May 31, 2008
Aren't Hands Weird?
Aren't hands weird? There's an old Doonesbury cartoon in which the grown-up characters are remembering their younger days: in Zonker's stoner memory, he's staring at his digits and wondering out loud, "Have you ever really looked at your hands?!"
I mention that in part to distract from the reality that I couldn't get a pretty picture of my left hand this evening. (I'm no George Costanza, hand model.) But the real point is this: today I can wear my college ring for the first time in more than ten years. I'm weighing in now at 151, 19 pounds less than my max from a year ago, and the lightest I've been since maybe 1995. In the next twelve months I'd like to drop another 10 lbs. of fat and I'd like to add about 15 lbs. of muscle. Nothing dramatic: just steady improvement of health habits. Fingers are crossed. (Gosh that looks funny. Aren't hands weird?)
Mirko and Katy -- Global Travelers
Here are Katy and Miroslav -- the two most amazing people I met during my travels in Mexico and Cuba:
Mirko (age 35) grew up in the Czech Republic, and Katy (30) grew up in Slovenia. They met seven years ago while traveling in India, and they've been together ever since -- earning their living by making jewelry and selling on the streets.
Mirko and I had a nice chat about things, and I was just so pleased to meet two people who had such a sense of freedom and peace. Here are some of his unedited comments, which I was scribbling in the margins of a newspaper while we talked:
[On being a beggar for a year in Japan] Begging is an excellent school. You have a lot of time to observe the world. It can teach you to trust. But you have to be a person to learn. Many beggars are stuck. It should be a station to move from.
Fear is a powerful thing. If you give up, it will completely consume you. But if you trust... If you give yourself to Nature, which is like our mother... Even if I didn't have food for 2 days, I take it as a fast.
We trust. We wish to go somewhere so we believe and then it will come. We don't lose the trust.
Japan was nice. We go to the convenience stores to use the toilet - no charge. They have hot water that people use for ramen - no charge. They don't mind. It's not just that they don't complain. I think it their pleasure to give you the hot water (Katy: I never had the feeling they were unhappy for us to be there (but were quiet to be polite). But they do have signs: "do not sleep" in stores. The workers are exhausted.
In communist time in Czechoslovakia it was illegal to have no work or accommodation.
In Isla Holbox [Mexico] we sold for several days. The police did not mind. But one day the police said, "excuse us -- we don't mind, but some of the other stores here are complaining that you are taking their business, so we need to ask you to quit selling in the park." But then another artist -- an artisan with a store, said, "you can use the sidewalk in front of our place to sell."
I cannot visit the US because the US requires a Visa. And I haven't been documented for years.
[talking about Spartans and the way they raised kids through violent training that was sometimes fatal]. You know, the Spartans and the Mayans and some other people -- they were just making sure that the bodies were strong enough to live a tough life. If they weren't, then it was OK for them to die. Maybe they'd get better bodies the next time.
Katy and Mirko have slept with a monkey.
May 28, 2008
May 25, 2008
Antonio Banderas Can...
-- some comedian on a VH1 "hot people from the 90s" special.
He certainly is the heat, and I'll watch Desperado (or Four Rooms, or Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or the Zorro flix, or heck even Spy Kids pretty much any time) because he's so damned cool. But does anyone remember him for his role as the obsessive young gay murderer in Almodovar's La Ley Del Deseo?
La Ley is probably the first place that I saw Banderas. As I watched other Almodovar films later in life, I came to realize that (a) I respect Almodovar's work and (b) really, I just movies for entertainment. If I have to work at it, I'm not going to sit for it. My loss, of course. But it's nice to know.
Photo from random internets. I also have a hot former colleague who could have passed for Antonio's sister. I wonder if they've ever met?
May 24, 2008
Joe Queenan Again: With Mention of Dennis Hopper
Fik's comment in an older older chickenbutt post (the one about beer butt chicken) reminded me of this:
[Keanu] Reeves, who is generally generous toward other actors, is still especially impressed by Crispin Glover's performance in River's Edge, one regarded by many critics as the definition of "over the top." For those who have not seen the film, suffice it to say that River's Edge is the only motion picture in recent memory in which Dennis Hopper gives the second weirdest performance.
