Thursday, January 31, 2008

Flaming Heart

Here's the Vosges Haut-Chocolat "Flaming Heart". It's white chocolate with lemon zest and pink peppercorns. I am not normally a fan of white chocolate at all, but this is very good. The lemon zest is a nice touch and the peppercorns are great. It's pretty firm at room temperature. I put a third of my strength into breaking off a piece and the tip went flying across the room. The 30 second rule should definitely be enforced if it's chocolate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eating Chocolate for the Good of the Glob

I received another generous shipment of Vosges Haut-Chocolat samples in the mail today! As some of you will recall, PW sent me quantities of bacon chocolate back in October. In the days ahead, I will be reporting on the wide variety of chocolates shown above, including white chocolate with black pepper, caramel toffee, the bar sampler and three different types of hot chocolate. I will make sure you are prepared with knowledge you need for buying (yourself) chocolate for Valentine's Day. Believe me, I am looking forward to tasting all of these goodies for your benefit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Google Earth Evangelfish

I've been taking care of Google Earth Evangelist's Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) while she's been attending a conference. It's nice having a little company on my desk, especially since he's so quiet.
Eventually, I decided that he would be more comfortable near the warm vent of my laptop, since bettas prefer 80F waters, but I doubt it makes much difference at all. It just makes me feel like a more thoughtful guardian. Plus, I think he may be mildly entertained by windows on my laptop monitor, which is pretty amazing since he doesn't even drink coffee.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Angry Bluebird Returns

Remember the fussy bluebird that posed agitatedly on my patio (deck) door? He was back this weekend. In fact, he was back all weekend. Unlike Doofus, the red bellied woodpecker, he quickly found that he could attack all the windows around the house. Also unlike Doofus, he didn't make nearly as much noise so I didn't need to yell at him. I do wonder what happened to the woodpecker, who visited for so many months, day after day, and I'm happy to have the company once again. The angry bluebird doesn't do nearly as good a job at cleaning off the windows, though.

Here you can see the little guy in action. Do you think he thinks he'll make it through the window eventually?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

ACME Blogging : Oysters and Scallops

Tonight, it was time to pay another visit to ACME Food & Beverage Co. To feed my raw oyster addiction, I tried their oyster special. The oysters, which were from the Carolina coast, had homemade cocktail sauce, a mustard sauce and a cilantro sauce added to them. I liked the cilantro sauce the best, I think, but they were all good.

My Most Faithful Reader ordered the cashew encrusted scallops over crunchy black "forbidden" rice. It was supposed to come with mango sauce, but that contained peppers. Kevin whipped up a custom orange sauce for her instead, which I thought was great. I stole a bite of my dad's bratwurst and dipped that in it. It was a great combination.

My MFR asked for the remaining (and any extra) oyster shells so she could bury them in their fairly acidic soil, to make the hellebores happy, so it turned to be a productive evening, too.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blu Blogging - Raw Oysters

Last night, I finally tried the raw oysters at Blu Seafood & Bar. They were "Blue Point" oysters, which apparently means that they were one of any number of varieties found in the Atlantic. I don't know much about raw oysters, but I know that I like them and have liked them ever since I first ate them when I was a little kid, visiting New Jersey. Last night they were served with a sweet red horseradish sauce and a vinegar based sauce. I always prefer adding plain lemon juice instead.

On Tuesday nights, Blu now has a half-price special on raw oysters. They are $8 per dozen for the Gulf Coast oysters and $13 per dozen for the "cool-water" ones. You can get them by the half-dozen, too.

I think there is something slightly addictive about eating raw oysters. Does anyone else agree?

Thursday, January 24, 2008


In the collection of swag from the NC Science Blogging Conference was the December/January issue of Scientific American Mind, which has an article on boredom.


In that article, they mention a 1989 research experiment conducted by James Laird and Robin Damrad-Frye, which suggested that people were more likely to feel bored if there were some sort of mild distraction in the background, such as a television playing quietly in an adjoining room.

