ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Mt Olive Bread & Butter

I saw this Mt Olive brand of pickles and thought I should grab some, if only because I loved the name so much.  Nothing says tasty brine like the word olive, and I love that is from a town actually called Mt Olive in North Carolina.

 

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I got the Bread & Butter pickles, as I’ve been on a bit of a kick for them lately.   I had some of Bubbies Bread & Butter left over from the second jar of those that I got, so I could compare them head to head.  The Mt Olive brand was a little bit sweeter, although overall it seemed less complex, it didn’t have some of the additional rich bits of peppery flavor that the Bubbies had.  So I’m going to have to go with having the Bubbies being the winner for the Bread & Butter pickles.

As a side note, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the Bubbies little kosher dills.  But I will save that an a review of some these delicious Japanese pickles for another day.

 

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Happy Girl Kitchen, Bread ‘n Butter

These are the bread and butter style pickles from Happy Girl Kitchen.   They are pretty tasty, with a nice sweetness.  Lots of sweet onion in there.   Overall, they are good.  I like what Happy Girl Kitchen has going on, and I like visiting their store.  They serve some good vegetarian food, with a rotating set of different things available for lunch, and then even make beverages like lemonade.  However, this small pickle jar was $8, and I’m not sure I can really rationalize that long term.  If that price point is not a deterrent, then they are definitely worth a try.

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Claude Shannon & Theseus the Artificial Mouse, Dawn of Machine Learning

I found this great video featuring Claude Shannon, and his artificial mouse Theseus, named for the Greek hero who slayed the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, one of the earliest examples of machine learning.

http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2010/3/16/In-Their-Own-Words-Claude-Shannon-Demonstrates-Machine-Learning

The mouse is able to learn how to solve the maze.  Apparently, Shannon started getting involved down this track of making small robot like devices after his wife bought him a giant erector set as a present.



Paparazzi Protection, Snapchat IRL

Suppose that you’re out having a wild time in Vegas and don’t want to end up in anyone’s pictures.  There is now a device for that.  I couldn’t find anything more than the Fast Company brief overview, but the basic idea is that the device detects the infrared used by cameras (often used for range finding I guess) and then produces a bright counter flash in the IR spectrum to overexpose and prevent a picture from being taken.

Overall, I am a bit skeptical of how efficacious this will be for most cameras, which include pretty strong IR filters already.   Although, apparently sometimes they only have a filter in one of their cameras.  It is also likely that fancy trickery with HDR photography would help resolve the bright part (as it is emitting IR light which is going up and getting reflected off the face as well.

Anyway, it’s an interesting concept, and the general problem of preventing imaging is an interesting challenge.   Maybe we don’t have invisibility suits, but we may develop ways of being invisible on the ubiquity of imaging technology.  Or at least we may have an escalation of technology on that front.   Given the concern people have for ubiquitous surveillance and things like Google Glass, I wonder what other technological attempts at privacy may arise.

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Yelp Reviews vs Michelin Reviews

There is a nice analysis at FiveThirtyEight by Nate Silver which looked at how Michelin reviews restaurants compared to how Yelp does.  They were able to look at the restaurants which have or had a Michelin star in the past few years.  Do Yelp reviews predict whether a restaurant will lose a star?  Which restaurant will gain a star?  Does the Michelin guide have a bias against non French/European cuisine?  What about Yelp?

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/yelp-and-michelin-have-the-same-taste-in-new-york-restaurants/

Yelp vs Michelin Guide

 


 


 

