Thursday, January 31, 2008

TempuraQuest 2: The Sequel

Oidon Restaurant
71 E 4th Ave
San Mateo, CA

Another Thursday, another restaurant. This one was definitely an improvement, if not promising from the outset. Tonight's destination, though well marked on the front door, turned out to be located up an unprepossessing flight of stairs, above a video store. It was a small place, almost windowless, with a few tables up front and more seats along a counter facing into the tiny kitchen. This is where I sat; it seems to be the place for solo diners. The place wasn't exactly crowded, but they were doing steady business. As far as I could tell, I was the only person who ordered in English.

Food: $15 for the Tempura Dinner, with miso soup, salad, and some kind of pickled seaweed with what I think were mushrooms. The tempura was far better than what I had before, crisper and more lightly battered. Along with the usual shrimp and vegetables, there were also some small butterflied fish, and lotus root, plus something I thought was okra but turned out to be a hot pepper. Whoops. There were no combination dinners offered; in fact, I don't think I recognized more than about a quarter of the total items on the menu. This is not a bad thing.

Tempura Grade: 8/10
Overall Grade: 8/10

Entrance Poll

Thanks to a new feature on Blogger, I can now easily add a poll to my sidebar. For the first one I have chosen a topic near and dear to my heart; indeed, to anyone who has ever gotten a little silly with their drink orders while on vacation. Vote early, vote often! The future of the nation depends on you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cat, Out of Bag

Earlier this evening, my cat, Miss Marple, was being her usual deeply neurotic self, charging around the apartment (with occasional breaks to sit right outside the door whenever I went into the bathroom). At one point she found an interesting paper bag on a chair, got into it, knocked it down and fled. I admonished her (despite the fact that it has been proven that cats can not feel guilt-- they don't have the brain structure for it) and thought little more of it. That is, until I came into my bedroom and found this:

I think it's definitely a Look.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Blog

Day two of Daisy and Megan's Coastal Adventure dawned rainy, which was okay, because this was our day for the aquarium. Our hotel, in a nice variation on the standard "fruit and pastries in the lobby" breakfast, delivered it to our door in a charming basket. It did mean that we had to make our own tea in the microwave, but on the other hand, we didn't have to get dressed.

Thanks to the rain, the main drag of tourist Monterey was empty, but the aquarium was plenty crowded. Not overwhelmingly so, but enough that you had to wait for your turn to look through the little windows. (Probably not helping things was the fact that an entire wing was closed. Also: only great white in captivity anywhere in the world. That may have been a factor.) As it happened, we got to the deep ocean exhibit just before the feeding, which was exciting, but not in the way you might have expected. The white shark was there, smallish but plenty menacing, what with the cultural associations and all, and I couldn't help noticing his dorsal fin ever so slightly breaking the surface while he circled around the top of the tank, but he didn't exactly live up to his "apex predator" billing. It turns out that, in this particular case, tuna and dolphin fish beat juvenile great white in terms of speed and boney skeleton-having (useful information for your next round of rock-paper-scissors-tuna-juvenile great white, I think).

Needless to say, I plopped myself down on the floor with the rest of the little kids and watched the whole thing.

The rest of the aquarium was, as always, interesting and entertaining, but I was somewhat annoyed by the blatantly activist tone of a lot of the newer displays. I mean, yeah, I get it, there are a lot of threats to the oceans, and fighting them is a big part of the aquarium's mission, but does that really mean they have to suck the fun out of everything? Yeah, I know, I'm an evil selfish cynic, but still, what happened to learning for its own sake? Why not actually tell us something about these animals other than that it's our fault they're all gonna die? Not to mention the fact that by the thirty or fortieth time you've heard that something is an absolutely critical disaster situation, you tend to kind of tune out. But then, I repeat, me=evil cynic. But you knew that already.

When we had seen absolutely everything there was to see at the aquarium (twice for the otters), we took ourselves off for a late lunch at a restaurant on the wharf, where we saw our very own wild otter show, and I ordered a very silly drink served in a whole pineapple, because that is the sort of thing I will do if there isn't anyone around to stop me.

