Movie Review – Ghost in the Shell


Had a great time watching Ghost in the Shell last night.

As the movie begins, a female patient is being wheeled into surgery. Her brain is harvested and placed in the metal cranium of a robot that then undergoes a series of immersions to build up the humanoid skin and tissue. The new cyborg (Scarlett Johansson) coughing and struggling to breath as she is gently coaxed by her creator Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) to relax and begin breathing.

A year later, the new cyborg goes by the name “Major” and is a key member of an elite and secretive anti-terrorist squad. From there the action-packed plot thickens as things are not what they seem…

This movie was great fun! Very interesting story. Great acting by both American and Japanese actors. This version is a remake of a classic Japanese animation movie of the same name. Of course, Japan, the Japanese people, the Japanese language, and the Japanese culture are a huge part of my personal life which may give this film a resonance for me that will not be felt by other viewers. Interestingly, it is shot heavily in Hong Kong rather than Japan – another locale that is intertwined all throughout my personal life. Needless to say, I loved it!

More generally, however, the movie and Scarlett Johansson’s outstanding performance bear a striking resemblance to her previous performance in the unrelated Lucy

For some reason, Scarlett Johansson keeps showing up in these magnificent Asia-themed science fiction action thrillers – and I love every one.

On a deeper note, Ghost in the Shell also shares a thought-provoking and creepy theme about the theft of body and the mind struggling to reassert itself with the more recent and likewise unrelated Get Out

Actually, all three of these are great entertainment. Creepy, interesting, extremely well written, wonderful acting. Great entertainment all around!

Bring Your Own Izakaya – Texas Saké Co

Yuki Tacata standing next to Tomoko behind the counter

Yuki Tacata with Tomoko Hetherington at Texas Saké Co

Friday night we had a wonderful time at Texas Saké Co. This was the closest thing I remember having in the United States to the authentic Japanese Izakaya experience.

It has been about a year since Adam Blumenshein and Tim Klatt relaunched Texas Saké Co with Jeff Bell as the toji (head brewer). Since that time, Jeff has completely revamped the Saké production approach and come up with a new distinctive label for their bottles. Both are great improvements!

Recently Yuki Tacata has joined Jeff as an employee (perhaps *THE* employee?) helping all around with the production and marketing of the product. Yuki is currently operating their tasting room Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30PM. She doesn’t have much in the way of food other than a few pretzels, but guests are welcome to bring their own. The Saké itself is delicious and very reasonably priced. Last Friday she was serving a Junmai (clear) as well as a Nigori (unfiltered) as well as a special raw Saké – all of which were wonderful.

Some Assembly Required

Of course, you can simply go and enjoy the Saké in the authentic, cozy, Izakaya atmosphere. However, I DO like to have a little bit to eat while imbibing, so some preparation was in order.

Whole Foods

Bag of Japanese edamame crisps by Calbee

Calbee Snapea Crisps

First stop was Whole Foods.

Of course, the very quintessential snack for drinking in Japan is Edamame – steamed and salted soy been pods. These are slightly cumbersome to prepare and transport. Fortunately, Whole Foods sells Snapea Crisps by Calbee – a Japanese snack manufacturer. These are essentially edamame in a crispy snack format. Perfect!

Package of Beef Jerky with Sesame Ginger flavor

Sesame Ginger Beef Jerky

The next classic Japanese drinking food is Surume or salted, dried, shredded squid. Surume is not so easy to come by and also happens to be one of the few Japanese foods I have never quite warmed up to. For me surume is vaguely reminiscent of chewing on shreds of used truck tires which have an overpowering fishy flavor. At Whole Foods, I was able to find a perfect substitute: Sesame Ginger Beef Jerky. Chewy. Salty. With a pleasantly Asian-Fusion flavor.

Asahi Imports

White car parked in front of Asahi Imports

Asahi Imports has Hand-Made Onigiri

Next stop: Asahi Imports …. which has wonderful handmade Onigiri – triangular Japanese rice balls. …which were unfortunately, all sold out. <:-( Oh, no.

D K Sushi & Seoul Asian Food Market

Car in front of D K Sushi

DK Sushi is not a Market Anymore

Idea! We will stop by D K Sushi & Seoul Asian Food Market and pick something up! We used to visit this market all the time when our kids were first born. Unfortunately, the market part seems to have disappeared and the current establishment seems to be a sushi-themed karaoke lounge – not what we were looking for.

Tactical Retreat – KFC

At this point we cut our loses and went through the drive-thru lane of a nearby KFC. Not fabulous, but the chicken fingers sort of worked. Next time, we will have to work a little harder at preparing the onigiri at home.

