, Chuck's repertoire) by doing some of the prep work for us.

The recipes are good and make large enough portions for more than one meal. We tried all vegetarian. They rely on lemon to add some tang to many of the dishes and that's not a bad thing. I love lemon. I especially liked the stuffed poblano chiles, the white pizza with arugula, and the minestrone.

It is extremely convenient not to have to go to the store and pick out all the ingredients, or even just find some of the more unique things. It was also nice not to have to go out and buy some new spice that we might use once and never again. We could try it and if we liked it, buy more.

Our main qualms are about the amount of packaging. Is there any way they could use re-useable containers rather than disposable plastic bags? It would probably add to the bulk and the cost, but would be more environmentally friendly. I suppose you could try it out and give people the option. Of course, it would rely on customers returning their dishes each time and someone to track them. If they didn't return them, you could charge them full price or keep a deposit, but I could see that would add a lot of administrative work...

Then again, what is the impact of their delivering this food to me in the first place? More than me going to the store to get it? Would it be better if there was a central pick-up point?

Eating at home, I feel like I consume smaller portions and make healthier choices than eating out. It's nice to supplement our old standby dishes with something new and interesting and still eat in and extremely convenient to have it waiting for us when we get home.

But for the moment, for us, all of this is moot since we'll be moving to a different country soon and won't have this option. But something to consider for the future....

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Thinking of Mom on Mother's Day

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, so naturally, my thoughts have been drawn to my mom. What an amazing woman she is and how lucky I am to be her daughter.

My mother is resilient. She grew up during the Great Depression, her family moving from Kansas to Idaho in search of better opportunities. Marrying young, she learned to stand up for herself and defy others’ expectations. Following one husband to Japan with a toddler and a newborn, she entered the military life and adapted to each new place. Then, fifty years ago this year, she married an engineer (my dad) and began a life moving “from one dam site, to another dam site.” They lived in, among other places, a trailer in Hells Canyon with two young children and a newborn; in houses in Modesto, San Luis Obispo, and Fresno; in a small apartment in San Mateo, and finally moved to Washington. She made friends in each place along the way, many of them lifelong.

Clearly, she is an extrovert. (Like mother, like daughter.) Who taught me to sing in public? Who taught me to talk to strangers (in the grocery line)? Who loves to throw a party and gather her friends around? My mom.

My mother is a determined woman. One of the first female computer programmers in Idaho, she pursued her education across several states, even as four children came along. She is a lifelong learner and lover of travel. Who inspired my fascination with history, different cultures, travel, language? My mom. Raising us on a diet of PBS, National Geographic Specials, and world foods (thanks to Sunset Magazine and Japan), my mother set the stage for a girl to be curious about the world and to want to get out there and see it.

A keen reader, my mom taught me the thrill of exploration through the imagination, too. Sitting with a book and taking the time to read was a luxury when she was a child. As an adult, she had to train herself to relax and “just” read. So she made certain that her children had access to the world of books and the space to enjoy them. Who bragged to her friends when I spent my allowance money on books? Who introduced me to the libraries that would one day become my career? Mom.

Even as she loves to explore the world in word and deed, she also loves to nurture her garden at home. As I revel in spring, breathe in its perfume, name each flower, and grow teary-eyed at the beauty of the cherry blossoms, I can thank my mom. Ever a seeker of new knowledge, when we moved to Washington State, she studied with Extension Service and became a Master Gardener. She has lovingly tended her garden of roses and lilies, not to forget the bleeding hearts, tulips, azalea, wisteria, lilacs, and crocosmia that lure in the hummingbirds with their nectar. And she recently started a new garden at her new home.

As my mom has nurtured her garden, she has also nurtured her children. She inspired me to be the dancing, globe-trotting, food-loving, ever-curious bibliophile that I am. I'm so grateful to have Sis', Flo, Flora Ann as my mother.

Friday, April 17, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Device

I'm in search of the perfect device on which to conduct my electronic life. I don't think it exists, but I'm looking. Giving this quest new urgency is the fact that I need to return my MacBook Air to my office before I go to my next post. Do I need another laptop? Does it need to be a Macbook? (I love the look (and weight!) of the new one, but not the lack of ports.) Can I get by with my tablet? Would it mean merely "making do" or could a tablet serve most of my computer needs?

What is the minimum number of devices I need for maximum joy and efficiency? How many devices is too many?

A brief inventory of my current collection of electronic tools includes in order of use:

-- a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone
-- a Macbook Air 13"
-- a Kindle Paperwhite
-- a Samsung Galaxy S Tab 10.5
-- a Mac desktop (ceded to husband)
-- an HP notebook (ceded to husband)
-- a keyboard Kindle (retired)

Can I do most or all of the things I want to do with my tablet? Should I do so? Can I do so ergonomically? I already own the tablet, so I figured I might was well make a trial run. I ordered a Samsung keyboard which arrived yesterday and I'm composing this post on it as speak. (I switched to gesture typing halfway through when the cat jumped on my lap.) So, let the experiment begin! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Joys of Language Study

I recently took up Arabic again seriously. I shelled out a small fortune for private lessons and it is totally worth it! I feel inspired.

