Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I thought I would celebrate by trick or treating my blog.

Twenty years ago when I lived here, I went to HKIS (my school) for a carnival dressed up as a pirate. I had a large, plastic sword and and eye patch and looked quite impressive. The local children gaped at me as I walked past them with my mother. Nowadays Halloween is much more recognized here, although not necessarily celebrated by all. Unfortunately the scary part seems to have been forgotten and replaced with sexy/slutty. Take any Halloween character that you used to dress up in and add sexy/slutty in front of it. That's what you will see traipsing around Lan Kwai Fong. Sexy pirate girls will be draped over the bar or fighting with sexy witches for male attention. Slutty school girls skip by, chased by slutty nurses and equally immodest police officers.

Even better, you can now take your favorite super hero and with a few snips of the shears, you are instantly transformed into sexy supergirl. Even wonder woman has shortened her skirt a few more inches and taped together her bosom for maximum cleavage. If you can't find the sexy super hero costume you can always go as their animal mascots- sexy mascots that is. Sexy mouse, sexy rabbit, sexy cat. It's all here on Halloween.

I went to a party during my last year of college and I am not exaggerating when I say that more than 50 percent of the women showed up as a naughty school girl. It was actually very amusing to see a room full of women in small shirts and short, plaid skirts with knee socks, all trying to stand out from each other. I modified the starfish costume from Spongebob Squarepants and went as a giant vagina. At least I was memorable.

Maybe this year I should go as something sexy. Sexy vegetable? How about sexy Homicidal African Dictator?

I've got the golden ticket

to the Bledisloe Cup match between New Zealand and Australia. I am stoked!

My All Black stalking seemed to have ended in failure when I did not see them on either of my excursions into So Kon Po, where they were training. I did find evidence at our training that they had been there, as there was an extra scrum sled parked at the end of the pitch. Also, the posts at the far end, behind the try zone, were wrapped. Some of my teammates were wondering why. I guessed that maybe the posts were close to the line and perhaps these mighty specimens of rugbyness were so fast and strong that they risked running into the posts while the rest of us mere mortals moved much more slowly.

Next door at the India Club there was quite an event underway. It was some kind of a "hedge fund boxing" night. I wonder if this meant that investment boxers were knocking each other silly in a ring, or if they were just the main source of money. I could smell the overwhelming scent of perfume all the way over in our pitch. Ladies, please show some restraint. Your perfume should not announce your presence well in advance of you entering into a room... or across a large open space. Meanwhile, back at the pitch, suddenly a rugby ball came sailing over the bushesl. I went to pick it up and Joe, our NZ import, came over to take it from me and send it back over the fence. As I was watching him I suddenly recognized the faces on the other side of the fence. They were All Blacks. Not all of them, but there seemed to be four or five of them standing in an area next to the tents. Several of the ladies and I came over to the fence to get a closer look. I think I recognized Ali Williams and Adam Thomson for sure. I also thought I saw Jason Eaton, but he's sot supposed to be here. And he looked a bit shorter. Maybe it was Boric with beard growth. Hmmm.

I barely suppressed the urge to embarrass myself although I did manage an "I love you, Ali Williams" as we jogged away. The rest of practice found me trying hard not to become distracted by the men in black on the other side of the fence.

Isn't this a beauty? My souvenir from Saturday

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Banana Fluff Cake

I was looking over some over the hill bananas today and thinking of making banana bread. But I always make banana bread. So what, then? This got me thinking about a time when I consumed a LOT of bananas-- my freshman year of university. I would spend my meager allowance on entertainment for the weekend and then was left with only a few dollars for snacks and such. I learned very quickly how to make the cheap and sugar-loaded staple of many college dormitory dwellers: banana fluff sandwiches. The three ingredients, bananas, bread, and marshmallow fluff were very cheap. Another variation was the fluffernutter: fluff and peanut butter.

I have not made a fluff anything since freshman year ended and I moved out of the dorm. Now I wanted to see if I could recapture the essence of my beloved banana fluff but in a more presentable fashion.

Banana Cake (similar to banana bread but fluffier)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I love spices so I added more cinnamon as well as nutmeg)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream the sugar and butter together. Mash and add in the bananas and stir until smooth. Add the egg yolks and milk, and whisk all together. Slowly sift in the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter and add the vanilla. Pour into a greased 9" cake pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly.

Fluff Frosting

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12-14 marshmallows
Place butter, egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar inside a double boiler and bring water to a low boil. Whisk the ingredients together quickly until they become incorporated and frothy.

Turn down the heat to low and add in the marshmallows. Keep whisking until everything is dissolved. Note: tearing the marshmallows into smaller pieces causes them to dissolve into the frosting more quickly.

Turn the heat back up and whisk until peaks start to form, similar to soft peaks in egg whites. Let the frosting cool slightly, but not too much and then frost the cake.

Stalking the All Blacks

The teams are practicing in So Kon Po, which is the Causeway Bay training pitch. SB has insisted that I go there and stalk the All Blacks. I'll let you know how that goes.

