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Archive for the ‘Food and drink’ Category

You know how you’re supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day, but almost nobody does it?

Well, I do it, and have been for the past several weeks.

Why, you ask?

I was at my massage therapist, getting a massage. I have a lot of crunchiness in my back and shoulder muscles, every time I get a massage the therapist comments on it. And after every massage, they tell me to drink plenty of water. Of course, everybody says that.

But this time, the therapist told me something that made me change my behavior – drinking plenty of water helps with the “crunch, crunch, crunch” of my muscles. Or rather, it helps to make the fascia (the layer of tissue surrounding the muscles) more malleable and less crunchy.

That made me think.

I have back issues, like everybody else in America (okay, only 80%). If drinking more water was going to help fix things, then I would give it a try.

I started by actually measuring how much water I drink per day, and it turns out that on average I was already drinking 7 cups. If I have a cup of water at work at lunch, the paper cups are actually two regular size cups of water (that is, 8 oz + 8 oz = 16 oz). I have a glass of water at dinner, which is another 16 oz (two cups). For breakfast, I was having a cup of coffee (which counts towards your water content) and a smaller glass of water, and that added up to three cups (24 oz). But often that would be all the liquid I would consume during the day.

I decided to bump up my morning glass of water to two cups (16 oz) and a cup of coffee which is 12 oz; so, altogether, on an average day I would be at 7.5 cups of water and would only need to have an additional 1/2 cup (6 oz) to fill up my quota. That’s manageable, so usually at work I’ll have a cup of green tea or in rare cases, another cup of water. That puts me at my daily minimum.

I haven’t noticed any health changes yet, but I haven’t been back to the massage therapist either. I’m curious to see if it helped.

I better not have drank all this water for nothing.

2017-12-26-EightGlassesOfWater

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As I’ve posted before, this past September the wife and I went to New York City where I was invited to participate in a customer panel (that is, the company I work for is a customer of another company, so they flew a bunch of representatives down to NYC for a couple of days). This was right before we went to Toronto for another conference I attended for work.

For many years, I had heard about New York pizza. I was never sure why it was such a big deal. What differentiated it from normal pizza? Sure, I could have Google/Binged it, but I never did. I don’t eat that much pizza anyhow, so it never was a burning issue for me.

But while I was in New York, I had my first New-York-pizza experience (I had pizza in New York in 2007, but I don’t think it was what’s normally thought-of as New York pizza). What makes it so special? Well, assuming what I ate for lunch was representative of New York pizza and not just some particular restaurant’s style:

  • First, the crust is much thicker. Like, a half-inch thick. Most pizza you get from the store or order from a pizza place (Domino’s, Pizza Hut) is thinner that New York pizza. I had a piece of it that was a regular size, and I was basically full (I ate a 1/2 piece more). It was an ordeal eating the slice of pizza, it was so thick.
    .
  • Second, it was way saucier than a normal pizza. I had to eat it with a fork and knife, it was so saucy and rich.

It’s really not similar to any pizza I normally eat. I’ve had Domino’s or Pizza Hut that people have ordered in; I’ve cooked frozen pizza I’ve gotten from Trader Joe’s; I’ve had cook-at-home pizza that people gotten from Papa John’s; I’ve gone to restaurants after hiking with the wife and ordered pizza. Not a single one of them was similar to New York pizza.

I don’t know that I would want all pizza I ordered to be like New York pizza, it’s just too rich for me.

But I sure am glad I tried it.

2017-12-26-NewYorkPizza

The picture above I got from Google, and would be an example of a thin-crust version of what I had.

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A liquid paleo-diet

One of the books I read this year is Antifragile, Nassim Taleb. It’s kind of a hard book to describe, if you haven’t heard of it I suggest you read the reviews on Amazon or do your own Internet search to find out what it’s about (I may write about it later).

2017-12-25-Antifragile

But one of the things that stuck with me is how Taleb has a rule for the things he consumers as food and beverage – I don’t remember the food part, but he says he never drinks anything that hasn’t been around for at least 1000 years. He does this because the human body probably hasn’t had time to adjust to the new-fangled sugary-inventions that have appeared on the consumer market, and are therefore to be treated with suspicion. Our bodies just can’t process the influx of sugar or chemicals that is a regular part of the western diet.

I decided to copy this rule. This means I can drink water, wine, tea, coffee, and beer. I also drink milk but only a couple of tablespoons in my coffee. But if I did drink more than that, it would also be acceptable.

This also means that beverages like Coke, Pepsi (any sugary drink), Red Bull, Iced Tea, milkshakes, iced lattes, anything other than drip coffee from Starbucks, hot chocolate, and even orange juice is out. They are all fairly recent inventions. Orange juice is pretty sugary, so that’s not acceptable despite people saying they need the nutrients (you can get all the vitamins and nutrients you need just by eating fruit). Even Vitamin Water is not acceptable.

