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Working with Constraints

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Wow. Here’s an entertaining video that I stumbled upon quite accidentally.  It’s some guy covering a fun (and dance-inducing) tune from Daft Punk:

A song this good, made with the constraint of one solitary musician’s talent, makes me think of how oftentimes constraints can actually foster creativity.

When the video above is over, hear The White Stripes succinctly express that sentiment with this song:

Sometimes we need to keep our rooms small and our ideas big (and not get distracted with superfluous options).

Constraints, in whatever we do, can force us to use our limited resources, whatever they may be, to focus on what’s important. Would Picasso’s Guernica be better with some colors? Would A Farewell to Arms be better with more adjectives?

Ok, there’s certainly a limit to how far one can take this “constraint appreciation,” as I agree that “nothing destroys the spirit like poverty.”**

Thanks for abiding my poorly-articulated quasi-philosophical ramblings.

Oh, and should you be compelled to leave a comment (I do like getting comments), please comment here; not on Facebook. I no longer read Facebook because, well…

“… if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”*

I think it was starting to make me more stupider.


*It sounds better in German: “Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.” –Nietzsche

**Oh snap, did I just quote Jane Austen? Yep, I’ve definitely gotten more stupider.

What’s old is Neu

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

This blog has changed.  It used to be a lot more about food and recipes, but now I worry that I’ve turned it into a boring repository for family photos and vacation slides.  There are few things more banal and tedious than being subjected to someone else’s purportedly cute children’s photos and travel stories.  So if you think this blog sucks now, I may be able to provide some explanation and perhaps dispel some easily and, however understandable, incorrectly drawn conclusions.

1) I still cook– a lot.  I still enjoy cooking for the family and Cati and I have divvied up the evening responsibilities such that I usually cook dinner, while she bathes the little ones.  On weekends, providing we don’t travel, I cook even more.  That’s the funny thing about a blog.  A blog is not a dependable way to get to know somebody, it can be a heavily abridged version of one’s life (like this blog).  Most readers of this blog probably have no idea that I still play drums for the Northeast’s third most popular KISS cover band.  Okay, that last statement is a lie– or is it a lie? See what I mean?

2) A lot of the recipes from which I’ve been working recently are from America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated.  I can’t just go throwing up their recipes on my blog.  I’ll link to their website for what I have been doing.  I’ve learned that for some recipes, you get what you pay for.  I used to search the internet for recipe suggestions, but that is like using the Billboard Top 40 to identify the musical geniuses of our time (Ke$ha?  Really?).  The television show and magazine are fun and rigorous, and chocked full of info that have made me a better cook.  I especially like how the pace of the television show, America’s Test Kitchen, makes the Food Network cooking shows look like television made by people who drink Four Loko.

3) is a much better website for food related posts, and frankly, I can’t compete.  It reminds me of something Cati and I saw on TV a few years ago, and still laugh about today.  Apparently, Paris Hilton “wrote” a book and went to a book signing to promote it.  Well, there was a protestor at the event with a sign that said “Hey Paris, don’t write a book; READ A BOOK.”  This blog is Paris Hilton and is Leo Tolstoy.

4) Blogging time is a little harder to come by these days.  I’m not using that as an excuse, though.  People don’t have time to do anything, we make time for the things we consider important.  This blog is, and has been, a nice way to capture our memories over the years.  You, my dear readers, just by being readers, force me to be more thorough and articulate than I would be in some half-assed journal.  So, like, uh, thanks for that ‘n stuff, ok?

Well without further ado…

The holidays were nice.  Watching how excited Nina would get was fun.  She didn’t completely grasp the whole Santa story, but she knows he is an important dude.  She was at first intimidated by him, but then she became very friendly when she saw him at department stores or the mall.

For Xmas eve, Cati and I bundled up our little peanuts and we all went for a stroll through the neighborhood to admire the lights.