Because of New Zealand/Australia training at our pitch we had to find other accommodations, namely the old Causeway Bay fields next to Victoria Park in Tin Hau. SB was still nursing his injuries and skipped his training but managed to meet me in time for dinner with the ladies.

It is especially during times like these that I am happy that I chose my team. I was thinking of going with a more Gweipo team, where English would be more prevalent during training. This made sense after my time in Italy where I was constantly frustrated due to the fact that I just could not speak Italian quickly enough for my teammates who did not speak English so it seemed that I was always a step behind.

Here they all speak good to reasonable English, and they tolerate my poor attempts at Cantonese. I need to pick up my studies because I have been using the abundance of English speakers as an excuse to show poor Chinese. Anyway, back to why I am happy for going with the local team. With a mostly white team, practice ends at the pub. Now, I am a big fan of ending at the pub but that is not an uncommon occurrence with all the Gweilo men's teams. But the women's team is a team that dines. This means that SB and I can happily follow them from whichever part of Hong Kong we are in, to tasty food.

Eating with Junior, our coach

In this case, the food was less tasty than usual, but it was because our group got too large for the hole-in-the wall we were attempting to eat at and we had to find another option serving noodles. We found another small restaurant that barely held the fifteen or so of us. There was no English option in the menu so SB and I stumbled along with what he could remember from his Chinese courses in Nanjing over a dozen years ago (he's not so bad!) until Kitty helped us out. I swiped a copy of the menu to study at home. I can identify beef, fish, pork, and won ton. Everything else was translated by Kitty. I ordered wontons and beef tendons with my soup. It came out too salty, and the wontons were not stellar either, but the tendons were good. I'll try them again. There were a lot of "spare parts," as SB calls them, in the soup choices. This is the other great part of eating with the ladies. They are local and I can eat all the spare parts that I want to try with them. SB simply is not supportive of some of my eating adventures. I can't wait to try out a better noodle place, where I can dump all sorts of interesting offals into my broth.

what will this yield?

SB's soup of wontons with curry base and rice noodles. Mine with tendons and beef broth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The village that makes you forget

It makes you forget that you live in a metropolis; it makes you forget that life moves more quickly now. It makes you forget all reason of why you aren't there right now.

At the end of the weekend SB and I were having a tasty (and very reasonably priced breakfast) at 2 Rooms Cafe when we realized that we did not actually have any plans for the rest of our day. Quickly scrolling through the lists of places and things to do, I determined that it would be a perfect day to go on a nice hike from the valley to Shek O. Our friend Tony had moved into a flat there and was raving about life in the village. SB crossed the hike off the list because he was too bruised from his game but was definitely up for a trip to the beach.

There are only one bus and one minibus that serve Shek O but they were easy to pick up and we arrived forty-five minutes later. Tony met us at the parking lot with another teammate, Xavier, on the back of his bike. It turned out that after months of searching, Xavier had finally found a home for rent and was moving in that day. The problem was that his 500 cc scooter had a dead battery. This was the first great sign for me. I love tinkering with machines. This is a great American pastime. We immediately put the beach excursion on hold to walk the three blocks it took to get to the other end of the village and assist Xavier. I have previously mentioned that I am the mechanically inclined one in the relationship but that does not get revealed when SB is having manly time. So there they were, an American, a Frenchman, and a Welsh, all united to fix the scooter. What was supposed to happen was that we would try to push start it, and failing that, would switch out Xavier and Tony's batteries, charge Xavier's with Tony's bike, and off they would go into the sunset. Fifteen minutes were spent pushing the large scooter up and down the road and trying not to hit the tourists. Then the battery switch ended with SB dropping the nut and the bolt for a battery down into the scooter's body. I went to look for a parts store but there was none. Ten minutes later they were able to pry out the nut but SB forgot that mobile phones exist so instead of calling me back, Xavier was dispatched to find me. Twenty minutes later we were back to square one. Then we charged the battery. Then Tony lost his bolt, which he had just set on the ground. We spent five more minutes searching before Tony realized that something was embedded in the bottom of his shoe. Slightly over an hour later the mission was completed. I will not tell you how long it would have taken for me to have done this alone, but let's say that I am not a big oaf. Oh, and Xavier learned a new word. Oaf.

So then the guys left to go furniture shopping while SB and I finished off at the beach. As it began to get dark I laid down on the sand and became so relaxed that I almost fell asleep. SB splashed around in the waves and made friends with a surfer. When it became too dark we met up with Tony and Xavier again for dinner and ran into the surfer with his family. That was the second great thing. Shek O is actually a place where where the population is small enough that you can really get to know the neighbors.

The third great thing was that if you are able to find housing, it is cheap. Tony's place was slightly less than what SB and I are paying, and almost twice as big. Now I know that I said that I am happy with our shoebox, and I am, but you have to forgive me for momentarily forgetting that while I coveted Tony's square footage. And his large patio. And the fact that the beach was 30 meters outside the front door.

