Boosted Wasabi

Wasabi peas disappoint me. They are weaker than they should be; tingly when they should induce an involuntary valsalva maneuver. I’m trying to solve this by rebaking the peas with more wasabi. So far, the storebought fresh wasabi does not cut it. It might be that I baked it at too high a temperature, reducing the impact.

Mix wasabi with peas and then bake

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I’ll try some powdered stuff next…that should work. I’m also curious about breaking the peas into fragments and reassembling the fragments around balls of wasabi (perhaps crushing dried peas into a flour and then rolling the balls of wasabi in the flour). I’ll call them peas wasabi. I’m only thinking about this because it reminds me a now pretty much defunct class of European dishes called subtleties, which centered on making one food (typically game) appear as either a different food or a non-food item entirely. The wikipedia entry is here.

These days we have the chocolate oranges, I guess. I’ve also heard of concept restaurants where the plates and forks are edible. Someday I hope to have a food of plate served on a placemat made out of beef jerky.

Haze

It’s been a weird week in Singapore. Smoke from the brush fires in Indonesia has drifted this way, rolling over Malaysia and swamping Kuala Lumpur on its way south to my apartment. Two nights ago, you’d not be able to see more than 700 meters in any direction. Large buildings were obscured in the haze. I’ve read that daytime visibility shrank from ten kilometers to somewhere below three. The windows, in the daytime, are covered with grit from the smoke.
Which makes me think that there is potential for a great zombie narrative. Selected, highly psychotropic plants are burned in the brush fires. Their constituents are released in the air during the burn but are unaltered by the heat. Indonesia succumbs first. Television shots show people wandering around in a daze, drifting through the streets. The great wave of zombie violence starts in Jakarta and then drifts west and south. I’d film the move from the perspective of Singapore residents who can see the haze approach but who are unable to do anything about it. People are fleeing but it is clear that the population cannot be cleared fast enough. Wait, that might be boring. I need car chases. It would be cool if the entire cast of the Miami Vice movie became zombies. Zombies with guns, and really fast cars and no acting ability. That would be cool. That would be…wait a second….

Um…Tesco?

Paper towel rolls are shorter in Singapore. Door moldings are also tucked in rather than sitting out on the face of the frame. There are two passcard points and two keyed entries, all separate, between the sidewalk and my third floor office/apartment. The first passcard limits access through the front door and the second limits access to the elevator. Key locks one and two are set first at a small (five foot by five foot) garden entrance to the apartment and then at the doors to the apartment itself.

The apartment is right next to Bugis center, one of the main shopping areas in Singapore. I walk outside and right into a sidewalk length of small coffee, sandwich, and pastry shops. This line continues unbroken to the right at the end of my block, forming part of a foursquare circuit that rests shoulder to shoulder with Chinatown at the far end of the next street down. If I turn left and then right and walk across the street I can enter the Bugis center mall, three floors of small shops supported at the very bottom by a big Japanese grocery store.

I love grocery stores. I don’t buy much since I tend to eat at food stalls and hawker stands but I like looking at new products. Each product is a solution to some problem. Many are solutions to problems that had not occurred to me. I see it as a cultural conversation. Some new technology comes out or some cultural shift takes place, brining a slew of benefits and problems. Other supporting products are developed to answer new problems. Each product in the aisle says “Do you have this problem? Then how about this answer!”

Let me try to think of an example on the fly. Indian food seems to have become dominant in London, while coffee has replaced tea as the drink of choice and fewer people smoke. All of these dietary shifts conjoin to create digestive stress. Consciously or unconsciously, British consumers are responding to this digestive stress by seeking food that benefits the digestive bacteria in the gut. When I stopped in London, I left Heathrow and went directly to Hammersmith where I looked into a Tesco supermarket. Probiotic foods were everywhere. Emmi has several new yogurt drinks, BASF is producing a new probiotic gum, and dairy-based foods are dominating the shelves. There are even several clear probiotic drinks.