Then, after the walk, we put the kids to bed and enjoyed a “once a year” dinner of paté, caviar, smoked salmon, jamon iberico, lomo, tortilla (eggs, not corn), grapes, dates, membrillo (quince paste), a nice goat’s milk cheddar, crackers, and champagne.  I bought the caviar from Whole Foods.  It was produced in California– never again.  It was not good.  I’ll stick to Beluga from now on.  Overall, the dinner was delicious, and I didn’t have to spend the entire day preparing it.

The tortilla recipe I used came from America’s Test Kitchen— it came out very flavorful, and a lot less greasy than traditional recipes.

The combination of the membrillo and the goat’s milk cheddar is very good.  Look for these items in your grocery store– they go very well together.

Northern New Jersey and NYC were slapped with a major snow storm the day after Xmas.  It was great not having to go anywhere and enjoying the snow from the warm indoors.  I almost felt guilty watching Cati do all that shoveling as I sipped coffee from inside the house (JUST KIDDING– I didn’t feel guilty at all– KIDDING, I actually did all the shoveling).

Nina was so excited about the snow, she quietly left the room and put on her hat and boots.  Then, she stood by the front door yelling “Mamá! Papá! Vamos!”

Two important things to point out in the photo above– 1) she’s still wearing her pajamas, and 2) she’s putting on her backpack to show she’s serious about leaving.

My folks had planned to come for the Thanksgiving holiday, but were unable to make it, so I gave them a do-over and we cooked a Thanksgiving feast for their arrival.  I made the turkey as recommended by ATK, and it came out perfectly cooked.  The gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, Catalonian spinach,  stuffing, and borscht were all made from classic/generic recipes.

Being that my father was born and raised in South America, grilling while he is visiting is kind of required.  So I bought a pair of beautiful ribeyes and a pair of New York strip steaks and fired up the charcoal grill (note: not the same day as the turkey feast– that would have killed us).

We also had some South Amercian cole slaw, roasted asparagus, sauteed beet greens, and a nice bottle of Spanish red wine to accompany the steaks.  Those ribeyes were enjoyable on a visceral level– they were so good that words fail me.  I should mention that I used a process recommended by ATK to get that characteristic steakhouse char on the steaks, while not overcooking them.

Also, there are two other recipes that I took from America’s Test Kitchen (have I mentioned how much I like that show and their cookbooks?).  These are “chicken breast in mustard and dill sauce” (we didn’t have dill, so I used scallions).

and we have become mildly addicted to their “Thai lettuce wraps” (in beef and turkey variations).

Natalia is getting increasingly chubby (in a good way) and more mobile with each week.  She’s a fat and laid-back jolly baby.

She brings a much-appreciated yin to Nina’s non-stop action yang.  Note Nacho in the background doing what he does. He is the one who sleeps the most in our house these days– lucky dog.

The Invention of Lying

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

She’ll say anything to avoid a diaper change.  God forbid we take 3 minutes from her 17 hours of play per day. 

We know that she knows what “ca-ca” means, because she used to tell us when her diaper was full.  She quickly realized that telling us resulted in a swift diaper change; so now she denies she has anything in there– even when the entire room smells like hot sewage; she denies.

Also, Cati and I were recently told that children play in ways to prepare themselves for adulthood.  We notice that Nina often emulates adult behavior as a game.  Well, this past week, I found out why I used to love to build models and play with Legos as a child.  I think it was to prepare me for assembling IKEA furniture as an adult.  Holy smokes…

Building the “Bjornholmen” (Apparently, that’s Swedish for “TV cabinet from hell”) was way harder than any model F-16 Fighter Jet I built as a teenager.  It took me six-hours and became a personal challenge.

A Blogger Send-off

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Our blogging buddies threw us a little good-bye party.  We were flattered and had a really nice time.  The food was extraordinary.  We went to CCK.  Here are some photos:

Cati checks out another diner’s plate while Nina looks at the camera:

Peking duck– the best we’ve ever had.

Fried Eggplant:

Mushrooms and greens (front and center) and flounder (top left) after a go-round the table. 

Pork belly and mustard greens– the 8th deadly sin is pork belly (mmm mmmm). 

We had a great time and feel lucky to have such swell pals.  Thanks, good people of the internet. 