I had already been doing this for a couple of years now, but now I am more rigidly enforcing it. It greatly simplifies my dietary choices, and I really like that. Each of the things I can choose from – wine, beer, tea, coffee, and water – I like. I have no problem drinking any of them. And three of them – water, tea, coffee – are either no calories or almost no calories. And over the past year, I’ve gradually swapped out beer for wine, which processes in your body differently.

I took many things away from Antifragile, but this one has stuck with me the most.

 

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In a switch to something I never thought I’d do, I recently added something to my diet: oatmeal.

Growing up, on weekends my family would occasionally have oatmeal for breakfast, although we called it porridge. And I never liked it. In fact, it was my least favorite breakfast food.

In my view, it tasted like goopy glop. It would be spooned into my bowl where it was kind of runny, and then I added milk (the way I would for all cereal – why would porridge be any different?). That made it even more unpalatable (why didn’t I learn?). In order for me to be able to eat it, I’d add several heaping teaspoons of brown sugar.

It kind of looked like this, only much runnier:

2017-12-25-GoopeyOatmeal

I would regularly be asked if I wanted more. There was not a single time I said yes. Not even once, in 20 years. My brother and sister didn’t seem to mind it, and I ate it only because I had to. But I did not like it (a sentiment I share with my aunt). After I moved out, I cut back on it. In fact, the number of times I’ve voluntarily eaten oatmeal in the past ten years is… zero.

However, it turns out that it may not be true that I dislike oatmeal, but perhaps only disliked the texture and mouth feel of the way we used to make it. What if it were made more solid?

I don’t like the feel of goop and glop in my mouth, and that was always my association with oatmeal. But one time in an airport, in the lounge, there was free food for breakfast. I saw that it was oatmeal. Normally I wouldn’t bother eating it, but I peeked in and saw that the oatmeal was semi-solid. That intrigued me.

I took a bowl and put a couple of tablespoons in it, then sat down and ate it. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. It was a little chewy, but not at all goopy or gloppy. It kind of resembled this:

2017-12-25-Oatmeal

A few weeks later, I was browsing through Fred Meyer where I got the bright idea of buying some breakfast oatmeal. I know that the wife would buy it sometimes, but I had no idea what version. I just wanted something not too sugary because that would defeat its purpose. I wanted to try oatmeal to switch up from eating toast in the morning, I wanted to diversify some of my grains from wheat to oats.

I read through a few packages and just ended up getting rolled oats. The next morning, I came down for breakfast and heated up a 1/2 cup of water, put in the packet of oatmeal, and let it cook for one minute. I removed from heat and put it into a bowl.

I took it to the kitchen table, ate it, and the verdict was… not bad. I could eat this without sugar. And I also ate it without milk. It was mostly chewy, but not really goopey or gloppy. I considered it an acceptable substitute for a slice of toast, and probably healthier as I usually put butter or honey on my toast whereas I can eat oatmeal plain.

I don’t necessarily eat it every day (sometimes I substitute eggs, or a second slice of toast) so I don’t get tired of eating it.

But it turns out that all this time, I was eating oatmeal the wrong way. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

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One the changes that we’ve made this past year is in how we purchase meat. We used to get it from the grocery store, that is, Trader Joe’s or Fred Meyer or the Asian grocery store.

However, for the past few weeks we’ve also started getting it from an actual butcher shop which is close to the Trader Joe’s from where we live.

I’m keenly aware of this quaint practice. Back in the olden days, people would have used to do this all the time. It was normal, you get your meat from the butcher shop. But as America transformed into big box retail, the supermarket became the selection-of-choice for everything you want to buy.

Why go to the butcher shop?

We did it on a whim one day, and were impressed with the selection. Stuff does cost more from there, yes. But it also tastes better, and it might even have a better fresh meat selection than a number of larger stores. And I also feel good about supporting local business.

So that’s one of the changes we’ve made this year.

ButcherShop

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For the first 30-some-odd years of my life, I never drank alcohol. I didn’t care for the taste, and found it repulsive. I sympathize with those who don’t drink.

That started to change in 2012 when the wife and I went to Argentina. We started to have a little bit of red wine when we went out to eat, but for the most part I stuck to water. I never really found myself enjoying wine that much.

My aversion to alcohol went away after we went to the Czech Republic in 2013 and I started drinking beer. It was there that I realized that I liked beer. I figured out that there are only certain types of beer styles that I like. I’ve kept a list of all the different types I like, and over the next four years I figured I was primarily a liker of beer, and not wine. If I was going to drink wine, I didn’t want to sacrifice a beer for it (my body has a limited budget for alcohol consumption, so I have to be selective).