Probiotic foods are actually the second round in a conversation about digestion. The first round was based on medicine and focused on pills and tablets and mixes. Apparently consumers had already ingested too many pills. They wanted to get away from feeling that pills and vitamins were needed to smother the flames of an unhealthy diet.

This new round of the conversation said “How about we give you something focused on digestive health and strong bones while you stop worrying so much about milkfat and begin eating dairy again.” So far consumers seem to have said yes. Now food producers are providing probiotics in a hundred different forms, from small actimel bottles to big jugs of kefir, gums and gels. Someday, someone will make probiotic dairy creamer and everyone will be happy.

Wilmington, NC

At RyanÂ’s wedding today in Wilmington, NC. Spent yesterday evening driving from Wrightsville Beach to Carolina beach and back. IÂ’ve later been told that Carolina beach is the redneck beach. I guess that explains the confederate flag bodyboards.

Speaking to Owen and Jenny about wedding gifts. This is one of the first weddings where the majority of gifts have been given over the internet. ItÂ’s time to make “internet gift tsotchkes.” IÂ’m thinking of little plaques, possibly made out of stop signs or license plates or old mirrors or tin cans or denim or other found items. These plaques will have a small brass or steel note holder with a note regarding the internet gift. They will also feature of big, blue circle with the letter “I” stamped on the interior. Now everyone will have something to place on the table at the wedding.

Noted in local bars: a revised version of the “your weight or fortune” scale. Now you pay 50 cents and then blow into a hole through a disposable black straw. The machine gives you your blood alcohol content and the likelihood of arrest should you be pulled over. A few years back, a friend told me about a party held by local police officers. They were seeing how high they could score on the breathalyzers.

Back at the Kampgrounds of America. It provides a weird mix of old world and new world camping. Old world: I can hear cicadas and smell campfire smoke at the picnic table by my tent. New world: I have a wireless internet connection in my tent.

I managed to leave my suit (by accident) back at my house in Massachusetts so IÂ’ve had my first wedding dressed entirely in clothing (suit, shirt, tie, t-shirt, everything) purchased at Target. And it looked reasonably sharp, darnit. The effect impressed me enough to wax on about the purchase to anyone who would give me an ear.

The wedding was in Saint MarkÂ’s church, off Everett (Evansville?) road on the way to Wrightville beach. A wonder of modern catholic architecture, which is to say it looked weird, futurist and terrible. H.L. Mencken complained about modern church architecture at the turn of the 20th century, wondering why the wooden clapboard church had been replaced by towering brick monstrosities. Evidently this trend has continued. Soon modern churches will look like modern synagogues, which are often awkward and angular: executed by some new school architect who has yet to realize that the Bauhaus died for a reason. I suppose there is a lesson in this. ItÂ’s too easy to be in love with the aesthetics of religion (this may be true for me). A more interesting problem is the loss of aesthetics in a normally aesthetically pleasing world. Maybe churches are designed to make us consider this, and the problem of aesthetic loss is pale, easier to tackle shadow of the problem of suffering. ItÂ’s as if Job had been sent to New Jersey instead of suffering the death of his wife.

Saw Dan (RyanÂ’s brother) and Stacey together today. ItÂ’s still, along with Jen and SteveÂ’s marriage, one of the most encouraging marriages that I have ever seen. It seems to marked by goodwill, originally outside the marriage (before they knew each other), then within and then outside again, which is not something covered in marriage sermons. It would be kinda funny if the great passions (from great love to martyrdom) that are supposed to define our lives were in the end shown to be less important than goodwill (and maybe plain honesty). Ach, I feel like IÂ’m bordering on one of those aphoristic Benjamin Franklin books. Anyway, Dan and Stacey, when together, often make the people around them slightly better, which is the main indicator of any sort of really great relationship.