SB noticed that I was quiet on the ride back from dinner and immediately knew what I was thinking. He quickly brought me to Moon's Kitchen for a glass on mango juice and almond tofu. As we sat at our outdoor table and watched all the neighborhood dogs congregate under the "no dogs" sign like they do every night he reminded me of why we love living where we do. Yes, I do enjoy our neighborhood. I love that Wanchai and Causeway bay are just around the corner. I love the food options here. It is small enough that although we can't know all the people who live here, we do know who our food providers are. And we know most of the local dogs :)

Yeah, he has succeeded in reminding me of why we love where we are. But once in a while, the lure of the waves and a large living room gnaw at me and I need another frothy mango juice to remind me of what's important to us.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10's with the Tai Po Dragons

We played the ladies from Tai Po yesterday and won by 54-0. Their coach wanted to call the game early with five minutes left but the ladies insisted on finishing it out. For that, and for their classy playing, they have earned my high regard and respect. Even though the score was demoralizing, they never let their heads down and played all the way through.

There were several factors that led to our victory. First, after the defeat we handed to ourselves with Football Club we were set to battle our hardest. The dragons also had posted an impressive 10's season so we took them seriously and trained to give them our best, which we did. Their team also only had 10 players and no subs, which meant that some ladies who were hurt (not injured, but hurt) in the game had to stay on the pitch.

They had some good plays and very smart kicks that they almost were able to capitalize on. There were definitely some moments where it looked like they would break through and we had to scramble to recover. In the end the dragons were unable to finish their plays or capitalize on the opportunities that we presented them with some of our mistakes, but they played hard and forced us to play hard also.

My only big criticism was that their scrum was bad. There was no engagement with us, but instead they leaned into us before the ref called the engagement. With no offered push, and no clean engagement we were forced to hold them up at times, and other times we ran over them. On the last contested scrum of the game we hit them and their scrum fell over but our side was still standing in the crouched position. It was strange. After that, we went uncontested.

I was chosen to be captain at this game and I hoped that I served my team well. I was very, very pleased with our play. I hope that we take this into practice on Tuesday and keep building up to our eventual rematch with Football Club. We also have stiff competition with Tradition Valley and Aberdeen/Kowloon.

But a big thank you to the ref who kept the game smooth and moving. And a big thank you to the Tai Po Lady Dragons.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Looking at shapes in clouds and walking into thin air

In today's walkabout of the neighborhood I looked up. There were not any clouds to be seen, mostly smog, but I did see more scaffolding. Yes, I do like seeing all this constant change going on above me as life continues below. Much like looking for shapes in clouds, I like to look at the shapes hidden behind the bamboo and mesh curtains.

Perhaps some parasitic attachment, hanging off the side

Perhaps a Christo wrapped Reichtag

Perhaps David Copperfield is making the building disappear, a la the Statue of Liberty

I liked the cantilever best. I like how you can graft parts to buildings like you can graft onto trees. I like the feeling of walking out onto this seemingly tenuously grafted walkway and looking down over the side in a mixture of awe and fear.

One would think that with all the simulation, hyperreality, and virtual life that we can trick ourselves into believing anything-- or disbelieving everything because it all has become a spectacle. But still, there are limits that my body will not allow me to overcome. The experience of weightlessness is one of them.

The Corning Museum has an area where a large plate of structural glass is suspended over the museum floor. You may walk out onto it. I did so, expecting that with all the movies and other visualizations of hovering over the air, that it would be no big deal. I took three steps onto the glass and suddenly my knees started to buckle. My body, even though it was completely supported, did not reconcile the fact that I could not see what was holding me up, and therefore I felt the strangest sensation that my body was trying to prepare me to fall. The phenomenon of my body experiencing that it saw nothing substantial holding me up outweighed my logical knowledge that I would not fall.

I remember this exact feeling when I was about ten years old. I had climbed up a partially dead tree, like I had before, and was stepping out onto a branch. Unlike all the previous times, this time the branch did not hold me. One moment I was one meter out on the branch and the next, I was succumbing to gravity. I'm sure that I fell instantaneously but in my head there was a second before comprehension that I was falling, where I remember thinking, "uh oh" and my knees feeling really weak because my feet had nothing firm underneath. Then "Aaaaaaaaa," followed by THUD. My father must have heard the thud because he came outside to find me laying on my back, surrounded by leaves and branches. "Are you okay?" he asked calmly. "I....caaaan't....breathe...." I gasped out. "Well that's because you have knocked the wind out of yourself," he chuckled, "take a minute and you'll be fine." So I lay there sucking wind back into my lungs while he walked around me and picked up the branches.

This time, I was able to back up off the weightless and substance-less looking glass. I made several more attempts to walk back onto the glass. Yup, my body did not want to believe it. Each time the knees felt soft and the palms sweated. Finally my museum companion became bored and wandered off. Otherwise I would have been tiptoeing on and off that glass plate for the rest of the afternoon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exercising my super powers

Look what just came in the mail..

"Official Absentee Voting Material"

Now here's the dilemma:
In Texas, where I am a registered voter, our state's electoral votes are pretty much a forgone conclusion. According to polling results we shall remain a solidly red state.