Unrelated– you must try the Eggs Haizlip at Miss Albany Diner.  Grits, eggs, and sardines in mustard sauce.  If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind breakfast, this is it.  Or maybe their Ugly Eggs– scrambled eggs with mushrooms and anchovies.  These dishes are not necessarily representative of the food there.  They also have a french toast that my wife cannot resist (no fish-products included).  We are going to struggle to find a place like this after we move. 

I also went to an Albany Patroons game with some friends for the first time this weekend.  What a fun time. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovebirds.

We’ll miss you, Albany.  We won’t forget how good you’ve been to us.

I am the eggplant!

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

So, we decided to make some eggplant pizza.  Our version is a far cry from Mama Mia’s, but it’s pretty good. 

I salted and rinsed the eggplant slices prior to crisping them up in a little olive oil.  I probably didn’t have to fry it, but I didn’t want it too mushy, or worse, spongy.  I grated some mozzarella and added some dried herbs.  We cheated a lot– sauce in a can and pre-made pizza crust from the co-op. 

Before 12 min at 450F


On another night, we had some great steaks from the co-op as well.  Nacho prays for a spontaneous plate-disintegration. 

On the grill.

Charred outside, rare inside; the way we likey.

Also, Nina has really taken a liking to white truffle and cream of asparagus soup served with a dollop of herb chevre, see:

I kid; it’s rice paste. 

For no reason, here is a picture from the Strunz and Farah concert we attended at the Egg with our friends T&A.  (Who doesn’t like a little T&A?  Set to music, no less!) 

Also, it’s true; Albany, our dear friend, we are moving away from you.  We won’t ever forget you though.

You Rang?

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

So we went from this…

to this…

…in one short plane ride.  No one likes it except Nacho.

When the mercury drops, Cati and I enjoy few things more than some core-warming soup.  Man, there is just something downright cozy about a bowl of steamy broth on a cold day.  We found two places here in Albany that scratch that itch quite well– CCK Chinese and Arirang Japanese, Korean, and Thai; both on Central Ave. 

CCK, or “if if what” as my wife calls it (get it? she’s Spanish– Ha, I kill me sometimes) is the real deal.  Great Chinese food is their forte, not English.  Check out the specials posted above the cash register; they are only in Chinese. 

Cati and I had some wonton soup, dumplings, fried tofu, and the braised yee mein with beef.  Cati’s favorite dish is the Buddha delight, but they were all out on our last visit. 

Celinabean has a far-superior post on this place here.

Arirang is a real find too.  I know that I have derided multi-ethnicity restaurants as being sub-par jacks-of-all-trades-masters-of-none, but we only stick to the Korean food when we go.  As for sushi, my palate is spoken for, thank you very much, and why would I want Koreans to make Thai food for me?  That’s like having a Greek chef make haggis– no thanks.  Maybe I’m guilty of restaurant racial-profiling, but I like the chefs that prepare my food to be of the nationality of the cuisine in which they specialize (or at least trained there for YEARS).  Even then, it’s still no guarantee that the food will be any good.  It’s just a stereotyping tool I use to save time.  [wink]  Am I just a food-bigot or does anyone agree with me on this one?  Anyone?  [crickets chirping]

I digress, back to Arirang.  The (Korean) food there is quite good.  Have a look at the dumpling soup and seafood stew Cati and I had on our last visit.  The soups were so warm and flavorful we were reeling.  Plus my soup was so spicy, I was super content.  And who doesn’t love those little Korean plates of kim chee, potatoes, and fish cake…mmmm.  I have to be quicker with the camera if I want to get photos of the appetizers.  The dumplings lasted for 0.43 seconds. 

I had their tasty bibimbap on a previous visit.

Celinabean scooped me on this place too (see here)…and naturally, she did a better job.  “Drats, foiled again!”

Here’s an enjoyable Stones’ video circa 1978 (you didn’t post this, Celina– so there!!):

Look, even Nina likes the video…”yep!” 