Ready to Drink

Tomoko Hetherington in front of Texas Saké

Arriving at Texas Saké Company

Fortunately, the minor SNAFU with onigiri that turned into KFC chicken fingers did not impact the rest of the evening at all. The tasting room is in the rear of the building. When we arrived, one other couple was there and another regular dropped by. It was very sociable.

two glasses of sake with a plate of snacks

Calbee Pea Snacks and Sesame Ginger Jerky

Picture shows Yuki taking bottles of sake from the refrigerator

Yuki Tacata Serving Sake

All in all it was a delightful evening! We will definitely be back, albeit with home-made onigiri for the occasion.

Biscuits for Thanksgiving

In years past, we were part of a large communal Thanksgiving celebration that rotated between the houses of several families each year. For these events, I always enjoyed baking one or even two fruit pies. However, time has progressed. Children have grown up and moved away. Careers have changed. We moved from a large house to a cozy apartment. This year’s Thanksgiving was just three people.

For three people, I decided to do something a little simpler: biscuits.

That is, I have been tinkering with baking powder biscuits for more than ten years. However, I had not made any biscuits since 2009. Time to dig the recipe spreadsheet out of the archive and try again. Here is this year’s version:

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour – 3 cups (300g)
  • Quick cooking oats – 3/4 cup (75g)
  • Baking powder – 3 tablespoons (40g)
  • Baking soda – 1/2 teaspoon (3g)
  • Sugar – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Salt – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Unsalted butter – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Crisco vegetable shortening – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Low fat buttermilk – 1 cup (225ml)
  • Additional cold water – as needed, about 1/4 to 3/4 cup (50-150ml)

Utensils

  • Cookie sheet – a professional aluminum “half sheet” available from your nearest restaurant supply store works much better than a consumer-grade tin sheet.
  • Mixing bowl – that you can put in the freezer
  • Medium plastic bowl or similar for weighing on the scale
  • Cutting board – that you can put in the freezer
  • Flour sifter
  • Postal scale – I have a nice Japanese one that reads out in grams, much more accurate than U.S. scales that read only in ounces
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large wooden or plastic spoon for mixing
  • Biscuit cutter 2.5 inch (6cm)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Timer
  • Oven mits
  • Rack for cooling
  • Spatula to move biscuits from hot cookie sheet to rack

Key Points

  1. Use a postal scale to weigh the flour, oats, butter, shortening. The ratio is tricky and using a volume measure for flour is very unreliable. The volume of the flour can vary widely depending on the humidity, whether it has been sifted, and so on.
  2. It is hard to get the amount of liquid just right. How much liquid the dough needs will also vary from day-to-day depending on humidity, temperature, the phase of the moon, and so on.
  3. The goal is similar to that of a pie-crust. We want to make little balls of shortening that are covered in flour and do NOT dissolve into a wet mush. When we put the biscuits in the oven, these should fluff into “flakes” or at least that is the idea.
  4. One method of keeping the little shortening balls intact is to get them very cold just before the final prep of the dough. It also helps to have the working surface really cold. Finally, you want to handle the dough very quickly and briefly. Otherwise, your hands will warm it up, melting these little balls.
  5. For those not used to weighing things on a postal scale, put the plastic bowl on the scale before you turn it on. That way, the scale will calibrate itself to “0” including the weight of the plastic bowl. This technique makes it very easy to measure ingredients and then use the plastic bowl to dump them into the mixing bowl.

Preparation

Starting two hours before meal time:

1 – Weigh flour into sifter.

2 – Measure baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar into sifter.

3 – Sift together.

4 – Mix the oats into the bowl and stir together.

5 – Put some of the mix back into the plastic bowl, put it back onto the scale, turn the scale off and on again to calibrate.

Picture shows bowl on postal scale with some flour mix and vegetable shortening

Weigh Crisco into Some of the Flour

6 – Scoop the vegetable shortening into this mix using a spoon until you have measured 75 grams.

7 – Dump the mix and vegetable shortening into the bowl.

8 – Calibrate the scale again.

9 – Trim one stick of unsalted butter until it weighs 75 grams.

Shows intact and unwrapped stick of butter sitting in flour mix in bowl

Put Butter and Crisco into Flour Mix and Allow to Soften

10 – Unwrap and drop the stick of butter into the bowl with the vegetable shortening and dry ingredients.

11 – Allow the mix to sit on the counter for about 30 minutes until the butter is fully softened.

Continuing 90 minutes before meal time:

Shows crumbly flour mixture

After Cutting in Shortening, Mix Will Look Like This

12 – Use a knife to cut shortening up into smaller chunks. Then use fork to press these against the sides of the bowl, turning and repeating until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal.

13 – Cover with plastic wrap.

shows bowl and cutting board in freezer

Bowl and Cutting Board Into Freezer

14 – Place cutting board and bowl into freezer.

15 – Turn on oven to “bake” and 450°F (230°C) and allow to preheat.

16 – Allow cutting board and mix to chill for 45 to 60 minutes.

17 – Remove bowl from freezer.

18 – Add buttermilk, 1/3 of a cup at a time. Stir lightly to spread moisture. Do not over-mix.

