Tuesday, May 5, 2009

All Your Video Game Music Were Belong To Me

One of the things I did while I was on vacation last week was find myself a piano. I used to think practicing was a chore; now I think playing a piano is a treat. You know, like ice cream. ^__^

One of the things I used to do when I was a kid, before YouTube and before Martin Leung made it cool, was play video game music, by ear, on the piano. Those of you who know me know I loved my SNES way way way too much, and beat Chrono Trigger the requisite 11 times. But (sigh) back in 1995 I had no video camera and no internets on which to share my musical genius.

So there I was, at this piano, with my laptop nearby, and I thought "well, it's my turn now."

I did a rough cut of the SMB theme to start, then made some adjustments with my camera and with the audio levels and punched out the following tunes, all from memory, all by ear:

  • Legend of Zelda main theme
  • Final Fantasy VI Battle Victory
  • Bubble Bobble main theme
  • Yoshi's Theme (Yoshi's Tetris)
  • Costa Del Sol (Final Fantasy VII)
  • Celes' Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Locke's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Celes' and Locke's Themes simultaneously (LH/RH)
  • Mog's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Kefka's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Faxanadu Overworld Theme (that one is hard, yo)
  • Final Fantasy main theme
  • Frog's Theme (Chrono Trigger)
  • Super Mario Bros 2 End Theme (you know, the one that Brentalfloss sings)
  • Super Mario Bros 3 Overworld Theme (A)
  • Strago's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Super Mario Bros 3 Overworld Theme (B)

Ah, but here's the sad part. At the end of my hour-long playing marathon, my computer told me that I was running out of memory on my hard drive. (I would have kept going but the video camera actually, itself, stopped. It's a shame, too. There were nine other Final Fantasy VI character themes I could have played.)

So, because it was running out of memory, I dumped everything into Windows Movie Maker and edited it up to perfection.

And then I deleted the original file to save my computer memories.

And then I learned that--even though I had saved the edited movie on WMM--deleting the original file deleted the edited files, too. (The edited files needed to "access the source files" to play, apparently.)

So all I had left to show for my afternoon was the rough cut of SMB, complete with fuzzy audio.

I guess that's okay, though. I'm sure y'all would rather listen to three minutes of music than to an entire hour.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Roti and The End of Overeating

Here's a fresh roti (with chickpeas and roasted sweet potato)...

...and here's what happens to a roti when you take it out of the freezer and put it in the toaster. (The toaster worked so well for the plain and aloo parathas, but turned the roti into a cracker. I wonder if that has something to do with the roti's "no oil" content.)

This is a better picture of tonight's dinner, although it's harder to see the detail on the food. Of course, when your yogurt is bleeding into both the chickpeas and the steamed spinach, maybe it's better to avoid too much detail.

So today I read the latest crazy hit book, David Kessler's The End of Overeating. The title is a bit misleading; the book should be called something like Chain Restaurant Food Is Full Of Fat And Sugar and Chemicals and They Mix It Up In A Lab and an Underpaid Line Chef Defrosts It For You. That's essentially what the book is about, and for what it's worth, it's interesting--though it's nothing that anyone who has read Fast Food Nation or seen Super Size Me hasn't heard before. Kessler's particular take is that we overeat because the food itself is addictive, which again is not a new idea, but he peppers his book with delicious anecdotes like "the chicken in Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls is ground into a smooth puree so you don't have to chew it, which Chili's food scientists did deliberately because they knew that the faster you ate, the more you would eat."

Kessler's solution to overeating, which he claims is inevitable given the state of American food (high-fat, high-sugar which melts on the tongue and creates an instant craving for more), is nothing more than sheer willpower. He says you have to tell yourself every day, at every moment, that you choose not to eat the HFCS muffins at the office meeting or the 1,000 calorie burger at the fast food joint or the Cinnabon being pumped through the air vents at the mall. And eventually, he says, you'll stop wanting to.

It's a bit of a dismal idea but I understand where he's coming from. The more I step away from packaged food and the dreaded HFCS the more I understand how eating it changes my brain. After every dinner, for example, I eat one square of an 85% cocoa Lindt chocolate bar. (Sadly, the chocolate never makes it into any of my photographs.) Last night, my sister brought over some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. She took two and gave me two and put the rest of the bag on the sofa; the minute I had the first one in my mouth I was already thinking about how excited I was to eat the second one, and then the entire time we were watching The Golden Girls ('cause of Bea Arthur, natch) I was sitting there thinking "there are more peanut butter cups on the sofa..."

