Friday, June 27, 2008

MY OCD Pays Off

I read an interesting post this morning from Matt Harrison. He was trying to use pushd and popd in a shell script and they weren't working. This seemed odd to me: pushd and popd are both shell built-ins in bash.

The answer that he found was interesting. His distro of choice seems to be Ubuntu, which uses something called "dash" as its default (system) shell instead of bash. In fact, they even set up /bin/sh as a symlink to /bin/dash, whereas most distros have that symlink pointing to /bin/bash. I don't think I ever noticed dash before because when I set up a system, I always make sure to set bash as my default login shell.

I run shell scripts all the time, and I use pushd and popd on a regular basis. I've never had a problem. That's because I'm running bash, right? Well, that's part of it. But there's something else that I do that in my small experience seems to be abnormal in the shell scripting world. The tops of all of my scripts start with this line:


The vast majority of shell scripts that I see lately start with this line:


If I used /bin/sh like everybody else seems to, then I would have discovered Matt's pushd/popd issue a lot sooner. As it turns out, dash doesn't have pushd and popd as built-ins. And from a quick glance on my system, they're not included on the default Ubuntu install. But since I specify /bin/bash, which has those commands built in, I've never had an issue.

Why do I specify /bin/bash in the first place? Common practice is to use /bin/sh, which I suspect is more for historical reasons than anything else. /bin/sh actually refers to the Bourne shell, as opposed to bash, which is the Bourne Again Shell (get it? it's funny!). From everything that I've heard, the original Bourne shell has never shipped with Linux.

Since I know I'm using bash and not Bourne, I specify bash. I'm anal. I'm obsessive compulsive. If being a geek didn't do that to me, going to cooking school finished the job. I've had students ask me why I type vim instead of vi when editing a file. The simple answer is, because I'm using vim, not vi. While most distros set up an alias to run vim when typing in vi, not every distro does so. I don't want any surprises.

Shortcuts are nice, but are you doing something because it's easier, because it's faster, because "that's how it's always been done", or because you've consciously decided that it's the most effective way to do it? It's something to think about.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chicken and Fruit Terrine

Rarely do I get stranger looks from people then when I mention terrines. And it's a shame, really. Terrines were one of my favorite things to make back in cooking school. I've been told that they're big in Europe, but having never been there, I'll just have to take the chefs' word for it.

What is a terrine, exactly? Julia Child referred to it as "a luxurious cold meatloaf". It's not a bad description really, at least for our American minds. I tell people that it's a really fancy sausage, which is also kind of true, but it doesn't really tell the whole story.

First, it helps to know what a forcemeat (aka "farcemeat") is. If you take a bunch of lean meat and fat, and then process it together until it forms an emulsion (meaning you get two things to stick together that don't normally want to stick together), you will have a forcemeat. Technically, sausage is a type of forcemeat.

There are varying degrees of texture in a forcemeat, from coarse to smooth and silky. A salami or andouille are a little coarser, while a pate is very fine. Now if you take this forcemeat, put it in an earthenware mold (called a terrine), cover it with a tight lid and then bake it and cool it before serving, you would have a pate en terrine, or just terrine.

Truth is, the earthenware mold may be traditional, but it's not strictly necessary. I actually own a couple of different terrine molds, one triangle-shaped and one U-shaped. The thing is, if you had a terrine mold laying around, you and I wouldn't be having this discussion; you would be skipping straight to the recipe. Don't worry, for you normal people out there, you can use a regular old bread loaf pan.

A traditional terrine will be meat-based, but there are of course non-traditional variations out there. One of the prettiest and most delicious-looking terrines I ever saw was almost entirely comprised of vegetables, with a layer of goat cheese, and a bit of aspic holding it together. Vegetarians are welcome to use agar instead of aspic. Vegans can leave out the goat cheese. I have also attempted a few dessert terrines in the past, all of which were tasty, but none of which were pretty.

The terrine I show you today will be more or less traditional. I decided to augment the chicken with a little pork fat, to boost the flavor and maintain moisture. I think that a strictly traditional terrine would only have chicken or pork + pork fat, but not both. But hey, it's my terrine, and I'm gonna do it my way. I also love mixing sweet and savory, so I added a couple of different types of dried fruit.

