An experiment in pesto

12 August 2012

If you do a Google search for pesto, you’ll find a deep schism regarding how the perfect pesto should be made. On the one side is the purist crowd, which claims that real pesto must be made with the instrument after which it was named: a mortar and pestle. On the other is the modern crowd, who swear up and down that pesto made in a food processor tastes just as good and is much faster to make. Then there are a few rebels who like to make pesto with a knife, usually a mezzaluna, and those people also think that their method of making pesto is the best. For my purposes, I’m going to lump the knife crowd in with the food processor crowd — using the knife is more time consuming, but the end result should be pretty similar since the ingredients are still being cut with a sharp implement rather than smashed with a blunt one.

I have long followed the blunt crowd, making pesto by hand in a mortar and pestle. But I’ve never had pesto made with a blade before. It is not good to dismiss things out of hand without testing them just because some people on the internet say it’s bad, so I devised a small experiment to see if there would be any discernable difference between the two.

Click on the cut following the picture for more about the experiment, as well as a recipe for mortar-and-pestle pesto.

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It used to be that I hated potatoes with a burning passion. My parents never made them, so thankfully I was safe at home, but it seemed like every time I went to a friend’s house for dinner there would be piles and piles of this tasteless white froth, and having been raised to be polite at the dinner table (and above all not picky), I would always feel obligated to take a few scoops, as small as I could make them.

That changed very suddenly in my third year of university. I was working in a French restaurant at the time. Normally we ate omelettes, quiches, salads or steak with steamed vegetables on the side for our staff meals. But once, just once, the chef brought out a giant bowl of mashed potatoes. “Ugh,” I said to myself, but since I was starving and the only other thing to eat was steak and I was vegetarian at the time, I reluctantly took a few scoops. It was, of course, delicious.

Since then, armed with the chef’s one piece of sage advice — “Il est impossible d’ajouter trop de beurre” — I’ve probably tried about 30 ways of making mashed potatoes : with milk, without milk, with cream, with different flavourings, with peel, without peel, cooked whole, cooked in bits. I think I have finally picked out the few rules for making mashed potatoes that even a picky potato-hater like me can eat.

1. There really is no such thing as too much butter. One gram of butter per 10 grams of potatos, really, should be the minimum. That’s about 1/4 cup for 4 smallish-medium potatoes. And it has to be butter, not margarine.

2. You can use whatever liquid you like, really. I mean, I guess using heavy cream will make the potatoes taste better if you’re low on butter, but as long as you follow the first rule, it tastes fine even with just plain water, though sometimes I also add in a bit of chicken stock or dashi.

3. A tiny dash of freshly grated nutmeg (really, tiny, less than 1/4 tsp per 4 potatoes if you’re using the freshly grated stuff) adds untold depths of flavour.

4. If you have to eat mashed potatoes while on a diet, please consider reducing the serving size instead of trying to make it low-fat. Mashed potatoes just aren’t supposed to be a low fat food.

I heard about TERA when plans for a North America-based English version was first announced. That version came out last month. With rather a lot of free time coming up and rather little to do with it, this week seemed like a good time to check out the seven day trial.

Verdict so far: the “action-based combat” system is really fun, although would probably seem clunky to players coming from other MMOs. It requires finesse, but sacrifices speed. I like the user interface — having a different mode for combat really helps to minimize screen clutter. The questing and levelling system are old fashioned and mind-numblingly boring. The graphics are pretty. And the character models, oh boy, the character models…

That’s the least revealing armor my level 12 female Castanic — that’s TERA-speak for demonic dominatrix, I think — has had since the start of the game. For most of level 1-10 she was fighting in a G-string and nipple pasties. I could swear at one point she even had tassels. The game developers also made liberal use of ladders in the game. Every other quest chain seems to have an objective that is conveniently on a high ledge that can only be reached by climbing a ladder. Wanna venture a guess at what the default camera angle swivels to, when I click the button to interact with a ladder? And then of course there’s her proportions: her head is the same width as her waist, and her legs make up more than half of her body length.

And now here’s my terrible, dirty, worst-feminist-ever secret: I enjoy playing characters that look like this in video games. My character is an in-game representation of me; I guess I just like being represented by a sexy, even if slightly exaggerated, woman. If there were a game that only had unattractive female avatars, I would be very disinclined to play it. That probably sums up why no game developer has ever made or will ever make a game with only unattractive female avatars. I even like the revealing armor. When World of Warcraft introduced the transmogrification feature to change the appearance of armor, the first thing I did was put all of my characters into midriff-baring tops.

There are a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing implemented in a video game every now and then, namely, equally revealing armor for men. TERA does have a few mankini tops, but, sadly, no man-thongs. Oh, and being able to choose a female avatar with East Asian facial features who is attractive and doesn’t look like a schoolgirl. It’s just not as easy for me to identify with schoolgirls.