Shows that dough is still too dry to come together

Not Moist Enough After Adding One Cup of Buttermilk

shows dough now sticky enough to form a ball

Moist Enough After Adding a Total of 1/2 Cup of Additional Water

19 – Assess dough. Is there enough moisture that this dough will stick together? You don’t want a cake batter. You want a level of stickiness that just barely picks up the flour mix.

20 – If necessary, carefully add more cold water, 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is just sticky enough.

shows a ball in the bowl

Form a Ball in the Bowl

21 – Form a ball of dough in the bowl. Don’t over-work it. Just squeeze and pat it together until a ball forms.

Shows crumbly dough patted into a rough square on cutting board

Pat Dough Flat

22 – Remove cutting board from freezer. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Pat dough ball into a square about an inch (2.5cm) thick.

23 – Lightly oil the cooking sheet.

24 – Cut biscuits with the biscuit cutter, twisting slightly to separate each one.

shows 13 biscuits touching each other on cookie sheet

Place Biscuits Touching on Cookie Sheet

25 – Place biscuits touching each other on the cookie sheet. Placing them this way will encourage them to expand upward rather than outward.

26 – Press the scraps of dough together, pat back to a smaller square and continue cutting. Don’t worry if there are small gaps in the dough. These actually make the biscuits more interesting.

27 – Take the last tiny scraps of dough and push them into the biscuit cutter to form one last biscuit.

28 – Using your thumb, press a small dimple into the center of each biscuit. This dimple will prevent the biscuit from crowning (forming a domed top).

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

29 – Place cookie sheet in oven.

30 – Set timer for 15 minutes.

31 – Bake until golden brown on the top. Remove from oven.

32 – Use spatula to transfer biscuits to rack for cooling.

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Critique

The biscuits look and smell great. However, for my taste they are a little dry. I would like them to be a little softer and more like the unspeakably artificial biscuits that you get in a little cardboard tube at the grocery store. I realize that those instant biscuits contain all kinds of frightening chemical ingredients…but I like them. As a next step, I may cut the cooking time slightly. I may also experiment with adding an egg to the dough.

Sources

  • http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/tech/recipes/bread/biscuits-1/Chap1.html
  • Alton Brown “Good Eats” seen on 27 May 2004
  • GQ Magazine August 2004 issue page 66 on 10/9/2005

Asatte Press Book on Sale at Kinokuniya

Asatte Press Book on Sale at Kinokunia Books in San Francisco

Asatte Press Book on Sale at Kinokunia Books in San Francisco

Recently we have had a major win for Asatte Press. This photo shows our new book on sale at Kinokuniya Books in San Francisco. We are thrilled! For the Japanese speaking world, Kinokuniya Books is the equivalent of Barnes and Noble. Even better, they found two other books with very similar topics and similar covers to put ours next to. From a book marketing point of view, it doesn’t get any better than this!

BURUSHITTO! Bullshit! - Front Cover

BURUSHITTO! Bullshit! – Front Cover

The title of the book is “ブルシット! Bullshit!” and is the first book by Tomoko Hetherington. The book covers the rich variety of less-than-polite expressions related to the word “shit” that Tomoko learned from her three bilingual children. The bull on the front of the book is saying something to the effect of: “Totally wrong. This here is HORSEshit.”

BURUSHITTO! Bullshit! - Rear Cover

BURUSHITTO! Bullshit! – Rear Cover

On the rear of the book, we can see the same bull (from the other end) saying: “Nope. No bovine manure here.”

In order to avoid confusing readers of our technical and engineering books, we created a separate imprint “Texas Hirame” (which happens to be Tomoko’s blogging pen name) and are marketing the book under that alias. This kind of thing is done all of the time. Most major publishing companies have dozens of different imprints targeted at specific markets.

Better Get Your Boots On, The Shit is Getting Deep

Better Get Your Boots On, The Shit is Getting Deep

The cover artwork was done by Tomoko herself as were the numerous illustrations in the book. Here we see a helpful illustration for the expression: “Better get your boots on. The shit is getting deep.”

This is Horseshit

This is Horseshit

Shit from several different major animals (bull, horse, chicken, bat, ape) is introduced and the nuances of each type of shit are discussed in some detail.

Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle

Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle

Other expressions that describe various types of difficult situations are clarified as well.

The book is offered in print from Amazon.com. It is also available in Kindle and iBooks versions on Amazon.com and iTunes respectively.

The iBooks version also includes a number of convenient embedded audio segments. For example:

Provides Japanese speakers with a convenient audio example that they can practice with and emulate until they can smoothly make sarcastic remarks about dim colleagues discovering the obvious.

Links to all of the major stores are available here: TexasHirame.com

Valentine’s Day

vase of pink roses with some blue garnish

Pink Roses

Our son Tye has been working part time as a waiter at a restaurant here in Austin for the last few years while he finishes his computer science degree. That restaurant asked Tye to work on Saturday which was Valentine’s Day. We thought “Great! We’ll come in for dinner!” but he warned us off, explaining that the restaurant would be packed, food preparation would be necessarily slow, and that everyone would be pretty stressed.