Bubbies and Golchin, Bread and Butter vs Giardiniera

Today I’m going to talk about two very different pickles.   The first are the Bread and Butter chips from Bubbies.   Basically, I thought these were absolutely delicious.  They had a light sweetness, not too cloying, with some nice crunch and mouthfeel.  You can tell by the picture that I rapidly finished off the whole jar.  Definitely a recommend if you like Bread and Butter  pickles.  Bread and Butter pickles are cucumber slices, pickled with some sugar, onion, fennel and celery.   Giving them a sweetness and mildness, contrasting with the ubiquitous dill. These would go good with a sandwich or when grilling.   The story is that their name comes from the fact that when money was in short supply, you could put some of these pickles between some slices of bread, and they would work as a sandwich on their own.  I didn’t try this with the Bubbies, but I could definitely see putting them between a couple of slices of pumpernickel, maybe with some brown mustard, and that could be a meal on its own.  Although, I might like mine with some kettle cooked potato chips or something.     IMG_0450 The second type of pickle, is a mixed pickle.    Giardiniera (which I can never spell right) is an Italian style of pickle.  It usually cauliflower, carrot, and celery, often with red pepper, olives, onions, etc.  pickled in oil and salt.  This version from Golchin (a Persian food company) is pickled in vinegar with a little bit of ascorbic acid.   Giardiniera is often a little side dish with a lot of light Italian foods, or you can see it on a plate with olives.   Sometimes the peppers in it are quite spicy. I am bit more used to the olive oil based version, which has a much richer flavor, although I guess the more traditional Italian version is with vinegar.   Overall, the Golchin version was decent.  Vegetables had a nice flavor, maybe a touch too salty.  However, it seemed to be missing a bit of pizazz.  I put some freshly ground black pepper on it, and it opened the flavor up quite a bit.   It is interesting to me that this mix is very similar to the Persian pickle known as Torshi, which is maybe why Golchin is selling it.   The whole big jar was only 3.99, so I think that is quite a deal, as in essence this serves as a ready made small salad type accompaniment for many meals.  Again, I didn’t really love it, but as it is not as heavy as the olive oil based versions, it would be a lighter accompaniment for food.   You could keep a jar in the cabinet, and break it out if you wanted to add a bit of something colorful to a plate. Overall, giardiniera is one of the most beautifully colored foods which can sit in a jar for years in the cupboard before you crack it open, so it deserves some credit for that all on its own. In terms of this offering from Golchin, it’s okay, but I am not in love with it.  I much prefer some of the wide range of more spicy torshi type “mixed” pickles that Golchin sells.  However, other people like more mild fare. IMG_0452


Sonoma Brinery Kosher Dills and Ozuké Citrus Kraut

So today, I’m going to review a couple of fermented pickles from some small production companies.  

Sonoma Brinery is located, surprisingly enough, in Sonoma County in Healdsburg.   Healdsburg is a lovely town with lots of vineyards and wineries around.  Their “Manhattan style” kosher dills are a nice, crunchy fermented dill.  I’m not sure it really tastes quite the same as the dill pickles from the kosher delis or pastramis places of Manhattan, although that might be a trick of my taste memory.  A lot of shops will sell full and half sours (more or less fermented), and I think the Sonoma Brinery pickles fall somewhat in-between.  They also seem to have a slight bit more of a peppery hotness to them then I associated with a Manhattan style kosher dill.  However, they are still really good and I would recommend them if this is the style of pickle you are looking for.  They have a nice crispness, a nice little hint of spiciness, with the fermented tang and a tiny bit of the effervescence on the tongue.  I’m looking forward to trying some of their other products.

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Ozuké is a brand from Boulder, Colorado.  Zuke is a Japanese word for pickle, and I really like the concept of what they are doing.  They are making traditional fermented foods in somewhat Asian style, with a sort of modern Western spin on them.  For example, the idea of fermented cabbage with some citrus and ginger flavor is very Japanese.  However, the more traditional version would be with napa cabbage flavored with yuzu.  Here they are using Western cabbage and lemon.    They produce a wide range of different interesting products which I have no tried yet.  They have a pickled cucumber with green tea.  They have a red cabbage kraut with orange calendula flowers with orange peel which sounds good and looks beautiful.    They have a kimchi made from kale and collard greens (so hipster compliant).  

