new year’s eve and chinese food

New Year’s Eve is always a great night take-out (or take-away) Chinese food, at least as far as I am concerned. My days of finding some rocking club or place about town on the last day of the year are pretty much over. I like going to parties with friends, and a semi-formal or formal event has its charms, but I also like a quiet night at home. Everything can be slow and easy, in comfy clothes. If it is that sort of evening, Chinese food is always a great way to go.

The thing is, I don’t have a favorite nearby Chinese restaurant. It’s not like there aren’t any to choose from. There must be one to two dozen of them within a seven mile radius of our apartment. I just don’t know which ones to try, and I don’t want to blindly start going through them all alone — Mrs. Geek is not a fan of Chinese food.

Tonight I decided to use the fact that my parents were visiting to make a start. I got out several materials that I had found over the last year or three: some menus from local restaurants collected during visits to various summer art and wine festivals, a reasonably local pocket Chinese restaurant guide found for a few dollars in a book store, and a web site of reviews for all kinds of businesses in the area. I then used these to find some food for dinner with my parents.

I ended up locating four restaurants. Each had at least some items that run VERY far off the beaten path of standard North American-style Chinese cuisine. There were things like kidneys slices with preserved veggie, roasted pork belly, braised sea cucumber in abalone sauce & prawn roe, pickled chicken feet, pork organs porridge, spicy salted squid, beef organs lo mein, pork esophagus with rice vermicelli clay pot, crispy eels, soy braised mold pork with fermented cabbage, jelly fish, and fuzzy melon & dried shrimp with vermicelli clay pot. Together, they embraced a range of regional styles: shanghai, cantonese, hunan, and hong kong. I figured that we ought to be able to get some interesting eats out of one of these restaurants somehow.

In the end, we chose a restaurant down the hill from our apartment, near a scrapbooking store that Mrs. Geek likes to visit. She’s gotten to know a lot of the employees at that store, and one of them often orders from the restaurant in question. I happened to have their menu in my files, picked up during a visit with Mrs. Geek to that store for just such an occasion.

While not a meal for the ages, the food from the restaurant did not disappoint. We got a roast pork appetizer, some fried wontons (where were just fried wonton wrappers, no filling), some crispy egg rolls (spring rolls, more like), some mongolian beef, some X.O. sauce lo mien, and some BBQ pork fried rice. All of it was very edible, and much of it rather different than the more Americanized Chinese food that my parents are used to. We have lots leftover, and I’m sure that it will all reheat well.

So I think this has emboldened me to a certain extent. I think I will try some shanghai-style food next. I’m not sure about the spicy cow stomach, but the deep-fried threaded bread might be interesting or the pan-fried pork buns. That can be my first New Year’s resolution: try more Chinese restaurants!

about that elephant in the room

My parents finally arrived for their week-long visit on Wednesday night. Since then, we’ve been enjoying some quality time together. I went with my Dad and Mrs. Geek’s Dad to an oyster bar yesterday afternoon for some very delicious fresh shellfish on the half-shell and some excellent New England-style chowder. Mrs. Geek and I went with both of my parents to see a lovely performance of The Nutcracker this afternoon, and then treated them to dinner afterward. It’s all been a great time so far.

One of the consequences of the breakup of my sister’s marriage is that it has loosened the tongue of my parents about how they feel about my soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law. Mrs. Geek and my Mom have especially been discussing the situation. The picture my parents paint of seeing how my sister’s husband interacts with the world is not at all a pretty one. All of us are asking why did my sister, an intelligent and attractive woman in many respects, choose to spend fourteen years with this man? What need of hers did he meet? Why did she not see our (decidedly negative) reactions to this man and take that as some kind of warning sign?

I do take one piece of comfort from all this discussion. I now see where my attitude toward the situation comes from: my Dad. Seeing Mrs. Geek get herself wound up about my sister’s marriage, I sometimes feel guilty about my own attitude — I don’t know how my brother-in-law’s mind works, and frankly I don’t want to know. I just know that he needs professional help for a lot of unresolved issues from his childhood, and I see no use in really attempting to understand it any further. My Dad seems to see this in pretty much exactly the same terms, and I find that somewhat reassuring. Perhaps this is a male thing? I don’t know.