Given Tye’s input, we decided to do a nice meal at home instead. The start for the day was some nice pink roses from a local grocery store – much cheaper than a formal bouquet from a florist and very pleasant in a laid-back sort of way.

Dinner – Bacon-Wrapped Fillet Steaks

picture shows a dining table, two plates, two glasses of champagne, a lit candle.

Dinner, Bacon-Wrapped Fillet

Tomoko was in charge of dinner, which was as shown:

  1. Petite bacon-wrapped fillet steaks on a bed of fresh greens
  2. Grilled portabello mushrooms in a sort of pureed pepper bisque
  3. A bottle of New Zealand champagne that we had received as a gift

As usual, we had a small candle on the table for atmosphere.

Start with a Toast

Picture shows Tomoko holding two glasses of Champagne

Toasting with New Zealand Champagne

Of course, drinking Champagne calls for a toast.
Strictly speaking, this beverage should be called “New Zealand Champagne-style Sparkling Wine” or something awkward like that. The Europeans are very touchy about their geographical trademarks.
That having been said, I liked this one better than the real French champagne which I generally find too sour for my taste. Likewise, I don’t like the Italian products either because they tend to be too sweet. The German products produced in the Rhine region around and in Mainz are wonderful – sparkling wine made with Riesling grapes. Unfortunately, the production quantities are quite small and they more or less impossible to get in the United States. This New Zealand product was similar to the German ones: not sour; fruity, but not overpoweringly sweet.

After-Dinner Snacks

Picture shows a cutting board with cheese, salumi, crackers, and Spanish Almonts

Cheese and Salumi

I was in charge of the less healthy after-dinner snacks. You really can’t re-cork a bottle of champagne… we would be needing something to help us finish the bottle. The salumi was from the local grocery store, nice, but not expensive. The cheese was my favorite Dutch Leyden caraway cheese. I also found some very nice Spanish almonds at Costco. Spanish almonds are very tasty, but they are also usually outrageously expensive. These were very nice and moderately priced.

Strawberries and Japanese Television

Bowl of strawberries

Strawberries

We finished the evening eating strawberries (Tomoko’s department again) and watching two episodes of a Japanese television mini-series called “Ghostwriter” on Viki TV – an interesting operation that gets television shows from around the world and crowd-sources the creation of subtitles for them. Recently they have been monetizing the site slightly by showing a few commercials before each episode. However, once it starts they don’t interrupt the actual program. This mini-series has one of my favorite Japanese actresses: Nakatani Miki playing an aging star author (think J.K. Rowling) who is suffering from writer’s block and gets into a complicated relationship with an ambitious young female novelist. It was a lot of fun – a nice way to finish the New Zealand champagne and end the evening.

Superbowl XLIX – Top 5 Commercials

Great game! Amazing finish. Here are my picks for the best (and worst) commercials.

The Top 5 Commercials of Superbowl XLIX

#1 – Acacados from Mexico


This was my favorite! Really fun, original idea, not sponsored by a multi-$10b manufacturing behemoth.

#2 – Fiat Blue Pill


Fiat commercials are always a lot of fun!

#3 – Clash of the Clans Liam Neeson


Liam Neeson satirizing himself!

#4 – Doritos Middle Seat


Not that I (ah-hem) have ever tried to psych out who might sit in the seat next to me…

#5 – Budweiser Lost Dog


Really pretty. This seems to have been Tomoko Hetherington’s pick for number 1.

Buzzkill Commercials

What was new this year was a series of commercials put out by various organizations that just couldn’t tolerate the idea that America might **GASP*** be ENJOYING ITSELF during the Superbowl. These self-appointed guardians of public morality felt the need to bludgeon everyone with extremely heavy-handed buzzkill messages designed to stifle all of that inordinate merriment and shame everyone into reaching for their checkbooks to donate to something or another. Here are three annoyingly heavy-handed commercials that aired during the Superbowl:

#X – Nationwide Dead Children Commercial


What arrogance. Preventable accidents are an important topic, but there is a time and a place for everything and the middle of the national enjoyment festival is neither the time nor the place to browbeat the public with this sort of guilt message.

#Y – Like a Girl Commercial


Attention all men. Line up to be flogged…

NO MORE’s Domestic Violence Advertisement


Any men who did not get flogged for the previous commercial, line up for a flogging for this one. In the early 1990s I had several years of experience as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician and got to see the domestic violence issue live and in person. It is not nearly as neat and clear-cut as this sort of advocacy group would have you believe. In fact, the most severe domestic violence injuries (and deaths) in the little community I was serving during the time I was there turned out to be those inflicted on men by their furious girlfriends. One guy in particular enjoyed dancing with the wrong woman at a bar and ended up needing to be flown back to Austin for 180+ stitches courtesy of his jealous girlfriend. In any event, domestic violence is a serious issue, but the Superbowl is neither the right time, nor the right place to browbeat America’s men with such a heavy-handed commercial.

