Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

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Halloweekend, part 1

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In my last post I predicted an upswing to follow the woeful day I’d had, and how very right I turned out to be. Days packed full of successful experiments, with the adrenaline of finishing everything on time rolling seamlessly into evenings of radiance and revelry. It’s amazing how much your attitude changes situations (or at the very least perceptions).

First happening Friday was the previously mentioned deep frying party, intermittently attended (with partial overlaps) by myself, Sara and her bride+bridesmaids-to-be friends, and George + date. In the end George never had time to get his pierogis and fried ready, and the bachelorette party had to bail early to attend a bike party (more on that later).

Good luck trolls on the prowl

So instead we ended up cooking a miscellany of items at hand, including shrimp, scallops, squid, sweet potatoes, banana, pickles, girl scout cookies and ice cream.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to deep fry properly, having only made a single semi-successful attempt at samosas previously. I found that keeping the temperature stable within a pretty narrow range was both critical and challenging, since dumping in too many things at once dropped the temperature a good deal. I also found that it required a lot more attention than I’d have expected to cook things for just the right amount of time, watching their bubbling decrease to monitor when they would start absorbing the frying oil. I had added beer to the batter, which I think probably helped getting the bitelets nicely puffy (but who’s to say based on a single event).

Sure, it does kind of look like an alien spawning pool from that angle.

Anyway, a big success. With an experiment planned for 07:00 the next morning I had definitely not planned to join the trolls at the brewery that hosted the final stint of the bike party. But when the time came I found that I had a quite irresistible craving for a party, so off to join them we went. They had spent ~3 hours biking around Baltimore (with a few beer stops) alongside hundreds of revelers, many in costumes, and even as we neared the site there were noticeable good vibes in the air. The event was mostly in the courtyard of the brewery, though the building was open for gawking at the giant tanks and for endless refills of their draft creations. The DJs were pretty good, people looked swell and there was MoonBounce; in other words, anyone of sound mind was bound to have a blast. Whether I fall into that category or not, I danced, bounced and pratted my ass off, and didn’t regret going even when I had to get up Saturday morning.

And when I got back from the lab on Saturday, it was of course time to get ready for the great hallowed gathering in Fell’s Point, something I’d barely missed in both 2010 and 2011 and was rather looking forward to. But more on that in part 2.

Transformations in action

Written by Martin

2012/10/30 at 01:24

Posted in Events, Food

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Foodventures

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Spaghetti squash marinara: It looks and tastes very similar to pasta, though you can still tell that it’s a vegetable. Yay healthy?

Welsh laverbread: Fried patties of seaweed and oats = crispy taste of seaweed that’s greasy enough to fit into British cuisine. Not a repeat.

Sesame-banana fritters: served with (pseudo) kaya jam for dipping. Not bad, though the only benefit of the batter was to make them crispy and soft at the same time.

Written by Martin

2012/09/05 at 11:18

Posted in Food

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Pleasantry

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I like paintball. Perhaps because I still harbor a childlike fascination with warfare in its many guises, and at least in my imagination paintball is the closest thing to modern ground warfare that I’m likely to experience. So even though it meant getting up early and putting up with a particularly lethargic referee, spending five hours with high-velocity paint projectiles buzzing around my ears was a pleasant start to yesterday.

Left: teriyaki chicken, apples, walnuts and basil
Right: spinach, asiago, capicola and basil

And after running around the woods for hours, a pizza party was assuredly a pleasant continuation to the day. Between the roommates, myself and my friend Davide, we generated (and masticated) six pizzas, along with negronis and other libations. Two experimental choices snuck their way into the lineup, and while leaving room for improvement were reasonably successful: the first was an Asian-inspired pizza (of sorts) that was limited to ingredients that were common in such cuisines. So the tomato sauce and cheese were out, replaced by teriyaki chicken (and sauce), baby bok choy, squash and peanuts. Though not quite comme il faut, I used yoghurt as some sort of neutral base for those flavors; beancurd would have been more appropriate. It ended up a tad salty, and certainly not something to revolutionize pizza-making, but quite tasty nonetheless.