But before I sound too "my diet is more FTW than yours," here's the kicker. You all have seen what I eat. I have Kashi and homemade yogurt for breakfast, dal or soup and homemade bread for lunch, and a sensible dinner followed by a square of chocolate. I take apples for my morning and afternoon snacks. Maybe twice a week I have a cookie at work (because there are always cookies and I can't always resist them). And on the weekend I go to Tryst and have a chai or cappuccino with two inches of steamed milk on top.

On top of that I'm active; I walk four miles a day and I practice Ashtanga six days a week.

And I've put on ten pounds in the past ten months.


Explain that, Dr. Kessler.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Roti (Step-By-Step)

Today was a bread day. In the oven, I had a no-knead whole-wheat oatmeal flaxseed loaf, and on the stovetop I made rotis. Or roti. I'm not quite sure of the plural. At any rate by the time I was done there were twelve of them, and I took pictures at every step of the way!

This is the oatmeal flaxseed whole-wheat no-knead Mark Bittman magic bread that I make every week. Has nothing to do with the roti(s) but I do like playing with my camera. ^__^

So this is all you need to make roti(s). 2 cups whole-wheat flour and 2 cups water. Jaffrey says you can cut the whole wheat with cake flour for a lighter roti, but... well, if I wanted to make a cake, I'd make one. (She also says I can use 100% chapati flour if I prefer, but if I wanted to make a chapati... *__^)

Notice what's missing, too. No ghee, and no oil. Not even for the cooking part. This bread is probably even healthier than the Bittman one.

So. Slowly mix water into flour, knead for 5-10 minutes or until it forms a smooth ball, let sit for 1/2 hour.

Once again it looks exactly the same, but I'm sure science has done something in the meanwhile.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. You probably didn't need to see the picture of this step, but I like playing with my camera. ^__^

Dip the roti balls in flour until they are completely covered. It took me a few rotis to figure out why this was important. Trust me--it's important.

It's important because without any ghee/oil, there's nothing to keep the dough from sticking to every available surface as you roll it out.

Oh, and yes, my rolling pin is made from an old Snapple bottle. Food isn't the only thing we don't waste in this house...

Slap the roti onto an ungreased frying pan (I liked the slapping part), let it cook for about a minute, flip it over (Jaffrey says "it works best if you use your fingers" and so I dutifully did, although it does burn a little) and let it cook for another minute.

And that's all.

Roti(s) are so easy. Unbelievably so. And so tasty. And there's no oil. And--probably because I wasn't substituting whole wheat for white flour or olive oil for ghee (in fact, I didn't have to substitute anything for anything)--they tasted right. I could see myself whipping out a dozen of these every week or so.

Sorry, Bittman Bread. I have a new favorite now.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Notes From A College Tour (Part 3)

That last post was a bit wall-of-text, so here are some pictures to shake things up!

There it is, the infamous cappuccino. I will not say that's why I came back to campus. I refuse to even imply that drinking this particular cappuccino was one of the reasons why I came back to campus.

And there's that Magical Sandwich. Um... eew. I can't believe I once thought it was a treat to eat that thing.

Multiculturalism at its finest!

This is one of my favorite parts of campus. Whenever I came over to this place I was reminded of Alice entering the Queen of Hearts' garden.

Here it is, close-up. I heart topiaries.

This garden actually has several different "phases;" the first part reminds me of Alice, but this area here always reminded me of the Secret Garden, before it bloomed.

And this part reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, when you're getting ready to collect the Master Sword and you run down this long, long path full of flowers and then all the bunnies come out and skip across your path and at the end there's a big rock and in the rock is ZOMG IT'S THE MASTER SWORD and you try to pull it out and then the text block says "sorry you need to go to the dark world first" and you're all BUT I COLLECTED ALL THE CRYSTALS and the game is like "yeah, we know, but we totally tricked you about the crystals=master sword thing and you seriously have to go to the dark world which you never heard about until just now" and you're all like SOMEONE OWES ME A FRIGGIN' SWORD and then the game turns you into a bunny and takes away all your weapons...

...anyway, this part reminds me of that. ^__^

Notes From A College Tour (Part 2)

6. I've argued with people about this: my argument is that the most important part of a newspaper isn't actually the stories themselves, it's the editorials; after all, what actually happened is fine and all but what people think about what happened is the stuff that has the power to create change. So as soon as I got my hands on a student newspaper I flipped, immediately, to the editorial page.