But last year, we went to France and that started to change. I found some wine that I liked. And then this past year we went to Sonoma in California, which is wine country. I learned that I liked some wines from that region, too.

Since going to Sonoma, I have increased my consumption of wine while decreasing my consumption of beer. I haven’t been keeping track, but I estimate that since June of this past year, I’ve probably had more wine than beer. I’m still a noob when it comes to different styles of wine and estimating what they will taste like, but I think part of the reason that I never liked wine in the past was that I wasn’t drinking good wine. It has to cost at least $10/bottle otherwise it leaves a sticky, cotton-mouth feeling in my mouth.

I’ve told people that one of the best things about wine is that it isn’t mass-produced. It’s made by small-to-medium size wineries by families or small businesses that care about their product.

Big business that mass produces things are in it for the money. And when you scale up, the quality of your product goes down. That’s just the way it is. But when you do things on a small scale, of course you are in it for the money (you have to be, otherwise you’ll go bankrupt) but you’re absolutely in it because you love the product and want to make something people will enjoy. You take pride in your work.

Wineries are like that. If you get too big and the wine gets too corporate, the product quality suffers. I don’t think you can make a quality bottle of wine for less than $3/bottle, because the bottle itself costs $2.

So yes – wine has not yet suffered the same fate as beer where a few large corporations dominate the beer market with an inferior product. When I was younger, I didn’t care as much about supporting small business because I was a strong believer in capitalism, and the market would sort out the winners and losers according to whoever had the best product.

But now, I’ve gained some skepticism about the market. Big business can sort out winners and losers not because they necessarily have a better product, but because they have a better business and distribution channel. They can scale up and get their product out to more people. Quality is a concern, but it’s not the concern.

That’s something that is not the case in wine.

Not yet, anyhow. And hopefully never.

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I’ve been fortunate this year to have traveled for work to a number of different cities – Cologne, Germany; Toronto, Canada; New York City, New York; Sonoma, California; and San Francisco, California.

Because I’m reasonably well-known in the antispam filtering space, and because I work for a big company, I’m often taken out for lunch or dinner (along with many other people). This past week, I was in San Francisco and got to go dinner to Gary Danko, one of San Fran’s premier restaurants.

I had never heard of the place before. Of course, why would I? I don’t know that many restaurants in any city other than Seattle (and maybe Winnipeg). But Gary Danko is close to the waterfront, just across the street from the Ghiradelli chocolate factory.

I’m not a food connoisseur, but I do enjoy fine dining. The portion sizes are smaller but they are cooked with more spices and less salt/sugar/fat meaning that it’s not as bad for you as, say, McDonald’s. McDonald’s makes food you like only because it has so much salt and fat. Without it, it simply doesn’t compete with fine dining.

My meal was three courses. It started with appetizers and while there were several things on the menu I could have selected, I went with the bisque.

GaryDanko-Bisque

I don’t often get soup with my dinner. I will eat it if it comes with it, but I usually don’t select it over other things. I decided that since I had a salad for lunch, and I was getting meat for my main course, I would go with the bisque. I was glad I did, because it was really good.

For my main course, there were many different selections. Duck, lamb, steak, quail (I think… I can’t actually remember now) but I decided to go with bison. Why? Well, I never have bison in real life so I figured I would give it a shot now.

GaryDanko-Bison

I didn’t have the option of picking how I would like it. If I did, I would have picked medium-rare. But the way they cooked it was between rare and medium-rare, so it was rarer than what I would have selected.

That’s a good thing, because it turns out that bison is a tougher meat than regular steak.

On my plate, the thing on the right is a portobello mushroom, while the green things underneath the bison are not vegetables but instead a type of soft egg noodle called spätzle. I had never had it before, it was kind of chewy.

For dessert, there were a lot of different sweet things on the menu, and from what I know about fancy restaurants and dessert, they can go all-out. I opted instead to go with the cheese-tasting menu. I like cheese, and I knew it wouldn’t be too sugary.

My plate came with some grapes, four different types of cheeses, and then some raisin bread (yuck!). I strongly dislike raisins, but I finished most of the cheese and the grapes.

GaryDanko-Cheese

There was an extra bonus dessert plate afterwards, so I snagged myself a chocolate treat.

GaryDanko-BonusDessert

My group was pressed for time so we were in-and-out in 1 hour and 45 minutes. But I enjoyed my time there. If I had to do it again, I’d probably get the lamb instead of the bison. But nevertheless, no regrets. Any time I can go for fine dining, I jump at the chance.

