Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Autumn Theme

I decided to upload an autumn themed page in time for Thanksgiving. The picture on top was taken by SB from the front of the boathouse on his favorite lake in the Adirondacks. I love how the water was so still that it became a mirror.

French Onion Soup Recipe

The key to a great soup is the beef stock. You must have good beef stock. I used to think that this was too hard until I actually made the stock. It takes time to simmer bones with onions, garlic, carrots, celery, or whatever you think is flavorful, but it is worth it. Make a lot of stock and freeze some because it comes in very handy for soup season.

French Onion Soup

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, plus one tablespoon olive oil to keep the butter from burning
8 cups (2.5 lbs or 1.13 kg) thinly sliced onions
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
8 cups beef stock
1 cup white wine
1/4 loaf french bread, toasted and cut into 1/2" thick cubes
1 3/4 cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Melt the butter with oil in a thick pan. Stir in the onions and cover. Cook them on medium-low heat for about ten minutes, until they are translucent. Add the salt and increase the heat to medium high. Brown the onions, stirring frequently for 25 minutes. Carefully sprinkle the flour, so that it does not clump. Stir for 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and add two cups of the stock. Stir it all together for five minutes and then heat to a simmer. Add the rest of the stock and the wine. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, adding more salt or water if needed.

Pour the soup into oven proof bowls. Place the toast on top of the soup and cover with a good sized layer of cheese. Broil the soup until the cheese melts and has a golden crust.

Cousin Shirley is our pinch hitter

SB’s Cousin Shirley (actually no relation to him) saves the day a lot. She has been living here for many years, having emigrated to Hong Kong from Vancouver, where her parents had emigrated from Hong Kong. She is a walking atlas of nice places and nice things to do. She also has hiked almost every square inch of the trails and is known to put together wonderful Sunday itineraries ranging from a nice, leisurely hike to that grueling “Welcome to HK, it’s blazing hot, and we’re going from Quarry Bay, up the Dragon’s Back, and into Stanley” hike that had me hobbling for days as my knees screamed in agony. When in need of more reputable arrangements than our favorite hole-in-the-walls we always call on Shoils.

When SB’s parents came into town and we needed to find a last minute restaurant in Causeway Bay we turned to Shoils and she came through with flying colors. We had dinner at Shanghai Lù Yáng Cūn Restaurant at the 11th floor of the World Trade Center (2881-6669). It was the perfect follow up to the greasily delicious Cantonese restaurants, ancient looking yum cha (dim sum) establishments, and obligatory island seafood restaurants that we had been to. Because we are no fools and know how to milk our opportunities, SB and I invited Cousin Shirley to dinner as well. As we had hoped, she quickly took over the “gracious hostess” role with encouragement from us. She ordered most of the food from the menu (thus guaranteeing its tastiness) and even did the majority of the serving and making sure that bowls were always filled. SB and I would begin serving from dishes as they arrived, but Shoils made sure that everything flowed smoothly.

It was also great for SB’s parents to meet her because she and SB have known each other for a long time. They first became good friends back in the mid 1990’s when SB first lived in Hong Kong. They worked together and I suspect she took care of him a lot. SB has a built in device that can find the most capable person in a room so that he can attach himself to him/her and ensure his survival. In return he will eat all your food and keep leaving his belongings behind in your home so he can come back and eat more of your food. Or in my case he will move into your home and leave his belongings all over your room until you finally break down, start organizing his stuff, and agree to keep him. But he will make you laugh and keep a smile on your face.

Mmmm... who doesn't like camphor smoked duck?

crisped rice in tomato sauce

Dessert- fried dough..

with banana on the inside!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Super Saturday

As usual, it started as a rugby day. My team won our game 51-0 in the Happy Valley pitch. I had a momentary lapse of reason and was penalized for mouthing off to the ref. Not good. I spent most of the game trying to shake my bad mood and it didn't help that the tighthead prop kept headbutting me in the neck. The ref gave her the benefit of doubt that she didn't know any better than to aim her head at me and he cautioned her over and over and over again and she smiled and continued to hit me. No, I am not happy even though overall she had little effect on me and we still ran over them. Frankly, her attempts to injure me only led to problems in their scrum because she was coming in sideways on me and our stronger team pushed her back over her lock, who came up crying so many times that we ended up going uncontested. I am still seething and wanted very badly to retaliate but I had to keep my calm. I may see her again next week for the 10's final. Let's hope that I can keep it together.

We played in the dust bowl that once was a grassy pitch. I am still finding dirt in my eyes, nostrils, and hair. More seriously, there was an e-mail sent out to the rugby community that players are coming down with some rather nasty infections from cuts and scrapes on the pitch. This confirms my suspicions of there being bacteria present in the low lying pitches, especially in Happy Valley and Football Club. SB had a couple of weird looking bumps after his game at FC that very quickly opened up into large sores. I was really freaked out and went aggressively after them with anti-biotic cream and sterile dressing. I am terrified of staph infections. On his team, one player ended up in the hospital for a very infected knee injury and another had skin scraped off his behind from a seemingly inocuous infection. What a mess!