Photo yoinked from Top 25 Oscar Snubs by Ms. HodgePodge who apparently yoinked it from EW.
Chickenbutts! That's What!!!
Do you remember the chapter in Little House in the Big Woods where Laura and Mary share the roasted pig tail -- crispy skin and shiny fat on a bit of bone? (Just before they play ball with the inflated bladder?)
Filipinos are that way with chicken butts (aka buldits in Pampanga).
Last weekend I had lunch at the home of one of Durham's absolutely most generous Filipina hosts. She'll invite ten people for dinner on a moment's notice, and never accept help with the dishes. But I've found she's not a complete angel. She at least reserves the chicken butts for her own snacking joy.* I spotted these on her kitchen counter, well away from the buffet. Couldn't resist teasing her about it :-)
Speaking of chickenbutt.
*Thank goodness she does something for herself. And though it shouldn't make a difference, this somehow makes me feel less bad about breaking one of her ceramic collectibles when I smacked it with my umbrella on my way out the door.
Vit Goal - Boiling Korean. Plus Triangle Bailliage
The tofu soup at bottom is boiling. Yummy lunch at Vit Goal -- the 2nd Korean restaurant near the corner of Highways 55 and 54 by RTP. (The first is Chosun OK in the northeast corner. Vit Goal is on Allendown Dr., a block south of the southeast corner.) You should go. And afterward, buy some make-your-own-Korean-meal ingredients next door at Shilla Oriental Food and Gifts.
Update: Jason Perlow (founder of eGullet) has a great blog about both Vit Goal and Chosun OK here at OffTheBroiler.com
"The Triangle Bailliage de North Carolina is a local chapter of the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. La Chaîne is a unique gastronomic society, headquartered in Paris, with more than 20,000 members in over 100 countries."
I remember reading about La Chaîne some years ago (I probably wanted to join), and I think it's fair to say that the Triangle Bailliage -- founded in 1987 -- was one of the earlier Triangle foodie groups. Their website hasn't been updated since November, so I'm not sure if they're still cranking, but you can take a tour around several years of their restaurant visits.
You'll see that they are clearly "traditional". As part of their custom, officers and some members wear ribbons and medallions. Professional members include prominent restaurateurs such as Van Eure, Giorgios Bakatsias and Scott Howell, representing several of the Triangle's longstanding well-regarded restaurants.
That said, a visit to their website will also make you wonder if their "model" is a bit out of date for 21st century US eating. The first thing I noticed was that their trip to Vit Goal last year was billed as their "annual ethnic dinner". In the previous year, their "annual ethnic dinner" was a trip to Jibarra. Oh well -- just visit and you'll see what I'm talking about. Different generations. Different approaches to food and culture and writing. (And yes, I remember that everything we have today is built on what people did before.) Someone let me know if they've moved their website to a new address, or if they've shut down, or anything else about them. I'm curious.*
*Not that I'm claiming credit for any of his skills -- but throughout that last paragraph, I felt like I was channeling the spirit of Eat at Joe's :-)
May 23, 2008
Filipino Grocer in Durham - Phil Asia on Highway 54
Phil Asia Market opened four months ago near RTP and has a bunch of cool stuff you might not find elsewhere. Among them, the Magnolia brand ube and monggo bean ice milk pops which are currently calling to me from the freezer.
Ube is a purple yam used in the Philippines as a sweet, starch, and coloring ingredient. Monggo beans are widely used throughout Asia and are also known as the same thing as mong beans or green soy that you might have seen in other dishes.
Western palates (especially Southern ones) are used to sweet potatoes serving in a dessert role. But it's rare for us to see beans as a sweet dish ingredient and I'm suspect that these ube and monggo bean treats wouldn't be everyone's fave. I guess that just means there's more for me. In fact, I'll be surprised if I can write this whole blog without interrupting myself with a trip to the freezer. But I digress...
So what should you try at the Phil Asia Market? For sure I recommend the Magnolia brand ice creams of any flavor. Phil Asia has several of the standard Magnolia flavors including ube, macapuno (a special coconut), and probably some others like mango. Sausage fans should try to the Filipino-style longanisa. I spotted several cooked/smoked/preserved bangus (milkfish) items on the shelves and in the freezers. And if you like light, sweet breads, try the pan de coco: rolls with a bit of sugar and shredded coconut thrown in.
