Monday, May 31, 2010

Kingdom of Vegetarian

Last Saturday, I went to Philly and dined. Some of Philly's restaurants offer masterpiece meals. Kingdom of Vegetarian is on the top of my list of favorite restaurants of all times. The dim sum section of Kingdom's menu spans a full, small-print page. I love the scallion pancakes, which are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. They are complimented by a soy-sauce based, sweet dipping sauce. The crusty exterior of the sesame-crusted, mock chicken nuggets is rounded out by tender, moist chicken on the inside. The nuggets come with a tangy, sweet orange sauce. Mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pepper flakes and water chestnuts float in the spicy and savory broth of Kingdom's hot and sour soup. It deserves a food lover's award.

The menu expansively offers Chinese food with a few extra dishes flavored with Asian and Latin spices. In terms of entrees, I shared the Cumin Lamb and the General Tso's Chicken. As the name suggests, the cumin stands out in the mock lamb dish, but you can also taste garlic and hot pepper flakes. Sauteed, julienned green peppers and onions accompany the lamb. The General Tso's Chicken comes on a bed of steamed broccoli. The mock chicken is battered, deep fried, and coated in a hot-sweet General Tso's sauce. The chicken mimics the flavor and texture of real chicken. The broccoli is crisp. The seeds and flakes of hot peppers are abundantly scattered across the plate.

After Kingdom, I headed to Gourmet to Go, which sells Vegan Treats. I got a slice of cake there that is reminiscent of strawberry shortcake. Thin slices of vanilla cake are stacked together, held in place by a combination of mock whipped cream and strawberry slices. The cake is finished with a coating of chocolate and a chocolate-covered strawberry. Delicious, although rich.

Anyway, here's to Philly food adventures!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bachelorette Party & Trash

I drive. I drive a lot sometimes. On Friday, I drove straight from work for a few hours to Richmond, Virginia to a bachelorette party for my friend Wendy, who is getting married in June in Seattle, Washington. I met Wendy and a few of her friends at a Mexican restaurant called Cha Chas, where I got vegetable fajitas. Then, I went with them to Wendy's brother's house where we played Go Fish for a few hours and talked. I stuck to decaffeinated Pepsi. Finally, I got into my car at midnight and drove home, arriving at my house at 2:30 a.m. The need for sleep made the last half hour of the trip especially bad, especially when my iTunes gave out and I was stuck surfing early morning radio broadcasts for music.

The next morning, I gained insight into the eclectic trash in our yard. Over the last several months, I've regularly picked up half-eaten food items and discarded food containers from our yard. My housemates Dave & Zack discovered the senior lady across the street dumping food remnants into our yard. Zack reported that he surreptitiously caught her leaving shrimp tails in our grass near the sewer drain. Basil and Viola, Pat's curious, always hungry, and adorable Boston Terriers, play in the yard sometimes and, unfortunately, look at the trash as a bonus meal. They have gotten sick from eating such debris. On Tuesday, Dave and Zack apparently started spying from our front window on this creepy neighbor, after Dave saw her drop off some partially eaten, chocolate pudding containers. The next day, Dave saw her grab a large branch from her yard and approach our yard. He walked outside on to our porch and, seeing him, she headed back for her yard, placing the branch behind her fence. Her ridiculous, trash-dumping habit sounds like material for a Saturday Night Live skit. Anyway, one of us should confront our sneaky, refuse-ready, elderly neighbor...

Friday, May 21, 2010

All About Perceptions - Supernatural, Season 5

Spoiler and Over Analysis of a Fictional T.V. Show. I'm currently watching Season 5 of Supernatural. In the first season of the show, the character of Sam seems kindhearted, vulnerable, and compassionate. The actor, Jared Padalecki, has both an expressive face and eyes that convey care and other emotions without dialogue. Dean, Sam's brother and co-fighter-against-evil on the show, jokes about the power of Sam's "puppy dog" eyes to melt intractable hearts on several occasions. Sam seems to show genuine concern for the victims of the demons and supernatural villains that he and his brother hunt.

