Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fried Mashed Potatoes

A couple of weeks ago, we had another fry party in honor of B. Chew's birthday (some of you may remember him as the Noodle Master from a previous post).

We reprised classic buffalo wings, tried to make some fried cheese (disaster), and fried up some garlic because the man is a garlic Fiend (yes, capital F). And, because he was the original mastermind behind our first Bloomin' Onion, we fried up one of those as his birthday cake.

Late in the night, after several tries, we got to the really good stuff: Fried Mashed Potatoes. Originally, these were supposed to be a cross between the potato puffs over at Gregoire in Berkeley and the potato balls at a nearby Dai restaurant.

I went into this kind of blind, so it took the collective smarts of M. Dou, Marissa, and Jeremy to pull this together. Eddy gets a shout-out too, since I pulled from his "Heart Attack Mashed Potatoes" recipe.

Here's what we ended up with:

Fried Mashed Potatoes
AKA: Fried Heart Attack, Tater Tots on Steroids

Mashed potatoes:
(adapted from Alton Brown's potato recipe)
8 medium sized potatoes
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup of buttermilk, (1/2 cup milk with 1/2 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice)
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons of butter
3 bulbs of garlic
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 stalks of green onions, chopped
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

8 strips of bacon (pan-fried, shredded)
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese


Wash, peel, and cube the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Put them in a pot with just enough water, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft.

Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Take the bulbs of garlic cut the tops off so that each clove has the top part missing. Wrap with aluminum foil but leave the tops open with some extra foil at the top so you can fold it down to cover the garlic. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the garlic. Roast the garlic in the oven until soft, approximately 1 hour. If the tops begin to burn or dry out, close the foil over the top.

Once the potatoes are soft, drain and return to the pot over medium heat for a couple minutes to remove some of the water moisture. Turn the heat off and mash. As you mash, slowly add the milk, buttermilk, cream, and butter until incorporated. Grind in some salt and pepper to taste.

When the garlic is finished roasting, remove from oven and let cool for several minutes. While the garlic is still warm, unwrap the foil, and use paper towels or gloves to hold the back of the bulb and squeeze the garlic into a bowl. If the garlic is finished, it should come out like toothpaste. Only more awesome. Add the grated parmesan cheese (and a bit of butter if you'd like), and mix.

When the potatoes are creamy and mashed, you can add the garlic and green onions (and bacon and cheese) and mix until incorporated.

Fill up a deep fryer or large pot with peanut oil and heat to 350 degrees F. Here in Beijing, we use the aluminum fry pot and basket that our small group got me for my birthday a couple years ago.

Crack some eggs into a bowl, then beat them until the yolk and white are combined. Add a couple splashes of milk. Pour a generous helping of breadcrumbs into a bowl.

Spoon out the potato mixture and roll into individual balls or logs. Dip in the egg mixture, then roll in the breadcrumbs until covered. Set aside on a plate until you have enough for a batch.

Gently slide the potato balls/logs into the fryer, fry for a couple minutes, then roll them over and fry the other side for a couple minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack to let drip, then lightly salt.

Let cool for a couple minutes, but serve while hot. Best served with Marissa's Roasted Red Pepper sauce.

By way of warning, I don't have any nutritional info for you, but I'm pretty sure these are about 1000 calories each, so eat at your own risk!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Long Winter (Maybe?)

One of the first things that Beijingers (native or ex-pat) will tell you when you arrive and begin the inevitable complaining about the weather (which, depending on when you arrive, will most likely be freakishly warm or freakishly cold): "You're going to love October. It's really nice. Oh and May, May is beautiful."

And it was only after several months of hearing this line that I began to freak out. "Wait a minute," I realized, "You're telling me that I live in a city that has only two good months of weather out of the year? How is that any comfort at all?"

The sad truth of the matter is it's only a slight exaggeration (September's actually quite nice, and so is April). Last year, the accuracy of this statement turned out to be extremely uncanny. After an excellent October (which may or may not have been aided by the hullabaloo of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic), a snowstorm erupted shortly after the clock ticked midnight on November 1. To be fair, a few flakes came down the evening of the 31st, but all of us awoke from our post-Halloween revelries (which involved tin foil robots, giant iPods and fried bananas) to a blanket of snow. So yeah, October turned out to be a nice month. Followed by at least 5 months of bitter cold.

Which brings me to the current situation. October has not been a particularly nice month this year, which has me extremely worried. Multiple Chinese friends have told us (probably because they all heard it on the same state-owned radio station) that this winter promises to be the coldest winter in a thousand years.

Wait...What??? In the words of my friend Kip, "Like anyone can even know that..."

Last winter, which was itself a doozy, was the coldest winter in 50-something years. Which leaves me wondering just how cold the other 940-something years before that were.

I'm reminded: "the first stage of grief is denial." So now that it's starting to dip below freezing while we're still solidly in the month of October, I'm starting to get a little freaked out. Basically, aside from leather leg and hand warmers for our electric scooter, there's not a whole lot more clothing that I had planned on bundling up in when winter came (I've already donned the thermals and my down jacket). I'm going to have to get creative, though, since we've got at least another 30 something degrees fahrenheit to drop on our way to spring.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ahh, that China smell

You always forget that certain places have smells, until you go away and come back to it. Beijing smells like smoke, steaminess, and mothballs, with the occasional whiff of super-fruity shampoo. (When we first arrived at LAX, it smelled like the ocean. No joke!)