The men won their game, also against DEA. I will say that more than a few of the supporters who came out to watch them at King's Park were beside ourselves. The DEA men are a solid team, and we lost to them quite badly in the pre-season if I recall correctly. I think they were stunned, and their side of the pitch was dead silent as the final minutes went by and we were up three tries and they were unable to break through the defense, even with us down a man for twenty minutes. I am still giddy just writing about it. Good, no more bad mood. After the game I gave SB lots of hugs and kisses and then checked him over for any new and suspicious scrapes.

I am worried about one thing, though. SB told me that although he was delighted for his teammates he did not share in their joy. Not the way he enjoys himself in hockey. I have known that he loves to play hockey more and does rugby because of his deep respect for his teammates, but I fear that his days starting for the team are numbered. We may have to return him to his natural habitat on ice next season :(

Friday, November 21, 2008

Macau: Senado Square

Today I sojourned out to Macau for some urban exploration. I could not find anyone to go with me, as it was a work day and several acquaintances who have gone to Macau have complained that it is "boring." Leisurely, perhaps, but not boring. Unless you are there to gamble; then I would imagine it is a much faster pace.

Despite being told that it could be covered in a day trip, I found that a day was too little and so I had to concentrate on mapping one particular area. For this trip I chose Senado Square, which is centrally located and therefore a good place to start one's subconscious mapping of the city. If I have the luxury of time, I prefer to spend my first day somewhere entirely without a map. I find that it is a great way to really open your eyes and get to know the rhythm and pattern of your area. You also need to pay attention because you have to find your way back home!

I began by getting on the first bus I could find and getting off when something interested me. My eyes were arrested as we drove down Ave. de Almeida Ribeiro and I saw what I was looking for. Three things immediately attracted me: the change in tile patterns, abundance of colonial buildings, and urban space.

Patterns: I enjoy ornament. For many years it was a dirty word in architecture, pitted against the clean lines of modernism. Today it is creeping back into consciousness as even those who idealize the city as a machine for living admit that there is beauty in the application of ornament. I may always detest the giant stone acorns adorning the fence-posts of most country clubs, but I drool over the shiny wrappings of the Signal Boxes in Basel or the decadence of l'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Here in Senado Square, the very simplest form of ornament made a great impact upon the viewer. The change in paving, with undulating waves of colored stone and floral motifs marked the entry into the center of town. It reminded me of going into Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, where the cobblestones were a vivid and beautiful indigo color. I found out that these stones had come over from Spain, where they were used to balance the weight of the ships until they were swapped out for gold. I wonder what the story behind Senado Square is.

Buildings: There are few Colonial cities that keep their buildings. I can understand this because these marvelous buildings are also edifices erected to showcase the grandeur and supremacy of the rulers who colonized the countries. Why, indeed, would you be compelled to keep that up as a reminder. But I am still impressed by the European styling taken from Italy to the rest of Europe, and then now sitting grandly in a tropical city with very little variation in form. Some colonial buildings have taken into account the different climate, extending verandas and widening windows, but the old proportion system is still in play with a lot of buildings and you can trace the Greek golden section as it was carried from antiquity to the Renaissance, and now to the façades of churches on the shores of the Pacific.

Urban Spaces: Also imported by the colonials are the squares and piazzas located across Macau. These squares served an important function in the past because that was where the locals would gather to exchange goods, celebrate events, and share news. Most of the functions of today's Internet were conducted in the public space. Now we can still enjoy the spaces to see, be seen, and see others seeing us. You can sit at a cafe (or McDonald's) and watch the day go by. The paving patterns are especially prominent in the piazzas with waves giving way to floral and marine designs. You can still feel the cultural exchange as tourists mingle with locals.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oh, what entangled alliances we weave

I'm up on my soapbox. So today from my great country I have awakened to headline making news that some Democrats in Connecticut are calling for Lieberman's blood. It seems that his decision to go with his conscience over party loyalty has led some to want to censure him even further than what they have already done in removing him from certain chairs and voting 42-13 to condemn his statements supporting McCain. They seem to have forgotten that in 2006 he declared himself to be an independent democrat and did not win his re-election to senate on the Democratic ticket.

Not to be outdone by the Democrats, Republicans are rushing to illustrate their self serving agendas by attacking Nebraska Republican Senator Hagel for daring to criticize his party as well as most of Washington for failing to actually do anything for the country other than furthering their own agendas. In response to Rush Limbaugh labelling him "Senator Betrayus," Hagel responded by saying, “You know, I wish Rush Limbaugh and others like that would run for office. They have so much to contribute and so much leadership and they have an answer for everything. And they would be elected overwhelmingly. [The truth is] they try to rip everyone down and make fools of everybody but they don’t have any answers.”

Sigh. I remember when I was little I used to wonder when the time would come that I would finally be a grownup, and I believed that being a grown up meant that I would one day stop doing those pesky, childish things like lying and being a brat. Eventually I grew older and realized that adults are sometimes little children in bigger, bullying bodies.