Dried fruit is a pretty classic internal garnish, but I thought I would spike the flavor by soaking it in juice first. Since I was using dried cherries, I went with cherry juice (okay, technically carbonated cherry juice). Traditionally you would probably use wine, sherry, port, some fruit Liqeur, etc., but I thought cherry juice would go well with this.

While the fruit was soaking, I diced up a couple of pounds of chicken thighs and a half pound of salt pork. You can use fat back if you can find it (I couldn't), but keep in mind the significant difference in saltiness. Both the chicken and pork were pretty cold having just been thawed (there was even a little ice still), and that's good. You won't see this in the recipe at the bottom, but you want to keep the meat ice cold as it goes through the grinder. There's a lot of friction happening in there, and you actually run the risk of prematurely cooking some of the meat. If you think the grinder is running too hot, feel free to pour a little ice water in with the meat.

Tossing the spices and other flavorings with the meat before grinding will help integrate the flavor into everything. Since the dried fruit is a garnish, you want to wait until after grinding the meat before folding it in. See how much juice the dried fruit soaked up? Pour in the remaining juice too, it'll help with flavor.

This is a good time to check for seasoning. Even I would never recommend tasting the seasoning on raw meat, and it really wouldn't give you a good idea of the cooked flavor anyway. It's much better to take just a little of the mixture and cook it in a saute pan before tasting it. Try not to brown it, since the final product will also not be browned, and you don't want to throw off the flavor.

When you've decided you like the flavor, go ahead and move it into a prepared terrine mold. I prepare mine by spraying with cooking spray, lining it with foil, and then spraying it again. But that's just me. Scoop it all in, making sure to get everything in the corners. When you have it all in, go ahead and smooth it on top with a rubber spatula. If you have extra... well, just saute it now. It'll be a nice little Scooby snack. Fold the foil over the top to completely cover the meat.

The biggest problem with my commercial terrine molds is that they don't fit well onto oven racks. They don't fit on cookie sheets or half-size sheet pans either. They do fit onto full-size sheet pans, but those don't fit into residential ovens. Just do your best, but definitely make sure you have a sheet of foil on the rack underneath; stainless steel molds like mine aren't necessarily waterproof, and some of the juice will leak.

Bake at 300F for about an hour, until the center reaches 165F. A probe thermometer is best for this, of course. You can go ahead and pull it a few degrees early and let it rest on the counter for a bit before moving to the fridge. Yes, you can eat it hot. But that's not very traditional, so go ahead and chill it for a few hours.

When you're ready to serve, go ahead and slice it into about 1/4-inch slices. A good terrine is good all by itself, but I wouldn't rule out serving smaller pieces with crackers. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

Chicken and Fruit Terrine

1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1/3 cup dried cherries, diced
1/2 cup cherry juice
2 pounds dark-meat chicken
8 oz salt pork, rind removed
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp chile powder
2 tsp chipotle Tabasco
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

* Preheat oven to 300F.
* Soak the diced fruit in the cherry juice. Set aside for at least one hour.
* Cut the chicken and pork into 1/2-inch cubes.
* Toss the meat and the rest of the ingredients together.
* Process the meat mixture in a meat grinder.
* Fold in dried fruit and fruit juice.
* Move everything into a prepared terrine (or loaf) pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.
* Bake at 300F for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the terrine reaches an internal tempurature of 165F.
* Remove from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before moving to the refrigerator to chill.
* Cut into slices and serve cold.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Today's Thing To Try

I was making a grilled cheese sandwich, I spotted a jar of marmalade, and thought, "what the heck?" Turned out pretty good, actually. Just a layer of marmalade in with the melted cheddar. You only live once, right?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Basics

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'm a big fan of chefs such as Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne and Ferran Adria. They've brought a lot of innovations to the culinary world lately, through something that is frequently mistakenly referred to as "molecular gastronomy". I think a lot of these types of chefs would prefer to think of it as something else, such as "experimental cooking". However, experimental though it may be, each of them still understands the importance of the basics.