So.. do I vote for whomever I want to win even though my vote ultimately won't make a difference either way, or should I vote for a third party candidate, because more than wanting McCain or Obama to win I want an end to the two party monopoly. What would you do?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cross Dressing Couch Potato

Today at rugby practice I discovered that SB's practice jersey looked especially... tight on him. In typical clueless man fashion he just grabbed a shirt on his way out the door this morning and somehow it did not occur to him until later that perhaps there was a reason it was skin tight and short. Since he sweats like a smelly goat, I am not so pleased. It received an extra wash cycle and I will be sniffing it suspiciously for residual goat smell.

Practice ends at 9 pm or so and after showers and walking home it is quite late. SB has taken up couch potato-ism, as he is just too tired and lazy to move. He sits on the couch with his computer and waits to be fed. If the food carries stain potential, then he wears an apron and waits for the feed trough to arrive. To add to the ambiance he likes to don his hockey jersey that ventilates nicely while he is couch squatting. He suspects that he would have been an awesome child of the late seventies, or whenever muscle shirts were in style.

I know that I must nip this growing habit in the bud before he is a full fledged couch potato. Otherwise our nights of candlelight dinner will be a thing of distant memory.

Two Rooms Cafe

To continue our neighborhood exploration, we decided on dinner in a restaurant that neither of us had been to. Two Rooms is literally that: a small restaurant with very limited yet comfortable and cozy seating.

It serves Western food, and the menu has several appetizers and salads to choose from, a few entrees, and a solid list of desserts from their bakery. There was a three course dinner set that SB chose from while I had a salad for dinner. I apologize for the terrible picture quality but it was dark and I only had my crappy camera phone.

The salad came with quite a few pieces of juicy, grilled chicken with a delicious homemade honey mustard cream dressing. Also, it was a very generous sized portion.

We also ordered chicken quesadillas. They were full of chicken in a flat bread but not to my Tex-Mex standards. They were good, though. The quesadillas were served with a salsa and what seemed to be apple sauce. We were not big on the apple sauce so we asked for more salsa. The two women running the restaurant were very, very friendly and helpful. I have to say this because we were very happy with the service and anything we asked for was quickly taken care of.

SB liked his soup that came that came with the dinner set but thought it wasn't especially remarkable. For the entree he chose a meat in wine sauce spaghetti, or something of that kind of name, and was apprehensive about how it would turn out. It came out looking a bit like stew on spaghetti but was very tasty. The meat was shank meat, cooked in wine and sauce until tender, and served with potatoes and vegetables.

All the meat portions were very large and filling.

For dessert, he chose the apple crumble with ice cream. He really liked the warmed apple pastry as it was not too sweet and homemade.

He enjoyed it so much that he ate it with two forks so that he could shovel more in at a faster rate.

We will definitely be back for more.
You can find their bakery menu here.

Two Rooms Cafe: G/F, 8 Min Fat Street, Happy Valley

Monday, October 20, 2008

Exploring the Happy Valley Hood

Sunday was just what the doctor ordered. SB and I slept in and then had breakfast at our favorite cha chaan teng, Cheung Sing Cafe. Sometimes all you need is a dan tat (egg tart) and lai cha (milk tea) to brighten up your day.

SB confessed that he has lived in the valley for ten months and is not completely familiar with everything. We are very well acquainted with the main roads as well as paths on the South-East that lead you to the extensive HK trail system. Further West, near the Jockey Club Sports Complex, was a mystery. So we trotted out and just meandered around the area. We discovered several parks that we didn't know existed. One that was maintained by the Jockey Club took us up to Shan Kwong Street and on to Tung Lin Kok Yuen Temple and Po Kok Free School. The architecture was a treasure and I wish I had taken pictures. We crept inside and were waved into the main rooms by a female monk. There were an assortment of drums and percussion instruments in the temple that were very interesting and beautiful.

There was a small bridge connecting the temple to the school. Upon closer examination we saw that the bridge crossed a walkway that was not part of the temple property. This walkway led to another treasure-- the intimate and terraced Jewish Cemetery at 13 Shan Kwong Street. It was empty and quiet, set apart from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and buffered next to the peaceful temple. One groundskeeper was carefully sweeping the nonexistent debris on the paths and raking leaves. He seemed surprised to see visitors and waved cheerily at us. SB and I walked about, admiring the layout of paths and garden.


Finally we stopped by an antique store to look at various boxes and desk tops that I covet, and door screens that SB covets. I found a jewelry box that I loved, but not for the box. I loved the wood. It had a strong grain pattern and beautiful, rich colors similar to Rosewood but with less red and higher contrast. I wished that I was still in San Antonio at Alamo Hardwoods, where Bubba would identify hundreds of sexy woods for me to drool over.

The shopkeeper could only give me the Cantonese name for the wood, although she did say that it was becoming rare b/c Vietnam was no longer exporting it. Hmm... Rather than making me want it more she succeeded in making me wonder why it was no longer being exported. Perhaps it was becoming endangered. In that case, I could not rationalize contributing to such a magnificent wood's extinction by purchasing it. But it was beautiful!

