Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Cultural references

Reconnecting

Once again, months have passed and I haven’t written. There are several reasons for this.  A few to be named here:

  • I haven’t been traveling to exotic lands (thus no cool photos to share).
  • I haven’t done much cooking experimentation (thus no recipes to share).
  • I haven’t felt inspired much to write.

But a lot’s happened.  Here’s a recap of sorts, in no particular order.

I almost got laid off at work but then got promoted instead.  So I don’t think this is usually how life works, but I lucked out in knowing one of the VPs in charge of a whole restructuring/ lay-off process at my workplace, and I think that’s how I got kept on board. So the job has been more interesting than it was a few months prior.  More challenging, more creative thinking, more use of my whole brain.  I still think about what I want to do next.  But for now, I’ve only been at this job about six months, and I’m settling in.  Next is to ask for a raise (which didn’t happen when I got promoted – it didn’t seem appropriate to ask when the reason for the restructure was a big budget hole!).

I traveled quite a bit for work.  This was before the restructure.  I got the lucky role of traveling to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbia, MO, and Kansas City, MO during the coldest months of the year (January and February).  You know people always say travel for work sounds cool but isn’t really.  And I would concur.  Traveling is fun.  Work can be fun, but not all the time.  Traveling for work is just work.  I didn’t get a chance to explore any of the cities I visited, so no photos to share.  And I saw snow in almost every city.

I reunited with my girlfriends from college in Philadelphia which was great fun!  We ate.  At Morimoto (see a sample of a dish from the omakase below).  At Parc Bistro in Rittenhouse Square.  At Reading Terminal Market. Cafe Lift for brunch.  I have to say we did fairly well.  We even topped it off with cheap Chinese takeout at a place across the street from the weekend apartment rental we were staying at.  Reminded us of the good ol’ college days.

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We sightsaw. We went to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and even did the free tour of the hall inside.  We walked down Walnut Street to do some window shopping. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.  We saw some of the famous Philadelphia street sculptures. And we did this all without a car and without using public transportation.  We’re walkers!

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And we just hung out. Good quality girl time.

I experimented with more sourdough.  I got a gift of homemade Bay Area sourdough starter and started making some loaves.  Some turned out better than others, and here’s the best loaf I was able to make using this recipe.  It was delicious.  Airy, sourdough-y, crusty and light.  Yum!

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I reveled in the Bay Area spring.  As an East Coaster, I had always pooh-poohed the lack of seasons that I perceived in California (at least in LA and the Bay Area).  I clung to my love of autumn as a way to say I always needed my four seasons (even though in the Boston area the summers were getting hotter and the winters colder and snowier and the spring just nonexistent).  So this being my first spring in the Bay Area, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But it has been glorious.  We had a few weeks of much needed rain in the transition from “winter” to spring.  And the flowering trees and spring flowers just took over as early as February.  They’re now in full force, but it’s amazing how with an ongoing growing season, there are always flowers on trees or on bushes.  But one can tell which are the spring flowers, which are the winter flowers, etc.  Here were a few of my favorite spring blooms:

ImageI read.  I became a fan of Ann Patchett in first hearing her speak on Fresh Air with Terry Gross about her new book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which I am now reading. But my first read of hers after hearing her on NPR was The Patron Saint of Liars (it was all I could get from my online library to read on my iPad – the rest of Patchett’s books were checked out with long waiting lists), which was poignant, heartwarming, and beautifully written.

I read a few Haruki Murakami books, which totally grabbed me: Norwegian Wood and A Wild Sheep Chase.  I had tried to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year while traveling and just couldn’t get through it.  I had also read and loved What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which I wrote a blog post about almost two years ago (!gasp!).  So I gave Murakami another go and really enjoyed those two.  I feel like these are books better understood and read by people in their younger, angsty-er days, but I still enjoyed the language and the characters that I encountered.

