30 December 2007

Cucumbrance

What if the doorbell were to ring, and when you opened the door, sitting there on the mat was a knotted plastic bag with a liquefied cucumber jiggling back and forth, rot barely confined within its bag of green skin?

And then from on high, a great big rock were to drop, granite probably, of the size that you can lift but just barely, and cannot move far. About the size you might use to build a retaining wall. Right onto the cucumber, which would splat through the slats of the porch, dripping down to feed the lightless things that languish below.

You can think of things more disgusting, probably, than a cucumber left to uncrisp itself in the bottom of the fridge, and of things more delicately delightful than the fresh and crunchy salad of the cucumber in its prime. But is there anything that makes such a swift and horrifying transition to vile from divine?

A columbine fades and withers to a dark nub on a dry stalk, but it's not revolting when it stops being beautiful.

A neglected slump of chicken fat, putrefying in a pan, may get pretty bad, but it just wasn't very nice in the first place.

Some people improve with neglect, though others may decline.

Cucumbers need attending to.

20 December 2007

Crooked Accountant Tofu

This is presently my favorite thing to eat. It's a modification of Tommy and Christie's modification of Christie's mom's recipe, and requires (quantities are guesses, of course):

--1/2 lb pork, chopped into little bits (or ground)
--1 T corn or other starch
--2 T light soy sauce
--2 T sesame oil
--1 t chili oil
--3 T cooking oil
--2 T Tianjin dongcai (see 4th item here for a picture of the stuff itself and the bottom of this page for what the jar looks like)
--1 c chicken (or some sort of) broth
--two poblano chiles, cleaned and cut into strips
--1/2 lb oyster mushrooms
--one block firm tofu, cut into small cubes
--1 t dark soy sauce

Mix pork with starch, light soy, sesame oil, and chili oil, and let sit for a while.

Heat cooking oil in wok. Fry Tianjin dongcai in oil. Before it threatens to burn, add pork mixture and stir around. Because this mixture has a lot of thickener in it, it will stick to the bottom of the wok, but that's okay as long as it doesn't burn. When the pork is mostly cooked, add the broth, chiles, oyster mushrooms, tofu, and dark soy, and stir around so the crusted stuff dissolves from the bottom of the wok. Simmer for several minutes. Add a little light soy if it's still needed. Done.

It should end up slightly soupy. Caution: too much dark soy is dangerous.

19 December 2007

How to Make Mapo Doufu

Mr. Newduck says he needs a mapo doufu recipe. (Most people of sense and judgment, of course, already know how to make mapo doufu, and they can ignore this.)

One needs:

one block firm tofu, in cubes (about 1 cm x 1 cm x 1 cm)
oil (preferably peanut)
about half a pound of chopped (or ground) pork
a tablespoon or so of chili bean sauce (e.g., Guilin sauce)
several fermented black beans, chopped up
perhaps some chili flakes
around 3 T soy sauce
about 1 t corn or other starch, mixed in a little bit of water
1 bunch of scallions, chopped into 1-cm lengths
1 T Sichuan pepper, ground

Boil some water. Dump in cubed tofu. Wait until the water comes back to a boil, then take tofu out. Drain and set aside.

Heat a fairly large quantity of oil in a wok. When it is very hot, add pork. Stir around until it turns white. Add chili bean sauce, and stir around until there is a strong smell of chili bean sauce. Add black beans, chili flakes (if desired), soy sauce, a little bit of water (or broth), and your parboiled tofu cubes. Cook for two or three minutes, until the sauce seems to be going into the tofu. Add scallions, and stir until they're bright green. Stir in thickener. Remove everything from pan to dish, and sprinkle Sichuan pepper over the top.

Oh, the Relentless Banality of the Quotidian!

Er, sorry. I'll go sweep under the bed now.

Or shall I vacuum the potato chip crumbs off the floor of the car?

Anyway. Sorry.

15 December 2007

Spring?

It is December, and my spider plant has flowered! I don't remember it ever doing that before. Poor confused thing.

