Friday, January 30, 2009

Comforts from the kitchen

I know from reading our blog, it sometimes seems as if I'm the only one who does the cooking at home, but really, Jude's a pretty mean cook himself. Especially if you get him craving something enough, or inspired enough, he'll take over the kitchen and whip up something so cool, it'll knock your socks off :) Like a couple of weeks ago when I was fighting a cough and cold from the crazy weather- he wanted to make me something soupy and also happened to be craving Soto Ayam after reading this NYTimes article about soups from Southeast Asia. So what does my husband do? He puts me to bed and orders me not to get up till he tells me to, and 3 hours later, I wake up to this:


It was delicious, comforting, evocative, and just most wonderful. Really, there is no better cure for the flu than your husband making you any kind of soup, especially one that almost immediately floods you with memories of home :) It helped too that we have the actual book from which the recipe comes: James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor, a birthday present from Jude a couple of years ago.

Tonight, we decided to try recreating another soup from home from the book. No, neither one of us is under the weather; just greedy and missing home during the Chinese New Year season. Besides, for some reason, we've been craving this one particular soup for the past couple of weeks. Itek Tim is a tangy Peranakan duck soup simmered with salted mustard greens (kiam chye) and preserved dried plums (sng muay). This is one of my favorite soups from home and I beg my mom to make her definitive kick-ass version every time we're home. Unfortunately, we couldn't find fresh duck here (we're going to check out Plum Market tomorrow) so we used a combination of chicken and pork ribs. Once again, the force was strong in Jude, and he was prepping the ingredients before I even had a chance to step into the kitchen. He bruised the ginger and nutmeg, I chopped the chicken; he measured out the seasonings, I washed the mustard greens. Following Oseland's recipe almost to a T (we didn't have brandy and had to use whiskey instead, though...), between the two of us, I think we pulled off a pretty decent version. My mom would be proud :)


The soup has to simmer for an hour and a half but by the hour mark, the two of us were finding it really hard to resist the delicious smells wafting through the house. It's a wonderfully complex tasting soup- the combination of the flavor of the meats with the sweet-saltiness of the vegetables, mingling with the tanginess of the dried plums, and then there's the added layer of that certain something something that dances at the back of your throat from the nutmeg, pepper, ginger, and whiskey that was used to briefly marinate the meats.

Truly, people, it was pure soup bliss... :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

Because I've been tagged too many times on Facebook to not do this...

1. I'm making this list because I'm clearly bad at resisting peer pressure: "But mom, all the cool kids are doing it!..."
2. My favorite fruit is the mango.
3. I love Oasis even though Jude thinks they're the ah bengs of Brit rock.
4. I have no wisdom teeth. The dentist took them all out when I got braces at twelve.
5. Accord to a personality assessment report, my literary counterparts are either Hero in Much Ado About Nothing or Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series.
6. I haven't had a sip of caffeinated coffee in the past month.
7. I make a pretty mean roast chicken.
8. If I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it'll have to be sushi.
9. Jude and I first bonded over The Virgin Suicides- the novel, not the movie.
10. I never buy bottled water unless we're traveling.
11. I've met and spoken to (sort of...) two of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby and Salman Rushdie.
12. I've seen four of my favorite bands live- U2, Coldplay, Broken Social Scene, and Death Cab for Cutie.
13. I sleep on the right side of the bed. Even when I'm sleeping alone.
14. One of the best decisions I made last year was to take my running more seriously.
15. I don't eat carrots unless they're too difficult to remove, like in spring rolls or coleslaw.
16. 1999 was my favorite year in movies because it gave us The Matrix, Iron Giant, Fight Club, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, American Beauty, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
17. My favorite color could be green, orange or lavender, depending on my mood and the context.
18. I look more like my mom than my dad.
19. I'm shortsighted like my dad. My mom has perfect vision.
20. When I was six, I danced in my kindergarten "graduation" ceremony. The song was "Morning Has Broken" and I was a purple orchid.
21. My first Hollywood crush was Ke Huy Quan, the little boy in Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom and The Goonies.
22. The first car I ever drove was my dad's silver Mitsubishi Galant.
23. My favorite TV day is Wednesdays because it has Lost at 9pm and Top Chef at 10pm.
24. I love polka dots.
25. I hate celery.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

