Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I found an interesting (and timely) article in the NY Times about fireflies. Some facts (in case you're not inclined to click and read yourself):
  • There are over 2000 species worldwide
  • The larvae glow to warn would-be predators of their bitter taste
  • Not all adults glow, but for those who do, it is a mating call
  • Females can carry on as many as 10 simultaneous conversations and are very picky
  • The Photuris firefly kills other fireflies to harvest the bitter chemicals and make themselves even less attractive to predators

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Fellow American

It was a big day for JV, who took the Oath of Citizenship this morning. I accompanied him to the Office of Homeland Security in San Jose to provide moral support, take photos, and sate my curiosity.

The crowd was really mixed, comprised of Latin Americans, Europeans, and East and South Asians. Not many Africans. JV remarked that in sharp contrast to all things Green Card- related, the folks you encounter in the citizenship process are generally polite and friendly: surely a special breed of civil servant. That seemed to be the case today.*

The ceremony lasted about thirty minutes, and included, in addition to the Oath, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance**, a talk about the rights and priveleges of citizenship, a list of famous naturalized citizens, and a short film. The film began with a brief address by President Obama, followed up by a montage of sweeping landscapes and arial shots of Navy sailors on deck, to the dreaded Country song that goes, "I'm Proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free..." At the end, staff members passed out the Certificates of Naturalization, patiently pausing from time to time to pose for photos with their new countrymen. Tears were shed.***

*Of the two government employees who addressed the crowd, one repeatedly referred to the US as "One of the great countries of the world," while the other did not mince words, declaring this "the greatest country in the world." Both were obviously naturalized themselves.
**The woman who administered the Oath asked for a volunteer to lead us in the Pledge. When the volunteer, a middle-aged woman of European descent, got to the last line, "With liberty and justice for all," her voice cracked with emotion.
***Not by JV, of course!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happy Ending

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Eat Pray Love for my mother, never considering that I might want to read it myself. I was finally able to give book to her in person when I visited my family in Fredonia recently. After receiving a near blow-by-blow account of the first two sections of the book, I began to reconsider. In case you aren't familiar with this publishing phenomenon, which is currently sitting at #12 and in its 125th week on the NY Times List of Best-selling Paperback Nonfiction, it is "A writer’s yearlong journey in search of self takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia."

I began reading EPL a few days before my departure, and when I headed to the airport early this morning, I still had 30 pages left to read. I wasn't keen to carry a book across country for a mere 30 pages, so I left it there. I figured I'd find a copy at the library, or at the very least read it standing up at my local used book store (which by the way, is fabulous). So imagine my surprise and delight when, on my second flight, I found that the window to my aisle was carrying just that very book. And she kindly loaned it to me long enough for me to finish.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last night I attended a bonfire out in Arkwright. It was far enough outside of town to be properly dark, something I don't get to enjoy very often in this land of light pollution. Highlights included swordplay, s'mores, and several explosions.

The field across the road from my friend's place and the one surrounding the fire were full of fireflies. I haven't seen that many fireflies since... ever. Though green and not blue, the flashing lights reminded me of the phosphorescence of certain marine invertebrates that I first saw in the ocean of Southern Thailand many years ago. Magical.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thanks, Carmen!

She even let me help with the caramel sauce :) Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Monday, June 15, 2009


Last week, Fredonia celebrated its 14th annual Baroque music festival, Bach & Beyond. It began Tuesday to Thursday with musical matinees at local restaurants called "Bach's lunches". Weekend performances were held at the Opera House in the village hall. I attended the Saturday evening performance. Highlights (for me) were Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and a selection from Handel's Water Music. The musicians were superb.

The 1891 Fredonia Opera House was restored in the late 80's with a combination of grants, fundraisers and volunteer contributions. Look at that stage! It's a local treasure.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


On the driveway outside my parents' Fredonia house. Cause of death unknown.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Another Food-related Post

This place hardly needs a plug-- it's already been featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-- and yet... I can't help it, I love it.