New Year’s Eve at the Swissôtel Merchant Court

Youjin Smiling

Youjin Welcomes us to the Bar around 11PM


A year of commuting to Singapore to help a shipyard with the software systems integration of the systems on an offshore oil rig wrapped up with a 28-day visit starting in early December. Since we knew far in advance that this visit would cover Christmas and New Years, we focused our family festivities on Thanksgiving. Tomoko accompanied me to Singapore and our three grown children were on their own.

Dave, Countdown

Dave, Countdown


So…what to do for New Year’s eve?  It rapidly became clear that *THE EVENT* for New Year’s Eve in Singapore is fireworks at Marina Bay.  However, everyone wetalked with described massive crowding and congestion. Also, December is really not the best season to visit Singapore – it is monsoon season, constantly soggy. Finally, I had to work the day of New Year’s eve.  We decided to simply hang around the vicinity of our hotel: the Swissôtel Merchant Court which is conveniently right on the river at Clarke Quay. That proved to be an excellent decision.

Tomoko, Countdown

Tomoko, Countdown

After packing up – we would be departing early on January 1st – we had drinks in the hotel’s club lounge on the 11th floor. Luckily, we caught a break on the weather. It was dry and pleasant. We had a very nice light dinner outside by the river at SQUE behind Central. After that, we returned to the bar at the Merchant Court.

Emily Takes a Picture

Emily Takes a Picture

We arrived at the bar just before 11PM and were pleased to see “Team Korea” on duty. That is, during 2014 I visited the Merchant Court bar quite a few times to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine before bedtime. Of course, the entire staff of the hotel was very nice to me during the year, but four of the bar staff in particular – two from Korea and two from the Philippines – spent a lot of time chatting with me. It was very pleasant and made the place feel quite a bit like home. In any event, Emily and Youjin from Korea were on-duty at the bar for New Year’s Eve.

Tomoko Was Drinking Tea

Tomoko Was Drinking Tea

Tomoko was actually drinking the hotel’s very nice TWG Tea “Moroccan Mint Tea” which I also had on any number of evenings during the year. It was served in a very nice little pot with a cookie on the side – very pleasant.

Team Korea - Emily and Youjin

Team Korea – Emily and Youjin

As midnight approached, there was a lot of activity. The bar manager put a bucket of champagne bottles in ice on the bar. These were purchased quickly by the large number of customers. I was fine drinking a glass of white wine and Tomoko was sticking with the Moroccan Mint Tea.

Emily and Dave Just After Midnight

Emily and Dave Just After Midnight


There was a large-screen TV in the bar and it counted down the seconds at Marina Bay where a large stage show was in progress. The show alternated performers from each of Singapore’s different ethnic communities. It was very nice!

Tomoko and Dave Just After Midnight

Tomoko and Dave Just After Midnight

After Midnight, everyone cheered and took pictures…

Balloons Everywhere

Balloons Everywhere

The bar staff also unleashed a huge cluster of balloons which more-or-less filled the bar. Customers were running around kicking the balloons and throwing them at each other. Meanwhile, the national stage show was playing music on the large screen TV. It was quite fun and relaxing!

Team Philippines - Mae and Elle

Team Philippines – Mae and Elle

After around 30 minutes, we settled our bill and wandered out side. The first stop was the outdoor bar hut by the river which is also run by the hotel. Team Philippines – Mae and Elle – were on duty. They were really busy, but they stopped for a second so I could take their picture.

Clarke Quay - No Selfie-Stick Zone

Clarke Quay – No Selfie-Stick Zone

Wandering across the bridge into Clarke Quay proper, we encountered this sign. Those selfie-sticks certainly are a menace. The Singapore government had thoughtfully declared Clarke Quay to be a “No Selfie-Stick Zone” for the evening and put up this warning sign.

Singaporeans Celebrate New Years on their Smartphones

Singaporeans Celebrate New Years on their Smartphones while Waiting for a Table

Just around 1AM, things were hoping at Clarke Quay. There was a throbbing crowd. Bands were playing in all the clubs. It was really lively. This group of young Singaporean friends was out on Clarke Quay, waiting for a seat at a restaurant, taking in the ambiance, and furiously tapping on their smartphones.

Eden East, Three Little Pigs, East End Wines

With things going well recently, we decided to celebrate a little in advance of my next longer overseas trip. Last year during Art Night East, we had visited Eden East at Springdale Farm and were intrigued. The restaurant is only open two days per week, serves a fixed menu in communal seating, and sources all of its food locally. The food and drink samples during the Art Night tour had been excellent – we definitely wanted to give the full dinner a try.
As I went to make reservations, I determined that this restaurant is really popular. The only available seating was for 9PM. I also noted that Eden East is a bring-your-own-bottle restaurant and that they recommended East End Wines as a good place to get said bottle.
That sounded good to me. We are very familiar with East End Wines, a wonderful wine store built into a Victorian home in East Austin.

