28 January 2006


busy busy at work... no lunch for the wicked all this week, nor much of a dinner, so no food posts or photos. :(

It's the lunar new year tomorrow, and although I was kinda excited about celebrating it in a city with a large Chinese population when I first arrived, it looks like I'll be stuck indoors tomorrow redesigning an experiment that I've just wasted 6 months on. :( But at least I've avoided having to actually come into the lab... Haven't had the time nor inclination to get the usual CNY goodies. Double :( At least my parents brought me some mini shrimp rolls when they were here. :) And left me a red packet to open. Double :)

And at least I had the presence of mind to buy some clementines at the Farmers' Market. It's not Chinese New Year for me unless I gorge myself on mandarins, tangerines and clementines for the first three days. (I can hear my grandma now telling me it's "heaty" to eat too much citrus...)

25 January 2006

Little Tokyo West

Sawtelle Blvd's many nurseries beckoned last weekend. Salad leaves may result. Strawberries less likely. A wee Totoro was acquired and someone threw a tantrum until I bought him the neko bus from the giant robot store. And failing to learn his lesson from our visit to BCD Tofu House in Korea Town, someone upset his delicate stomach yet again in Tofu Ya:

Soon Dubu

Ah well. At least he enjoyed eating it.

And on Sunday, we retraced our steps, but replaced soon dubu with ramen two doors down (same lady seems to work in both restaus, and must have thought we're weirdos who take plants for walks). We like our local Little Tokyo. It feels almost like a warm and exotic version of Stockbridge.

Update: Nothing has died yet, and there are even some small green strawberries on the way (not at all due to our turquoise fingers; they came with wee babies). The mizuna is flourishing, but the poppies look unlikely to flower. An azalea was added to the collection last weekend, and we're on the hunt for more shade-lovers that produce fragrant flowers. Any suggestions?

20 January 2006

CDs, tapes, LPs, MP3s; they all have a place in my life

Have today's teens even touched an LP?

Proof my family is weird #567: My dad threw out all his records when cassette tapes became popular, instantly regreting it years later when the quality started deteriorating. And when CDs first appeared, he immediately jumped on the digital bandwagon, and re-purchased his favourite Gramaphone records.

This meant that from my teens onwards, all I used or bought were CDs, with the exception of lots of mixed tapes my friends would record for me. And when CD burners on computers became widespread (in my early twenties, I'm that old), the only tapes I possessed were specifically for P's beloved 205, made in the pre-CD era (well, not really... I've seen 205s with CD decks; his was just the bottom of the range). They were critical for all long car rides beyond the reach of radio waves. (It was either Travis a million times per trip, or us singing Old Macdonald over and over again.)

And at some point during the dreaded PhD years, I bought a dirt-cheap Aiwa in a clear-out sale, which came with a record player. This resulted in my flatmate of the time buying me a few LPs from a charity shop for Christmas; possibly the first time I ever touched a vinyl record. The opening of an Oxfam music shop in Stockbridge fueled the fire, with good second-hand classical albums going for a quid each. A boxed set of the complete Beethoven symphonies could be obtained for under 10 quid!

Admittedly, a lot of the LPS I bought weren't in tip-top condition (some even had mold!), but for someone who grew up with pristine, crisp, clean, digital sounds, the crackle of a scratched record playing some old jazz has its charms. Sure, not all of them continue to play accurate recordings, but I like to think of my second-hand LPs as aged wines. Different, with character. Perfect on winter evenings with the fire crackling and a glass of wine, or on cool bright summer evenings, dancing around the flat (again with a glass of alcohol in hand).

Now, of course, most of my CD collection lives as MP3s on the computer and MP3 player, and the hard copies, remnant tapes and vinyls sit in a storage cupboard. We left the cheapo Aiwa hifi out for the tenants to enjoy, but stored the turntable safely for our return. I guess you could say we're retro-technophiles.

18 January 2006

Fathers 4 Justice soon to be classified as a "terror organisation" in the US

From BBC news: Extreme elements bring down Fathers 4 Justice.

Thought it was funny, yet so telling of US networks' propensity to overdramatise events, that the alleged plot to kidnap Leo Blair made it to headline news last night. (Despite being a minor story on BBC news, and that the alleged plot was nothing more than some men talking shit in a pub.)

Brief pulse of light in the dark

Indian cricket lovers without cable were, according to the Beeb, left in the dark. Ha! Welcome to my world. I have yet to find a way to either listen to a live game on the radio or internet, nor catch highlights on any TV station. Apart from this morning, when I was treated to a clip of Sehwag being caught at slip to completely screw up their chance of a record opening stand. Bummer for them, but good for me that Focks Soccer Channel deemed it interesting enough to intersperse their morning round-up of football.