It was still early when we left Monterey, so we decided to come back by way of Highway 1. It was a beautiful drive, but a quiet one, because driving up 1 in the rain is a task that requires a certain amount of concentration. But we made it back just fine.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cute Overload

At the moment, Megan and I are in Carmel. We came down just for the weekend as a girls' getaway and because they have a new great white shark at the Monterey aquarium. Carmel (actual name: Carmel-by-the-Sea) is very cute, almost pathalogically so, especially in the downtown area. The houses are cute, the hotels are cute, the stores and everything in them: cute. I have to assume that everybody who lives or works here goes home and listens to death metal just to relax. Left to my own devices, I might have become somewhat snarky, but since I was with Megan, who is a great friend and an excellent psychologist and an all-around sterling individual, but whose love of the adorable borders on psychotic, I became very, very snarky indeed. You may find this unfair and frankly cruel of me, considering the degree she has put up with my driving style, but in my defense, she likes Thomas Kincaid.
Another thing Carmel has is an Anthropologie, which meant that I had to go and spend some money, because it is actually impossible for me not to. I think it has something to do with physics.
We had meant to go to tea at the Tuck Box, a restaurant known for its devotion to being cute, but apparently not known for staying open past two-thirty, so we ended up going to a hotel owned by Doris Day instead. (Did you know she was still alive? I didn't.) There were lots of dogs all over the place and a very fine tea, so that worked out.
Now we're off to dinner and I have to stop with the blogging because I'm doing it on my iPod and my fingers are starting to cramp.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Twelve Dollar Bowl of Popcorn

Last Sunday, Mary and I went shopping in the city. Makeup was tried on, shoes were bought, and a general good time was had. But by the end of the afternoon we found ourselves tired and in need of sustenance and, it being not quite dinnertime, we decided to stop for a drink. We ended up at the St. Francis hotel, because if you're going to go for a drink at the end of a day of shopping, it might as well be at a place with a formally-dressed doorman. What I had remembered as being a more casual bar area had been converted into a somewhat out-of-place fancy restaurant, but they still had a bar, with a whole range of fancy-glass cocktails.

So we got our drinks, but now what we really needed were snacks. And one thing this bar was short on was snacks. In fact, the only foods listed on the bar menu were oysters and "truffle butter popcorn" for twelve dollars. We said (to each other, not the waitress) that that was a ridiculous price for popcorn, and that we really couldn't see spending that kind of money on a snack, until the minutes ticked away and our drinks got lower and our stomachs got rumblier, and we finally decided "what the hell".

It was, I must admit, the absolute pinnacle of popcorn-based dishes. If popcorn believes in reincarnation, then this is what the best stuff comes back as. The key here, I think, is not to think of it as a high price for popcorn, but rather a relatively good deal on truffle butter. I mean, they must have used about a stick of the stuff. They even sprinkled little bits of truffle on top. Obviously, it would be the ideal thing to eat while watching a movie, but not just any movie. There would be no point in wasting popcorn this good on a dumb action flick or an assembly-line prestige picture. No, for this you need something fun but classy, original but retaining elements of the familiar, something tragically overlooked in terms of prestige because of lowbrow associations.

In short, this is the popcorn to eat while watching Ratatouille:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

San Mateo: The Quest For Tempura

As you may know, I recently moved to San Mateo, California. It is a fine place, if somewhat heavy on the yuppie factor, and short of quality bakeries. What it does have, though, is a lot of Japanese restaurants; approximately five hundred in the downtown area, by my estimate. This is good, because I like Japanese food. I particularly like tempura, if it is good, but that is the problem. Lately, it seems, most of the tempura I have had has not been very good, but thick and greasy and over-battered. But it is my belief that good tempura does exist and I only have to find it, which is why I have devised a plan:
Every Thursday, from now until I get bored or move, I am going to go to a different Japanese restaurant in downtown San Mateo and order their tempura (if possible, in a combo dinner). I will eat it, judge it, and report back here, with pictures.

And so it begins:

Kisaku Restaurant
47 E. 4th Ave
San Mateo, CA

General: Fairly busy for a Thursday, about thirty percent full when I got there with more coming in as I left. Service prompt and reasonably attentive. Damp towel sealed in plastic at each setting, for cleaning hands before eating (I think). Chopsticks only.