Rolling back into Beijing was surreal. I think I still have to come to terms with the reality that this foreign place is our life for now. This is where we work, eat, play, sleep. And, as Yale would say the Tick would say, this is where we keep all our stuff. (Ok, that's not entirely true. The bulk of our stuff is in Josh's parents' attic.)

Point being, I'm a bit of a sad bear for traveling over 6,000 miles -- away from beloved family and friends -- to arrive at the place we call home.

Then again, Josh and I are really excited to play out this next season of our lives. New jobs, new projects, new friends... there's a lot to look forward to.

And, is it just me, or do things move extra fast here? In the two hours that we've been back, it started sprinkling, alarms are going off downstairs leaving a bewildered and somewhat embarrassed security guard standing outside his wailing booth, my office shifted its schedule on me, and I might visit a migrant community center later this afternoon, then meet some friends for dinner. Hopefully that will force us to fend off our jet lag.

Wish Josh luck this next week as he comforts me through inevitable homesickness. He is a patient man.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

This (6 week) American Life

Yikes, it's been a while. I guess we've been too busy eating and playing (and working) to update.

Just about every day, Marilyn looks up at the sky and exclaims, "It's so blue!" I'm pretty sure that's how it's supposed to look, we just forget that while living in Beijing.

Living in Beijing, it's odd that one of the things we crave most (other than nacho cheese flavor doritos and sour patch kids) is Chinese food. Beijing's style of food just isn't how we grew up. I'm used to southern Cantonese food and M's used to the Taiwan style. Anyway, it's sadly ironic.

Another odd thing is seeing friends we met in Beijing who live in California now. It's a total trip. But awesome, since we have a secret plot to move all our non-California friends out here so that we can have everybody in one place when we're ready to come back. Muhahaha.

My immediate family has grown to 17 people, what with significant others and kids. I can't believe we all fit into my parents house for a family reunion. It was definitely sensory overload having 7 nieces and nephews running around the house, but I do miss those kids a lot. When asked what we miss most about America while we're in China, watching our nieces and nephews grow up is usually the first answer out of my mouth. Then Berkeley Bowl.

During the family reunion, my mom had one of her friends come by to take some family photos. I wouldn't normally post the link, but this kids are just so darn cute.

Well, we're up in the Bay Area now, that mysterious land of wonder and delight. We've got about a week and a half left, and then it's back to Beijing.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

First impressions

It's great not having to be on a VPN to post on blogger.  Although I guess that's mostly psychological since I spend most of my time online in Beijing just automatically logged onto the VPN.

A couple random occurrences since we arrived:
5.9 richter scale earthquake within hours of arrival.  Oh California.
Opened my suitcase to find a never-before-seen Chinese knife inside.  Hrmmmm.....???

Both of those really aggravated the sense of sur-reality that we were experiencing.

In keeping with a California tradition, we got In'n'Out burgers on the way back from the airport.  M's mom wanted to stop at Trader Joe's too, and we ran around the store wide-eyed.  I laughed maniacally at the guacamole prices and bought some.  Looking forward to that creamy goodness.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Here we come!

Happy Fourth of July.  We celebrated with a delightful lunch at NOLA Cafe, which serves up some mighty fine New Orleans style food.  I'm not really sure why, but I've always had a thing for southern cookin'.  Then we headed over to the Silk Market to do some last minute shopping, because what's more American than being a consumer? :P  i've mentioned it before, but it's actually quite fun celebrating the Fourth abroad, even if it does make us a bit homesick.

But that's not a problem right now.  Because we're all packed up and ready to go for our first trip back to the US since we got here.  It's still all pretty surreal, but we can't wait to see all of you.  Unless you're a random reader that we don't know, then we'll just have to keep it impersonal.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Touch-able Anticipation

I'm writing this with my auto-refresh windows loaded up. Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference is about to kick off with a keynote speech from Steve Jobs. It's always weird following this stuff from the other side of the world. Back when I was working in California, I'd get in to work and load up the live feeds while opening up shop. Instead, it's 1 am and I'm trying not to fall asleep while waiting for these feeds to refresh.

My predictions?
The next iPhone? Already leaked.
Magic Trackpad? No big surprise.

I think we're about to really see that Touch is here to stay. If the Magic Mouse wasn't enough of an indicator, the Magic Trackpad is one of the last bridges between touch as a mobile feature and full integration of touch into the Mac product line.

The crown jewel? It's not ready for primetime, but it looks to me like the groundwork is being laid for a Macbook Pro Touch. A fully featured laptop with a touch interface, fully backwards compatible with the App Store, either as emulation or through a secondary chipset.

