it was supposed to snow today, but most of the day was rain that transitioned into sleet pellets. by the time it started to get dark the white stuff started falling but it was too little too late, the ground already thoroughly saturated, the snow becoming slush at best.
besides waiting for the snow to fall, i really had nothing else to do. i'd work on the blog, surf the web, watch a little movie, then repeat. i got to play around with the infrared thermometer some more. this time it worked better because it was actually cold outside. like the area by my back porch door, some spots registered in the lower 50's. i rolled up a towel and used it as a door snake, which contained the leak for the most part. the areas surrounding my hot air registers were naturally quite warm, with temperature hitting the 100's.
my tplink TP-WR841ND v9 wifi router arrived today. i wasn't really in the market to buy a new router, but the one i use is an old purple linksys WRT54g that i upgraded to DD-WRT. it's only wireless G and ever since i upgraded, when i download anything large the wifi will refuse to connect afterwards and i have to restart the router. i don't think a wireless N router will be any faster (that's already set by comcast) but maybe it'll be more stable. so when i saw the TP-WR841ND (with detachable antennae) for just $15 (after $5 rebate) i couldn't resist. it was painless to set up, crammed into my server closet. i haven't really noticed any difference yet, i guess only time will tell. i was going to upgrade the firmware but decided to hold off, figure if it ain't broken, don't go fixing it yet.
i got some greek locanico sausages yesterday and i've been eating it for both lunch and dinner. not sure what i'm tasting, but it's definitely different. i don't know if i'd get it again though, there are so many other sausages to try out! lunch was oatmeal, dinner was a rice and bean pilaf.
i finished watching predestination (2014), a time traveling thriller starring ethan hawke and newcomer sarah snook. there were elements of looper and gattaca, and although some of the plot points were fairly predictable, there were still some surprises. i don't know why this movie didn't get released in american theatres, but it's a strange movie to sell, especially since revealing too much can spoil much of the surprises. but i liked it, worth checking out if you're into that genre.
with just 2 days before thanksgiving, i had some errands to run first before i'd make my traditional annual flan. first a visit to star market to pick up a 10 lbs. frozen turkey for only $5. the catch i had to buy at least $10 worth of groceries, so i ended up grabbing 2 cases of flavored seltzer water (canada dry pomegranate cherry, schweppes black cherry). they didn't have any barq root beer (must have my root beer for thanksgiving) so after dropping off my groceries at home, i took out the bike and went to market basket for my special beverage.
returning home i went out one last time, to the dollar store where they had a sale on kleenex. i hadn't been there since i've been back and they've done some interior remodeling, rearranging the aisles and expanding their food department. it took a while a to explore and figure out where everything was. they didn't have the tissues i wanted but i ended up getting some other things (magnetic dry erase board which i'm going to return because it's not strong enough to stick to my fridge).
my amazon purchase arrived today: 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive, dymo manual embosser, and a digital infrared thermometer. i played around with the thermometer, measuring parts of the house checking for cold spots. unfortunately, today's was a warm day and all my walls were crevasses were 68°F. i'll have to try on a colder day.
it wasn't until 3:30 when i finally settled down to make the flan. in all honesty, i was probably procrastinating, because i needed to make a lot and i knew it'd take me a long time. this year i was using real vanilla beans again; the one other time was 10 years ago. the one thing i learned was i couldn't really taste the difference versus vanilla extract. vanilla beans also leave little black bits (vanilla seeds?) which can look unsightly (like the flan fell in some dirt). but since it's been 2 years since i made my flan, i wanted it to be special, and i wanted to use the best ingredients.
the thing with vanilla beans is they prefer a warm medium to infuse out the flavors. taking a cue from the last time i used real beans, i scraped out the paste from one bean and added it to 3 cups of warm milk simmering on the stove. as for how many beans to use, i estimated that maybe one inch of bean equals a teaspoon of vanilla extract, so that gave me an equivalent of 6-8 tsp of extract.