The plan became:

  1. Buy Wine at East End Wines
  2. Appetizers at Three Little Pigs Trailer
  3. Dinner at Eden East

East End Wines

Wine Tasting at East End Wines

Wine Tasting at East End Wines

First stop: East End Wines. We were lucky that they were having a wine tasting that evening. East End Wines has frequent wine tastings and I am on their mailing list. Friday’s tasting was Italian wines. They were uniformly excellent. We selected a nice Nero d’Avola for our dinner wine and a white Argentine wine for appetizers.

Three Little Pigs

Tomoko at Three Little Pigs

Tomoko at Three Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs trailer is located conveniently in the parking lot of East End Wines. These two businesses cooperate: there are picnic tables for seating and East End Wines will happily provide loaner glasses. This arrangement makes for a very easy light meal. Wine and glasses from East End Wines, food from Three Little Pigs.

Asian Fried Chicken at Three Little Pigs

Asian Fried Chicken at Three Little Pigs

 

 

We ordered two appetizers. The first was Asian Fried Chicken. This dish is their take on Japanese Karaage. It is authentic in a contemporary sense. That is, all over Asia, this dish has recently been interpreted as having a sort of powdery dry batter, enhanced perhaps with mayonnaise. Being an ancient dinosaur myself, I prefer the more traditional version which had thinner breading and a more moist surface. This difference is similar to the difference between Southern Fried Chicken (Church’s) and traditional recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken. I prefer the traditional Kentucky version.

Korean Style BBQ at Three Little Pigs

Korean Style BBQ at Three Little Pigs

The other dish was an interpretation of Korean barbecue with some nice Kimichi and rice. By the way, both dishes had excellent vegetables. We did not actually eat all of these two dishes. Rather we just nibbled a bit, picked up to-go boxes from the trailer, and took them home to our son who finished them off.

Dave at Three Little Pigs

Dave at Three Little Pigs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eden East at Springdale Farm

Menu for Our Eden East Dinner

Menu for Our Eden East Dinner

We arrived at Eden East at 9PM as scheduled and were seated at a communal table. Seating is outside under some really large, beautiful trees. The temperature was perfect. The tables were lit with gas lamps. Eden East warns you that this is “slow food” – expect to stay for a few hours. If you need to get in and out in a hurry, you will be better served at MacDonalds.

The restaurant is directly attached to the Springdale farm which grows organic produce. Much of what is served is directly from Springdale farms. The rest (both meats and vegetables) is from other nearby Texas producers.

After a few minutes, our enthusiastic young server arrived and introduced herself as “Taylor” She promptly opened our bottle of wine and gave us an overview of the evening. Things would simply arrive at 15-20 minute interviews. If we felt like taking a stroll around the farm, she could slow the pace down for us.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

The first item served was not on the internet menu, although if you look carefully it was on the printed menu on the table. This was an “Amuse Bouche” a layer of slices of different kinds of local heirloom tomatoes, with basil and local Texas olive oil. It was really tasty!

Tomoko Approves

Tomoko Approves

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The appetizer met with Tomoko’s approval.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

.

The kitchen was actually in a trailer next to the seating area. This was an interesting variation on the open kitchens one often finds in fancier restaurants.

Sorrel and Red Carrot Salad

Sorrel and Red Carrot Salad

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Next up, a salad of sorrel and red carrots – very tasty!

Perspective of Our Table Mates

Perspective of Our Table Mates

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By this team we were getting acquainted with our table mates, a couple who owned a home not far from our former home and their friends two interior designers. One of the interior designers took this photo.

Grilled Beef Hearts

Grilled Beef Hearts

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The grilled beef heats were excellent. I am used to thinking of beef heart as tough, but these thin slices were delicate like a slice of fine fillet. Note that heart is an internal organ, but it is a muscle. It does not have the intestinal taste of kidney, or well… intestines.

Rabbit Ravioli

Rabbit Ravioli

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Rabbit Ravioli was also excellent. Neither Tomoko nor I are big fans of rabbit which is usually tough and very gamey. However, this ravioli was tasty and delicate. the pomadoro from local tomatoes was also very tasty.

Collage of Heirloom Tomatoes

Collage of Heirloom Tomatoes

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At this point, I was ready for a stroll. Inside their farmhouse (which also happened to contain the restroom) they had this interesting collage of fresh heirloom tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

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Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that survived the enormous pressure in the agriculture megabusiness to genetically engineer bland, tasteless, perfectly round things. Heirlooms are varieties that were passed from generation to generation within families. In recent years, operations like Springdale Farm have gone out and scoured the small, rural towms looking for these. They are NOT perfectly round, They DO have blemishes. And…they also have interesting, rich, subtle tastes and textures.