The iPad has had an overwhelmingly positive response once it made it out into the wild, but this is just the beginning. Steve Jobs has really embraced the Clarke-sian law that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," as their recent products and marketing campaigns have touted the new magical qualities of their products. Apple is hot right now, they've got this fierce momentum, and Steve is the Wizard. The common thread in their magic rhetoric? Multi-Touch. Magic mouse, Macbooks, iPad? Revolutionary interfaces where the layers between user and interaction are being ripped away.

Well, Steve's started up, so sit back and enjoy the show.

(insert awkward touch innuendo to conclude)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Could Have Been

These are the descriptions and their corresponding images for the different options available at China Prom.  I wanted the images creepy, sinister in their un-reality; Ingrid succeeded beyond what I could have hoped.

The Clean Cut

I know what you’re thinking: “Cop Out!”, but hear me out.  Maybe for me, normal is the new weird.  A good many of you have never actually seen me in person with a normal haircut, and some of you have only known me with a mustache (and for that I’m sorry).  Are you sick of being creeped out by my Fu Man Chu?  Now you can do something about it.  On behalf of my wife Marilyn, I’m giving you the chance to vote for a ‘normal’ hairstyle.

The Super Bowl
This cut was inspired by Lin Yu Chun, who gained Internet notoriety after belting out a stirring rendition of “I Will Always Love You” on a Taiwanese talent show.  There’s always been something powerful and moving about the symmetry of the classic bowl cut, but Lin Yu Chun has updated it with a modern swoop along the temple ending in an angular sideburn, boldly defying the gentle curves of the bowl.

The Friar Tuck

In homage to feudal piety, the Friar is in the same family of the bowl cut, only inverted;  more accurately, it’s a bowl within a bowl.  A small rice bowl and a razor is all it takes to prove my faithfulness.  In fact, I’m pretty positive that the good Friar uses the self-same bowl to form his shiny pate as he does to help himself to seconds at the Monastery shi tang.   I am not ashamed.

The Statue of Liberty

Back in the fall when I did a vote-off on our blog, the Statue of Liberty came in second place behind the Page Boy Bob.  It’s a daring tribute to Democracy and Lady Liberty, involving shaving off all but the bangs, which are then spiked into pointy sunbursts of Freedom.  By voting, you are waiving your right to sue, should I accidentally poke one of your eyes out.

Front to Back

How’s this for symmetry?  I found this online and thought to myself: “I’ve got the ‘stache for it, I’ve got the glasses, this cut was made for me.”  That might not be 100% accurate, but having a mirror image face on the back of my head promises to be entertaining.  The level of detail on this man’s head is minimal, but I’m confident that the right stylist could really work some magic.  You won’t be able to tell if I’m coming or going.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

For a Good Cause

  Some of our friends here have started an annual benefit event called China Prom, which is exactly what it sounds like.  For all of us Peter Pan style 20/30 somethings who are stuck in the past, we get to live out the nostalgia of yesteryear.  And raise some money for a good cause.

  The main cause this year was The Starfish Project, and since I totally believe in what they do, I decided to auction something off for the event.

  As you can see, I auctioned off a crazy hairstyle, which I have to wear around town for a week and a half.  Some other guy online in a green turtle-neck did this and I liked it so much that I made it a choice for the auction.  It was a pretty close race between what I like to call the Front to Back and Evan's personal suggestion from back in the fall: The Statue of Liberty.

  I asked Ingrid to help photoshop some samples of the different hairstyles, but I'll leave those to a different post.  For now, enjoy my double face.

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hand-pulled noodles and Niuroumian

M's birthday was last month but she had the misfortune of her birthday falling on the day before she took the HSK, the Chinese language proficiency test. There was a bit of drama about it all, as the test had just switched to a new format and there wasn't any clear information about what the test would be like. Amid all the stress, we were trying to decide what to do to celebrate when I came up with a great idea: Noodle Party. For those of you who don't know, M is crazy, yes I mean actually insane, about noodles. She gets it from her parents, who are also crazy about noodles. We ended up having the party on the day after, since we could celebrate her finishing the HSK (and consequently her M.A.). (UPDATE: We just found out yesterday, she passed!  Cue the 'Pomp and Circumstance')

In keeping with our desire to learn how to make our favorite comfort Chinese foods from scratch, we decided to try our hand at Niu rou mian (Beef noodle soup). We happily invited 20 of our closest friends here in Beijing, then promptly realized we were in way over our heads, as is so often the case.  That week, while she crammed for the HSK and made sure to get enough rest, we also had to learn how to make our own noodles and niuroumian from scratch.  Personally, I'm a bit suspicious of all of this, because somehow between the learning and then the leftovers, M got to eat noodles everyday for almost two weeks, which is just about her own private heaven on earth. 

Luke Rymarz was a huge help in learning how to pull noodles.  I appreciate how the engineering background in him really comes through in his recipes and their corresponding recipes.  Ironically, we had a hard time finding flour with the right gluten ratios.  I asked several old ladies at supermarkets, but they seemed surprised that we wanted to pull our own noodles.  I find it strange that the (much-contested) inventors of noodles have so relegated old-fashioned noodle pulling to the work of street vendors and high-class tourist traps.  The one thing I learned about pulling this kind of noodle? (Cue Kungfu Panda Canto-Duck accent:)The secret ingredient is(/Cue Kungfu Panda Canto-Duck accent)...elbow grease.  Seriously, these noodles take like an hour to knead, and all that for just two bowls.  I'll grant that they're delicious, but if you count labor cost, they're crazy expensive.  There's got to be a better way (other than chemical additives that increase stretchiness), since the typical bowl of noodles here sells for about a dollar.  I'll get back to you on that one.