i was watching the news at the time and during the weather forecast they were saying something about the gorgeous sunset. i grabbed my camera and went outside and saw one of the craziest magenta-violet sunsets. i saw other people taking photos with their phones and a woman getting out of a car even asked, "did you get some good photos?"
the problem with warming up the milk means i couldn't add the eggs right away, otherwise they'd cook in the high temperature. so i waited for the milk to cool. a bit later i realized i could simply add the rest of the cold milk - 7 more cups - into the vanilla infused milk, thereby cooling it down. it gave me a chance to check the temperature with the infrared thermometer, which registered at an egg-safe 67°F. into the bowl i added the remaining ingredients: eggs, sugar, salt.
the key with mixing is to not create too much froth. bubbles in the mix will leave unsightly bubbles in the flan. 17 eggs took a while to beat until finally i had a nice consistent yellow flan mixture with sprinkles of black vanilla seeds (they look like peppers). i gave the mixture some 20 minutes to settle before continuing on to the next step.
i boiled some water for the water baths. basically a kettle of water per bath. i used a metal teapot for one, and the electric kettle for the other. i usually like the ramekins sitting in a hot bath before i pour in the caramel layer.
melting of the caramel and pouring it into each of the ramekins is the trickiest part of flan making. some ingredients use a sugar plus water mixture, but i make my caramel with only dry sugar melted to molten perfection.
i melt a cup at a time; one cup of sugar is enough to make caramel for 8 ramekins. i have a paper towel ready so i can wipe off the sticky caramel from the lip of the pan after i finish pouring. after i'm done adding caramel to all the ramekins, i immediately wash the pan with hot water in the sink to get rid of the excess caramel. wait too long and the caramel is tough to get rid of.
it's perfectly okay to drip caramel onto the side of the ramekins, i think it gives each flan an artisanal handmade look to them. perfection is not necessary since part of the caramel layer just stays in the bowl anyway once the flan has been poured out. i didn't coat the 6 ceramic ramekins for my godmother because there wasn't enough room in the oven for all the baking pans; those will have to be baked in a second batch.
after the caramel layer comes the pouring of the flan mixture. i use a mesh strainer to catch any lumpy bits of eggs. i was afraid the strainer would filter out the vanilla bits but they seemed to pass through without any problems. the straining isn't necessary, but i like to do it as an additional step, i think it gives a more even flan. it's kind of fun because i can hear the hot caramel crackling sometimes when the cold flan mixture is poured in the ramekins. and all the while the oven (preheating at 350°) is humming, ready to accept the baking pans.
into the oven went the flan, the larger aluminum tray on top, the smaller clear glass pyrex tray on the bottom. i set the timer at one hour and go wait in the living room. after an hour i checked the flan with a knife and they're still not solidified yet so i gave them another 30 minutes.
after 1:30 minutes, i take out the flan. the top layer is finished, but the bottom layer is still runny. i decided to put them back in the oven, but not before i prepare the 2nd batch of flan. i melted 3/4 cup of sugar to make the caramel and added them to the 6 ceramic ramekins, already sitting in a hot water bath. i was afraid i didn't have enough flan mixture but it turned out perfectly, with just a tiny amount left over that i drank down (it's essentially raw egg nog). the ceramic ramekins go on the top layer of the oven while the half-baked flan go on the bottom.
with nothing left to do but to wait for the final batch of flan to finish baking, i could finally make some dinner. i had some chicken mozzarella raviolis that i boiled, combined with a simple tomato sauce added with some loose frozen spinach. i finally sat down in the living room to eat around 8:40.
i originally set the timer to just 40 minutes, but the flan was still runny, so i added another 30 minutes, which seemed to do the trick.