Student editorials in particular are interesting to read because, with slight adjustments for technology and celebrity references, the topics never change. I've been reading student op-eds for over a decade, and professors still shouldn't take attendance ("if I can get the material from the book, why do I need to go to class?"); group projects should still be banned (it's funny how every undergrad seems to believe that they are the one person doing all the work); and when all else fails, a squirrel anecdote will fill the page. (This works for Ira Glass, too.)

Today's editorializing was a point-counterpoint on teaching v. research; the professor on one side writing that research is an essential part of the university community and the student on the other side writing "well, maybe if you didn't spend so much time in the lab doing your own research you could spend more time teaching me which is why you're here."

The thing is that the student has a point, but it's the wrong one. This student knows he's getting shafted. He knows that the giant lecture hall he finds himself in isn't the experience he signed up for. But he's aiming his argument at the wrong target. This student's education isn't why the professor is here. The student's education is why the student is here.

"But how does a student get a high-level education without continued, close interaction with faculty, and how do faculty balance that with their other demands?" you might ask. Well, if that isn't the very question universities have been dealing with for the past twenty years...

7. Being on this campus is a bit like taking a cruise with an extended family who were all, once, my former in-laws. To rephrase: I have a liberal arts degree; and, like every brochure statement about a liberal arts degree, it has taken me places. It has taught me to be a thinking person. It has given me job skills which are applicable to a variety of industries. None of them, however, are the industry in which I was originally "trained."

So when I visit my old academic buildings and say hello to former teachers, I find myself in the company of people who are living a particular discipline and who are both surprised and (perhaps) disappointed to learn I am not working in that discipline. Never mind that most people with this particular degree do not, in fact, work full-time in that discipline--that it would be more of a surprise if I were than if I weren't. And never mind that I really love the work I'm doing now. At every turn I am being asked the equivalent of "but why didn't you marry our child???"

8. But see, I'm living proof that the liberal arts degree works!!!

9. At the same time I have to admit it was ridiculously comforting to spend yesterday with current students who are all working to pursue the discipline I did not marry. They're all extremely talented. It was equally comforting to spend yesterday with the other alumni who have returned for this particular event and learn that none of them ended up marrying that discipline either!

10. And so what do universities do with these segments of the liberal arts which are... um... better lovers than husbands? (Isn't that the other question universities have been wrestling with for the past twenty years?)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Notes From A College Tour (Part 1)

So here I am, at the aforementioned coffeeshop, writing on my laptop like any other coffeeshop patron. ^__^ And why yes there is a cappuccino nearby.

I'm not sure the following anecdotes will be organized by anything except the order in which they come out of my head, but we'll all do our best to follow along.

Notes From A College Tour.

(Editor's Note: This appears to be Part 1: The Food. Go figure.)

1. If you pay close enough attention to these little stories, you will be able to figure out my (non-Blue) identity. If you were on this particular campus, you might have figured it out already. I can't go ten feet without seeing my name in print. To put it in the vaguest terms possible, I'm here for an event at which I am also one of the honorees--and there are posters advertising this event, with my name in prominence, at every turn.

2. At the same time, five years out of undergrad, I'm safely assured of my own anonymity. I'm good at blending in, and I don't look much like the person I was in 2004. The people I've gone to meet have had to look twice before figuring out who I was.

3. The biggest difference--or psychological difference--is the way everything feels smaller. In two ways. When I was a student, the university town was twice as big as my hometown. (It had a movie theatre! With four screens!) After living in DC, it seems tiny. More interestingly, everything seems smaller now that the price factor is no longer aspirational. This is a town where the highest-priced entree at the nicest restaurant is $15. It's almost laughable--and, in the case of my frugality, delightful.

4. This makes it very easy for me to take the Proust Tour, as it were; to go into all the restaurants I used to frequent (on special occasions) and into the ones I aspired to frequent and--in the case of the former--see if the food tastes the same. Consider the Magical Sandwich Shop, which I will not name because it is the only one of its kind and thus easily googled, but which is known for doing a particular thing to its sandwiches which involves a special pressing kind of machine and lots of cheese. Today I had a Magical Sandwich which, as far as I could tell, tasted familiar but lots less magical. I think it was because it's much less appealing to eat something which contains five layers of cheese and one layer of mayonnaise.