Microsoft seems to be thinking in the right direction with Zune, the new music platform intended to compete with the ipod. From the WSJ: “We see a great opportunity to bring together technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together.” Napster made the concept of online music acceptable but Apple built itÂ’s market by making it easy to download music without worrying about bitrate or bad labels or sudden static. The next frontier is probably music discovery. How do you find new stuff that you will like. http://www.pandora.com has done a decent job but Microsoft may be able to do better. I expect Apple to respond with new licensing regimens, including a licensing platform that will allow users to remix and repost music via garageband. This fits with the discover/manage/ create cycle that seems to characterize so much media. If Apple knew what it was doing, IÂ’d be creating music videos on a macbook pro a year from now.

According to the WSJ, Michelle Bernstein, head chef at Michi in Miami has created a new soup comprised of “Cold corn with lobster garnish” Is the soup martini the next frontier? I can see a shot or vodka potato soup warming me on a late Winter night. I’d sell it under the “no more empty calories” tagline. I’d design a bar to look like a kitchen in one of the old Soviet Republics. Patrons would enter in the dead of winter and drink snifters of warm tomato vodka soup. In the summer, they’d drink shots of gazpacho and tequila. What should I call this? The patrons could be soupaholics. The soup could be soupahol or souperclear (for soup plus everclear). I hate that word. It Is nowhere near as good as rockstitutes (rockstar prostitutes).

Enough.

Storm Shadow

The concept of “one of those days” is universally recognized. If there were an Audubon guide to days, the entry for “one of those” would be prominent. It would be odd if this term covered the only universal human experience.

Woke up two days ago, went to the kitchen and promptly spent half an hour crawling back to my room. A sadist apparently got me in the lumbar vertebrae with a screwdriver. He just jammed it into one of the spinous processes and twisted. Now I know what my ceilings look like.

This is bad because I’m supposed to fly to Singapore on Monday. Prior to the flight I am supposed to put everything that I own into storage. It would be easier if I could reach down and pick something/ anything up off of the floor but I can’t. I can bend over and paw at it but the effect is like one of those “select your prize” glassbox crane machines that is never able to get the stuffed animal. I’m also running out of quarters.

The flight to Singapore involves a 12 hour layover in London, at Heathrow. The security measures have reportedly eased over the last week but IÂ’ve received conflicting advice about leaving the airport and touring London before returning in the evening. It would be nice to see a museum or a gallery or run around acting like a chav until IÂ’m taken down by the flying squad. On the other hand, it will take forever to get back through security with my collection of Franklin Mint Gi-Joe Commemorative Plates. IÂ’m really only worried about the “Snake Eyes”, “Storm Shadow” (both of whom are ninjas) and “Spirit Iron Knife” plates. Spirit Iron Knife is a bit of a Native American Miami Vice character: Miami Vice because of the clothes, Native American because of the headband and face paint. He also carries a compound bow. If I were him, I might feel a bit shafted. His friend Heavy Duty gets a plasma cannon. “Yeah, just wait up guys… I see that you have been unable to take down Cobra CommanderÂ’s monstrous killer robot with your plasma cannonÂ… Thankfully I have this compound bow”

To this day, IÂ’m not sure why GI Joe went through a ninja phase—I always saw the ninja figurines as the ones that you could place in a dark corner and ignore. That way, when one of your friends has your character surrounded and is on his way to deliver a mind numbing beat down you could remind him about the ninjas who were still lurking around the periphery of the room. “Where are they?” he’d say. You’d look around but you would have forgotten where you placed them. “They areÂ…watching,” you’d say, “…watchingÂ… and waiting…” When he is asleep that night you would plan to sneak into his house and stab him in the head with Storm ShadowÂ’s sword. You never would. His mom wouldn’t allow you in after 10pm.

Maybe IÂ’m biased. I see ninjas as the stenographers of the espionage world. Strangely, they look much more scary on commemorative plates.

An old entry reposted after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Globe and Mail: Bin Laden enlists al-Zarqawi to target US, officials say

Update: Bin Laden to al-Zarqawi: “Um, yeahh…I’m gonna need you go ahead and come in tomorrow. Sooo if you could be here around nine, that would be great.”