The night of M's party, several of our friends showed up early to get a headstart on kneading.  Since, well we knew we'd knead the help...
N, being the stud that he is, finished first.  Not sure who that creepy guy next to him is, though.

For the first half the night, M was our resident pulling expert.  Somehow, I don't have the precision necessary to keep dozens of strings of dough separate.  Mine would just stick together like a horribly maimed dough harp.
Like the apron?  I found this green beauty at a local market.  "Cpih and Adle", those crazy rascals, were favorites of M growing up.

We almost always forget to take decent pictures of the food, since we're usually doing way too many other things at once (that and we've already wolfed it down it by the time we remember); this is one of the only shots we have of the niuroumian and the hand-pulled noodles.    Trust me, this was a lot better than it looks.

For the niuroumian, M got some help from a couple of posts over at Eat Drink & Be Merry.  Mr. B Merry doesn't exactly post ratios for his sauces and spices, so we just splashed them in at random.  We're hoping to go back and make it soon, though, with measurements; we can perfect this madness.

We had our hands full that night, what with all the kneading, boiling, and cooking that needed to be done, thankfully, a true noodle master showed up:

This man right here (who you might also recognize as the genius behind the bloomin' onion) is a straight up noodle shifu.  He walked in, took charge, and laid down the law on these unsuspecting balls of dough.  In no time at all, he was able to get all but one of the balls of dough ready for noodle-pulling.  Then, in a flurry of motion, a whirlwind of ninja-like proportions, he pulled them into awesomness.

As for the one wayward batch of dough?  That was made by our friend H, who rather than use our newly purchased (and specifically for this purpose, I might add) gram scale, decided to dagai ('approximate') it.  It was a sad day when we had to throw the 'dagaimian' in the trash, but alas, they were beyond saving, even by the Noodlemaster.  It felt oddly like putting the runt of the litter down;  M might have actually shed a tear over the loss of noodle life.

CC was ever so kind as to make a birthday trifle, and CH had the foresight to purchase these beautiful candles.  Fortunately, several people were so carbed out on the noodles they couldn't finish the trifle.  More for me!

I'm really bad at estimating food amounts.  At the end of the night, only about a 1/3 of the 2 pots of niuroumian and 1/3 of the gigantic bowl of zhajiangmian had been used up.  Hence, the week of leftovers.

The thing we had the most left of was the braised beef shoulder (I drank all the broth first), which went really well with some fresh cilantro and green onions, a drizzle of crackling hot oil, and some freshly ground sea salt.  M also had the good sense to make green onion pancakes to wrap it in, and we gave ourselves contented pats on back and belly.

The niuroumian is actually surprisingly easy to make, especially seeing as we got several meals out of it.  The main thing is it has to simmer for several hours to really be any good; definitely worth it, but takes a bit of planning.  Alternatively, I've heard that housewives in Taiwan put their niuroumian in crock pots, spend the day out (most likely playing mahjong), and come home to a one pot wonder of beefy goodness.  We'll get back to you on that one.

There's a Chinese tradition of eating one long noodle for birthday (you know, the longer the noodle, the longer the life).  However, in a sick twist, the really long noodles at restaurants are supposedly made with glue-like (potentially life-shortening) additives.  Here's hoping that our homemade noodles will score us some points on the longevity front.  After all: so many noodles, so little time.

Happy Birthday M!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Missed Opportunity

All this week, I kept passing a funny sign hanging in front of a hotel.  I took M by it to take a picture this afternoon and it was gone.  I am forlorn.

It said:

"Warmly Welcome The Great Bustard Specialists"

Apparently, the Great Bustard is a bird species, so there's nothing wrong with the English.  I just think it's a funny sentence.

Posted via email from Beijing Dou

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Apple's iPad: Undiscussed X-Factors (sample post)

(I recently wrote up a couple sample posts to apply to an Apple news blog that I read.  Since the iPad has reportedly started shipping, I thought I'd put this up.)

The collective sigh of disappointment in response to the announcement of the Apple iPad was made even more dramatic by the fact that so many Apple fans had been almost literally holding their breath during the several weeks prior. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the build-up to the announcement was one of the most hyped product announcements in recent years, and it should come as no surprise that the aftermath of disappointment was a proportional backlash. The pre-release rumors of Steve Jobs declaring that the iPad “will be the most important thing [he’s] ever done” only made expectations even more hopelessly unrealistic. Undoubtedly, many among the Mac community, upon watching the keynote, balked at this extraordinary claim. However, the verdict is still out, and not just because the iPad has yet to be released. If, as many critics suggest, the iPad is only iterative, and not the “magical and revolutionary” that many had hoped for, then Jobs’ “most important” comment could be viewed as being about much more than a simple 1.0 product release. It suggests the imminent launch of a next generation platform in personal computing--one with the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with media and the internet.