Politics and political parties: the framers of the Constitution of the United States regarded political parties to be self serving, harmful to good governance, and cultivating dissidence. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, warned us about the dangers of political parties:
    The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Other cautions of Washington's address included avoidance of embroilment in affairs of other nations, concentrations of an efficient government, free of foreign influence, and avoidance of special interest groups.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Hazelnut Cream Sauce

A few years ago when I was in Italy, our architecture group went on a tour of the Northern towns. My friend, Nicole, had previously lived in Venice and was more than happy to return to one of her favorite restaurants. It has been so long that I cannot recall just how it tasted, but the pumpkin ravioli with hazelnut sauce was other-worldly.

SB is determined that we shall find some Americans and have a proper Thanksgiving dinner. With only a few weeks to go before Thanksgiving I wanted to try out some autumn recipes and this sounded perfect.

1 package flat pasta (or won ton/spring roll wrappers if you can't find or make the pasta)
1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin puree
1 cup (240 ml) ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
fresh pepper
coarse salt (I had a jar of Maldon sea salt that I was dying to use)
Pecorino Romano cheese (or anything hard and salty)

Mix the pumpkin puree, ricotta, maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon together to make the filling.

Lay a pasta sheet on a fat surface or cutting board and mist lightly with water. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto the pasta about one inch from the edge. Continue placing teaspoons of filling along the sheet, 2 inches or more apart. Place another pasta sheet on top and cut out the ravioli. Repeat until all the filling is used.

these are the proportions you want for the ravioli

Gently cook the ravioli in boiling water for 2-3 minutes until the pasta softens, but not until it is al dente. In a skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter and saute a couple ravioli. Sprinkle with ground pepper and half a pinch of sea salt. Saute the remaining ravioli with the rest of the butter, one batch at a time. Be gentle.

Hazelnut Cream Sauce
1/3 (80 ml) cup hazelnuts
1/2 stick (60 ml) butter
1/2 (120 ml) cup cream
pinch coarse salt

Puree the hazelnuts in a food processor. Place the hazelnuts in a skillet on high and shake the skillet, lightly toasting the hazelnuts. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the butter and mix together until melted. Slowly add the cream and salt. Cook slowly until the sauce is thickened.

Assemble the ravioli on a plate and drizzle the sauce over the top. Grate the Percorino Romano over the ravioli to add a sharp contrast to the creaminess of the sauce and sweetness of the ravioli. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coconut Sago Pudding with Glutinous Rice Balls and Banana Foster

"What," you say? Yes, it does sound like quite a mix but let me explain. It's a perfectly sane combination of my East meets West roots.

My Vietnamese mother used to make "sweet soup" occasionally. The soup consisted of variations of yellow mung beans with coconut milk (Che Dau Sanh) and other things like lotus seeds, fruit, or glutinous rice balls. She would sometimes add in banana slices, which I thought went nicely with the rich and creamy dessert. I most enjoyed fishing the glutinous rice balls out of my sweet soup.

Today my plan was to make myself some sago pudding, drizzled with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. I could not find the palm sugar in the store and was not thrilled to substitute brown sugar. But then this got me thinking...what if I cooked my soon-to-be over the hill bananas with a brown sugar syrup and added it to a sago pudding sweet soup? It sounded worth trying.

Sago Pudding
6 cups water
1 cup sago
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1 can (400g) coconut milk

Soak the sago in water for about an hour. Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil and add the sago. Wait until the pot begins to boil again and reduce the heat to low. Cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally until the sago is clear and cooked, approximately 20 minutes.

Drain some of the water if you prefer a thicker soup. Add the sugar and coconut milk and stir. Add more sugar if you prefer but remember that the banana foster is very sweet.

Glutinous Rice Balls
1 cup glutinous rice flour
2 tablespoons sugar
warm water

Combine the rice flour with sugar in a mixing bowl. Pour warm water into the bowl so that the dough is pliable (approximately 1/2 cup warm water). Roll the dough into balls, approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter.

Drop the balls into boiling water. They will float to the top when they are thoroughly cooked.

Add them to the sago pudding.

Banana Foster
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 ripe bananas, sliced
1/4 cup dark rum

In a skillet, combine the butter and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is foamy. Place bananas into the pan and allow them to darken and soften slightly. Add the rum slowly and heat. If you tilt the skillet while the rum is hot, it may ignite (flambé). Otherwise, allow the alcohol to burn off.

Add the bananas to the sago pudding and enjoy.

Cold Season Chicken Soup

Chicken soup has been prescribed for ailments from the 12th Century, although its health benefits are widely debated and range from opinions that the steam and heat clear congestion, to amino acids that resemble acetylcysteine that treats respiratory problems, to theories that chicken is an anti-inflammatory and combats the inflammation that produces cold symptoms.

I don't know about all that healing, but I do know that when I feel under the weather, chicken soup is what I find to be the most soothing aside from perhaps if SB were compelled to mop my brow and rub my feet (hint, hint).

