Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mongolian BBQ - Dessert Course

Mongolian barbeque restaurants are becoming more and more popular for their endless possibilities of flavor and texture profiles.

Patrons select ingredients from a raw bar and hand them to employees to stir fry on a large griddle.  Many establishments offer several meat selections usually including chicken, pork, beef, tofu, and a token seafood item.  Noodles are also popular and range from lo mein to yakisoba.  There are lots of vegetables that include go-to stir fry veggies -  bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, baby corn - but also offer some more adventurous items - bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and cabbage.

Sauce bars are where the really creative stuff happens.   Most places recommend using 5-6 ladles of any combination of sauces for a single bowl of ingredients.  Venues have in-house versions of classic sauces - teriyaki, Thai peanut, and sweet and sour, to name a few - but also have unique offerings all their own.  Add some basic broths and oils, and you have a million different options for your sauce!  (Actually, HuHot has closer to 24 factorial, or 6.20448402 × 1023, if I remember my formulas correctly.)

The options are unlimited!  You will wish your stomach was unlimited when faced when going through the buffet!   Mongolian barbeque restaurants in the San Antonio area are limited to  HuHot and a few recent openings of Genghis Grill.  Hands down the best Mongolian barbeque place I've been to was Fire+Ice in Boston. 

With so many choices, it's easy to let your eyes get bigger than your stomach.  Most of the time you won't have room for dessert.  The offered dessert menu doesn't impress with items like an Attila the Hun themed cheesecake.  You're going to want to save room for this stir fry dessert!  It's simple, fresh, and a very light way to end a normally heavy meal. 

Grilled Pineapple and Coconut
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut  (Look for it at the toppings end of the bar!)
- 1 cup pineapple chunks 

Sauces, one ladle of each: 
- teriyaki sauce
- sweet and sour sauce
- lime juice
- sesame oil

Extra toppings
- more shredded coconut
- minced raw peanuts

Combine all ingredients and sauces in a bowl.  Let the guys grill it up for you.  Top the grilled pineapples and coconut with some peanuts for crunch and more coconut for an extra kick.  You're going to want to pass this around the table, if your dining partners have any room left!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recent Reads: Twenties Girl and Beastly

Sophie Kinsella is the writer of the popular book Confessions of a Shopaholic, another book I really loved. Twenties Girl follows Lara as she is haunted by her great aunt Sadie who convinces her to find a necklace of high personal value.  In the process, Lara discovers much more about her deceased relative and about herself than she originally bargained for.

In Twenties Girl, Kinsella uses the same tone of a twenty-something woman that I really identified with in Shopaholic.  It made the book real and personable for me.  I'm pretty sure I'm the target demographic, so maybe it won't work as well for others.

It was a really good read - some fluff that I knocked out in a weekend.  I wasn't expecting the warm fuzzies after finishing it.  All the twenties gadgets and products used by women of the era to accomplish the unique style were quite intriguing.  Once Lara got over her complaining, her drive was quite admirable.

I would recommend this book to any woman who likes contemporary adult fiction. Try reading it while indulging in a bubble bath!

Beastly by Alex Flinn is a modern retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, set in New York City and told from the Beast's perspective.  This young adult novel is another fast and easy read.

The plot is a given, so the book shows the Beast's metamorphosis as he deals with his infliction.  The Beast acquires the library that impresses the girl during his grieving process.  He spends hours a day reading in or watching passersby from the top floor of an isolated abode. Some of the titles that are mentioned feel more like name dropping than actual allusions - The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, etcetera, ad nauseum.  Roses become an obsession for the Beast to the point that he builds his own greenhouse so that he can have fresh flowers even in the winter.  Overall, a good read, but it immediately went into my "to donate" pile.

This retelling is being picked up for a film to release in March of next year.  It is set up for a new teen heart-throb to take center stage,  Alex Pettyfer.  In my opinion, Alex is much better looking and deserves the idealizing to come more than Robert Pattinson.  Mary-Kate Olsen stars as the witch, her first feature film since 2004.  Neil Patrick Harris also has a starring role as a blind live-in tutor.  The movie is on my radar and while I don't think I'll be knocking down the doors of a theater with screaming pre-teens, I will probably sneak into a late show.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fleet Feet Sunrise 10K Race Report

Distance: 10K
Goal Time: 1:17:30-1:28:30
Actual Time: 1:26:32 (13:55 min/mi)

This was my second time to do this particular event, and their third time hosting it.  I had a couple goals for this particular run: to get in my hill intervals for the week and try out running with my backpack-style hydration pack.