One of the things I felt like I never really got in my previous study of the language was the root system. So, I asked my instructor to help me focus on it. 

Each Arabic word has a three-letter root and depending on the other letters attached and interspersed with the root, you can figure out whether it's a verb or a noun or an active participle, etc. Since the definitions of the different forms are related in some way to the root, if you know what the three-letter root means, you already have some sense of what a related word means. If you can identify its form of speech, e.g. this describes a place or a person or an action, you've come even closer to its meaning.

This system opens up worlds of vocabulary. It's like a T.A.R.D.I.S. of words, much bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Figuring out the logic of how words are connected is like solving a puzzle. And I love patterns and puzzles! If I'd had sufficient time with it before, I might have realized this and would have been as captivated as I am now.

An example: The verb for 'publish' and 'export' is the same and a related word means 'source'. Another example: The verb for 'remember', 'keep in mind', 'mention', 'report', 'quote', is related to 'to remind', 'point out', 'negotiate', 'memorize', 'study', 'know by heart', etc. Just think how your comprehension grows, adding a branch here and a bud there. If you know two words based on the same root, then can make ever more educated guesses and build more sophisticated understanding. And we haven't even gotten to synonyms yet...

I get the same thrill from discovering the various meanings of a root and its related words (with the help of the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic) as I did puzzling out medieval Latin abbreviations with Adriano Cappelli's Il Dizionario di abbreviature latine e italiane or, more recently, working out 19th-century handwriting on a crowd-sourced transcription project for the Smithsonian. I will doggedly work on something for hours if it means I get that Aha! moment. And with Arabic vocabulary, the possibilities are literally endless. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Red Hen and Rose's Luxury

We've had a couple of awesome meals in DC with Cathy recently. In January, we lined up for the privilege of eating at Rose's Luxury. Cathy secured a spot in line at 4PM and we arrived at 4:45 for the 5:00 opening. They don't take reservations, so it's a commitment. (Bon Appétit called it the best new restaurant in America last year and the word has certainly gotten around.)

We started with cocktails and then ordered a bunch of small dishes and a bottle of wine. I love small plate restaurants--they give you the chance to share and let you taste a variety of things. Highlights for me were the best carrots I have ever tasted (HONEY-GLAZED CARROTS, MASCARPONE, MATZO MEAL & DILL). I don't even like carrots. These were awesome. And the amazing lychee salad. They thoughtfully brought a veggie version for Chuck and one with pork sausage for me and Cathy. It came with directions to use a spoon and dig down to get all the goodness together--tangy with the sharpness of onion, crumbly spicy sausage, and soft, sweet lychee. The combination of flavors was heavenly. What an incredible meal!

Yesterday we met up at the Red Hen. It had been featured in the Washingtonian as one of the 100 best restaurants in DC, so we gave it a try. We showed up early and managed to get in without a reservation. (They do take them, but save some tables for walk-ins.)

Service was excellent, informed, but unpretentious. We shared crostini with whipped ricotta and honey; crispy Brussels sprouts with a dill and sesame yogurt (yum!); lemony al dente spaghetti squash; satisfying saffron zucca with butternut squash puree, wild mushrooms, & crunchy almonds; and caramelized scallops on a bed of incredibly creamy polenta. Everything was delicious, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be between the perfectly prepared zucca and the sprouts. We also had our first encounter with orange wine along the way--a tangy one from the Willamette Valley.

For dessert we shared the Dark Chocolate Budino with Mascarpone Cream, Orange Zest & Sea Salt Shortbread--It was like a rich pudding, smooth, thick and amazing--and the Maple Custard with Caramelized Hazelnut Crumble--also smooth, delicious and not too sweet. A great way to end a meal.

Both restaurants were excellent and we will definitely be back!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Books for a Drive Across Virginia

I rented a car this weekend and drove to Southwest Virginia. It was a long drive, so I borrowed some audiobooks from the library and bought one from Amazon. I downloaded them to my phone, plugged it into the stereo, and listened as I drove, with occasional interruptions by my phone's GPS. (I remember doing this with a portable CD player and even...gasp...cassette tapes--remember those boxes with the slot for each one? What a pain that was to check in at the library... How times have changed.)

The only one I listened to in its entirety was Martin Short's autobiography I Must Say, narrated by himself. It was fun to learn about his life and career and long friendships with the people he has worked with. It is reassuring to know that Steve Martin and Tom Hanks and others are the decent, lovely people you hoped they'd be.

It's a very funny book and I laughed a lot. He does segments in character and impressions of his friends and famous people. I also cried hearing his honest account of the experience of the deaths of loved ones. It's definitely worth getting the audiobook!