the flan on the bottom layer was still slightly runny, particularly the ramekins in the center of the dish compared to the ones on the edge (those were finished), but overall better than before. i'll have to think about my baking strategy for next year considering baking flan on the bottom shelf underneath another pan doesn't seem to work very well. i may have to bake just one pan at a time.
i finally finished everything by 9:30. later, after the flan had cooled, i covered up the pans in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator.
it was raining this morning, but by the time i woke up close to noontime (i went to bed close to 4am last night) it'd already stopped. i used the bathroom and made some oatmeal for lunch. xiaowu the appliance repair guy was supposed to come today to fix my washer but he called and said he won't be coming until tomorrow. an amazon package was due to arrive in the afternoon but when the mailman finally showed up around 3:00 there was no package for me. my parents happened to be leaving the cafe around that time and i managed to call them and get a ride to belmont.
in the car was an small CO2 tank from a seltzer water making machine from the 1990's, the NSA sparkling water system. the tank itself is reusable (for my ongoing DIY CO2 planted aquarium and home seltzer water making experiments) but it uses a proprietary regular valve. the valve can be replaced but any respectable CO2 refill center would require the tank to be tested for safety before filling it up with pressured gas which may make buying a new tank a better idea. this one is a wee bit small anyway at 2.5 lbs (normally the smallest CO2 tank size is 5 lbs).
researching this old tank got my father into thinking of selling an 8mm film projector we had in the basement. he figured it was worth at least a few thousand dollars. a check of the fairchild seventy 07 super 8mm portable sound projector on ebay showed that it was only selling for around $25, with the cost of shipping worth more than the actual equipment itself. this technology comes from a time when film was still analog and the equipment designed to run these things were not only mechanical but built to last. a solid piece of technology that unfortunately we don't have any use for and not valuable enough to sell.
tang tang's friend came home in the early evening after having spent the day at the museum of fine art. not wanting to cook, my mother ordered pizza for dinner and i went with my father to go pick it up (domino's monday-thursday pickup $7.99/large 3-topping pizza deal). the evening weather was downright balmy with a strong warm breeze and temperature in the 60's. earlier we put the ladders away, figured for sure there wouldn't be any painting work done until spring.
i got a ride back to cambridge soon afterwards. earlier, when my parents came to pick me up, my father dropped off a large aluminum baking pan along with some ramekins priscilla gave them when she moved out of her house and into a seniors home. there was 7 5 oz. pyrex ramekins and 5 large ceramic ramekins. since i'd be making my flan tomorrow, i took the time to make an inventory of how many ramekins i had in total.
i've got a tray of 8 blue ramekins, a tray of 13 clear ramekins (8x 6 oz. and 5x 5 oz.), and a tray of 6 ceramic ramekins (4x 6 oz. and 2x 5 oz.). the size of the ramekins doesn't make a lot of difference since i can fit the same amount of liquids regardless if it's 6 oz. or 5 oz. the 6 ceramic ramekins i'll give to my godmother and her sons since they won't be celebrating thanksgiving at my parents' place this year. the smaller 5 oz. pyrex ramekins i'll give to priscilla. but in total i'm looking to make 27 containers of flan this season, probably the most i've ever made at one time.
i keep on inspecting my golden honeywell heat-only thermostat, trying to figure out how to remove it from the wall so i can install a brand new nest thermostat. that's been my dream ever since a month ago i saw a video of the nest's user interface. i just like the idea of being able to change the temperature via remote control.
since i had the car, i drove over to belmont around noontime, after first getting some snacks from the supermarket (chips, salsa, clementines). the weather was warm with temperature in the 60's, a very nice day. of course i'd spend it all indoors watching football, beginning at 1:00 with the lions-patriots game, an entertaining affair where new england totally dominated, even with the star of last sunday's game jonas gray sitting on the beach as punishment for showing up late for practice.
my sister called verizon to get my cellphone switched back to my found LG phone. it seems such a hassle, it'd be much easier if it was simply a SIM card i could swap to a different phone.