16 January 2006

The charms of sukiyaki

The arms of Sukiyaki
Are all I long for since I left Nagasaki*

Veggie plate for sukiyaki Sukiyaki set-up
Sizzle sizzle Sukiyaki, hot and fresh
Dip in egg Sukiyaki encore

Sukiyaki for dinner on our new Iwatani butane stove (bought following that bloody power outage on NY's eve... I'm still annoyed, is it obvious?) Further purchase of a sukiyaki pan made today (a semi-holiday for P and I), along with the necessary ingredients from Mitsuwa on Centinela and Venice. (We went in search of a pot for steamboat on CNY's eve, but as usual, came home with something unexpected but good all-the-same.)

Watching Totoro now, so recipe and more details later...

We had a sukiyaki-hunt in SF recently, when my mother decided that she just had to have some (OK, we wanted some too, but any excuse, eh). We even went as far as looking for Japantown in SF just to get some, but were left sorely disappointed with the sukiyaki we found there. In hindsight, it was listed under the "noodles" section of the menu, which could have been some indication that it wasn't going to be kosher. To make matters worse, we found another restaurant with sukiyaki on the menu just round the corner from our hotel in the opposite direction from Union Square. [kicks self in butt]

Since then, we've craved the sweet and saltiness of the sukiyaki base. The purchase of the portable butane stove from Ijiya a fortnight ago was the first necessary purchase. And today's Mitsuwa adventure saw us drooling at the meat counter, where we dithered between getting shabu shabu or sukiyaki cuts of lovely Angus beef. The marbling on the slices was beautiful, and if it wasn't quite so gross, I'd wallpaper my kitchen with it. Yah, just kidding.

What tipped the balance in favour of sukiyaki was the availability of a none-too-expensive sukiyaki pot. It's not as fancy as the cast iron versions, but has the slight benefit of having a lazy person-friendly non-stick coating. And the photo of sukiyaki on the front was a ready-made shopping list: enoki (straw mushroom), shiitake (most well-known Japanese mushroom), leafy cabbage (called Napa cabbage here, and Chinese leaf in the UK), some funky looking leaves which could be chrysanthemum leaves but probably aren't, giant spring onions (meant to be leek, but couldn't see any, so bought Tokyo onion instead), tofu (but idiot here bought regular tofu instead of grilled tofu, so she had to fry it), and some probably-none-too-kosher carrots.

Preparation was minimal. Sliced the onions (diagonally as per photo on box), trimmed the bottoms off the enoki (to remove the roots still bound to the growing medium), trimmed off the stalks of the shiitake and cut a wee asterix on top, trimmed the leafy veggies into manageable pieces, carved the carrots into hard orange sakuras and fried the tofu (should have bought the grilled tofu, dammit). Realised that I forgot to get some shirataki noods, and got the remnant saifun (from the random Japanese dish dinner), and stuck it on the plate too.

As for the cooking, easy peasy and extremely entertaining. (easily amused...) Heat the pan. Add some oil (and butter if being naughty). Fry the beef slices very quickly on each side. I took them off at this point because I hate over-cooked beef. Pour in a sploosh of sake (about 3 tbsp, according to about.com), some sugar (I used 2 tbsp), and soya sauce (again, used only 1-1/2 to 2 tbsp of the recommended 3... don't like too much salt). Add half the veggies (or the pot gets too darn full and nothing touches the sauce), and pour in a cup of dashi stock. Return the beef to warm through. Crack an egg into a bowl, and mix. (OR leave out the egg if you fear the dreaded Salmonella. Damn that Edwina Currie...) As the various ingredients cook, dip in egg and apply to face. Since I overestimated what we needed, we had enough to feed four, and had a second round**.

* Not terribly PC, but still comes to mind everytime I have sukiyaki...
** We also did something quite naughty, and added some rice to the pot at the end. Ach, I can't help it. It's in my nature to add rice to any thick soup. It's those years of training via Chinese steamboat...

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Cross posted on akatsukieats.

Random eats

Ate quite a lot this past week, but failed to take many photos. Was also working my way through the freezer, so didn't feel enough pride to get the camera out.

Have also had a particularly sociable life this weekend (as opposed to lying in bed or watching football), starting with a 21st birthday party disguised as a knitting party at a lovely apartment on the border of the Pacific Palisades and Malibu. Spectacular view, great hosts, and super fun blowing up, and subsequently playing with, balloons. Did I mention the great hosts already? It's amazing how some people can make you feel at home instantly. I wish I had that skill. (But I'm working on it with my monthly lab BBQs... Each time, I spend less time over the BBQ and more with my guests.) I was, however, a little bothered by the behaviour of a fellow guest. He wasn't particularly offensive, but P and I were left in no doubt that here was a prime specimen of male chauvanism: snide remarks about how much better and faster he could hook up a VCR than a "bunch of girls" (which he failed to anyway), instant assumption that I would know nothing about sports (funny how I was the only member on my team to get all the "Sports" questions right on Trivial Pursuit), and general talking-down to the female members of his team. I hope never to meet him again.