The run part was hard. For some reason, running outside during this time of year does not feel great.  There's still the ridiculous heat of the summer around, but with some spare humidity thrown in just for fun.  The temperature at the start was 80 degrees with about 80% humidity.  The course goes through Alamo Heights, which is one of the hilliest parts of San Antonio.  I bring your attention to the elevation map below.  The overall difference in elevation is only like 50 meters, but the inclines are pretty steep and quite repetitive.  They definitely began to hurt in the last couple miles.  I ended up doing a bit of run/walking due to the hills. I will definitely need to be hitting up some more hill intervals before the half-marathon. 

I am what they call a "sweaty runner."  I end up caked with salt, head to toe, after my long runs. Add the humidity to that and I sweat even more.  So I tend to imbibe quite a bit of fluids on my runs, more than is held in the dinky little eight ounce bottles that come in the belt-style hydration packs.  For me, the belt style packs tended to require a lot of fidgeting since they tended to ride up and not stay on my hips as intended. Getting the little bottles in and out of the holders was a bit of a pain too. But the backpack-style pack was awesome. There were several others who used Camelbaks at this event, though mine was much bigger the ones I saw. It strapped down pretty tight so that there wasn't much sloshing around. I didn't have to fiddle with it near as much as I did with the belt.  I could carry a whole lot more fluid too. The best part was having the fluids on demand, especially during those hills where I really needed it.  I think that allowed me to knock almost a minute off last year's time (1:27:24).  I think this will do me well for the half-marathon so I don't have to drink the gross Lemon-Lime Cytomax.  I still have yet to master catching my breath while sucking on the tube, but I still have a few weeks to work on that. 

Mission accomplished for this race. I did have some issues earlier this week and didn't get to the gym as often as I should have. There are still twelve weeks until the event, so I think I'm in decent shape. Next week starts the fall semester of classes, so here's hoping that I can manage work, school, training, and my sanity. 

Race Photos, bib 253:  Start, Finish, Finish  
Official Results

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Reading List Has Been Pirated!

My reading list has been pirated by none other than the cunning Brittany (@BLandgrebe).  She so sneakily planted sleeper agents on my bookshelf that came out and attacked me during a lull in my reading.  I can hear her evil laugh now. Perhaps we have similar tastes in fiction, but my pirated reading list has actually benefited me.  I probably wouldn't have picked up either of these books on my own, but now will probably sing their praises to anyone who asks.

Lois Lowry's The Giver was cleverly disguised as a Christmas present.  It took me six months to pick it up and now I can't believe I didn't read it sooner.  It wasn't a grade school reading list item for me like it was for a lot of others I know.  I don't think I would have understood it much when I was younger.  I'm not sure if I really understand it now.  It's the first utopia/dystopia I've read in a long time.  It did start some trains of thought like: differences between people should be recognized and celebrated; the appropriateness of a governing body's interference into the lives of individuals; the benefit of unsheltered experience and pain.   It was a really quick read and very well written.  It's definitely going to remain on my shelf for a long time to come.

The next book, also cleverly disguised as a gift, came later in the spring: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.  When I first received it my reaction was closer to, "Killer unicorns? Um, sure."  Then after finally opening the book and immediately getting into it my reaction was more, "Dude! Killer unicorns!!!" It followed what I call "The Harry Potter Format" wherein a tween/teen discovers a hidden talent, gets sent to a special school to develop said talent, then uses the talent to save the world.  In this case, a bunch of teenage virgin girls get sent to a convent in Rome to learn how to hunt unicorns.  My favorite part was probably the incorporation of Roman mythology and history into the back story.  It got a bit angsty with the pack of hormonal teenage girls at each others throats, but the story line was riveting.  There were some threads that were left unresolved, but there are more books planned in the series, the next of which comes out in September.

The piracy is expected to continue with Shiver by Maggie Steivater, currently on my to-be-read shelf. 

In other unrelated news, does anyone know how to ninja-proof a house?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Missed the McNay Museum

For the life of me I still can't figure out why it took me so long to go back to visit the McNay Museum (@mcnayart).  I haven't been since they opened their new wing in 2008.  It's a fantastic new space that really brings the museum up to date with an incredible amount of room for more collections.  I was also extremely pleased to find out that admission is free for current students.  (Another bonus for attending night classes.)

