I am a very happy clam.
I have finally figured out the basis for my favorite versions of several different vegetable curries, thanks to the book Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, which I mentioned previously. I've been experimenting with recipes in this and Ms. Jaffrey's book, trying to get to learn about the few spices I didn't already have (but bought at San Bruno's fabulous India Foods grocery store over the weekend), and how they taste in different combinations. I was hoping to be able to recreate a certain version of eggplant and other vegetables in a thick sauce with nearly mystical flavors which I've had in restaurants. Ms. Panjabi's recipe for a chickpea curry, which I made tonight, revealed to me what I needed to know.
In addition to stewing garbanzos in a fabulous broth, there was a special paste that I sauteed separately made of: a yellow onion pureed with a tablespoon each of garlic and ginger, which smelled heavenly on its own; and then about a teaspoon each (well, that's what I used, but that's not what the recipe called for exactly - I revised as I went along) of turmeric, garam masala, coriander, pepper, and amchur (a tart mango powder).
It smells SO GOOD. And it has THE exact texture of restaurant versions of my favorite dishes. So now I know that pureed onion and most of these spices (perhaps not the ground pepper) is the base I've been looking for..
It did do wonders for the already yummy smelling chickpeas, and I think it will do wonders for other dishes I experiment with. Yippee!
Coconuts are very difficult to work with if you're dealing with them fresh for the first time. Let this be a warning to other freshness zealots who believe in buying the newest produce possible, yet who have no learned coconut handler to guide you. You don't REALLY want to spend an entire evening prying small bits of coconut out of its difficult, multi-layered shell.
I will soon be moving from the suburbs back into the City I Love. During my time here in San Bruno, I've picked out a few restaurants I enjoy, mostly in the area of old town San Bruno, along (ironically named?) San Mateo Avenue, between San Bruno Avenue and El Camino Real. I should pass these along, while they're on my mind. Later, I'll add these to my Food page.
San Bruno, California Dining Guide
There are two Mexican places I like a lot: Don Pico's on El Camino (near the Wendy's) and La Palomas on San Mateo Avenue (across from Artichoke Joe's). Don Pico's is a fresh, lard-free place with several nice dishes. My favorite is the spinach enchilada, which comes with a generous dab of sour cream over green sauce. Yumm! La (or Los?) Paloma(s) is a standard taqueria with cafeteria-style seating. Their burritos are excellent, large, and inexpensive. Their salsa tastes very fresh.
Nearby, on San Bruno Avenue, is a Mexican place called Araujo's. They have fabulous Mexican breakfasts, but (1) everything there seems very high in cholesterol, all cheese and eggs rather than veggies, and (2) they use lard, sometimes so much that you can TASTE it.
The Roma delicatessen is good for sandwiches: they are HUGE, and their cheeses are yummy.
Green Valley Organics, near where San Mateo Avenue hits El Camino, is really good: it's all vegetarian, some Chinese and some Italian, all creative and unusual tasting in a good way, though more expensive than other nearby restaurants. The eggplant stuffed with pinenuts is unbelieveably addictive. (I don't eat at the other Chinese places on San Mateo Ave.: the last few times I tried, I asked for my vegetable dishes to be vegetarian, but wound up finding bits of pork in my vegetables, and that's like finding bugs in food to me. I'm sure the restaurants are fine for omnivores, but I'll stick with the excellent, pork-free food at Green Valley Organics.)
Shaleemar Pakistani and Indian food has very good vegetarian Indian food, which is both spicy and rich (they use a lot of clarified butter).
Innya Lake, a Burmese/Chinese restaurant, is very good. Their vegetarian/vegetable menu doesn't warn you that they use non-vegetarian ingredients, but if you tell them that you want everything 'vegetarian' with no shrimp powder, they'll be happy to accommodate you. I.L. also makes Chinese food, so you don't need to worry about their dishes being too spicy - some are quite mild.