I would hypothesize that that working in a cubicle farm, where one is exposed to a constant barrage of noise from nearby conversations, telephone calls, beeps and clicks may result in a similar effect.

Has anyone seen any more recent research that might have looked at this?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Twisted Noodles - Pineapple Rice

I may have found my "rut dish" at Twisted Noodles. I've had pineapple fried rice at several restaurants and this was by far the best. It's one of those dishes that you eat part of when you are putting your leftovers in the fridge. It has pineapple (of course), cashews, roasted pork, shrimp, chicken, raisins, bell peppers, snow peas, curry, and probably a few other things. I now have two lunch portions packed away to take to the office, if I don't eat one for breakfast.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Zippity Doo Da

I worked from home this morning, because just as I was about to leave one of the local fire departments declared that a road between here and work was slippery. Within minutes there were ten overturned vehicles in the northern half of the county.Just before I started to eat lunch, from my bedroom I noticed that there was a bluebird fussing outside one of the patio doors. He looks innocent enough in this photo, but he was making a lot of noise.
Here he is clearly agitated. Perhaps he didn't appreciate the fact that the Christmas tree is still up and visible from the window. There are several straw bird ornaments on the tree, so that may not have helped. Perhaps he just didn't care for his reflection.
Finally he attacked the glass.
In this photo, he's not only attacking it, but he's attacking it with style.
That was obviously at lot of work. In fact, he inspired me to brave the weather and head for the office.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blu Blogging: Seviche, Duck and Flan

On Friday night, before all of the excitement of the snow and the NC Science Blogging Conference, I went to Blu Seafood & Bar. Blu is one of the few places where I want to explore every (non-beef) thing on their menu and where the excitement of the unknown is more compelling than my getting into my usual restaurant rut. That said, I would probably also be happy eating their shrimp and grits every night of the week.
First I tried their queen conch seviche, which I definitely enjoyed. The conch was very tender and flavorful and the mint and sweet pepper slivers complimented it nicely. This is a good replacement for a small salad if you've given up leafy green vegetables for the new year.
They had a duck confit and sauerkraut special that was excellent. Again, the duck was incredibly tender and juicy. The sauerkraut was mild and very good.
I heard our waitress tell the people at the table next to ours that they had a coconut flan dessert special, but I think my flan-sensitive ears would have picked it up from the next room. It's one of my favorite desserts. One of my pet peeves about flan and creme caramel is that many restaurants introduce air bubbles into it, which ruins the texture. Blu's flan, which was an enormous slice served with whipped cream, was perfectly smooth. I thought it was top notch. I would love to see it with more caramel sauce and some mint leaves on the side. Mint leaves dipped in caramel sauce are really good.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

People's Pharmacy

Yesterday morning, I got up early to go to the conference and had a rare opportunity to listen to the People's Pharmacy live. When I used to read a hardcopy newspaper, I would read their column every week. This week, they had a particularly interesting program on vitamins and herbal supplements and I recommend checking out their podcasts to listen. They were interviewing Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, who is the Director of Education for the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

One of the strongest messages was the importance of taking large doses (as much as 1000 IU per day) of Vitamin D3 or to even get tested for deficiency. The majority of us actually are actually deficient, because we don't get enough exposure to sunlight or use sunscreen, preventing the natural production of the vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency can have several deleterious effects.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

2008 NC Science Blogging Conference

Today I attended the NC Science Blogging Conference, which was held at Sigma Xi, in RTP. I had to say that, of the few conferences I've attended, it was certainly the most interesting. I wasn't sure how long I would be able to stay due to the potential for snowfall and my lack of winter weather driving experience. Conference co-organizer, Anton Zuiker, made sure that I got my locopop before I left, so I felt fulfilled. Both Anton and Bora Zivkovic did an unbelievable job at putting together a tremendous conference. To provide just one example, the swag bag (a lovely canvas bag in itself) was filled with eleven science magazines, two books and various other goodies. It weighed a ton.

