Monday, September 27, 2010

More Apartment Pictures

My apartment's intruders and houseguests face this when they open the door:

Here's another shot of my bike hanging against the wall:

We hung a basket from the ceiling:

Here is a picture of Lindsay studying for prelims a few weeks ago:

And her work was not for nothing: today she learned that she (more than!) passed her exams.

Vancouver, Day 5, 9/19/2010

We set out early on the SkyTrain to Coquitlam, a suburb outside of Vancouver where Tom and Megan live. We arrived and walked to the parking lot north of the train station where we were supposed to meet Tom. After fifteen minutes, we realized the train station had two exits, and that north of the other one was a different parking lot. We went over there. Tom was patiently waiting for us there.

After a quick ride back to Tom and Megan's apartment we began eating the delicious pancakes they had made, with lots of cinnamon and clove and maple syrup. After this breakfast, we walked around in the immense park near their apartment, which is filled with a variety of mushrooms, some of which Tom and Megan have deemed probably edible.

Back in Vancouver, we went over to the Granville Island public market to pick up some bread, smoked fish, and tomatoes for the ride home. The best looking fish store had smoked sablefish, which I was excited about, but they told me it was only lightly smoked and needed to be cooked further. So, we bought some salmon instead, which turned out to be a little bit boring but still good. Before we ate this dinner on the train, we walked around Chinatown, which isn't exciting (the good Chinatown is in a suburb called Richmond, apparently). I did have a bizarre pastry, though: a century egg covered in sesame paste, wrapped up in a bun. Century eggs are preserved eggs that turn into a weird gel. I liked the combination of sweet sesame paste and egg, but the egg yolk was too sulfurous for me.

Our train ride home was nice. We ate the grapes we had brought as quickly as we could on the line for customs. On the train we ate our dinner of bread and salmon and read our books.

One of the two cats in the house where we stayed; neither one was willing to stand still.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vancouver, Day 4, 9/18/2010

Our day began with delicious croissants at Coco et Olive, with crunchy outsides and perfectly flaky insides. Eventually we made it to the University of British Columbia campus to go to the Museum of Anthropology, but by this time we were hungry and needed lunch. We weren't in a very good area for this, but we eventually found the Boulevard Coffee Roasting Co., which had some decent-looking sandwiches in the display case. I got one with scrambled egg, sun-dried tomatoes, some sort of cheese, and some sort of red pepper spread. Lindsay got one with brie and pear and walnuts. They heated the sandwiches up a bit so the cheese got a bit melty.

At the UBC Museum of Anthropology we met Sasha, who just got his PhD and a job at UBC, and his girlfriend Sheila. We apologized for how late we were and a had a good time chatting. Then we toured the museum, which had a huge collection of native art and artifacts.

After this we went to Yaletown, the trendiest part of downtown Vancouver, sort of Soho-esque in feel. Most of the streets are laid out with one side of the sidewalk about five steps up from the street. This elevated strip is filled with outdoor restaurant seating. We wandered around looking for a sushi place called Honjin our hosts had recommended. After we methodically walked back and forth down trying to cover every block in turn (which is actually fun!), we found a large map with a list of restaurants and went straight there. We had tiny dishes of spinach with with a sesame sauce, squid with a sweet soy sauce, and pickles. The spinach was good though I found the sauce a bit too peanut buttery. I liked the squid a lot: it turned out to be raw, and after a bit of chewing it would give in and feel rich and tender. The pickles were great. We also had sockeye salmon sashimi, two pieces of mackerel sushi, and a roll with some pickles vegetable inside. We had a hard time ordering because we barely know anything about Japanese food and most of the sushi was listed only with Japanese names. So, we didn't get much food at all. Also, none of the beer looked exciting, and we wanted to go somewhere else and get some, maybe with french fries. And that's what we did, at the Yaletown Brewing Co., which according to an article I read in one of those free city papers was a craft-brewing pioneer in Vancouver. The brewpub had a corporate, touristy feel, but the fries and beer were excellent. I had an IPA, and Lindsay had the seasonal Belgian Wit, and I couldn't say which was better. (Lindsay says hers!) We had a beautiful walk back over the Cambie St. bridge to get back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vancouver, Day 3, 9/17/2010

After a leisurely morning in which we caught up on a summer's worth of sleep, we borrowed our hosts' bikes and went to Kitsilano, another district south of downtown. We parked our bikes, checked out a beach, and got some Indian food at Rangoli, the cheaper version of a fancy restaurant called Vij's. We had black chickpea fritters with tomatoes and a rice pilaf and a slaw-like cabbage salad, and blackened eggplant with curried chickpeas. The fritters were amazing, with a texture like a meatball and a perfectly spiced sauce. No spices I cook with ever taste that good and clear. The eggplant's skin was really burnt to a crisp--I never would have had the nerve to cook it like that--and it was wonderfully smokey. The chickpeas were in a sweet tomato sauce, again spiced in a way that I can't approximate. It also came with an intensely cucumbery rajta and a thin flatbread that was slightly tough but slightly buttery.