Dessert? Now that’s what I call pizza!

The other experiment was a dessert pizza, with chunks of papaya and melon on a base of sweetened condensed milk. Different from the chocolate-and-marshmallows dessert pizza I’d previously tried, but not at all bad. None of the flavors were overpowering, though it was missing some sort of contrasting flavor. In my personal opinion it was also a little low on sauce, so I created the (kind of) improved version shown above.

I suppose consistency demands that I scour the P section of the dictionary for some apt descriptor of the flow cytometry I did in between these two pleasantries, but there’s no reason to be pedantic.

Written by Martin

2012/08/12 at 17:52

Posted in Food

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The Gaucho Way of Preparing Meat

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This week is Restaurant Week in Baltimore, where a number of restaurants offer $30 menus that may or may not be a steal compared to their usual prices. The best deal this year was probably Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian charruscaria offering various cuts of meat delivered right to your table by an endless string of waiters.

Basically how this works is that you’re seated and invited to sample the salad bar.  Pretty good, and a pretty good selection (including salmon, cheeses, pickled peppers and more), but the main attraction comes when you return to your table. Fried polenta, mashed potatoes, caramelized bananas and pão de queijo await you as side dishes, and as soon as you flip your card from red to green you will be beset by the so-called gaucho chefs who will carve an assortment of meat off giant skewers right at the table.

The meat was generally excellent, and at first Tado and I indulged liberally in anything presented to us. But after something like half a pound of meat the worst pangs of hunger had abated and we started getting a bit more discriminating. This engendered a little game of hide-and-seek with the gauchos: I’d flip my card to green, but keep an eye out for gauchos carrying subpar items (say, chicken breast or top sirloin) and quickly flip it back to red if they started to approach our table. As I worked my way past the first pound of meat I took it a step further by staying red until I saw something acceptable (filet mignon, basically) and then going green. Of course I could (and did) simply avoid unwanted cuts with a “No thanks”, but this way was rather more entertaining.

Of course there was no way of not taking this experience too far, and by my reckoning I had about two pounds of meat by the time I threw in the towel. Certainly more than I’ve had in total since I arrived, having gone effectively vegetarian about half the time. But as someone clever once phrased it: it’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year that will really get to you, but what you eat between New Year and Christmas.

Written by Martin

2012/08/02 at 17:34

Posted in Food

Road Trip days 22-28: Los Angeles, part IV

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I realize that I left something out of my previous post, something that bears mentioning despite the low-quality iPhone pic that serves as the sole source of photographic evidence. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’d shuffled around our eating days to make the most of LA’s offerings, which meant that when we got back from Sequoia we had literally not eaten for two days. And what better way to break this fast than a visit to the Griddle Cafe for a dinner-plate-sized stack of buttermilk pancakes filled with brown sugar-baked bananas, walnuts, caramel and streusel, topped with yet more caramel, streusel and whipped cream. And yes, I put maple syrup on that. It was obscene, but utterly delectable; the combination worked perfectly, and the gigantism meant that each bite was a different combination of ingredients. My friend had a ‘light’ version with just the bananas, which wasn’t half bad either. The lack of extras may be why he got about two-thirds through the stack while I stopped at the halfway mark, but more likely he was just more stubborn (his agonizing over stomach pains lasted at least three hours after the meal). Either way we both did better than the native at the table next to us, who ate an eighth of his stack and then asked for a box for the rest. I kid you not.

The Golden Ticket

Our days on the West coast were coming to an end, and I find it hard to describe my feelings about it. Relief, melancholy, jaded indifference. We’d been on the road for so long, and then subjected to the laid-back LA atmosphere, that it was hard to relate to the concept of going back to work. So I mustered all my newfound Pacific Vegan Silver Screen superpowers and went with the flow; “bugger this relating to imminent events, let’s just enjoy the city.”