How did it get to be 9:30 already!?!? Time for me to wash away the evidence of my onion paste experiments and head for bed with a full tummy.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:25 PM
Saturday, July 27, 2002
Food tastes best when you've really earned your meal. For example, after a about 14 miles of a 17 mile hike, the Chinese onion flavor rahmen you eat will be the best tasting rahmen you've had ever. After crossing through a high pass and making camp, the Indian entrees (packed in foil pouches) you boil for two minutes with rice stick will be some of the BEST Indian food you've ever had. And a simple bar of chocolate? Pure ecstacy.
I have just returned from 5 days in the spectactular Yosemite High Country, which was experiencing a cool and wildflower-filled spring. Lupines, Indian paintbrush, and yellow wildflowers of various kinds line the creeks in the lush meadows, enjoying their respite from up to 12 feet of snow that blanket the area in each long winter. The spring July temperatures are mild, the air is clean, and there is a peaceful sense of stillness that simply cannot be found in the crowded Yosemite Valley, which today is smoky and hot due to a fire on the shoulder of Half Dome. (You can often see Half Dome here.) Cathedral Peak, Lembert Dome (which we scaled this time), Mount Dana, and other scenic joys were surprisingly different from the Valley's scenery. Each elevation has its own versions of lupine, it's own types of grasses, a different proportion of trees...
Beauty and intricacy on such a large scale is inspiring. I sometimes daydream of winning a grant to be an artist in residence, and devote months of my life to depicting Yosemite's beauty. Hannah Hinchman and Chiura Obata could do scenery like this justice. My medium is photography, but the idea of devoting longer periods of time to hanging out in the park makes other, slower media appealing.
I'll post some photos on my World page once they are developed. (I've added a few Yosemite links today.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:29 PM
Thursday, July 18, 2002
I have a warm cozy feeling. The feeling that comes from having a fabulous meal at my favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Time. Mmmmm, tom kha J. Mmmmmm cho chee tofu. Mmmmmm pad ma keur. Mmmmmm green veggie curry. I actually like Thai Time's foods better than some of the foods I ate while in Bangkok, but that's what happens when you go to a karaoke bar for dinner (I was so relieved to find a menu in my native script, I could hardly stand it). (This somewhat off topic, but I'm amused by this list of things to do in Thailand. How exactly does one "pootle" around a temple?)
If I hadn't been suffering from a sort of food poisoning from a previous trip, I could have wallowed in the joys of Thai food more thoroughly during my brief visit. Traveling can be difficult, but food can make it so enjoyable. I'm not someone who makes long, rambling, international trips, though there are many parts of the world I would like to see. Today I went into a map shop, and was enthralled by all the travel guides for so many exotic and non-exotic places that I know little about. The fact that I can walk into a shop and buy an Ethiopian Amharic phrasebook or a guide to Bavaria, or tips on how to enjoy the Gobi desert, or erotic Indian temples... So many places to see, and things to eat.
Can you tell I'm suffering from wanderlust? That I've gone too long without a vacation? Is it really that obvious? Oh dear.
Locally, there are some darned good photos of the Conservatory of Flowers restoration on line.
There, I wrote about something nearby. No wanderlust is squeezing me! No sirree...
I can write some more about food. I've been reading two omnivorous cookbooks about Indian food. A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey and The Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi are both a good read. They explain why Punjabi food is so widespread and popular (to the exclusion of other regional cuisines), contain some lovely photos (Jaffrey's contains photos of Indian places, spices, and people; Panjabi's contains photos of ingredients and dishes) and provide many recipes.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 PM
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Just two more workdays stand between me and my vacation. The last time I went backpacking in Yosemite, I got to hike through my favorite place on earth so far: Hetch Hetchy, part of the Grand Canyone of the Tuolumne River. It's so beautiful! (I really like this page, which shows images of this portion of the valley before and after the dam (drag your mouse across the photos).