Growing up in a Chinese family in North America was a mixed blessing. I hated it when I was still living with them, but now that I am older and wiser, and with years of hindsight to guide me, in many ways, it was a boon. For example, Chinese people are way more sensible about foods than North American white people. As recently as 50 years ago, China went through a period of terrible famine. Many Chinese people who are alive today, my parents included, lived through it. As a result, they developed a very valuable food philosophy: if it’s chewable and won’t make you sick, you can eat it.

Chinese cuisine, and that of most countries in Asia, contain ways to cook anything imaginable: the fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, and roots of any plant that grows there and isn’t poisonous; cows’ tripe, lambs’ intestines, pigs’ ears, chickens’ feet… dogs? It’s not generally considered very economical to raise carnivorous animals for slaughter (hence why Chinese people don’t really eat salmon), but if you were slowly starving to death and there happened to be a dog around, wouldn’t you eat it, too?

Eugh, gross, I’ve heard so many times from white kids at school when they saw what I was eating. Yeah, well, I think your oil-sopped pizza and can of caffeinated aspartame are gross, too, so I guess we’re even, except that I’m not rude enough to say it out loud without provocation. Oh, and also I will live longer, be healthier, and have nicer skin. I think I got the better deal.

Here is one example of something that made the other kids say “gross” : watermelon rinds. To most people, watermelons are just the pink part in the middle. You eat that and throw everything else away. But some hungry Chinese person looked at a watermelon one day and thought, “Hey, that white part’s chewable, though somewhat tough. It doesn’t make me sick, but it’s not very tasty… I wonder how it could be made more palatable?” And so the watermelon rind became a real food in Chinese culture.

Pickled watermelon rinds

a small watermelon, with the pink innards all eaten
2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
optional: 2 tsp chili flakes

To prepare the watermelon, the thin, dark green, tough outer skin should be removed and discarded. The paler, thick part of the rind should be cut into slices. The thinner the slices, the faster it will pickle.

Add the other ingredients into a bowl and leave alone for 4-8 hours. If the watermelon rinds are still tough to chew, it needs more pickling time.

Meet the newest member of my family:

We combed through most of the stores in Chinatown before finding it: an 8″ solid granite mortar and pestle. There was a sticker on it that said “Made in Thailand”. All of my readings pointed to Thai granite mortar and pestles as being the most well made, economical and effective method for grinding spices. Being in Canada, “economical” is a somewhat relative term — this guy costed me $45 plus tax, while similar sized granite mortars and pestles allegedly go for $20 in American Chinatowns. But a suribachi costs $70 here (plus ~$8 or so for the surikogi) and the Bay sells a Cuisinart blade coffee grinder for $50, about twice what it retails for in the U.S., so I guess $45 is pretty good.

With this in our kitchen, I am finally able to venture into a new cuisine that I’ve been wanting to try making at home for a long time: Ethiopian food.

Berbere paste recipe 

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Where to now?

16 June 2012

So I seem to have almost totally lost interest in World of Warcraft. This is the result of a combination of many things. One is my husband deciding to quit right after our wedding — since the beginning, we have always played together, and it’s very weird to log in without him now, knowing that I won’t ever have him DPSing at my side again. The second is that, well, it has been 2.5 years. I’ve achieved everything in this game that mattered to me. I’ve gotten very, very good at raiding; I’m pretty sure I’d be good enough to get into any of the world top 50 guilds, were I so inclined, and were they recruiting hunters. I’ve gotten pretty damn decent at PVP. I am going to hit the gold cap either tomorrow or Sunday, 1 month ahead of schedule. I’ve created my perfect transmog outfit and farmed it up. After that, this game is done for me. I’m not interested in achievements or pet hunting, and I’ve seen everything else.

Where to now? Well, for starters, I’m eyeing the much-hyped Guild Wars 2 with increasing excitement. I’ve pre-purchased it, and had a blast last weekend in the beta event — probably more fun than I’ve had in the last 4 months in Wow. Its worlds is new, beautiful, exciting, engaging. I like the flexibility of the character building system. I like the combat style. I like the PVP. I like… well, am ambivalent to the idea of there being no real opportunity for “hardcore” raiding.

I am keeping Clearing Trash as I still like the name. This blog will be about other things now, including, yes, sometimes, Guild Wars.

Inscription, part 2

30 April 2012

The last two week have brought a lot of change both IRL and in Wow, not the least of which is that I got married, and I passed on the mantle of Guild Leader. More musings on both those things will probably be in order, once I’ve had the chance to sit down, breathe a little, and ask myself, “How the hell did I end up here?”

For now I want to go back to talking about inscription, that wonderpony profession that has made the fortunes of so many gold makers. It took me a long time to make the plunge into inscription because there seemed to be so much to learn — over 300 glyphs, for starters. The time and energy commitment seemed phenomenal, as well, with serious scribes having 3 AH toons dedicated to nothing but glyph selling.

Unfortunately, I only have 1 account, and like creating alts too much to dedicate 3 character slots to glyph selling. I also don’t have the patience to really spend more than an hour or so every day on crafting and posting, across all of my professions. My inscription routine is designed to fit into those constraints. Here is what I’ve been doing. It has been very effective at minimizing my time commitment while still managing to make some profit from inscription.

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