5. What does surprise me is that all of the restaurants, which are all locally-owned (sure, there are fast food chains here too, but I'm not going to bother with that), still have the exact same menus that they did five years ago. I think I was expecting, on some level, a reflection of the way food has changed in the last five years--and don't tell me it hasn't! We are in a post-Pollan world, after all. Shouldn't the corner bistro with its six female-named sandwiches (the Dinah, the Paula, etc.) have added a seventh sandwich (say, the Barbara) made with all-local ingredients?

Have to go now, for a... um... thing... will catch up later with more notes and better stories. (There are actual stories coming, not just descriptions of restaurants!)

Cabbage Thing

The Farmers' Market has stopped selling cabbage. I guess it's out of season.

I kept this bunch in the freezer for a month or so, not wanting to use the last cabbage in the house, until the other night when I needed something I could cook in ten minutes.

So... no cabbage now until fall? I should have frozen more. How will I survive without my weekly allotment of "cabbage thing?"

On the plus side, it's almost asparagus season...

I Am A Provision of Living Personification

So I was doing a vanity search and discovered that somebody out there was taking my blog posts and reprinting them on his own (spam) blog--but he appeared to be doing that old trick of "translating the text into another language and then translating it back into English" first. Or, possibly, the college student trick of "running most of the words through a thesaurus so it isn't really plagiarizing."

The TMBG quote "Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of" (from this post) thus becomes the very delicious Every jumbled provision of living personification has a philosophical factor that wonders what the factor that isn’t philosophical isn’t philosophical of.

Almost makes the spam worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jyoti Update

Bleh. The raisins did not work. I suppose I'll be Pollyanna about it and say I'm glad I get up extra early every morning (so I have time for yogas).

Serves me right for publicly complaining about the rice!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Me And Jyoti: Any Rice You Can Cook, I Can Cook Better

Two recent dinners.

On the left, an aloo paratha (oddly shaped, perhaps, but a paratha to be sure), yogurt, raisins, and some more of that stuff that would have been mattar paneer had the cheese not melted.

Here on the right is leftover dinner from Jyoti. Aloo gobi, naan, and rice. (I added the raisins into the rice for what will soon be obvious reasons. Also squirted some honey on top.)

I'm going to avoid making comparisons. After all, we all know the story of how that fantasmic "mattar black bean" dish came to be. I am still at the young grasshopper stage of cookery. That's part of the reason why I ended up at Jyoti; I wanted to steal the taste memory of "real" aloo gobi so I could try to improve my own.

But... that gobi was all soggy and mushy, and the rice was terrible. Oh-my-that-rice-was-awful. Thick and overcooked and chewy and not at all fragrant. When I was plating the leftovers for dinner tonight I almost chucked the rice to replace it with my own delicious steamed basmati, but (say it with me, people) IN THIS HOUSE WE DO NOT WASTE FOOD. We do, however, dilute it with raisins to avoid constipation.

One of the more unfortunate things about teaching myself to cook is that it has made me like restaurant food less and less. I know I don't always create perfect meals and my samosas don't always close, but I don't make food that tastes like it's been sitting in an industrial vat all day long, either.

At the same time I want to go out to eat other people's cooking so I can learn more about my own; so I don't get stuck in a "food culture" of half-Madhur Jaffrey, half-Barbara Kingsolver, and half-weird. But when I go out to places (Indian or otherwise) I find myself thinking things like "well, this is mushy" or "this is bland" or "this rice is a crime against humanity."

I am becoming a food snob.


What do I do now?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Money Is Also A Strange Loop

So I was looking at my finances the other day, and calculating up the amount of money I could have in my savings account at the end of the year if I continued to save 1/5 of everything I earned. It was pretty impressive.

Then I realized, rather obviously, that if I continued to do this for five years I would have a full year's salary in my savings account. That was more impressive.

What was even more impressive was the realization that, no, I wouldn't just have a year's salary. I'd have a year's worth of money that I could live off of (if I needed to) while continuing to put twenty percent of it back into savings.

That's strange loop territory. ^__^

(The stranger loop is that, of course, no I won't actually have a year's salary. Assume I get a COLA at the appropriate intervals, and you see the problem. Like Zeno's Paradox, the numbers will get pretty close--but as long as I only save twenty percent and no more, they'll never meet.