I hope the Yosemite high country isn't too smoky from the various Sierra fires, even if they make for some lovely sunsets.
I didn't eat anything unusual today (I'm still trying to decide if veggie sandwiches with raw mushrooms in them are a good thing or not), though I did eat quite a bit of bhaigan barta (pardon my spelling), once my appetite recovered from my reading. I have been studying a fascinating cookbook from 1939 called the Mirro Cook Book, from the makers of Mirro aluminum bakeware ("Nature made aluminum friendly to food"), and I quickly learned why life expectancies used to be much lower. Nearly every recipe has some combination of whipped cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese, eggs, heavy cream, bacon, butter, and/or gelatin. A good example is the "cream cheese and vegetable salad," whose ingredients are gelatin, water, mayonnaise, cream cheese (2 packages), a green pepper, a cucumber, heavy cream, olives, salt, paprika, and sliced tomatoes. It's about 3 parts dairy fat, 1 part veggies. Nearly all the "salads" are like this. They recommend wrapping bacon around olives, frying in shortening (and lard, somewhere), putting butter on all vegetables... The absence of spices of any kind (aside from paprika and salt) probably explain this. And the fact that it was published in Manitowoc, Wisconson surely also explains a lot. But it's still amazing.
I am so lucky to live in a land of fresh foods and plentiful seasonings!!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:32 PM
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
This evening after work, Steven and I went out for Eritrean food at a restaurant in the Ingleside called Asmara, named after the country's capital city. Eritrea is a rather young country, having only recently been recognized as being separate from Ethiopia.
Eritrean food is YUMMY. Potatoes simmered in yellow spices with carrots; spinach stewed with onions; okra made edible in a fabulous red sauce; different kinds of lentil stews, from mild to spicy; and a spicy, tender zucchini dish, all spread across thin, spongy layers of absorbent bread.
Mmmmmmmmmm. I still can't believe there are cultures in the world that can make okra taste GOOD.
My favorite Eritrean restaurants are Cafe Ethiopia and Massawa, with the place I ate tonight (Asmara) holding in third place because the dishes were so very mildly spiced. Mild isn't my usual style, but the food was tender, moist, and delicious. The spice combinations are hard to describe - not like Indian, not like Thai, not like... Anything else, really.
It's about enough to make me want to visit the neato architecture and scenic wonders of Eritrea and Ethiopia, who influenced Egyptians with their art and design. The lush Simien mountains, "Beautiful rivers and deep gorges," and vast deserts have the scenic beauty that makes me want to visit. And stop at a lot of restaurants while I'm there, you know, just to pass the time...
Some good places to find photos from the area are the Africa Guide Photo library, which has a scenery section, and the Google Image Search page. I used it to find neat images from Zimbabwe & Zambia like this.
Both countries also have lots of art of different sorts, too, from modern to "folk." Though my favorite art is the cooking!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:31 PM
In just a few more days, I get to go on a lovely, peaceful backpacking trip. In an all too popular place, though I don't intend to go when everyone and their uncle is there. I hope it will renew me in a way that shorter trips this year could not. I'm getting tired and cranky!
I've eaten some very yummy things over the last few days. The best was probably barbecued bananas with cinnamon and Breyers ice cream. The bananas were barbecued whole until their skin was black, by which time the insides were hot and soft. Mmmmm. Brazil must be a wonderful place if this is a desert there!
This morning I had a breakfast burrito maded with a steamed flour tortilla, fresh & garlicky tomato salsa, fried potatoes, a scrambled egg, and mild cheese. I could easily have eaten two or three of them. They only way they could be better is with marinated tofu instead of scrambled egg, but this is downtown: we tofu eaters aren't in power at the moment.
While I was visiting Yellowstone last year, I saw many a tourist brazenly harassing wildlife for photo opportunities. Finally, the wildlife are harassing back! It's long overdue. I love the subtitle to the photo: "Bison are big - and they can run faster than you."