We left and wanted to read--relaxing was a big priority for us on this trip--so we stopped in a café. At first I thought they only had espresso-based drinks, but it turned out their drip coffee was just listed as "java" on the menu. Every once in a while Canada does seem like a foreign country!

We biked over a bridge and then followed signs to the seawall, a path that goes all the way around Vancouver's downtown through Stanley Park. We rode on this pretty path and eventually turned to head back to a bridge to take us home, riding through a residential neighborhood made up of high-rise apartment buildings. What should have been overwhelming somehow wasn't. For whatever reason--architects and urban planners, please explain--instead of towering above me, the buildings just felt like they happened to go up for a while.

View from the Burrard St. bridge.

Despite Vancouver's excellent bike infrastructure, the ride to the Cambie St. bridge was a little bit scary. Biking unfamiliar routes in traffic is just never pleasant. One thing that made me feel better was a biker who merged in front of me and then biked all the way to the bridge with no hands, while I nervously gripped my bike's brakes. At one point he started waving his hands around like he was doing very relaxed calisthenics. It was weird.

Once we were back, we looked up some bus schedules and headed back to Granville Island to see a Fringe Festival play and meet our friends Tom and Megan who just moved around here. The buses were great: they had a dedicated lane, the seats are placed so that people can get on and off quickly, an LED display gives the next stop, and they seem to run often. We are beginning to annoy ourselves with all our talk about how great Vancouver is compared to Seattle.

We went walking around with Tom and Megan after the show looking for a place to get a snack. Nothing looked appropriate, and eventually we walked into a fancy supermarket called Capers that also sold prepared food and had a place to sit. After we went in we discovered it was a disguised Whole Foods! (Actual comment from the Yelp page of Capers: "Yup, I was a bit sad when the Canadian version of Whole Foods actually got taken over by Whole Foods...") Nevertheless we bought a loaf of bread, a piece of hard goat cheese, and some Concord grapes (which were seedless--I didn't know such a thing existed). We had a nice dinner of this, discussed the saga of Tom and Megan's pet snake that was refused entrance to Canada (it will be able to join them in a few weeks), and took the bus back to the house. Tom and Megan stayed on the bus and caught the SkyTrain back to where they live outside of Vancouver.

Vancouver, Day 2, 9/16/2010

We're staying in a house south of downtown. The owners are a couple who sometimes rent out their extra bedroom on They're wonderful people, and they picked us up from the train station when we arrived yesterday. Their house is full of art and books and two cats who we tried and failed to photograph. One of them hides, and the other never stops moving.

The house we stayed at.

In the morning we walked over a bridge to get downtown. Along the way we saw a lot of bike infrastructure.

Bikes going the wrong way, legally.

We walked around the center of downtown, which like most downtowns is full of skyscrapers and expensive shopping. Unlike downtown Seattle, it's also full of people.

By lunchtime we had made it to the outskirts of Gastown and Chinatown. We had lunch at a place called Medina, where we ate delicious open face sandwiches. Mine were two variations of smoked salmon with herbed cream cheese: the first was topped with lightly dressed arugula and sweet cherry tomatoes, and the second with slices of avocado and a fried egg, sunny side up. Lindsay's dish was four (four!) different little open faced sandwiches: Moroccan carrots with raisins, grilled haloumi cheese (some sort of soft cheese that can be cooked without melting completely), tabouleh, and beets.

In the afternoon we took a terrible route over a long and ugly bridge to Granville Island to go the farmers market and the public market, a Pike Place Market-esque collection of food vendors. I made a mental note to return for smoked fish. We sat around reading and watching seagulls make funny noises before taking an exhausting walk back to the house.