Our other fun of the weekend came in the form of the opening of a photography exhibition, in which my neighbour has a few on display. Although it was all the way at the Metro Galllery in Silverlake (a little north and east of Hollywood), we managed to get there in under 45 minutes thanks to their knowledge of a fast-moving road (and hell no, I'm not telling anyone 'lest it becomes as clogged as Sunset, Santa Monica or Wilshire!). You know all those well-lit galleries with perfectly mounted displays of art that we mere passerbys feel too intimidated to go into? Well, we went in! (That's an all-time first for crowd-shy P and I.) It wasn't too pretentious, and we felt more at home as most of the guests were friends and family of the artists. (It was the teenage in the corner kicking his heels and playing his game-thingy that gave it away.) There may be more yet to come... And we'll have to try harder to put on the sociable "let's talk to strangers" facade which comes so difficultly to us.

The evening was finished perfectly by dinner in Korea Town with a friend, who has been telling us about a spicy tofu restaurant for weeks. BDC Tofu House on Wilshire Blvd is open 24 hours, and specialises in... Spicy Tofu (Soon Dubu Chige)! You can have Soon Dubu Chige on its own (choosing the type of meat you want in it), or with accompaniements like Bulgogi or Bibimbap. Whichever you go for, they serve you three types of kimchee (a mild soupy one, a dry medium, and a super-hot miniature serving on a bed of cabbage), some strange but satisfying mashed potato with pickled cucumber in it, and a fried fish. Apparently, there is a lot of competition between the Korean places on the side dishes.

I'm deeply sorry that I didn't have my camera on me, and can only point you to the soon dubu" tag on Flickr for some pictorial interest. The tofu arrives in a still bubbling spicy soup, and you crack an egg into the soup, either stirring it or leaving the yolk intact, whichever way you prefer. In addition to tofu, the spicy stew contains beef and clams (in this version anyway). Eat with plenty of white rice, and don't forget to ask for the mild version if you're not a fan of spice. The "medium" was perfect for me. And while P enjoyed it greatly, his stomach protested later... But that's wussy Scotsmen for you...

Update: While searching for recipes for soon dubu, I came across the FatMan Seoul blog (one that dropped off my reading list when my last computer died, and has now, sadly, stopped blogging about Korean food), which has an informative post with plenty of photos of Soon Dubu Chige/Jigae.

Cross posted to akatsukieats.

14 January 2006

Pakistan v India, Day 2


Oh yeah, and I'm still not talking about England's dismal run (or lack of...) in Pakistan...

10 January 2006

R-E-S-P-E-C-T; doesn't mean a thing to me*

From BBC news: Eviction threat in 'respect' plan.

The OED should revise their definition of respect. The word now conjures up images of a smirking G.G. Galloway or feelings of uncontrollable rage against the PM and his spin machine. I respect the need to respect our fellow men, but I object to the use of the word to describe a task force that will be little more than a group of power-hungry police-wannabes telling people off for inconsiderate behaviour. (Um, it's a given that I also object to the formation of said task force and all other over-the-top gimmicky measures Blair is suggesting. I'm starting to think I don't want to return to a UK that is nothing more than a nanny state. On the other extreme is the free-market that is the US, and that's not working out so well either...)

Changed title 'cos I now have Aretha Franklin's song in my head. Yeah, and apologies for tainting the song and its memory by association.

Update 2: Another cultural reference springs to mind:

Respect Ma A-thoritay!

Update 3: Boris (Johnson) makes two pertinent points (apart from his opinion of James Blunt and the Kaiser Chiefs):

1. My objection is not just that these measures are centralising and authoritarian - an objection that is unlikely to cut much ice with people enduring anti-social behaviour. The trouble with this stuff is that it once again lulls people into the belief that the Government is really going to sort out their problems, when the reality is that the whole of the new anti-yobbo programme, parenting classes and all, will be about as much use to thug-plagued estates as Blair's doomed plan to march them to cashpoints for on-the-spot fines - i.e. no use whatever.

2. I dislike his gimmicks because at every stage personal or communal responsibility is replaced by the state, and the more completely government assumes responsibility for problem kids, the less people will understand that part of civility is having the courage to reprimand someone for spitting on a granny, and not pass by on the other side. If we continue to treat comparatively small acts of thuggishness as matters purely for the Government, then we will never get thuggishness off our streets, and we the British public will never recover our individual and collective courage as long as we think that nanny Blair is going to deal with the problem himself.