Throughout the first season, Meredith, Pat (I think) and I claimed Sam as our favorite character. Meredith and Dave jetted through seasons of the show. After watching Season 5, Meredith told me that Sam seems caring on the surface, but he's actually overcompensating for the evil within him. When I initially heard Meredith's opinion, I felt like she was reading a great deal into the demon blood angle. (Long explanation. If you watch the show, you understand. If you don't watch the show, the demon blood plot thread is too much of a tangent for me to explore right now.) Then, I saw the episode in the fifth season in which Dean goes forward in time.

The Apocalypse is underway. Dean arrives in a future in which human survivalists group precariously together in makeshift encampments, in ever decreasing numbers; demons triumph; a virus has turned huge numbers of people into zombie-like creatures; and future Dean is a hardened, callous jerk. Satan needs to possess a body to walk the Earth and specifically has sought Sam's body as the most suitable vessel. Bound to respect free will, Satan can only take over Sam's body with Sam's assent. In this future world, Sam and Dean were estranged for a number of years. Sam felt alone and full of self-loathing. In a moment of weakness, he permitted Satan to possess him. After Dean experiences this future, he returns to the present and decides that he must reconcile with Sam. Dean believes he can change the future because of his faith in his bond with Sam and in human goodness. He also looks at the angels as self-interested and arbitrary. Dean refuses to be the pawn of the angels and to allow the Archangel Michael to possess him in the name of countering Satan. OK - convoluted synopsis, but it gets me to my point.

In that future-jumping episode, you see Satan in Sam's body for 10 minutes or so. Satan speaks in serene tones, smiles sweetly, and gives gentle looks. It's creepy. And the front of kindness is presented by Satan from Sam's body. The mannerisms of Satan were Sam's mannerisms. After watching that episode, my view of Sam shifted subconsciously. I didn't expect the shift, but, as I watched the next couple of episodes, I felt less comfortable with Sam. I now see Sam's concern and kindness as being more of a superficial facade, as the camouflage hiding the anger and evil that Sam is fighting to contain. I now look at Sam as a wild card. In one episode, after 4 full seasons, Supernatural altered Sam from an innocent, kid brother to a volatile, pained man.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ice Cream

I got a kick out of a story that Dan told me last night. When he was in school at the University of Maryland, he worked at Cold Stone Creamery. A woman came into the store with her son, who wanted to order a milkshake made out of the cotton candy flavored ice cream. The kid's mom protested that no one would want to drink that flavor. Dan responded that it was his favorite flavor of ice cream and nodded at the child. The mom turned on Dan and began furiously questioning him as to whether he liked such things as larping and Lord of the Rings. Without a doubt, the mom viewed liking cotton candy ice cream as the key to the code for Dan's hobbies. Maybe figuring out whether he typically eats two scoops of cotton candy ice cream versus drinks a milkshake would be the shortcut to understanding his inner soul? I don't know. If this woman was writing a script, instead of asking about a girl's sign, shady suitors would ask what flavor of ice cream the girl prefers.

When I was in elementary school, my grandma regularly got me milkshakes made out of mint chocolate chip ice cream from Baskin Robbins when she was in town. My dad always bought vanilla ice cream at the grocery store, while I dreamed of other flavors. I don't understand people limiting themselves to vanilla, so I can slightly sympathize with the impulse to make the leap between flavor preferences and personality. The mom at Cold Stone, however, went way too far.

When I went to "Oh, Yeah!," an ice cream parlor in Pittsburgh with a wide variety of vegan ice creams, I marveled at not only at the quality of the chocolate, coffee, and mint flavors, but at the opportunity to mix different chocolates and crumbles into my ice cream. I could even slather my ice cream in several syrups and have it served to me on a waffle. They also offer coffee floats. Go, Pittsburgh!

Surprise Birthday Party

A few weeks ago, I went to a surprise birthday party in Baltimore for my friend Sarah. Rarely do people actually end up being surprised by a party. Someone slips up and alerts the person or the person stumbles across incriminating party invitations. Anyway, Sarah was shocked.