The Mathews Glass Art exhibit was very neat - art deco glass vases and bowls and things that were absolutely exquisite.  The Janet Lohr exhibit had a Dia de los Muertos feel to it, but it was interesting to see how the final product was created.   And really intriguing was the Gary Lang Dividing Time installation.  It is a projection of moving lines, a real-time version of some of his other works.  It was like seeing each piece being layered on top of each other as the piece evolves.  Of course, the newly acquired Picasso paintings were a must see.  I absolutely loved the current exhibit they have going on now called "Neither Model Nor Muse: Women as Artists." It showed exclusively female artists in several different mediums, even including one done by Ms. McNay herself! 

In the new wing they have a sculpture exhibit that you can actually tweet to @mcnayinfo a certain number and get a piece of trivia about the particular piece!  I totally nerded out with that.  I love learning those little things, and this is a genius way to update the old school cassette tape audio tours.  Granted, they still have a call-in system for some of the other pieces in the other galleries, but I despise talking on the phone, so this was much better suited to me.  The delay on the return message was a little long, but the info was neat enough that I actually went back to the previous pieces.  It also was a kind of electronic notice to not rush through the exhibit too quickly- to take my time to enjoy it and really look at what I'm seeing.  I feel like I appreciated the pieces more when I knew more about them, so for me it greatly added to my enjoyment of the exhibit.  I only wish it were expanded to more of the galleries!  

I loved the new wing and the Twittering.  It felt like the museum got a great update that can make it more accessible to an increasingly techie population.  The only Going to art museums always makes me wish I knew more about art history and theory.  Perhaps then I can understand the artistry more than just feeling moved by beautiful things in a small space.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday News Edition

I have a few pieces of news, none of which merit their own blog post.  So here's the digest version of everything.

  • I just passed 200 miles run in 2010!  The goal for the year is 500, so I'm behind.  But for taking a six week break, I think I'm still in an okay position.  It'll take me about 15 miles per week for the rest of the year to meet the goal, which is still very doable.  It's even more doable when you factor in my training plan for the 2010 Rock'N'Roll San Antonio Half Marathon.  The 15-week plan ranges between 16 and 28 mile weeks.

  • First week of the 2010 RnRSA plan I believe I must call a success. I ran most of the plan, even after the hiatus. Only running 12 miles of the 16 makes me feel a bit disappointed, but it's the most miles per week I've completed since April.  Coming out the other end with no injuries has to be counted as an accomplishment. Here's to next week!  May it be filled with 17 miles including a quality speed interval day.

  • My eyes are paid off! My expensive self-splurge this year was on LASIK surgery, which has been pretty awesome.  Sometimes when my eyes are dry, I can't help the feeling of wanting to take out my contacts.  However, I have gotten over the habit of groping my bedside table for my glasses in the morning.  I think I'll appreciate this more in the years to come.  But for now, I will appreciate that I have no bills for it!  So I've taken care of 80% of my pay-down-debt goal with only 60% of the year gone by. 
  • I'm behind in my movie watching.  Here's the rundown of ones I've seen recently. Loved the A-Team.  In my opinion, a better series remake than Get Smart or StarTrek. Karate Kid was okay, but my favorite part was the credits for the photography and the Justin Bieber/Jaden Smith song.  Inception was freaking awesome, as everyone should know by now.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice was cute, but not as good as I was hoping.  Despicable Me was very funny, but the trailers were misleading. The dude laughed a lot more than I did.

  • I had to abandon the re-read of a book I loved in high school: The Spellsong Sorceress by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.  Twenty pages in and it had all of the writing sins now shunned in recently published books.  The ones that irked me the most were his paragraphs of laundry-list descriptions and flip-flopping verb tenses.  Pairing that with the high fantasy genre, it just felt snooty.  Alas, there goes a fond memory of a childhood read.

  • Douglas Adams' sequel to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, was another excellent book.  This particular book had more commentary than narrative, and the time-travel aspect got a bit confusing, but I still very much enjoyed it. His writing style is fantastic, putting character-driven narrative next to laugh-out-loud, snarky, satirical social commentary.  I don't know of any other writer who has achieved both or done it with such a light heart.  My favorite part is the mathematical proof of why there the universe has a population of zero.  Oh, "and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination."
I think it's been a good week, though not very productive.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Twin Sisters

No, this isn't a blog about me and my twin, but another set of twin sisters who started a restaurant in San Antonio.  Twin Sisters Bakery and Cafe is a local favorite for "healthy" sandwiches and soups, and fresh baked goods.  I went to the Alamo Heights location and it was a really relaxed, cute place with very personable staff.   Everything on their menu was so tempting!