Update: It is called Huanghuali in Chinese. I think it is also called "yellow flowering pear" wood, yellow Rose Wood, or "Vietnamese Rose Wood". It is critically endangered. Boo.

"The finest huanghuali has a translucent shimmering surface with abstractly figured patterns that delight the eye--those appearing like ghost faces were highly prized. The color can range from reddish-brown to golden-yellow. Historical references point to Hainan Island as the main source of huali. However, variations in the color, figure, and density suggest similar species sourced throughout North Vietnam, Guangxi, Indochina and the other isles of the South China Sea." [Source]

Friday, October 17, 2008

all about bamboo!

After enjoying scaffolding so much, I was curious about the properties of bamboo. I learned about structural properties of concrete, metal, and wood in school but not bamboo, which I already knew was a grass.

Here are some interesting facts that I did know:

1. It is a hardy, strong, and quickly growing plant which means that it is sustainable.

2. It is quite strong when treated, so combined with its durability, it is an ideal scaffold.

3. It can be pressed into a hardwood form so that it is a great alternative to using real hardwood for flooring.

4. Aside from feeding pandas, humans consume bamboo (shoots).

What I did not know but think is interesting:

1. There are several cultures including those in the Andaman Islands, and those who speak Bahasa, who cite bamboo as being part of the origin of life; either major elements (moon, sky, ocean, etc.) emerged from bamboo ends or woman and/or man came from split bamboo.

2. Bamboo is used in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Tibetan medicine.

3. It is the fastest growing woody plant known to the world. This is due to a unique growth network of rhizomes. And we know how much architects love rhizomes, thanks to Deleuze and Guattari. Another interesting piece about rhizomes and recombinant architecture can be found here.

You can find all you ever needed to know and more from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan!

and now for the foodie part :)

I leave you with a picture of lunch: "Japanese" noodle soup in the Cityplaza food court. Cool soup bowl, no?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Possibilities of things to be

Sometimes buildings are more interested incomplete than finished. Wood framing can be beautiful and structural before it is covered with sheet rock and a coat of paint. As a building is being erected, I see so many possibilities of where the construction is going and it is almost a let down if the final reveal is less than the possibility.

Here in Hong Kong I am fascinated by all the work in progress. It is too dense for there to be much new construction but like the borg that Dwayne Bohuslav talked about, there are always additions and subtractions going on into three dimensional space. Some of the traditional bamboo scaffolding look like prosthetics attached to their shiny hosts of marble and polished steel. Some of the bamboo seems to wrap around and some extends out into the air, balanced precariously over the crowded street below.

I am almost sad when construction nears completion and the temporary supports are taken down. It is like reaching the end of one of those "choose your own adventure" books, when even though you have finally met the correct ending, it is never as fun as all the other choices you had to make to get there.

"It is no longer meaningful to see the body as a site for the psyche or
the social but rather as a structure to be monitored and modified.
The body not as a subject but as an object-- not as an object
of desire but as an object for designing." - Marshall McLuhan

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Through the Stomach

I wouldn't consider this to be a food blog, but it is a blog where I do a lot of food. It makes perfect sense when you consider that I live in Hong Kong, which has got to be the food center of the world. There are restaurants lining up practically every street. The other reason is that I am still lallygagging about finding a job so I have plenty of time to cook and rediscover the joy of food that I lost when I was a sleep deprived architorture grad student.

That saying about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach is very true for SB and me. It also is even more true in reverse. When we first met, he wooed me with food. I was so busy and he would cook dinner and lure me home. I think all I ever made in the first few months was coffee. I still make the coffee because SB can't seem to figure out the Mucca and has decided that I hold the keys to the mysteries of delicious coffee. I slowly began to cook a few meals but he was the main provider. My meals, though, were quite superb, if I do say so myself. I began experimenting with cooking when I was barely tall enough to see over the stove (as a ten year old I made a kick ass crepe). I hardly ever cook from recipe (with the exception of baking) and rank myself as one of the better amateur cooks. Good, though not even close to the same league as those Michelin chefs who make culinary artwork. Ms. Garcia at SAC once said that she had foie gras that almost made her weep. I can only imagine what that must have been like.

There have been two times in the past few weeks that SB looked up from his food to tell me that he loved me. I don't know if this is a new trend but it's sweet. Once was late at night after hockey practice when I whipped up some fettucine alfredo. I do not consider a fake Italian dish to be anything special but it must have been the combination of hunger, lower expectations at such a late hour, perfectly al dente noodles, and abundance of dairy products that tipped the scale. I also happen to know that SB is a carb addict and his sister and grandmother were butter addicts who ate pats of it as small children. This was nothing if not a plate of cheese, butter and carbs. As he tucked into it, I told him to come up for air and that's when I heard a muffled, "I love you" and more slurping.

The second I love you came from a Vietnamesey dish. I had marinated some beef in garlic and spices, which I cooked and served with bun (vermicelli), copious amounts of cilantro, scallions, do chua (pickled onion, daikon and carrot), some of my mint plant, and Nước chấm (lime, fish sauce, sugar, chili, garlic, water). It's a good, simple dish that utilizes one of the best components of Vietnamese food, which is that the food contains many layers of taste from the meat, to the sauce, to the pickles, and finally to the herbs that are eaten in quantities that make them almost vegetables.

