Interesting Articles: May 23rd-29th 2006

* Study finds bias in peer review (Science News). An intelligent piece of work with significant implications. If the link doesn't work for you, read the abstract and full article: Effect of blinded peer review on abstract acceptance (Journal of the American Medical Association).

* Clinical trials really pay off (Science News). It quantifies the value of large-scale human trials and finds that they give a huge economic return on investment. If the link doesn't work, read the source article: Effect of a U.S. National Institutes of Health programme of clinical trials on public health and costs (Lancet).

* Home on the Range: A Corridor for Wildlife (New York Times). Only posted because it references many places in and near Banff at which wildlife control / habitat improvement techniques are in use. During my trip, I saw most of the strategies mentioned.
* One Thing They Aren't: Maternal (New York Times). Only posted in case I ever need a reference to weird acts animals do to each other (siblings killing each other, mothers killing babies, etc.).

* Life in the Fast-Food Lane (New York Times). The Times restaurant critic explores fast food restaurants. It has a nice top ten sidebar. While frankly not that exciting, posted mainly because its novelty means I may refer others to it sometime.

* Why American College Students Hate Science (New York Times). Posted as a reference to the college in Maryland that's been so successful in getting women and minorities interested in the sciences.

Interesting Articles: May 2nd-22nd 2006

Lots of interesting articles built up over the last few weeks that I hadn't previously had time to post. And remember, if the NY Times link requires a payment, just search on Google for the title of the article plus new york times. You'll frequently find a site that reprinted the article. Also, many articles, when you click through to them from a google search result page will be free, even if the link from this blog requests payment.

Food & Health:
* Dementia off the Menu: Mediterranean diet tied to low Alzheimer's risk (Science News). The title pretty much says it all, but the abstract of the article, Mediterranean diet and risk for Alzheimer's disease (Annals of Neurology), is available online.
* Hot-pepper ingredient slows cancer in mice (Science News). Again the title says it all. The abstract of the article, Capsaicin, a component of red peppers, inhibits the growth of androgen-independent, p53 mutant prostate cancer cells (Cancer Research), is available online.
* Bottlers Agree to a School Ban on Sweet Drinks (New York Times). Good news: a step toward youth health that didn't receive much coverage.

General Health:
* Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel (New York Times). The badness of lactic acid is a pop-sci ideas that has been disproved for years. And I never knew.
* If You've Got a Pulse, You're Sick (New York Times). An intelligent counterpoint to the recent study (New York Times) that claimed, after normalizing for features like socioeconomic class and education, British are healthier than Americans.
* Decent Interval; Well-spaced babies may have advantage (Science News). A neat result: "Babies conceived between 18 months and 5 years after their mothers' previous birth are healthier than are babies conceived before or after these two points in time." It's unclear whether this effect is causal. Details at Birth spacing and risk of adverse perinatal outcomes: A meta-analysis (Journal of the American Medical Association).

* To Leap or Not to Leap: Scientists debate a timely issue (Science News). Keeping time isn't so simple. The earth's rotation changes over time, general relativity is an issue, and more. A neat though not deep read.
* A Question of Resilience (New York Times). A bit of a muddled tale that reports some interesting results regarding genetics and environment interaction along with a human story about child abuse.

* Study Points to a Solution for Dread: Distraction (New York Times). An study right up my alley, combining economics, psychology, and the rationality of behavior. It is a study, however, that I'm happy I didn't participate in.
* The Birth-Month Soccer Anomaly (New York Times). The freakonomics guys, in a much more bland article than usual, are reporting that talent is a myth. Instead: practice. (A related article, although more about intellect than practice, might be a better read: Malcolm Gladwell on The Talent Myth (The New Yorker).)

* Talking It Up (New York Review of Books). On the history of the art of conversation.
* Money Changes Everything (New York Times). A human piece about the social effects of wealth disparities.
* Let's I.M. as You Read This (New York Times). On multitasking and lack of actual thought.
* Scan This Book! (New York Times). An exploration of what will happen once all books have been scanned and are online.