According to the Coptic friend-of-a-friend, the word falafel comes from the Coptic for fava bean. Unlike the falafel you find most places, those dry pucks made from chick peas, the falafel here are soft and green inside. And delicious. Cheap. Made from fava beans? I suspect so. If you find yourself hungry in San Jose, try it.

(Note the apostrophe there in the name: it's
Falafel's drive-in.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

In Praise of an Underappreciated Spice (Or, Another Instance in which the Leadin is Longer than the Main Attraction)

Being a reasonably strict lacto-ovo vegetarian in Japan is no easy feat. While not the hardcore red meat consumers Americans are, it still isn't a very veg-friendly food culture. Most Japanese dishes, even one as seemingly innocuous as miso soup, are seasoned with 本だし hondashi, a stock made from boiled 鰹節katsuobushi (smoked bonito) and 昆布 kombu (a type of kelp). When I lived in Tokyo in the 90's, my constant companion was a guide to vegetarian, organic and health food restaurants in the city. Through this portable lifesaver I discovered 香林坊 Korinbo, a veggie hole-in-the-wall run by the gracious Taiwanese Reian-san and located upstairs at the back of the bizarre Nakano Sun Plaza*. Another favorite was Gu (and not just for the name), an organic/ brown rice joint in Shimokitazawa.

And yet from time to time I still found myself adrift in the megalopolis, in need of a quick meal, with nary a health food restaurant in sight. My options then, if I was lucky, were Italian or Indian. So I ended up eating a fair amount of decent Italian and mediocre Indian food (the latter mostly from chains).

I did stumble upon the occasional gem. In a second floor room above the shops lining the road to Inokashira Park in Kichijyoji was a tiny, cluttered Indian restaurant called かるだもーん Cardamom. It was run by a genuine Indian man (cook) and his Japanese wife (server). Going there was a bit like eating at a friend's place, a feeling no doubt enhanced by the constant presence of the couple's 3 year old son and infant daughter. Now that I've had a lot more experience with Indian food, I'm not quite sure how the food at Cardamom would stack up. But to my less experienced tongue, it was nothing short of a revelation. Japanese food is indeed lovely, but there's very little spice involved. Most of the seasoning comes from dashi, mirin (sweet cooking sake) and soy sauce. Sometimes I craved something... more. Unlike the insipid dishes server by restaurant chains like Samrat, they pulled no punches at Cardamom. No concession was made to the delicate Japanese palate. Rather, the flavors were complex, rich. Spicy. When I first began to eat there, my ignorance was such that I did not even know what cardamom was. Now it is perhaps my favorite spice.

Cardamom A member of the ginger family, there are, apparently, two varieties. Here I'll stick to Elettaria, the green variety I am familiar with. Elaichi in Hindi, this fragrant spice is commonly used in traditional Indian sweets like kir (rice pudding). My favorite masala chai is made by adding
crushed cardamom pods and ginger to black tea leaves, water and milk. Boil. Add sugar to taste. Scandinavians are also fond of cardamom in their sweets, particularly sweet breads and cookies. Try replacing 1/2 or all of the cinnamon in your cookie or coffee cake recipe with cardamom. In the Middle East, the pods are ground along with coffee beans and mixed with boiling water to produce the wonderfully silty brew usually called Turkish coffee. You may try something similar by adding a few pods** to your coffee grinder for your own morning ritual. I did this today in my moka pot, with wonderful results. Cardamom also figures prominently in savory dishes like the Indian palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese curry) and meat dishes (think lamb) in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Cardamom powder is made by grinding the small black seeds inside the green pods. Unfortunately, once ground it loses its flavor quickly, so purchase in small quantities or grind your own. It's a tedious process, liberating the seeds from the pods, but you will be rewarded.

*Which no doubt deserves its own post.
**It's not necessary to separate the seeds from the pods when flavoring tea or coffee.