Monday, September 28, 2009

Mitzenmacher's advice to graduate students

I came across this blog post last year and found it to contain very helpful advice.

Balance ball chair

I recently acquired a balance ball chair, which seems to be very nice for making me sit with good posture. The chair is highly adjustable, since you can just deflate it to make it the right height. I had to deflate my 52cm ball quite a bit; I am not sure if I am getting fewer benefits because of this.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Rachel Simmons has a new book

Rachel Simmons, who wrote Odd Girl Out about hidden female bullying, has a new book, The Curse of the Good Girl, about how expectations of girls today are unrealistic and harmful. From the review:

...Simmons shows that pressure from parents, teachers, coaches, media, and peers erects a psychological glass ceiling that begins to enforce its confines in girlhood and extends across the female lifespan. The curse erodes girls’ ability to know, express, and manage a complete range of feelings. It expects girls to be selfless, limiting the expression of their needs... It diminishes assertive body language, quiets voices and weakens handshakes. It... follows many into adulthood, limiting their personal and professional potential.

I haven't read this book yet but I will read it as soon as I acquire it*.

* I have a birthday coming up... Hint, hint...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Practicing tourism in San Francisco

This past weekend I was in San Francisco visiting my college roommates Aliza and Marianne (and their respective boyfriends, Jesse and David), both of whom spent the past year doing Teach for America (Aliza in Oakland; Marianne in New Orleans) and both of whom have much more grown-up lifestyles than I do. Every time I go to California I become quite envious of the good climate and food. Here are some activities I did this time around:
  • Went stand-up paddle surfing at the beach behind Aliza's house. Aliza's boyfriend Jesse works at a wind surfing shop where they have all sorts of equipment for doing fun water sports. This made me regret never surfing while I lived in Santa Monica! (Although doing these water sports in the bay is much less treacherous than doing them in the actual ocean.)
  • Hung out at Zeitgeist, a cool bar in the mission that had a secret (huge!) outdoor component.
  • Got a burrito in the mission. (This is apparently what you are supposed to do.)
  • Browsed the antique fair, where there are miles of all kinds of antiques: furniture, china, jewelry, books, etc.
  • Got a seitan Philly cheese steak at Triple Rock, a very good burger place. (My friends said it is a great burger place; I was happy to find that there were also some good selections for non-red-meat-eaters.) According to Jesse the beer aficionado, they also have a good beer selection.
  • Enjoyed some refreshment at Heinold's First and Last Chance, a historical bar where Jack London used to drink. (There are many other cool facts: the floor is slanted from the earthquake, etc.) This is in Jack London Square, where half of Jack London's Alaska cabin was transported (and the other half rebuilt). (The other half is in Dawson City, Yukon Territory as a result of disputes over who gets the cabin.)
  • Got ice cream at Fenton's, a very satisfying ice cream place (which was featured at the end of the movie Up).
Thanks to Aliza, Jesse, Marianne, and David for facilitating my practice of tourism! ;)

On matriarchy and matrilineal societies

Friedrich Engel's treatise The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State answers some of my questions about the inevitability of the modern patriarchal social structure*. You may read the relevant English-translated text here.

Engels describes patrilineage and patriarchy emerging as a result of the pairing family: in early communistic societies where men did not have pairing relationships with women, property belonged to the matriarchal gens (group of families). The notion of private property developed after the domestication of animals. Since it was the man's part to obtain food and the instruments of labor for obtaining food, the man owned the tools, the cattle, and the slaves. The children, however, belonged to the mother's gens, so they could not inherit from their father. This caused mother-right to be overthrown and replaced with patrilineage and patriarchy. The monogamous family**, which develops out of pairing family, is based on the supremacy of man because its "express goal" is to "produce children of undisputed paternity."

While this is clearly part of a greater argument against private wealth***, Engels addresses some interesting issues about the origin and role of male dominance. This piece confirms many of my hypotheses about the subject; I would be interested in reading more sources.

* I have been wondering about matrilineal and matriarchial societies; I would be grateful for any sources on matriarchal societies!
** Monogamy strengthens the pairing tie with the expectation that it will not be dissolved.
*** I make no claim to agree or disagree with his argument against private wealth. One should, however, always be suspicious of learning history from treatises!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The skinny on (Asian) noodles

The most notable thing about my (temporary summer) kitchen cabinet right now is that despite the depth of my inventory, I have quite a breadth of noodle and hot sauce varieties. I thought I'd write about some different kinds of Asian noodles and what they are good for, along with some notes about how to have my noodle lifestyle*. (You may e-mail me for questions about non-Asian noodles various hot sauces; I am very into them.)