* The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal (New York Times). I usually don't like politics and policy pieces, but this long article had a sizable interesting section on the history of the philosophy of American foreign policy during the last half a century.

* Baseball Is a Game of Numbers, but Whose Numbers Are They? (New York Times). I had previously thought this legal issues was cut-and-dry, but reading the latter half of this article made me think it is more complex and much larger in scope than I'd imagined.

SF Ferry Building and its Farmers Market

Quite a while ago (Saturday, February 25th 2006), I finally got around to exploring the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I'd been told to go on a saturday, so I could also see one of the best farmers markets in northern California. I hadn't originally intended to write this up under the premise that I'd make it back a few more times within a month or two of my first visit and would document all my explorations at once. But it's now months later and I haven't managed to make it back (too much skiing, cooking classes, and film festivals) so I decided I should write what I remember before I forget everything.

Taking the BART over, I walked down Market Street toward the ferry building. First I stumbled upon a small set of booths (two dozen?) selling arts and crafts. While some were the traditional tourist targeted rubbish, a few had interesting items. One guy made three-dimensional portraits out of a long piece of wire (a la Calder). (I didn't take a picture of these because the lack of dimensionality would take the life out of the pieces.) Another booth sold candles with beautiful swirling color patterns. A third had a set of stunning clay dishes and pottery. They didn't allow me to take pictures! (Maybe they think they're that good. Maybe they're right.) I also liked a stand selling double-helix bracelets, and another selling funky t-shirts with an artsy sketch of a lizard or a dragonfly on them.

But I wasn't there for the crafts. I crossed the street to explore the double-sided line of farmers market booths arrayed in front of the ferry building. Being the winter, many fruits were missing (out of season) so pickings were slim -- mostly winter vegetables and apples and oranges of various types. Still, I managed to find one booth selling beautiful organic strawberries -I don't know how they grew them during the winter- and I couldn't pass them up.

At the time, I thought the market was cute but really not impressive in the least. So I went inside the Ferry Building to explore the eateries and retail food purveyors. The inside is a fun place for a gourmet. I'm not going to describe it in much detail because so many other people have written about it. The best piece I've seen goes into great depth about the ferry building. But even the New York Times has written about the ferry building

In short, it's an amazing place to browse and snack. It has one store devoted to caviars and a brief menu from which one can order dishes designed to highlight them. It also has another store that just sells mushrooms -- so many kinds I've never seen before! It has one of the few retail Acme Bakeries, expertly baking dozens of different kinds of bread, and adjacent to the bakery is a Cowgirl Creamery, selling countless cheeses. There's also wine tasting, a few oyster bars, and a high-end chocolate outlet (Scharffen-Berger), to name a few.

During my marketplace wandering, I stopped by Out of the Door, a Vietnamese inspired take-out joint affiliated with the Slanted Door, and grabbed a chicken banh mi sandwich and ate it sitting behind the ferry building, comfortable in the sun and happily gazing off into the bay. As for the sandwich, it was okay, but certainly not as good as my semi-local (El Cerrito) authentic amazingly cheap lunch place. I also snacked on an oyster and grabbed some chocolate bars of assorted types to taste test later.

Near the end of my ferry building wandering, I found the rest of the farmers market! I'd only seen about a tenth of it. The other ninety percent was on a pier in the back of one side of the ferry building. Lots of booths with all sorts of vegetables, meats, fish, fruits, nuts, dried foods, and more, and some stands serving cooked meals. Now this was impressive! I spent a good portion of my time wandering through here attempting to identify all the vegetables I saw and frequently failing: so many unusual and hard to find items. Next time I visit during the market, I'll head to the back first. And also consider eating from a stand there, because some of those seemed really popular.

Two memorable sights during my journey that I've never previously witnessed:
* At the gourmet olive oil shop, a girl wearing an shirt that said "Extra Virgin."
* Elsewhere in the market, a girl wearing an "I Love Nerds" t-shirt.