Conferences are such great places to talk with new people. In fact, I met several readers of this blog for the first time, which was really exciting. Of course, the trick is to keep that communication going after the event is over, but I'd like to think that's easier when you're meeting bloggers.

One of the most interesting breakout sessions I attended was a discussion of science journalism, lead by Adnaan Wasey, from PBS. It gave me more insight into some of the differences in journalism and blogging. For example, journalists are trained to always be objective, while bloggers are, almost by definition, opinionated. In addition, articles written on the behalf of a larger entity are often moderated. Having blogged now for several years, I'm not sure how I would like giving up my freedom to express what I actually think in an unadulterated form. The discussion certainly made me appreciate the still novel notion of self-publication.

I really enjoyed a survey of humanities and social sciences blogging by Martin Rundkvist. I also attended a session lead by Dave Munger, who gave an excellent and thorough overview of ways to add interactivity to one's blog and self-promote it. After that, the snow was starting to stick in Hillsborough, so I thought I should drive home. My participation, however, wasn't over, because from home I watched the live streaming video of the rest of the sessions, provided by Wayne Sutton.One of the many benefits of attending this conference was learning about some of the science blogs and bloggers out there. I've been reading Bora's blog more and more, which is an overwhelming resource for learning about the ever growing population of science blogs. This experience reminded me how much I used to love reading science magazines before my time and energy became stolen by college and work that followed. With blogs and RSS, it makes it much easier to sneak in science reading in our infinite spare time.

Another general sense that I acquired while attending today is just how important it was. The presidential candidate whose name I heard by far more than any other today was Huckabee and I heard so many concerns about what people do or not believe and the fundamentals that they don't know. If we don't use any method we can to educate the public and their children about science and research, regardless of the political climate, what hope do we really have?

More posts regarding the conference
More photos from the conference

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Soggy, Soggy Day

Paint your palette brown and gray...

Things were cold and damp here on the Squirrel Farm today. I worked from home to avoid the somewhat icy conditions. Yesterday, I just decided to stay home today rather than spending the morning worrying about whether it was safe enough to go in. Fortunately I can do everything I need to do just as easily from home, if not more so.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cafe Zen - Rice Is Beautiful

Now I've become obsessed with white balance. Isn't the color of the rice just beautiful? It doesn't even look as if it has saffron in it. This is an order of penang curry with tofu, from Cafe Zen. It was actually one of the best non-sushi dishes I've had there.

A few weeks ago, I had an order of yakimeshi with pork, photographed with my old camera settings. Look how brown it is. OK, it's fried rice, so that's really not a fair comparison. It was very good, too, but not as flavorful as the penang curry.

I do think it's a great place to go for sushi in Durham, second only to Kurama. I'm just usually too lazy to eat non-supermarket sushi at lunchtime, since the pieces are generally larger. Also, at Cafe Zen, if you order sushi off the dinner menu at lunch, then it may take prohibitively long to get your food. I'm also told that they have an excellent sake selection. From the sip or two I've had of their cold-unfiltered sake, I would have to agree.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gulf Rim Blogging : Camera Settings

Tonight I went to Gulf Rim and tried out my new camera settings. I set the white balance from "cloudy" to "auto white balance" and changed the exposure setting from -1 to 0. I'm afraid the plates still didn't show up as white in this photo. Despite that, I'm very pleased with the improvement! My fried oysters were very good, too.
My Most Faithful Reader had an artichoke oyster taco special, with the tomatoes and habanero mayo removed. I was tempted to get a soft shell crab special, but I had my heart set on oysters and the size of the crab portion would have been more suitable for an entire family of four. Notice the beautiful color of the sour cream in this photo.