Overall Dining Area

Overall Dining Area

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Here we see the dining area as I came back from my stroll.

Roasted Lamb Chops

Roasted Lamb Chops

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The final meat course was local Texas lamb chops. Again, these were excellent.

Raw Chocolate Tea Cake and Zabajone

Raw Chocolate Tea Cake and Zabajone

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I don’t actually know what “Zabajone” is. I take it to be the white cream sauce with the dessert. They were out of the local blackberries by the time we were served and provided blueberries instead.

All in all, it was a very pleasant evening.

Art Night EAST 2013

Tomoko and Dave at Delta Millworks

Tomoko and Dave at Delta Millworks

Friday’s entertainment was Austin Art Night EAST 2013 by Art Alliance Austin.

This is the third “Art Night” event that we have attended. The other two were in the center of Austin. While all of the events are fun, this one is interesting in that East Austin is where the art actually gets created. The central Austin tour consists of galleries, that is: sales outlets. Artists generally can’t afford the rent in the central part of Austin. The studios are in East Austin.

The basic format of the event is about three hours in the evening that is a shuttle bus tour. Each studio shows its art, restaurants provide appetizers (advertising) and various beverage distributors provide liquid refreshments.

Although all the Art Night events attract a wide range of ages, there was a subtle difference between the central and EAST versions and that was the clothing. The central version has a sort of cocktail party vibe: lots of high heels, cocktail dresses and generally festive attire. The EAST version heads more in the “Keep Austin Weird” direction. My blue blazer was perfect for the central Austin event, but was distinctly overdressed for the Austin EAST event. Next year I will break out the linen coat, a more colorful necktie, and perhaps make a few other adjustments.

Tomoko At Big Medium

Tomoko At Big Medium

The recommended first stop was Big Medium because it had the largest parking lot. At Big Medium they had a table with a list of people who had purchased tickets online. They checked your name and gave you a wristband.

Big Medium is a large facility with a lot of different artists. We spent a bit of time with one ceramic artist who produces sets of handmade plates for restaurants. They were gorgeous. This studio earned our first “After we become millionaires, we will be back” rating for the evening. (Currently, to the extent that we need anything in the kitchen it is made of plastic and purchased at Walgreens).

Dave Samples at Eden East

Dave Samples at Eden East

The first pleasant surprise of the tour was that location (2) wasn’t a restaurant at all, but rather a very interesting restaurant called Eden East. This restaurant is closely associated with the Springdale Farm and serves a variety of Texas local produce and meat.

They had a trailer setup with samples of appetizers which were outstanding. Some guests rushed through gobbling one after the other. I took it more slowly, stepping away to enjoy one at a time. Coming back for the fourth sample, I had a chance to talk with one of the young chefs. It is a very interesting restaurant, open only on Friday and Saturday. It has a fixed menu and reservations are required. The menu changes every week. As we know from talking with other chefs, this sort of restaurant design is ideal for chefs, as one of the biggest challenges for chefs is the sheer boredom of making the same thing several thousand times in a row.

Tomoko Makes Smores at Eden East

Tomoko Makes Smores at Eden East

In addition to the great appetizers, Eden east had a wonderful beverage: a hot toddy made of “Devils Cut” Bourbon, lemon grass tea, and orange juice. The evening was cool and this beverage hit the spot. They also had chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows at the end of the appetizer line. Smores are not a particularly Japanese cuisine item, but Tomoko put three children through girl scouts and boy scouts. She knew exactly what to do with the ingredients. These provided a wonderful warm, sweet snack as we waited for the shuttle bus. That shuttle bus ended up getting delayed slightly as one of two elder men on the bus wandered off to get another hot toddy.

As the shuttle pulled up to the next location, I was thrilled to see that it was a mill works. That is, the definition of “art” for the EAST night is much more expansive than the definition for the central night. That is, the central night focuses on galleries which compels a definition of art as “stuff that hangs on walls”. The EAST night includes mill works, which expands the focus to include fine handmade woodwork – very exciting for me since I have dabbled in this art myself.

Delta Millworks

Delta Millworks

The two elder gentleman mentioned earlier were likewise excited since one of them had come regularly to the Delta Millworks in the 1960s to get framing timber for houses. Apparently, he was a hired hand at the time.

Delta Millworks had a disk jockey, a spray paint artist, and a counter serving hand-made/tailored margaritas. They also had appetizers from the Buenos Aires Cafe.

We spent a lot of time talking to a young man who runs Deep Fried Design He had a beautiful dining table that he had re-milled from the bed of a delivery truck. It was made of red and white oak and he had disassembled it, re-milled the wood, and reassembled it into a dining table. This was our second “After We Become Millionaires” award for the evening.