I’m in the process (it’s taking awhile, and it sits on my nightstand to read a few pages of every few nights because it takes a little more energy to read) of reading The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.  A fascinating read.  The plot is quite simple – a love story involving the lives of individuals living in the Bay Area.  But the author masterfully constructs line after line, verse after verse of unrelenting sonnets! It’s incredible.  Even his table of contents, acknowledgements, and dedication are all written in verse.  He’s funny, sweet, incisive.

And I’ve had some great meals. Most of which have been homemade! I DID have an amazing sushi dinner at Ichi Sushi in Bernal Heights on Mission Street.  If you go there, get there early to stand in line before they open or get reservations.  And get the omakase. It’s TOTALLY amazing.  I had a couple great meals at Pizzaiolo, a great restaurant in Temescal in Oakland, on Telegraph Ave. Another place to make reservations or get there early before they open to get in.

But the BEST meal of all was not one, but several meals prepared by my cousin who loves cooking gourmet meals.  Truffles on soft-scrambled eggs.  Ramen with a homemade ramen broth.  Cassoulet.  Baked rabbit.  I mean, these are amazing meals.  I feel lucky to be his relative.  And I get to bring friends along sometimes, too!  Lucky them!  Here’s a sampling:

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All in all, it’s been a productive, satisfying few months.  Who knows what lies ahead?

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Backtrack Travels

It’s been a loooonnngggg time since I last blogged.  It may be the longest I’ve gone in between posts since I started this blog 154 posts ago!

I’ve done a bit of cooking and traveling since December 17th, so here’s the first bit.  A friend visited right after Christmas, and we did some fun activities: a sculpture garden tour in Sonoma Valley and a wonderful hike in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  So I wanted to share some of the sights we saw as well as the logistics, so you, too, can enjoy what we did!

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

I’d heard that Big Basin was THE place to go see the redwood trees instead of Muir Woods which is often overrun with tourists on a weekend.  So because I’m not a fan of big crowds, I took people’s word for it, and we did the two hour drive from Berkeley on New Year’s Eve to the Big Basin park headquarters.  It was a beautiful (and windy, especially at the end!) drive.  One thing to note if you’re going to do this hike is that you have to pay $10 for the entrance fee to the park.

We did the popular waterfall loop trail, which is about 11 miles, pretty strenuous in parts, but do-able for a pair of pretty fit people.  In all, I think we took about 5 hours, with a short break to eat our almond-butter and jelly sandwiches.  Along the way, we saw the beautiful, breathtaking redwoods:

big basin trees

It’s amazing to think how old these trees are.  To think who’s come before us and seen these trees and who will come after to see them.  And they just keep doing their thing – growing, reaching for the sky.  As we walked through the forest, we noted that there weren’t many birds or other critters filling the area with little noises.  It was very quiet, and we rarely came across other hikers.   We’re not big talkers, so we were just caught up in our thoughts and nature’s majesty all around us.

We also came across some waterfalls, which weren’t flowing in large amounts but enough to appreciate:

big basin falls

The only thing I was hoping for was more views outside of the forest.  There was a point (I think it was the midpoint) where there was a clearing and we could see other hills around us.  But that part was short-lived.  The forest was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I like to have top-of-mountain views as payoff for lots of climbing steep switchbacks.

Regardless of that small disappointment, it was a wonderful, rewarding hike.  I would definitely do it again.

Do-It-Yourself Sculpture Garden Tour

We spent another day driving up to wine country, not to drink wine but to see outdoor sculpture gardens!  I was doing some research on fun, free things to do in wine country; and I found that there were some outdoor gardens at wineries as well as stand-alone gardens that seemed like fun.  I chose three destinations for this self-guided tour:

Cornerstone Gardens: 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA

A really great outdoor garden/ museum.  We easily spent almost two hours or so walking the grounds and exploring the little stores.  All the sculptures made use of the environment in some kind of interesting way.  These were two favorites – a big head of garlic (well, that’s what it looked like to me – that’s not what the artist titled it) in the middle of a small pond.  And a desert scene with clouds made of wire mesh and crystals resembling raindrops.