I bought a frozen duck a few days ago, and I finally got around to thawing and butchering it. I really got it for the leg meat, and haven't really decided yet what to do with the breasts. But when I had it all broken down, I was left with a bunch of duck fat and an empty-looking carcass. Normally I would have rendered down the fat, but I didn't have any plans for it, and didn't want it hanging around my kitchen until it spoiled. But I did have an idea for the carcass. I made stock.

I didn't make a "proper" stock. I didn't weigh out my bones or my mirepoix, and I didn't have any bay leaves or parsley stems around. I ended up using just whole peppercorns and dried lemongrass for my aromatics. I didn't even bother taking photos. I ended up with a pretty decent stock. It was nice practice. I'm hoping to do a write-up of a proper stock in the near future.

Later, I decided that a nice French onion soup would be nice for dinner. I had enough onion laying around, but no beef stock or broth. But I did have fresh duck stock, and some packaged chicken stock. Not classical, but I didn't care. At one point I remarked to my wife that I hoped it turned out okay. She seemed a little incredulous that I would be making French onion soup with no recipe if I'd never made it before (true story). But I already knew how to make it. It's a classical preparation, and I watch a lot of Food Network. It turned out pretty much exacly like I thought it would. Again, no photos. Sorry guys. I'll have to make more next week and photograph it this time. It's a sacrafice that I'm willing to make.

Maybe it's time for me to get back to basics for a while. In October it will have been 5 years since leaving cooking school, and I feel a bit rusty. I'm hoping to have enough time next week to make another batch of stock, and photograph it this time. Maybe I'll move onto mother sauces. It's been at least a year or two since I made a Hollandaise. I might even do it properly. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fedora 9

I had to install a computer today, and I thought that I would try out Fedora 9 while I was at it. I'm currently running Ubuntu 7.10 on my notebook, and I spend a lot of time in RHEL 5.1 in class, so that's what I'm used to. The latest Fedora shouldn't be that different, should it?

It is. Overall, I'm liking it. But there are just a few annoyances that I've come across, mostly cosmetic. Keep in mind that I've only been running it for a few hours, and that I haven't begun to play with everything that it comes with. This is just a first impression. Also, I'm running in Gnome, mostly because KDE makes me want to do bad things with my kitchen knives.

Logging In
I can't say I care for the default login screen. It shows me the names of each non-system user on my system and has me click on one before asking for the password. I'm a big fan of making users that aren't supposed to be on the computer guess which users are on the computer. If I wanted this kind of lax security for logging in, I would start thinking about Windows. If anybody can tell me how to change the login manager, please let me know.

Right-Click Menu
When I right-click the desktop, I want to see an option to open a new terminal window. This is one of the things that I love about RHEL and hate about Ubuntu. On my notebook I've already added the option myself. It looks like I'll be having to do that again here. I've already added links to Gnome Terminal and Nautilus to my panel. Firefox was already there. I almost never use the Applications menu, outside of those three programs, so it saves me a lot of time.

This is my first experience with Firefox 3. So far, I wish I was running FF2 again. It takes forever to load and I can't get Adobe Flash to install (any help here?). I don't know what keys I hit, but when I was loading Blogger, my other browser window and all of the tabs in it disappeared, seemingly without asking first.

Initial Firewall/SELinux Configuration
I'm used to the RHEL installer asking me if I want the firewall enabled or disabled, and whether I want SELinux to be enforcing or permissive by default. I'm not incredibly worried about SELinux because the default is Enforcing, which is fine with me. However, I'm a big fan of setting my own firewall rules, and even Red Hat admits in their classes that the rules that they set for an "enabled" firewall don't play nicely with custom user rules. I would liked to have set it to disabled during the First Boot program, rather than having to go into system-config-firewall later to do it.

Package Updater
Fedora 9 isn't that old yet. Even I realize that software updates are common, even in Linux, even when a distro release is brand-spanking-new. But the initial software update took somewhere around an hour on DSL, and when I added the rawhide repository later (I didn't get it plugged into the Internet until after the install), it managed to find another 407 updates for me. Listing the updates takes forever, and the package descriptions suck. Come to think of it, the package descriptions sucked in the installer too. I plan to wait until I go to bed tonight to start the updater, and let it run overnight.

