East of Paris Bookstore

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

iPad Five Months Later

The iPad has been part of my life for about five months.  I wrote about first impressions here.  Last week, I took it with me on a 4-day trip and left my laptop at home.  It is the first time in years that I have travelled without my laptop.  I survived.

First, before leaving home, I downloaded several books to read on the airplane.  That alone saved space and weight in my carry-on bag. Then, once I was on the road, I wrote short observations in the "Notes" App about the pluses and minuses of choosing to travel with the iPad instead of the laptop.

The pluses:

  • No need to take the iPad out of my bag or turn it on in order to pass through the airport security line;
  • It weighs less than even a MacBook Air;
  • It worked smoothly with the wi-fi available at the airport and in the airline club;
  • It was a conversation starter both at the airport and on the plane -- people wanted to know what it was and/or whether I liked using it (the last question came mostly from men squinting at their Blackberries or iPhones and reading e-mail);
  • I could multitask and listen to music while reading my electronic books without needing to be connected to another device;
  • The battery lasts a lot longer than a laptop battery;
  • I had downloaded the GoodReader App and was easily able to review docs in various formats on the iPad.

The minuses:

  • Many hotels do not have wi-fi in their rooms. At the hotel where I stayed, even the wi-fi in the lobby was weak.  So, I still needed to use my iPhone to pick up e-mail and download data;
  • If I had needed to write anything of length, it would have been difficult.  I was not traveling with a Bluetooth enabled keyboard and do not like writing long pieces using the iPad virtual keyboard.

Overall, I did not miss my laptop although I would not leave it behind on any longer trips or on trips during which I would need to write a lot.  The question outstanding:  would I take both the iPad and laptop with me?  It remains to be seen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What We Are Reading Now

Last weekend's reading included the new Martin Cruz Smith novel Three Stations.  I suspect that I'll be reading any novel that Mr. Smith produces that has his quirky detective, Arkady Renko, solving crimes in Russia with few clues and fewer friends.  I got hooked on Smith's novels with his first Arkady Renko mystery Gorky Park.  He has an intriguing way of describing harsh settings and down-on-their-luck people that makes you want to know more about them.  When I had the chance to walk through Gorky Park and buy a drawing at its weekly art exhibit, I saw first hand how good Smith's descriptions and setting of mood can be.  All of which is to say that I was disappointed in Smith's most recent novel.

Three Stations is mercifully short and unfortunately devoid of Smith's usual doses of acid humor. The book has two story lines, both involving exploited young women:  murder victims and victims of abuse who are still alive. Detective Renko refuses to believe that one young woman took a fatal drug overdose; he believes she was murdered. There is also a second victim, a prostitute whose infant is stolen on a train.  At the end of the book, Renko solves the murder.  The young mother with no discernible future, is reunited (essentially through her own efforts) with her child at the train station known as Three Stations (a/k/a Komsomol'skaya Square). Meanwhile, you have to read through gratuitous descriptions of gruesome forensics and through pages about street urchins engaged in crime and basic survival.  No character that you could call remotely "normal" makes it into this book.  Moscow is full of normal people, and Smith's ability of mixing the eccentric into the normal is what makes his work so enjoyable. I hope Smith's next novel starring Renko will return to its usual high form.

Konsomol'skaya station was opened as a part of a line section between Kurskaya and Belorusskaya stations, which are on the circle line.  More information is available in English at the Moscow Metro website.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Last of Summer

Our local flower shop is starting to sell bouquets with autumnal colors and baskets of yellow and orange gourds and pumpkins. The end of summer is almost here and it seems like the time to enjoy fresh fruits before they are out of season. Oh, I know that, thanks to greenhouses and world trade, there are no seasonal limitations on getting fresh fruit. But, the feeling of change is in the air and buying some of the last local fresh fruit, especially when it was figs, was irresistible.  

I bought a small basket of fresh deep purple figs.  After eating a few, I cut the rest in half and put them in a bowl.  Then, I sprinkled on a pinch of kosher salt and a few tablespoon fulls of balsamic vinegar and Chambord liqueur.  Next, I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for about four hours and stirred the figs every hour to make sure the liquid was evenly absorbed.

I served the figs with a dense almond cake -- one with pears and one with brandied cherries.  No recipe for the cake -- I bought it!

For more on Chambord, go to my Ice Cream Inspiration post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comfort Food

This past weekend was a mix of minor chords. Some deep and serious --remembering the shock and sadness of 9-11. Some self-absorbed and silly -- my favorite putter is missing from my golf bag and Mr. Wonderful's putter messes up my short game.  All in all, Sunday night required staying at home and making comfort food.

What is comfort food?  It means different things at different times to different people. Last night, for us it, meant using whatever was on hand and making do.

We had pork chops, which I grilled after applying something I found in the pantry:  "Jake's, Righteous Rubs (tm) Tri-Tip, Steak & Rib Rib."  [After I wrote the name I looked it up on the Internet; the site is here].  Anyway, while I don't know where I got it, the dry rub must have been good since I had kept it.  It did not say "do not use on pork chops" so I used a generous amount in the very thick chops that mysteriously appeared in the refrigerator -- Mr. Wonderful's idea of a hint.  Results were good!