Chinatown

I’m not sure why, but the idea of a cathedral for some undefined matron protector really appeals to me. I guess in part because it reminds me of a great book I read a few years back, but the mysticism and symbolism also just clicks. The place ended up being far more modern than I’d expected, but in light of the city’s young age that’s probably a good thing.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The last thing my camera saw on our trip was a view from the wonderful (and free) Getty center in the hills above Los Angeles. Not entirely inappropriate, in my opinion. Goodnight, Hollywood boulevard.

Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard

Written by Martin

2011/02/10 at 05:27

Posted in Food, Places, Road Trip

Can it

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I was shopping for a salad this Monday, and as usual started wandering around, browsing pretty much any food-related item in the supermarket. Walking past the immense amount of pre-spiced beans and cans of Manwich, I stopped at a section I’d usually dismissed subconsciously as something for other people: the canned soups.

There’s tonnes of them here, Campbell’s alone makes 81 varieties by my count: tomatoes, lentils, creamy, chicken, chunky or condensed, low-fat, with pasta, oriental-style… I’ve never eaten a can of soup in my life, though.

I’m not sure how the idea came to me, I can only assume that it tore through the vacuum of space at the speed of thought, and struck my able brain as a thunderbolt of inspiration: I can get dirt-cheap lunches, while having both a new and distinctly American experience, by eating these canned soups at work. Additionally, carefully picked cans could provide a good amount of protein after going to the gym here, and it would save a lot of time preparing or going to buy lunch.  Plus, I can store some here without them going bad, so that I’ll never be lunchless.

My enthusiasm dropped somewhat after looking at the contents of a typical can, however. Even avoiding the fatty ones, there’s an immense amount of sodium in these things, and often other additives as well. There are reduced sodium versions of some of the Campbell’s soups, but they’re still pretty bad, plus it really limits selection.

So I’m calling upon you all: can anyone suggest a healthier choice of canned soups? I realize that making my own soup is the best option for nutrition and taste, but that’s not the point of this experience. So keep it canned. And while I’ll gladly pay more for something healthier, $5+ gourmet cans would also be contrary to the intent.

Written by Martin

2010/03/26 at 17:46

Posted in Food

Can I eat it?

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As I mentioned in the last (real) post, work is picking up now. This means that we’re typically in the lab until around 8pm, which poses a challenge in terms of making dinner.

I was actually looking forward to cooking again, now that I moved out of the dorm. Especially here in the US, where I have a much wider range of ingredients available. But obviously this hinges on having time to cook. So far we’ve been getting by using one of several methods:

  1. Takeout. Good variety, a little expensive if done frequently, usually somewhat unhealthy.
  2. Restaurant. Nice, but somewhat expensive, and includes the hassle of going out.
  3. One person leaves early and cooks. Good option, when it’s an option.
  4. Cook a huge portion and eat it for 2-3 days. Works, but mostly for pasta and stews. Usually combined with option 3 or a weekend, since you need to cook in the first place.

This situation isn’t too bad, but it does limit the options a bit. Salads sometimes get neglected simply because the ingredients aren’t as versatile and have lower shelf-life. Plus meal times are pretty irregular, leading to frequent bouts of hunger in between (and consequently temptation by vending machines and other sources of sugary snacks). Lunch is usually had at the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria, which has a good selection (soups, sandwiches, salad-bar, pizza and 1-2 hot meals) but again tends to be high on calories. Onion rings and fries are surprisingly adept at sneaking into any meal. All in all, I can tell that I’m eating a bit too much these days.

Once I get into a routine, it should be easier to plan meals. Will probably make lunches for myself at least some of the time, just for the element of control. Maybe get a really big pot, cook enormous portions and freeze things, so that we always have several meals in a semi-ready frozen state (our fridge/freezer is American size, fortunately). And a better understanding and supply of available ingredients should help spice up the menu. On the bright side, having three people who actually like to cook means that I get exposed to dishes I probably wouldn’t have made myself, even if the same ingredients are used.

How do I get fed, but not fat?

I’ll keep you posted on the food situation as I go along.

Written by Martin

2010/02/19 at 18:17

Posted in Food, Uncategorized