Phil Asia Market
1708 E. Highway 54
Durham (next door to the wacky True Value Hardware store, just west of the Highway 54/55 "Indigestion Intersection".) This True Value has both a pharmacy and a wacky, ever-changing sign. See one courtesy of Southern Kind of Life, a six-month-old blog from southern Durham (happy half birthday, SKoL!)
Magnolia Ice milk photo from Ramar Foods in California. Magnolia has been the longtime "best of the major producers" ice cream brand in the Philippines, sort of like Breyer's was in the US until the early 80s when we got our first explosion of more premium ice creams. The US-distributed ice cream uses Filipino flavor ingredients plus US cream.
Fernando Plays Accordion -- We Need More Busking
This is Fernando Gonzales de Jesus, playing near the Plaza Grande in Mérida, MX. He and his daughter Marisol are from Oaxaca (about two days' distance) but they came here in search of economic opportunity. Same story the world over, I guess.
Fernando has a cool busking technique. He'll play a few bars in the normal way (left hand for chords and rhythm, right hand for melody), then he'll stick his right hand out for donations while the left hand keeps chugging along. Download a 3GPP clip of Fernando here.
After a while, I felt badly for yapping with Fernando while he was trying to earn some money, so I went to a nearby cafe to buy dinner for him and his girl (hamburgers, horchata, and a jamaica agua fresca). After I returned with the food, Fernando asked if I wanted to play, and I took a five-minute shift on the squeezebox.
Apparently the people of Mérida prefer his Oaxacan music to my waltzes, tangos, and randomalia. I didn't make one frickin' peso. (Though my cultural theory gets busted when I remember my German sax player friend who did alright about two blocks away.)
Back here in Durham: I'd love to see some
more any busking. But as Barry R says at the Dependable Erection, Durham isn't the most busking-friendly place. The folks at Southpoint seem to have juggled around on this one. Artsplosure is also working out the details for their one weekend a year. Sigh.
May 22, 2008
Vampiro at El Trapiche - Fun With Beets and Celery
I've already pointed to this pic at Emaya's blog, but I wanted to share it again for a different reason: the vampiro, shown above (the drink in the glass, not the woman at the table) at El Trapiche in Mérida, MX.
At El Trapiche, the vampiro is a straight-up juice made from freshly pressed oranges, carrots, beets, and celery. No sugar, ice, or alcohol -- just health and yumminess. Drink one and you won't need your daily vitamin.
I'm not sure what proportions go into the mix. On its best days (for me) the beetiness was noticeable but not dominant (i.e., you got the flavor but not the mouthfeel) and there was just enough celery to add some green sharpness, spiciness and "breadth" to the flavor.*
As served, the vampiro was always too rich for me, so I'd order a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a glass for cutting each vampiro in two, which is why the bit of vampiro pictured above is a bright red instead of its naturally deep blood red.**
A few more things about El Trapiche. First: the staff are nice and will take you dancing. Second: do you notice how the chair in the foreground is opened out
from the table just a little? That's a nice touch at many Mexican
restaurants: the chairs are all angled out as if to say, "please, have
a seat." Lastly: you can see the street view over here at Flickr. The two women pictured are standing on the sidewalk just outside where Emaya was sitting.
**blood red. Thus the name "vampiro." I didn't catch on until I'd had two or three. As much as I like words and languages, I'm slow at noticing some things. Didn't realize until reading Xta's blog four years ago that "Colorado" was named after "colored" in Spanish. Didn't realize until my dad mentioned it that "Sanka" was derived from the French "sans caféine". Didn't notice that the Singapore/Malaysian restaurant wasn't pronounced "MARE-lee-on" but was rather "Mer-lion" as in "sea lion" as in the mascot of Singapore. Of course I sometimes go the other way. At a steakhouse in ~1981, I thought "Dieter's delight" was some German dish, probably with bratwurst, instead of the low-calorie cottage cheese and lettuce thing that ended up on my plate.