And then, of course, there's the unpredictability of it all; in this economic climate making the presumption that I will have a continued salary for the next five years is, after all, presumptuous. But let's leave that alone for now.)

The next thought, however, brought me back down to earth.

If five years of working earns me enough savings to live on for one year, then how many years will I need to work to be able to have enough savings for retirement?

Never mind the variables or inflation or 401(k)s or anything like that. Let's even ignore things like getting married, having children, buying a house, traveling, major medical expenses, etc. Let's just look at the basic math.

5=1. 10=2. 20=4. And even after working for the next 40 years (which would make me 67 years old) I'd only have enough money saved for 8 years of retirement.

Again, we'll leave the variables out (and the response "but people usually spend less money per year when retired," which I will balance out with "yeah, but stuff is going to cost more in forty years").

What does one do when looking at an equation like this? Try to invest? Try to save more? I can't be the first person who's stared down the end of this equation.

It got even sadder when I started looking into the ING Orange Account, which is supposed to offer the best returns on both savings and checking accounts (which, according to the blogosphere, it does), and saw this:

Read the small print. For every $10,000 you put into the account, you'll get $150 at the end of the year. Here I was going to be all excited about the magic of compound interest, but this is on the level of a fourth-rate magician pulling quarters out of people's ears.

It's got to be investing, doesn't it. Maybe CD ladders, but probably a combination of CDs and investing, which means I really need to sit down with the pen and paper and do some research.


Monday, April 13, 2009


See, when I was in high school, in a town ten blocks wide, I discovered the cappuccino. Except my cappuccino came from a metal box in the town gas station, one spigot next to the regular coffee. It cost twenty cents more than the regular coffee, and tasted like coffee with cream-flavored cotton candy mixed in. My high school boyfriend used to buy them for me.

We picked the coffeeshop at random when my father and I went up for the college visit; I think it was the closest restaurant to our parking spot. I'd never been in a coffeeshop before. The gas station sold coffee, all the restaurants in my little town sold coffee, but this was a place with pages of coffees on its menu, the number of coffees by far dwarfing the number of fair-trade sandwiches. There were musical instruments painted in mural around the walls.

I ordered a cappuccino. An iced, mocha cappuccino. It came in a glass eight inches tall, fat and thick as a milkshake. I feel like there must have been a cherry in there somewhere.

This coffeeshop was, in my mind, the epitome of everything I had heard about college. Musical instruments painted on the walls! I knew it would be my favorite restaurant.

But--despite my scholarships and general frugal living--the economies of my own student life meant that I never went back into that coffeeshop, not on my own, not for over a year. I think I went four times during the four years I attended that school, and whenever I went someone else paid, which meant the only drink I dared to order was water.

In grad school there was another coffeeshop, this one utilitarian and hippie and activist, the only decorations hand-painted signs which read things like "meat is murder" and "abortion is not murder." The coffee was much cheaper here and came in water-stained tumblers. The "Mexican" coffee, done up Chocolat-style with the chili powder, was delicious; but the economies of grad school were even worse than those of college and I rarely ever went--and never on my own, just to sit and savor. I've tried to recreate that coffee on my own but it turns out dumping chili powder into a cup of coffee isn't quite the same.

Now I go to Tryst every weekend and drink a chai that is better than any other chai I've ever tasted, with foam two inches thick that can be cut with a spoon, and two animal crackers on the side. I go in with a book and sit next to four other people on a squished couch or at a long table, and we talk sometimes and read sometimes and I scoop up chai foam with the head of a giraffe. I do this in part because I spent eight years not being able to do this, not once, and in part because... it is nice, after all, to sit and read in a warm room filled with other people, and to do it with a cup of something rich and hot and foamy.

Next week I'm going to be back in my undergrad college town for a few days, and I'm going back to that coffeeshop with the musical instruments and the iced mocha cappuccino. It's still there. And for the only time in my life, I'm going to go back as often as I want.

Next Dinner In Jerusalem Artichoke

I said to myself "eat the plain paratha instead of your new aloo parathas or your potato-filled samosas; you've already got a starch on that plate."

So I did.

And then when it was done I ate a samosa anyway. ^__^

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Strange Loops and Samosas (Step-By-Step)

I've been thinking about Douglas Hofstadter and his twenty-seven-year-old Pulitzer-Prize-winning treatise on recursive mathematical properties and their paradoxes. And it's thinking like that that makes my jumbled pile of person think that I should be working on my seminal work... whatever that may be.

