Archive for October, 2008

cooking adventures

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

I can now report that my Mexican Layer Dip is a success on two continents. It’s very easy: a layer of bean dip (9 oz can), a layer of sour cream dip (16 oz sour cream mixed with 2 Tbsp taco seasoning), a layer of grated cheese (Cheddar or Mexican), chopped tomatoes on top. You can add olives, jalapenos, cilantro or parsley if you happen to have it, or add guacamole between the bean dip and the sour cream mixture if you happen to like it (I don’t). I’ve never taken it to a party where it didn’t get compliments and more importantly where it didn’t get eaten up.

Last night we had a party at my boss’s house, where everyone was supposed to bring a dish. I decided to try my old standby if I could find ingredients. Normal groceries here don’t carry our cream, not even the Carrefour hypermarket. I knew the Sogo department store downtown has a marketin the 3rd basement level with lots of imported foods, so I headed there. Even getting there was an adventure, since I got the only cabdriver in the city who didn’t know where Sogo was, or the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station next to it. In a year here, this was the first time I’ve had had to call a colleague to translate to a cab driver – at least it was while I was on an errand said colleague would benefit from. I felt sorry for the guy; he wasn’t a very good cabdriver either. Normally cabbies here drive, er, a bit aggressively; this one had a death grip on the wheel at all times and seemed uncomfortable with the whole business. When we finally got there (the long way around) he did charge me less than the meter read. Going home we went the long way too, but this was because of an enormous protest march that prevent us from taking a left turn near the store. They were protesting the KMT (ruling party – it was sponsored by the opposition DPP) and its strategy of forming closer ties with China; one inflatable float had huge scary reindeer, with evil eyes and sharp teeth, pulling a sled with a giant milk bottle with poison symbols on it (because of the recent issues with melamine-tainted milk powder imported from China).

I was able to find my sour cream, but no bean dip. They did have refried beans, though (3 or 4 brands!) so I hoped I could convert that into bean dip. Some research into internet recipes convinced me the two were pretty similar, so I just mixed the frijoles with a little Tabasco and some finely diced onion. The other thing I realized on the way home was that one thing I don’t have here is the glass pie dish I always use for the layer dip. Oops. (The market has a large hoursewares section, so no doubt I could have found one.) The only glass dish I have is a rectangular casserole, a good 30 sq in bigger. Ted and I looked at the local hypermarket for a dish but couldn’t find anything quite right. so I did end up using the bigger dish. I had more bean dip than usual (16 oz can vs 9 oz I usually use) but if I’d thought this out in time I’d have doubled the sour cream. As I said, though, it was a huge success. There wasn’t enough left to bother bringing it home, and when my boss was going to scrape out the dish to clean it for me to take home, his wife told him to save that little bit because she liked it so much. 🙂

Today’s adventure was a bit more … adventurous. I’ve roasted a fair few chickens in my time, so when I saw a cute little whole chicken in the store on Saturday, I didn’t hesitate to buy it for Sunday night’s dinner. I could see that it had its black lower legs still on, but figured I could deal with that. (Makes sense, since people eat chicken feet here.) What I hadn’t realized until I unwrapped it was that it still had a head, too. Ulp. This is not the first time I’ve been thankful for how complete The Joy of Cooking is, but I think I achieved new levels of gratitude.

I think it must have been partially prepared; the Joy warns that when cutting off the head you need to hold and bind the two tubes immediately, but there didn’t seem to be any, or they were empty. The legs were actually a harder challenge; it turns out that chickens have rather a lot of leg tendons attaching the lower leg, and it took a lot of muscle to get them out. Oddly, though, there were no giblets, heart, or lungs in the chicken at all.

It’s in the oven now, so the taste test still remains. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a bird this tiny – only 4 lbs, according to the little scale I normally use for weighing yarn. From the size, and since the label was all in Chinese, I might otherwise have wondered if it were really a chicken and not, say, a quail, but having seen the head in all its gory detail, it’s definitely a chicken.

Taipei rowing championships

Monday, October 20th, 2008

This weekend’s regatta was not one of our most enjoyable, actually. The weather was a large part of that; both Saturday and Sunday were glorious fall days … for sailing. Or possibly flying kites; there were lots out there in the park. They were not, however good days for rowing. The first half of each day was worst; there were tailwinds, but the tide was flowing the other way, which both made it hard to row into and created some really big waves.

The race turned out not to be for juniors, as we’d been informed, but for anyone 16 and up, which explains why it was such a big one. Apparently there were also some monetary prizes for top finishers (!). It was set up pretty much like the Olympics; race winners go to finals, second place to semifinals, other finishers to repechages. Basically, everyone ends up in the finals somewhere; there were four lanes, so if there were sixteen entrants, there were A, B, C and D finals.

The first unpleasant surprise was to find that Ted’s Empacher has been damaged to an extent that may not be fixable, with lots of dents and breaks in its honeycomb skin. (They take the boats away to protect them during typhoons; while we appreciate that they include ours too, the movers are apparently not people who know how to handle boats; it seems like they sustain nearly as much damage in the moving as they would in the typhoon. He decided to race it in anyway, but not wanting to put any more stress on the cracks, I opted to borrow a boat.

I stayed pretty much with the pack to the halfway point, but by then I had so much water inthe boat that I could feel it sloshing back and forth, and I think there was more water in the supposedly sealed compartments, because the boat weighed a ton. I don’t know if the other two rowers in my heat had less water in their boats or were just better in rough conditions, but from there they steadily pulled away from me. Ted fared better, but not much; he’s still getting over the cold or whatever that had kept him in bed and dozing most of last weekend (you all know his usual energy level, so you know that really means it hit him hard!). He came in third in his heat, with even more water in his boat – apparently it was up to his seat.