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Tonight, from Blue Apron, I made shiitake mushroom burgers. The ingredients were simple: some ground beef, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, hoison sauce, and onion greens. That’s it, I mushed them together and then sautéed them on the stove. They turned out really well. I mean, really medium.

While I was doing that, I was reminded of a time when I was living back in Winnipeg when I had a mushroom burger.

For you see, myself and some co-workers one time went for lunch at a place called the Liberty Grill. I had been there several times in the past and never ordered food that was particularly healthy. I was in my mid-20’s at the time so it didn’t matter.

Anyhow, I decided to try the portobello burger. I roughly knew that a portobello was a type of mushroom, so I figured that I’d get a burger with a bunch of fried (or grilled) mushrooms on it.

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I’m not as big a fan of mushrooms as the wife, but I figured it’d be fine since burgers usually have all sorts of tasty (i.e., sweet or salty) sauces on them.

But imagine my surprise when I got my burger. I took a bite and sunk my teeth into it, but it wasn’t a mushroom burger, it was a mushroom burger.

There was no beef patty at all, the patty was a giant portobello mushroom!

image

As soon as I got it in my mouth, I said “What is this?”

I opened it up, and saw that there was no meat but instead just a giant mushroom where there ought to have been meat (at the time, I was still 7 years away from cutting back on meat and going partially vegetarian).

I realized my mistake, they really did give me a portobello burger. I hadn’t taken it literally.

I realized I was going to have to stomach it and tried to force myself to eat it. I may have been disappointed, but I was going to eat it.

I couldn’t. I removed the mushroom after only eating perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of it, and gave up. I ate the rest of the bun + vegetables, and the salad (or fries) it came with.

I never ordered it again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Years later I would read about a football player on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Kamau Peterson) who had the same experience as me. He ordered a portobello burger expecting a burger with mushrooms, but realized he was getting something else instead.

He didn’t like it, either.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My shiitake mushroom burger experience was not like that. In fact, it was fantastic. Shiitake mushrooms are full of umami (i.e., they are savory), they don’t taste like regular white mushrooms. They are one of the types of mushrooms that make me understand why the wife likes them so much.

It’s too bad they cost 10 times as much.

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You may remember that last month I mentioned that I am taking an online course in art appreciation.

Well, at the same time I purchased that course, I also signed up for an online class about cooking called The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking.

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This means I am making my way through two sets of online courses, and I do them in the evenings when I have time (which, for some reason, has not been that much lately).

The reason I signed up is because I’ve been cooking Blue Apron meals for about two years now and I’ve gotten better at cooking. However, I’m still very much an amateur without a “philosophy” of cooking. That is, I can follow a recipe, and I know what I like. But, I can’t predict what will taste good together if I were to put something together from scratch.

For example, in magic, I know a lot of the theory and can combine various mini-effects to make one longer routine. For beer, I know the various styles and can predict what something can and should taste like. But for cooking, I don’t know what spices should go together, how to pick between olive oil and butter, how long to cook something, at what temperature, how to pair ingredients, etc. I just know what has worked in the past.

So I signed up for cooking.

I’ve learned a couple of key things:

1. I’ve learned how to pair seasoning and other tastes

Our tongues have five basic taste receptors – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (umami). When you are cooking foods, you are not supposed to pair like-with-like. That is, if a food is sweet, you shouldn’t pair it with something else that is sweet for a double-shot of sweetness. Instead, you should combine sweet-with-bitter, or sweet-with-salty. That creates a nice mixing sensation (that’s why there is such a thing as sweet-and-sour sauce).

So, when I cook and I want to add seasoning to something, I say to myself – what does this food taste like? Is it sour, bitter, sweet, or salty? Once I answer it, I then say “What spice should I add?” If the food is bitter (like kale), I would add something salty, sweet, or sour. I wouldn’t add another bitter spice.

Or, if the food is sweet like an orange, I wouldn’t add cinnamon but instead either salt, or another non-sweet seasoning.

Speaking of which, a couple of years ago I was at a friend’s place and we were eating watermelon, and I saw him putting salt on it. My friend is a southerner, and I thought he was a crazy person for putting salt on the watermelon.

But it turns out, he’s not so crazy after all (at least not for that). Salt + sweet is a good combination of flavors with contrast to give you a different sensation. What he was doing made sense.

It turns out I was the one who was wrong!

2. There are four different types of cooking techniques

I’ve often hear of roasting, braising, baking, frying, etc. But there are just four main techniques:

i) Dry-heat cooking with fat

I used to put my food in a frying pan and heat it up, and say I was frying it. That’s not right, I was sautéeing it. To sauté something is to add a little bit of oil (e.g., olive or avocado oil) and then heat it up.

Frying it is when you have a deep pan, e.g., 6 inches, and then fill it up halfway, e.g., 3 inches, and then cook your food in it. There’s way more fat involved.