Thanks to all of you who gave me feedback on my post comparing my camera to my dad's. Remember, if you see something so obviously wrong, you can, at any time, say, "Lenore, you moonbat, your photos look like crap. Fix your damn camera!" Feedback on any aspect of the blog is always welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fun at the American Tobacco Campus

This afternoon my department had the equivalent of our holiday party, because we never seem to have time in the vicinity of the actual winter holidays.
We went over to Tyler's Taproom where we had a small room reserved. We enjoyed a variety of chips, dips and wings. I was pleased to confirm that the honey-jalapeno wings are not nearly as hot as their "2 beer hot" wings. The most exciting thing that happened was that Google Earth Evangelist was ordering a Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout and the bar sent her a sampling of four different stouts that they thought she should try. There was a creme brulee one that everyone thought was particularly awful and the Duck-Rabbit was voted best by all. Duck-Rabbit is brewed in Farmville, NC, which is very close to Greenville.

I go over to the American Tobacco Campus, where Tyler's is located, about once a week for meetings, but I'm usually in a rush. As we were leaving today, I decided to take a few photographs. ATC has this man-made "river" flowing throughout the campus which had to be shut down to reduce water loss due to evaporation during the drought. There still has to be some sort of power trip associated with turning off a river.

The person ahead of us in line for the parking deck elevator needed to go to the sixth floor, so I managed to get this shot in while she was getting out.

I've been meaning to take a photograph of this for a long time. If you look closely at the metal handicapped sign, you will notice that it's van accessible. I was actually there the day that they got carried away while painting.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

ACME Blogging: The Camera Experiment

My two Most Faithful Readers and I went to ACME Food & Beverage Co. again, but this time we tried an experiment. Last time I ate at Blu, I left my SD memory card reader on my desk at home and borrowed my dad's camera. I noticed that the pictures taken with his camera were much brighter and sharper than most of the photos that I take with my camera. Note that my camera is a Canon Powershot SD500 with 7 megapixels and his is a Canon Powershot SD700 IS with 6 megapixels. My camera is two and a half years old and his is one year old. Pictures from both cameras have had Picasa's "I'm Feeling Lucky" filter applied. Yes, this experiment is about as scientific as you can get, because who knows what that filter does exactly? All photos were taken in manual mode, macro using ISO 200.

You may want to click on some of these to compare them closely. I think my mom's Field Greens salad looks particularly beautiful and sharp in the lower photo, taken with my dad's camera. All the images taken with my camera look kind of yellow.

The lobster and goat cheese ravioli with mint and a grapefruit-saffron butter sauce is now on the regular menu! Note that the sauce is different from what I had on New Year's Eve, but you can taste more of the lobster with this sauce. It's excellent.

This is a ginger bread pudding with candied orange pieces and cinnamon whipped cream. It was very nice. Again, I think it looks better with my dad's camera.

In conclusion, I would say that I did give my dad a very nice camera as a Christmas/retirement gift last year. It looks as if Canon has continued to improve their Elph camera even as prices have gone down. I also don't think I have the best compact camera for food blogging, but on the other hand, I did use my camera on my Treo for years, and it's a lot better than that.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Maine Root Ginger Brew

Yesterday, while having lunch on campus at the Refectory, I picked up a Maine Root Ginger Brew. I like most ginger sodas, but this one is extremely good. It has a nice kick to it, too. It's organic and containins purified water, evaporated cane juice, ginger extract and spices. It even reminds me of drinking pure sugar cane juice, so that probably adds a lot to the flavor. It's 165 calories per 12 oz. bottle, which is quite a bit, but it certainly doesn't taste too sweet. I do realize that those two sentences contradict one another, but that's no surprise here, is it? Supposedly, this brand of soda is available at Whole Foods, so I hope they have it at their Durham location. I'd like to try their free range root beer, too.

Incidently, the Refectory is pleased to have their ice water dispensers available again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Turning Over An Old Leaf

I saw this maple leaf a couple of days ago and thought it was really nifty that it was actually lavender underneath. I thought about tying it into some sort of theme about something that I started doing and stopped doing and started again, but I've got nothing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Greek Spinach Pizza at Foster's Market

For many years, aside from pizzas that I or my Most Faithful Reader have made, without exception, my favorite pizza has been the Greek Spinach Pizza made by the Foster's Market in Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, they don't make pizzas at their Durham location, which is definitely a shame. It has a crispy thin crust, with feta, tomatoes, red onions, spinach, whole black olives, artichokes, and pepperoncini. It's very light and wonderful. Although the size varies slightly, it's about 12", costs $7.95 and is perfect for picking up and eating at home.

