Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tom Yum Soup Redux

Yes, I have been away from the blog for muuunths, and what do I post when I come back? Food porn.

A certain Mr. AA recently accused me of having an inexplicable obsession with food. "Everywhere you go, you have food with you. It's like you're afraid of starving to death."

Both sentences are true, but the latter does not necessarily result in the former.

Let's face it, blogs about what you're cooking or what you're eating are boring. And ninety percent of blogs in the world are either food porn or cat porn blogs. It's true because I went to the trouble to make up that statistic.

With all that in mind, let me not only share this recipe for tom yum soup that I made tonight, but let me also point out that I've already posted about tom yum soup on this blog.

The thing is, the first time I talked about tom yum soup here, I was in Thailand, where tom yum ingredients were everywhere. This week I went to the Chinese grocery store near me, where I spotted fresh lemongrass, fresh kaffir lime leaves, and galangal, and finally decided to buckle down and try my tom yum soup recipe Stateside, with Stateside ingredients.

Actually, that's a little misleading. I used to make tom yum soup in New York. But fresh kaffir lime leaves were hard to come by, as was galangal. I only knew of two Thai grocery stores in Manhattan, and one told me to go to the other to get kaffir lime leaves, which turned out to be frozen.

I am posting this recipe for a second time because I want to make an important note to myself, which I'd forgotten after all these years: don't add lime juice until you've dished the soup into your own bowl. Otherwise the citric acid wilts some of the ingredients. If you're a true Thai, you wait until you get to the table to add the lime juice, fish sauce, and chili peppers.

Thai ingredients procured Stateside. That is a massive bag of kaffir lime leaves.
Today's soup:
kaffir lime leaves
pork short ribs
3 kinds of mushrooms (white, enoki, something called "seafood mushrooms" in its Chinese packaging)
mung bean vermicelli noodles
chili pepper (I used jalapeno but Thai people use Thai chili peppers, of course)
lime juice
fish sauce

The fresh stuff - lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime - isn't nearly as fragrant as what you get in Thailand. I was worried the soup would end up flavorless, so I used more kaffir lime than I usually do. It turned out to be just the right amount.

Usually I find kaffir lime overpowering and only use a few leaves, but apparently here in the States I can be generous and not worry about giving myself a kaffir lime headache. Yes, it has happened.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Dollar-a-Bag Secret Is Now Out

This is probably not much of a secret, and if it were, posting on my nearly-never read blog isn't going to blow anyone's cover. More than anything else, it's blog-worthy only because it's a discovery deeply aligned with my appreciation for deals.

The un-secret is: If you go to the Civic Center farmer's market around 4pm, when they're starting to break down, you can get some crazy cheap deals. All sorts of produce for a dollar a bag, fruit for a dollar a pound. 

The un-secret within the un-secret: At the stone fruit stand, the lady taking your money will complain if you don't fill your bag as full as possible and tries to make you take extra after you've paid. If you buy ten pounds of fruit it's even cheaper, and don't forget to mix and match varieties. They really don't want to cart this stuff back to the farm. 

It's really hard for me to control myself if I happen to be down there on a Sunday afternoon. Today, for example, I made off with this stash.

Five pounds of farm-fresh peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots; zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes and a bottomless bag of chilies for the low-low price of $10. 

Usually I just walk to the Grove Street farmer's market near my house. It's small and on par with normal farmer's market prices, so I can only get one or two bunches of leafy greens, a loaf of bread, and some cut flowers before I've unloaded $12.

But on the rare occasions when I make it all the way to the Civic Center on Sundays, it occurs to me that if I made the 4pm farmer's market stroll-by a regular habit, I could be basking in a steady supply of organic vegetables for less than what I pay at my uber-affordable but sometimes inconsistent Korean-owned corner store that I love. (Which was also featured in this cool photojournal article about corner stores.) The Civic Center market even has Asian vegetables, so I really have no excuse not to do my weekend groceries there.

The Civic Center farmer's market (apparently called "Heart of the City," presumably to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the Civic Center is also the heart of homeless), is what farmer's markets are supposed to be. Affordable for people who most need access to fresh, healthy locally-raised food. They claim that 75% of food stamps spent at farmer's markets are spent at this farmer's market.

The Ferry Building farmer's market is beautiful, but there's a visible difference in the kind of people who prefer to get their produce there compared to those who prefer the Civic Center farmer's market. For one thing, dodging ranting drunks and disoriented head cases is common at the Civic Center market. So is hearing vendors arguing with customers who try to pocket an extra melon or two without paying.

Interestingly, the two farmer's markets are down the street from each other (down Market Street from each other, for that matter) and occur not coincidentally on alternating days, so you could feasibly go to a farmer's market downtown six days a week. On Mondays you're out of luck in most of the Bay Area; hope you stocked up on the Sunday afternoon dollar-a-bag deal.

The best part of today's visit was when one of the vendors started yelling at a customer standing next to me.