But... I sat down and considered for a moment that it took me ten years of writing half-finished, short-sheeted novels before my consciousness generated the story that would, in fact, become a novel; ten years after that and I haven't been able to recreate the experience. (Lots of short sheets, though.)

So I sat for a while with my book this afternoon and puzzled how I could possibly ever get it revised and published, or if I even wanted to, or if I should use the power of the internet to push my characters off into the cloud for viral consumption. (It doesn't help that the only copy of said book is in paper; it was written on way-too-old technology and before it can go anywhere will need to be all-three-hundred-pages retyped.)

I even read the first chapter aloud, into my audio recording software, to hear how it sounded.

And then I got discouraged.

And then I made samosas. ^__^

1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons ghee/oil. Mix with your fingers until it looks like "thick breadcrumbs."

Add one tablespoon of water at a time and slowly knead until the dough forms a ball. (You'll need between 4-6 tablespoons.) This is the hard part because you've got both hands in the dough and you've got to stop, turn on the sink, stick the tablespoon under the water, turn off the sink, dump the tablespoon of water into the dough, and try not to notice how covered with flour your kitchen is getting. ^__^

(Probably next time should fill up measuring cup with 1/4 cup water beforehand and pour it on the dough in increments.)

Here's the dough after it has sat, covered, for the requisite 1/2 hour. In honor of Douglas Hofstadter I added the recursive feedback loop in the background. ^__^

I am still not sure what happens to the dough in that mysterious half hour between kneading and rolling out. For all intents and purposes it appears exactly the same. Is it a science thing?

Here's the leftover aloo paratha stuffing from this weekend, to which I have added the necessary peas.

I guess I skipped the photo of the step where I cut the ball of dough into eight pieces and roll each piece out into a circle. At this point I've cut the slit in the circle of samosa dough and folded over on itself to make the "cone." That's not exactly a cone, as you can see. The dough is pretty limp, so I have to help it out.

I have no idea how this picture turned out so interesting. Didn't know my camera could do that. ^__^

As you can see, they are closed before I put them into the oven. I don't know why some of them choose not to stay that way.

Also, I think I need to work on my samosa-shaping. Proper samosas are shaped like tetrahedrons, equilateral on all sides, and they have that ridge down the one side. Like this:


Nine happy samosas, after baking. They really are delicious, even if they aren't perfectly tetrahedral.

This samosa is ready for its closeup. It is also ready for some constructive criticism. I know that using white flour and deep-frying would make a difference, but... is there a way to make better samosas even when baking them?

And here they are on the plate, along with yogurt, the chutney powder that I seem to be putting on everything these days, and the mattar black beans. What's that stuff on the beans, you ask? It's the cheddar cheese that melted in the frying pan yesterday. I let it sit on my cutting board until it chilled and then I cut it into smaller pieces and put it back in the refrigerator. IN THIS HOUSE WE DO NOT WASTE FOOD. ^__^ (Especially expensive Farmers' Market cheddar from happy cows.)

Aloo Parathas, Step-By-Step

Since I had so much fun with the last "step-by-step" cooking experiment, I thought I'd do another one. This time: aloo parathas. (Mostly because I had an extra potato.) Recipe comes from Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian, obvs. ^__^

I should warn you ahead of time that these parathas took nearly two hours, start-to-finish, to make. And the kitchen was a mess afterwards. But they were well worth it.

2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt, 2 tablespoons oil, 2 cups water. Mix and knead until it forms a ball. We should notice right away that these parathas require considerably less oil than the "delicious, flaky" ones. I'm all for that. In fact, except for greasing the pan that's all the oil we'll need for the entire process; there's no "rub the ball with oil" or "rub the parathas with oil" or anything like that. Oh, and Jaffrey says we can use ordinary veg/canola/olive oil for this one; no need to haul out the ghee. Clearly these parathas are much less high-maintenance.

Here's the potato.

The ball of dough is supposed to sit, covered, for at least 1/2 hour. I'm not sure why. It doesn't feel any different, in terms of texture or heft or malleability, after it's sat. I'm suspicious that it may have less to do with the dough itself than that it gives you a 1/2 hour block in which to cook up the potatoes. Let's see... chop, boil, drain, mash, use the Magic Bullet to grind up a masala of fresh ginger, green chili, garam masala, cumin, and coriander seed, add masala to the mash. Let it cool so it won't burn your fingers when you add it to the parathas.