I don't have any bluetooth hardware on this system. In fact, the only thing I own that has any bluetooth support at all is my cell phone, and I don't use it. Why isn't the installer smart enough to detect a lack of bluetooth and forget about installing anything for it? And why, when I made sure to remove every check from every box in the installer that said bluetooth, did I still have to disable a program running it after First Boot?

Other than that, I'm currently very happy with this install. Ubuntu feels increasingly foreign to me lately, and it's nice to have the Red Hat commands that I'm comfortable with. I've played with the newest versions of things like system-config-printer, and I like them. I even liked what little I saw of system-config-firewall while I was disabling it. I'm looking forward to playing with Upstart. I also have Perl 5.10 installed, which is nice. I'm going to give F-Spot another chance, but I expect to kick it off and go back to gThumb just as quickly as before.

Hey, I'm curious, is there any way to get Quicktime running on F9? Does anybody have any experience with that? I seem to remember having it installed previously in Linux, but I remember a lot of things that may or may not have happened. I don't plan on using it personally, but my wife has mandated that it be available to her somewhere.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Food Storage Wiki

Jayce^ posted a commentary this morning about my food storage post. Jayce is a self-proclaimed survivalist junkie, and food storage and emergency preparedness are his forte.

He had a lot to say about my comments, and he certainly didn't agree with everything I said. His insight into a lot of these products was invaluable. I definitely recommend you check it out. I also thought that several of the other comments on that post were interesting, especially Harley's.

It all reminded me of a conversation I had with Goozbach some time ago. We had been thinking about putting up a food storage and emergency preparedness wiki, but I think we got stuck somewhere around coming up with a name. Actually, I doubt that was really what stopped us, I think it mostly had to do with time.

This morning Jayce and I started talking about it again. I tried to get ahold of Gooz, but he was apparently unavailable. We decided to go ahead and put up a wiki. We've already purchased the domains and have installed the MediaWiki software, and we're just working on a framework at this point; some sort of base set of information that we can build from.

It's not ready for public consumption just yet, but we'll let you know when it is. In the meantime, if you're interested in helping out, start thinking about what kinds of information you can help add.

.htaccess files in MediaWiki

I just did yet another installation of MediaWiki, and once again I have a bunch of .htaccess files laying around in the wiki directory. Since I don't believe in .htaccess files unless they're absolutely necessary, I decided to clean them up. Hopefully this will help other admins that want to do the same.

Here are the files that I found after the install using find . -name ".htaccess":


Each of these looks like a directory that we want to keep people out of. And, amazingly enough, each file only has a single line in it: Deny from all. This would normally be a good thing, but it does have a problem: the .htaccess file itself.

I've been very careful to set AllowOverride None in my httpd.conf file. This means that .htaccess files won't even be used. I also don't allow directory indexes by default, so this isn't an issue if somebody types in one of those directories manually. But if they type the name of the file by hand, they can still get to it.

It's tedius, but easy enough to fix. Just paste these lines into your httpd.conf, making sure of course to fix the paths to fit your needs:

<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/math>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/includes>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/maintenance>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/maintenance/archives>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/languages>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
<Directory /var/www/html/mediawiki/tests>
Order allow,deny
Deny from all

This will take care of the access control that those files were supposed to provide without having the performance and security compromises that those would have caused.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The "Right" Way

An interesting article made its way into my feed reader this morning. Michael Ruhlman was discussing responses to a recent article in the New York Times about recipe "dealbreakers".

The article focused on the things that we see in recipes that make us want to skip them and move onto the next step. The underlying theme of the article seemed to be, "what will a recipe say to you that will make you think it's too hard to try?" As I thought about it, I realized that I had some personal recipe dealbreakers too. As you might have guessed, I read a lot of recipes, mostly found in a variety of Google searches. What kinds of characteristics make me move on?

If a recipe calls for any brand name product, I am unlikely to consider it. If a recipe is poorly written, I will generally move on. If a recipe calls for "margarine or butter", I know that if I actually decide to make the recipe, it will indeed use butter. If a recipe oversimplifies steps that should not be oversimplified, I am unlikely to take it seriously. If a recipe reeks of inexperience (as most online recipes do), I will scoff at it and move on.