Now that the acerbic tweets and vehement blog posts have subsided (some) and the early adopters are placing their pre-orders, it’s a good time to step back and look at two aspects of the iPad that could potentially open up the possibilities of this new device. These are aspects that have been largely neglected in much of the post-announcement commentary within the blogosphere, but are certainly worth taking a closer look at.

The Homebrew Community

I’ll start this section by acknowledging that, of course, it’s a gamble to count a homebrew community as a feature when there’s no evidence to support that homebrew on the iPad will even be possible. However, given the iPad’s architectural and software similarities to the iPhone, it isn't much of a leap. In fact, the iPhone is a perfect example of the value-add that a homebrew community can offer. When the iPhone was first released, it had regional, carrier, and software restrictions that severely limited its functionality. The homebrew community was able to remove many of these restrictions early on and open up previously unavailable features of the device: videorecording, tweakable system settings, custom skins, and limited third-party app multitasking, to name a few. The App Store wasn’t even available until over a year after the release of the original iPhone, so it was the homebrew community that first supported the platform, well before the current gold rush of developers and their apps. The iPad is definitely lacking—Adobe Flash, multitasking, and a camera are some of the chief complaints among bloggers and commenters alike. While the Flash issue seems unlikely to be resolved by homebrewers, it’s possible that the absence of multitasking and a camera can be resolved by some creative developers. Hypothetically speaking, what if the dock port was enabled to accept a plug-and-play webcam? It’s certainly an inelegant solution, but it’s the kind of temporary fix that can help the iPad platform get off the ground while we all await the seemingly inevitable: an on-board (front-facing?) webcam and other possible revision 2.0 additions.

App Sync

Another feature of the iPad that has been passed over in discussions of the product is the ability to automatically sync all of one's previously downloaded or purchased apps for the iPhone or iPod Touch. Of course, this hardly seems revolutionary, but the more I think about it, the more necessary it seems. On a broader note, Apple’s decision to make the iPad compatible with all App Store apps was a carefully calculated move. Creating a whole new platform from scratch would have segmented the market and risked the iPad going the way of the Newton (which might just be Steve Jobs’ greatest fear about the iPad). If developers aren’t willing to risk bringing their apps to the new platform, the early adopter demographic might fizzle out, effectively stalling the iPad before it ever had a chance. With full support of the App Store, the iPad will have a fully robust platform available right out of the box, with iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the device’s unique strengths sure to follow not far behind. Back in September 2009, the app-sharing website Appsfire ran the numbers on a small sampling of their users and found that the average amount spent per user was $80. When adjusted for power-users as outliers, the average went down to $45. While Appsfire’s statistics are generally skewed toward their specific demographic, which by their own admission has a high concentration of early adopters, the report generally affirms that iPod and Touch users are actively using the App Store to purchase and download dozens of apps for their devices. Appsfire's very existence confirms that one's own unique collection of apps has become a kind of status symbol among many iPhone users. Undoubtedly, the App Store is still very much a closed platform, but Apple’s willingness to allow purchased apps to automatically sync onto the iPad is a reassuring gesture of openness. For users to continue to happily spend money on the apps, they need to know that their purchases extend beyond just the life of their individual devices. Another example of this reassuring gesture is the relatively new feature of transferring purchased music back from an iPod to a computer through iTunes.

Micro-concessions such as these will go a long way toward establishing Apple as the leading source for digital media and mobile software, which will in turn drive sales of their hardware. Apple’s reassurance to the consumer that the continued use of their content will be available throughout their product line is important for the iPad’s success. As iPhone killers (mostly in the form of Android smart phones) and tablet competitors segment the market, the robust offerings of the App Store will be one of several distinguishing features that will drive sales. Consumers with money invested into their App Store purchases may find that the lost value in switching to another platform is just too great to justify switching. Looking out into the future, the potential for a mobile OS war on the level of OS X/Windows is gathering as users become invested into their platform of ‘choice’.

As a contrasting example, Nintendo’s DSiWare policy is an example of a lack of support that can potentially cripple a platform. DSiWare games are purchased and downloaded from the DSi Shop onto a specific DSi and cannot be transferred or redownloaded. If a user’s DSi breaks, their only option to preserve their purchases is to send the broken DSi to Nintendo directly so they can install the purchases onto the replacement DSi. This policy is quintessentially draconian and will only drive users away from DSiWare platform and potentially the DSi itself. It’s certainly not too late for Nintendo to change course, but damage has been done. It was clear from the keynote that Apple is positioning the iPad as a gaming device, aggressively going after Nintendo’s share of the market. The recent port of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars from DS to iPhone is an excellent example. Although critically acclaimed, GTA: Chinatown Wars was a sales disaster on the DS. How it fares on the App Store will certainly serve as an indicator for other developers and publishers who are looking to port their DS releases over to the Cocoa Touch platform. Even though discussing the Apple / Nintendo rivalry is of a bigger scope than this post can handle, it still illuminates the relative openness of Apple’s business model when compared to that of a competitor.