Uncover the paratha ball-of-dough, divide into eight parts. Roll each part out into a palm-sized circle. Put a small spoonful of potato mix into the circle.

Bring the edges of the circle together and twist them so they close over the potato mix. Unlike my samosa experiments, this dough actually made a seal when I did this. No idea why. (Maybe the oil-flour-water ratio???)

Gently press down on the top of the filled paratha with the heel of your hand until it begins to flatten.

Then roll it out. These will be approximately 6 inches in diameter. What's really cool is at this point you can feel that there is, in fact a potato mixture inside there, surrounded by a thin layer of dough, but the dough seams are completely gone.

Be careful not to roll it too thin, or you'll squeeze the potato out.

Heat up the pan and put just enough oil in to keep the thing from sticking. This was the hardest part of the whole process. Too much oil and the parathas never developed tasty brown spots; too little oil and my smoke alarm went off. Cook on both sides until they look like the one in the picture.

Freeze the ones you don't use and eat the rest!

And now, a note about the other dish in the picture. It's a little embarrassing. See... um... back when I tried to microwave my Farmers' Market cheddar cheese and realized I couldn't get it to melt in the microwave (low oil content), I thought "ooh, then I can use it in recipes instead of paneer!" (This is again because there's nowhere I can buy paneer in a 60-mile radius, and the stock I bought in January has run out.)

I pulled out the recipe for mattar paneer and found out, to my unfortunate surprise, that Farmers' Market cheddar does in fact melt when it's put into a frying pan. In fact, it melts almost instantly. So I hauled it out of the pan and decided to replace it with canned black beans since it was the quickest protein I had on hand.

But there was a problem. Canned black beans come in their own goo, and I did not want all that brown goo to pollute my pretty red-and-green dish; I was going to take a picture of it, after all! So here I am in my kitchen, tomatoes and peas bubbling in their ginger sauce on one burner, a paratha activating my smoke alarm on the other burner, a glopful of melted cheddar cheese on the counter, and I'm rinsing off canned black beans in the sink, a handful at a time, letting the water run through my fingers until it ran clear.

I'd do a handful, throw them into the mattar mix, flip a paratha, and then rinse another handful. (In hindsight I should have just gotten out the colander.) But those black beans did not turn the dish brown! (I also would not recommend recreating the mattar black bean recipe; it doesn't taste awful or anything but it's not the kind of thing one would want to cook on purpose. The beans are way too heavy for the spices.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Am A Twenty-Seven-Year-Old Strange Loop

Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of...
--They Might Be Giants

So I'm nearly finished with Douglas Hofstadter's newest book, I Am A Strange Loop. His middle book, Le Ton Beau De Marot, is one of my favorite books ever, and I have to admit that I've never made it all the way through GEB but am starting it over again and this time I will prevail!

A quick summary: Hofstadter wrote this huge tome called Godel, Escher, Bach about... um... recursive mathematical properties and their associated paradoxes (is that a good way to sum it up? it's a bit more complicated than that, especially with all the Bach canons thrown in). Then he wrote another huge tome called Le Ton Beau De Marot which is all about linguistics and translation (maybe if one says GEB is about the paradoxes of math, Marot could be about the paradoxes of language). Lately he wrote a much shorter book called I Am A Strange Loop which is about the paradox of thought itself (the part of us that wonders what the part that isn't thinking isn't thinking of).

The last book is by far the easiest to read, mainly because it deals with a lot of things that most people have probably pondered at some point in their lives (to wit: how does that mass of cells in my brain churn out thoughts?). In fact, as I read it, it seemed a little unfair that Hofstadter had taken the time to write out all of these ideas that I had, myself, already present in my own mass-of-cells brain. It was like he was stealing the inside of my mind and selling it.

And then, deep within the recesses of this book that seemed to contain my own ideas in Hofstadter's writing, he happened to casually mention that he wrote the 900-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning GEB when he was twenty-seven years old.

That's the age I am now.

There are huge chunks of GEB which explore Zeno's Paradox (Achilles can never catch the tortoise because even in the time it takes for Achilles to reach the tortoise's point X, the tortoise will have moved incrementally forward to point Y, and by the time Achilles reaches point Y, the tortoise will have inched forward to point Z, etc.). Sometimes I look at my generation and think that we're in our own version of Zeno's Paradox; every time we approach the bar of adulthood, it has inched a few years down the road; and when we hit that age, we find the bar is still further away.