Milled Tabletop at Fort Tillery

Milled Tabletop at Fort Tillery

Next stop: Fort Tillery

Another mill works and general artist creative space, Fort Tillery housed Michael Yates Design. We spent quite a bit of time talking to Michael Yates and admiring his elegant walnut chairs. He is trained in architecture and is an obsessive designer. As he showed us, he basically makes his own walnut plywood by laminating thin layers of shaved walnut using a vacuum press to make the exact shapes he needs for his chairs. They are extremely elegant. His work won our third “When We Become Millionaires” award for the evening. Unfortunately, we forgot to take a picture of his work – the milled tabletop shown is from another artist.

Tomoko and Jules Buck Jones at MASS Gallery

Tomoko and Jules Buck Jones at MASS Gallery

The final stop on the Art Night tour was MASS Gallery. The particular art on display was the works of two artists who were channeling Picasso. Not my first choice in artistic styles. I respect Picasso because he dedicated the first part of his career to achieving a fine mastery of classical techniques before he went abstract. Nevertheless, the super-abstract style just does not float my boat so to speak. Nevertheless, this stop was fun because Tomoko ran into one of her instructors from the University of Texas Studio Art program who is one of the people who runs the studio.

Checking Out the Classic Cars at the Afterparty

Checking Out the Classic Cars at the Afterparty

With that, it was back to the “After Party” at the Getaway Motor Club It was a lot of fun, with a live band, music, pizza, and drinks. I had quite a bit of fun with another guy speculating whether this vehicle – which was displaying a pristine 1962 Texas registration sticker – had actually been rolled into a warehouse in 1962….

It was a great evening! We plan to keep participating (with some wardrobe adjustments on my part) and encourage our friends to participate as well!

2013 IBM Uptown Classic 10K Race

Tye and Tomoko at 7AM

Tye and Tomoko at 7AM

Catching up on my reporting. Last Sunday we continued in our family tradition of running the IBM Uptown Classic 10K in Austin. Tye and I ran the 10K race and Tomoko ran the 5K race. Here we see Tye and Tomoko bright and full of energy at 7AM. Since the roads close at 7AM, we always get up early and make sure we arrive at IBM by around 6:50AM. On the way over, Tye – who is definitely NOT an early morning type of guy – told us that he was going to nap in the minivan until the race. However, once we actually got there, he was overcome by the general spirit of the occasion and did not nap after all. At any rate, I am not an early morning person either and slept fitfully the night before. Once we got there, I jogged slowly around the parking lot warming up.

Tye Brings it In in Under an Hour

Tye Brings it In in Under an Hour

Actually, I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance. After the usual winter colds and allergies, in May we went to Annapolis where I proceeded to get really, really sick. That put me out of commission for more than a month, right at the time of year that I would normally be getting back into shape. During the rest of the summer, we had the usual “global warming” weather here in Austin that made it difficult to do anything more ambitious than plod around the lake slowly. That combined with frequent trips to Houston (part of my new professional focus on the oil industry) meant that I was not expecting to set the course on fire.

Tye was likewise not expecting a stellar time either. He dedicated most of his workout time this year to further enhancing his upper body strength. He didn’t do too much cardio work. Nevertheless, he was able to finish the race in 58 minutes.

Dave Brings it In in One Hour 18 Min

Dave Brings it In in One Hour 18 Min

We were actually staggered at the start. I jogged around in circles to loosen up as much as possible. As the start approached, I made my way to the back of the crowd that was lined up. I did not see Tye and Tomoko at that point. Once the starting gun sounded, it took me almost four minutes to shuffle forward to the starting line.

That did not matter because we all had RFID tags snapped into the laces of our running shoes. The starting gun time did not matter at all. It was the “chip time” measured by your foot crossing the starting line going out and the finish line coming in that established your rank.

Tye and Dave Just After the Race

Tye and Dave Just After the Race

Knowing that I was not going to set any world records, I just jogged a solid pace – at least for me. That is not to say I slacked off, I ran as hard as my body could. However, the course is very hilly and I could not manage much more than tortoise pace going up any of the hills. On the downhill segments I stretched out a little. The last two miles I picked up the pace a bit and passed a bunch of people.

As we neared the 5K mark, I almost caught up to Tomoko. She had obviously been closer to the starting line in the crowd. I hear the announcer calling out her name as she crossed her 5K finish line. At that point, I would have gladly stopped running and taken her for a Martini, but I still had another 5K to run.

Modest Snack After the Run

Modest Snack After the Run

Interestingly enough, however, in my age category (200 to 225 years old) I came in 66 out of 66. That is, even though I passed plenty of younger people near the finish line, I was dead last in my age category. In other words, in my senior age category, only extremely intense and competitive men bother to participate. The fat guys who sort of waddle around the course give up by the time they are 40 at the oldest.

After the run, we went back to our apartment (only about 5 minutes from IBM) showered up and then proceeded to the Cathedral of Texas Breakfast Culture (Jim’s Coffee Shop) and had a modest snack. I had the Arugula, Quinoa, and Acai Berry Salad….