Food: $17 for a combination dinner of tempura and sashimi, with pickled vegetables, soup and rice. Tempura was representative of the problems with the dish: tasty and crisp when first served, soggy when it cooled. Sashimi (tuna) was very good. Possibly a better place for sushi than cooked food.

Tempura grade: 5/10
Overall grade: 7/10

Friday, January 18, 2008

Novel Writing By Committee, Several of Whom Are Not Aware They Are On the Committee: Update

Sadly, it appears that Cassie Edwards will not be eligible for the National Book Award, due to a little-known provision in the rules that prevents a book from winning if more that 10% of said book has already won the Pulitzer. But it seems like a shame to waste such an excellent, and I feel that the intersection of romance has only barely begun to be explored. (To aviod the problems recently experienced by Ms. Edwards, you will notice that I have clearly attributed every one of my sources, making perfectly fine for me to use them in this way.)
I give you:

Savage Scientists

Dr. Daphne Faireweather, M.D. PhD., slinked into the lab, her long auburn hair trailing flowingly behind her. As she arrived, Dr. Rock Steele, M.D. PhD D.D.S., looked up from his microscope, which has a light source and a condenser. The condenser is a lens system that focuses the light from the source onto a tiny, bright spot of the specimen, which is the same area that the objective lens examines.*

"The cell is one of the most basic units of life. There are millions of different types of cells. There are cells that are organisms onto themselves, such as microscopic amoeba and bacteria cells. And there are cells that only function when part of a larger organism, such as the cells that make up your body. All cells have a 'skin', called the plasma membrane, protecting it from the outside environment. The cell membrane regulates the movement of water, nutrients and wastes into and out of the cell. Inside of the cell membrane are the working parts of the cell. At the center of the cell is the cell nucleus. The cell nucleus contains the cell's DNA, the genetic code that coordinates protein synthesis. In addition to the nucleus, there are many organelles inside of the cell - small structures that help carry out the day-to-day operations of the cell**," he emoted profusely. "Have you had lunch yet?"

"Mitosis is nuclear division plus cytokinesis, and produces two identical daughter cells during prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. Interphase is often included in discussions of mitosis, but interphase is technically not part of mitosis, but rather encompasses stages G1, S, and G2 of the cell cycle," she cooed, her diaphanous lab coat clinging firmly to her buxom curves. "I was thinking maybe Thai."***

"Hmm," he declared, leaning on the Bio-Rad iCycler, which offers excellent thermal performance, fast ramping, intuitive programming, a choice of reaction modules with different assay formats, and optional upgrades for real-time PCR. Many user-friendly features, including help screens and reference lists, guide you through experiments. The high-resolution graphical interface simplifies file and protocol management and allows printing of a variety of reports.**** "I guess I could go for that."

"By the way," he went on, inscrutably. "Did you know that the domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) typically has brown, black, white, or mixed fur, an average length of approximately 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 2 pounds (1 kg), and an ordinary lifespan of 7 to 10 years? It's a close relative of the polecat, but it is as yet unclear whether it is a domesticated form of the European Polecat, the Steppe Polecat, or some hybrid of the two.*****"

"I love you," she cried bemusedly, flinging herself inevitably at him.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Most. Awesome. Ad. Ever.

I give you: The PCR Song

Yes, I am a big old geek, and I don't care who knows it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cassie Edwards and the Mutable Nature of Authordom

Perhaps you are aware of the recent kerfluffle over the work of romance novelist Cassie Edwards. Perhaps not. In either case, I will summarize:

As far as I can tell, Cassie Edwards writes romance novels with titles like "Savage Thunder" in which white chicks fall in love with Noble Savages (who are, presumably, thundering), in which characters occasionally speak in large blocks of text about Native American culture and practices, making them Educational. Recently, it came to the attention of the blogosphere that many if not all of these segments had been copied wholesale from other sources, including but not limited to, autobiographies, scholarly texts and an article about ferrets.

Certainly, the easy thing is to be outraged, to condemn the author for apparently having so little regard for her readers that she does not even bother paraphrasing her research into believable dialog. But what if it's more than that? What if Ms. Edwards wasn't just being a lazy writer with no regard for ethics or narrative sense, but instead was actually questioning the very nature of what it is to "write"?