At first I was a bit disappointed in this particular cabbage and lemon mixture, mainly because I was thinking of some of the really delicious napa/yuzu pickles that I have had in Japanese restaurants.  A lot of very Japanese sushi places around here will make there own home napa/yuzu pickles which are really exceptional.  Western cabbage and lemon is much less subtle and much more flavorful, at first a bit over-powering.  And the lemon after-taste is quite strong.  Also, the kraut seems quite acidic, even more so than regular cabbage kraut.  The flavors don’t blend together as well as I might have hoped, for example the lemon has such a strong note that it just sort of hits you early and then hangs out after the regular kraut flavor, which would be a mild acidity (fermented cabbage without the traditional Western flavorings like caraway and garlic is a bit bland and just acidic).   I would like to ramp down the lemon and maybe ramp up the ginger.  The cabbage had a nice chewiness to it.  However, this one is starting to grow on me with time as I get used to it.    It pair well with something like a grilled steak.   The lemon flavor wouldn’t probably go well with most sausages, but a salted steak or chicken breast might be a good match.  It would go well with a Japanese style grilled mackerel (saba shioyaki) and rice.  I was trying to imagine a good vegetarian pairing, and it might be something with fatty richness but not much acidity on its own.  Maybe olive oil marinated and grilled shitake mushrooms, something like that.



Yokohama Iekei Ramen, Union City, CA

Yokohama Iekei Ramen in Union City, CA was the very tasty destination today.  It’s located in a shopping plaza along Alvarado Blvd with an eclectic mix of other shops.  There is a Filipino pork restaurant, a Chinese Calamari restaurant, a South Asian grocery market, and a bunch of other interesting shops including physician’s office all in the same plaza.

The ramen restaurant itself was pleasant and low key.  Seating was a mix of benches along the sides, wooden chair and even padded metal folding chairs.  There were some Japanese decorations, including a picture of Yokohama train station.  It was a comfortable and friendly, yet very casual atmosphere; well ventilated.

Pictured is the shio ramen.   The ramen broth was delicious.  The “classic” shoyu broth version looked very similar overall, although slightly darker.  The shio broth had a nice light flavor, with clam and yuzu.  Overall quite good.  The shoyu broth was quite a bit smokier.  On the menu they also and a blackened garlic broth as well as several different spicy variants which seemed to be a specialty of the shop.  The add-ins were good; the chashu was delicious.  The veggies were all good.  The egg was nicely soft-boiled and then marinated.  The kikurage mushrooms had a nice flavor and texture.  We were given some options for noodle chewiness; I went with “regular”.  The noodles were definitely fresh tasting with a nice chewiness and flavor.  They were thicker than what I favor, but that is just personal preference, and overall they were quite good.

We ordered a side dish of pickled vegetables, which turned out to be a bowl of shibazuke.   Shibazuke is the bright purple mix of cucumber and eggplant flavored with shio leaves, ume vinegar and ginger.   It’s a very common pickle, but I was hoping for a bit more a mix perhaps of pickles.

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The appetizer and side dish menu was extensive.  We tried the miso butter corn, definitely a Hokkaido type dish.  It was good, if a bit sweet for my taste.  Might be a good addition to a miso broth ramen as a topping.  Lots of other delicious things on the menu would warrant and return visit.

A nice touch is that the beer (Sapporo) came in a frosted mug.  There was a nice assortment of ramen condiments on the table.   These included a nice grinder for sesame seeds and kosho white pepper & garlic powder mix.   Overall a nice touch.

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Overall, a nice place, worth a visit for some tasty ramen.

 


 

Adventures in Architecture, Book Reviews

On a recent trip to New England, I was struck with how beautiful some of the historic buildings there are, particularly compared to many of the “McMansions” I see around the West Coast.  So I started looking into architecture a bit.  I took a few flights recently, so had plenty of time to get some reading in, and I had access to some great bookstores and Amazon.

I started with, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.  This is a cute little book that can help get you thinking about architecture and design.  It’s probably more meant a sort of mini-coffee table book than anything else, but there is some nice stuff in there.  It was my entry point.