Hofstadter was 27 in 1979; he had been an assistant professor for two years already. No one gets to do that anymore. Some people would say that today's twenty-somethings aren't prepared for the job (Hofstadter wrote GEB, but my own peers turn out things like this). That's, of course, a causality loop as much as it is anything else, combined with the unfortunate fact that few people now get the careful, one-on-one mentoring that Hofstadter got as a student.

(For all of education's current emphasis on group learning and group work, and for all of the internet's development of the hive mind, it is interesting to read biographies and notice that most people who are notable enough to have biographies trace their work back to a lengthy period of one-on-one mentoring. Just sayin' is all.)

But I suppose there's another side to all this Zeno Paradoxing: if thirty is the new twenty, as it were, then I have another ten years to create my seminal work. That tortoise is still just a bit ahead of me. I had better start running.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Michelle Obama Dress

Just one more reason to like Michelle Obama. ^__^

(Also I have a fashion idol to emulate who is not Dora the Explorer.)

I have the pink one, and I want the blue one too. Unfortch the blue one was all sold out at the ATL, as was the green one (the green one's even sold out online, except for size 18). There's also a white one, but.the one I tried on was already stained with someone else's makeup even before I got a chance to slip it over my head. So... yeah.

The unfortunate side of all this is my going back through the ATL advertisements to see if my suspicion is right, which it is: all the models wearing these Michelle Obama dresses are white. The dress itself comes in four colors, but the models only come in one.

(Meanwhile, the internet, no doubt sensing my dissatisfaction at ATL's shortsightedness, provides an interesting solution: no doubt picking up the keywords "Michelle Obama" and "fashion," all of my gmail sidebar ads are now suggesting I shop at J. Crew.)

Royal Basmati

So I have to write about this basmati.

I bought fifteen pounds of Royal Basmati brand basmati (the brand that comes in the woven cloth bag) and it is wildly, completely different from Tilda brand, which was the one I had come to know from desi groceries. (Since there are no desi groceries in DC, I got the Royal Basmati at Safeway.)

It may have been because I cooked it according to Madhur Jaffrey's directions, which can be summed up as very little water, let it cook in its own steam.

But for whatever reason the Royal brand tastes much more substantial than the Tilda brand, and it's so incredibly fragrant. I didn't use any oil or butter; it was delicately rich and flavorful on its own, straight from the pot.

Another advantage of Royal over Tilda is that I've been eating Royal for the past three days and it has not at all... um... plugged up the system. (Do you think that's because of the steam vs. water thing? Does adding more water to rice increase both its bloat and one's own?)

Anyway. So I had basmati with silverbeet/chickpea and yogurt/chutney, and then that bottom picture is basmati with black beans and peas.

Yay basmati!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Two Dinners (Taco Bell and Weird Food)

Hmm. This is what I feed other people...

...and this is what I eat by myself.

First of all, that top pic is unduly influenced by better lighting. But the truth remains: at a request that she not have to suffer "any of my weird food," I cooked my sister a quasi-Taco Bell spread of beans (from a can!), salsa (from a jar!), and chips (from a bag!). The cheese, like the apple, is from the Farmers' Market, and believe it or not it would not melt in the beans. I think it must have something to do with the low oil content.

The bottom pic is my handmade paratha, yogurt, chutney powder, piece of cheese (which I ended up putting back in plastic wrap; too much dairy on the plate), and chickpeas/silverbeets. A genuine plate of weird food. So weird, in fact, that I spent the past two days soaking the chickpeas in my crockpot. (Did you know that dried chickpeas, after being soaked, actually taste kinda like peas? That's pretty cool.)

Where does one go from here? Every once in a while I consider the "food culture" I've created for myself and wonder if anyone else will want to jump on. Sure, everyone loves a freshly baked loaf of bread, and most people will tolerate homemade yogurt, but chopping up silverbeet and soaking chickpeas? After all, that first meal looks way better. Why not go with the bag and the jar and the can?

(Not to mention the whole other issue of my food culture being the white girl who brings dal to work every day... in a bento.)

Dunno. All I know is that I have a potato sitting in the bottom of my refrigerator that needs to be turned into samosa filling tomorrow. And--today, at least--I don't care if I'm the only one who ever eats it. ^__^