French fries in a restaurant are literally fried. I only sauté things.

ii) Dry-heat cooking without fat

This includes techniques like roasting and baking

iii) Moist-heat cooking

These are techniques like boiling or steaming

iv) Combination

This is self-explanatory, it combines the above

I still don’t know when I would use each of the above techniques, but dry-heat cooking with fat seems to be the easiest and fastest.

I’m still early on in the lesson plan, and I have not yet done any of the recipes that the chef has demonstrated, even though they look fantastic. I don’t know if I ever will.

But, I do know that when I cook Blue Apron, or do anything else, I am now more deliberate about the chopping techniques I have, the cooking technique I use, and the seasonings I add to the food.

And in that regards, the class has been worth it.

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I go through phases. We all do. But lately, I’ve been organizing my own evening or late afternoon snack.

For you see, since I’m currently on a wine kick, this past Sunday I bought a French baguette from the bakery in Fred Meyer. I came home and cut up a few slices, and had it with some basil-flavored olive oil that we bought in Sonoma, some cheese, and a glass of wine.

It was a typical French dessert. I was quite pleased with myself, and I can’t wait to have it again in the future.

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Well, this is interesting.

During the past month (if that), I have preferred drinking wine instead of beer.

What? How’d that happen?

I don’t know. It may have started when the wife and I went down to Sonoma, California where I attended a conference. Sonoma is wine country, and one of the evening events was wine tasting.

We went to the Kunde Winery where I tried 7 or 8 different types of wine. And it was good! So good that I became interested in having wine rather than beer when I got home. So that’s when it started.

Except, even before that, I had been enjoying Riesling, a style of white wine. And I had reduced my beer consumption even before the trip to Sonoma.

I’m not sure what’s driving this (temporary?) wine preference. I’ve discovered that I prefer white wine instead of red wine, but what I think I really prefer are wines that have a “clean” finish; that is, wine that does not have much of an aftertaste. Most red wine lingers on your palate after you sip and swallow it. I’m not a fan of that.

But apparently, there are some red wines that have clean finishes. I discovered some at the Kunde Winery. That made me think “Hmm, maybe some red wines are decent.”

I’m still at the stage where I can’t distinguish between $10 wine and $100 wine. I’m also still at the stage where I can’t really distinguish between different styles of wine.

That is, for the two main types of beer – ales and lagers – I can easily tell the difference between ambers, browns, stouts, and IPAs because those are so distinct. But even within the golden-colored beers, I can distinguish them. Pale ales, kolsches, golden ales, pilsners, hefeweizens, pale lagers… it doesn’t matter because I can reasonably predict what they should taste like.

However, for wine I am not that discriminating. For white wine, there’s Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, and I don’t know what each one is supposed to taste like. For red wine, there’s Pinot Noir (which is the only one I know that is supposed to be reasonably light), Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec… if you gave me one I wouldn’t know what to expect. Nor would I be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test.

So, I am still a rank amateur when it comes to wine.

But, in the past couple of days, I’ve been enjoying having a late evening snack. I have bread, olive oil, cheese, and a glass of wine.

Ça, c’est magnifique!

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This past week, the wife and I got invited to a financial seminar (something about retirement) at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse which is one of the high-end steak houses in Bellevue. We are both going, and I think we are allowed to invite two more people because they sent us invitations for four people.

It’s pretty common for us to get invited to these things. We live in the wife’s parents’ home, and the various marketers know people’s ages around the neighborhood. So they’re always inviting the wife’s parents (by mail) but we go instead (heh, heh, heh) [1]. In the past we’ve gone to two financial seminars, and one for solar panel installations. We’ve never bought anything, but they are still interesting. Plus, you get a free meal. Previous ones have included McCormick and Schmick’s in downtown Bellevue, and Maggiano’s.

Anyhow, the dinner is free (!!!) and we’ve invited 3 other couples, and all three have turned us down due to other commitments. I literally can’t even give these free tickets away for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

 

[1] They are mostly looking for older people. Half the invitations we are not allowed to use because it says "Please, no attendees under 40."

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For most of my life, until the year 2012 when I was 33, I didn’t drink coffee. That changed after we went to Bali and I had some flavored coffee (that I think was mostly sugar). But since then, after getting a home coffee maker, I’ve started drinking it.

We started off drinking coffee from Trader Joe’s but in the past couple of years switched to one of three brands from Whole Foods – Café Ladro, Café Lusso, and Anchorhead coffee. We grind the beans at home, right before brewing.

That makes for some good coffee.

So, I’m okay with coffee now, but one type of coffee I don’t like is Starbucks coffee.