May 19, 2008
What drives you to procrastinate? And what do you do with your time when you're procrastinating?
My faves involve CRTs or LCD screens: television and the internet. Blogging is a more virtuous procrastinaction*, but I don't do is often.
I yoinked this poster from the sharp folks at despair.com (click for the whole set). I think they debuted around 1995 and I'm glad they're still going strong. I think that Defeat was my favorite of their first series.
*apologies to Ms. P who hates these made up words -- perhaps even worse when they're mushups. Oh, there I go again. Dang.
May 18, 2008
La Ceiba, Honduras -- Destination Next
POST-VISIT NOTE: I had an excellent visit in La Ceiba. All the people I met there were remarkably kind and welcoming, though it is fair to say that one of the ways they expressed their kindness was in warning me to be careful about many parts of town. I was snapping photos near the golf course (while walking to the mall) when a couple stopped in their truck to warn me that someone had been mugged the day before, on the block where I was standing. So I asked them if they wouldn't mind giving me a ride to the mall, and they were happy to oblige. On another occasion, a woman who had given me directions felt badly that the place I wanted to visit was unexpectedly closed, so she gave me a tour on her own. And on another evening, I went out in the Zona Viva with the guys who worked at my hotel after they warned me not to go alone to the block I wanted to visit. While I wouldn't describe La Ceiba as a gorgeous place with tons of sightseeing and recreational opportunities, I would still say that it is a beautiful town and a great place to spend some time actually meeting people as they normally live, not in the context of tourism.
Original blog post:
This is La Ceiba (pronounced "la SAY-bah"), on the northern coast of Honduras where I plan to visit from June 3 to 29.
Several people I know who have been there say, "it's a dirty nothing of a town, you'd rather go somewhere else. Another country, even." But when I explain that part of my point in traveling is to see different, not just obviously appealing, they say, "well, you'll get different, alright." Hmph. I'm sure I'm going to love lots. There are even some cool bloggers there, and maybe I'll meet them!
Rightly or wrongly, Honduras is often labeled the "worst" country in Central America for its combination of poverty, bad government, bad luck, etc. Despite their good weather and interesting geography, they've only recently started any effort for international tourism. But the mountains next to La Ceiba have several new eco-tourism places that I plan to visit. And who knows -- maybe the deforestation and pollution across the country aren't as bad as I hear.
Regardless, the nearby Bay Islands of Utila and Roatán are said to be perfect for diving: great water, great flora and fauna, great weather, and good prices. My Australian pal Emaya* learned to dive there and has shared both underwater pix with sea turtles and abovewater pix with Scandinavians.
I've never tried scuba diving but I have friends who will shoot me if I don't take advantage of this trip.
We'll see. While I avoid sports that require expensive equipment, I also avoid getting shot.
*We met in Mérida. See bottom of this blog for a pleasant photo of her taken by yours truly.
La Ceiba photo credit: some unfortunately forgotten place on the internet. Don't you love the green mountains right next to the sea?
May 17, 2008
For every moment we feel superior, we become less than we were a moment earlier.
Harry Emerson Fosdick on Life and Mystery
I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind would comprehend it.
Quote via the .sig file of my Friends-schooled pal KrY who just turned 31! Fosdick was a Baptist minister whose writings wouldn't have seemed out of place among Quakers. More of his quotes here at Brainyquote.
How Well Do You Keyboard?
Last night while chatting over snacks* with friends in their early 40s, we had a lively few minutes talking about typing: how important it was, where we learned it, and how important it is for work.
So where did you learn to keyboard? How does this skill (or the lack thereof) affect your work? And do you know people who never learned how to type well and who have had to adjust their careers (knowingly or not) because of this lacking?
Digression: Here's an online typing test if you're curious: TypingTest.com. FYI, the interface is a little odd: once you pick a test, just start typing (you don't have to click anywhere special to enter your text). When your time runs out, it automatically grades for you. If you finish the text before your time runs out, something else goofy happens. Just chill out and it'll score for you. I scored much higher than I expected: net speed 115 wpm (117 wpm with 98% accuracy). I remembered much lower scores from when I was in high school. Then again, maybe everybody's scores are much higher now that we have word processors that greatly reduce the penalty for mistyping: we can type like madmen and fix errors quickly for an improved net speed.