Mmm-mix tape II

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Like a lovelorn teenager who won’t leave you alone, I’ve made another mix-tape.  Yep, this one is another dining-out in Albany version

Track 1- Justin’s “Breakfast”
We stopped in for breakfast on a Sunday morning after strolling through Washington Park.  We were surprised at how good it was.  I guess we never thought of Justin’s as a breakfast place, but the breakfast we had was really quite good.  Plus, they were super nice to Nacho (our dog) and gave him a water bowl as we dined outside. 

Track 2- Justin’s “Corned beef hash”
This was excellent; I was shocked; let me explain.  I NEVER order corned beef hash. Cati orders the stuff often as she has fond memories of eating canned corned beef hash while boating with her family as a child.  I think canned corned beef hash tastes like dog food smells (most restaurants serve the canned stuff), but this was not canned stuff.  It was perfectly salty, greasy, and delicious.  It was served on a skillet and mixed with the eggs beautifully.  I really enjoyed it.  It also seemed like the perfect meal for a hangover. 

Track 3- Salsa Latina “Bandeja Tipica”
Salsa Latina is a new restaurant on Central Ave that specializes in Mexican and Latin American food.  The bandeja tipica is quite possibly the best $10.75 dinner I’ve ever had.  This dish comprised an entrecote steak, fried plantains (yum), refried beans, white rice, a fried pork-skin rind, a piece of sausage, white rice, an avocado, a little rice cake (I think), and a fried egg.  I liked every single thing on my plate, and that’a a lot to like. 

Track 4- New World Home Cooking “Pork Chops”
Meh; big portions; the pork was dry.  The greens were really good though.   

Track 5- New World Home Cooking.  “Steak and fried plantain ‘french fries'”
The steak was fantastic, the fried plantains were not sweet enough and were a bit dry (nowhere near as good as the ones at Salsa Latina), but a good steak covers a multitude of sins [I oughtta write that down, eh?].  We weren’t really impressed with the food on our visit.  Especially in light of the amazing champagne dinner we attended last year.  Maybe we’ll stick to special events. 

Track 6- Emack and Bolio’s. “Coffee and a kid size ice cream.” 
Cute place that we can walk to.  Plus Nacho is free to run around in their fenced in yard.  The ice cream is good, but I’m not nearly the connoisseur as some other bloggers/webmasters out there.     

Track 7- El Mariachi (on Washington Ave)  “Taquitos” 
These little beauties are not on the menu at the Hamilton Ave El Mariachi II.  At the Washington Ave location, you can order individual tacos (including exotic ones like beef tongue and goat).  Although the restaurants are owned by the same family, they are quite different (note: the margaritas are great at both locations). 

Track 8- Hana “Sushi”
After reading Steve Barnes’s stellar review, we had to check it out.  They had live sea urchin in the sushi case, and although it was pricey, we couldn’t pass it up.  As you can see in the photo, it afforded five pieces of nigiri sushi.  The sushi chef used the empty urchin shell as a holder for our pickled ginger.  It was excellent and had a sweetness to it.  We also ordered a fatty tuna roll that was succulent.  The freshness of the fish was outstanding.  I can’t say the nigiri was Saso’s level good, but it was darn close (we like the rice at Saso’s better).  We’d definitely go back if Saso’s were closed for vacation or if Saso got a restraining order against us because we go too often, for example. 

Track 9- Avenue A “Caldo Verde.”

Track 10- Avenue A “Miso Soup Special”
Cati and I hadn’t been to Avenue A since they moved from Avenue A to Delaware Ave (but they kept the name Avenue A).  Cati went with some friends prior to the two of us going and she raved about the tomato soup special.  They didn’t have it when we went together so I ordered a soup from the menu– the Caldo Verde, and Cati ordered the miso soup special.  They were both delicious.  I ordered a jerk chicken panini, and was dissapointed with how little jerk flavor it had.  Cati ordered a smoked salmon sandwich and really enjoyed it.  It came with a wasabi cole slaw that I thought was quite interesting (in a good way).  Well, we both agree that their soups are a sure fine way to enjoy your lunch. 