Cold Season Chicken Soup
medium sized chicken (1.5 kg or 3.3 lb), chopped into chunks
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 knob of fresh ginger, sliced thickly
2 scallions
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
6 cups water
3 tablespoons white cooking wine
preferred noodles

Blanche the chicken pieces first in boiling water for 5 minutes. This removes impurities and keeps that broth nice and clear. Rinse in cold water and place the pieces of chicken in a pot with all the other ingredients, except the noodles. Bring to a boil and reduce so that the soup simmers slowly for several hours. Occasionally stir the soup. You can pretty much leave it alone for most of its cooking time. You may want to taste it and add more salt. I like to eat the soup when the broth has been reduced to 2/3 of the original amount but you may reduce it even more for more flavor. Strain the broth to serve. You may also serve the chicken pieces but most of the taste should have gone from them into the soup.

Boil some noodles and add them to a bowl (I have recently been in love with Shanghai type noodles that I can get fresh here). Pour the soup over the noodles and serve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Those were the bad news bears

SB has been playing for the Bad News Bears Rams on and off for four years, two years back in the mid nineties, and now more recently. They won their game against Kowloon 17-3. The team was quite happy about this and many of them turned up to celebrate at Carnegie's later in the evening. Simi, their captain/coach was as jolly as I had ever seen him. He told me that they had not won in THREE years. I may have misheard him but I suspect not. Anyway, it was delightful to see them so happy and confident. The Chinese boys sometimes get bullied by other, larger, whiter back lines and this time they ran around the stunned Kowloon boys for two of the three tries.

Our team won both of our games. Yes, you heard me correctly. We played twice. We had a 15s match against Valley and a 10s match against Revolution. Our coach arranged it so that he tried not to play the same people for most of both matches. I was only supposed to prop later in the second half of the Valley game (I think) but took up locking after an injury within 25 minutes or so. I switched from lock to front row for the 10s match so I could wear out all those other muscle groups.

Valley was by far the largest team we have encountered but we were not overwhelmed by their size. Their big lock ran through some tackles in the first few plays of the game but she was eventually worn down due to the fact that most plays involved her and our forwards, especially those brilliant loosies, are fearless. I enjoyed this game a lot even if we had a very narrow victory. They scored late in the game to bring themselves within a try or so of us. Ugh. I am worried that we need to rein in our discipline. Even though he was dead wrong in his call, we didn't need to mouth off to the ref and concede thirty meters before handing Valley the first try. I am glad that we settled down later and played as a team. And I am sorry that the ref pulled his hammy although we miraculously reduced our penalty count to only a handful after he left and another one stepped in.

I had really, really wanted to watch the men's game because it seemed as though they felt good about their preparation for this game. It would have been great to watch but we had to play at the same time against Revolution. Our coach had begged them to postpone but they disagreed. The next ref told me that he would be delighted to play at an earlier time slot but their captain told me that they needed the practice time. Considering that it was an hour and a half before the game when I approached her I would say that this was very unlikely. How much warm up do you need in the sweltering heat? In hindsight I realize that we asked them too many times to change the match and they probably thought that there was some advantage to the time slot, like perhaps we didn't have a full team. The ref did tattle to me later that they thought we were tired and falling apart after our earlier game...but shouldn't that have made it more advantageous to take us on earlier before we could rest? Anyway, the result was that we missed our men's historical win so that we could beat revolution 7 or 8 (the ref forgot the number, heh) tries to two. I wore the same kit in sweltering heat from when I put it on at 1 pm to when I ripped most of it off at the sidelines immediately after the game at 7:20 pm. By 8 pm when I arrived home I was on an empty tank: sore, stiff, missing skin from my fingers, elbows, and knees (thanks to the rock-hard THT pitch), very low on electrolytes and feeling it, and with a raging headache.

I also had a sore throat. I thought that I was sick again but SB also had a sore throat and we are not often sick together. Usually he brings something lovely home to me and I get sick two weeks later. He also experienced symptoms that sounded suspiciously like exercise induced asthma. He has never suffered asthma before and when I put it all together I have great reason to suspect that we had a bit on environmental air poisoning. Ah, the fresh air of Hong Kong! It makes me wonder what my lungs look like.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama and the Invisible Man

I wanted to share a note from my friend, Jon. The Invisible Man (by Ellison) is not an easy read but it is very provocative. I had not thought about the similarities until they were brought up, but I am intrigued to read and compare Dreams of My Father.

I spent six semesters arguing the significance of Ellison's Invisible Man with my students with middling success. Little did we know that seventy years later, he would leave the basement of the "whites only" building and move into the White House:


The article is an interesting comparison of Obama's Dreams of My Father with IM. Samuels argues both narratives fall into the category of bildungsroman, and both narrators gravitate towards and then become disillusioned with the father figures they choose to replace an actual father figure (Obama's distant and then deceased father, IM's completely absent dad). See Samuels' comparison of IM's Dr. Bledsoe and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Samuels illustrates how both the Invisible Man and Obama created a blank slate identity of themselves for people to project their hopes or their fears upon.

Personally, I think only Ellison could have written the story of this election. Samuel's tries to mimic Ellison in his article--check out the "crazy" man talking wisdom at the Obama rally.

"Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?"
Invisible Man

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cuteness that kills

I am practically incapable of saying no to him when he smiles with his adorable, wide, slightly gap toothed grin. At least I am not the only one who succumbs to his charms. The other day when he was getting a haircut I noticed that he was in the shampoo area for an awfully long time. When I looked over to see his big, hairy knees sticking up from the too-small chair and the young lady vigorously rubbing his head, I immediately knew what happened. He is a glutton for a soft touch. He loves having me groom him and often asks for me to rub his back. I am sure that he flashed that megawatt smile and puppy eyes and the poor woman was helpless to resist him.