There's a typo on their pizza menu and I assure you that it has pepperoncini and not pepperoni. I wrote to their General Manager with the hope that she will forward it to the right person. I wouldn't want any vegetarians to be steered away from this masterpiece of a pizza.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Second Sorbet Attempt - Red Zinger

Since the orange sorbet was such a success, I was eager to try something else. Due to the lack of conveniently located fresh fruit and a fondness for iced Red Zinger, I decided to try Red Zinger sorbet. I found a recipe from Food & Wine, but I decided not to follow it. In hindsight, I'm not sure whether that was a good idea or not. It calls for a quarter of the sugar that I used and you steep the tea with the sugar. When I've tried to replicate Pyewacket's superb iced Red Zinger, I've noticed that if you sweeten the tea before it cools, it almost has a medicinal flavor. If you add the sugar after it cools, it's more like adding a packet at the table. Still, adding a packet and adding a whole cup of sugar are two different things.

I imagined that 4 tea bags of Red Zinger in 2 cups of water would be more tart than 2 cups of orange juice, so I thought that boiling 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water for the syrup would actually be on the sour side. I didn't have any grapefruit juice, so I used about a cup of grapefruit IZZE soda.

It froze beautifully in the sorbet maker, but then I put the container in the door of my freezer, which was probably a mistake. I'm betting it melted some before it refroze.

It actually tastes pretty good, perhaps even surprisingly good, but it's not as good as the orange sorbet, by any means. The texture was not as smooth as the orange sorbet, probably because I suspect it actually contains less sugar overall, even though it tastes sweeter. This is a case where the corn syrup probably would come in handy, but I want to try this recipe again without substituting with wild abandon and I'd like to try using pure hibiscus tea, rather than Red Zinger. I have plenty of loose hibiscus tea at the office and it's extremely tart.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Six Plates Wine Bar

This evening, my friend AE and I went to Six Plates Wine Bar. I've been wanting to try it for quite some time, ever since I read Joe's review. When I asked about shorter tables, since bar tables aren't exactly wheelchair friendly, we were reminded by the friendly co-owner, Matthew Beason, that it isn't a restaurant, it's a wine bar, so there aren't any normal dining tables. Fortunately, there are lots of comfortable looking chairs and the accompanying coffee tables ended up being more than adequate.

Just because it isn't a restaurant doesn't meant that you can't find a fantastic meal there. Just because it's a wine bar doesn't mean that you can't get non-alcoholic beverages there. They have several sodas, including root beer, from the Sprecher brewery, in Wisconsin. I tend to like spicier root beers, but it was good. They also have bottled water, non-alcoholic beer and orange juice. I understand that they also serve precious Durham tap water, upon request.

They offer six plates of food and each plate is optionally paired with a glass of wine. Beason explained that he plans to keep gradually changing the menu. It may change slightly every day, particularly the wines, but two plates will change every week, such that the menu will change completely in the course of a month.

We started out with the cheese plate. The plate (or slate, in this case) came with slices of a Rue Cler baguette, which was incredibly good. Each cheese was also paired with an additional flavor. The fourme d'ambert, which was my favorite, was served with dried-moist cranberries, the sottocenere was with whole hazelnuts and the manchego was with honeycomb. All were great combinations and the remaining honey, from Busy Bee Apiaries, in Chapel Hill, was very good by itself, once all the cheese was gone. No, I did not lick the slate, but I came close.

We also had the seafood ravioli. It was lightly fried ravioli containing primarily shrimp, some crab, sage and garlic. It was quite wonderful.