After some rest, we went to a nearby restaurant called the Cascade Room. From the extraordinarily dim lighting we could tell it was a hip spot. I had a Main St. Pilsner that was great; very clean and toasty. I also had duck breast with shiitake mushrooms and gai lan, which is the same as Chinese broccoli. I mostly had pieces of stem, which were like massive asparagus stalks with leaves. Duck breast as usual was great. Lindsay had wonderful mushroom and paneer strudel on a pile of curried lentils. For dessert we shared cinnamon and chile crème brûlée. Then we went back to the house and ate a tiny melon we had bought at the farmers market earlier that day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vancouver, Day 1, 9/15/2010

Lindsay and I hurried to King Street Station soon after her last prelim to catch the train to Vancouver. I called my father to wish him a happy birthday. We were in a celebratory mood, and once we got going we indulged ourselves with some $5.50 bottles of beer to go with our dinner of bread, baba ghanouj (leftover from our housewarming party), and Romano beans with tomato sauce, whose recipe follows:

  • 1 pound Romano beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in half so they're not so long
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • lots of basil leaves, chopped
  • little splash of white wine
  • copious olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Heat the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-low heat while you prepare the beans. When you've finished cutting off their ends and chopping them up, toss them in the skillet with a bit of salt and pepper. Core the tomatoes and chop them roughly, putting them in a colander inside a mixing bowl and salting them lightly as you put them in, to help draw our their liquid. As you're preparing the tomatoes, periodically hold the colander over the pot of beans and push on the tomatoes to try to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Turn the heat up on the beans to keep this liquid simmering. Keep pressing out as much liquid as can, and let this liquid reduce until it's a thick syrup (this will take a long time, especially if you use a narrow pot). At this point the Romano beans will be quite tender, but go ahead and add the wine and the diced tomatoes, and cook for another five minutes. Let this cool (or put the pot in a bowl of ice water if you need to go catch a train), adjust the seasoning, and add tons of chopped basil. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Potato Roasting in Great Detail

After a pleasant visit from my parents with lots of exciting food, I made a very simple dinner of roast potatoes with pesto. The combination (born of a need to use up some basil) is good, but what I want to share is my current potato roasting technique. Everybody cooks this, so chime in if you've got a nice method. The basic summary of what I do: low heat until they're cooked through, high heat for ten minutes or so. It's not really worthy of being called a recipe, but if it makes my potatoes crunchier it's good for something.

  • potatoes in 1-inch chunks (or anything sized consistently)
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, rosemary

Put the potatoes in a large pan, or in multiple large pans, so that they're in a single layer and not completely packed up against each other. Mix them up with the oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Put in a 350 degree oven until the potatoes are soft. It's okay if they're not done to the point that you could eat them happily, but you should be able to eat them. This takes me 40-60 minutes, depending on the potatoes and the oven and mysterious forces (potatoes seem to cook faster in Lindsay's presence, for example). Ideally, try to scrape up all the potatoes from the pan every 15 minutes or so; a metal spatula works best. Turn the heat up to 450 and cook the potatoes until they're golden, which should take 10-15 minutes. Stir them once or twice and check on them when you do.

You can vary the seasoning and the fat. In the winter something like garam masala is nice instead of rosemary. Other pleasant fats include peanut oil, lard, and duck fat, and even a totally neutral oil like canola makes delicious potatoes. I would have thought that more oil meant crispier potatoes, but in my experience it hasn't been true. If the potatoes end up dried out, or if you're just in a hurry, try roasting at 375 and 475 instead of 350 and 450. You really can't go wrong whatever you do.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Iron Horse 509

Iron Horse Brewery, 509 Style
Session Ale
Ellensburg, WA
5.0% Alcohol
Rating: 4/5

A beer with a really simple taste: the best description I could come up with was "citrusy", but that's an exaggeration. It has barely any aftertaste. All this makes it sound bad, but I really liked it. Being refreshing and having no flaws is enough.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tomatillo Dressing

I have been cooking for myself for (almost exactly!) five years. Tomatillos only entered my kitchen about a month ago. The first thing I made was the green chile at my housewarming party. The second was a sauce that left my pasta looking totally bare, but which tasted fine, since tomatillos are amazingly concentrated. The most recent was a salad dressing to use up the three little leftover tomatillos. It's been a real Columbian explosion. For enough dressing for a salad for two to six people:

  • 3 (or fewer) little tomatillos
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • salt, pepper

Take the husks off the tomatillos and wash off their slimy skins (I have no idea if this is necessary). Put them in a 450 degree oven in a roasting pan and cook until they start getting charred on the top, about 10-15 minutes. When they're cool enough to handle, blend them up in some way. Or you could just mush them up; you'll get some chunks, but that's fine. Add a decent amount of olive oil and a dollop of honey (maybe a teaspoon, but any amount would be fine), and you will an excellent salad dressing. It's nice if the salad has cucumbers in it, like this one does:

A salad with cucumbers and tomatillo dressing.

If you were making a salad with, say, a vinaigrette, you probably wouldn't want to drench it in dressing. With this dressing feel free. Nothing bad will befall your lettuce.