I should have said no when he wanted to keep stuffing his face with dessert but he was enjoying the mango smoothie so much. He also enjoyed the glutinous black rice with mango and the almond tofu with mango. Notice a theme here? I bet you can guess his favorite fruit. Gigi, our favorite server at Moon's, was astonished by how much he could put down after eating his entree and most of mine. She warned that he would not be able to sleep but there I was, allowing him to stuff himself to the explosion point, much like a goldfish would do.

Well, she was wrong. He was able to sleep just fine, only he needed to shift to manage the Snoopy belly he was sporting (I call it a snoopy belly b/c after eating large meals I feel that I resemble Snoopy when he is lying on his dog house). First he sprawled out flat on his back with my head trapped in his armpit until he woke himself up snoring. Then he rolled into his second favorite position, the crushing leg over my ribcage pose. Finally he grabbed all of the sheets and rolled away, leaving me cold but unencumbered. I went for some socks and spent the rest of the night in a little ball.

But isn't he just so adorable? I adore him right down to his long, monkey toes.

Notice the hockey stick by the bed? Klassy.

I am also beginning to have concern about whether the cheap shot he sustained has any lasting effect. Before we went to bed I was talking to him about baking and dough when he broke into "Do, a deer, a female deer...". He got as far as "Fa, a long, long way to go," when he paused. "So," he began unsteadily. "A needle pulling thread," I prompted. He stopped again. I had to finish La and begin with Ti before he chimed in, "you drink with jam and bread, which will bring us back to.." "DOH!" I exclaimed, Homer Simpson style, "Doh, Doh, Doh!" He tried to excuse himself by saying that he didn't sing the Sound of Music too often but I am not convinced.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Slow Life

I was back on the beach again. What can I say? I spent the first five years of my life in a small, beach front community in the Philippines and it's in my blood now. Every so often I have to be close to water, feet in the sand, sun on my shoulders. It is not as though I need it all the time (after all I spent four years in Ithaca and the Adirondack Mountains and loved it) but I think I may be photo tropic. Sunshine and sea salt energize me.

I spent a short day in Cheung Chau. It is a leisurely ferry ride to the island, which is famous for its temples (several are dedicated to Tin Hau), its bun festival, and its windsurfing. I went there mainly to survey it for a possible short weekend getaway for SB and me. My criteria were that it should be relatively laid back, close to water, and far enough that no one could call us and convince my notoriously attention span deprived partner to abandon our plans and go do something else. I know him well. Great plans have been torn asunder by a seemingly minor distraction. We missed a day of snow-shoeing once because he found some old letters in the attic and got side-tracked reading them while I paced below and wondered what was taking him so long to bring down his snowshoes. He dawdled and missed his flight to New York to see me for my birthday. Yes, he is not good with time and schedules.

Cheung Chau is a solid option. There are enough things to explore for a weekend, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and not at all hustling like most of Hong Kong. It will be a nice change from our action packed weekends in Happy Valley, though not without action. Despite our leisurely schedule, we should look into windsurfing. The weather is cooling, which reduces the number of people in the water. This is perfectly suitable for SB, who grew up playing in the frigid waters of the Adirondack lakes. It will be downright warm in comparison to kayaking in Maine where the water actually feels sharp when it touches your body. I, in the meantime, have brought my shorty wetsuit with me, which I used in the summers at Lake Cayuga in Ithaca. I just hope that the windsurfing center stays open into the winter here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The thin of it: playing against Hong Kong Football Club

Ah yes, another sporting weekend was had. Our women's team played against the Kowloon-Aberdeen combined side and won 32-5. It was a sloppy game and seemed as though we were scrumming or facing a penalty ever few steps. I am sure that both teams were frustrated by the huge amount of errors committed. I think we committed more errors but thankfully our scrummaging was solid and our defense may have moved forward in field position almost as quickly as our offense. I was asked to move to lock in the second half, which is the one position in the pack that I have never played. I had never even practiced at lock because my height, even in Hong Kong, is just average and I am certainly is too short in the States. I don't know what all the fuss is about because I thought locking was far more easy than being in the front row. I did not have to counter any disruptive actions of the other team and I had my legs in a much better position than the semi-squat a prop has to manage. I think that being a front row player was to my advantage because I had the mindset to hit hard on the engage and it made a noticeable difference when the ball came in and we ran over the other pack.

After our game we went to see the men take their turn with Football Club. They lost, which was not exactly surprising. SB did have a very good game on his own to my delight. He isn't one of those superstars with an arsenal of moves but he is a solid workhorse and he had a very high work rate throughout the game. He also was asked to jump and came through for his teammates, even stealing a few of FC's throw ins. Of course FC won with their infamous lack of grace. I won't go into a litany of poor behavior but I will say that later in the second half, when they had clearly secured the victory, one of the tight five (I am pretty sure it was Number 5) gave SB a cheap shot in a ruck. He delivered an upper cut right in SB's eye and knocked him flat backwards.

