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For a Friend

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

If someone you know has just published a book, do you feel obliged to buy a copy? Even if it’s not the kind of book you’d normally read?

It really depends on the depth of the relationship. If I just “know” the person but hardly keep in touch, I would browse for it at the bookstore and see what it’s about. If it’s someone who keeps regular contact, most definitely I would purchase a copy to show my support, even if the book is out of my range of preference. But there’s always exception. I have met self-published authors on this blog for whom I meet and arrange reading event.

Fly Deborah

San Francisco - Cafe FloreI walked into the mottled sidewalk that is lit up by patches of sun in the cloudless blue sky. No fog, not even a light caress of wind. The stuffy air promises another really warm day in the city, which, for the month of June, is rare but nonetheless very pleasant. Activities are sparse at about quarter shy of seven. My rut of a morning routine will begin at Cafe Flore, where I take up the corner table and read over coffee. Christopher beats me getting there first with the New York Times (crossword puzzle) in his hand. Then in strolls Karin with her trendy and chic bag. But no Deborah.

For 31 years Deborah has been a regular at Cafe Flore, where she takes her coffee, helps out with perplexing crossword puzzle clues, reads her buddhist books, and just threads everyone together. Literally she knows everybody like the back of her hand–not only the names, but their jacks of the trade, gossips, and pedigrees. Yesterday, her last day at the cafe, all her friends came by and paid tribute to her friend. They showered kisses on her. Hugs were exchanged. It was indeed an emotionally charged moment to see that everyone were holding back their tears. I cannot even imagine how tough and difficult the decision is for her to move back to Connecticut after living here in the Bay Area for half her life.

I know we are all feeling the impact of the ups and downs of daily politics and deteriorating economic news and, to one degree or another, the toll it takes on each one of us. I think she feels comfortable and at peace with the choice she has made–to retire in her hometown where gas prices are not as staggering and to be near her sister. As she has gladly puts, “Life here has been wonderful, more than I could imagined; absolutely no regrets! Now, off to the next adventure, one filled with Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring!.” Deborah, I wish you the best and you will be remembered. But the cafe will never be the same without your being there.

Solver’s Shouts: AHAS

In a recent post I mentioned that I’m not good at crossword puzzle, which requires a more well-rounded mind. Lately my friends at Cafe Flore are converting me to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Straight off the bat I realize you have to tackle the clues with with an open mind, especially if they are indirect or might imply multiple meanings. I’m sure many of you have already known these tricks, but it’s all new to me!

Crossword clues and their solutions always agree in tense and number. If a clue is in the past tense, so is the answer: thus “Traveled on horseback” would be a valid clue for the solution “rode”, but not for “ride”. Similarly, “Family members” would be a valid clue for “aunts” but not “uncle”. Some clue examples:

1. Fill-in-the-blank clues are often the easiest in a puzzle, and a good place to start solving, e.g., “__ Boleyn” = Anne

2. A question mark at the end of clue usually signals that the clue/answer combination involves some sort of pun (and this usually stumps me), e.g., “Grateful?” = ashes (since a grate might be full of them).

3. Most widely distributed American crosswords today (e.g., The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today, etc.) also contain “speech”-like answers, i.e., entries in the puzzle grid that try to replicate our everyday colloquial language. In such a puzzle, one might see phrases such as WHAT’S UP, AS IF, or WHADDYA WANT.

4. What really stump me are the abbreviations, use of foreign language, variant spellings, or other unusual word tricks are indicated in the clue. A crossword creator might choose to clue the answer SEN (as in the abbreviation for “Senator”) as “Washington bigwig: Abbr.” or “Member of Cong.”, with the abbreviation in the clue indicating that the answer is to be similarly abbreviated. The use of “Var.” indicates the answer is a variant spelling (e.g., EMEER instead of EMIR), while the use of foreign language or a foreign place name within the clue indicates that the answer is also in a foreign language. For example, ETE (French for “summer”) might be clued as “Summer, in the Sorbonne” while ROMA could be clued as “Italia’s capital.”

