Morning at the observatory


Facebook is hard. I don’t want to annoy people by posting personal things that nobody cares about, but I also want to connect with my friends. How long should a status or a comment be? How much of a political/cultural stand should I put out? Is a mellow status a sign of weakness, or even worse, boring-ness? Somehow Facebook has become a campaigning platform, where we are judged by what we say and what we don’t say and how many “Likes” and comments we get. I don’t know what to write on Facebook anymore, and I usually delete my status right before I hit “Enter”, but then I get these feelings that I want to write about. Like this week, I want to write about this surreal feeling I get sitting in the control room of a radio astronomy observatory. The observatory is southwest of the White Mountains. Outside is the desert, and the telescopes, which are moving slowly in sync to track several objects in space. The telescopes look like little big robot kids innocently gazing at the sky. Occasionally the birds catch the moths that flutter right next to the glass […]

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one shot: Bun Rieu at Ba Le Sandwich


Good ol’ tomato and crab noodle soup from Southern Vietnam: bún riêu (pronounced |boon rhee-oo|). The broth looks alarmingly spicy but this soup is actually never spicy. The orange red color comes from tomato and annatto seeds, and if you’re lucky, crab roe (if fresh crabs are used for the soup). The sweetness of the broth comes from freshwater paddy crabs, where the whole crab (meat and shell) is ground to a paste and strained for the juice. It’s a delicate, distinctive sweetness that can’t be reproduced with dashi no moto, meat bones or mushroom. To deepen the flavor, the cook adds some mắm ruốc, fermented krill paste, to the broth. Traditionally, bun rieu has crab meat and tofu for the protein part, but bun rieu at Ba Le Sandwich is ladened with cha lua, pork and shrimp. Continue reading one shot: Bun Rieu at Ba Le Sandwich

Monkey diary – three days as a fruitarian

Plagued by the reality of industrial farming described by Michael Pollan, I’ve decided to try a fruit-and-seed diet, which would consist of only things that can be harvested without killing the plants. At first I thought it would be pretty restrictive, but a lot of vegetables are fruits: tomato, cucumber, bittermelon, bell pepper, chayote, green beans, eggplants, etc. Cereal is the hard part. I wasn’t sure if I should include corn, rice, wheat and other grains in my experiment because technically they can be harvested without killing the plants, but in reality the plants are killed after the harvest. The same goes for soy beans. Then I figure the industrial farms also kill tomato and cucumber plants after harvesting, and my experiment is geared toward whether I can survive on only fruits and seeds, so restricting to heirloom produce is “beyond the scope of our study”. Bought $29.72’s worth of avocados, navel oranges, blueberries, plums, cultured coconut milk (i.e., coconut yogurt), and bananas from Berkeley Bowl. – First day – Brunch: one plum, one avocado smoothie. Snacks: blueberries. Work from home. At about 4 pm I was doing ok, then I saw Continue reading Monkey diary – three days as a fruitarian

Face the omnivore’s dilemma


Did you know that the koala, the pickiest eater on Earth, has a brain so small that “doesn’t even begin to fill up its skull”? The variety of one’s diet correlates with the size of one’s brain. Whether the reason might be the low nutrition (which makes it more economical to shrink your brain and conserve energy) or the simplicity of a diet that requires no thinking (when you see the food world as eucalyptus and non-eucalyptus, what to have for lunch is not a very big question), the koala’s brain would have been a lot more developed had it been an omnivore. (Whether being smart is better than sleeping 20 hours a day is a different question.) The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about choice. This theme I did not quite grasp when I read the first part (Industrial – Corn) a year ago (or maybe longer, when you grow old everything seems like just yesterday). I was on the plane flying back to San Francisco, reading this monumental Michael Pollan book and discussing with a Chilean guy across the aisle about negligent governments, undereducated denizens and public apathy. What does that have to […]

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The macaron that keeps you wanting for more


What defines a good macaron? I googled, but found only “10 signs of a bad macaron“. My pâtissière friend Hanna Lim told me a few criteria: a good macaron should look smooth on the surface, crunchy (but not crumbly) on the outside and a little chewy(*) inside, it should not fall apart when you take a bite, it should be a clean bite – no crumbs, no cream spewing out on the side. Looking through the Facebook page of The Pastry of Dreams, I see gliding smooth macarons and beautiful cookie-to-cream ratio. Visually, they are perfect. But what impresses me most is their taste. These almond cookies reflect what real fruits and nuts taste like in a cookie. Instead of being masked by sugar, the flavors that each cookie is supposed to contain shine through. “There are no shortcuts in our pastries,” says Liz Laval, the chemist-turn-pastry-chef who started The Pastry of Dreams. For something as simple as vanilla, she uses special vanilla beans imported from Madagascar to France and shipped to her by family living in France. “The one from here and the one that people […]

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