Basic kitchen ingredients:
  • Garlic (good for non-broth noodle preparations).
  • Scallions (these don't keep as well as garlic, but they are good for topping a dish).
  • Sesame oil and soy sauce.
  • Hot sauces: I try to have a chili garlic sauce for flavoring, a black bean sauce for flavoring, and Lao Gan Ma chili sauce in oil for spiciness.
  • Having dry Sichuan peppers around is also good for flavoring broths and stir-fries. (Since they are dry, you are responsible for spreading the flavor.)

Basic preparations:
  • Broth. You can make a vegan broth by quartering an onion, cutting a carrot into small pieces, and boiling with water for 20-30 minutes. It is very easy to make a chicken broth by putting pieces of chicken (frozen or fresh) into the broth in the beginning. The broth is pretty robust to overcooking; cook until everything looks done and the soup tastes flavored. Adding salt is a good idea; I also like to add some dry Sichuan chili peppers. You could cook the noodles in the broth, but keep in mind that noodles may absorb a lot of water, so it is usually best to cook the noodles separately. A cool thing you can do to flavor broth is to stir-fry some shallots and put them in the top/bottom of the bowl.
  • "Dry." I usually just throw together a basic noodle sauce using sesame oil and some hot sauces. I usually use a combination of chili garlic sauce and chillies in oil. It is sometimes also fun to grind up some dry peppers to make the sauce spicier. You may also use soy sauce for flavoring. With the right repertoire of hot sauces and some experimentation, it becomes very easy to get the flavor to suit your mood very quickly.
  • Stir-fried. I'm not a pro at this, but you can get pan-friable noodles and stir-fry them with a little bit of water in the pan. One idea for topping the noodles is with scallions and chicken or seitan; you should cook the noodles separate from the other stuff.

Noodle varieties:
  • Wheat (udon) noodles are medium thickness and good for either the broth or dry preparations.
  • Buckwheat (soba) noodles can be served cold/dry or hot in broth. They are quite good with some sesame oil/miso, but since I am Chinese (Hunanese) and not Japanese I opine that everything can be improved by hot sauce. :)
  • Mung bean starch noodles come in various thicknesses. They are okay for broth, but I find they serve the best purpose for "holding" flavor since they themselves don't have too interesting of a flavor. These are a good substrate for a spicy chili/oil sauce.
  • Somen are very thin wheat noodles that can be served cold with some sort of sauce or hot in broth. I love somen in broth; somen has a good enough flavor that it is good with some hot sauce, but it is always fairly clear to me that it was not meant to be eaten that way.
  • Egg noodles come in either thick or thin varieties. Both kinds are great in soup; thin egg noodles often come in a pan-friable variety--but you have to read the label to make sure.
  • Fresh Shanghai noodles are thicker and absolutely great for making dan dan noodles or variations thereof. It is fairly easy to make some approximation of dan dan noodles with some dan dan sauce (or combination of chili garlic/chili oil/black bean sauce) and garlic.
  • Rice noodles in Chinese cuisine usually come in thick and thicker and are great both in soups, as a substrate for spice, and in stir fry. (For the thicker variety, look for fresh noodles.)

Some notes on cooking noodles:
  • Noodles will often overcook if you let them stay hot for too long; if you are concerned about this you should drain them and rinse them with cool water before proceeding to the post-cooking step.
  • Noodle varieties have very high variance in how long they take to cook and how much they tend to expand. Once you get the hang of things, it tends to be pretty consistent.
* Most of what I say is calibrated for cooking for one to two people. With noodles I'll usually make a vegetable and then have either a couple of poached eggs, some chicken or tofu sausage, some seitan, or some chicken (which I prepare with black bean sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce).

An awesome snack

I just concocted the best snack ever: I diced a nectarine, added brown sugar and Life cereal, microwaved this for one minute, and added three tablespoons of plain lowfat yogurt. This was the healthiest and quickest way to approximate a peach cobbler a la mode with the ingredients in my kitchen! :)

Also awesome:
  • Strawberries dipped in plain 2% Greek yogurt and brown sugar.
  • Blueberries and any plain yogurt and brown sugar.
  • Raspberries and any plain yogurt and brown sugar.
  • Plain yogurt with jam.
Yogurt recommendations: for Greek, I prefer Fage 2%; for regular, I like the Whole Foods brand 2% or Nancy's Organic Yogurt 2%. Greek yogurt is thicker than "regular" yogurt and is good for dipping fruits.

Jam recommendations: Bonne Maman has a pretty good flavor/texture--it is best to get something that is not too gelatinous.)

If you are into yogurt you may also want to try kefir, another fermented milk product that is more liquid and has different properties from yogurt.