That day they offered Jalapeno Lemonade which was much more awesome than it sounds.  It added just a hint of the jalapeno flavor, but not too much of the spice.  It tasted a bit like they used the leftover juice from pickled jalapenos and dumped it into the lemonade batch.  Either way, it was really, really awesome.

The Greek Salad was familiar to most other venues.  The dressing on it was heavy on the olive oil with some thyme and olive tapenade.  But the soup was a cold Cucumber Avocado Soup and it was fantastic.  It had some flecks of red onion and cilantro throughout, but was fresh, bright, smooth, and tangy.  All around wonderful.  Perfect for the increasingly warm summer San Antonio days.  The Turkey and Cheese sandwich was also very excellent mainly due to the in-house made bread it was on.  It was a very soft wheat that actually added to the  flavor of the sandwich.  With the soup and sandwich came a cornbread muffin that was grainy and not too sweet.  Loving that adding excess sugar was not in that particular recipe.

Twin Sisters is probably more well known for their baked goods.  The Sweet Potato Muffin was quite yummy, similar in taste and consistency to zucchini bread.   The Lemon Bars were particularly excellent.  There wasn't a delineation between the filling and the crust.  One just kind of morphed into another.

If you're a local in SATX and haven't been to Twin Sisters yet, GO!  I lived in this city way too long before visiting this establishment.  If you're in town visiting, then there's a downtown location open for lunch just for you!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Clay Casa

I had an artistic urge recently and I decided to make myself a new clay coffee mug.  There's only one clay painting place in town, Clay Casa in the Embassy Oaks area behind 281 and Bitters.  It had the obligatory cute funky artist type people working there.  The selection of pieces was decent, but my previous experience at Clay Dreams in Boston had a bunch more.  I was intrigued by the dog-tag like pieces made for necklaces, but they were out.

I decided on two travel coffee mugs, one for me and one for the dude.  They're a solid color background with a free-handed pattern on the top and monogram letters.  His was blue with black diamonds; mine was yellow with a dark green Celtic braid.  It took me a couple very relaxing hours at the shop to complete the painting. It was the perfect things for me to do that day.  Something out of the house, relaxing, and creative. 

I went back a week later and they were good to go.  His turned out darker than I was expecting, but he liked it well enough.  I am really proud of  myself on the braid design on my mug.  It turned out really great!I can't wait to bring it in to show off at work.   Added bonus: if you do another piece when you pick up a previous piece, the studio fee is waived!  I picked a vase that I did in the same scheme as the candlestick I did in Boston that I'll use as a pencil holder on my desk at home. I still want to do the dog-tag pieces later on.  I'm just hoping they're there the next time I stop in. 

Monday, August 02, 2010

Samurai Sushi Review and Local Fave Rolls

I really love sushi, but it seems everyone in San Antonio has a particular go-to place for it.  I finally went to one that I know some people swear by: Samurai Sushi at Babcock and Wurzbach. 

It's a really unique atmosphere.  The decor was more of a family diner than the Japanese minimalist that you normally see at sushi places.

I normally opt for rolls over sashimi and house special rolls over classics. I ordered Edamame, the Ultra Tuna roll, and the Baked Lobster roll with a Kirin Ichiban to wash everything down.  The Ultra Tuna roll was your basic Spicy Tuna roll with an additional piece of tuna on top.  The Baked lobster roll was the basic California roll with a piece of lobster on top, covered in a sweet chili sauce and baked.  The tuna roll was pretty good, but not fantastic.  The lobster pieces were slightly overdone such that they were on the rubbery side, but the chili sauce was very yummy.  I ended dinner with a tempura ice cream, which was too big for just me, but quite tasty.  It was plain old vanilla ice cream, but the tempura had been sweetened.

Samurai Sushi was okay, but not great.  It was less stuck up than another local sushi chain and a smidgeon cheaper, but I'm not sure if the food is worth going back for.

Of the San Antonio Sushi places I frequent, these are my go-to rolls:
  • Kona Grill's Picasso Roll - a California roll topped with yellowtail, jalepeno, and chili sauce.  It's not on the menu, so you'll have to ask for it!
  • Sushi Zushi's My Spurs Roll - yellowtail, serrano, tomato and cilantro.  Light, fresh, and spicy, hits the spot on a hot summer day. 
  • Godai Sushi's Z-Roll - yellowtail and green onion roll topped with spicy tempura crumbles.
    Love the crunchies, so unique and fun!