Light Vietnamese Cooking Class at Piedmont Adult School

On a roll from the previous week, on Saturday April 29nd 2006, I attended another cooking class at the Piedmont Adult School, this one titled "Light Vietnamese Cooking" and it was even held in the same room.

I was a bit worried I was running late but I still managed to arrive within two minutes of the official start time. I needn't have worried; I was the second to arrive. Over the next fifteen minutes, three of missing four people in the class appeared.

While waiting for the class to start, I examined the set of the trays the instructor laid out. There were lots of vegetables: basil, lettuce, mushrooms, a coconut, a pineapple, green onions, red thai chiles, carrots, mung beans, shallots, and more. I didn't recognize a few herbs. Happily, at the beginning of class, the instructor allows us to smell and tastes the unusual herbs, including Vietnamese mint, short celeries, and Thai basil. (The Thai basil has a purple stem and an intense flavor that is a combination of mint, basil, anise, and cilantro.)

Before the class began, I was a bit skeptic of the chef because he was wearing an old shabby t-shirt. But by the time it started, he'd put on a nice chef's jacket. And he began by teaching us how to say hello in Vietnamese (chao ong) and thank you (commueng / cam on), another nice touch.

As light cooking, the dishes were mostly vegetable heavy and preparation time dominated the cooking time (if the recipe required any heating/cooking at all).

We made a number of dishes. And while I'd forgotten my camera, another attendee had his camera phone and I convinced him to take pictures and mail them to me. So I have pictures!
* Spring rolls with noodles and an assorted of vegetables and herbs, along with a dipping sauce (nuoc cham). These turned out good but were not exceptional or distinctive. The best thing I learned was how to roll the rice paper and when to put various ingredients in (so the roll is balanced and, if there is meat, make it so the meat is visible through the roll).
* Hot and sour seafood soup. Tasty. Not that much fish, but I didn't mind because the broth was good (which could be because the instructor supplied homemade seafood stock which served as the base of the soup to which we added flavorings). The person cooking this didn't remove the lemongrass, so we'd occasionally be unpleasantly surprised chewing on a lemongrass stalk.
* Green mango and grilled shrimp salad with a nuoc cham dressing (different from the nuoc cham dipping sauce that we made with the spring rolls). This really was the prettiest dish when completed, with all sorts of artistic garnishes, and I'm not just saying that because the dish was my responsibility. Sadly, the pictures don't do it justice. Also sadly, the salad was merely decent. Making it was good prep skills practice because it involved tons of chopping and grating.
* Catfish Clay Pot. Very good. Served over rice. This is definitely something I want to try cooking by myself. Sadly, especially given the instructor's comments, I'm not sure I can do a reasonable clay pot rendition without a flame (e.g., grill or gas stove). One nice feature of the recipe is the ingredient list is simpler and easier to acquire than the items needed for most of the other recipes.
* Slow Cooked Chicken with Lemongrass. Also very good. This preparation was definitely too sweet for my taste (and the instructor's too -- he commented on it) but I could tell I'd love it if I tuned it down. Another item I'd like to cook by myself. And don't get confused by the name: the recipe only cooks for around 30 minutes and doesn't require a slow cooker.

I was definitely pretty happy with what I learned, especially what I learned about thai ingredients, and left the class very stuffed and ended up eating a small late dinner. And if I were smart, I would've brought some tupperware and taken some leftovers.

Incidentally, the instructor, Chat Mingkwan, under his company Unusual Touch, teaches a number of cooking classes at various schools through the bay area, does catering, and organizes guided eating tours to Thailand. He's also written some cookbooks which look tempting.

New York/New Jersey Trip: Day 8 (or, cards and home)

Bryson and I spent the morning chilling while waiting for Donald to come up from Philadelphia. Yes, I'm that cool that I can get a techie friend that somehow ended up in law school that I hadn't seen in a year to cross state lines to catch up ( ;> ) and share why and how this transition to law student is going.