There are some recipes that I may spend hours analyzing, even though I know I will probaby never make it, at least the way that was intended. This often is because I respect the chef, or am interested in the technique, and want to understand it further. When a recipe calls for a difficult or expensive piece of equipment, I start wondering how unhappy my wife would be at me if I were to actually purchase or, in some cases, build it. In short, I don't like easy recipes. I like good recipes.

The author of the article refers to Chef Thomas Keller as the "modern king of fussy recipes", whereas Rhulman refers to him as the "master technician". In this case I will refer to Rhulman as "a man who knows what he's talking about" and the NYT writer as "a wimp, unsuited for spending any amount of time in the kitchen". In fact, as I read the anecdotes in this article, one word kept popping into my head to describe each of the cooks mentioned: "wuss".

Is this because I'm sort of elitist, perched atop my pedastal, waiting for the right moment to slander any cook who would dare show less experience than me? Okay, so maybe I'm a little bit elitist. My wife occassionally uses the word "snobbish". In my opinion, I'm a man who likes things done The Right Way. Actually, there are a lot of right ways to do a lot of things. As a Perl programmer, I often repeat the acronym "TMTOWTDI" (pronounced Tim Toady, meaning "There's More Than One Way To Do It"). Indeed, there often is. And what the right way is depends entirely on the situation.

In my class this week, and in fact in most of my classes, we discuss a serious danger that our users often put us in. Linux and Unix guys will know what I mean when I talk about users using "chmod 777" to share a file with others. For the rest of you, this means the file is accessable to the world in every way that a file can be. Anyone that can find it is able to add potentially malicious code to it and then run it, causing untold amounts of hard to the user, system, network, or worse. Why do users do this to us? Because it's the easy way to share files. Even if they know The Right Way, they still want to do things The Easy Way because that's the way they know how to do it. They can't be bothered with understanding why it's so dangerous. Some may even see it as "a bad habit that they'll fix when they have time".

We spent a decent amount of time talking about various right ways to share files, and I even polled my students on their favorites. We discussed various pros and cons of each one, and I ultimately advised my students to consider in each situation which was really the right method to use. After a full lecture that focused on three file sharing methods (FTP, NFS and SMB), I asked my students what they would prefer to use. I then told them that in most situations, I would rather use scp or SFTP, methods which were not covered in the lecture, but which they all were familiar with, and I could see a light turn on in their heads. They agreed that in most situations, that's what they would use too.

In the cooking world, there are various ways to do things that we don't even think about. The NYT article discussed one person who "won't truss" and "won't lard". How many people reading this post even know what trussing or larding means? Let's see, there are a couple of hands up in the corner... yes, Jayce^, I see you. You can sit down. The rest of you? If you want to learn a couple of techniques that will improve your cooking knowledge tremendously, look into trussing and larding. If they are too hard, move on and find something else. But don't knock the rest of us that know how to do it, and know why to do it.

I play with a lot of weird techniques. I'm sure plenty of people see me as weird and eccentric. Well, they do anyway, but I'm specifically referring to these techniques. I'm encouraged by the work of other chefs, real chefs, the pioneers that spend their free time experimenting with ingredients and techniques that are not common. Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller, Wylie Dufresne, Paul Bocuse, the list goes on. These are the avant garde who have brought and who will bring new techniques to help us reanalyze and redefine our cooking methodologies. I'm not saying I will ever be on a list with them. They have something that is in short supply on my resume: restaurant experience. But that won't stop me from trying.

The common thread between each of these pioneers is that they know and have mastered the basics. Without a solid foundation, they know that their work in the kitchen is nothing. Even the recent Pixar film Ratattouie tells us, "anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great". To the NYT writer, you can pretend all you want, but I think you know that until you do what it takes, you will only be a shell of what you seem to pretend to be. For you, I recommend the apple pie at McDonalds. That is the level that you apparently aspire to.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Silicon Valley is Where it's At

I used to watch Carmen Sandiego when I was younger (though certainly not young enough to be watching shows like Carmen Sandiego). At the end the finalist would get to choose anyplace in the continental U.S. to be sent, if he or she finished the last challenge. A lot of kids would say Anaheim, presumably because of Disneyland. I used to say that if it were up to me, I'd choose San Jose, aka, Silicon Valley. At one point it occurred to me, what would I actually do there? It's not like there's a Silicon Valley theme park or anything.