Even before I started drinking it, I would occasionally have Caramel Machiattos from Starbucks, or other sugary drinks. But since I don’t really drink sugary drinks anymore, all I want now from them is a regular drip coffee.

But the problem is that it doesn’t taste good. Neither the light, medium, or dark roast is pleasant, it’s all too bitter.

Why?

I finally did a web search for “What makes coffee bitter?” I found one article that gives three reasons:

1. Putting too much water through the coffee beans. I can’t imagine Starbucks doing this, they have machines that measure it.

2. Using the wrong grind size. I can’t imagine Starbucks doing this, either. They have machines that do it all (unless they are doing it on purpose to save money).

3. Using water that is too hot. Oh, yeah, this is it. Every Starbucks coffee I get is too hot. I have to wait several minutes before drinking it, or add milk or cold water to it to make it drinkable from the moment I receive it. I contrast this to my home coffee, and I can drink it almost straight off the pot.

So if every Starbucks coffee is too hot for me, and water that is too hot makes coffee bitter, and I find Starbucks coffee too bitter, that must be why.

I don’t understand the rationale for making coffee too hot, but that’s my hypothesis.

* * * * * *

I don’t buy coffee from restaurants much, if at all. I just have a drink in the morning. The only time I do is when I am traveling and can’t brew it myself in the morning.

I prefer home brew to store bought most of the time. I think the wife does, too. After we started home brewing, she pretty much stopped going to Starbucks.

That’s weird, because I live in Seattle and Starbucks started here, so I guess I am not that loyal a customer.

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(I’m currently writing this three weeks after the fact)

I recently turned 38 years old.

I know that some people lament getting older, and of course, no one likes it because your body starts getting aches and pains; there’s a cult-of-youth in our society; and it means you are one year closer to death.

But, it also means you are still alive, your mind got a little more mature, you got to experience a bunch of new things (hopefully), and you (hopefully) became a little wiser. It’s actually not all that bad.

For my birthday, the wife and I went out to an estate sale. That’s something we started doing this past year, and we’ve picked up a few things like little paintings, a chair, and a bookshelf. The prices are competitive if you go late in the day towards the end of the sale.

We didn’t get anything that day, but we did see these interesting carvings:

IMG_0287

That may be difficult to see, but they are small carvings of dragons. I might have bought them and given them to a friend… if they weren’t going for $400.

Nope.

Later on that day, the wife and I headed down into Seattle to Café Turko, a Turkish restaurant located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

We discovered this place after returning for Turkey. We were like “Are there any Turkish restaurants in the city?” And there were! We’ve only checked out this one, but we liked it a lot.

The wife asked me where I wanted to go out to eat for my birthday, and there were a few places that ran through my mind. But in the end, I went with Café Turko.

Before the meal, we got appetizers – Rainbow Hummus. This is where they give you warm pita bread (I love warm pita bread) with four different types of hummus: regular, beet hummus, olive hummus, and sweet potato hummus. It is super-good, I can’t recommend it enough.

Then we ordered the main course. I can’t remember what I got, or what the wife got, but it was also good.

What I like about this place is that the food is not overly covered in sauce, but instead the meat, rice, and salad are flavored with spices.

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Finally, for dessert, we had Turkish coffee. If you haven’t had it before, it’s super strong coffee. My mother once likened it to putting a spoon in it, and the spoon standing straight up. We have ours with cardamom; and while it is strong, I like it. It’s not a large cup of it, just a little shot glass-sized cup (I guess this is one of the few times I buy coffee, but in my defense it’s Turkish coffee which is something I would never brew at home).

We went to Café Turko somewhat early in the evening (getting there at 4:30 pm) so we got out of there reasonably early. I can’t remember what we did after that, we may have come home and watched a movie, or perhaps went out to see a movie.

One of those two things.

But as you can see, my birthday was pretty low key. But I like low-key things. It’s not a lot of pressure, and you can take things as they happen.

So, a pretty good 38th birthday.

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I have a skill of going to work conferences and not paying for food, because other companies are always willing to take me out. Well, two days ago was no different.

We went on a tour of Montparnasse Tower, and that afterwards went out for a three course meal at a local French restaurant. It was pretty good.

But the thing I want to talk about is the dessert. I had no idea what it was but had a choice of three – lemon meringue pie, super-chocolate pie, or rum baba. The other two sounded super sugary so I went for the rum baba. I had no idea what it was and figured it was worth a try.

image

It turns out that rum baba is a dessert pastry that is soaked in rum, that is, the alcoholic beverage. I took one bite of it and thought “Oh, wow, this is covered in rum!”

I didn’t mind it, but a few of my colleagues tried it and said “Yikes! This is way too much rum!” After a couple of bites they were done. One guy put a bit up to his mouth and immediately put it down again.