Some of the friends I’d made at the last race in Ilan were there, and this time one of them, Cary, was rowing in a pair with a very good Taiwanese rower, so we hung out and cheered them on. Unfortunately, because the races were a bit late due to the conditions, I didn’t know when I was supposed to race next and was startled to be told I was supposed to get out there right now! At that point I made a command decision; conditions were still terrible, I wasn’t ready, and I decided to opt out of the repechage and thus the rest of the races. That gave Ted some notice that his was coming up, so he was able to be prepared; the gap before his race meant that the tide had turned and conditions weren’t quite so terrible. This time he came in with much less water in the boat, and with a time of about 8:16 – not bad for 2000m, especially in still-rough water and still with the remnants of a cold, and two full minutes better than his time in the morning, which illustrates how bad those conditions were.

We were hoping he wouldn’t have to race the next day – and Cary was told he wouldn’t – but at that point we had the system explained to us and found out Ted would have to race after all. At least he was better off than Cary, who only found out via text message late on Saturday night! Fortunately the races didn’t start until noon, so we met Cary and his girlfriend Lee downtown, for an excellent dinner at a newly-opened Gordon Biersch brewpub here. I’ve always liked their food, but both the menu selection and the beer was better than I remember from the one in Tempe.

On Sunday, the conditions were even worse, and we were told Ted would have to race twice more, in semis and finals. The wind and waves were so bad that a regatta in the US would undoubtedly have been canceled, or at least had the small boats moved to late afternoon when the tide had turned. We saw at least four boats having to be towed in without their rowers; either they’d flipped or they’d filled up and swamped. Boats were having gallons of water emptied out when they returned to dock. In those conditions, after Ted’s first race, the cracks in his boat did give up and let some water in; we were able to get some emptied out of the vents, but we could hear more in there. Out of frustration and in fear of damaging the Empacher any more, Ted decided to row his final in my boat. The boat I have here is not made for speed, but it is made to handle rougher conditions; it has higher sides and a cockpit designed to self-bail. (Also a compass, but conditions weren’t quite bad enough to require that!) He said later that it was the most enjoyable race of his four this weekend, because it was the only time he could really row instead of just trying to survive. He came in last, what with the extra 10 lbs of boat, but was able to stay close in the pack the whole way.

So all in all, not one of our favorite regattas. I do have to say that as in Ilan, everyone was very kind to us, helping us decipher the race schedule, loaning me a boat, even feeding us. (We wanted the familiar food of Gordon Biersch before the next day’s races, or else we could have had dinner bought for us at a nearby CHinese restaurant.) Also, though if I’d been safety coordinator I would have stopped Sunday’s races, I do have to say that they had lots and lots of safety boats, and their crews did an excellent job of staying alert for trouble. The race infrastructure was also very good, with an enormous and well-built dock and starting platform. (Now if they’d only leave the dock in so we could row on the weekends … but they won’t, we were told.)

Oh, yeah, and I fell in right at the start. I got all lined up at the starting platform, but while waiting for the others to get set up, I got blown off my line, couldn’t seem to correct, got blown against the starting platform, and ends up going in. Very embarassing, especially as they fished me out, put my boat in behind the platform, and then held the race until I could get around and set up again. I guess I keep blocking that particular memory of the weekend.

Oh well.


Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Sometimes the hard part about working among people who speak English as a second (or third) language is avoiding the smart-ass answers. Today a colleague of mine sent out an email saying, “If you are interesting, I have invited [someone from another department] to give us a presentation Tomorrow”. Of course I’m tempted to ask if I can come even if I’m not very interesting.

On the other hand, if they gave smart answers every time I messed up a Chinese phrase, I’d be doomed. So restraint is in my own self-interest.

first Asian regatta

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

I don’t think I’ve ever had a such a good time coming in DFL. (For the record, one difference between last and Dead F***ing Last is this: if you are simply the final person to finish, you’re last. If you hear the the horn for the winner of the race just as you’re entering the final 250 meters – and the others are reasonably close behind her, you’re DFL). But hey, considering I was racing against women 20 years younger who are training at the collegiate level, that I was racing 2000 meters when I’m used to 1km sprint races, and that I’ve been on the water exactly twice in the last three months, that’s OK. And oh yeah, I think this was their national championship or at least a national-level race.

Most importantly, I felt that I was rowing as hard and as strong in the end as in the beginning; there was never a time when I said “Oh, the hell with this, it doesn’t matter and it won’t hurt anyone else, I’ll just row a few light strokes to rest a little.” I kept faith with myself.

My body is tired, I’ve soloed the longest distance that I’ve driven so far in Taiwan, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore tomorrow and there’s a little sunburn where I sweated off some of my sunscreen. I feel great. I’ve got Sandy Denny playing on Youtube, a bunch of good books to read, and soon I’ll go make some tea and popcorn. Really, the only way things could be better would be if Ted were here, but that will fix itself in less than a week.

Also, he drive was pretty easy and the weather not too obnoxiously hot, and best of all I met three possible new English-speaking friends: a Taiwanese grad student rower-coach (who I think can help us get on the water at the site where the race was) , an American rower who hasn’t been on the water here and wants to get back into it, and his Malay girlfriend who speaks a very Americanized English. I think the latter two are somewhere in our age bracket with similar sorts of job responsibilities; the Taiwanese woman lives in the town where we work and seemed excited at the idea of rowing with us. I’d love to get in a double with her sometime.

(A little later: I was wrong about “the only way things could get any better”: someone was just setting off some pretty good fireworks over by the river, just where I could see them from here.)