SB had called as he was leaving work to say that he felt like having meatballs. What?! I had already begun assembling the meal and so it was too late to go back. Then I thought, well, why not? I would add some Viet meatballs to the mix so I ran off to the store for some ground pork and made nem nuong.

I was looking up spelling for nem nuong when I came across this recipe for it from wandering chopsticks. I liked that the author uses onions to add moisture that is lost from using low fat pork. I will have to try that one day when I finally get a food processor and can grind my own pork again instead of buying that fatty crap at the store. I perused the blog and it gets my half-Vietnamese stamp of approval. You should look at it for good Vietnamese recipes, especially since I am too lazy to print them here. I'll eventually measure out what I cook and put some recipes here, but only if they aren't somewhere else or if my more North-Central tastes clash with the typically Southern cooks.

After these declarations of love from SB, I remembered a recipe that one of my friends had sent me years ago, for something called engagement chicken. Since I was much younger then, I had no interest in serving up a meal that would end up with me getting hitched. I remember perusing the recipe, thinking that is didn't sound so special, and then deleting it. After all these years I decided to look up the story behind this chicken. Thank you, Internet! I love google. Here's the recipe. The story is that some Glamour magazine staffer gave the recipe (originally from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking) to an assistant over 20 years ago and she got engaged as a result, and then she passed the recipe down and by the time it was all over three women had become engaged.

Here's my analysis. The chicken is tasty, although not particularly spectacular in my opinion. Certainly not enough to warrant a ring. I suspect, as do others, that these women probably were not great cooks to begin with, and so their partners were overwhelmed by the gesture and not the chicken. Also, the presentation is quite lovely and the first husband admitted that the chicken looked like something a wife would prepare and that's what got him thinking. I would say in those cases that the image of a woman who could cook and present a dish that could be served to impress your friends was what did it.

If I ever wanted to use food trickery to make SB submit to a pair of finger shackles, the engagement chicken would not work for me. SB has already tasted better. Beside, presentation is not important when he's contemplating the use of a human feed bag. Kidding aside, he does enjoy it when I give him a beautiful plate so I do see why it works with the chicken when reeling in mere mortals. No matter how enlightened, men like SB get reeled in by a competent provider who is willing to romance them.

Eureka! Red Oil Wonton!

After googling all sorts of combinations of words for my beloved spicy dumplings, I think I have found them. I tried looking up Sichuan spicy dumpling and came across a page of Sichuan cuisine.

My first clue that things were looking up was when I saw that Sichuan had a special kind of wonton that was semi-pentagonal, like in the dish I crave, called chāo shǒu (crossed hands).

Then I discovered that they are popularly served in a dish with a sesame paste and chili oil sauce. The dish called "red oil wonton" (红油抄手). It is pronounced "hong you chao shou" or something like that, at least in Sichuan dialect. Hopefully the Cantonese servers will get it. If not I will write the characters out.

Woohoo! I want to go out right now and find some!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Spice Trail

SB and I continued our quest for those super spicy dumplings that he has had in Yunnanese restaurants but may actually be from their spicy cousins in Sichuan. I had never eaten Yunnanese food before SB took me to a particular restaurant here. He liked the restaurant a lot because it had not altered the food to Hong Kong tastes like a lot of restaurants do. I am especially unhappy with the low quality of Vietnamese food here, in case my loud grumbling hasn't made you already aware. Everything just seems so heavy and greasy, which works for those delicious Hong Kong noodle dishes, but removes the fresh layers of taste found in Viet food.

Anyhoo...Sichuan food is well known b/c it is categorized as one of the "Four Great Traditions" that have influenced Chinese cooking. Sichuanese food has four distinct characters: fresh, fragrant, spicy, and hot. the two different categories for spicy and hot allude to the heat value of the food. But heat is not all there is, and that is why it is so loved.

Yunnan is located to the South of Sichuan. It is culturally bio diverse, and contains close to half of China's plant and mammal population in roughly four percent of the country's land mass. All the diversity leads to equally diverse food, but it is unified in spiciness. Most of the soups are swimming in chili, and bursting with flavor. When I first set foot in the Yunnan restaurant we ordered some amazing dumplings that were sweet, savory, and spicy. We offset them with Qi guo ji, a delicious (and not spicy) chicken soup that is well known in Yunnanese cuisine. It is cooked in a unique ceramic bowl so that the chicken steams with tonic herbs. The soup, like many "special" soups, claims medicinal properties. All I care about is how tasty it all was.