Track 11- Miss Albany Diner “Simply the Best”
We really like this place.  Anyone else see the WNYT news ad on Channel 13 with Phil Bayly and Paul Caiano having breakfast together at MAD?  Those two actually make me giggle in the mornings when I catch the local news before 7AM.  They gab so much and crack so many little jokes you can tell they’re buddies off camera.  Well, it turns out they know good breakfast joints too. 

Track 12- Saso’s “Every Breath You Take”
Ok, we are kinda stalkers for this place– a little like Mel from Flight of The Conchords.

Here’s a song that was nothing short of melodramatic-teenage-mix-tape gold back in the day.  GOLD, I SAY!

“Yes, we’re going to a crowded party”

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

January 17th marks the one-year anniversary of this blog.  It’s been fun doing this.  I hope that we can use this blog to actually do a little good.  If you’ve enjoyed this site over the past year and you feel compelled to express some appreciation, please make a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by donating via my fund-raising page HERE.  Please go there and check it out; it looks like this:

Click the link above to head on over there and donate. 

Please see the LLS mission statement below:

“The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. The Society has dedicated itself to being one of the top-rated voluntary health agencies in terms of dollars that directly fund our mission.”

I have also added a link to my fund-raising page on the sidebar (where Jacques used to be).  I plan to race in the 2008 Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 1.  More than 75% of your donation goes directly to the LLS to be invested like this.  It’s a great cause, and I hope you want to help.  I decided to join Team in Training, because I knew I wanted to raise money for charity if I were to run a marathon.  I thought about raising money for a local organization by myself, but I know I wouldn’t be as disciplined about raising the dough.  Team in Training certainly provides an incentive for raising funds.  If I don’t make the $4000 goal, I don’t get to go to the marathon :( .  All that training fer nuthin’.  How’s that for motivation?  I actually appreciate the hard-and-fast deliverable and I will do my best to meet it, but I could really use some help from you.  

Also, oftentimes your company will match your charitable donations.  So remember to hit ’em up.  I ain’t too proud to beg

“Are there snakes in your walls?”

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Sensationalism sells.  TV news is notoriously shoddy because most news shows (especially the local ones) comprise sound snippets and taglines with little rigor behind the stories.  How many times have we seen wanna-be-shocking news stories like, “Are playgrounds dangerous for children?”  and “Deadly kitchen appliances?”  Well, OF COURSE kids can get hurt while playing on jungle-gyms, and OF COURSE you’ll get zapped if you drop a plugged-in toaster into the sink while you are washing dishes!

Is banning playgrounds and toasters the answer?  Are toasters and jungle-gyms the new bogeymen of the domestic world; waiting to hurt you and your kids?  I think not, but the preceeding questions sure make for exciting slogans to be used by talking-heads, no?

Ok, where am I going with this?  We are seeing this sort of sensationalism in the food world more and more.  Cases in point: trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  These food-products get tons of bad press.  They are being portrayed as bogeymen by politicians, news-casters, and even food-vendors to misinform the public.  The misinformed public is then further duped into doing what these politicians and food vendors want.  Do I think it’s a conspiracy?  Nope.  I think it’s just people taking advantage of a form of scare-tactics.  I think it’s more like psychic-hotlines (i.e. nonsense), than Watergate (i.e. cover-up).  

People like having a scapegoat of sorts.  “It’s [insert ingredient]’s fault that I am unhealthy.  Never mind that I consume more calories than I burn.  Nevermind that I eat prepared/packaged/processed foods at least once-a-day, everyday.  Nevermind that I drink cola everyday (which is essentially HFCS-juice).”  Taking a larger view is hard, innit? 

Let’s start with trans-fat and the whole NYC ban.  Trans-fat hit the scene in the early 1900’s for primarily one reason: it was a more convenient lard subsitute for bakers/cooks.  It was a fat that was solid at room temperature and had a longer shelf-life than lard.  As time went on lard became the bogeyman of the food world, and people turned to alternatives to lard for more healthful eating.  I read an excellent “perspective article” on the topic in the New England Journal of Medicine (Susan Okie, M.D.; NEJM Vol. 356:2017-2021, No. 20; May 17, 2007).  Here is a trans fat timeline that I pinched from the aformentioned article (click it to enlarge):

fat and all that

Also, a quote, from the same article:

“…studies began to raise concerns about the health effects of artificial trans fats, and by the 1990s, both controlled feeding trials and prospective epidemiologic studies had implicated them in causing undesirable changes in blood lipid levels and raising cardiac risk.”