One of the things I most hate in rugby is the prevalence of poor and cowardly behavior from frustrated or overly aggressive players. It happens at all levels, even in top level, and seems to be somehow acceptable. I was shocked by the lack of reaction from his teammates when Brad Thorn picked John Smit up and dumped him over backwards, causing him serious injury in the Tri Nations and I was enraged that this person from Football Club injured SB. The Assistant Referee was standing three meters away when this happened but somehow manged to pretend that he did not see it. Perhaps he did not think the punch was very hard, but any eye contact is quite serious. SB was unable to see out of his eye for the rest of the game, and more importantly, he did not recover his vision until Sunday morning. This made me angry and scared, and if I had encountered Number 5 after the game I may not have behaved properly. This would have been very bad for me since if he managed to knock SB backward I can only imagine what he would have done to me, being ten inches shorter than SB and 80 lbs lighter. I shall end this by saying that the Number 5 lock from Hong Kong Football Club is a cowardly thug who shows an appalling lack of sportsmanship. He is also probably a card carrying sociopath and clubs baby seals in his spare time.

The thick of it: a very sporting weekend

It was only fitting with cosmic karma that after losing his game, but playing well, and then being hit by a cheap shot from Football Club's number 5; SB was due for something good to happen. This came in the form of great rugby. We viewed the Wales v South Africa game with our teammates, including two Welshmen, and it was a thriller. Despite being my favorite Springbok, Jean de Villiers did break my heart a bit when he intercepted a pass and scored. I started watching the game in a neutral position but SB and I admitted later that we were hoping for Wales to win it in the end. I was leaping up an down in the last minutes which is how I discovered that I definitely wrenched my ankle during my game earlier in the day. Owww. It's about the size of a golf ball. SB was trying to console Welshman Tony after the match and really meant it as a compliment that Wales almost came through in the end, and may have if the knock on was not called. But all he succeeded in doing was saying, "Wales almost won it, " too many times and Tony looked agonized and yet also very proud of his hometown team. SB got a few light punches in the arm for his bad attempts at consoling Tony.

We then went to watch the Scotland v NZ match with five of our Kiwi teammates and all their friends. SB was developing a headache from being unable to see out of his eye so we left after the half. His coach, Simi, told SB that he would have been man of the match, which made him very pink and flattered. SB is a big fish in ice hockey and lacrosse, having played since childhood, but rugby is not his best sport so this was a huge compliment to him. His night ended well with me fawning over him while discussing whether we should take out Number 5 with a hockey puck or a lacrosse ball. SB used to be able to shoot a lacrosse ball over 110 yards a couple years ago, but his hockey slap shot may be harder and more accurate. Hmmm...

To cap off the weekend we spent Sunday prowling about lower Happy Valley and taking in sports. We saw some soccer, then took in some youth rugby matches. Then we strolled over to a fourth division field hockey match which pitted some older Indian gentlemen against a local Chinese university team: wiliness and experience versus youthful exuberance and speed. We also met the only Indian on the Football Club Premier team and he told us that he would be playing later that day so we went over to watch his game against Khalsa. We couldn't help but cheer for Khalsa. It wasn't too hard to see where to sit because on one side of the stands were various Indian athletes of all ages and in the other side were white people in their country club uniforms of white linen and chinos. SB watched the match and I watched the spectators.

Now, I admit that I clearly see the appeal in a club such as FC. They have facilities that enable a wide range of sports for all ages and abilities, as well as facilities for socializing. One could spend his/her entire day there at the club. This increases in appeal if you have a family because you can place your child in all sorts of programs while you play your own matches or drink wine with the other linen wearers. In order to play all the sports of his liking SB has to travel across Hong Kong and Kowloon. There is a lot of equipment that has to be hauled so that he is not keen to drag it all to a bar somewhere else to socialize. Maybe one day we will join a club and I will spend my days getting pedicures and drinking wine. Until then Happy Valley is a suitable replacement since we can get a lot of sports options within reach with the exception of ice hockey. And the mango juice smoothie and pet friendly policies at Moon's is better than anything the clubhouse could offer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Violetta, Rothko, and drowning to Buckley

Music can be evocative. Last night while preparing dinner we listened to Verdi's La Traviata (the 1955 recording performed with Maria Callas at La Scala). Every time I hear this opera, especially toward the end, I imagine a particular time, place, and memory.

Several years ago in grad school I took a course taught by a visiting German artist. He was very interested in the concept of a first house-- more a primordial and subconscious dwelling that an actual house. He had us perform several exercises, including drawing what we imagined our childhood homes to be. I did not remember my own home at all, but rather the neighbors who lived in stilt homes down the hill (this was in the Philippines). It was a wonderful and strange experience to suddenly realize that I, an architect, did not know what my own home looked like. The neighbors' homes were so much more interesting and I longed to be offered entry atop of the stilts.