Catherine returned home shortly before Donald was due to arrive, so the three of us picked up Donald from the train station and promptly went for lunch, on the way having intermittent awkward conversation because it was late and we were too hungry to think enough to be good conversationalists. It was good seeing Donald again and how he's changed: for instance, law school has made him dress more like a professional. (Not that he didn't dress fine before; it's just a change.) Lunch was a cute deli / market / cheese shop called Marianna, a short walk into downtown Metuchen. (It also has a restaurant / tapas bar / wine bar attached, but we didn't go there.) I had a amazingly large sub called "The Gallina," consisting of a pretty decent and substantial breaded chicken cutlet, the largest and more tasteless slice of mozzarella I've ever had (almost the size of a pounded chicken breast; I removed it after two bites), and some roasted red peppers that added some nice sweetness to the sandwich.

With happy stomachs, conversation came easier. As we talked, we headed back to the apartment and continued talking while playing Crates. Crates is a crazy-eights-like card game on steroids that I played in high school, briefly played with these friends in college, and hadn't played since. It was fun to play it again, and to try out the new deck of cards I specially designed and printed to make playing Crates easier. This served as a good play-test to help me revise the deck. (The end goal is to make the game easier for people to learn so I can convert more people to players.)

Anyway, after a too short time of talking and games, I had to leave to catch my flight and Donald had to leave to head back to catch the train for his evening events. My flight home was uneventful. Like my flight out, the plane was packed and I had a middle seat. Like the flight out, I ended up being perfectly comfortable -- this time seats A and C were taken by a parent and child (a well behaved one at that) that wanted to sit next to each other. So I got promoted to the window seat. :)

I should take vacations more often. And spend more time with friends, regardless of the physical distance separating us. What a great way to spend a week! :)

New York/New Jersey Trip: Day 7 (or, the Brooklyn Museum, Sri Lankan, and a gas leak)

These pictures document my adventures for the day, especially the Brooklyn Museum.

Having stayed up late on Thursday night, I slept in on Friday and got up around 10:30am. Since I'd hoped to meet Bryson and Catherine in the evening, I spent an hour thinking about places to eat and things to do and generally brainstorming and gave them some choices. Once that was out of the way, I headed out for breakfast/lunch and, after a brief internal debate, then was off to the Brooklyn Museum. (My internal debate was because I was somewhat tempted to see Flushing (in Queens) and because I was encouraged the previous night to look around some neighborhoods in Astoria (also in Queens). But the grandeur and size of the Brooklyn Museum -from what I remember from seeing the outside of it when I lived in New York- won out.)

But lunch was a first priority. Since I had known I was meeting Seth on Thursday and Seth was watching his weight, I had previously compiled a list of healthy and vegetarian restaurants in Manhattan that had good reviews. So for lunch I chose a nearby place from the list and went to Rainbow Falafel. Rainbow Falafel took a lot of hunting -- it's literally a hole in the wall. Literally. It's a market that serves food items and is well under a hundred square feet. My falafel was decent but nothing special (and quite messy, making it hard to eat and walk).

While eating, I hiked a bit to grab pictures of Veselka and The Turkish Kitchen, places I'd eaten yesterday but had thought I'd forgotten to photograph. (Apparently I did take a shaky dark picture of Veselka the previous night. If I'd remembered, I might've skipped this extra walking and instead went to the museum earlier.)

Then I went subway hunting, trying to remember where a subway stop was. Eventually I found one, but the fact that I had to wander a bit definitely embarrassed me.

And then I was further embarrassed when I got off the subway at the wrong station. I had remembered the Brooklyn Museum was right at the Prospect Park stop in Brooklyn. Indeed it was, but at a different Prospect Park stop on a different subway line. Rather than take the subway back (infrequent, given how few subways run through these stations) and transfer, I hiked the twenty-five minutes through a shoddy neighborhoods and alongside a sketchy side of the park and found my way to the museum. En route I passed the Brooklyn Public Library, which came in handy later.

Yup, that's a lot of walking today and yesterday. Remind me to wear more comfortable pants next time.