The Subterfuge. Sarah's friend Jenny asked for help from Sarah in moving furniture. Jenny plied Sarah with the promise of a birthday cupcake and a gift. Sarah spent the afternoon running errands with another friend, Danae, and was an hour and a half late in getting to the party. Danae couldn't think of a smooth way to get Sarah to focus on the time.

The Success. People brought all kinds of appetizers, from hummus to stuffed mushrooms. Jenny, however, outdid herself. She made two kinds of vegan cupcakes: lemon cupcakes with lemon icing, and vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Then, she decorated a giant sheet cake so that it looked like Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night. She mixed the colors in bowls of frosting, which she used to make a textured, perfect reproduction of the painting. I was awed. The cake itself was chocolate. Beyond being gorgeous, it tasted delicious - a moist, chocolate cake with a whipped, vanilla frosting. I'm still so impressed. I felt like I was eating a high-priced, professionally-made dessert from the televised Charm City Cakes. Beyond the cake for dessert, Jenny offered a few flavors of ice cream and a friend from Brooklyn brought a berry pie.

Earlier in the day, I was at the Native American Museum and, while I was there, I bought Sarah a sheet of skull molds to make Dia de Los Muertes candies. I didn't contribute much in the way of food. The party was planned only a few days before, which may be why the surprise actually worked. I hadn't seen Sarah in a month and she seemed overwhelmed by the party treats and presence of her friends, which was cool.

PS Jenny is in school right now with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. She discounts herself as an artist, despite her ability to recreate Dutch, post-impressionist masterpieces in icing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Biodiesel, Burmese Food, and Bands

As the sun rose, I clambered into Pat's van on Saturday. I agreed to ride with him to Purcellville, Virginia so he could buy a kit to make his own biodiesel through transesterification. A Purcellville local sold the kit of storage drums that were linked together on a wooden structure. He talked to Pat for an hour about lye, methanol, and vegetable oil. I listened from inside the van and only hopped out to ask about toxicity. The man agreed with me that the chemicals, especially the methanol, could be toxic. Create biodiesel with caution. He, however, reassured me that it'd be safe for animals. I may not be a scientist, but Pat's dogs need to avoid the lye.

I appreciate Pat's efforts to make fuel and to be energy independent. The formula for producing biodiesel only involves three ingredients. Little things can cause problems, though. If water gets into the mix of lye and methanol, even from the humidity in the air, you end up with soap instead of fuel.

The engine of Pat's van is already converted to run on either veggie oil or diesel. Pat has taken several trips in it relying on filtered veggie oil as a primary fuel source. Unfortunately, the veggie oil takes a while to heat up enough to be usable for fuel, so it isn't functional for short trips. Now, he can use his biodiesel for short trips and, potentially, for future cars. No one needs to get his or her diesel vehicle converted to use the biodiesel.

After placing the equipment in the back of Pat's van, Pat and I explored Purcellville. It's a small town. We parked next to a park hosting the Purcellville Heritage Day Celebration, which basically consisted of kids riding donkeys around in a circle and wine tastings. We walked past the festival for a mile and discovered an amazing coffee place. I got a frozen, soy mocha coffee drink and Pat got a similar drink with crushed Oreos. Worth the walk.

We returned to DC in time to go to Mandalay, which is an incredible Burmese restaurant, for dinner! Burmese food is a cross between Indian and Thai food. I ordered the ginger salad, which is out of this world, and a noodle dish laden with potatoes, tofu, and spices. Some people's eyes go vacant when they hear the word "salad," but push images of limp greens aside. The ginger salad consists of julienned ginger, shredded cabbage, and bamboo shoots in a spicy sauce of hot pepper flakes, sesame seeds, lemon juice, garlic oil and rice vinegar. The tangy sweetness of the ginger contrasts with the fieriness of the sauce, while the crunch of the cabbage adds texture. Mandalay tops the salad off with some crushed peanuts and fresh herbs. I always sprinkle on some extra dried, hot pepper flakes. Thinking of that salad makes my mouth water.

