Starry Wisdom

Entropic Words from Neilathotep

Monday, April 29, 2013

Only two weeks later…

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. We had visitors in from out of town both weekends – although only had a guest staying with us this previous weekend, which was cool. Wohali and I walked around the neighborhood yesterday, taste testing macarons from the four stores that sell them. We tasted pistachio macrons from each, and crowned Chantal Guillon the winner, with a very natural taste which was not too sweet, and a well textured cookie.

Much else fun and excitement was had, enough that makes me want another weekend to relax, but in other, very important news, I sold my car this morning. I posted it friday afternoon on Craiglist, and now it is gone to its new home. I suppose I could have gotten a few hundred dollars more if I tried harder/waited longer, but I made more than my bottom line, and it seems like the people who bought it really like subarus, so I know it will be appreciated. It feels weird to not have my own car, but I do have access to one, plus a zipcar membership, so it will be OK!

posted by neil at 7:41 pm
under adventure,food  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Food Review: The Dekopon

I first learned of the dekopon almost two years ago while listening to the Splendid Table podcast. If you don’t know, the dekopon, known as the Sumo in the US is probably the best citrus fruit to have ever existed. Developed in Japan in the 1970s, it is a hybrid of a seedless mandarin and a variety of tangerine. The fruit peels easily, as the rumply skin is not really attached to the fruit itself. The membrane that divides the sections is rather soft, and is easy to chew. And the the inside of the sections is a wonderfully bright, smooth orange, almost like some sort of fruit chew candy. And then there is the taste – vastly sweet, but with enough acid to balance, the taste of this fruit is like some sort of embodiment of the platonic ideal of citrus.

This year seems to be the first year of bumper crops, as I have heard reports of them being available in Chicago and Boston, as well as having them fairly readily available here in California, where they are grown. Evidently the season lasts through the middle of April or so, and I recommend my readers make an effort to try one or more while there is time!

image courtesy of freshelectrons

posted by neil at 6:02 pm
under food,Product Review  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Posting often is hard

It’s hard to remember and hard to do.

Uhm, I’m going to Millennium for dinner tonight, a fancy vegetarian restaurant. It might or might not be a convert a carnivore wednesday, which means savings, but… well it doesn’t matter. I’ve actually been once before, with Mackenzie and her sisters. Her youngest sister, Lary, is a vegetarian, so you’d think it would be right up her wheelhouse – but she was kind of the cheese and pasta sort at the time, so it was a bit a travail, and just ordering took something like an hour. It was good though, so I am looking forward to the return visit tonight!

posted by neil at 5:47 pm
under food  

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Some of my friends know that I am somewhat particular about bagels. Unless they meat a certain threshold, they are just round bread. Mass produced bagels you find at the grocery stores here in San Francisco certainly fall into that latter category. Yeah, House of Bagels sometimes has worthy bagels, but just sometimes. A bagel must be toothsome, without that it’s not a bagel.

Anyway, for the past couple of years, we”ve been able to enjoy, on occasion, bagels imported from St. Viateur in Montreal via my pal Shiu. The Montreal-style bagel is pretty minimalistic – small and dense, but seems to be always seeded. Also, they have giant holes. I’ve not had them fresh, but day old and/or taken out of the freezer at a later date, and toasted, they make for the basis of a delightful breakfast.

Recently, my friend Yanny visited New York, and I asked her to bring us back some bagels for me. I have had some fresh New York bagels in the past, and so I knew that these were bigger and airier than their Canadian brethren. She gave me bagels from Ees a Bagel. These are a bit bigger than the bagels I remember eating, but they have the same consistency and ‘suggestion of a hole’ (which makes them easier to spread with cream cheese).

I kind of want to have a ‘fresh is best’ taste off between the two now – seeded bagels from both, head to head in a battle royale. A blind test would be improbable due to the form factor differences, but still, it would be fun. But currently, I think the St. Viateur are winning in my mind – the sweeter, smaller bagels, which fit easily in the toaster when cut in half, are possibly my new bagel ideal!

posted by neil at 10:20 am
under food  

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Yesterday, Mackenzie, I and about eight other friends drove up to Marshall, CA to eat oysters and clams at Hog Island Oyster Farm. This was a celebration for our friend Ali’s birthday this Monday. Unfortunately, Friday night was a night where I needed a drink or five (not the best end of the week at work – nothing terrible, just lots of last minute work of the sort I abhor), so we woke up in the morning a bit later than intended. We actually only left about 15 minutes late, but I was lax in looking at the direction on the map, so I blindly followed the GPS to go up 1 through Mill Valley, instead of going all the north and cutting across on Francis Drake. This is more or less meaningless to 99% of humanity, but the important thing of note here is that yesterday was the first part of a two-day National Multiple Sclerosis Society Waves to Wine bike ‘tour’. The first day started in SF and went through Stinson Beach going up 1. So basically, I had to navigate around hundred and hundreds of bicyclists, on a twisty, hilly road – which was harrowing. I was very glad when we finally made it to Tomales Bay, and only had to deal with the normal weekend cyclists, which are much easier to navigate around.