Najaf: Intelligence sources indicate that wiretaps recorded in Najaf last Tuesday may contain conversations between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his next door neighbor, Lawrence. Zarqawi, who disappeared from Najaf shortly after visiting his therapist is said to have seemed “really bummed” about the new orders from Bin Laden. “He seemed unsurprised by the call” said one analyst, “but he’d been trying to avoid it and was in the process of ducking out early for afternoon prayers when the call came through.”

“He should have turned his answering machine off” added the source, “he’s probably going to end up working Sunday as well.”

In other news, North Korean diplomats reassured reporters that any recent comments regarding a bomb were purely in reference to the Ben Affleck vehicle “Surviving Christmas,” which has just reached the Asian media market.

– posted by Skillet @ 7:56 PM (0) comments

What is Up with My Friends?

Well, read a blog, find something new. CP- another friend / member of the family from college (she’s visited this year) announced that her surgery for ovarian cancer looks somewhat successful. All this on a blog:

To wit: “Right ovary: “beautiful” in the words of my doctor, who is a gynecologist and so must find ovaries very attractive.Left ovary: is the ugly redheaded stepchild of my right ovary, scarred and inoperable. My stepmother thinks that is the anesthesia talking, that they probably removed the tumors but not the cysts, and I just misunderstood. Possible, and I would know more if my doctor would return my phone calls now that I am coherent.”

That makes three friends for the spring. NV spoke with her this evening and she is okay and recovering nicely but… sheesh.

Ach, another abbreviated weekly update

Spent two days hobbling around after the Mt. Washington hike, legs creaking more than the stairs

Saw R, my housemate, play his last show at Ryles in Cambridge Thursday night. St Germain, MMW, Freddie Hubbard, that sort of thing, played with five other people. HD went with me to the show and LK, met us there after getting in a semi-car accident (the details are still not clear to me) en route. The set included one of R’s own pieces which he had worked out at the house a few weeks before.

Drove home Friday night, arrived at 2 in the morning. Dad had picked up a 1995 Ryan long wheel base under seat steering recumbent and we were supposed to take it out on first a 60 and then a 20 mile ride on Saturday. Overslept and woke at 8:30. Got breakfast while dad rode his own recumbent (a trike, really) through rain and wind in rural Pennsylvania.

Spent Saturday sitting in the kitchen and talking with family members. My sister was home and recovering from several years of employment at a horse farm in North Carolina.

Memorial service on Sunday. Met Joe’s wife, 3 month old and 3 year old. Saw his parents for the first time in years. A quiet Unitarian service at a Quaker meeting house near Villanova. Services were conducted by the same pastor that married Joe and his wife, Carol.

Drove back to Boston. Attempted to watch a movie—The BreakUp—with AL. Too terrible to watch. We walked out after 20 min. The whole point was to see a bad movie but there are limits. The handlebars came off of the recumbent on the way over to the theater. This was interesting. It was the first time I’d crashed out (screeching tires and all, it is hard to fall gracefully when you get dropped out of your handlbars) on the bridge that leads to Charles/ MGH.

Plan to look for washers in order to keep handlebars on this week.

Random notes from the last two weeks

Notes from last two weeks

Watched a Yankees/ Red Sox game and had BBQ at BW’s house in Waltham last week and listened to some hair raising horror stories from the last three months [Example: Which is worse, (1) having a doctors tell you parents—incorrectly—that you have a 3% chance of survival and being forced to make plans around this until a new team of doctors determines that your cancer medication is causing your pulmonary problems or (2) sitting through a diagnostic procedure that requires doctors to irrigate one lobe of your lung for several hours, giving you the feeling of nonstop drowning?] Went to court in Waltham Thursday morning and succeeded in getting a civil charge dropped in re: an inspection sticker for my car and went to arts night last night at the Neighborhood House Charter school. More on that later maybe, but here is a piece of art from one of the kids. I kinda like it:

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Went up to Mt. Washington this weekend, intending to do some backpacking. I decided to carry tent plus bag, stove and 3 liters of water and extra clothes in an old external frame pack which came complete with a metal edge which dug its way into my scapula when I was hiking. As I understand, it was included by EMS in an effort to keep hikers from sleeping while the pack is on.