Pat's band Rations played on Saturday night at the Corpse Fortress with Troops of Tomorrow, Dry Spell, Pistol Bitch, and Lion of Judah. I watched Rations from the stairs and had a great view of everyone playing. Rations now has a tape of their demo and t-shirts available for sale. A friend, Gary, had done a two-page interview of Parsons, the singer for Rations, which was positive. Gary passed the interview out at the show like a one-paper zine. Parsons joked as he waved the paper that he'd started his own one-paper scrapbook. I had fun and the show wrapped up by midnight.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jury Duty

I had jury duty on Tuesday. I arrived at the courthouse at 7:15 a.m. I ended up being ushered into a courtroom where I sat until after 5:00 p.m. as juror 143 out of 150. The prosecutor and defense attorney settled on 12 jurors before the courtroom clerk called my number.

The man sitting next to me in the courtroom surprised me. He was a retired, white man who was dressed in a cream-colored button down shirt and a dark blue tie with thin gray stripes. While physically he would blend in at a Tea Party rally, an incident with his wife made him distrust police officers. Apparently, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had his wife arrested a few years ago. She is a retired special ed teacher who now limits her teaching to Sunday school. He said that she had unthinkingly brought a weighted, metal bookmark with her initials on it into an airport in Florida as she was returning to Maryland after a vacation with their sons, one of whom was in law school at the time. An airport security officer confiscated the bookmark from her purse, accusing her of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon. Then, officers* handcuffed her and placed her in a cell. The man said that a supervisor eventually let her go. Technically, she was never prosecuted. Emotionally, she was rattled. She still suffers from heart palpitations because being behind bars completely unnerved her.

The judge asked anyone if they, a family member or close personal friend had ever been the victim of, witness to, or charged with a crime. The judge told people to approach with their answers. I told the man that he should go up to the front. Categorizing the incident with the bookmark as a traumatic violation, he questioned the levelheadedness of the police. He relayed what happened to him at the bench and was excused. I watched him as he exited the courtroom.

* I assumed TSA officers. The man was using pronouns - "they" and "he" - and I let him speak without trying to nail him down. Apparently, though, TSA officers lack the authority to handcuff anyone. So, TSA officers would hand a person who the TSA officers view as a threat over to local law enforcement officers.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pat's Birthday

Yesterday was Pat's birthday. He invited people over for jumbo slice pizza from Duccini's, milkshakes with Klein's vegan ice cream, and vegan "double downs" (make chicken out of seitan, bread the chicken with bread crumbs, flour, and spices, and, then, deep fry it; fry tempeh bacon in a skillet; make sauce out of vegannaise and horseradish; sprinkle Daiya cheese on one side of two chicken patties; and use the chicken patties as bread, placing the cheese and bacon in the middle), and donuts. His roommate Nolan was in charge of the chicken patties and showed true expertise and skill in making moist seitan with texture mimicking actual chicken. I'm so impressed with his cooking prowess. Jason Toner made the donuts. He can eye the donut dough and tell when it's risen properly. He makes vegan donuts better than any sold by Dunkin' Donuts.

I made a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting for Pat and headed over to his house after work. I got there a bit before Pat, who returned home with a stack of pizza boxes and two hungry roommates, Nolan and Greg. They were joking and talking about chicken as they ate their jumbo slices of pizza. I haven't measured a jumbo slice before, but the pieces are like props in a movie about giants. Each slice is the equivalent of a small pizza in some restaurants. Other people arrived and dove into the pizza. Pat got two full pizzas, which should feed 16 people without any other food offerings, and two containers of pizza fries. The pizza fries were particularly nice for Zack, who has a wheat allergy and can't eat standard pizza dough. On both the pizza and the fries, Duccini's liberally sprinkles Daiya cheese.

I confess that I passed on the double downs. I finished off my jumbo slice and did eat one piece of the fried, seitan chicken. My stomach couldn't have handled a double portion of chicken, plus Daiya, sauce and bacon. I did, however, leave room for a hot Boston Creme donut. I almost burnt my fingers dipping the donut in the glaze after Jason removed it from the deep fryer. I also drank part of a mint milkshake right after I finished my pizza and took a sip of Pat's coffee milkshake as the donuts were being made.