The Brooklyn Museum was definitely a cool way to spend an afternoon. It's an impressive five-story building (see the pictures). I was initially also impressed as I wandered through the first exhibit, Arts of the Americas, and noticed most plaques and signs had been translated into spanish. However, I soon found this property was limited to this exhibit. (I wonder now why they didn't translate other exhibits that have large numbers of speakers of that language nearby, like the Chinese exhibits.)

Many of the exhibits I wandered through at first only marginally interested me, like african art, pacific art (in general), chinese art, korean art, japanese art, indian and southeast asian art, and islamic art. In the process of viewing this series of international art, I found a special exhibit by Antonie-Louis Barye that pretty much consisted of many sculptures of animals killing other animals. Well done sculptures, and an unusual obsession.

The Brooklyn Museum has an impressively large series of exhibits on Egypt. I stayed in this section for quite a while and read a lot of signs because I find the mythology, the pharaohs (and how they fit in with the mythology), the pyramids (and how they fit in with the politics and the mythology), and the hieroglyphs (both as a reflection of language and thought as well as how they relate to the religion) neat. I took a few pictures, including one of a sign with a striking story of politics and religion.

Soon after, I found the small collection of European paintings. They all hung around a large court used for entertaining high-profile guests. (The museum knows what its wealthy patrons most appreciate!)

On the next floor I found a large selection of American artwork and was quite surprised to see how much of it I enjoyed. (I snapped a number of pictures.) I guess I like much of the Hudson River school of painting.

Then I was even more surprised to find a Rodin sculpture exhibit, very much like the one at Stanford. There were only twelve casts made of each sculpture and now I've seen two of the "originals" of many sculpture! Also amusing, the Rodin gallery was named for the Cantors, the same couple that sponsored the Stanford art museum.

Every museum has a permanent exhibit that is traditional but seemingly out of place. In this case, it was a small series of rooms decorated to "19th century decorative arts," basically showcasing furniture and other strategies in interior design. The windows blocking entry to the rooms were so clean I almost walked into one!

Nearby I found an exhibit on glass and glass working. Since I've been thinking of learning it, I read and learned and took some more pictures.

Running out of time, I wandered through the modern art section -it exists, but it's no Moma- and then the visible storage. Visible storage was a lot of glass cubes (temperature controlled) comparatively tightly packed with objects of all types. Labels on each cube listed its contents. You're on your own to spot the object you want within each cube. But it's neat to see this traditionally hidden side of the museum.

Finally, the last (special) exhibit I made it to was William Wegman. It included a lot of odd pieces in various media, much of it involving dogs. He loves dogs. I managed to find one cute video (available online) that was playing on a display there.

With the museum closed, I headed back to the public library, found a computer, and researched our dinner destination for the night. It's a habit I have, getting some idea of what people proclaim is good. Mostly it just make me feel less anxious of choosing what to eat and happier that I gave a restaurant a fair shake. After a bit of research on some review sites, I had a good idea of what people thought. The funny thing about this is the friends I was meeting for dinner did exactly the same thing! :)

Two subways rides and a long walk later -I'd planned to transfer a third time to get closer, but I missed that transfer station by accident of getting on an express train (I think the accident balanced out the increased speed of the express train)- I arrived on time to meet Bryson and Catherine at our dinner destination. From my nominations, they chose a place in the east village called Sigiri. It's the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Manhattan. (There used to be three but the other two closed in the last few years. Apparently Staten Island is where the community lives; it has a number of Sri Lankan restaurants.)

Sigiri was pretty good, although we weren't excited by the appetizers. We started with the appetizer sampler. It contained two-types of fried spring rolls (vegetable and fish, both like those produced by a mediocre Chinese restaurant), accompanied by an overly sweet chile dipping sauce, and along with a fine lentil cake and an interesting fried fish ball. The ball was like falafel in texture but made from a mix of fish and (apparently) potatoes.