Cornerstone

Matanzas Creek Winery: 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA

There wasn’t a sculpture garden at this winery, but there was a beautiful lavender garden.  We just saw lots of dark bushes of all sizes, but I could imagine what it would look like in the spring, a landscape of purple.  This constituted a short stop, but it was enjoyable, and the views from the winery and the lavender garden were worth it.

lavender

Paradise Ridge Winery: 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr., Santa Rosa, CA

This was the last stop on our tour, and what a nice way to end it.  There were two sculpture gardens that were at this location: one is named Marijke’s Grove and seems to be the more permanent of the two “exhibits.”  The other was a temporary exhibit titled The Spirit of the Man.  Both had some pieces that really struck me.  And we spent another hour-plus at this place.  Taking fun photos, engaging with the art, musing about the meaning and the sculptor’s intent… you know, all the things you do when you walk through an art exhibit.

LOVE

One of the nice things about our whole tour was that there weren’t too many other people around, in fact, zero at some places.  So we got to enjoy all this wonderful art and scenery by ourselves.  I highly recommend this tour if you’re not a wine drinker or if you just want to be outdoors and see some interesting art.

A side note is that we stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at Flavor Bistro and had a throughly enjoyable meal.  That part of Santa Rosa looked like it had a cute main street that we could have walked down if we had more time.

Happy 2014!

Time for Some Biscotti

For many years now, I’ve been making a double batch of biscotti to give away as Christmas gifts to co-workers and friends.  I think it comes from a combination of anti-Christmas-commercialism and the fear of going shopping among the crowds and a little bit of laziness that has made me do this kind of gift-giving.  Also, I think my adult friends and family all have what they need or want, and I don’t know what to get anyone anymore.

Anyways, this is the best biscotti I’ve ever had in my life.  Hands down.  I was introduced to it by my dear friend in college.  Her mother would bake a batch and send it to her, and I was one of the lucky friends who got to have some!  We’d have morning coffee on Sundays, I’d supply the coffee with my trusty little Gevalia coffeemaker (illegally stashed in my closet along with my illegal rice cooker, hot water heater, candles, and toaster oven!) and she would supply the delicious almond-y treats.  Many a chilly Sunday morning was spent gossiping about the weekend’s goings-on and savoring the crunchy biscuits dipped in coffee.  One of my favorite college memories.

I finally got the recipe at some point.  Maybe this was after college, when I was missing the biscotti, not having been able to find its match in any store. Biscotti that I’ve bought is often like hard-dried bread.  And it’s not so tasty.  I don’t know what it is in this recipe – maybe the prominence of the almonds, the bit of cakey-ness that makes it not so dry.  It’s perfect with a hot cup of coffee or even warm milk.

So here’s the recipe.  Thanks for sharing, Mama H!

photo (1)

(double recipe amounts in parentheses)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup butter (2/3 cup)
  • 2 cup flour (4 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (1 1/3 cup)
  • 2 eggs (4 eggs)
  • 2 tsp baking powder (4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts, finely chopped (3 cup)
  • Glaze:
    • 1 cup chocolate chips (2 cup)
    • 1 tbsp shortening (2 tbsp)
    • Heat in small pan, low heat.  Stir till smooth.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat butter till softened.
  3. Add 1 cup of flour.  Add sugar, eggs, baking powder, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Stir in remaining cup of flour and nuts.  Mix well.  Resulting mixture should be a like a sticky dough.
  5. Divide dough in half.  Shape each portion into a tightly packed log (about 9″ x 2″).
  6. Place logs about 4″ apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
  8. Cool logs on rack for about 30 minutes.  Drop oven temp to 325 degrees.
  9. Cut each log on slight diagonal with serrated knife into 1/2 inch pieces.
  10. Lay slices on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 8 minutes.
  11. Turn slices over and bake another 8-10 minutes.10.  Cool slices on rack.  While cooling, prepare chocolate glaze.
  12. Dip cookies into glaze.  Let set.
  13. ENJOY!

So pass this recipe on!  It’s a little labor intensive, but SO worth it.  And my photo above shows the double batch yield.  Happy holidays!