I’m just happy, especially in light of what my Mom is telling me about what’s been going on for the last few years, that my sister is taking some steps to help to secure a better future for herself and her son (yes, elgan there is a three year old boy in the picture). That and some piece and quiet for my parents are the real gifts of this Christmas season, I think.

christmas is too short when you grow up

With almost two full days passed since Christmas, I cannot help but feel that the enjoyment of the holiday season is far too short as an adult. Much of the month between Turkey Day and Christmas Day was rush, rush, rush for me this year. *sigh* It seems that way every year. As my Mom recently noted, Christmas is easy, as long as you aren’t the one putting it together.

Then again, perhaps I am just exhausted. I’m almost half way through my vacation and I have realized is how tired I am. I feel like I will finally begin to unwind just as I am going back to work next week.

The Christmas table tirade by Mrs. Geek’s Mom on Monday also helped me to start thinking about my relationship with food. I know that sounds like standard “oh it’s after Christmas and I need to lose some pounds” but I think it is more of a catalyst for crystallizing a number of thoughts that have been bothering me for months. But more about that in another entry.

a belated Christmas wish

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, full of joy, good comradeship, and an equal mix of delicious sensation and illuminating transcendence.

The last two days have been a blur of preparation, recuperation, and celebration. Christmas Eve was spent at the abode of one of Mrs. Geek’s step-siblings, where we had dinner and then a Secret Santa gift exchange. Mrs. Geek and I volunteered to bring some appetizers and dessert, and much of the afternoon earlier in the day was spent making two separate dips — a toasted onion and garlic dip, and a baked artichoke and green chili dip. For dessert, we pulled out a sinful New York-style cheesecake that was hiding, completely untouched, in the back of our refrigerator since my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I thought the evening was a very pleasant success.

Following that, Mrs. Geek and I headed off to Midnight Mass. It was full of pageantry, starting from the chanted reading from the Roman Martyrology announcing the birth of Christ, through all the verses of several Christmas carols, and to the 50 person procession that ended the service. It was also rather long with Mrs. Geek and I not arriving home until just after 2am.

Mrs. Geek and I both slept rather fitfully until about 8:30 Christmas morning — me because of some of the wine I had with dinner, and Mrs. Geek because of the Yoga Booty Ballet routine she did earlier in the day on Sunday. We then got up and opened presents. Mrs. Geek got me some cigar-themed gifts this year; I don’t smoke cigars often, but I like them occasionally. Since I don’t smoke them much (and never in the house), Mrs. Geek thought it a good idea for me to have a humidor and a cigar lighter. I got her a Swarovski Mickey Mouse brooch.

We spent the early afternoon getting our heads clear of cobwebs, and then headed off to spend Christmas Day with various branches of Mrs. Geek’s family. We stopped at cousin K.’s and her husband G.’s house first, where we were forced to wait on their doorstep for five minutes because we caught them just as they were returning home from a visit with some of G.’s relatives in town. It was good to see them, as we hadn’t seen them for some time. It was particularly interesting for me to talk to G. He’s a construction contractor, and I discover that he has some experience building computer machine rooms and data centers. Since part of what I do for Company O. these days involves evaluating computer hardware for use in one of Company O.’s major data centers, it was very interesting to hear his take on some of these problems I have to deal with.

After that, we head over to dinner with Mrs. Geek’s Dad, Step-mom, and Step-siblings and their families. Dinner was a delicious three bone prime rib roast that I got to carve. As I knew that a number of fellow whisky enthusiasts were in attendance, I brought a few of my more recent acquisitions to share: a 16 year old non-chill filtered Glenlivet, a 14 year old Scapa, and a 23 year old American rye. Both of the Scotch drams were well-received, but the rye was a little too unfamiliar for my fellow drinkers. With all the good fellowship, eating, drinking, and then cleaning up, Mrs. Geek and I did not leave until after midnight.