恭喜发财, 牛年快乐

Another year of not being with the folks and family for the Lunar New Year. And another year pining for crumbly pineapple tarts, melt-in-your-mouth kueh bangkit, and sweet-salty bak kwa. We've become used to spending mellow new years here, but it doesn't mean we miss home any less. Like any other huge holiday, Chinese New Year is a big deal for my family- apart from my parents and sisters (and now brother-in-law!), it's also about my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and army of cousins, nieces, & nephews; it's about just being with them and basking in the warm glow of family.

We ushered in the Year of the Ox quietly- there was a Chinese dinner at Middle Kingdom on Saturday with Lian, Kabi and Rick, and where our server recommended a gigantic steamed whole walleye for auspicious reasons ("fish" sounds like "prosperity" in Mandarin). Despite there being only five of us, we gamely ordered it anyway and practically cleaned the entire dish on top of everything else we ordered :) "Reunion" dinner last night was at Macaroni Grill, most decidedly un-Chinese and deliberately so. We figured all the Chinese places would be crowded so pasta it was. Besides, we could just about pretend we were having traditional Chinese New Year noodles for good luck (even though I ordered bow-tie pasta which look nothing like long, thin noodles...) And today, on the first day of the new year, instead of a day-long affair of jumping in and out of the car visiting relatives, stuffing our faces silly with new year goodies, and playing cards with the cousin, I'm bound to my desk, triple-backing-up data, transcribing, and trying my hand at website design.

All in all though, we are hopeful for the Year of the Ox- it's my dad's zodiac sign, and if nothing else, that suggests good things to come :) Here's wishing all of you who celebrate the Lunar New Year many bovine blessings for the year, whether that be wealth, health or just all-round good cheer!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The 7-month wait is finally over!



No prizes to the person who guesses correctly what we'll be doing tomorrow at 8pm EST :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Feels like the Arctic? Then live like in the Arctic

Look what we saw on our walk around the neighborhood this evening:


Love it! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Crazypants weather...

The forecast for tomorrow-

In Fahrenheit


In Centigrade


The weather report says something about "LONG DURATION ARCTIC VISIT." What the heck does *that* mean? A visit? Who invited the Arctic chill? Is this a long-term stay or more an illegal squatting situation? Does it understand how unwelcome it is?

Mr. Bus-Driver Man II

After six years of living in family housing and having taken the internal Blue Bus shuttle almost everyday all this time, Jude and I like to think that we know almost all the bus drivers who drive our route. We don't know each of them personally of course, but six years is long enough to develop an opinion about each of these individuals who are responsible for getting you to school in the most inclement weather (a.k.a. This Past Week). There's the lady who's always a little gruff with you but is really a softie when it comes to babies and old ladies; that one guy who never seems to be in the official UM PTA uniform but wears a sweatshirt instead and only talks to undergrad girls; the Bus Driver From Hell who NEVER stops in front of the bus-stop but several meters away just so you have to walk for your ride even if it means trudging through 10-inches of snow. And then there's Mr. Bus Driver Man. Almost four years ago, I had blogged about the same bus-driver and how he had plucked flowers for his wife while waiting for his scheduled time to leave. It's been a while since I saw him and I thought maybe he had retired.

But no, I realized today that it probably has more to do with the times I take the bus- I usually leave the house at 9-ish in the morning and catch the late evening bus home. But because of the weather advisory today, I thought I should leave school early and actually made it out of the building before 3pm. Lo and behold, I hop onto Mr. Bus Driver Man's bus :) He looks exactly the same and just as sweet. Despite the cold and snow, he personally stood outside his bus to wait for people who might be rushing for the bus just so they'd know he was waiting for them and he literally jumped off the bus when it looked like a girl who had just alighted had sprained her ankle. If he could, I really think he would have taken her to the doctor's himself.