12 December 2007

HELLO SEATTLE

There's a purple one, and a red one, and an orange one, and for a month or more they've been running back and forth on their little short track from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to the Westlake Center, with their front all lit up saying TEST TRAIN, and nobody but all those fat engineering guys has gotten to ride them.

Of course, there's no point in riding them, since they don't go anywhere, but even so, if you see those fat engineering guys riding back and forth every day, you start to develop pangs of envy.

"So, are you excited about tomorrow?" I asked J last night, five minutes before it was seemly to leave our desks.

"Tomorrow . . . ?"

"The streetcar's opening!"

I thought I heard, from P's direction, a derisive snort. But you don't want to pay attention to P.

"Are you going to ride it?" I asked J, who rides the bus.

"No."

"But it's so cute, all little and purple and everything!"

Snort.

Oh, well.

This morning at 8:05 by the clock at the Lake Union Park stop, there was a big burly guy with an orange vest and a wheelbarrow, setting out sad little potted plants every yard or so along the strip of dirt that sets the tram line off from the sidewalk. And then there were a couple of Fox news guys, with a camera and a little monitor, testing to make sure they had their equipment right.

And so when after work I trudged down from the office to Fred Hutchinson, I was all filled with happy anticipation. I was going to ride the . . . er, Streetcar . . . to the Westlake Center, for free! and then I was going to ride the Monorail from the Westlake Center to the Space Needle, and then once I walked up the hill I would be home, in only about twice as long as it takes me on foot, and oh so well traveled!

The tram stop is in the middle of a slightly wide road, and when I got to the crosswalk there were already three people at the stop and two more waiting to cross from the other side of the street.

I went to inspect the departure time display, which said it was 5:30 and there would be a tram in 6 minutes and one in 18. I pulled out my Economist, and tried to read about affordable Lake Forest, IL housing (what?) without being blown over by the big opening day banner that billowed behind (and, forcefully, against) me in the wind.

Some time passed.

I started reading about Las Vegas's water recycling.

Some more time passed.

I craned my neck at the schedule display again.

"It's changed," the cute tiny woman standing under it said. "It said one minute, and now it says three minutes."

"I guess that means it's actually tracking something!" I said optimistically.

"I hope so," she said, peppy but dubious.

"Or else it's just throwing random numbers up there," I considered. I went back to my water shortage.

"Oooo, is that it?" said I, a minute or two later.

"I think it is!!" said the other woman. "It's cute!!"

It was the orange one, and it said HELLO SEATTLE on the front. It stopped and let off about ten people--ten people!--let on some more, and went to sit, full, a few yards away at the end of the line.

It was going to come back, we hoped, the small woman and I decided. There were, after all, tracks over on this side of the street, too.

It did come back, though not for a curiously long time.

"It's cute!!!!" she said again, and on we went.

There really were a lot of people on there. It would have quite given the illusion of being a real tram in a real city, had I not seen with my own eyes all those people arrive at the end of the line and just keep on sitting there to ride back again.

"It's like we're on a tourist attraction," I heard someone say.

"It's like the subway, except really slow," her friend said.

"We could have walked there in the time we spent waiting," said another member of the group.

"Oh, we're here," said another. "X says she's not going to make it . . . oh, there she is, don't get off, she's getting on . . . hey, why did you say you weren't here?"

And then fifteen minutes had passed and the ride was over, and I went across three crosswalks and up two escalators to the Monorail stop.

I paid two dollars, waited 20 minutes, learned the thing had broken down, was refunded my two dollars, and walked home.

Total travel time, two hours.

09 December 2007

Market Research

--And if you could have dinner with any famous person, living or dead, with whom would you dine and why?
--I'd prefer not to.
--You'd prefer not to what, ma'am?
--Have dinner with any famous person, living or dead.
--Mmmmm, just a moment . . . give me a moment . . . mmm . . . well, you have fulfilled our requirements for a focus group, but our quota is full . . . .