a teatray in the sky

學做鳳梨酥 (learning to make pineapple cakes)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on February 21, 2012

much of chinese cooking is, to this day, shrouded in a ninja-like mysteriousness, unless you are a chinese woman over the age of 45, or a chef.  it probably has something to do with the fact that asian mothers are notoriously bad at communicating verbal instructions, and a lot to do with the fact that they don’t measure anything.  how much salt do I put in this?  how long should I soak the meat for?  what is the name of this vegetable?  you feel like you are conducting a telephone survey, but a lousy one, where the answers range from 1 to 5 but the description of the scale is left undetermined.  a typical learning-to-cook exchange may go like this:

dutiful pupil: “does it matter if we use chicken legs or chicken wings for this?”

asian mother: “four.”

confused pupil: “four what?”

asian mother: “uh huh.  and then you add black pepper.”

thoroughly lost pupil: “how much black pepper?”

asian mother: “I don’t know.  two?”

and you wonder why we’d rather stay upstairs and just come down when the food is on the table.  amazingly enough, Tina’s auntie in Taiwan, gatekeeper of the secret wonders of pineapple cake, offered to teach us how to make these treats of the gods.  at her home.  with real recipes.  how could anyone say no to that?  we went, and learned, and ate, and I photographed.  but to keep the ancient secret a secret (and to protect myself from being garroted in my sleep by a black-clad assassin), and to remain consistent with the asian art of teaching cooking, I won’t give you any sort of measurements to go with the photos. (more…)

在高雄 (in Kaohsiung)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on February 20, 2012

we’ve all had moments in our life where we eat something so good that we tell ourselves (and our friends next to us, and the yelp universe) that we could “eat this every day.”  and that is a huge, Archer-esque lie.  the reality is, unless you’re my father with taste buds of stainless steel or you have survived prison internment, you couldn’t go four days of eating the same thing without craving something different.  and that’s the dilemma we find ourselves in every time we return to Taiwan.  it’s all so good, but it’s all so … much.  going down to Kaohsiung was a great break-within-a-vacation.  the same feeling of relaxed joy you get from loafing off, watching koi carelessly gyrate in a pond.

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蘭陽博物館 (Lanyang Museum) and 基隆廟口夜市 (Keelung Temple Night Market)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Architecture, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on January 19, 2012

Taiwan is definitely not up there on the list of architectural destinations, largely overshadowed by the money-burning frenzy that is the Chinese real estate market and the always-fresh-always-funky world of Japanese contemporary design.  I’ve had the lucky opportunity to work for an excellent architect in Taipei (LWM Architects) and I know that there has been a number of great architectural minds working diligently to improve the design environment in Taiwan for the last couple of decades.  the Lanyan Museum, by 姚仁喜 (Yao Ren Xi, Artech Inc.) is one of the newest examples of Taiwan asserting an architectural personality.  there are faint echoes of I. M. Pei still in the work but the building’s design language clearly responds to the landscape around it, instead of being a purely intellectual geometric exercise.  the interior is logically laid out yet provides a compelling promenade, and even the quality of the construction is meticulous (which is typically so hard to find in Asia these days).  there are some exceedingly bizarre moments (like an unwrapped structural member that emerges randomly from a wall, warty fireproofing and all) which stand out because everything else seems to be so well sorted.

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a tale of one city

Posted in Alabama, Birmingham, Food, Photography, SD1300 IS by firthefirst on September 21, 2011

this is a (short) tale of one city, many barbeque joints, and a mission.  to eat as much barbeque as possible (sort of, we were actually down south for work).  when we asked folks from Birmingham what their favorite local BBQ joint was, we ended up with a surprisingly small answer set: Full Moon, and Jim ‘n Nick’s.  I really would have liked to have my 5DII with me but I didn’t feel like lugging it around for a business daytrip, and so I wound up shooting with Tina’s little SD1300 IS compact camera.  so believe me when I say, it’s even better than it looks in the photos.

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byers street bistro

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Staunton, Virginia by firthefirst on July 1, 2011

detoured just a little on our way out of bath county virginia to nab some brunch in staunton, virginia.  it’s a surprisingly pretty town with great taste in food.  case in point: byers street bistro.  no better way to wrap up a camping trip.  no offense Justin, we loved the beans and chili, but …

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welcome to hotlanta

Posted in 5D Mark II, Atlanta, Food, Georgia, Photography by firthefirst on June 14, 2011

who knew being a groomsman was this much work?  who knew atlanta would be so damn fun?

the answer to both questions is: not me.  going down to the ATL for jon + angela’s wedding with tina, justin, and a mini-upenn crew is probably one of the best 4-day weekends I’ve ever had.  forget 3-day weekends, let’s have more 4-day holiday weekends. (more…)

Local 121

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Providence, Rhode Island by firthefirst on March 1, 2011

I’m doing this to be cruel to myself because I am starving already but the hour hand hasn’t even hit onze on the dial yet.  why?  penance of some sort for … something, I guess.  there must be something.  I’ve received a number of pseudo-compliants about the amount of food-porn on the blog and I suppose that must be why I feel compelled to tease myself in return.  today’s culinary ecstasy/torture is brought to you courtesy of kelly, who took me and tina out to Local 121 in Providence to escape a dramatic rainstorm in the throes of a late-season oscar nomination attempt. (more…)

making zongzi, a.k.a. tetrahedrons of joy

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography by firthefirst on February 23, 2011

one of the things that tina’s been trying to do is learn as much of her family’s cooking heritage as possible (and I tend to think this is both a very worthy project and so far a very successful project as well).  so at the beginning of February, with ma in town, our kitchen basically transformed into America’s [Taiwanese] Test Kitchen.  since I’m not so great with the traditional cooking (I can do steak, I can do pasta, I can do anything with a recipe, none of this recipe-free measurement-free asian cooking) I figured I’d help document with the camera.

today’s post/experiment revolves around what chinese call “Zong Zi” (粽子).  the correct english translation of this is … nonexistent.  the technically accurate description for these are “Gelatinous Rice Tetrahedrons” which to my knowledge is the only incidence of this geometric figure appearing in the culinary universe.  yeah, being math geeks really must run in our asian blood. (more…)

8407 kitchen bar

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Maryland, Photography, Silver Spring by firthefirst on February 2, 2011

went with momo some time ago to eat in silver spring since she was house-sitting.  as a 270-corridor-ite, we rarely venture out to the 95-corridor to eat (or even 495-north I guess) but hey, we always welcome the chance to explore the known world a bit more.  8407 kitchen bar (more commonly referred to by either just “8407”, or just “kitchen bar”) is one of those trendy new establishments that combine local sourcing and reinvented american cooking.  the trend apparently also involves being very successful, because 8407 was packed while we were there, and once you take a bite you realize why. (more…)

in search of italy

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Strobism by firthefirst on January 10, 2011

tina decided to savor our no-work weekend by doing some thoroughly home-made cooking, and chose to experiment by crafting some spaghetti from near-scratch.  the results were tasty and fairly entertaining, and since there’s a pile of stuff to do I’m ditching the words and letting the photos speak for themselves. (more…)