I know it seems odd to blog about a bus-driver who hardly knows who I am but it was moving to see little acts of kindness unfold before you. Especially from people who are so much a part of your everyday life that you don't often stop to think of them as individuals...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day One

So today marked the first day of the second half of my dissertation data collection. I worked with the children in Singapore all through our time back home last summer and it's now time for the U.S. half of my study. It was actually my first time in an actual U.S. classroom (well, three classrooms, specifically)- I've been in and out of preschool classrooms the past six years but until today, I haven't stepped into an all-American K-12 school.

Some things are different from home- architecturally for one, schools in the U.S.-- or at least the ones I was in today-- are more enclosed. I'm so used to schools being constructed around a quadrangle, classrooms arranged along open corridors, sunlight flooding in from everywhere and things just being really open. Here, classrooms open up into labyrinthine indoor hallways, with exits only at specific points at the end of them, and little outside light except from main entrances, designated nooks, or one wall of windows in the classrooms. I know this paints a picture of schools here being dark and depressing, but quite the opposite. Every wall is covered in children's art-- and there's A LOT of wall space, teachers' decorate their classroom doors, handmade public service posters are everywhere and it's obvious that children are encouraged to personalize their school in ways that extend far beyond school-sanctioned notices or sanitized, laminiated displays of the multiplication table.

Children everywhere are fundamentally the same though- a ten-year-old in Singapore and a ten-year-old in America may wear different things to school, have very different choices of food for recess, and are educated in some very profoundly different ways, but at the end of the day, they respond to humor, they think celebrities are more famous than politicians, and when given the choice, they will happily choose to welcome a researcher into their classroom and subject themselves to her crazy questions than do any actual real schoolwork.

If today's an indication of anything, the next six weeks look like they're going to be fun :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tune of the week: Alfie - People



How have I not heard of Alfie?

Alfie were a short lived (2000 - 2005) but much loved band hailing from Manchester. Love this description of the band on their last.fm page:
"none of these albums sold particulary well so the band did their best and put together their 4th long player, ‘crying at teatime’. this record was much bolder but still bore their, by now familiar, lacadaisical, unpretentious, soothing, yada, yada, yada sound, soooo… as this was supposed to be their debut into the pop world everybody decided that it was all much too odd, all round, so they did the decent thing, (rather than bending to the celebrity ruled world of a.o.r.) and split up."
I have not carefully listened to Alfie's other output yet, but I do love this track - having found it on the edition of Late Night Tales' compilation featuring tracks chosen by The Flaming Lips.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Advice for writing in the age of distraction

If you are like me, constantly checking email, facebook statuses and worse of all getting sucked into chasing the latest online deals, then perhaps Cory Doctorow's advice for maintaining writing productivity might help. I've summed up his main points below, but you can get at the original blogpost he put up here.
* Short, regular work schedule
When I'm working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I'm working on it. It's not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it's entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there's always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn't become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day's page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you've already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

* Leave yourself a rough edge
When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you're in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you're in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day's knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the "hint." Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it's hard to build on a smooth edge.

* Don't research
Researching isn't writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don't. Don't give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction — an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type "TK" where your fact should go, as in "The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite." "TK" appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is "Atkins") so a quick search through your document for "TK" will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

* Don't be ceremonious
Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. Forget candles, music, silence, a good chair, a cigarette, or putting the kids to sleep. It's nice to have all your physical needs met before you write, but if you convince yourself that you can only write in a perfect world, you compound the problem of finding 20 free minutes with the problem of finding the right environment at the same time. When the time is available, just put fingers to keyboard and write. You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes.

* Kill your word-processor
Word, Google Office and OpenOffice all come with a bewildering array of typesetting and automation settings that you can play with forever. Forget it. All that stuff is distraction, and the last thing you want is your tool second-guessing you, "correcting" your spelling, criticizing your sentence structure, and so on. The programmers who wrote your word processor type all day long, every day, and they have the power to buy or acquire any tool they can imagine for entering text into a computer. They don't write their software with Word. They use a text-editor, like vi, Emacs, TextPad, BBEdit, Gedit, or any of a host of editors. These are some of the most venerable, reliable, powerful tools in the history of software (since they're at the core of all other software) and they have almost no distracting features — but they do have powerful search-and-replace functions. Best of all, the humble .txt file can be read by practically every application on your computer, can be pasted directly into an email, and can't transmit a virus.