This time I went for a spicy soup, and SB tried to order what he thought was a variation of qi guo di. I got my deeelicious soup and he got the shaft. He was served some weird bowl of tasty broth and odd plant and animals assortments inside. He pulled out some chicken livers which I obligingly ate but then I stopped serving as his human garbage compactor when the strange looking bologna slices came out. They may even have buried hot dogs into the dish. SB was not pleased but he was nursing a cold and didn't want my chili bowl.

deeliciousness! Beef shank and noodles in flaming hot broth

SB's un-interesting soup of spare parts

Next, we got the dumplings that we had ordered as an appetizer. One thing to note in a lot of restaurants here, even the fancy ones, is that there is no concept of food order. It comes out when it's ready, and so we often get one entree long before the other, interspersed with appetizers. If SB gets his dish first, I stare hungrily at it while he eats and whacks me with his chopsticks when I try to steal a bite. If my food comes out first, SB will "share" it until his dish comes out and then he won't share his. If he is really hungry, I have seen him practically plant his face into a dish and suction out the food in big slurps. This did not happen with the appetizer. First they tried to give it to us in some soup form. I had been looking forward to the spicy dumplings for so long that I was visibly disappointed. SB tried to tell the server what we were trying to get. Then it came out in some oily mess with some chili in it. Our third attempt yielded some bowl of pungent shrimp paste. At that point we gave up. It was such a letdown, especially since we had eaten the dumplings at this very restaurant earlier. I will have to search for where they originated from and learn the real name for them because they were the best I had ever had at this restaurant.

almost, but not quite. Sigh

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Magical Hockey Stick

SB and I are recovering from our games yesterday. I had a great time playing and so did he, even though his team lost and were badly mistreated by the not-so-neutral ref. Hopefully they will get their discipline under control so they aren't penalized. It was pretty clear that their contempt for the ref led to him issuing some very shady calls as well as FOUR yellow cards. One of the yellow cards became a red card. This isn't soccer, and a card means that you are in the sin bin for ten minutes while your team struggles without you, so that meant that SB's team played one man down for more than half the game, and with only 13 players for ten minutes. If that isn't a clear sign that the ref had lost all reason as well as control over the game, then I would like to hear about it.

The women's team won 44-0 in the 15s game and 38-5 in the 10s game. No yellow cards, although I received a penalty in the waning minutes that put us on our try line and was pretty upset about it. Especially since I not only had no idea of what I did wrong, and in fact was sure that the penalty was on the woman who was lying on the ground, not releasing the ball that I was trying to pull free. It's a pretty crappy thing to have happen, but worse when it could lead to the other team scoring. I asked what I did wrong and the ref said that I wasn't the tackler (huh?) and did not have rights to the ball. I then asked the coach what I did wrong since the ref was not going to talk to me, and he said that I didn't do anything wrong. I still feel crappy for putting the team on the line like that but I feel even more furious that I was even penalized.

So for those who are rugby players, I will elaborate what happened and ask for opinions. The opposing player was running out wide toward our try line. One of my teammates attempted to tackle her and succeeded in wrapping her up but not bringing her down. The opposing player was turned, facing me. I grabbed the ball and the two of them started to fall backward from me. They both landed on the ground and I ended up standing, bent over with my hands still grabbing onto the ball. I tried to pry it free but the opposing player would not release. Then, still holding the ball, I moved one leg over her so that I was more stable and straddling over her. Finally I wrested the ball from her, only to have the referee penalize me. WTF?! AARGH!

So today we are relaxing at home. Our weekend relaxing time is one of my favorite events. SB and I curl up on the couch. Or, actually, I curl up into some corner of the couch and he puts his feet on me. I know it is love because I allow those long, hairy toes on me.

not so bad at this angle

but this is the close up of those hairy, long, monkey toes

We read the paper, or talk about the week, or whatever random things come up. Today we discussed his magical hockey stick. I do not find it to have magical properties. This may be due to the fact that I got whacked by it when SB was stick handling and we were goofing around. I play rugby. I had a fat girl fall and land on her ass, on my face this weekend. I have broken my nose twice. And nothing compares to the pain of that stick colliding with my ankle.

SB thinks the stick is magical b/c of the many (inappropriate) uses he has of it. It promotes laziness. He has a stick in the bedroom by our bed. It goes great with the creamy, soft, earth tones. He has it there for the sole purpose of using it to reach across the bed to turn off the light. Yes, the wall around the light switch has strange black streaks that look like his stick tape but that surely cannot be.

He once used the stick to lean out of his window and rap loudly on the window of his downstairs neighbors who were playing music too loudly late at night and did not heed his taps on the floor. And yes, he scared them half to death, especially when he followed up by knocking on their door in his boxers.

Now he thinks he should have another "magical" multi-purpose hockey stick by his side on the couch. That way, when I slouch and stick my head down toward my chest, he can reach over with the stick and tap my chin up. I'm sure you can imagine my delight at that thought. His magical hockey stick may end up stuck into some orifice where the sun doesn't shine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A little bit of home improvement

SB and I bought some speakers from friends who had upgraded their flat. Being the mechanically/electrically inclined one, I set it all up. We have five speakers and a subwoofer nicely installed in surround sound in our home. I ran the wires along the beams and edges, and then covered them in white electrical tape so that you can't really notice them. I am quite proud of my work. SB didn't notice the wires, but he doesn't notice much :)

I am making little improvements to our home, bit by bit. I got some baskets in four increasing sizes that I have used for storing some of the clutter on his desk. I bought a mint plant, which is aromatic and useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. I am eying some orchids next.