5. Equally challenging but fun are clues to be taken metaphorically or in some sense other than their literal meaning, or require some form of lateral thinking. Depending on the puzzle creator or the editor, this might be represented either with a question mark at the end of the clue or with a modifier such as “maybe” or “perhaps”.

Do you do crossword puzzle? Are you good at it? What is your favorite crossword puzzle?

Dog, Valentine

I’ll be off to Las Vegas for the weekend after class tomorrow. Between now and tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have to squeeze in all the errands and finish marking the stack of reading quizzes. Thank goodness the paper on Toni Morrison is now due next week so I won’t have to get on the plane with a stack of papers in my hand-carry. I do have to stuff the chunky Anna Karenina into my Timbuk bag for some preparation work.

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 Pictures from The Chicago Tribune

Last night I watched the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on TV. It is a two-day benched conformation show that takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York City every year. Dog owners from around the world come to show their dogs. Dogs are judged closely by eminent American Kennel Club (AKC) judges. It is considered by many to be America’s most prestigious dog show. I caught the competition of the sporting group, which consists of Weimaraner, Pointer, Spaniel, Retriever and Labrador Retriever (George’s cousin). Show fans were treated to the baying howl of a beagle victory Tuesday night when Uno became the first pooch in the breed’s history to win the coveted Best in Show title, reverting the century-long losing streak and Uno’s family-friendly demeanor. The nearly 3-year-old, 15-inch-tall beagle, was also the first of that breed to win the hound group since 1939. The little dog playfully bayed and barked at the judge and handler. In spite of the high-pitched yap, I find it very lovely and swift, and no less cute than George, my lab retriever. George might be smarter!

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I went by Joseph Schmidt Confectioneries, a local chocolatier, yesterday to pick up some Batik Sweet Heart, an assortment of truffles (All Milk, All Dark, Almond Supreme, Irish Cream, Champagne, Double Latte, Hazelnut, Grand Marnier, Peanut Butter, Sea Salt Caramel, Pecan Praline and English Toffee) for friends. Mini individual ones for friends and a heart-shaped box for a special chocolate lover. Hope he finds the indulgence pleasant!

Film | The Great Debaters

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My friend and I caught an evening show of Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters, a movie inspired by a true story that took place in the south during the 1930s. It revolves around the efforts of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American south during that time, when lynch mobs and Jim Crow laws abounded. The Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point at which they are able to take part in a debate with Harvard University.

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Although there is no evidence that the debate with Harvard ever happened, characters depicted on the debate team are based on real individuals. As the story unfolds, it centers around James L. Farmer, Jr. , who was on Wiley’s debate team at 14 years old after completing high school. He would later on in life go on to co-found the Congress of Racial Equality. Another character on the debate team, from whom the film digresses into a romantic twist, is Samantha Booke. The role is based on the real individual Henrietta Wells, the only female member on the Wiley team who participated in the first collegiate interracial debate in the United States. She became an attorney of law after Wiley.

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The film looks more than just a montage of cloned clippings of underdog dramas. It represents an important, and unforgettable, period of America when African Americans were lynched for no reason other their being black. One of the critics comments, “There may be little here we haven’t seen before, but rarely has it been executed this expertly.” Yeah, there might be clichés dotting here and there, but they are rather gratifying. That a school, predominantly and traditionally black, breaks away from a redneck country, in the impoverishment during the darkest days of depression, and to take on an all-white debate team in Harvard, is no ordinary story. That endemic racism has ravaged and culminated into public lynching off the road would not fail to put a lump in anyone viewer’s throat.

Perhaps the success of the film doesn’t hinge on the the filming technique or the amplifying of a little-known incident in African American history, but how it hits the right button to inspire and to educate. On this regard the film has done a great job. But consider the edgy political times, and that Tolson was also an activist in the wider community, risking his neck by trying to organize the region’s sharecroppers of both races, the film is a bit too well scrubbed.

Pictures from Rotten Tomatoes.