Conclusion: The Dealbreaker? (Or why I won’t buy one...yet)

It would be slightly hypocritical of me to end this post without discussing whether I'll personally buy an iPad, especially considering the aforementioned reasons. The short answer is: No. Back in January, I was among the throngs of starry-eyed Apple fans, drunk with the whispered possibilities of the unannounced tablet. However, when that fateful day finally came and I looked at the specs, there was one feature missing that I couldn't ignore: a front-facing webcam. That may sound odd to you, so let me explain. As an American expatriate living in Beijing, one of the primary ways I use my computer is to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Not having a webcam means no video skype chats with my nieces and nephews, no gtalk dial-ins on family reunions. To be fair, I've been using the same 12-inch Aluminum Powerbook for over 6 years, so when I do want to skype with my family, we have to use my wife's 13-inch Macbook. It's actually the Macbook's fault that a bundled webcam is now such a non-negotiable for me. When Apple decided to start including iSights into its entire notebook and iMac lines, critics clamored that it was driving prices up without adding functionality, and I realize that there are many users who just don't utilize the on-board iSight. However, now that video-chat and video-conferencing have become mainstays of the online experience (partly due to the increased install base from Apple's products), the iPad's lack of onboard video functionality seems like a giant step backward. Given the rumors about the pre-existing space (both hard and soft) for the camera, I'm hopeful that the future revisions will include one. My trusty AlBook has made it this far (although significantly worse for the wear), maybe it can last just a little longer. In the meantime, when you early adopters get your iPads synced up (and jailbroken?), let me know how it goes--some part of me, that deepest core of my inner fanboy, is still holding my breath, waiting for the magic.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Xiaolongbao : The Write-up

I know it's been a few weeks since Chinese New Year, but I wanted to take some time to do a write-up specifically on the xiaolongbao (steamed soup buns) and dumplings. By the way, continuing with our homestyle Chinese theme, we'll eventually get to a write-up on hand-pulled noodles, Niuroumian (beef noodle soup), and Zhajiangmian (fried meat sauce?), which we made for M's birthday this past weekend.

I've always viewed xiaolongbao as one of the pinnacles of Chinese cuisine, mostly because they have so much potential. Technique, flavor, and texture all vary so much--from the street vendors in Shanghai to Dintaifung's gourmet offerings. Since one of my hobbies is cooking things that I never thought possible to make on my own, xiaolongbao seemed like the perfect candidate. And what better time to make them than on Chinese New Year, where making dumplings is a New Year's Eve tradition?

So between Steamy Kitchen, Bon Appetit, and Kuidaore, we felt pretty confident that we could pull something together.

Step 1: Making the soup
Making the soup was pretty straightforward, but we started the day before so it would have time to chill. Going to the store was quite exciting, though, as I had most of the hog to choose from. Hmm...hoof soup? Skin soup? Nah, I think I'll pass. I veered from the recipes a bit by putting in some pork belly (and I left the fat on), which made for a few tasty meals after (add a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and pepper, and you've got a kind of Chinese pulled pork). When the soup was done, the meat and broth looked so good that M kept drinking bowls of it. I had to kick her out of the kitchen so there would be enough broth for the xiaolongbao and the dumplings. A helpful hint here for anyone trying this at home: drag your pot of ready-to-simmer pork/chicken broth over to a friend's place and play Call of Duty for 2 hours while it simmers. Good times.

I had decided not to add agar or gelatin to make the broth set (mostly because we didn't have any), so after the 2 hours, I strained the soup and spent some extra time reducing it so that it would set in the fridge on its own. M and I went back and forth about whether we had reduced it long enough, whether to freeze it, etc. In the end, we nervously put it in the fridge, prepared to reduce it more the next day if needed, but when we checked on it in the morning, it was a gelatinous rectangle of gloriousness. I flipped it out of its Lock&Lock container onto a chopping board and tried to get a decent shot of it:
Jaden Hair over at Steamy Kitchen is a significantly better photographer, so you can head on over there for a gander, but be warned, she wrote up her xiaolongbao with a sex theme, so it can get a bit...well, steamy.

Step 2: The Filling

The filling's pretty similar to a standard dumpling filling, although it does have minced shrimp added. To be honest, we kind of regretted adding the shrimp since it was just frozen stuff from the local Chaoshifa supermarket. Getting decent seafood (for decent prices) is not easy here in Beijing. The fishiness of the shrimp mellowed out into the other flavors the day after, when we made a second batch with the leftover filling. Before we discovered that, we considered just leaving out the shrimp altogether, though we both agreed that xiaolongbao sort of needs a little of that seafoody funk to round out its flavor. So, M thinks that if we make this again, we could mince the shrimp a little finer and cure it with some ginger before mixing it in with the pork, then maybe let the filling hang out for awhile before using it.

Once the filling is ready, you can add the cubes of broth to the filling. Some people like to make individual cubes and surround them with filling, but we decided to mix the cubes in. Later, we decided it works even better if you break down the cubes a little more and get the gelatin nicely incorporated into the filling.