For dessert, AE ordered the chocolate mousse. Each large spoon contained mousse and candied orange peel, cinnamon whipped cream and raspberry coulis, respectively. I got to taste each one and the mousse was heavenly by itself, but each addition complimented it in different ways. It was a very nice dessert, but as rich as it was, three regular sized spoonfuls were plenty for me.

It's definitely an unusual, eccentric and elegant place. I hope all of you will check it out. It's very dark inside and they actually provide a flashlight to look at the menu when you first come in. Eventually, your eyes adjust and it's comfortable. They seem to play a nice selection of music and it's loud enough such that you can't ignore it, but not such that it makes talking difficult.

I am definitely looking forward to going back soon.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fractal Art Competition

I've been a fan of fractals since I was about twelve years old. I would hang out in the labs in the Computer Science department at Duke where they had a Mac that had an application used for exploring Mandelbrot sets installed on it. Macs were very slow 20 years ago and sometimes I would wait over an hour just to see the next zoomed-in image rendered. Fortunately, I invariably had a science fiction novel handy, so I didn't mind the wait.

Since then, I've continued my appreciation and for the last several years, I've ordered fractal wall calendars. Thanks to reader, DM, I was able to see the entries for the 2007 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest. I urge all of you to take a look, because they are stunningly beautiful.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Time Traveling Pack Rat

My Second Most Faithful Reader installed seven additional Closetmaid shelves in my guest room closet over the Christmas break, so today I worked on going through boxes and boxes of stuff and determining where things should go.

Pack rat that I am, going through all the random things I've collected in boxes is almost like going back in time. I opened up an accordion file folder that I probably hadn't opened in over ten years and it was like opening up a time capsule that contained letters, grade reports, invoices, pay stubs, manuals, back-of-the-envelope diagrams that still trigger enough memories to recollect what they were and jewelry designs.

I found my old Sony Walkman radio-cassette player and it brought back memories of showing it off to relatives, when I first got it in the late 80s. It's very yellow, so it was pretty much love at first sight. I got a lot of use out of it and I believe it still works, even though the headphones look a little tired. I still have loads of cassettes and I have more German language tapes than I know what to do with. I also found taped recordings I made when I chose to interview people about death for a cultural anthropology assignment.

The worst part is knowing what to do with the things I don't want. I have great difficulties throwing things away that are perfectly good, but aren't my taste. Yes, I know there are plenty of places that accept things that are in good condition, but wouldn't it be easier to change my taste instead? That's a lot more practical. Even worse, there are things that I do like that are wearing out. Where do I draw the line? These are only issues for pack rats, aren't they?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Blu Blogging: Warm Up At Blu

This evening, I went to Blu Seafood and Bar again and had yet another wonderful meal. As always, we enjoyed a combination of fanastic food and service.
I finally had my own bowl of their wonderful clam chowder all to myself. This huge bowl of chowder, full of clams, potatoes and herbs, is a steal at $5 a vat. Hot soup really hit the spot on such a cold night.
They had a special coconut shrimp appetizer with mango sauce, which was great. Coconut shrimp has become comparatively popular in this area since I first tried it on the Outer Banks, six or seven years ago. Most of what you find here is heavily breaded and overly sweet, but the shrimp at Blu were perfect.
We shared a special chocolate Merlot tart, which had a pate sucré (sugar dough) crust with a chocolate ganache filling containing Merlot. It was deliciously smooth and decadent. Apparently, it was a big hit on New Year's Eve and hopefully they will be adding it to their dessert menu soon.
I also had most of a chocolate brownie with ice cream. It was nice and soft. Amazingly, I did not tire of eating chocolate desserts after devouring two in a row. Of course, I did have help.

On January 16th, at 7pm, they will be having a "Pirate's Feast", a wine dinner with a pirate theme. It will be co-hosted by Wine Authorities and they will select and talk about each of the featured wines. It will cost $45 for the wine and four courses. One of the anticipated offerings will be duck confit over sauerkraut, which I'm sure will be delicious. It sounds as if diners will have the opportunity to enjoy their meals in costume, so I'm betting that it will definitely be a memorable evening. Reservations are required.