“…trans fat intake has been estimated to cause about 6% of coronary events in the United States, including about 27,000 deaths per year nationwide and about 1400 per year in New York City. Since New Yorkers, like other Americans, get roughly one third of their daily calories from restaurant  food, Thomas Frieden (New York City Board of Health Commisioner) estimates that eliminating artificial trans fats from the city’s menus should save between 200 and 500 lives per year, depending on the mix of fats that  are substituted.  The benefits could be considerably greater.”  

“It was recently estimated that completely replacing artificial trans fats with more healthful unsaturated fats might avert 12 to 22% of myocardial infarctions and deaths due to coronary disease.”  

Yeah, uh, Freidman, I’m not so sure…

It’s true that trans fat is bad stuff, really bad, and it should certainly not become a regular part of anyone’s diet; ever.  It really is THAT bad for one’s health.  It’s the worst fat you can eat, and for that reason, we should stop adding it to foods and go back to the original bogeyman; saturated fat (but this time from vegetable sources to avoid cholesterol).  

My problem is this: This is what happens when you focus on a single dietary component as though simply avoiding it is some kind of panacea.  You gotta read the article; here’s a quote:

“It’s craziness,” said Mr. Coffman, 45, who says he eats fair food every day but who appears surprisingly trim. “They’re using this for a marketing ploy. It’s a way to convince people that they can eat more — that somehow all of this is safe now and you can eat all you want — when we all know that’s not true.”

Focusing on food bogeymen accomplishes nothing. Although I understand the good intentions of those who are banning trans fat, I think it will accomplish little.  More from the NEJM article:

“Faced with national epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, “we have to look at the big gorilla in the room, which is total calories” and to reduce saturated fat intake as well.    

“Marion Nestle, a professor of  nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, agrees — and she worries that manufacturers’ aggressive marketing of products that contain “0 grams trans fat” leads consumers to think that they can eat them with impunity. Most people “have no clue that this has nothing to do with calories,” said Nestle. “Guess what? Nobody’s going to lose weight.'”

You can see where this is going with HFCS.  Here’s what’s gets me, HFCS is sugar.  It’s a mix of pure glucose and pure fructose (at different ratios to control sweetness).  These are natural sugars refined from an unlikely source (corn), but natural sugars all the same.  Pure cane sugar is sucrose. 

When you eat even the most natural cane sugar, your body immediately breaks the glycosidic bond and converts the sucrose into glucose and fructose.  Like so. 

HFCS is not, in and of itself, bad for you.  Sure, some people gripe that the ratio in HFCS is not one-to-one as it in in sucrose, but that’s the case in a lot of foods, like apples, melons, and honey, to name a few.  If we want to reduce our risk of type-II diabetes, and other over-consumption-of-sugar related illnesses, we must avoid/reduce consumption of sugar, period.  Here is a nice little article on the stuff from the American Chemical Sociery.  A little digging found this article (and others) to support my point. 

What’s worse for you, vodka from potatoes or corn?  (<-kindly excuse the parable)  The corn based vodka may be cheaper, consumed more, and therefore blamed for more instances of alcoholism and cirrhosis, but it’s the same stuff; ethanol.  If the corn-based ethanol is cast as the “worse one,” consuming more of the potato based ethanol is not better for you.  Unfortunatley, people lose sight of this; food marketers don’t, and we start seeing all sorts of misinformation.  

I guess what I am saying with all this is: don’t believe the hype, stay focused on the big picture (i.e. total calories, whole foods, limiting meat, maximizing nutrition, exercise). 

That’s why I prefer artificial sweetners, they’re harmless, right?  Uh oh, here we go again

Ok, I’ll leave you with this last piece of data to contemplate:

Now that’s good data.  Source unknown

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