Once we got to the Oyster Farm, we began to quickly consume/over consume shellfish. We (much of the we being myself) shucked dozens of oysters for eating raw, as well as grilling some up. We also grilled up 2lbs of manila clams. All of this was delicious, but even more delicious (maybe) were the oysters that we got up that were grilled by the Hog Island people with a delicious maple chipotle sauce. Actually, why bother comparing, it was all delicious, as were the accompaniments we brought up from home – cheese, charcuterie, bread and a lovely melon and feta salad that Mackenzie made.

If any of you are anything like me, you will probably be saying “This Post is Useless WIthout PIctures”. Yep, I forgot to snag my camera as I left in the morning, and my 3+ year old iPhone is just too slow/cruddy for me to bother with much. I really need to consider getting a new phone one of these days…

posted by neil at 11:12 am
under adventure,food  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Chicago Trip and Etc.

Mackenzie and I went to Chicago earlier this month for my friend Nancy’s wedding, and also to see my family. It was planned for a pretty short trip – fly out on Thursday evening, and return to San Francisco Sunday Afternoon – but more on the travel schedule later. We met my friend Erin at the airport, as we were flying out on the same flight, and sharing a rental car for the first day or so.

We were flying American, which meant we went to the newly reopened Terminal 2 at SFO. The new terminal is fancy, and it seems fairly upscale in the concessions. We decided to grab some food and a drink at the Cat Cora lounge, as it was something new and different that we heard about. The cocktails were good, albeit pricey (but hey, it’s in an airport) and the food was OK. Definitely better than the last few restaurant meals I’ve had, but that’s not saying much. I’ll probably try one of the other venues next time I fly from Terminal 2 after work and need food, however.
The 6:30PM flight got us in to ORD around 12:30AM, and it took about an hour more for us to get our luggage, pickup the rental car, and drive to the hotel.

The next day the three of us met up with my old friend Scott and his fiance Kira for lunch. They were staying at the Hyatt Lodge at Hamburger University, which was couple of miles from our hotel. We met them there, so we could check out the McDonald’s campus area and the unique hotel. It was interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to post pictures yet. I am a slacker… After we decided that lunch choices at the hotel were not sufficient, we went over to the Oakbrook Mall, which was about midway between our two hotels, to find food. We ended up at a place called the Clubhouse, which was basically like a Friday’s dressed up as a fine dining restaurant. Well, that is not exactly fair, since the food was pretty good. Also, the portions were astounding – my lunch portion of Chicken Pot Pie was the size of a dinner portion out here.

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda, it was time to get ready for the wedding. I wore a suit for the first time in well over a decade (I actually bought a suit for the wedding), and took the occasion to go all snazy, and wearing a pocket square. Since, as I said I was too lazy to post my pictures from the trip, here is a photographic proof, from Facebook:

The wedding was a delightful affair – low key, because that’s how Nancy rolls. My friend Scott was her ‘Man of Honor’! It took place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate an Tudor revival mansion from around the turn of the Twentieth Century.

While there was a breakfast planned for the next day, related to the wedding, we could sadly not attend. We had to get Erin to the airport for her flight, and then we planned to go to my Parents house to spend the day with them and my nephew Milo. I feel that was a pretty good win, since he’s super cute. And there are no pictures, not because I didn’t post any, but because I didn’t take any. But we had a good time going out to my parent’s local hot dog/gyros place for lunch with him, and then running around the mall. While he napped in the afternoon, Mackenzie and I went to visit my 94 year old grandma, who recently fell and hurt herself and was in a rehab facility. It was great seeing her, and I love her dearly, but I wish we were able to visit her at her house.

For dinner on Saturday my parents took Mackenzie and I out to Wildfire, which is a steak/seafood restaurant that I had been to a couple of times before and enjoyed. Even though it is a chain, and part of a giant restaurant group (Lettuce Entertain You), I can recommend it as a place for a tasty, not terribly expensive dinner. I will say that they definitely know how to cook a steak in the midwest!