"No seventy-five cents!" she yelled. "One dollar a bag, no seventy-five cents!"

I love me some good discounts, but even I wouldn't try to haggle down the late afternoon dollar special.

And the customer standing next to me? Small elderly Chinese lady. Naturally.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tidepooling, Part II

Went down to Fitzgerald Marine Preserve with some friends for more tidepooling. Still amazed that this is a thing people do, since it involves getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday.

It turns out I've now been to two of the three Bay Area tidepools that made KQED's list of Bay Area Tidepools. Pigeon Point (#2 on said list) is where I discovered tidepooling as a gerund.

And now, tidepool universes from the most recent excursion:

There's a real name for this guy, but to me he's a starfish with webbed feet. Like a duck.

Sea anemone, not an enemy

Sunflower sea star. Eighteen legs, count 'em.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One Tiny Step Forward

This is old news by now, six hours later: The Supreme Court upholds the individual mandate and pretty much all of the Affordable Care Act. Yes we did!

In the scheme of things, Obamacare is only a tiny step towards what needs to be done to reform our health care system. I won't make this my grand forum for arguing about that, but today is only radical in the sense that it beat back rabid opposition to the miniscule progress the Act makes towards equitable and quality health care. We're still a long way from universal, from affordable, and from reform.

But every hard-fought victory is worth celebrating no matter how seemingly small, so today, I say hooray, and walk with a wide grin.

Here is the giddy white board at work, an office full of health policy wonks:

Most importantly: Champagne after panel session tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Yes, please.

S.F. Market Street car ban urged by city agencies
By Michael Cabanatuan

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 -- Cars have already been pushed off stretches of Market Street downtown, but they could be banned altogether under a revitalization plan being designed by a collection of city agencies.

The Better Market Street plan aims to improve the city's central boulevard from the Embarcadero to Octavia Boulevard and "re-establish the street as the premier cultural, civic, transportation and economic center of San Francisco and the Bay Area," said Kris Opbroek, project manager for the Department of Public Works during a presentation to the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Tuesday.

I'm hopefully hopeful. Based on the comments, this doesn't seems to be a very popular idea. And based on the comments, there's always someone hating on bikers, homeless people, buses, taxis, pimps, drug addicts, prostitutes, politicians, Occupiers, cars, MUNI, and San Franciscans. But mostly bikers and homeless people. Sort of telling, if you ask me.

I don't understand why anyone drives on Market Street anyway, unless their final destination is the Ferry Building or somewhere else on the Embarcadero. You can't turn left anywhere on Market, and if you're going north and want to turn right, it probably would have been faster for you to have taken Mission.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Return of the Food Porn Chronicles: Three Cups Chicken and Shrimpy Spicy Dip

The world's best recipe site: http:\\rasamalaysia.com.

Malaysian food has influences from all over Asia, including Taiwan, Thailand, India and China, so these recipes are pretty authentic, though often with a Malaysian twist (chilis, for example).

I'm trying this Three Cups Chicken recipe tonight, a quintessential Taiwanese dish also found in Malaysia due to the large population of immigrants from the southern Chinese province of Fujian, the same place a lot of (real) Taiwanese people came from 300 years ago.

 I don't remember my mom ever making this at home; it's one of those dishes that I only came across at large gatherings or special occasions - dinners at other people's houses, church lunches, buffets, etc. Three cups chicken was never really on my radar screen until a few years ago when I was living with a Taiwanese American woman in Brooklyn. I came home from work and she was cooking it for a dinner guest. Mmmm. Soy sauce, sesame oil and a flood of memories filled my kitchen.

My first ever attempt at Three Cups Chicken was a success, but
I'm still wondering how this chili got to be the star of my photo.
Oddly enough, it's incredibly easy to make, which is probably why Taiwanese people always make it for large gatherings. I'm not sure why they don't seem to make it at home for themselves as much. It's always a dish for special occasions. It does taste just like a celebration.
Ohh man! Looking for recipes online turns up more and more good stuff. I just came across this Thai recipe website. These dishes are the real deal, researched, written, tested (and eaten) by an American expat. I find that it's easier to find Thai vegetables* and ingredients in San Francisco than it was in New York, so I may be trying out some of these recipes soon.

(*Except for banana blossoms. These amazing things are always served with pad thai in Thailand but I've never seen them anywhere in the US. They fall in the same category as Australian Tim Tams: Why in the land of plenty don't we have banana blossoms or Tim Tams? Sadness ensues.)

These recipes take me back to the too few months I spent in Thailand wandering night markets, eating unidentified deliciousness, and wondering what it all was.

This spicy shrimp paste was one of my daily staples, perfect for setting my face on fire after dipping raw or blanched vegetables and my daily fried mystery fish. As in,

Me in my broken Thai: What kind of fish is this?

Lady at the market: Thai thai thai thai thai.

Me: I see.

Oh, hello. I just reached back into the photo archives and discovered that I had brilliantly thought to take a picture of the fishy dippy yumminess back in the Thailand days. Oh, pornographic food memories.

