Monday, October 22, 2012

Recommendation: Haggis

So as I may have mentioned, I just spent a year in Scotland, and I'm pretty sure it's a crime to spend that long in that country without trying haggis. Actually, I'm going to go as far as to say that it's a crime to spend any length of time in Scotland without trying haggis. Haggis is like their national food. It is number one of the list of things that are quintessentially Scottish. And here's the thing: it's great. If you don't know what haggis is, maybe it's best I don't tell you, but what I want to get across in this post is that "what it is" is not really important. What is important is that it's food, it's safe, it's delicious, and it's not at all what you would expect. 

Ok, to put it bluntly, haggis is the throwaway parts of the sheep minced with oatmeal, onion, and spices, and then cooked in a broth for several hours. Traditionally it was cooked inside a sheep's stomach lining, but nowadays it's generally just cooked inside sausage casing, which is appropriate, because I tend to describe haggis as being similar to sausage without the casing. It is usually served with "neeps and tatties," which are turnips and potatoes, mashed and sometimes mixed together. Then atop it all must be poured whisky sauce, a gravy made from Scotch whisky. 

People "fear" haggis for a number of reasons, most of them based on the "what haggis is" issue. But the simple truth of haggis is that if no one told you what it was, you would likely never know. Because of the mincing, the structure of the various sheep parts is indeterminate, and the addition of all the spices changes the flavor completely. Add in the neeps, tatties, and whisky sauce and what remains is a fantastic pile of flavor. Yes, I call it a pile because I heartily recommend just mixing it all together and going to town. 

I've had a number of different haggises (haggi?), and they were all wonderful. I've also had haggis in a number of different forms, including fried haggis balls and a haggis burger, both of which were also delicious. Below you will find two examples of some traditional haggis that I ate. The one with the entire gravy boat full of whisky sauce was better, for obvious reasons. 

So in conclusion and in summary, if you ever go to Scotland, eat some haggis. At least take a bite. It won't kill you, and you may discover something you enjoy. Which is pretty much my philosophy on all foods: at least give it a try; you might like it. And if you don't, I'm sorry. Drink some water and go find a deep-fried Mars bar. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Olympic Fever

Well, dear readers, the Olympics are long-since over, but I wanted to share a bit about my "Olympic Experience." As I may have mentioned before, I was in the UK for the last year, so I was there when all that was going on. Thankfully, I was up in Edinburgh, mostly away from the craziness surrounding London. While I am sure that actually being in London for the Olympics was very cool, I'm glad that I didn't try to venture into that mess.

BUT I did want to participate in the Olympics to some extent. I posted last October about getting to hold the Olympic Torch, which was pretty great.

As the Olympics started heating up this summer, I got to have two more run-ins with that most patriotic of sporting events. First, the Olympic Torch was run through Edinburgh right past my dorm complex. Early of a June morning, my friends and I lined up to see it come by. It was pretty magical.

They weren't handing out American flags.

The advance guard

Here she comes!

Here she is!

There she goes!

There she's gone!

For those of you who have never witnessed the torch relay, there were lots of police and Olympic cars driving in front of and behind her (the torchbearer), and she was followed by a bus full of runners for later in the relay. These runners are not, as I would have liked to believe, responsible for waiting at a pre-designated place so that she can run toward them in slow motion and hand off the torch in a dramatic Chariots of Fire-like scene. Instead, they just follow in a bus until their turn. Oh well. It was still pretty cool to see.

Even more exciting, though, was getting to see an actual Olympic event. And I didn't even have to go to London! Thanks to the nature of Olympic soccer (football, for the rest of the world), they needed to do some of the preliminary games simultaneously, so several matches were at Hampton Stadium in Glasgow. So I saw one of the first events of this Olympics, when the US Women's Soccer team battled France. They won. Also, spoiler alert, the US Women won the gold in that event. So yeah, it was pretty awesome to be in the same stadium as the greatest women's soccer team in the world.

Sweet drumline on the way to the stadium

Impossible picture to get without having children in it


National anthems!

US Women dominating!
(Actually, they gave up two goals in the 
first half, but they made a very nice comeback.)

Honestly, I never feel so patriotic as I do during Olympic season, and watching the Olympics whilst living in another country really turned my patriotism up to eleven. What Americans living in America probably don't realize is that they are rarely called up to show their national pride. When you live abroad, you really have to overcompensate.

Or maybe that's just me. In fact, I was feeling so patriotic during my year in Scotland that I seriously considered buying these shoes:

While I, of course, still love America, I have since dialed it back. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yo! Sushi

I need to tell you about an awesome sushi place I discovered in the UK. It's called Yo! Sushi, and I swear I'm not being paid by the company to plug them; I just love this place so so much.

What I like to call "conveyor belt sushi" is not uncommon to the UK and other European countries. It came from Japan and has really caught on. Why it hasn't really made it to the US yet, I'm not sure, because it's the greatest thing. Here's the deal: you walk into the restaurant and get immediately seated (in my experience). There are a few booths, but most of the seats are set up bar-style at a circular(ish) counter. In the middle of the circle are the chefs, producing all of the dishes as you watch, and all the way around the counter is a conveyor belt. As the chefs finish making dishes, they set them on the conveyor belt, which then brings the food to within grabbing distance of you, the diner.