One of the other exercises involved bringing a piece of music to share and then describing what we associated with the music. This exercise was met with mixed results; some students brought music that was moving to them and some brought music clearly chosen because they imagined it to be something that would impress others. I think this was actually a good exercise to indicate our various personalities and insecurities. As this wore on, I became increasingly irritated at the level of pretension and chose not to air my piece of music. I have to also admit that I felt that I had chosen my music very hastily, without thinking through all the consequences on if it was elite enough, and therefore did not feel up to talking about it. Thankfully the class ended before it was my turn and I made a hasty exit.

Later that day I checked my email and found a note from the instructor offering to have the students who did not share in class come over to his home and play the music. I decided to suck it up and play for him my insignificant choice. So there I was, in the visiting faculty house, playing the intro to Jeff Buckley's Mojo Pin. He asked me what I was was thinking when the song played, and I answered, "floating." Then he asked me why. I was unprepared for that. Even worse, I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth when I suddenly told him, "it feels like drowning." It is very strange how your subconscious works. At that moment I realized that I had picked the song for its familiarity, not because it was such good music, but because the feeling it evoked in me was the strange feeling of languor and weightlessness that I experienced when I was nine years old and almost drowned. To tell the story briefly, I was at a beach and was swept into the tide. Even as a nine year old I was a strong swimmer and struggled mightily with the subsequent crashing waves as I tried to go back to shore. As I was struggling, I hit something and realized that instead of going up, I had swum to the ocean floor. I remember putting my arm out in disbelief and touching sand. Then I was slowly spinning around down there and at some point ran out of energy and just lay there, floating about. I certainly did not want to drown, but now that it was happening, I was too tired to care. Luckily my decision to stop fighting was what saved me in the end and I made it back up.

So there I was, pouring it all out to this stranger, a story that I had never shared with anyone since the day it happened. He decided to give back and share his music. He played for me La Traviata, specifically the last bit when Callas sang Se una pudica vergine (in this scene Violetta is saying goodbye when she suddenly feels a surge of energy, and sings of feeling reborn only to fall dead.) He explained that when he heard it he thought about looking through his camera at the scene unfolding before him, and it reminded him of his role as an observer, powerless to stop life from unfolding. When I heard this music for the first time, I clearly saw the Rothko Chapel.

If you are in Houston, you must visit the Menil Collections. You must see the main collection housed in a jewel by Renzo Piano, you must see the Cy Twombly Gallery (also enshrined beautifully by Piano), you must see the tasteful housing for the Byzantine Fresco Chapel done by François de Menil, and you must visit the Rothko Chapel. When I visited the collection I was a perfectly ignorant undergrad who knew very little of contemporary art, much less Mark Rothko. I entered the chapel after reading on the wall about how it was an intimate, contemplative, and nondenominational space. True to its description, the chapel was quiet and bathed in serene light as several people meditated or just sat and enjoyed the space. Then my gaze turned to the fourteen murals on the wall of the chapel, darkened to almost black. I was overcome with an awareness that something was wrong. Something was very wrong. In the dark beauty of the painting was something far more disturbing and heart wrenching. It made me want to shout out for everyone to stop, to just stop because something was wrong with the world and everyone was blind. I later found out that Rothko has killed himself after finishing the paintings.

So that is what
Se una pudica vergine feels like. It is beauty and fragility and despair. It is a loss of something that was fleeting to begin with, but with a memory that lasts far beyond the experience.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lost in Translation

The Back Story: SB's rugby team is low on numbers. This makes it hard for him to fulfill his dream of being a sub; he envisions not having to spend 80 minutes tackling some beefy islander import who is almost 20 years younger than him. He can handle 40 minutes but 80 is a bit much.. and sometimes he is too bruised to play ice hockey on Monday, and ice hockey is his favorite sport in the world to play. So anyway, his team did not have numbers earlier in the pre-season when all the imports had not yet arrived. They only could commit a 10s team to the Valley 15's. The Rams have provided a full side for this season's matches now that everyone is here, even if they had to drag up a couple of 5th division guys to fill in.

The other night at Carnegies some men walked by us and one of them told SB, "You better front up this season." SB was not sure if they were talking to him since he did not know them. We surmised that they must have been rugby players, maybe from the Football Club since who else would have the chutzpah to come to our sponsor bar and bother us. Another thing is that Americans do not use that colloquialism. We assumed that they were indeed giving us grief about our numbers and fronting up had something to do with showing up with the correct numbers to play. Ummm, yeah, as far as I remember we have always "fronted up" during the season.

Had we realized who these goons were when they spoke to SB we would have told them that SB's New Year's resolution was to quit fronting.

Front (American vernacular; from Urban Dictionary): to put on a fake or false personality; not keeping it real.

Front Up (from Use English): to appear somewhere for a short time

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Questions from a Welsh Prop

After the match, SB and I stopped by the Fringe for a charity mustache auction and then went to Carnegie's in Wanchai. We met an Englishman and two Welshmen whose names I wish I had caught because we chatted with them for most of the night and they were quite entertaining. The larger of the large men gave SB some grief over being an American with a New Zealand jersey. So I gave him the short version of why it made sense.