I didn’t mind it. It was soaked in rum but I don’t mind the taste of it that much, and I liked the pastry part of it. But still, it was a little much and was quite rich. I only ended up eating perhaps 20% of it.

So that’s my experience with a new dessert.

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For many years, I was never a beer drinker. That changed in 2013 when we were travelling in the Czech Republic and I discovered that I liked the beverage. Over the three years since that time, I have seen my tastes shift such that beers I never used to like I now do, and beers I used to I like I no longer do. The best example of this is dark beer (stouts and porters). They used to be my favorite, but now I’m like “What else is there?” if presented with that option.

The same thing has happened to me with wine.

I was never a big wine drinker, but when people asked me if I wanted a glass of wine I would usually get a red.

But over the past few months, in rough alignment with my preference for lighter-colored beer, I’m not as big a fan of red wine anymore. I think I like white wines better, and also rosés.

I’m not sure what it is. I find the red wine too… I don’t know the word for it. Maybe the white and rosé have a cleaner finish than the red? I know that I like beers that have a clean finish, but I’m not that attached to them.

Yeah, I don’t know.

I’m also the same with coffee. I prefer lighter roasts than the darker ones (e.g., Italian roast, espressos).

It’s kind of a pity to be in France and not want to try out all the different kinds of wine because that’s what France is known for. But they are also known for cheese, and baguettes.

Fortunately I love those.

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Me and the wife are currently in Paris, France. I’m there for work and the wife is there for vacation. Yet because I’m reasonably well known in antispam circles, I was invited to come to a dinner at Le Jules Verne, a fancy restaurant at the Eiffel Tower with a bunch of other people in the email industry. It’s on the second floor of the tower, and you have to dress up; you can’t dress like a hobo. To prepare, I bought myself a sport coat back in September, and I also bought a $10 navy-colored time from Ross store so I could look a little fancy.

Le Jules Verne tries to serve up an experience, and it’s one of the higher rated restaurants in the city. I never take pictures of my food (unlike the wife) but this time I thought I would because I knew the wife would ask me what I had to eat. I never ask the wife what she had to eat when she goes out, but she usually asks me what I had.

So I took pictures. I did this so that I could explain what I had, and how I liked it.

We had a seven-course meal, per below. I realize now, two days later, that my memory of the meal is actually pretty hazy. Apologies for the poor descriptions.

Picture Description
IMG_0165 This is a seafood dish with a lime sauce. A little bit slimy.

My rating: Didn’t like.

IMG_0166 Foie gras with a vegetable on the left hand side. I’ve had foie gras a couple of times and it’s always been okay, but this one was pretty good.

My rating: Pretty good.

IMG_0167 Scallops with shredded… carrot? The sauce was good, too.

My rating: Pretty good.

IMG_0168 Fish with fried nuts or figs. I liked the nuts on the side because of the combination of sweetness and crunchiness.

My rating: Pretty good.

IMG_0169 Beef with mushrooms. The French like their steaks more rare than the average American. I like mine medium-rare so this was just right.

My rating: Very good, although I didn’t care for the mushrooms.

IMG_0170 A fancy dessert, fried pear with whipped cream. The crunchy stuff at the bottom was good, although pear is not my favorite food.

My rating: Pretty good.

IMG_0171 Chocolate + chocolate! The shape of the dessert is supposed to be a nut, as in, a large piece of hardware from the Eiffel Tower. This was really good, I didn’t finish it because it was so rich. Also came with ice cream.

My rating: Very good.

Not only did we get the above seven courses, we got bread. Well, actually bread rolls. I thought the Germans were the masters of bread, but I think the French have outpaced them.

We also got five types of wine – champagne (which I skipped because I don’t like champagne), two different types of white wine (my rating: very good), one red wine (my rating: okay… I don’t really care for red wine at the moment), and a dessert wine (my rating: not bad, although sweet).

So that’s what I did at the Eiffel Tower.

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I first started drinking beer in the middle of 2013 after we went on a trip to Vienna and Prague. Before that, I thought it tasted bad and couldn’t understand how people acquired a taste for it.

But after trying good beer in the Czech Republic, I understood why people drank it – some of it tastes pretty good!

Not all beer, though. A lot of it tastes bad, and there’s a lot of it I don’t like.

I’ve noticed that my tastes have evolved over the last 2.5 years. Things I used to like I don’t care for anymore, and a few things I didn’t like I now like a lot better.

When I first started drinking beer, after a few months I gravitated towards the dark ones – stouts especially. And I started off liking the lighter ones like Stella Artois and Heineken but I moved away from those pretty quickly.