* Realtime communications tools are deadly
The biggest impediment to concentration is your computer's ecosystem of interruption technologies: IM, email alerts, RSS alerts, Skype rings, etc. Anything that requires you to wait for a response, even subconsciously, occupies your attention. Anything that leaps up on your screen to announce something new, occupies your attention. The more you can train your friends and family to use email, message boards, and similar technologies that allow you to save up your conversation for planned sessions instead of demanding your attention right now helps you carve out your 20 minutes. By all means, schedule a chat — voice, text, or video — when it's needed, but leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant "DISTRACT ME" sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What's cooking?


Ever since the fiasco of the latest season of Project Runway (which if people were observant enough, I didn't even bother blogging about... Don't even get me started about Kenley and how no one-- *no one*-- should ever be rude to Tim Gunn), I was beginning to have my doubts about Bravo's reality-TV formula. Admittedly, their less than imaginative production of Project Runway might have to do with the fact that they're losing the show to Lifetime this year, but still, you'd think that for the swansong season, they'd do something more inspired that making clothes out of car parts or based on zodiac signs.

But since the new Top Chef season began-- and every week since-- my faith in my next-to-favorite cable channel is being revived. I love this new season, make that *adore*. Each challenge has been fun, exciting, and unexpected-- who would have thought Foo Fighters and Thanksgiving?! ("No more barfait!"- Taylor Hawkins) But the episode that really sealed it for me was the Christmas one where no one got sent home because everyone had chipped in to help Radhika and Hosea who's food had gone bad the night before. There was a genuine camaraderie and respect for each other that I hadn't seen in previous seasons. Even smarmy, arrogant Stefan admitted that it does him no good to compete under such unfair circumstances. It was nice to see that kind of momentary selflessness in a genre of television that is not known for forgiving relationships between competitors.

The addition of Toby Young this week as the new judge was a touch of genius- the show really didn't need the bland and boring Gail Simmons anyway. Acerbic, brutal and funny as hell, he made Jude and I cringe and cackle all the show tonight. My pick to win is Fabio, the Italian Stallion :) I love his accent, the way he talks about his food, his grandmother, the judges, and his fellow cheftestants. Like tonight about Jamie making scallops again, "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop!"
The UN Inspectors were looking in the wrong place. I have found the weapons of mass destruction and they are in this dish.
-Toby Young, Top Chef

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tweet tweet...

Goodbye pomegranates.


So to usher in the new year, ghetto of our mind has taken on a new look again. It's been close to a year and a half since the last change (the post describes the evolution of our blog) and with little to do while we were in Wisconsin, I occupied my time by searching for, finding, tweaking, Photoshopping, Illustratoring, and tweaking some more this final blog template you see now. As some of our more frequent readers know, this birdie design has been up for about a week or so now-- a soft release if you will ;)-- but from then till now, there have been little things I've been playing around with, like the tree image at the bottom of the page, the letter and line spacings, the blockquote code, fixing Jude's last fm widget, etc... But as of 4.47pm, 1/2/09, I think this is about as final as it's going to get for now. For a while, I got a little obsessed with correcting every little quirk, error or flaw I noticed in the formating till it frustrated even me. But like Emilee said, there's a bit of a obsessive-compulsive-perfectionist in every PhD student, so I'm just going to have to embrace that side of my personality whether I like it or not.

Besides, I really don't mind putting a little work into the blog. Ever since we started it, it's become a fairly important part of my life in terms of putting into words thoughts that would otherwise have remained internal. It's probably as much for myself as it is for the people reading, sort of like therapy if you will. And for that I thank you, our dear readers, for allowing us to inflict on you all our verbiage, no matter how mundane or banal :)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Retrosepctive

These were the things that defined the blog-- and by extension, us-- this past year. Thanks 2008, you've been good to us :)

[click for larger image]

Thanks to wordle.