tang tang's friend returned home in the early evening after my father came back from the cafe. we had dinner before my sister left to go home, taking the dog with her. i left soon afterwards myself, riding my bike on a relatively warm 40's night. i put the bike in the basement when i got home, in anticipation for the rainstorm we're expected to get early tomorrow morning.
sometimes at nights i get this overwhelming urge to go online and buy something. tonight i put in a bid on ebay for an indian arrowhead. i've always wanted to own an authentic native american artifact, and this was my chance. unfortunately i got outbid by somebody else in the final second (the winning bid was $10.25).
for the first time since i've been back at home, i slept in my own bedroom. up to now i'd been sleeping in the guest room, just because with it's central location in the house it's actually one of the warmest rooms. also my own bed was a mess, stacked with linens. but when my parents stayed over a few weeks ago prior to our new york city trip, i managed to clean the bed. eventually i would've relocated to my old bedroom, but i was motivated last night because i was afraid tang tang's friend might decide to stay at my place after all so i'd have to give up the guest bedroom.
with 2 uninsulated walls facing the outside of the house, my bedroom was colder to be sure (the coolish all blue color tone didn't help either). but once i got into bed, it felt like home, so comfortable. why didn't i move in earlier! instead of the twin bed in the guest bedroom which had been giving my back and neck cramps for the past week. falling asleep was like sleeping on a warm cloud.
my doctor warned me to take the hydrochlorothiazide in the morning instead of at night, because it makes you want to urinate. i went to the bathroom before i went to bed, but then in the middle of the night i woke up to use the bathroom again. and then this morning the urge to pee was what finally woke me up for good.
my father called me around noontime, asking me if i needed a ride to belmont. i told him i'd take the bike. it was cold, but the sun was out and i had on a lot of wool layers so i quickly warmed after a few minutes. when i finally arrived around 1:00, tang tang's friend wasn't there, out with my sister walking the dog at middlesex fells. since i didn't eat yet, my parents fixed me some rice porridge.
tang tang's friend is currently a junior at the miss hall's school in western massachusetts. i'd actually met before, last summer when i was in taipei for a few weeks before then spending more than a year in china. my cousin took me out to dinner and we met her daughter tang tang along with this friend. since her school is currently on thanksgiving break and she's an international student, she had no where to go, so she got in touch with tang tang and asked her if she could stay with us. originally she was supposed to live at my place because i'm conveniently located close to restaurants and supermarkets and subways, but then she had second thoughts about living with a strange man and decided to stay with my parents in belmont.
when tang tang's friend finally came back from walking the dog, i discovered she's kind of a chatty girl. i found out this was her first time in boston. originally she was supposed to go hang out on newbury street with some chinese classmates who rented a hotel in boston for the week but they ended up bailing on her. tang tang's friend is more of a nerd girl anyway, getting upset over little things like an A- in class. i recommended some museums, many of which are free since she's still underage.
having tang tang's friend at my parents' place did feel a little awkward though. but it's only for a week and she seems like a nice kid. hopefully she makes good use of her time in boston. i could probably show her around if she's interested: in my spare time i am an amateur boston tour guide after all.
after dinner my parents suggested i take one of the cars back to cambridge. that way i can also bring back my aquarium, which my parents and sister were taking care of when i was gone. my one remaining fish did eventually die (my father overfed it), but aquatic java ferns are still alive, the only living thing to have survived during my year long absence (all the other plants in my house died because nobody came by to water them). the fish tank first had to be drained before i could move it into the car. and once i got back home, i had a mini-crisis when i somehow dropped the car fob onto the floor. i went back out with a flashlight to search for it and eventually did find it in a pile of leaves behind the trunk.