Food Festival – Thanksgiving Week

Dinner parties and engagements have dominated my whole week prior to the Asia trip. As you must have deduced from the pictures to follow, I haven’t got much reading done. I went to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, so I got together with my friends Stephen and Masa for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at Stephen’s house on the day before, with tea candles lit up all over the top-floor condo in Hayes Valley. We had a cheese plate, a mixed green salad with apple, walnut, and balsamic vinaigrette, homemade pasta with mushroom and asparagus in a creamy tomato sauce, and bite-size brownies. Sipping a bottle of Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir, we chatted into the wee hour.

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On Thanksgiving, my aunt and cousin threw a feast of traditional fares and some Asian twists.  We started off with baked cod and salmon with shrimps on a colorful bed of yellow pepper, squash, and zuccini. Roasted turkey was served with a tangy homemade cranberry sauce and rice. Food was shuffled out of the oven consistently throughout the evening. The scrumptious meal concluded with fresh fruit salad and a yummy warm cranberry-walnut bundt cake.

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Yesterday I met up with Ken for a dinner at Kincaid’s in Burlingame, on the promenade overlooking the bay and the SFO runway. Kincaid’s was thoughtful enough to send me a $20 off dinner coupon. We took a walk on the embankment, enjoying the the eerily quiet trail. It was low-tide and so tranquil that we couldn’t hear the water lapping against the rocks. We were promptly seated at 4:30 pm. While most of the Kincaid’s customers request window tables, Ken put in the word for a table on the upper seating level so we could have a panoramic view of the bay. We started off with some fried calamari, New England clam chowder soup, and a green pea-bacon bit salad with water chestnut. For main course we had pan fried sole and asiago-crusted sea scallops with wild rice and burre blanc sauce.

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We also exchanged Christmas gifts and split a keylime pie.

Feast Goes On | Firefly

For my birthday it’s supposed to be a previously unannounced film and dinner at a restaurant where I have never eaten before. So…

Yesterday I met up with Ken at the Embarcadero Theater. He didn’t know I have watched Lust, Caution and have read the novel 5 times. So we ended up watching Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling who gives an outstanding, Oscar-caliber performance as a shy, troubled young man who develops a delusion around a sex mannequin. He believes that she’s real and that she’s his girlfriend. It’s a very curious film, partly comic and partly tragic, more melodramatic than comic I say. Quirky film for quirky me, Ken says.

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Lars is a man so warped by his childhood, it’s remarkable he can get along socially well-enough to even hold down a job or function in society (he barely manages the latter). Once Bianca comes into his life, though, Lars slowly begins to move out in the world, participating in social activities he’d previously always shunned — Bianca gives him the courage to reach out into the world.

Here’s where you have to suspend your disbelief a bit, because pretty soon everyone in their small town has gotten in on supporting Lars in his delusion that Bianca is a real person. At first, they stare, but soon everyone is carrying on conversations with Bianca, and taking her around the town; it isn’t long before Bianca has a full social calendar to keep her busy. My faith in people overall isn’t so strong lately that I’d buy that a whole town would embrace a life-sized doll as a real person, but this is the kind of film that gives you a little hope for humanity. I’m touched by how in this fictional world where people care enough about another person who’s not even related to them that they would go to such lengths to try to help him.

After the film we took a walk around the ice-skating rink and the Ferry Building. Dinner was at the lovely Firefly on 24th Street and Douglas. Chef/owner Brad Levy really hits the stride. He loves cooking home-style foods from around the world — and at times the menu ranged from latkes to potstickers. Creamy buttermilk green peppercorn dressing graces the butter lettuce salad with radish a very captivating flavor. Roasted Brussels sprouts are sprinkled with reggiano parmesan and white truffle oil.

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For main courses the chef prepares a very delicious maple glazed grilled pork rib chop but adds a sophisticated twist: Bacon laced farro, braised escarole and grain mustard sauce. The grilled Hawaiian ono feeds my Kauai notsalgia with appetizing Satsuma mandarin–beet salsa, toasted coconut rice and sautéed pea shoots.