The next book was Francis  D. K. Ching‘s Architecture: Form, Space, and Order.

It’s an absolutely beautiful book.  It is a good way to get you thinking about space and arrangements of objects.  It’s a way to create a vocabulary for architecture.  The illustrations are great to look at, but overall it’s highly theoretical.  It would be best for an architecture student or someone in design professionally.   It’s highly illustrated, and it is maybe worth getting just to look at the draftsmanship.

The next book is different in that it is almost completely the opposite.  It’s Christopher Alexander‘s A Pattern Language.

It’s opposite in that this book is much more text heavy.  Most of the drawn illustrations are much more sketch-like, but most of the illustrations are photographs.  Frankly, the black and white photographs are not reproduced so well, as it was done using technology from the early 70’s.  However, the content is astoundingly good.  It’s also almost the opposite in terms of content, as it is not really about design principles from aesthetic or artistic principles so much as all focused on human interactions and how humans interact with their environment and space.  Frank Ching’s book does include some of that, and the Alexander book does have some artistic principles, but in either case the main focus is somewhat different.

The basic layout of A Pattern Language is around a series of vignettes about different design patterns for how humans interact with one another and objects, but most of the focus is on how humans interact with their spaces, particularly homes.  For someone interested in architecture, it might be worth skipping around a bit, and the beginning sections on urban planning are not as immediately relevant.  An example pattern would be the “Farmhouse Kitchen”, this is a large combined kitchen & dining & seating area.  The book will discuss such a design pattern, its use and incorporation into a structure and how it would relate to other design patterns.  There are also some refinements here, such as why this room should likely be placed on the southern side of a home.  Another example design pattern or concept this is discussed is having an eclectic mix of chairs in a seating area.  This goes against some interior design aesthetics, but Alexander and his authors describe is being more homey and welcoming as well as giving a range of options for different individuals and different moods.  This book of full of interesting thoughts on these sorts of things.

I was originally introduced to Alexander by a data scientist who now works at Google, who thought of the design pattern work having a lot of relevance in software and user interface design, so I think the general principles are broadly relevant even beyond architecture.

The next book get’s a little outside of general design principles, and is very New England specific, but it is a book that I enjoyed a lot.  Thomas Hubka’s Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England  is half a scholarly treatise on this style of architecture and half just a panegyric in praise of this style of architecture.   One of the central points of the book is that the connected farm style used in New England farm houses was not really about providing a path to barn so the farmer could feed the cows without going outside in the winter, so much as providing a whole series of building for providing cottage industrial space creating diverse economic opportunities for the farm family in the era just prior to the industrial revolution.


Overall, it’s an enjoyable read if you are interested in the New England fame house style of architecture.  It gives a lot of history about the transformation of the style with things like the changing technology of the wood stove, and the use of the semi-enclose farm yard.

If you’re interested in American architecture in general there are two good options.  The first is the beautifully illustrated American House Styles: A Concise Guide.   It’s a very pretty book, and goes through the major house styles in a very quick and easy to understand way.

However, I wanted to go into much greater depth, and for that I found the more encyclopedic volume from Virginia McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses to cover a lot more ground.

The illustrations in A Field Guide are in some ways not as lovely.  The black and white photographs aren’t great aesthetically, but they are helpful to have as examples, and the line drawing and draftsmanship introduce a lot of architectural theory to the uninitiated.

If you’re interested in going outside of the US for inspiration, I found a copy of the beautiful book What is Japanese Architecture in a used bookshop in Brookline, MA.

It has lovely line drawings, and I will definitely refer to it before I visit Japan again.  It is also a good source for general material on the Japanese aesthetic.

The next book is an interesting one in that it is not just about a particular design principle and featuring that style, but directly tries to critique design choices as being unaesthetic.   Marianne Cusato is an award winning US architect, who is known for producing relatively inexpensive simple homes which follow very classical design principles and are designed to fit in well with historic areas.  Ben Pentreath is a British architect and interior designer who not only designs but also operates a shop selling furnishings.  He has a few blogs which shows his design sense which mixes antiques and modern patterns.