Sunday was warm (83-85 degrees at the base) and melted snow was rolling off the mountain. Several trails were closed, including the Tuckerman ravine approach to the Alpine level so I dragged the pack up the Boott Spur trail instead. I hate that trail. Each time I struggle up it, I swear that I will never take that trail again. It’s that wrong exit on the freeway that forces you to spend six hours caught up between stoplights and video stores. The walk up to the Lakes of the Clouds cost me my first liter of water and any desire to hike down to the forest below the alpine ridge in order to camp that night. Instead, I spent most of the day hiking out from the Lakes (ponds really) of the Clouds and around the ridgelines near the summit of Mt Washington (I’ve been to the top- it’s a parking lot with a miniature South of the Border type center in the middle. The ridgelines below the peak are great but I’m not too tempted to go back up to the top). It was not a grueling hike but it was enough to keep me hobbling around the house yesterday.

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Joe Farber

Joe Farber died on Monday. I spent the first three days of the week wondering about funeral arrangements. I recieved a note from Joe’s wife yesterday. He has already been cremated but there will be a memorial service near Philadelphia next Sunday at 3 PM so I am driving back to Pennsylvania next weekend.

In the note, his wife said two things that caught my attention. The first is that Joe’s body was cremated in a favorite pair of jeans and a t-shirt commemorating the 1999 Freedom Valley Bike Ride

The second: “Joe was absolutely satisfied by the life he led and said that he would choose it all over again, even with the brain tumor.”

That sentence really gets me, first because it is the perfect thing to say to the people that you are leaving behind; second, because it highlights what a great sort of person Joe was; and third because it points to a particular and very admirable approach to life that Joe had even as far back as high school.

I’ve tried to describe this once, and it did not work out very well. Let’s see if I can be more clear in this round of edits.

To wit: To say this to your wife and to your family is in itself admirable. It requires that- even at the very end- you are cognizant of and love & appreciate the people around you. This is not something that everyone can manage.

I’m reminded of a story that appeared a few years back in the local paper. During the middle of an abysmally hot summer afternoon, a Vietnamese flooring contractor, while sanding polyurethane floors on the upper half of a renovated condo managed to ignite the polyurethane dust, blowing most of the third floor off of the house. The Somerville journal reported that while burned over most of his body, he stayed awake in terrible pain until his wife and child were present in the hospital and did not die until his wife assured him that their son would be fine. At that point- according to the paper- he smiled, closed his eyes, and died.

Not the same incident really, but you don’t learn to think of other people in this way, with this sort of dedication, overnight.

But I want to go a bit farther with this. I suspect that in Joe’s case he was not just thinking of his wife, he was probably being really honest. What does it mean to be honest about this? What sort of person could look back and state that he’d do it all over again, even with brain cancer? It requires an understanding that the life you have, no matter the conditions, is a bit of a gift. More than this, it requires a specific humility about your own understanding– the recognition that the best and most complete life that you could imagine would pale in comparison to the life you are actually given.

This is something that is easy to forget if you spend your life fixated on some personal narrative, such as a hero or victim narrative. The stories in our heads— which we use to contextualize our surroundings— are less interesting than the actual events in the world around us. To be able to state on your deathbed that you would choose this life all over again implies that Joe was able to avoid or get beyond these less interesting, synthetic narratives, which is tough because they are addictive.

Joe had an approach, which I saw in high school and did not understand, which was observational in nature. He tended to repeat things, even obvious things, and then build them out. “You broke your leg” might turn into “that seems to be a bad idea,” which might cycle again somewhere else. He tended, though, to start in the concrete. It appears, from his wife’s letter, that he decided that he loved the concrete things in this world– his wife, his kids– and that this allowed him to avoid by instinct rather than rational thought, the sort of moral relativism that plagues weaker people who don’t have Joe’s imagination and are left stranded, unable to get beyond stock observations.

So I’ll fix that- selfishly- in my head, and I’ll try to remember it the next time a personal narrative pushes me away from the world in front of me.

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