For desserts we split pumpkin brioche bread pudding with pears and the highly addictive warm pecan crepes with Huckleberry sauce and brown butter pecan ice cream. The crepes have been heavenly tasty and is my favorite dessert out of all the desserts I’ve had eating out in the city. Service at Firefly is very attentive and warm, and the prices are a bargain. According to the menu, their meat “comes from happy, never mad, drug free animals!”

12 Days of Birthday

Today is my birthday. But celebration has kicked off on Wednesday and will continue on through next week.

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11/15 Family banquet – Chinese/Hong Kong cuisine
11/16 SF Symphony concert with friends
11/17 Homemade candle-lit dinner dinner with Stephen and Masa
11/18 Movie and Dinner (supposedly a surprise) with Ken
11/19 Karaoke + Dinner with college buddies
11/20 Party at Harvey’s

I still have to stop by Borders and redeem my weekend 30% coupon and my special birthday coupon. I’m so on a roll!

Restaurant Roundup | Burma Superstar

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From top to bottom: rainbow salad, pumpkin stew pork, deep fried coconut fritters with coconut ice cream.

Last Sunday, after the movie, Ken and I headed over to one of our favorite Inner Richmond restaurants, Burmese Superstar, for an early dinner. Like I have said before, you will have to allow extra time to park the car and promptly wait at the door before it opens for dinner at 5 pm. Seats fill up quickly that you’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes to 1 hour for the next round.

It was only 4:10 PM when we parked the car on Clement. We had plenty of time to walk around the neighborhood with the highest concentration of Asian shops other than Chinatown. In tacit agreement of mind we headed to Green Apple Books where he found some opera CDs and I scoured the fiction/literature section for books pertinent to the current reading challenges. At a quarter till we walked back to Burmese Superstar and occupied the first position in line.

We keep coming back for the signature rainbow salad, which features 22 ingredients, including four kinds of noodles, crispy fried garlic, diced potatoes, tofu, dried shrimp, fried onions, green papaya, roasted chilies, crushed yellow beans, cilantro, won ton chips, cabbage and a tamarind dressing. The server will explain these ingredients before mixing them up in front of you. This serving of the savory salad definitely satisfy our cravings.

The pumpkin pork is simmered to a stew. Pork is marinated by ginger and tamarind with a tinge of chilies, cooked until tendered and added to the pumpkin stew. The dish we had last week was cooked in a haste as the pork, although very tender, did not absorb the taste of the pumpkin stew. That was a bit of a let-down from previous dining experiences. The okra and egg curry redeemed the prok, with plenty of okra and the Bumrese style curry was very tasty with chili and spices.

Along with the main dishes we had half serving of coconut rice and half serving of brown rice.

Desert was deep fried coconut fritters (shaped like fried banana) with coconut ice cream. It was a real treat with genuine shredded coconut wrapped around a thin batter.

While the overall dining experience has lived up to the past standard, I do notice that with the raise in price (most of the main dishes are up $1 each, entrees $8.75-$12.75), they have skimped out the portions in all dishes. Service is quick and friendly, but can be pushy.

De Young | Photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto

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A friend from Japan is in town and we took the advantage of de Young Museum’s monthly admission-free day for a quick visit. That both of us have spent hours looking at the permanent collection before dictates our attention to the special exhibit featuring Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, who is known for his ongoing multiple series of hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs exploring the themes of time, memory, dreams, and natural histories. The curator emphasized his working with a large-format camera, which produces glowing images, ranging from the richly detailed to the starkly minimal, which are often suffused with expanses of light and space. The one above is an installation of pictures taken at ocean, the horizon line between the sky and sea–photos that capture what is elusive to sight.In other photos, he employs lighting techniques similar to those that the painters might have used. The works appeal to me in the way how he accentuates physical contours of the objects being photographed. After the curatorial tour, we went up to the museum tower on the 9th floor and took some pictures of the view.

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