i gave the tank another vacuum and wash before filling it up with cold tap water. since there's currently no fish living in the aquarium, i don't have to worry about neutralizing the water first. i think eventually i'll get some fish. i may also upgrade to a bigger tank: the 7 gallon minibow is nice, but it's several gallons smaller than a traditional 10 gallon tank (of which i have several in my basement). my current dream is to set up a aquatic garden first, upgrading my lights (LED's instead of fluorescent) and pumping CO2 into the water to boost the plant growth. with no fish yet i don't have to worry about CO2 poisoning.
the brine level in the second batch of sichuan paocai i started yesterday was still a bit low. fortunately i saved a jar of brine for just such an occasion and topped it off so at least the liquid level would cover most of the remaining top cabbage. just a day of fermentation, and already so much bubbles rose up when i opened the lid. of course the kitchen smelled like paocai for sometime afterwards.
i finally finished watching byzantium (2012), about a pair of lady vampires. i downloaded the film before but erased it, not realizing what it was. when i read a synopsis recently i was intrigued enough to download it again. it took several days to watch, but in the end it was worth it. it puts a fresh spin on vampires.
7:30 this morning i woke up to the sounds of construction coming from upstairs. stomping, power tools, things dropping to the floor. ugh. steve did tell me that he was thinking about getting some work done, but he never told me when and what. despite the noise, i still managed to sleep until 10:30. when i checked e-mail that's when i saw steve had sent me a belated message. he was having some bookshelves built. "i don't think there'd be too much noise," he said, spoken by somebody who's probably never lived in a first floor unit before. it wasn't just one carpenter, but a team of 3. they finally left around 1:30, 6 hours later.
the chinese repairman was supposed to come by today to take a look at my broken washer, but my father called me in the afternoon and said he wouldn't be able to make it today, would have to postpone until saturday at the earliest.
the only constructive thing i did today was to continue to clean my refrigerator. not the inside mind you, but the outside, covered in magnets and recipe notes and postcards. i also finally replaced the watch battery on my timex.
for lunch i ate some leftover rice and beans, for dinner some pizza rolls and then a can of soup.
my dental implant consultation wasn't until 12:00 so i had time to eat some cereal for breakfast before leaving. after weighing the pros and cons, i decided to ride the subway instead of taking the bike, a much warmer and safer way to get into the city. it was cold but temperature was around the freezing mark which really isn't that cold when the sun is out. on the subway i sat next to a sleeping homeless man, slumped across 2 seats, smelling of rotten chicken entrails. across from me a chubby asian artsy boy was knitting what looked to be a blue cap with a pair of circular needles. here and there commuters played with their phones will a few others read books.
i arrived at south station and walked to lincoln street, where i got a bit lost trying to find the address. for a second i thought maybe it was in my old building, formerly squid country safari, but that wasn't the case. a pretty blonde receptionist sitting behind a circular counter wearing her coat took my information as i then waited to be called. a nurse said i could leave my things in an examination room and had me stand in this fancy booth, where my jaw was held in place by biting on a bit while mechanically controlled drums rotated around my head. apparently that was a high tech x-ray machine and in a matter of seconds developed a photo of my entire teeth. a minute later the doctor showed up. not once during the consultation did he actually look inside of my mouth, as apparently the x-ray image was enough. bottom line is a dental implant would cost about $3500. but because my tooth was on my upper jaw, and i had big sinus cavities, i needed a special procedure involving a sinus lift and adding more bone inside my jaw before the implant could be added, which is another $800-900. even if i had dental insurance, these sort of procedures aren't covered, so i'll have to pay everything out of pocket. oh, one more thing: the whole thing would probably take a year to complete, since i'd have to wait 3-4 months between operations, to let everything heal.