What next?  I found two potatoes, so I dragged out the mandolin slicer and made my lazy version of baked scolloped potatoes -- slices of unpeeled potatoes layered with slices of onion, little pats of butter, salt, pepper and a half cup of cream -- topped with grated parmesan cheese and baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F until golden.

Anything else?  An impromptu ratatouille from the vegetables that were in the house and still respectable!  Onions, eggplant, green and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes.
Here is what I did:  sautéed chopped onions in olive oil on medium-high heat until semi-soft.  Threw in chopped peppers and kept the sauté going until the onions and peppers were soft.  In a separate pan, I sautéed in a bit of olive oil chopped unpeeled eggplant that I had salted with Kosher salt 10 minutes before cooking.  Since eggplant is notorious in its ability to absorb enormous amount of oil, I added a 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and covered the sauté pan so that the internal liquid in the eggplant and the broth would help to cook it.  Then, when the eggplant was nearly soft, I added it to the onions and peppers. On top of that I added the cherry tomatoes, covered everything and let it cook on medium for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, I added about a 1/2 cup of white wine and turned the heat up to high.  As the liquids reduced, I added salt and pepper to taste.

Nothing special, but we enjoyed it. Comfort food provided a nice end to a somewhat unbalanced weekend.  Not bad.

P.S.  When I started cooking, "recipes" like the above above infuriated me.  I wanted exact measurements -- amounts of ingredients, temperatures, cooking times.  Well, over time I've realized that cooking can be free-form [this does not apply to baking!] and still be good.  With practice I've been able to figure out a number of things out and feel comfortable in the kitchen even if I have to make-do with what's on hand as opposed to what's listed in the cookbook.  I approach the whole thing as a low cost chemistry experiment.  If things work out -- great.  If not, we can always order pizza!

P.P.S.  When we were playing golf in Pebble Beach, I mentioned to our caddy that I blog about cooking, among other things.  He asked if I was "classically trained."  Well, I watch Julia Child videos and the Food Network, I do like to eat, I can decline Latin nouns, and my next house will be Palladian in style.  Classical enough?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Engineering Question

I have a question about electric polls.

Everywhere we travelled in Central Asia, I noticed two kinds of polls carrying electric wire through the countryside.   They were either tall concrete polls or wooden polls with "boosters" ... look carefully at the photos left and below and notice the dark brown wood poll boosted up by lighter colored wood or concrete blocks attached at the bottom of the poll.  Often there was an extra poll, like the leg of a triangle, seeming to hold up a vertical poll.  The extra polls also came with their own "boosters."

I couldn't stop photographing them.


Lost Hills, California
A contrasting US poll that I photographed last week is here on the right. No extra boosters or supports.

So, my question is, why the added lift for the electric polls? Instead, why not have the newer concrete polls be shorter?  When attaching an angled poll, why not change the angle or the point of attachment to obviate the need to give the support poll a lift?

Any engineers out there who can provide insights?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

East of Eden

On the way home from a long weekend at Pebble Beach, we drove though the land John Steinbeck painted in his book East of Eden.  The farming east of Carmel in the areas of Salinas, Gonzales and King City is beautiful.  Driving by acres of romaine, asparagus, tomatoes and other vegetables while watching irrigation sprinklers water the crops gives me a new appreciation of the produce in my grocery store and of Steinbeck's novels.  Wanting to see more of the rich central valley of California, we veered inland.

As we drove further south and east, we saw more dust and dryness.  The once proud signs declaring that "food grows where water flows" were faded and droopy.  While there were still orchards and crop-filled fields, much of the land was parched, dirty yellow, dusty. The high unemployment was evident in the towns where we stopped for coffee or gasoline. No water, no life.  And, government bureaucrats have chosen to exacerbate a water shortage with bad policy -- choosing theoretically to spare Delta smelt fish over people, farming, food and employment.
South of Cholame, we finally emerged onto Highway 46.  We turned west to have lunch at an old cafe that we'd driven passed for years.  This time, we wanted to experience an authentic local place and stopped at Jack's Ranch Cafe.  They make a great BLT and are very helpful with warnings against rattle snakes!
We also saw a memorial sculpture to James Dean, the Hollywood heart-throb who died in a car crash near this cafe 55 years ago this month.  Mr. Wonderful still talks about seeing Dean's stunning performance in the film East of Eden.
James Dean Memorial
And now we feel we know more about California agriculture and the current day tensions East of Eden than we did yesterday.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Golf in the Fog

The fog is white and thicker than yogurt.  The air is arctic and drops of drizzle land on my camera lens.  Yes, we are having fun!  It’s called golf!
Mark Twain was right.  The coldest winter he had ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.  Well, close enough.  We are tackling the Spy Glass Hill course on the Monterey Peninsula in California.  A friendly enough golf course … if you can see it!
The fire place in our room at The Lodge at Pebble Beach will help us thaw out after the next nine holes.  Having survived the first nine means we can to anything!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Samovars III

Who knew that a coffee drinker like me would like looking at and taking photos of old samovars?

Here are the ones we saw at the "Ark" [meaning fortress] in Khiva.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Smiling camels in Bukhara
While I had expected to see Bactrian camels in Central Asia, we only saw the one-humped Arabian variety.  They were amazing ...
Don't bother us, we're eating!
Smug smile ... what does he know?
Walking with the kids

They even get involved in fashion!

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