Our entrees were focused around something called a hopper, a bowl-shaped pancake -yes, it was naturally curved- much in flavor like Indian dosi. To assemble a meal, take a hopper and fill it with another entree -in our case chicken lamprais-, perhaps add some of the good fried-to-soft-and-brown onions, and wrap it up and eat it like a burrito. The chicken lamprais, a combination of rice, chicken, fish, and hard-boiled egg wrapped in a banana leaf and baked, was tasty and worked well in its role as the filler. The dish was uniformly flavorful throughout, even the rice. Incidentally, one hopper was served with a fried egg inside, and its gooeyness and yolk added a nice undertone and helped meld the hopper to the filling.

We also decided we had to try the (pork) black curry. While the meat was low-quality, the earthiness and depth of the flavor made us still like the dish. We ate it over rice.

Incidentally, I tried a mango-based mixed drink -they called it a cordial- which was nice and not too sweet like most fruit drinks. Bryson had a good and fragrant ginger tea.

With the entrees foremost in our mind, Bryson concluded, "It was good. I enjoyed that." And Bryson and Catherine discussed how they'd order different hoppers (especially more hoppers with egg) and fillings next time they made it there.

Bryson had made reservations for us at a comedy club. So after dinner, another subway ride later we were walking down 23rd in the direction we thought the comedy club was. I claimed we must be going in the correct direction since I lived not too far away during my time in NYC and I recognized places. But when we reached the next avenue, we found out I was wrong and quickly walked the other direction. *sigh* I was too quick to try to reclaim this area of NYC as my home and show off to my friends. Happily, this error didn't make us late.

In fact, it couldn't have made us late. As we walked up the street toward the comedy club we noticed a fire truck nearby. We didn't give it much thought until we were in line at the comedy club, around the corner from the fire truck. Then we saw firemen with gas masks leave from the door we were waiting to go in. And someone came out and announced there was a gas leak in the building -the whole city block- and that the show would be delayed or canceled depending on how long the firemen take to investigate and/or fix it.

We waited around for a little while, gave up, and decided to hunt for dessert. After some failures of Google SMS (it can't do category searches like desserts near an address, only category searches for a city (as far as I could tell)), we wandered around and up 7th Avenue and eventually chose The Bread Factory Cafe near Penn Station. Besides a selection of pretty desserts, it serves a wide assortment of items salads, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, ... (but not at this time of night). We tried desserts -a cheesecake and a chocolate mousse (on top of a soggy rum cake)-, both of which could only be described as fine.

A train back to Metuchen, and thus concluded my last full day on the east coast for this vacation.

New York/New Jersey Trip: Day 6 (or, Moma, Turkish, and night-time wandering)

It's another day, another bagel, another type of cream cheese, and another train ride to Manhattan. It was Thursday and the weather was certainly more pleasant than the frigid Monday I spent in Princeton, a fact I appreciated in the evening when I was up and out late.

The daytime was devoted to (finally) visiting the Museum of Modern Art. I have many pictures from my Moma wandering that accompany this narrative. Some pieces mentioned in the narrative have no pictures, and some pictures aren't discussed in this blog entry. (There are also a few pictures there from the rest of the day's activities.)

Moma had everything I could imagine. Some things I thought were cool enough to write down:
* Furniture, design, and the like.
* Architecture, including a neat exhibit of lots of ghetty houses. Also had a large display with many photographs of one particular house from countless angles. I didn't really understand the point of it.
* Jackson Pollock.
* Roy Lichtenstein.
* Mondrian (they had lots!).
* Calder.
* Recent art that I don't normally consider "modern" like van Gogh and Picasso and Monet. I was struck by how large Monet's Water Lilies painting is (each panel is 6' by 13').
* Matisse.
* Miro.
* Derain.
* Seurat.
* Cubism in general.
* Malevich's Women with Water Pails.
* Leger's Propellers.
* Carlo Carra's Funeral of the Anarchist Galli.
* Umberto Boccioni's Dynamism of a Soccer Player.
* Kadinsky.
* A special exhibit of photographs from around the world. Three in this exhibit really stood out for me: one by Stuart Klipper of a swell, and two of women with poems in farsi written on their face or hands. (Too bad no pictures of photographs were allowed.)
* A special exhibit on Munch with dozens of paintings made over his lifetime. The exhibit and his painting The Kiss in particular made me realize he is a more diverse artist than I thought.
* A special exhibit on architecture (mostly public buildings) in Spain with many miniature 3-d models. Many buildings were very impressive. (Too bad no pictures were allowed.)
* Two cafes and a fine-dining restaurant overlooking the sculpture garden. I'm not surprised Moma has a high-end restaurant; it helps woo wealthy donators.