I also started The Big Tiny by Dee Williams who built her own tiny house. The book is a memoir of the process she went through--mental, physical, philosophical--in deciding to go tiny. Simple living has long held an allure for me, so her story is fascinating. I wonder if the audio version would have been better if told by Williams herself....

I listened to a bit of NPR on either end of the trip, but having a story to follow definitely made the time go more quickly!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Oh, Arabic, you fooled me again!

Every day I listen to an Arabic-language podcast from NHK, the Japanese news network. It's a daily, 15-minute program, so I can follow as news develops and listen to it more than once. I noticed they repeated a word every day that I couldn't figure out, so I tried to look it up by sounding it out. It sounded a bit like "hodebird". 

What did it mean? Was it spelled "حضبرد" or "هدبرض" or "حودبرض"?

Then I realized that immediately preceding this word was the name of a satellite network NileSat. What if they were announcing which networks carried their program? After poking around a little on their site, I discovered "Hot Bird". Sigh, not an Arabic word at all, but English words pronounced with an Arabic accent.

Got me again....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Making

I owe my blog some attention. We had a fantastic time in the Caribbean, so I'll write about that soon. In the meantime, how about some holiday cheer? Here's the Christmas tree I coded with

The light pattern will be displayed on an actual tree (Washington State's) on the White House Elipse at 4:18 this afternoon. :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

July, August, September Reading 2014

22 September 2014
Whiskey, You're The Devil (An Addison Holmes Mystery, #4)Whiskey, You're The Devil by Liliana Hart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, light read. Follows the pattern of a Janet Evanovich novel closely.

17 September 2014
Ursula, UnderUrsula, Under by Ingrid Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reminded me a bit of Away by Amy Bloom in its style of telling the story of a different character in each chapter while maintaining at least a slight connection with the central thread. It starts with a couple in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan losing their little girl, Ursula down an abandoned mine shaft. Then it tells each of their stories and those of their parents interspersed with stories of ancestors from various places and times before eventually looping back to the present.

I loved the way that the author develops each character and the little jolt of surprise I felt when she made the connection with Ursula and Annie and Justin, her parents. I also sensed a tip of the hat to Jane Austen when she lets us in on what might have happened if things had turned out differently...but didn't.

I picked this up at a used bookstore in DC a few months ago while wandering around town with my friend Molly. Good choice!

3 August 2014
The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Long Way HomeA Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

A Short Trip to Seoul

Last week, I went to Seoul for a quick work trip. We had a few hours for some cultural orientation one day which began with a walk through the grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace, which had been destroyed and rebuilt more than once, reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. (According to Wikipedia, they were built within a few years of each other.)

Self-proclaimed Kimchi Queens
Afterward, we had a whirlwind visit to the National Folk Museum and a peek at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History before we strolled through the Seoul Kimchi Making and Sharing Festival. It was too early for the sharing, but they already had women demonstrating the making of kimchee. My friend Barbara and I made sure we had our pictures taken with the raw ingredients.

Thankfully, I was thrown in with colleagues with a good appreciation for food and the local knowledge of where to go and we had many opportunities for tasting delicious kimchi. We had not only excellent Korean food, but also Vietnamese, Japanese, and Italian. Naturally, we were eager to sample the native fare. Highlights included our first lunch in which the beefeaters among us had bulgogi and I had hearty bibimbap. I love the communal atmosphere of sharing around the table.

Sundubu Jjigae
One dinner we had soft tofu stew (sundubu jjigae) which was served with little side dishes--including a little dumpling resembling gnocchi. A large bowl with garnish like bean sprouts and seaweed flakes was brought to each of us and then boiling stew and rice were served in stone bowls. There was a bowl of raw eggs which you could crack over the stew and mix in while it was still hot. Tasty! My main challenge was that the tofu got more difficult to wrangle the further I made it into the bowl as I was squishing it with my chopsticks. (Perhaps I should have used that spoon I see lying there in the picture?).

Our last group dinner was a fantastic meal, beautifully plated at a restaurant surrounded by art. The owner had created many of the ceramics we used. Very cool. There a pretty and delicious kimchee pancake in the shape of a yin yang symbol, a nice green salad, crisp fish, sweet pork, beef, and a vast number of side dishes.

My flight left on Saturday evening, so I was able to wander the Insa-dong neighborhood one more time and had a set lunch at a restaurant serving vegetarian temple-style food. It was called Barugongyang for the monastic bowls in which it was served. I chose the "lighter" meal--with only 10 courses. I suspect I ate in greater style than a nun would have.

I'd like to visit Seoul again and to see more of the country when I have more time. Briefly, during bidding season this year, we thought we might have a chance to live and work there. The biggest hurdle besides getting an assignment is learning the language which, while it has a phonetic alphabet and no tones--an advantage over, say, learning Chinese--it also has multiple levels of formality...And honorific or non-honorific verbs and nouns depending upon whom you're addressing. Sounds intimidating! Though we won't be going there in 2015, who knows what the future will bring?