Basically, the book is about all the little (and big) details which differentiate a “McMansion” from “Classical Design”.  There are tons of particular details here, that when you look at bring attention to things that you didn’t think about before.   For example, Cusato goes into columns for some length.  That may seem a bit excessive for most homes (as you may associate columns with things like Southern plantation style architecture), but after reading this, I’ve been looking around and seeing the large number of homes which have some columns in them, particularly around the entry or just built into the walls as decorative structural looking elements.  The book describes is all the details of columns which if misused make a building look funny or a bit off.  One of the major critiques is that columns, even in early American homes, were important structural (load bearing) elements and are intended to look that way when used now.  However, if things aren’t arranged properly, the structural elements don’t fit, and the buildings don’t look a nice.  There are then scores of other details about how the columns should be arranged, diameters, fluting, etc.  Stuff that I would never have thought of, but when displayed in the book side by side highlights the differences.  Most of the examples are cast as a “Things to Avoid” and then “Things to Use” type format, much like those old Goofus and Gallant comics which contrasted the foolish child on the left and the kindly and wise child on the right.  Obviously, the rules in this book don’t need to be slavishly followed, but it does help to see some of this stuff laid out so that you can keep it mind.  Before reading this book, I would have had no opinions at all about things like roof venting, but now I am starting to notice things which look nice and things which don’t. I imagine some people might resist some of the suggestions, as they may find some of the design choices criticized might be something they like, but overall I think this is a very useful book for the details about what makes something more or less aesthetic.  At the very least, it has me noticing a lot more fine detail now.

If you’re interested in the real nitty & gritty aspects of building design, then another Francis Ching book takes things to the next level.  Building Construction Illustrated gets down to the details of things like soil composition, all different ways to make different kinds of building joints, etc.  All the sorts of things you actually need to know.  Frankly, this book was way beyond me at this point.  If you are interested in being involved in building a house from scratch or being part of a major modeling effort, that this is probably a good book to learn about building methods.

So if you’re interested in architecture in general, these are all very good books.  If you want to do some reading to help you think about your own (future) home, I think A Pattern Language and Get Your House Right are maybe the most useful pair.  The first is very much about function and emotion and how people relate to homes and in many ways is quite broad.  The latter is full of very precise design details, things like the spacing of railings or the exact way the eaves meet the siding that might be helpful, so each book would complement the other.  The two books also come very different cultural perspectives.  The first is very much inspired by the hippie zeitgeist of the Pacific Northwest in the 60’s and 70’s (Alexander was a professor at Berkeley in the 60’s).   The latter book draws much more culturally from the fine homes of England, indeed the foreword is written by the Prince of Wales (architecture is one of his major interests).  So maybe together they can both appeal to the average PBS supporter.  A little bit of Downton Abbey on one side and some collectivist idealism on the other.

I hope you enjoy reading about architecture as much as I have.

This was was my first real foray into learning about architecture, so I’d be interested in any comments readers might have.  The comment button is at your disposal.



Bread from a Can

One of the major New England food traditions is baked beans.  Boston is known as Beantown, and a key part of small town life in Maine are “Bean Suppers”, often held in church basements or the like.  One of the common food items that goes with these baked beans is a steamed brown bread.  Traditionally it would have been made at home in an old coffee can or the like, but you can also buy it in a can pre made.  It may seem strange for some people to buy a can of bread, but the important thing to know is that it is quite delicious.   You slice it up and toast it, put some butter on it, and your mouth with thank you.   It has a rich molasses flavor and a nice softness.  Toasting it gives the exterior some crunchiness.

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We sliced up some brown bread, and toasted it on the grill with some natural casing hotdogs, some summer corn from a farm stand (wrapped in foil in the back) and some summer squash/zucchini coated with olive oil and pepper.    We heated the beans in a pan on the stove.

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Overall, a delicious meal inspired by a lot of traditional New England food components.

 



 

 

 

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