Part 3: The Dough
M has become the ultimate dough master. While I was busy messing with the pork jello and filling, she was mixing the dough. That night she made 4 batches of dumpling dough and 2 batches of xiaolongbao dough and taught our friends how to roll them out into perfect circles. The most difficult part about making xiaolongbao has got to be the pleating. Luckily, I spent most of my time in front of the stove, so other people had to suffer through trying to get uniform pleats on paper thin dough.

You'll have to excuse our uneven pleats and the few "Sad Sam" dumplings. (M's grandmother used to say badly folded dumplings looked lazy, like they were sleeping...) But hey, not bad for our first time, right?

Part 4: The Steaming (or Frying)

Steaming these bad boys was rough. We placed the steamer over our wok, but the steamer covered the water level, which made it difficult to tell if we needed to add water. The whole time we were coddling these guys; there are few worse tragedies in the food kingdom than a xiaolongbao whose soup has run out of him. Due to our inexperience, a few of these guys burst in the steamer. As we pulled off the lid, those of us gathered around the steamer let out a collective groan as soup dribbled out of the unfortunate dumplings and into the water below.

The first few batches came out okay, a little disappointing as far as soup goes. We had doubled the recipe but neglected to measure out the broth correctly (and added some of the cubes to the dumpling filling), so it's possible we didn't have enough broth for the filling. My preferred ratio has more soup and dough than filling, so I think some of the guys came out a little too dense for my tastes.

I had been joking all week that I was going to fry some, but when we got backed up with only one steamer and 15 hungry friends to feed, I decided to fry them up. One of our favorite foods from our trip to Shanghai last year was shengjianbao at a street vendor outside the Jade Garden and City God Temple. This was pretty much the same thing, though the dough for "real" shengjianbao is of the fluffier, thicker variety.

We cooked these the way we cook potstickers. Heat some oil, then place them in the skillet to brown for a couple minutes, then throw in some water and vinegar (carefully!) and cover for 5-6 minutes to let them steam, remove the cover and let the water boil off so the buns can recrisp.

I'm pretty biased because so many of my favorite foods are fried (or could be improved through frying), but these guys were so tasty. While the steamed buns have a refined and delicate air about them, these shengjianbao hit you over the head with deliciousness. Our friends tried these and wouldn't go back to the steamed ones. It's a ton of work to make all of this from scratch, but I definitely think the potsticker versions are worth the effort. The steamed ones will take some work to perfect. In the meantime, I can always pay the $6.50 for an order at Dintaifung.

On a side note, our friend Leah brought in our first non-kit lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens(Amazon Associate link) for us and it's been working miracles. Our friends and professional photographers Jerry & Ingrid exhorted us to go for the 50mm f/1.4 lens (at 3.5x the price), but we just couldn't bring ourselves to spend that much. Sorry, J & I! I'm a complete hack when it comes to photography, so the f/1.8 lens already makes my pictures 10 times better, which makes them almost passable. There's no zoom on it, so it's kind of a pain to have to back up from things to frame the shot, but we're really excited for this to be our starter lens. Hopefully there will be tastier pics of our cooking adventures in the months to come.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Happy Women's Day

It's Women's Day here in China, and we're celebrating in style at Starbucks with 'buy one get one free drinks'. But wait, before any fellow Beijingers run out to the nearest 'bucks, it's not actually a Starbucks special because of Women's Day, but our friend had coupons that could be used on holidays, and this was the last holiday that he could use them. I've been doing some reading and writing here, and the venti Caramel Frap has got me as productive as a late-summer drone ant. I have a friend that claims that the Renaissance was due to the introduction of coffee to the European continent. Hmmm...maybe, although that certainly bucks against my wholesome LDS upbringing. :) I digress.

You've probably heard the Chinese proverb "Women hold up half the sky". You might have heard of it here (not a bad time to try out our new Amazon Associate links):

Or you might have heard of it here:
Half the Sky Foundation

If you get a chance, pour a little out for women today, because they're awesome.

I think M probably should have written this post, but she's busy cramming for the HSK this week, so you're stuck with me.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Charcoal Resemblance

M and I recently took a short trip to Tianjin to get away from the madness. While wandering around some back alleys, we happened upon an elderly gentlemen offering 2 minute charcoal sketches for about $.75.

I figured it was a small price to pay to immortalize the mustache as a work of street art, so we went for it.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pew! Pew! Pew!

(In case you're wondering about the title, that's the sound I make for shooting things off.  If any of you have played Desktop Defender, it's pretty similar to some of the sounds for towers shooting.)

A belated happy Chinese New Year to all of you (or Spring Festival as it's known over here.  or just New Year, which would make sense, since they don't call it 'Chinese' food over here, just, well, food). I'm feline a bit tigered of all the tiger puns, but they're not nearly as bad as all the "Happy 牛(niu) year" jokes from last year.