Last year I was going to be teaching in Mountain View the week before Christmas. I tried to use my Skymiles to fly my wife and kid out with me, but there were too many restrictions. Even then, I wondered: what would they actually do out here while I was teaching? At that point, I hadn't spent much time here. Now I've been here enough times to have officially lost count, and I know what I would do.

When I flew out this week, I did not go directly to my hotel. Instead, I decided to spend a few hours of quality time at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. I even borrowed a camera just for the occassion, and since I wasn't used to the camera I ended up snapping about 500 to 600 photos without realizing it was in night vision mode. Most of the photos ended up at least a little blurry. But the tour was fun. I did the full Mansion Tour and the Behind the Scenes Tour. In the first, I learned that Mrs Winchester was a crazy, eccentric old woman who was difficult to work for. She would pay her staff at the end of each day, so that she could hire and fire them at will. She also liked spying on her staff, and had a secret room from which to do so. In the second tour, I discovered that she also made and sold dried fruit (several tons a year), so at least she had a normal hobby too.

When I taught in Santa Clara a few months ago, I took a moment one afternoon after class to visit the Intel Museum, conveniently located within walking distance of my training center. This is the sort of thing that I would have loved in my Carmen Sandiego days, and it was still fun this time around. One of my favorite parts was a marquee that you could type a message on, so long as you didn't mind punching out the letters in binary first and then punching the button to add the letter to the board. My message said "BITE ME". It was interesting and informative, and I wish I'd brought something other than my camera phone with me to take photos.

I tried to get my company to send me to teach in the bay area this year in time to catch the end of the Maker Faire in San Mateo. I think I ended up going to Raleigh, NC instead. I've always been interested in going to this faire, but never more than when I found out about the gathering of steampunk enthusiasts there, almost all people whom I'd been following on their sites and blogs for a good two or three years now.

Fortunately, it looks like at the very least, Jake von Slatt will be attending The California Steampunk Convention in Sunnyvale. Hopefully I'll be able to convince my employer to send me out here to teach a class. With any luck a few more of my favorites will be able to make it there as well.

I have been told that if I can remind him, my boss might be able to send me out to teach in this area in time for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It is said that you can literally smell Gilroy from miles away, because of all of the garlic that they grow there. Just between us, what I'm looking forward to most is the infamous garlic ice cream that I've heard so much about. Okay, Gilroy is actually somewhere around an hour south of San Jose, but that's still pretty close.

Speaking of food festivals, I was dismayed to discover this week that I'd just barely missed Mushroom Mardi Gras in Morgan Hill, on the way to Gilroy. I love just about everything about mushrooms, except actually eating them. I'll leave that to the experts. Still, it would have been fun to check it out and see what they had there.

Of course, would it even be right to visit the bay area without going to Chinatown? The last time I taught in San Francisco, I spent a couple of nights there walking around and trying not to spend more money than I actually had. The closest I had to experiencing any of the food there was my visit to the Empress of China, which does not go on my list of favorite restaurants in the world. I think I may very well have stopped by Subway on the way back to the hotel that night to get some real food. Next time I'll have to stop by one of the little hold in the wall restaurants that the Chinese locals actually go to, and get some real Chinese food.

There's plenty more in the bay area, and one could spend weeks, if not months here just experiencing the area. I feel sorry for all the poor saps that live here and have to work every day, rather than going out and having fun. But then, I'm the sorry sap who doesn't even live here. But at least I can visit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Bag of Lemongrass

It's not that I try to attract strange looks from strangers, but is it wrong to hope that I get some anyway?

My latest experiment involving growing my own lemongrass at home has officially failed. I suspect this is largely due to a lack of watering. When I'm home, I often forget to water my lemongrass, and when I'm on the road, my wife doesn't always remember either. If I want to be able to grow my own lemongrass, this means two things: I need to find another strategy to keep it watered, and I need to find fresh new lemongrass to try to use as a starter.