And the best part is, you can start grabbing and eating things the second you sit down! There is a menu in case you want hot food, or if the thing you want isn't going around at the moment, but it's basically the pinnacle of convenience. Everything you could need is within reaching distance: glasses, water dispensers (both still and sparkling), chopsticks, wasabi, soy sauce, little bowls. If you need a waiter for any reason (like to order a non-water drink or get a refill of your endless bowl of miso soup), there is a call button. You don't have to wait for them to come check on you! Then, when you're done, the waiter counts up how many of each color plate you have. Each color is worth a different amount, so it's probably good to check on those prices before you start grabbing only gray plates or something.

I could drop so much money at this place, just gorging myself on Japanese food. And I would! And I have! Because apart from the novelty of it, the food is really really good. Sigh. It's just... it's just... great, you guys. I wish I could tell you to go out and get some right now, but unless you live in the UK, I guess you can't. I can't, and that makes me very sad. I went there on my birthday this year. I also went there for my last dinner in Edinburgh. It means a lot to me. So if you ever have a chance to try Yo! Sushi, do. And cherish it. Cherish it!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sabrina's Chickpea Salad

When I was in the south of France back in June (did I blog about that? Hmm...), my friends and I stayed in a luxury mobile home with a kitchenette, so we ended up cooking most of our meals to save money. It was very fun, and we made many delicious things, but one of the dishes that really jumped out at me and begged to be remembered (no offense to the other wonderful things we made) was my friend Sabrina's recipe for "Chickpea Salad." It's super easy and super delicious.

Here it is, with the measurements I used when I made it a couple of days ago:

  • 3 cans of chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 a red onion, diced
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Dried basil 
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and then eat it. See? Simple. The olive oil and basil I just eyeballed. And with all of these ingredients, you should just play around to get the taste you want. You can also used dried mint instead of dried basil. I've never done it, but Sabrina says it's good. And presumably, you could also try it with fresh herbs. Plus, it's one of those things that's even better the second day, after all the flavors have had time to coalesce. Yum!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip

Generally, I would not even entertain the idea of vegan foods. I like animal products waaaaay too much. But I have a friend who has been vegan for over a year now, and while my other friends and I make sure to mock him constantly, I recently began to think that it might behoove me to find some vegan recipes so that he can eat things that I make.

We have a lot of artichoke hearts in my house right now that my mom bought as snacks. I know, eating artichoke hearts as a snack seems weird, but they're really tasty, and I would totally snack on them, except that I can't stand the texture. It's like chewing on rubber. Or styrofoam. Either way, it's awful and I can't do it. But I thought, maybe if I puree it with other things I could enjoy the taste of artichoke without all the pesky feeling-like-I-would-rather-die-than-chew-on-that-rubbery-crap. So artichoke dip! And then wanting to make something my vegan friend could enjoy, I began searching for vegan recipes. I found this one.

  • About 1 cup of artichoke hearts from a jar, drained
  • 3 cloves of garlic (or less, I just love garlic)
  • 1 can of white beans, drained
  • Less than 1/4 cup sesame seeds (like maybe 1/5 cup? Just eyeball it)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup steamed spinach, chopped 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian seasoning, to taste
Put the sesame seeds in a bowl, then put the beans on top of them. (This is to keep the sesame seeds from flying everywhere when you get to the next step.) Using an immersion blender (or I guess a regular blender if you don't have an immersion one) blend them until mostly smooth. Then add all the other ingredients and blend until as smooth as you want. I'm all about these easy recipes lately. Also, I discovered that if you don't add the artichokes and spinach, you essentially get homemade hummus, which is also great.

Oh! But be sure that all of your ingredients are fresh and/or haven't turned. The first batch of this I made was with sesame seeds that were about two years past their expiration date and they made the whole thing awful. I had to dump it and start again with fresh sesame seeds. The same goes for your oil and artichokes, as these things sometimes stay around in a cupboard for a while. I served the final (not expired) product with blue corn chips. It went over very well. Even with the vegans!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Things "Fall Apart" (But That's a Good Thing)

Like many humans, I am constantly in pursuit of fame and fortune. In the absence of fame, I will take the fortune. Actually, forget the fame. Fame's too exhausting. I want fortune and power. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, my point is that this pursuit it hard. Sure, I'd like to say I'm going to achieve these things on my own merit. I'm certainly trying. But if that doesn't pan out, I plan to ride the coattails of my more talented friends. I've spent several blog posts promoting Julie Slonecki, but now I would like to turn to another impressive friend I have, whom I hope will take me with him when he inevitably joins the 1%.

Joe Cruz does all sorts of impressive things, but the particular thing I want to tell you about is creating this app, just released in the Apple app store:

As this screenshot clearly shows, the app is called Fall Apart, and it's a very fun physics engine-based puzzle game. Basically, you have these blocks that you want to get rid of while making sure your trophy doesn't hit the ground. This screen explains it pretty well: 

The blocks are all subject to the laws of physics, and as you go on, you get new blocks that react in different ways, making the game trickier but also hella fun. The scoring system is based on your ability to keep the trophies up, as well as how quickly you complete the level. 

It's a really well-designed game, and I'm not just saying that because Joe is my friend. The graphics are charming, the physics engine works great, and the puzzles are challenging but totally solvable (I know, I've seen him do all of them). Plus, you can't really tell in this picture, but that little 2D sheep hops around in the background, and it's adorable! I could watch that sheep all day! There are also two other stages that look totally different, but I don't want to spoil them for you.

What I'm saying is, if you have an iDevice (or possibly an Android, I'm not sure), you really should get this game. It's only $0.99, and I truly believe it's worth it to support a very talented up-and-coming app designer. This is a great debut app and certainly not the last we will see of Mr. Cruz. 

And with any luck at all, he will make millions and then lend me like 20 bucks. Fortune and power (and maybe a little fame) here I come!