Between the concussion, the nausea from the antibiotics for the Lyme Disease, two mistrials in three weeks, watching my client cry as I was asking for a mistrial, insane boss, getting hassled by two different creepy attorneys in the courthouse for a date, reports of my aunt dying slowly, my cousin who is my family in the area telling me she's probably moving due to getting laid off, my sister acting like I'm not worth talking with half of the time, feeling guilty that I can't take off of work to go to my close friend's birthday party in San Francisco, I don't think I'm handling additional stress well right now. I feel particularly sensitive, which isn't a good place to be in.

Pat's dogs are adorable.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Joey & Greg's Birthdays

A few weeks ago, before my run of bad luck, I went to two birthday celebrations - one on a Monday and one on a Wednesday night.

The first birthday celebration was in honor of my friend Joey, who is a gentle, good-natured, easygoing guy. He also lacks any sense of time. Our friend Julie baked him a chocolate cake in the shape of a dinosaur and put Fruit Loops on top of it. Our friend Alex bought an assortment of chewy candy. Lots of people sat around on couches and we talked. We waited. Then, we waited some more, which was alright since I got to catch up with some people who I hadn't spoken with in a while. The party was supposed to start at 8:00 p.m. At about 8:45 p.m., Julie called Joey and he told her that he was waiting for some clothes to get out of the dryer and would be over as soon as they were done. O.K. At around 10:00 p.m., I sent Joey a text that I couldn't stay much longer. At around 10:15, Joey rushed in the door with his bicycle helmet on. Facing Julie and me, he said: "Your boy fell asleep." He added: "I got your text, Kim, while I was riding my bike over here and hoped that you wouldn't be gone." (Aside: A while back, Joey was playing in band at a house show. The band wanted to start playing, but Joey was missing. He was apparently in another part of DC. He didn't arrive at the show for another 40 minutes... The clincher: the house hosting the show was his house.)

Anyway, Joey doesn't like to be the center of attention, which may be part of the reason why he was late to the party. As the flames rose up on the candles on his cake, the color on his cheeks rose to a deep red. Not only did he seem appreciative, but he also noted that the cake was his first dinosaur cake. In talking with him, I always appreciate his curiosity and big heart.

A good transition to the next birthday party: Joey and I started talking about Cafe Green, which is a new, sit-down, swanky vegan restaurant that just opened up in DC.

My friend Greg celebrated his birthday on Wednesday. A group of about 14 of us gathered and went to Cafe Green. We sat at a giant, round table, which meant no one could talk to people on the opposite side of the table without shouting. The owner of the restaurant kept coming by our table and repeating with a smile that he'd envisioned such a group around that table - "friends, community." Expensive gathering place.

I ordered the sesame salad with mock chicken, which cost $12. I topped it off with a $2 order of cornbread, an order being a single, small slice of cornbread. My salad was larger than a typical side salad, but not what I'd categorize as a dinner portion. After eating the salad and the bread, I was still hungry. The salad contained a variety of greens, but the chicken lacked flavor. Despite the sesame dressing, the chicken pieces still tasted like bland lumps. Chris and I ordered cornbread, which was dry enough that neither one of us wanted to eat it until more water arrived at the table. I shared my piece with Pat who complained that it was cold.

Greg, Pat, Chris, Brian, and some other people ordered the $11 mock steak and cheese sandwich. We knew the waiter. As he deposited Greg's sandwich on the table, Greg asked: "Where is the whole sandwich? I didn't want a half order." We did get two free slices of cake, which was enough for everyone at our table to get a bite. The cake also served as a cue to sing "Happy Birthday."

We left Greg's house at 6:45 and got done with dinner at around 10:20. We returned to Greg's house and I made a quick batch of cookies, which got wolfed down since people were still hungry. After a three hour dinner, still hungry; go figure. I had wanted to try the restaurant, even if I may not return there again. The memory of the birthday celebration makes the evening special even if the food was - yes, I'll use the word - boring.