An odd observation: every attendant I saw in Moma was male. How unusual... I wonder why that is.

After exploring Moma until closing, I met up with Seth for evening activities. As we walked south, we caught up, talked about future plans (such as what are we going to do with our lives), and debated where to eat. All similarly important. ;)

Eventually we decided on and found ourselves at the Turkish Kitchen. The decor, very red and with dim lighting (so dim we remarked we should've brought flashlights to help us read the menus), made me think it was a place intended for dates.

While Seth and I perused the menu, debated what to order, and examined what people around us ordered, one person at the neighboring table interjected and offered us advice and a free taste of his stuffed grape leaves. (They were pretty good, and we ended up ordering something similar.) This was something that happens rarely or never on the west coast, and brought us to discussing how New Yorkers are more well practiced interacting with new people on short notice, as there are so many people the average New Yorker runs into on a daily basis.

We were generally pleased with everything we ordered at the Turkish Kitchen. One appetizer, "icli kofte," ground lamb and spices in bulghur patties (a la bulghur falafel), was quite good but a bit oily and needed yogurt. (Meat stuffed in nearly anything is good, and this was no different.) Our other appetizer was grilled eggplant with (garlic) yogurt. The dish seemed authentic but it had too much yogurt (which we put to good use with the first appetizer).

As for entreess, the (boneless! how cool is that) cornish hen stuffed with rice (with pine nuts, dill, etc.) was very good. Each -the hen and the rice- was good by itself (appropriately tasty and moist) and worked well together. This came with a zucchini pancake much like a potato pancake that was also quite good. Our other entree was "etli lahana dolmasi," cabbage stuffed with ground beef and rice and herbs and served with yogurt. In essence, a pretty good dish like dolmas except made with cabbage instead of grape leaves.

After dinner and a quick stop at Seth's apartment to deposit my stuff, we headed to Brooklyn to a neighborhood Seth wanted to show me called Williamsburg. It's a recently revitalizing district just across the east river from Manhattan. The part we explored first was an industrial area with many brick warehouses and the like, the insides of which have been turned into hip bars and restaurants. The contrast between the exterior and the insides is a bit shocking at first. Although the area is still slightly sketchy off the main streets, a visible police presence on many corners made us feel comfortable. We looked around so I could get the flavor; we didn't go into any of the many bars or clubs. From what I could tell, I liked the crowd: on this Thursday evening the crowds were small but good -- what looked like interesting people, although of the type that are too hip for me.

One run-down end of the neighborhood had a tremendous view over the East River to Manhattan. Seth told me stories about the debates about building housing in the area and the restriction on builders regarding affordability and low-income housing. Throughout the evening while talking about our futures and where we (especially he) planned to live, we talked much about real estate prices and cost of living and especially how local ordinances and building restrictions are a significant cause of high housing prices. This evocative example and the negotiations between New York City and the builders further intensified this discussion. Where is the trade-off between revitalization and gentrification?

Before heading back to Manhattan, we stopped by a local good frozen yogurt chain called Tasti D-Lite. We chatted with the guy behind the counter, who apparently lived in Manhattan and commuted to Brooklyn to work. How odd. This conversation is another data point proving New Yorkers are friendly.

We exited the subway in the meat packing district, an area I never really explored while I lived in the city yet not far from where I lived. The meat packing district is an area with many clubs and bars, some without any visible signage. We wandered around a bit, observing many hip (and expensive) restaurants and some clubs and bars with lines of snazzily dressed people waiting for the bouncer's approval to enter. It reminds me of elementary school sports -- oooh, pick me, pick me! At one hotel with a rooftop bar, Seth approached two pretty German tourists and talked them into escorting us past the bouncer to get us in the building. Pretty slick, especially since neither of us were dressed well enough.