The one event that marred the evening occurred over dinner. When I asked for a second helping of roast beef, Mrs. Geek’s Step-mom gave me a short tirade about how she thinks that both her husband and I both eat far too fast. She worries that we can’t really be enjoying our food, and that we’re destroying our digestion by eating so quickly. I offered an awkward apology, saying that I was sorry if the way I ate offended her, but that I really did enjoy what I ate a great deal, and that I was always a fast eater, even as a small child. One of Mrs. Geek’s Step-sisters interceded, saying that her Mom often wants to mother the whole world and that she only means it in a kindly way. I know that… but I’m a 38 year old adult with reasonable table manners, and I don’t feel that how fast I eat should upset anyone… much less be able to change it. Mrs. Geek tells that the same Step-sister stepped in and read her mother the riot act for being way out of line… but the whole episode still leaves me with a lingering bad aftertaste in my mouth for what was otherwise a very enjoyable evening.

holiday stresses

As I previously mentioned, my sister and her husband are (at the very least) separating. Though Mrs. Geek and I are not privy to all the details, it appears that my brother-in-law will be moving out of my parents house sometime around the first of the year. I feel sad for my sister that this had to happen, but I also think it to be for the best.

This inevitably raises questions about gift giving for the holidays. Do Mrs. Geek and I get something for my brother-in-law for Christmas? Do we not? We had been operating on the idea that we would not, but got rather skittish yesterday and considered sending along an Amazon gift card.

Just to cover our bases, I decided to call home yesterday and ask my Mom what we should do. Her answer was very telling about the level of stress in that household right now. She said that she got him something, but advised that we hold off getting something until we find out how Christmas Day goes.

How Christmas Day goes??? That is the kind of worry that no one needs. My sister and brother-in-law have been continuously dating/engaged/married for fourteen years now. That my brother-in-law cannot be counted upon to be gracious about a Christmas gift after all that time… well, it’s sad, so sad, that the holidays this year all come down to “let’s find out how Christmas Day goes”?

I can’t wait for my parents to get here on Wednesday. They tell me that this trip was their present to each other this year. That speaks volumes about where things are in their household. I hope they can come out here and just rest and enjoy themselves for a while. This will likely be a rather low key visit. I hope it will be a good one. If anyone needs some time away from holiday stress, it’s them.

my computer and I sometimes don’t get along during holidays

Relations between me and my computer have been decidedly peaceful since my last computer upgrade in August. I’ve been enjoying the worry-free part of having a powerful, efficient computer at home. However, the approach of the holidays brings a certain sense of unease.

My computer and I don’t always get along over the holidays. Maybe it is the fact that I sometimes get new computer hardware that install while I am on vacation. Maybe it is because I finally have the time to putter around and look into some of the things about my computer that fall into the mildly annoying category during the rest of the year. I just seem to associate the holidays with computer problems.

My computer is adding to this sense of unease. I put a CD into my computer’s CD-RW drive the other night and then clicked some button that caused Windows XP to stop recognizing the drive. When I tilted the computer on its side and opened it up to investigate this along with some whirring noises that one of the fans is likely making, the hard drive briefly stopped responding and started making a clicking noise that always makes me shudder. Putting the computer back into its normal, upright orientation restored the drive to regular operation and the CD-RW drive started responding again.

But how long will this last? Through the holidays, I hope.

christmas came a little early this year…

Christmas arrived a little early for me this year. I’ve been helping Empress Eve and Dave3 with their webzine theGeekZine for most of the last year with an article or three, a bit of technical advice on web server performance, and the occasional aesthetic opinion. Mostly, I’ve been in it for the comradeship and the fun, and it’s been a great ride so far. Dave and Eve surprised me a couple days ago though when they told me that a package would be arriving for me today. When it did arrive, I couldn’t resist opening it… and was blown away. Thanks guys! It was a fun ride in 2006, and I hope that 2007 will be even better!

Meanwhile, I suppose I should finally post that picture of this year’s Christmas tree: The goofy halo behind the tree topper is us shining a flashlight on the crystal in an attempt to make sparkly refraction patterns on the walls and ceiling. Unfortunately, the camera flash takes out most of the effect.

And oh yes, don’t worry elgan I understand that an expensive Christmas tree is sometimes a thing you have to do… In the Land Of My Birth, my parents went out and got a “u-cut” 6-8′ tree for about $30 American. Prices out here are ghastly… it must be the cost of real estate. It’s $500K for 650 square foot condo around here and a $90 tree must seem like NOTHING in comparison. Yeah, that’s it.