So far, everything was going as planned, but a snag was about to enter the story. at around 4:20AM on Sunday my phone rang. I picked it up and there was an automated message from American Airlines telling me that my flight was cancelled and we were rebooked on a flight that sounded like it was about half hour earlier – but instead of going nonstop ORD-SFO, it was to have a stop at DFW. That sounded like a drag, but, the only other choice I had was an earlier flight that same day, also through DFW, but at least it was a more convenient time for my Dad to take us to the airport.

When I woke up, I confirmed when the flight actually was, and it was the next day (Monday), not the same day. I called the airline and saw if there was anything we could do, but we were screwed. So not only did we have to fly with a connection, we had to burn another vacation day. It’s a good thing that we were staying at my parents and didn’t have to worry about accommodations!

And there were some bright sides to this, too – we would be able to spend some extra time with Milo and my brother and sister-in-law! We had already planned to have brunch with them, but we got to have dinner with them too, and be with Milo until his bedtime – which was super cute, as he showed us his artistic renditions of his family with crayons! (he is only 22 months old, so they were very abstract). For tracking purposes, I’ll say that we had brunch at The Portage in Portage Park, Chicago. It was a good brunch, and they had an all you can drink Bloody Mary bar – my parents were there so I could only drink two, but still not bad! And we did carry-out pizza and salad from perennial favorite Lou Malnati’s. So yes, our extra day was put to good use – we also saw Bridesmaids in the afternoon, during Milo’s nap time, which we enjoyed quite a bit.

So now we get to Monday, the day we were supposed to be back to normal – and we leaft for ORD at around 8am. Our flight was at 11, but a bit of extra time isn’t so bad. We ended up taking off about 20 minutes late due to some service issue, but we had enough time between flights in DFW that we weren’t worried. We got to DFW, took the train between the terminals of our two flights, and grabbed a sandwich to take on the plane with us – and then we got to the gate and found out the flight was delayed. And the delay kept going up – it turns out that someone had flushed a coke can down the toilet, causing a vacuum leak. But it took them something over 3 hours to figure this out. Well, eventually we took off, and got back to our flat around 9PM, pacific time. That’s a 15 hour travel day – to something that should have been about 6 or so hours, if we had been able to take our original flight, or the NONSTOP flight that I payed for. Oh yeah, we also weren’t able to sit together on our flights. Needless to say, I sort of hate American Airlines a lot right now.

In other news, we went strawberry picking at our CSA’s farm in Dixon, CA yesterday and it was deliciously fun.

posted by neil at 9:13 pm
under daily tribulations,food,Milo,travel  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Coffee, YUM!

One month ago, I made a post about Coffee Making Technology. One of the things I spoke about was the mediocre, at best, quality of the coffee I was using. Well, I was pretty much out of the Kona roasted on some nondeterminate date in 2010, so yesterday I walked over to the Blue Bottle coffee kiosk nearby to buy some beans. ( For those that don’t know, Blue Bottle is a ‘microroaster’ of coffee. They roast their coffee across the bay in Oakland, and have several shops around San Francisco, including a funny little kiosk in a converted garage on an alley like street in my neighborhood. )

The coffee I bought, their Three Africans blend, was roasted on Friday (March 4, 2011) – so it’s about as fresh as you can expect coffee to be. I used it this morning to make coffee and I noticed that it bloomed phenomenally when I put the initial small but of water in it. I almost wish I had filmed it, so I could show the lovely swelling and bubbling of the grounds. The coffee it produced was very good, as well. I can help but think there is a lot I could do to improve my technique, and there are two accessories which I could get to improve it too. One is expensive (a good grinder) and one is probably cheap at the restaurant supply store (a long neck kettle). I think I’ll get the latter first, as controlling the pour seems to be important to the process, and my research says that for drip process like chemex, blade grind is usually ‘good enough’.

I’ll finish this post now since I finished my coffee, and it’s time to make some breakfast.

posted by neil at 10:37 am
under coffee  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coffee Making Technology

For years now, I made coffee at home with a Moka pot – the little Italian ‘stove top espresso’ maker that’s been in use in Italy since the 1930s. This makes pretty decent coffee usually, but I have been known to burn it on occasion from not paying attention, and the volume of coffee produced isn’t very much.