One of my friends from last night is an attorney who commented that many older lawyers are struggling because their firms no longer expect to pay someone to type up their dictations. Younger lawyers have always expected to type their own briefs. Older lawyers are having to adjust. Another of our crew is the daughter of a doctor who never learned how to type, and had to struggle when he was retired and wanting to write, but without the benefit of an assistant.
I've long said that the two most important things I ever did in a classroom were B-school and typing class (9th grade, with Mrs. Shepard, on Facit-brand typewriters.). That said, I think that a lot of people have taught themselves to type "fast enough." But are they happy enough with the result?
*fish balls and various hot sauces, sweet popped corn, almonds, candied ginger and avocado-coconut drinks all fueled by a random-sample grocery run at Food World in Durham. Plus some peanut-butter cookies from K.
Photo: yoinked from Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala pre-university college.
May 16, 2008
Mez -- Mmmodern Mexican
Queso Flameado - Melted chihuahua cheese and goat cheese with roasted poblano. Served with fresh flour tortillas and your choice of chorizo sausage or all vegetarian with tomatillo salsa...7.45.
I've had two meals at Mez and enjoyed both. The crab tampico cakes (Mexican crabcakes, no breadcrumbs) are yummy, especially for the mango-jicama slaw that comes with.
So what's the spin at Mez? Their website says:
MEZ is the newest venture from the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, the owners of 518 West, 411 West, Squid’s, and Spanky’s, all award-winning local restaurants. We MEZ also offers a beautiful private room that can accommodate 80 to 100 people for business lunches, rehearsal dinners, or any other occasion. MEZ is North Carolina's first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designed restaurant.
As for me: I appreciated the wide variety of items, fresh ingredients, low grease levels, and innovative salsas. Of the eight or nine dishes I've tried, I've loved the heck out of a couple, liked most, and disliked only one or two, mostly because they were too salty for my tastes (which run on the sensitive side when it comes to salt). My lunch for two went for $50 (including a healthy tip, because I think I was accidentally rough with our newbie server. He kept trying to take away my plates which still had some of the mango-jicama slaw and the Yucatan slaw. I threatened to break his hands.). Dinner for three was $95 (including one drink per person).
The building is worth visiting if only to see what a LEED certified building looks and feels like. The upstairs dining room and patio would be perfect for a large reception. Just watch your step on the long stairways if you're serving booze. Straight stairs and a long way down.
And lest you be misled by the above empty-restaurant photo (taken ~2:30), the placed was packed at 1:30 in the afternoon, much as it was ~8 p.m. on a recent weekday night. Mez has only been open a short while, but people obviously like it. And people are getting used to the idea of eating in the Research Triangle food zone after work, not just during. (Compare the pizza place and the Chinese place a block away -- closed after 6.)
Bonus quotes from lunch:
Me: The one thing about this dining room is that it's pretty noisy. If you brought a large group of friends here, you'd have a hard time hearing everyone at your table.
Pal L: Not with my friends.
May 15, 2008
A Short List of Virtues
In the dozen days since my friend Sonja's funeral, I've been trying to come up with good words to talk about what she's meant to me and to others. I had hoped for an essay by now, but it's not yet coming.
Instead, here is a short list of virtues she owned and lived for 39 years:
To smile always and laugh often.
To tease for fun without being mean.
To have faith and to share faith without hesitation.
To live by high standards.
To find the best in things, without being blind to the worst.
To struggle honestly.
To follow her heart.
To imagine new possibilities.
To create new good.
To trust others.
To take big risks.
To never feel superior, despite her status as a teacher, provider and star.
To share her joy and wonder. With everyone -- not just the people who make it easy.
To love animals with all her heart, and to care for them with all her skill.
To be wise without being old.
And to ask always, "What next, Lord, shall I do?"
Without context, I imagine that this list might look generic. But I hope you'll trust that there is much behind each item. If any remind you of the best you'd like to be for yourself, then I'll be glad to have shared these with you, and happier still that Sonja shared them with me.
photo: Happy Tails Country Club