Speaking of harassing wildlife: I'm appalled that the Bush Administration has decided to move forward with plans to use a type of 200+ decible sonar that makes marine mammals beach themselves to get away from the sound, and which may make their eardrums explode. Not surprised, but appalled. If only marine mammals could get revenge by blasting Liberace at a similar volume in our nation's capitol until this nonsense stops...
posted by Arlene (Beth)3:58 PM
Sunday, July 14, 2002
I should post one of my favorite blogs here: This Modern World, Tom Tomorrow's excellent commentary on the world, with additional links to all sorts of good things (like his comic strips at Salon.com, and recommended web pages such as Infinite Jest whose masthead says "Like The Onion, only bitter"). Today Tom observes that Cheney's old company, Halliburton was fined millions for selling nuclear detonation equipment to Iraq, and now acts outraged that Iraq might try to develop nuclear weapons.
And since I don't yet have a "blasphemy" section of my pages, I'll put links here for Landover Baptist Church ("Guaranteeing Salvation Since 1817"), which has the very best Bible Quizzes anywhere, plus a link to the always excellent Betty Bowers ("America's Best Christian") site.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:25 PM
Rhetorical question of the late morning: If you were Heald College, would you really advertise on the masthead of a site called Uselessknowledge.com?? Are they trying to be ironic?
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:14 AM
Semi-random link: Get Your War On, highly profane office commentary on the bombing of Afghanistan and related topics
The other day I was rambling on about rich cultures. I didn't mean cultures with lots of microwave ovens and big screen televisions, but groups that managed to meet their survival needs and move on to making artistic and fancy things. Beaded shoes, totem poles, elaborate dances, symphonies, paintings, and so on. Ordinary people could use their time to create extraordinary things.
S pointed out that many folks in the U.S. have met their basic needs, but aren't exactly in competition to be the next Michaelangelo. My neighbors seem to devote their spare time to washing their SUVs, shopping, and mowing their square lawns. Sets of toys like Legos come with just enough specialized pieces to make one particular thing - a plane, a boat, a spaceship. Many people go to the art supply store to buy kits to paint a famous painting by numbers, or embroider a particular image of dogs, or buy a greeting card kit which only requires assembly, no actual creative decision making. And people "customize" their new homes the same way they "design" their own cars: they choose tiles from one of 6 shades of beige, pay extra to put mirrors where the developer claims they can, and then speak with pride about how they "designed" their interior. It's about the same as customizing a fast food burger: you're choosing from a very limited set of options, and yet have been persuaded to believe that it's meaningful.
Yes, kind of like the current American political system. [ahem] I'm sorry. I know.
Is the defunding of school art programs the main problem? Not enough macaroni collectively glued to construction paper when we were all still young and impressionable? Or is all of this limited choice really the cumulative affect of advertising designed to lower our standards to make us better shoppers, so we feel that we're really empowered and clever when we buy the only suit and style available in our size, or buy the same makeup that everyone else bought to achieve the same weird look that everyone else has, or be a rebel by buying the same macho vehicle that everyone else bought?
I'll return to optimistically considering the new tools that enable easy word processing, web publishing, video editing, home recording, and other cool things, and try to pretend not to notice the sincere attempts to emulate commercials and catalogs around me.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:56 AM
Thursday, July 11, 2002
As we used to say in the UNIX world when posting to our first newsgroups, "Hello, World!"
This is my personal blog, a place where I can keep neat links and lengthy commentary on books and periodicals I've been reading. And write about food, of course. Especially avocados. Yummy, ripe, nearly purple-skinned, perfect avocados. Oh, for a mature avocado tree of my very own...
Beeeep! This has been a test of the avocado broadcasting system. The broadcasters in your area, in voluntary cooperation with local and state authorities, have devised this test to keep you informed in the event of an avocado. In an actual avocado, you would have been provided instructions on where to turn for additional news and avocado recipes. This concludes this test of the avocado broadcasting system.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:53 PM