After snapping a few photos from the roof, we left the bar since it was packed and we were out of place wearing walking-around in seedy neighborhood clothes (which we wore for Williamsburg). Then we proceeded to spend two hours (or so) on a meandering walk through the village to cross Manhattan.

Near the end of the walk, we were in the East Village and two girls yelled out of a car and asked where to get good sushi. Some other guys on the street answered, but this is another example that New Yorkers are just more comfortable interacting and dealing with new people than many others. I can't imagine that happening at such a late hour in San Francisco. As another contrast with nearly everywhere in the world, Seth remarked the appropriate question for New York City was not "is there a sushi place open this late" but rather "which sushi place open this late is the best"?

Around 2:30am we had returned to the vicinity of Seth's place near Union Square and he wanted to show me his favorite 24-hour diner, Veselka. Veselka is a Polish restaurant (that serves a large quantity of traditional diner fare too). We stuck with small items from the Polish side of the menu. The blintzes we ordered, filled with farmer's cheese, were terrific, light and tasty! The peirogies, in contrast, were sad. We ordered them fried (expecting pan-fried), but the outside texture (and uniformity of it) made us think they were deep fried?! And they were luke-warm too. The place was fairly crowded and service was slow to the point of being bad (e.g., we had trouble getting the check).

After such a long day, we then called it a night.

French Cooking Class at Piedmont Adult School

On Saturday April 22nd 2006, I attended a four-hour french cooking class at the Piedmont Adult School. I arrived not knowing what to expect but I ended up having a good time cooking a bit, learning a bit, and eating a lot.

I was definitely the odd man out in the class. Well, odd person out. In particular, the class had eight people, the other seven of which were all women at least ten years older than me, mostly twenty years older I'd guess. But the other people were nice and didn't treat me any differently than each other.

With the instructor, we went over a number of recipes and then divided up who would prepare which dish. When there were pauses in one recipe, one could go help out the preparation of other recipes. With the help of one lady, I ended up cooking a very respectable french onion soup. French onion soup normally doesn't appeal to me that much but I could still tell this turned out quite well.

The coolest thing I learned was how to cut open a chicken breast to stuff it with ham and cheese to make chicken cordon bleu. (I practiced while my soup was simmering.) The chicken cordon bleu turned out good, and the bechamel sauce someone else prepared for it also was good, not too rich as some bechamel sauce preparations tend to be.

During down time I also got to make crepes, an easier task than one would imagine. The suzette sauce someone made for the crepes was good and intensely orangey.

We also had an excellent cheese souffle despite some fear due to a minor milk shortage and an inconsistent oven. The scallops in shells -a dish of scallops, mushrooms (too few), potatoes, and cheese- was the only disappointment. (I didn't help on this one. ;> )

The main result of the class? I feel more comfortable trying to cook some dishes than previously. (Admittedly, I would've liked to have a larger hand in more of these dishes. But now I've seen enough and am at ease with preparing these at home. And besides, one can only do so much in a few hour course.)

Interesting Articles: April 25th-May 1st 2006

* Breakfast trends (Science News). A study that shows breakfast is good for you. Not because of the usual reason of balancing food intake, sugar levels, weight, and the like, but because people tend to eat better at breakfast than at other meals. The Breakfast in America abstract (PDF) summarizes the article, in case the article is inaccessible to you.
* Alcohol spurs cancer growth (Science News). For once an popular science article showing low levels of alcohol consumption cause negative health effects -not positive, like most articles- in one area.
* Beer Spas: Yeast of Eden (New York Times). Your oddity of the week.
* Going a Short Way to Make a Point (Washington Post). Wry commentary on gas prices and politicians that drive overly large vehicles. Funny.
* The Bias Finders: A test of unconscious attitudes polarizes psychologists (Science News). I heard of (and tried) implicit attitude tests when they first appeared (during my time as an undergrad in psychology). They were controversial at the time, especially as a measure of racial preference, but it's nice to see some progress exploring what the test actually means.