Enter the Chemex:

(Please pardon the moving boxes etc, Mackenzie moved into my flat last weekend and we hadn’t had time to unpack her kitchen stuff when I took these pictures)

This is another old coffee technology, made from bits of laboratory glass fused together into a single, quite striking, functional piece. Making coffee is fairly simple, but there are multiple steps. This process is basically like single-cup drip from places like Philz or Blue Bottle, etc.

  1. Start boiling water.
  2. Grind your beans (unless they are preground). This is the trickiest step, I think – I’m still trying to get the right grind. I guess working with a blade grinder is not ideal, but I can’t justify a burr grinder – maybe that can be another post someday.
  3. Put a paper filter (chemex makes special ones that are ‘optimal’ for the device – I’m not sure I 100% buy into this yet, but I got some of them so, I’m using them) into your Chemex.
  4. After the kettle boils, turn off the stove. Pour a small bit of water to wet the filter (and to warm the carafe if it’s cold!) into the carafe. Pour this water out into the sink.
  5. Put your ground coffee into the filter.
  6. Put a small amount of hot water into the grounds, just enough to make them wet. Wait 30 seconds or so – this will ‘bloom’ the coffee and help the brewing process.
  7. Slowly pour the appropriate amount of the hot (no longer boiling) water over the grounds, it will filter through the grinds and the cone filter at the proper rate to ensure ‘perfect extraction’ of coffee flavors.
  8. Yes, it is a bit fidly, and it’s not a way to make a quick cup of coffee before work, but the coffee that it does produce is fantastically tasty – smooth and well-balanced. I’ll note that I am using some Kona beans that are probably no longer super fresh, and as I said before, my grinding is not really optimal, and it’s still something I’m playing with. All this being said, it is definitely the best coffee I’ve ever made at home. Plus, the Chemex pot itself just looks damn cool!

    I plan to play with some different beans this month, and my technique in general – I’ll try to post some future observations and updates as I learn more, but I welcome comments and suggestions!

posted by neil at 10:52 pm
under coffee  

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What do you do with a bag of turnips?

After a fairly long hiatus, I’ve rejoined the CSA (well, I’m splitting it with Mackenzie – and we’ve changed the pickup to the place near her apartment since it has much better hours than the one 2 blocks from me – but which is inaccessible to someone who works normal business hours). I’ve been eating a lot more vegetables since rejoining, which is good, and I’ve also been cooking a bit more.

It being winter, turnips are in season, so we’ve been getting them in every box. Until recently they were small salad turnips, which are nice because you can eat them raw OR cooked, but those are now grown up to bigger cooking turnips. But this begs the question – how do you cook a turnip? I’d like to provide a simple, delicious recipe:

Maple Braised Turnips
Serves 2-4 as a side dish
(Adapted from Vegetables Everyday by Jack Bishop)

note: the original recipe was half carrots and half turnips – feel free to substitute carrots back in, or replace the turnips with them completely – however the carrots do not need to be browned before the simmering)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 lb turnips peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Freshly ground pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the turnips and cook, turning occasionally until lightly browned (about 8 minutes).
2. Add the carrots, stock, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer until soft, about 20 minutes
3. Remove the cover, raise the heat to high, and cook until the liquid in the pan reduces to a thick glaze, about 2 minutes.

I thought I had a picture of this, but alas, my camera says NO.

posted by neil at 11:33 pm
under cooking,food  

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Product Review: POMx Iced Coffee

The makers of POM pomegranate juice (oh, wow, I just recall I have a POM branded pomegranate in my fridge, I should rip it apart and get the tasty arils) have decided to create an iced coffee beverage.

I saw this while at the grocery store this morning, and I decided I would try one out, just for kicks. I bought the chocolate one, as the only cafe au lait at the store was in a very battered looking bottle.

Anyway, the beverage’s ingredients are: nonfat milk, organic cane sugar, POMx (pomegranate extract), coffee, erythitrol (why another sweetener?), cocoa, natural flavors, caffeine and carageenan. From these ingredients, I expected it to be a sweeth, thick, chocolately beverage, like the iced Starbucks beverages in the bottles, and indeed that’s what it was. A bit too sweet, actually – I think they were tying to mask the tart pomegranate flavoring, which comes across as an aftertaste more than a taste. It’s not an unpleasant concoction, but not something I would choose to drink very often.

I suppose you could be more unhealthy in a beverage pretty easily, but I’m not sure that this stuff is particularly healthy. Given a choice, I’d rather have one of their juice blends, or even their tea (which I liked a lot more when it came in the wide mouthed glasses).

posted by neil at 12:50 pm
under food  
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