January 2010 Archives

Reporting from the Tokyo desk of CNNGo, W. David Marx informs us that the English translation of MURAKAMI Haruki's second novel, Pinball, 1973, is back in print. This translation, produced for those learning English rather than a natively speaking audience, has never been available outside of Japan. On top of that, the publisher discontinued printing the book in the mid 1990s, and so tracking down a copy of the novel has been not unlike locating a certain three-flipper Spaceship.

I actually have a well-read photocopy of the book from one of my Japanese Literature classes in college. Along with "The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler's Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds," Pinball, 1973 was my introduction to MURAKAMI. I look forward to owning a real copy of the book instead of a reader from Printing and Reprographics. (Of course, if I could just get serious about learning Japanese, translations wouldn't even be a concern!)

Hawaii Vacation 2009—Part II

The view from our room if you stick your head out the window and look to the left.

We stayed at the Continental Surf, one of Aqua Hotels & Resorts "lite hotels." The amenities certainly warranted its two-star rating, but I have no complaints. Well, maybe one: the shower could have benefitted from some more water pressure. The beach was only three blocks away, though.

After we dropped off our luggage at the room and walked around Waikiki a bit, it was about time for dinner. The bus driver had commented that in his 20 years in Hawaii, he had yet to come across a restaurant that he liked, but there was a place up Kapahulu Avenue called Ono that lots of other tourists had said they liked, so we figured we'd try it out. A twenty minute walk brought us to a hole-in-the-wall joint we nearly missed for its nondescriptness. We were told there might be a wait to get in, but there was not, and we were served shortly after ordering.

Top row: poi, haupia. Center row: pipikaula, laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon. Bottom row: rice, sliced onion.

The wife and I split a combination plate of kalua pig, laulau, pipikaula, lomi salmon and haupia for $17. The plate also came with a serving of either rice or poi. Plenty of folks back home had warned me about the poi, a bland paste made of taro root, so when the waitress asked if we'd like rice or poi, I confidently chose the rice. When the food came, though, she brought us an additional, small bowl of poi, "Just so you can try it." Though we initially dipped our forks in with significant trepidation, we were soon downing it with no trouble at all. Don't get me wrong; it wasn't ambrosia or anything like that, but it was enjoyable enough.

The combination plate stuffed the both of us to bursting. Tomorrow we would have a 7:15 a.m. breakfast orientation with Pleasant Holidays, so we rolled back to the hotel and went straight to sleep.

Again, to be continued!

Tart shell, cream, sugar, salt, chocolate and butter at the ready.

I took a second crack at Jamie Oliver's Simple Chocolate Tart and pulled through with a bit more success. The first time I tried this recipe, I made a complete mess with everything. This time I gave my mise en place a bit more love and avoided such disasters. I also swapped out the one pound of "best-quality bittersweet chocolate" for a pound of old truffles because that's what was in my pantry. Here's how I did it.

Molten chocolate in cream, also known as 'ganache.'

Bring one and one-third cups of heavy cream, two tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt to a boil. Keep an eye on it while you're waiting, because as soon as it begins boiling, that cream is going to foam up and go right over the edge and everywhere else (lesson learned from last time). As the soon as the cream comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and add half a cup of softened butter and a pound of chocolate. Stir this until everything has melted completely. If you didn't break the chocolate up into small enough pieces, you might need to return the pot to low heat to get all the lumps out.

Here in Oliver's recipe, he directs you to let the mixture cool a little and stir in a half cup of cold milk "until smooth and shiny." Since I used truffles instead of chocolate, I skipped this step, and the ganache seems to have turned out pretty much as it should have.

Cooling on a level surface.

Dump the warm ganache into a cooked and cooled pastry shell. This recipe should fill an 11 x 1.125 inch (27.9 x 2.9 cm) shell perfectly. If you have any extra ganache left over, scrape that into a bowl and stick it into the fridge. It will harden to the consistency butter and you can just eat with a spoon.

The first time I did this, I put the pastry shell on a plate. Well, most plates aren't actually flat, but dip down in the middle. If your plate also dips toward the middle, so will your tart after you pour a pound-plus of chocolate onto it (second lesson learned from last time). This time I left the tart on a nice, flat cookie sheet.

Simple chocolate tart with café au lait.

Let the tart cool for an hour or two and finally dust with some unsweetened cocoa powder. You can serve it as is, but I find that it's a little too soft that way, so I like to chill it in the fridge.

As reported by MarketWatch, Target announced this past Friday that it had acquired the outdoor furniture and gardening company Smith & Hawken. In 2009, Smith & Hawken's parent company, the Scotts Company, announced that it would liquidate the 56-store chain after failing to find a buyer for the brand.

In a press release, Target also revealed a new spokeswoman in the ever lovely Giada De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis will lend her name and expertise to a line of cookware as well as specialty food items such as sauces and coffees.

A recent strategy of Target's has been to court usually unaffordable designers for affordable product lines. Both Smith & Hawken's and Giada's products have in the past fallen into the category of less reasonably priced, so I look forward to seeing what Target does with them.

Bone-in McNugget

I got a bone in one of my Chicken McNuggets tonight! While I never doubted the authenticity of a McNugget's constituents, I now cannot help but dream up all sorts of diabolical apparatuses involved in the McNuggets' assembly.

"Get in there, you verdammte birds!" Ga-chunk! Ga-chunk!

Hawaii Vacation 2009—Part I

Look! An island!

Through a special promotion with AAA and Pleasant Holidays, the wife and I were able to take a four-day/three-night vacation on Oahu for about $600, hotel and airfare included. Neither of us had ever been to Hawaii before, so we jumped at the opportunity to go.

We left Los Angeles on on December 14, only two hours behind schedule. Our plane had already taxied onto the runway when the captain explained, "Some wizard in baggage handling loaded a bunch of fresh cut flowers next to the heating hose," so we had to taxi back and wait while all of the cargo was unloaded and reloaded in a manner which would allow the blooms to survive the six-hour trip. I can only imagine how much the flowers must have cost if it was worth it to delay the flight and purchase more jet fuel for their sake. United may break guitars, but they don't wilt flowers (if the captain finds out about them before takeoff).

After we landed in Honolulu, we were wondering where to catch the shuttle to Waikiki when we spotted a woman holding a Pleasant Holidays sign. We hadn't booked any transportation beyond the flight for our trip, but the woman said she could make arrangements to get us a spot on their bus for $22. Since our hotel wasn't part of the bus's planned route, we'd have to wait until the very end to get dropped off, but that worked out just fine. The driver was quite entertaining and had plenty of information to share about Oahu, some of which we would have certainly missed were we dropped off earlier on the route.

Diamond Head as seen from Kuhio Beach in Waikiki

As we passed Kapi'olani Hospital, the driver told us that in this down economy, two main industries have taken off in Hawaii. The first one is self storage; significantly reduced tourism the past year has cost many residents their homes, so anyone with land to place a shipping container is offering to hold your stuff for a fee.

The second new, booming industry is Obama tours. This year's presidential inauguration has inverted the significance of previously everyday landmarks such as the aforementioned hospital. Among the tourists who are visiting the islands, gobs are eager to fork over cash for a chance to see where the 44th president of the United States was born, where he went to school, the neighborhood he hung out in, et cetera. There were also plenty of Obama tchotchkes and T-shirts in the convenience stores and souvenir shops. From the looks of it, if the president had the foresight to lock up merchandising deals for his likeness ahead of time, he'd be able to support socialized healthcare on his own dime.

To be continued!



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