Btw, since when did I start agreeing with Tories?

09 January 2006

Starbucks economics is affecting my coffee-experience*

What?! Starbucks do a normal-size cappuccino?! (via) And all this time I've avoided the cappuccino in non-Italian coffee shops because they don't ever follow the perfect thirds ratio of espresso:milk:froth. Right, time to put it to the test. We have a Starbucks within the hospital canteen; I'll ask for a short cappuccino there first. And maybe even try that in a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or our local coffee franchise.

*Bleh. Apologies for the use of the word "experience". I hear it SO much here, along with "facilities", that I've even started using it unconsciously. Shoot me now...

wtf? again?

From BBC news: Royal Mile cobbles to be lifted

I seem to recall a whole year of road works in 2004 on the Royal Mile, ending only in time for the bloody Festival. And now they want to do it all again? F-ing money wasters! As for auto-bollards, there is one between my building and the rest of campus here in LA, and it takes AGES to lower/raise itself. I'd hope Edinburgh Crapouncil will bear that in mind and have the sensors come on well before emergency vehicles need access.

08 January 2006

Random Japanese dishes

On our last sojurn to Little Tokyo, we purchased a Japanese cookbook, with an emphasis on home cooking as opposed to those pretty and fancy dishes you get in fusion books. Since we're kinda cack-handed, bog-standard Japanese fare sounded mighty fine to us.

Since then, we've only used the book once, a lack of time and the necessary ingredients being our main excuses (of which we have plenty). And the last time I dragged P out to Little Tokyo, he didn't stop whingeing about the super-long bus ride for weeks, so that was pretty much out of the question. But I've since done a little digging online, and found a little Japanese enclave so close to us, we could hit it with a cricket ball (in our dreams, I hear the skeptics exclaim).

So last Friday, we hauled our arses off the bus a third of the way home from work and took a small detour down Sawtelle. We despaired of finding any open shops until, all of a sudden, clusters of Japanese shops and restaurants revealed themselves. A merry little jig resulted when my eyes laid rest on an Iwatani stove (absolutely essential since the New Year's Eve debacle with the fucking oven). And while some of us were confusticated by the array of sweeties on offer, I unthinkingly grabbed a bag of crappy Japanese biscuits from my childhood:

Kawaii snacks

As a result of this find, our diet this weekend has been fairly healthy (apart from multiple experimental waffles, which will be photographed when we get them looking remotely like waffles).

Dinner 1: sea bass and noodles in a clear dashi soup, spinach with sesame paste, and burdock (shop-bought). I particularly liked the way the cookbook suggested cooking the sea bass: lay the fish in a colander and pour boiling water over (I used about 6-8 cups in a kettle), followed by cold water to stop the cooking process. The fish can then be warmed up in the boiling soup when everything else is ready. Major plus: fish that isn't overcooked.


Dinner 2: agedashi tofu. With the leftover spinach and burdock.


My only grouse about our meals: we didn't put that much thought into what would go together, more on what dishes we could cook given the contents of our refrigerator. So the sesame-coated spinach didn't go all that well with either the fish soup or the fried tofu. The Japanese seem to be more in touch with the changing season, possibly as a result of centuries of etiquette trickled down from a culture-obsessed royal court, and they eat accordingly. In our modern society, on the other hand, you can get just about anything at any time of year, air freighted in from everywhere. And it doesn't help that this is Southern California, where you can still get fresh fruit and veg even in the dead of "winter". And I also seem to have forgotten dinners from my childhood, where although less-stylised, our Chinese dishes were still matched according to which flavours worked together. Time to apply some attention to menus instead of individual dishes.

Cross-posted on akatsukieats.

05 January 2006

Deaf rockers

From the BBC: White noise.

Yeah, they'd have to be deaf to put up with their own music. I don't have much of a problem with my portable music levels, although I've had to stop listening on the bus due to the super-high background noise levels. A pair of those fancy schmancy ear plug/buds is on the "would love to have but can't part with the money" shopping list.

But what gets my goat the most are restaurants that play loud background music for purposes unclear to me. Are they trying to block out background shouting/slanging matches in the kitchen, or traffic noise, or to confuse your senses so much that you don't realise how crap the food you're eating is? Whatever the reason, I'm going to stop going to restaurants/pubs that have too much background noise. Compared to the "ambient" noise in restaurants and pubs, personal stereos and gigs are nothing...

04 January 2006

San Francisco


I've been in SF. It rained.

More photos on Flickr.