after the consultation, i went across the street to the chinese supermarket to pick up a few things (nori furikake, fried garlic, korean barbecue sauce). i could've stayed in boston and wandered around some more, but i was carrying a bag of groceries, and wanted to get home and wait for my fedex package (if it hasn't arrived already). nevertheless, i sitll made time to visit chinatown cafe (out by tufts medical school) to get some R45 spicy porkchop with rice for lunch. i bumped into a friend of my parents; she was having lunch with her friend and was about to hit the supermarket themselves. only then did i head back to south station. walking down one of the side streets that lead to the station, i came across a panhandler asking people for money. i calculated the risks in my head and decided he was harmless. "how you doing?" he asked me. he told me he was from scotland - scotland connecticut that is. "you have really nice skin," he told me, but after and awkward pause, he clarified himself, "oh, nothing like that." something that wasn't here before: south station now has a 2-story CVS. i went upstairs just to take a peek before leaving.
on the subway heading back into cambridge, i was next to a tall young man who sat with his legs not only wide apart but sticking out so they were almost in the middle of the aisle. in front of me was a young woman going through a stack of index cards. she was standing pretty close, practically on top of me, pushing up against my chinese takeout. i thought maybe they were vocabulary cards and she was one of the many foreign students here to learn english, but i glanced over and noticed they were related to some sort company, like maybe she was giving a presentation.
i got home around 2:30. there was no delivery sticker on my door which meant the fedex truck hadn't arrived yet, so i could still get my phone today. i ate lunch and waited. my package finally arrived at 3:40. when i turned the phone on, the battery was still nearly fully charged.
around 5:00 i fell asleep on the couch, but it was a little chilly and i didn't want to turn up the heat, so i decided to go sleep in the bedroom. i went to go brush my teeth beforehand, but that ended up waking up me up so i returned to the living room to surf the web. i downloaded the game app monument valley (free) and played it for a while.
my late lunch was big enough that i wasn't hungry came dinner time. i cleaned up some of the postcards on my fridge. the young woman who stayed at my place for 2 months before i returned home must've done a lot of oily cooking, because a lot of kitchen surface areas are still coated in condensed oil, including all my fridge postcards. i had to take them down one by one and wipe off the oil mixed with dust and mold.
i made an appointment to see the oral surgeon tomorrow at noon (lincoln street, boston) - when the receptionist asked me which tooth, i said "number 3?" but she was able to make sense of it; i e-mailed stella at next step living who said she'd send me the contract for the insulation work order in about a week (the actual installation won't happen until 3-4 weeks); i signed up to autopay my webhosting and cable/internet bill; my father called the chinese appliance repair guy who might show up on thursday; i received notice that my lost cellphone has been shipped and should arrive tomorrow; i bought a few things on amazon.com (infrared thermometer, 64GB usb 3.0 flash drive, old-fashion manual label maker); i cleaned out some more expired items from my pantry boxes (food that expired in 2006); researched getting another table lamp for the living room (i currently have 3, i prefer something with a wooden pedestal, maybe might have to make my own).
for lunch i had some oatmeal but instead of chicken sausages i used some chorizo, which made for a spicier meal. chorizo made another appearance for dinner when i cooked up some beans and rice using an old box of instant rice (i tossed the flavor packet). can rice really expire? it smelled a little stale but seemed normal after i cooked it. into the mix was some frozen spinach and fresh cilantro. it tasted okay, a little plain but cheap and nutritious.
i also found my bag of sichuan peppercorn i purchased in 2006. 8 years later they're still pungent when i eat them but they smell stale and their original reddish color have faded somewhat. compare those to the fresh peppercorns i purchased before i left china, which are a lot redder and have a strong spicy peppercorn aroma. i ended up cleaning a few jars and storing the peppercorns in those instead of just plastic bags.
i only went outside to take out the trash in the evening. earlier during the day, i thought about going to the supermarket or the bank, but with the temperature hovering around the freezing mark, i figured whatever errands i had i could save them until tomorrow. of course it was nice and toasty inside the house. actually the colder it gets outside, the more my heater kicks in and makes the house all warm inside. the worst is when the out temperature just hovers around 50-60's, not yet cold enough for my heater to kick in completely. but i say we're beyond that point now, with record breaking cold temperature today for all 50 states.