One of our walls over the couch is rather blank. I wanted to hang artwork but we can't afford good art at this point, and I'm not sure about the wisdom of hanging nails in the plaster wall. So I got some mirrors that matched the squares on the couch. I think they bounce more light into our living area and open the room up a bit. Also, we did not have another mirror in the flat, except for a long, horizontal one in the bathroom that is too tall for me to see anything other than my eyebrows. Now I can have an idea about what I look like before stepping out every day. I thought SB would hate it but he likes it. It will be even better when I fill the home with plants that can be reflected.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Asia Cup Qualifier

This weekend was totally absorbed by rugby. Saturday started with SB helping out a teammate who teaches and coaches for the Delia School of Canada. I watched for a bit but the heat was too unbearable to participate. I went on to the Hong Kong Football Club to watch the Rugby Sevens World Cup qualifier for Asian countries. The men's bracket was larger, with Hong Kong, China, India, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan), Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Guam battling it out for three seats. The Korean Men were quite large. The Japanese won it all with a last minute try against Hong Kong to bring the score to 12 v 10. The Malaysian men did well but were undone by lack of cohesion. And they suspiciously looked like Pacific Islanders. Fijians to be precise.

the "Malaysian Islanders" as I called them.

The women's teams included Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, China, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Japan, Arabian Gulf, and Chinese Taipei. Kazakhstan were heavy favorites, but were beat in an upset by Thailand, who went on to lose the finals to Japan, although it was as close a final competition as with the men's final. Kazakhstan then lost the third seat to the world cup to China. I would like to point out that the Chinese team were professional players, all similar in size and stature. They were incredibly fit looking and I was not impressed by their uniformity. Although they had by far the best passing game in the tournament, and were very precise, I thought they looked like robots. I far more enjoyed the motley crue of hardened looking Kazakhstani women or the weeping, emotional Japanese women who were beside themselves with their victory.

The most heart had to be shown by the Thai teams. Both sides were very much enjoyable to watch and I was sad to not see the Thai men advance.

The typhoon finally came during the final matches, and it rained so hard that the field looked like television static. The wind blew a ball that was placed at the mid field across the pitch. The ball boy had to run up and hold onto it so that it wasn't blown away before the match.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Friday Roundup

Friday went by so quickly! SB and I were out last night checking for signs of a Typhoon. He loves trying to drown me. Unfortunately (for him) there was not much to see. We had some okay Sichuan food. The restaurant was only so-so and I very much wanted to like the food b/c the wait staff were so nice. I wanted to have some spicy dumplings and have been foiled lately. I don't know what they are called in Cantonese and this is a problem b/c I have had them in a few places but recently I can't seem to order the right thing. I want won ton type dumplings swimming in very hot chili oil with some sweet garlic or preserved veggie sauce. Or at least that is what SB and I think it is. This place made them closer to what I remember but the sauce was too salty and I wasn't assaulted with hot chili oil like I remember. I want a taste bomb in my mouth!

So these were the dumplings we got. Sorry about the quality but all pics tonight were taken by a shaky hand using a camera phone without flash.

So then SB and I went back and forth on the ferry looking for danger. Instead we had fog. SB is very boy-like sometimes. We bond over childlike fascination with things like trucks and trains and boats and gadgets. Here he is straining against the barrier to observe the ferry captain land the boat. My ♥ melts at times like this.

And here is the truck we were laughing at earlier. Who knew that rednecks existed in Hong Kong?

And here's the new KPF/Gehry building that Javier is so excited about. Looks like overcompensation to me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Unsoundly Sleeping

SB and I usually sleep restfully through the night. It is something that delighted me early on, because I have never been good about sharing my bed. Ask my sister. We have to share the guest bedroom in our parents' home in Tucson and it doesn't end well.

Our bed here in HK is one of those nice looking Ikea creations. The mattress is not as soft (going with that streamline bed thing) and we have had to downgrade from a queen to a weird size that isn't full but isn't queen. It is the most frequent bed size here. If this were the usual sleeping pattern it would not be a problem but SB cannot sleep through the night on his side with the thin mattress. Having spent most of the year without me in the bed, he has found his own solution to this by sprawling in weird positions. This means that my nights have alternated between waking up to his snoring, and waking up because he has sprawled and is squishing me underneath him.

SB also has a habit, which was once cute. The formerly cute habit occurred when I moved in my sleep, which was not often. If I was no longer touching him in my sleep, he instinctively started rolling toward me. I always knew if I moved in my sleep because when I woke up I was pinned in whatever corner I had rolled to, and his arm or leg would be thrown over me. In this new bed i get pinned a lot. And squished.

SB also used to spoon me so that I was nicely snuggled up next to him. This also kept him on his side, and prevented snoring.

But now he has discovered that he likes to be the little spoon. He likes me behind him so he can prop himself up and lean back on me. It works out for me because once he is sleeping I can roll off and lay on my back like I prefer, until he rolls over and the squishing begins.

But once in a while I would like to be the little spoon again.