A Whirlwind Trip to Iceland

One of my best friends just turned 40, and to celebrate, a few of us, including her, went to Iceland for a long weekend.  What an unexpectedly great mini-vacation!  For about $1,000, we had a round trip flight out of JFK to Reykjavik, three nights at the Reykjavik Natura, and two tours (to be spoken of later).  What a baaah-gain! I did zero research before going to Iceland (my friend did all the bookings), and it was great to have everything pretty much taken care of.  Iceland is a beautiful country, just growing in its tourism industry, so not yet overrun with crazy photo-taking tourists from around the world.  And we got there in time for the first big, steady snow of the season, so everything was coated in a blanket of pristine snow.  It was cold, yes, but I expected that, so I was somewhat prepared both mentally and physically. Here’s a quick run through of what we did over the three and a half days in this country of 300,000 people, about the size of Virginia:

iceland-map-1

We took a red eye flight from JFK into Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, both of which are in the southeast of Iceland.  But with the time difference (5 hours ahead of New York), the five-ish hour flight brought us into Iceland at about 1am EST.  And from our arrival, we were on the go pretty much the rest of the day. The first thing that took getting used to was the inflated prices of everything.  Others had told me that Iceland prices are way higher than US prices, and that was no joke.  The other thing that took getting used to was that the sun didn’t rise until about 10am and then set around 4pm.  Literally, the sun did not get high in the sky.

Our first stop from the airport was at Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal spa that was “accidentally” formed from the running of a nearby geothermal power plant.  It supposedly has healing waters, and it’s called “blue” because the water is a tinted light blue.  A little scary when you think of it, that it’s created from the waste of the power plant, but oh well.  In any case, it was really cool to be soaking in this hot water (high 90 degrees) while the outside air was in the low 30s (it was cold enough to be snowing).

30 Blue Lagoon

After a few hours lounging, we headed into the city, checked in at our hotel, and took the public bus into downtown.  We took a nice walk down Laugavegur, a street lined with shops and cafes, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped.  We arrived for dinner at Fish Market, with a great seat in the lounge to celebrate my friend’s birthday.  We wanted to take full advantage of Iceland eats, so we ordered appetizers with puffin and whale as well as the langoustine main dish (basically a mini-lobster).  All was totally yummy, and we got a free dessert which was as big as one of the entrees!

fish market meal

The next day, we did the Golden Circle tour, the most popular and recommended tour to do in Iceland.  We got on a tour bus and went to several places, all where we could get out and take photos, a walk, and enjoy the sights.  What we saw:

  • Thingvellir National Park – a beautiful expansive national park, the site of the first Icelandic parliament in 930, and the location where two tectonic plates (the North American plate and the Eurasian plate) converge/ diverge
  • Gullfoss (Golden Falls) – an impressive and powerful waterfall
  • Geysir geothermal area – site of hot springs that bubble up into the sky, kind of like Old Faithful
  • Fontana steambaths – a spa with natural steam baths and pools in the open air.  The tour includes a gimmicky experience of seeing bread baked in a pot in the sand, heated by geothermal activity.

golden circle

That night we ate fish and chips and Icelandic Fish and Chips, which was quite good.  Overall, the food we ate in Iceland was tasty.  Not as I had expected.  Our next full day tour was an all day trip including a glacier walk, a visit to a folk art museum, a traditional Icelandic meat soup dinner, a view of a beautiful waterfall lit up by night spot lights and a full moon, and a hunt for the aurora borealis.  The glacier walk was way cool.  We had crampons strapped to our boots, and hiked up the glacier, even through a short snowstorm.  Unfortunately, we were not successful finding the Northern Lights, but the full moon was gorgeous, and with the new snow on the ground, we had some beautiful short walks in search of the aurora.

day two tourWe got back to our hotel around midnight and crashed.  A long day.

The next day was a free day, our last half day before heading back to the airport.  We headed back downtown, had a hot dog at a famous stand that has been frequented by Bill Clinton (that’s their claim to fame).  It was a delicious hot dog, which we ate outside, under a bike shelter as the snowflakes fell.  Well worth the search and the wait.  And cheap, relatively speaking = 380 Icelandic krona (about 3 bucks!).