1. Dip. 2. Bite off delicious fish head. 3. Feel face catch on fire.

And speaking of things not found in the land of plenty, when I was in Thailand some of my Burmese friends got wind of the fact that I am a fan of fermented tea leaf salad. They were mainly just thrilled that I had even heard of it. They invited me to a Festival of Lights celebration at their temple, sat me and my visiting American friend down and served us tea leaf salad...from a pre-made package. It was delicious. Then they sent me home with five more packages of this pre-made, do-it-yourself tea leaf salad. The packages were all in Burmese, but I gathered from the pictures that there were three different flavors. To me they were the pink flavor, the green flavor and the blue flavor.

"You can buy them anywhere in Thailand," my Burmese friend Caroline told me. "Just go to a Burmese market."

Burmese markets, it turns out, exist mainly in Thailand and Burma. If I had know I'd never find these pre-made tea leaf salad packages in New York, I would have gone through them more sparingly.

Fortunately, though not particularly conveniently, it seems that there are some not-quite-underground packaged tea leaf salad suppliers in the Bay Area, of the "go into the jewelry store and walk to the back and ask for Kyin" variety. I may be sleuthing for these things soon.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tourists, Part II

Apparently Alamo Square residents are not as fond of tourists as I am. I see the big red tour buses go by everyday, bound for the Painted Ladies. It seems the buses stop in the middle of quiet residential streets, making a lot of noise and blocking traffic. Probably pretty annoying.

Alamo Square is only two blocks away, but has a very different feel than where I live. Tranquil, mainly. My street is a major thoroughfare with far more obnoxious sounds than any of the streets around the Square. Like parked cars with alarms that go off in the middle of the night when a heavy truck roars by. BAWNK BAWNK BAWNK BAWNK BAWNK BAWNK BAWNK. Has anyone's car alarm ever been set off by an actual car thief?

Or motorcycles. I plan to buy a bag of potatoes and stand on the street corner in front of my apartment. When the light turns red, I'll be the like ball boy at Wimbeldon, running up to motorcycles and stuffing spuds into their exhaust pipes before they realize what's happening. What kind of asshat invents a mode of transportation that's powered by loud noise?

Or people standing in front of my window talking on the phone at three in the morning.

I have only limited sympathy for the folks living around the Square. Tour buses and tourists only come by during the day. Unless you work from home, you wouldn't even notice except on weekends.

Diesel engines, car alarms, tractor trailers, motorbikes, yacking pedestrians, throbbing car stereos, garbage trucks and skateboarders rumbling down the sidewalk -- these sounds happen round the clock  outside my window. I sleep with earplugs. I'd trade all this for the daytime-only tourists and picturesque Victorian architecture of Alamo Square in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Water Brush

A water brush is a plastic hollow paintbrush that essentially makes you a mobile watercolor-painting fiend. Instead of having to carry around cups and filling them with water to clean your brushes, just get yourself one of these handy little things.

Unscrew the brush tip, fill it with water, and when you're ready to paint, squeeze the barrel. Water flows out of the brush tip similar to the way ink comes out of a pen. You use it like a regular paintbrush but you don't have to swirl it in a cup of water every time you need to clean it, and you're not always worried you're going to spill gray brush water all over the table and onto the light-colored carpet.

I bought one of these last year and just got around to trying it out today. The plastic construction feels a bit made in China, but it turns out it's well designed and you have a lot of control over the water flow. The brush tip is good quality as well, and allows for a lot of flexibility, from washes to fine lines. I'm still getting used to it (and watercolors in general), but overall it has exceeded my expectations.

Here is a drawing I did today using watercolor pencils and my not-so-new water brush.

Kitty Von Quim at Dr. Sketchy's

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sax In A Tunnel

Admit it, you're reading this post because you thought it said sex in a tunnel.

No such luck for you, but I was lucky enough to catch this guy on my bike ride today out to Point Bonita. He was playing saxophone in a tunnel at the top of Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands. The acoustics were incredible, and I shot a short video of him (below).

It turns out that I caught a lot of noise from the wind, too, so what you hear isn't as spectacular as the real deal.

(Coincidentally, he was riffing from A Few of My Favorite Things, and my last post was titled Three of My Favorite Things, though none of my lists included saxophones or tunnels.)

Sometimes I come across a street performer whose music feels like a gift. The guy missed some notes but the sound of the sax in the tunnel was so deep and melancholy. I wanted to drop a couple of dollars in his bucket but he didn't have one. He was there out of love.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Three of My Favorite Things

This is my latest go-to website for things to do when I want to do something other than drinking pints with my forearms resting on a sticky bar.


And it combines three of my favorite things: San Francisco, fun, and cheap.

The only thing better might be: San Francisco, bikes, and food. Or Zanzibar, fish markets, and snorkeling. Or mornings, tango, and chameleons. Or monsoons, trains, and snapdragons.