Fortunately, I'm in Mountain View, CA this week, and I know just the place here to get fresh lemongrass stalks. In fact, I bought some last time I was here, but there were issues. I went to that market on Monday of that week, and they had plenty of lemongrass. Some of it even had shoots at the bulb, perfect for growing. But, having no way to keep it fresh at my hotel room, I decided to return on Friday on my way to the airport, and pick it up then.

On Friday, their stock was greatly diminished, and what was left was all moldy. That's right, every single bulb had mold growing out of the cut area. Unusable. My strategy this week involved visiting the market every day that I'm here, until I find some suitable lemongrass, and then buy it and keep it in a glass of water in my hotel room, and hope that housekeeping doesn't mess with it.

On Monday, I went to the market, and discovered a bounty of beautiful-looking lemongrass, including a stalk with shoots at the end. I bought it on the spot. As I was walking out of the market, I realized that I didn't have anything to keep it in at the hotel. If I had scissors or a knife, which I couldn't really take past the TSA, I could cut the top off of a plastic water bottle and use that. I could use one of the glasses found in my hotel room, but I'm sure housecleaning wouldn't appreciate it.

Fortunately, when I walked into another market down the street, I found some glass tumblers with Crown Royal printed on the front, for only $1.29/ea ($1.40 with tax). A little short, but one would do the job nicely, at least for a week. My plan involves keeping the tumbler next to the window, with the shades open during the day, and a note asking housecleaning not to move my plants or close the shade. On Friday I will empty the glass, bring my lemongrass with me to the training center, put it back in the glass with some water, and let my students enjoy it with me while they take their test. Then I will pat it dry and move it to my suitcase. I have put lemongrass in my suitcase before, and the TSA doesn't seem to mind. What they did mind on that trip was the foot and a half-long salami that I also brought back in the same suitcase, which probably looked like a club in the X-ray. Don't worry, they eventually let me take that home too.

When I left the market with the lemongrass, I didn't have it in a bag. I was just some guy walking down the street with a stalk of lemongrass in his hand. I even went into a bookstore with it and walked around for a while, and nobody seemed to notice. Then when I bought the tumbler, the clerk apparently thought I needed a brown paper bag for it, like one would get at the liquor store. I put the lemongrass in there as well, and walked around with a brown paper bag with lemongrass sticking out of the top. Again, no strange looks, until I decided to get dinner.

People give me a hard time, but even when I'm on the road, I rarely eat out. I usually buy takeout at my restaurant of choice and then bring it back to my hotel to enjoy. I have work to do, and my hotel has an Internet connection. It's as simple as that. So I walked up to a random Thai restaurant and started looking through the menu. The hostess had her podium outside, right next to the menu, and became the first person to ask about my lemongrass.

"What's that? Lemongrass?" She looked Thai, so I figured she would know lemongrass better than me.
"Yeah, it's lemongrass."
"What do you use it for? Cooking?" Do you know a whole lot of other uses for it, lady?
"Yeah, I cook with it."
"What sort of things do you cook with it? Tom yun gun?"
"Well, actually, I make ice cream." This earned me the sort of strange look I expected.
"You make... ice cream with it?"
"Um. Yeah. I make ice cream with ginger and lemongrass. It's really good."

Speaking of which, it's just about time for me to make some of that, isn't it? I haven't made homemade ice cream for a whole. Anyway, I ordered my food, and she had me wait inside for it. While I was waiting, she asked to see my lemongrass, and she commented on how good the condition was.

"Very hard bulb. You have very good lemongrass. If squishy, not good." Good to know. I would have liked to chat with her more about it, but my food arrived. Not the best Thai curry I've ever had, but still quite good.

I brought it all back to the hotel, filled my Crown Royal glass with water, and added the lemongrass. I actually bought a bundle of three stalks. The glass wasn't as short as I expected, but it was still short. I hope my lemongrass will forgive me until I can get it properly set up at home. With luck, I'll be able to get my hydroponic garden working during this next break, which will take care of my watering problems, at least at the forgetfulness level.

My camera isn't feeling too hot these days, but my mother-in-law let me borrow theirs for the week, so I actually took some pictures. Enjoy.