But over the past year I have moved away from dark beers almost entirely except for the occasional bock. And I have moved towards the German styles of beer – kolsches especially, but also golden and blonde ales. Those are lighter in color.

I don’t know how my styles have evolved so quickly. I currently have a stout sitting in my fridge and I have little desire to drink it. I think to myself “Man, I wish that were a Zywiec (a Polish beer) or a Canoe Paddler (a kolsch made by a company in Wisconsin).”

Who knows what the next two years will bring to my taste buds?

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This past year, the wife and I went to central/eastern Europe – Slovenia; Budapest, Hungray; and Krakow, (southern) Poland. Before we went, I told the wife “You’re going to have to eat eastern European food for two weeks. They don’t have any Asian food, you know.” This was a ribbing, as at home I usually eat Asian food and not eastern European food.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really like the eastern European food that my family cooked at family get-togethers. I liked typical American food (pizza, hamburgers, macaroni-and-cheese) but not any of the following:


image Sauerkraut – This was my most disliked food. I never liked fermented <anything> and fermented cabbage was way too overpowering. My dad likes it, and my mom tolerated it, but no one else in my immediate family did.
image Borscht (beet soup) – I found this too bland.
image Pierogies – My parents love pierogies. I was never a fan of them, though. I found them too… doughy? That’s probably the best way to describe them, but I know plenty of other people who like them, too.
image Cabbage rolls – These were alright.
image Beer – Couldn’t stand the stuff. Nobody in my family drank it anyway, but even after I turned 18 (legal drinking age in Canada) I thought it smelled and tasted awful. I wouldn’t change my mind until I turned 34.

However, when I was in Poland especially, but also a little bit in Budapest, I ate all of the above regularly. And, I liked them! A lot! (To be fair, I changed my mind on beets a few years earlier, and beer, too).

  • The pierogies were amazing!
  • The sauerkraut added so much flavor!
  • The borscht was good!
  • I wanted to eat as many cabbage rolls as I could get my hands on!

I don’t know what happened but my taste buds have finally caught up with my elders. I think it’s because I stopped eating so much of the other food like pizza (not often, and I don’t even like overly cheesey pizza), hamburgers (once every three months), and macaroni-and-cheese (never).

But no, the food in Poland was cheap, and good. I occasionally had meatballs in Poland. That was good over there, and it was also good when I was growing up. So it’s nice to know that never changed.

However, there still is one food growing up that I didn’t care for then, and I don’t care for now. I’m not sure when I stopped enjoying these because it wasn’t always this way; it was in my late teens and twenties though, and that’s potatoes.

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I don’t know why I don’t like them, but I think it’s because I find them too starchy and dry. To make them taste better, people often put butter and sour cream on them but I don’t like adding all that unhealthy topping to my food. People also put bacon bits on baked potatoes but I have radically cut back on red meat.

While in Poland, I one time ordered mashed potatoes for lunch or dinner. That was a mistake. I liked them well enough, but they were quite creamy and they sat in my stomach for several hours, not digesting. They were too heavy.

Thus, usually when I am over at someone’s house and they are serving boiled, baked, or mashed potatoes, I either skip them or eat little of them. They simply don’t agree with me.

Still, when you look at all the things I never used to like but now do, you can see there has been a real contrast; I guess the eastern European in me is now starting to bubble up to the surface.

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Coffee recommendation

A few years ago, when the wife and I first started brewing our own coffee at home, we used to get it from Trader Joe’s. We’d get a couple of cans, open them at the store and grind the beans, and then over the course of the next 4-6 weeks proceed to finish both of them off. We’d brew the ground coffee and drink it in the morning.

We don’t do that anymore.

Nowadays, we buy the whole bean coffee in the store and grind the beans at home. Not only that, we grind them right before drinking them. What I do in the morning is come downstairs, feed the cat, and then grind the coffee beans. I put the ground coffee into the coffee maker and then head upstairs to shower. When I’m ready to come for breakfast, I head downstairs to a fresh pot of coffee.

Mmm, that just can’t be beat.

The best coffee we’ve found comes from Whole Foods, although it is also available in their own coffee houses, and that’s Café Ladro. Our coffee tastes vary but right now it’s our favorite. It costs around $12-$14 per bag, depending on where you get it. It’s a little less than a pound, so it’s more expensive than what we get at Trader Joe’s, and about double what we would get from a large chain in a big grocery store.

Our favorite type of coffee from this brand is the Fremont coffee and the Queen Anne blend, both named after Seattle neighborhoods. There’s more blends than that but the two I mentioned are the best ones, I think (although to be fair, we’ve only tried one more).

I do look forward to my cup of coffee every morning. Some people drink it in order to wake up, or to think better. I just like the taste.

And to think, I never really started drinking coffee until I was 33. What was I thinking?

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