Basically, we told him that NZ is a dynamic and almost always solid team to watch. So why not? But there is another reason why we are fans: it is what is available. What many European fans don't understand is that there are limited rugby viewing options in the States. Some viewers can watch Setanta if it is ordered by their local pub. SB and I get our regular rugby from Mediazone. Mediazone shows Tri Nations, Currie Cup, Air New Zealand Cup, June Tours, and Super 14. The only European matches that I saw offered were the Celtic Tests and Heineken Cup. Both were blocked from viewing when we tried to order them. Therefore, our only regular international viewing opportunities are for South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. I am also a fan of South African rugby.

On top of this the few opportunities that we have had to see other talent came when England sent several sorry teams over to play, followed by France sending over some of their B team. I know that there are far better players than the ones sent over to contest the tours but I have not seen them play so why would I become a fan based on that sorry showing?

A couple of times per year I am able to see some Northern Hemisphere talent. I do remember the talent vividly. For example, I did mention to the Welshman that I was very impressed when Wales came over and I became an instant Colin Charvis fan. Welshman was surprised that I knew who Charvis was, and apparently had played with him before in his younger days. So we had that to bond on, even if he still would not accept SB in a NZ jersey. Sadly, I have never seen Charvis play again (due to the lack of European rugby broadcasts) and I have heard that he retired. Le sigh.

But Welshman thinks that Charvis will unretire for the New Zealand-Wales match in the near future. I hope so. Who knows, I may even get me a Wales jersey :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bledisloe Cup, Hong Kong

SB came home Friday night and showed me a picture on his phone that sent me into a jealous rage. After sending me to unsuccessfully stalk the All Blacks this week, he was coming home through Causeway Bay and ran into Dan Carter and Ali Williams taking photos of each other at Times Square. So he got to meet them and take a picture.

I eventually got over it and was very excited when SB and I woke up on Saturday. Saturday is rugby day, after all. This was my first experience seeing the All Blacks, and the Wallabies also! We had another delicious breakfast at 2 Rooms Cafe (I love their coffee) and eventually we moved on up the road to So Kon Po. We intended to meet several of our teammates there at a nearby pub; apparently everyone else had the same idea. It seemed like all of the Australians and Kiwis we had seen stumbling around Wanchai and Lan Kwai Fong last night were trying to order beer. After realizing that we would not get served in the hour that we were there, we headed to the stadium. Unfortunately for the visitors, Hong Kong Stadium was not equipped to deal with the massive desire for beer, either. I heard several people complaining about standing in the beer line for twenty minutes before giving up and returning to their seats. These antipods must consume far more beer than the locals expected.

SB and I had been invited to one of the ANZ booths and were looking for it but we lost interest once we managed to sneak past the security and found ourselves standing by the pitch where the teams were warming up.

Overall, the match was a bit low on energy. We read later that the humidity took a toll on the teams and they lost great amounts of fluid all week. The referee called for water four minutes into the match for himself. In the local Hong Kong games we have scheduled water breaks to rehydrate. Also, the rain contributed to a soft pitch and the grass almost seemed sprayed on because every time a player tried to step sideways the ground gave way so there was a lot of falling and not much dangerous running. You could also clearly see where a scrum had been because there was a discernible tunnel with two triangles of bare ground on either side. SB told me that he remembered the pitch being like that. I have yet to play in Hong Kong Stadium so I am curious to see how slippery it is. I have my big girl boots with me so I could take them out if I ever play there. Otherwise I have just been playing in molded cleats.

Our side of town stayed packed with tourists way into the night. For the most part they seemed well behaved. The pubs and restaurants all looked packed so I imagine this must have been great for business. The "dancing girls" in Wanchai looked extra made up. I think it was a good night for all.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake

This cake is very simple to make, and extremely decadent. I served it to SB for his birthday in our first month of dating and he broke out into a sweat. The cake probably won't make most people sweat but he has a very strong reaction to chocolate, especially dark chocolate. It wakes him up more than coffee can.

Anyway, the only tricky thing is that you have to rest your cake for four hours or so before serving it (I once waited only two hours and it was just as good tasting but not as set). You can also make this cake go a long way since it is very rich and half sized slices are just fine, especially paired with ice cream or freshly picked raspberries like how I served it to his family in the Adirondacks.

The Cake

  • 450 g (1 lb) good, dark chocolate. Some people prefer semisweet but I use 200g bitter and 250g semisweet.
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • optional* icing sugar or cocoa powder to garnish, and fresh fruit or whipped cream
Preheat the over to 325 degrees F (162 C).

Grease a 9" springform pan. Use foil to cover the bottom and sides so water won't seep in when you set it in a water bath.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together and stir until smooth. Remove from heat.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt until they are double the size and lighter in color, approximately 8 minutes. Slowly fold the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and incorporate all the egg mixture into the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the springform pan and set inside of a larger pan. Microwave water to hot and pour into the larger pan so that the water comes to slightly more than halfway up the springform (and below the foil). Bake about 45 minutes, so that the cake is slightly risen and the edges are slightly set. Remove the foil and rest the cake until it reaches room temperature. Cover it and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight.

Take the cake out of the refrigerator half an hour prior to serving it. Place it on a serving plate and garnish it (or not). It's fine looking without all the embellishment.

This is what it looks like if you don't let it set and gobble it up right away.
Otherwise the slice is clean and pretty.