The video backstories:

Our friend K, who lives in the next building over, threw a party for New Year's (since we'd be up anyway with all the fireworks going off), but since it didn't start until 8pm, M and I decided to take the plunge and make dumplings from scratch.  And since I was already halfway there with the dumplings and potstickers, I finally tried to make Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) from scratch too.  Both of which are deserving of their own post, so you'll have to wait to hear about how those turned out.
Our fireworks adventures from last year were sufficiently lacking in death and dismemberment that I still wanted to set off a few this year just to join in the revelry.  I paid $6 for a small box, exactly the same as one that we had set off last year.  Halfway through the New Year's party, a few of us (including DC, who has already posted an excellent write-up of the festivities over at BBQGrapies) headed downstairs and out onto the street right in front of K's 27th floor window.  We set off our friend Jeremy's $12 box (which happened to shoot just about 27 stories up) and were so pleased with ourselves, we decided to walk down to the fireworks store on the corner and buy some more.
After some haggling, we decided to get the same $12 box and a significantly larger $24 box.  Still feeling that giddy boyish thrill prompted by fire and explosion, we decided to stay in character and treat ourselves to Mcdonald's ice cream.
When we got back, M and CC broke away from a game of scattergories to come set off the small box we'd bought, at which point, our friend John decided to jump over it.  Needless to say, he was shot in the butt by a low-grade explosive, thankfully to no permanent harm.  Cue my hysterical giggling.
The next video is us shooting off the big box, which was actually really exciting to watch.  My favorite part of the whole experience is the bits of cardboard and ash that rain down into my hair.
Where I grew up in California, fireworks were banned, so I didn't have the privilege of doing all this as a kid.  I've got to say, other than the whole "Oops, we burned down a billion dollar hotel" fiasco, the odd firework for New Year's is a total blast.  At midnight, thousands of families around the city set off similar (and even bigger) fireworks, ostensibly to chase away evil spirits for the year. It was quite a sight to behold.
Surprisingly enough, we didn't have any trouble falling asleep, even with the explosions continuing late into the night and starting up again around 7am.  How's that for native street cred?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Next Gen Creepy

Our good friend Ingo422 took the creep factor to the next level, or should I say generation?

Make sure to hire her for your next wedding. She's a pro.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Behold the Bacon Cake

I made this bad boy back in October for DC's birthday and never got around to posting it. But how could I not submit this to the internetz in all its caloric glory?

The idea was to make a cake that wasn't too sweet. So I got to thinking: "Hmm, what isn't sweet?" Bacon. Although the last few seasons of Top Chef have submitted evidence to the contrary, we all know the adage: "Everything's better with bacon."

I started with Betty Crocker's pancake recipe, but spread them thinner around the pan to make a bigger base. In between layers of pancakes, I alternated between butter, bacon, maple syrup, and chocolate chips (Special thanks to Liz who brought us premium Québécois syrup when she visited). I frosted with a Dark Chocolate Butter Maple Ganache, based on Eat Drink Live's Pancake Cake, which was in turn taken from Martha Stewart. And for the finishing touch, of course, I crumbled bacon around the outside of the cake.

I'd like to tell you it was a big hit, but I had meant to use maple bacon and somehow got a different brand, so the bacon ended up being too savory. We kept the leftovers from the party and had slices for breakfast the next few days, reheated then drizzled with some maple syrup, which was actually very tasty.

Not bad for a first shot at glory. I guess I'll have to make it again for someone else to really perfect my technique.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Rat Race

So now that actually receiving my diploma is just about the only thing I have left on the road to officially finishing my Master's, I have begun to look for work.

I think this is the first time I've had to take a job search like this so seriously, and let me tell you, it is extremely weird that I'm doing it in China. Expats toil in a very specialized economy here, with lopsided demand in certain fields (like English teaching), while otherwise competing with either cream-of-the-crop Chinese graduates who usually accept more humble salaries than their foreign counterparts, or execs with 10+ years of experience who are worth the big bucks, not to mention the generous expense accounts. So, I have had to be very creative about where I look. Multinational companies in need of someone with near-native bilingual skills? An "expert" in Chinese contemporary culture (not even)? A decent translator? Anyone entry-level?

Meanwhile, I have to make a lot of personal decisions. How much do I sell out to "the man"? Am I willing to sacrifice a lot of my time and emotional/social energy to pay my dues in corporate un-America so I can climb the ladder to a stronger resume and (hopefully) higher salary? Or do I protect the space in my life that currently goes to a lot of volunteer work and relationships, knowing that I may once again make choices that render a "career" in the conventional sense just always a little out of my grasp?

In high school, my friend Pradeep and I were voted Most Likely to Succeed (he's now finishing up residency at Brigham & Woman's Hospital in Boston with his lovely wife Puja, after med school at UCSF...make me look bad much, Pradeep? :P). We were asked to come to school dressed in business attire, and photographed behind our principal's desk with wads of cash (dollar bills, most likely) fanned out in our grubby little hands. Now that I think about it, I resent that.

I'm afraid whatever "success" I'm most likely to achieve will not look like Ralph Lauren ready-to-wear, mahogany desks, corner office with a view, hmmhow'smyROTH-IRAlooking? Honestly, I'm still trying to understand what success even means to me. Yes, I know I'm smart and capable, albeit woefully inexperienced. And I know there are too many things I'd love to do in this world. So right now I face the challenging task of choosing. And hoping the right people are willing to take a chance on someone who's maybe not so strong on paper just yet, but just needs a chance to prove herself?

Wish me luck, and if any of you have friends who work in China, let me know. 'Cause you know especially here, it's all about the referral. ;)