What a fun and easy trip.  All courtesy of Iceland Air.  Check out their package deals!

Recent Reads

I’ve been plowing through books on my iPad these past months.  It’s nice to be back to reading more regularly after not for so long.  And I’m getting used to reading on an e-reader.  BUT, my love of physical books is not diminished.  If I had a bigger house and more room for more bookcases, I’d be buying more books.

Recently, a friend posted this on his Facebook feed:tsundoku

That is me to a “T.”  I love just having books upon books around me.  I’ve got at least 4 books on my nightstand, a bookshelf in my bedroom, an even bigger one in the living room, and I’d have another one if I could!

But back to the books I’ve been reading.  Here are some that I’ve read all the way through (meaning they were enjoyable.  I also have a slew of books that I started and couldn’t get into for whatever reason):

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

mo meta blues

This was a lot of fun to read.  Questlove is a philosophizing music nerd.  He even says he probably would have been diagnosed with autism if he were a child in today’s age.  The book is a mix of stream of consciousness, allusions and references to music from all kinds of genres, socio-political commentary, and just plain autobiography about this musical genius/ giant.  I get these fixations of finding a person/ group/ concept and doing a lot of background research to understand him/her/them/it better.  So The Roots have been on my recent fix, mostly from seeing them on the Jimmy Fallon show (see previous post), listening to Questlove on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and subsequently watching their music videos on YouTube.  They’re an interesting bunch.  This is a book I want to buy for my bookshelf.

Just finished How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway.

howtobeanamericanhousewife_

I came across this on my Overdrive app for one of the public libraries that I belong to, and though I was worried about the starting point of it being about a Japanese woman married to a US serviceman post WWII (a bit cliche, in my opinion), I thought I’d give it a try.  And it was surprisingly good.  There was the usual heartache-y storyline that comes with the whole culture clash thing and the struggles and sacrifice that an Asian warbride experiences.  But instead of focusing on the love story, it focused on her, her daughter, and her relationship with her brother and family back in Japan.  The white husband was barely present.  I get tired of that overplayed story of the Asian woman/ white man relationship which provides escape for the Asian woman from a repressive and oppressive Asian culture.  So this had more depth of story and character development.  Not worth buying, but it was a good read.

A friend of mine bought me this book in preparation for a trip we’re taking to Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason

jar city

This was a mystery/ suspense story (nothing too intense for me; I’m a wimp when it comes to books, movies, and TV shows).  Also a good read.  Interesting story line, not very predictable, set in a country I don’t know.  This was actually in book form, so that was a good break from the usual e-reader format.  I’m curious to know what else this author has up his sleeves.

Also read Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

last-night-in-montreal_custom-de6516950fab317e2ef64547bcb0f3b4886945fb-s6-c85

I really don’t remember how I came across this, maybe from a book review online.  But it was a happy accident.  This was a really beautifully written book about a girl and a boy.  Basically a love story but told in such a lyrical way, nonlinear, through memories of different characters.  All to describe the life of the main character Lilia.  It’s too hard to explain the book’s storyline because it really is simply a love story.  But tie in a father and mother with unique stories, lots of road tripping across the U.S., Montreal, a detective with his own quest.  And I was drawn in.

Books have always been my escape from reality, not that reality was bad or anything, but a way to jump into another world as an intensely connected spectator.  I love deep and complex characters.  I love beautifully crafted language.  And with this world of online borrowing, I can just start a book, see if I like it and then move on if I’m not hooked right away.

Here are some books I started and just couldn’t get into:

  • Too Big To Fail (about the stock market crash in 2008)
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (not sure, it started off OK but I just couldn’t get through it)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad (another that started off well and then got tedious)
  • Bel Canto (ditto)
  • Please Look After Mom (a translation from a Korean author – I wanted to like it, but maybe I’ll need to try again)

What suggestions do you have out there?

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