Indeed, the juxtaposition of popular fiction and dry scholarship seems almost too odd to be unintentional. Isn't it just as possible that the work is in fact intended as an elaborate postmodernist prank, made all the more ironic by its use of one of modern fiction's most unironic forms, the traditional romance novel? With this work, Ms. Edwards is stretching the boundaries of literature by breaking its one remaining taboo: that something you publish as being your writing must actually be "written" by "you". Perhaps she is saying, "Are they not all the same, the romances about noble savages and the scholarly texts, and the memoirs, and the articles about ferrets? Are they not all part of the Ur-book from which all writing is drawn? Who can truly say where one work ends and another begins?"

National Book Award committee, I'm looking at you.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Abosutely Essential Childhood Reading List (Female Edition)

So, one of my coworkers is going to have a baby girl (or rather, his wife is. It would kind of awkward the other way.) And I was thinking of what to get for the baby shower, and naturally my thoughts turned to books. Baby books and early readers, of course, but then I got to thinking about all of the other books that are vital to childhood. I can't exactly give them all, so I thought maybe I'd do the next best thing and make a list. I'm only listing one per author, because otherwise we'd be here all day, and in the case of a series I generally chose the first book chronologically, unless I forgot which one that was. There's one subset I'm leaving out; the-not-actually-that-good-but-you-love-them-because-you're-a-kid serieses. For me it was the Happy Hollisters and the Babysitters Club, for you it might have been the Hardy Boys or Sweet Valley High or whatever the current one is. Expect this list to get longer as I think of more, and please leave your own suggestions in the comments.

Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
Pat the Bunny, Dorothy Kunhardt
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, Dr. Seuss
Blueberries For Sal, Robert McCloskey
The Pokey Little Puppy
Axle the Freeway Cat, Thacher Hurd
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz

Young Child:
Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
The Borrowers, Mary Norton
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case, Donald J. Sobol
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary
Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Betty MacDonald
Mr. Popper's Penguins, Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater
The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden and Garth Williams
Bunnicula, Deborah Howe
Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild

Older Child:
The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
The Story of Dr. Doolittle, Hugh Lofting
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
The Black Stallion, Walter Farley
The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O'Brien

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Are You There, God? It's Me, Maragaret, Judy Blume
The Body in the Library, Agatha Chirstie
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Foundation, Isaac Asimov
Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers
Jurassic Park, Michael Chrichton

Friday, January 04, 2008

Californians: Wimps or Pansies?

As promised, we're having some weather today. In fact, we're having so much weather that I am writing this from the apartment, having been sent home from work because the road to the office park was flooding. In related news, trees are down all over the place, one bridge and several sections of highway are closed, flight delays are over two hours and OH MY GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE.

Ahem. Sorry, where was I? Oh right, the rain.

The fun part about this storm is that I don't even have to go outside to experience it. Upon getting up this morning and going into the sunroom (a converted porch that adjoins my room) to feed the cat, I noticed a certain dripping dampness, which turned out to be the ceiling, all the way along one wall of windows. So that was fun, but not nearly as amusing as arriving at work and learning that every one of the floor-to-ceiling windows on every floor of our fancy new office building was showing the same approach to the concept of "watertight" as the Titanic did, post-iceberg. Did I mention that we just moved to these buildings two months ago, at great expense to the company (which is now, coincidentally, up for sale) and extreme inconvenience to the East Bay-based employee base? Good times.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's Nice When People Enjoy Their Jobs

As you may have heard, California is about to have some weather. So, in honor of the event I have been watching the Weather Channel, because it just isn't that often that we get to see that multicolored swirly thing heading at us, and I wanted to share with you a couple of gems from their reporter on the scene in Truckee:

"You need to stay tuned because the weather is going to be wild! If you want to see crazy weather, keep it tuned here to the Weather Channel."

"I didn't sleep last night because I was so excited about this storm."

Clearly, some people were just born to stand outside in the wind and rain and pass on the vital information that it is windy and raining.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Happy New Year!

I hope your celebrations were at least as exciting and fabulous as mine were. Though, frankly, I realize that not everyone can manage the glamorous one-two punch of a Discovery Channel marathon and a cup of cocoa at midnight, so perhaps it's better that you just live vicariously through me.

It's all about the low expectations, people.