Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My favorite books of 2018

In no particular order...

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata
Elysium Fire by Alistair Reynolds
The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren
A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson
Making Up by Lucy Parker
Head On by John Scalzi
Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

Fan fiction:
If They Haven't Learned Your Name by Silent Walrus
Landscape with a Blur of Consequences by Diasterisms



-->

Monday, December 31, 2018

My favorite movies of 2018

Tough list!

Movies from 2018:
Black Panther Just mind-blowingly good, from start to finish. I love how the movie managed to be feminist despite centering on the struggles of two young men.

A Wrinkle in Time Gorgeous visuals, a great story. I love how it's a very child-friendly movie but still a great adventure.

Ocean's Eight Not quite enough sense of tension, as the women are so competent that I just assumed it would all work out. I do love the twists in the 3rd act.

Operation Finale A thrilling story that neatly subverts Ben Kingsley's incredible charm.

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse I cannot even describe how much this movie charmed me, from start to finish.

Crazy Rich Asians

Honorable mentions:
Aquaman
Incredibles 2
Mission Impossible: Fallout
First Man
Bumblebee
Mortal Engines
Artemis Hotel
Annihilation

Movies from earlier, that I first watched in 2018:
Moon
Midnight in Paris
Charlie Wilson's War
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
La La Land
Wind River

Edited to add: In terms of Hugo nominations, I have a few more movies I want to watch, but right it's looking like this:
Black Panther
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse
A Wrinkle in Time
Aquaman
Annihilation or Incredibles 2
(I really got a kick out of Artemis Hotel, but I suspect it would be a wasted vote)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My weekend in NYC

Pondicheri Cafe: a huge birthday party in back, so the noise level was unpleasantly high and it was nigh impossible to get to the restrooms. We had the Sindhi Pakora Chaat (delicious), the Dal and Brussels (good, but an odd combination), the Green Masala Shrimp (fabulous), and the Goa Pork (very good). We finished with house-made ice cream. I had the Turmeric Lavender in a house-made cone, which had ground peppercorn and rose petals embedded in it. It was an innovative combination and I adored it. The other people had the Moringa Mint and said it was really good, but not as minty as they'd expected.

Pain Quotidien: I actually ate here on two consecutive mornings. The first time, I had the Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon, and a mug of their Hot Honey Lemon Ginger. Both were terrific. The second time, I got the Smoked Salmon Breakfast and a mug of coffee. The food was great but I once again realized how much I dislike trying to eat a soft-boiled egg in the shell. My companions had the Belgian Waffle with fruit (delicious, not too big) and the Skillet Eggs with Salmon and Avocado (really good.)

Xian Famous Foods: it's a tiny little dive, mostly catering to the carry-out crowd.  You stand along one wall and watch a pair of cooks prepare your order, which takes under 5 minutes. Everything involves their hand-torn noodles, which the cooks also make when they have a free moment. I recommend it for sheer entertainment value, plus the food was delicious. We had the Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles (delicious, but so spicy I could only have a bite) and the Pork "Zha Jiang" Hand-Ripped Noodles (only slightly spicy, and totally delicious.)

Fournos Theofilos: We also got carry-out from here one night. The Greek Salad was amazing and I will always remember it as my new gold standard. Unfortunately, the carry-out situation was confusing, with almost nothing else on the website actually being on offer that night. We ended up with mediocre sausage rolls. I really liked the tomato chutney that came with it; not so much the spicy green mustard sauce.

Great Northern: a food hall in Grand Central Station, featuring Nordic food such as open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød) and hearty salads. It's a bit confusing: there are multiple stations and you pay for the food at each station right there. I planned carefully and got my drink (GUS grapefruit soda, so good) and a trio of open-faced sandwiches at the same stall. I had the smoked salmon and radish, the curried herring with grated egg, and the avocado with green tomato and green apple. All three were delicious and innovative and I only wish I'd had more space in my stomach!

Bien Cuit: a bakery in Grand Central Market. We picked up breakfast food: an apple cardamom danish, a ginger cranberry tart, and a chocolate almond croissant. All three were terrific.

Pescatore Seafood: a seafood shop in Grand Central Market. We picked up crab rolls and shrimp rolls for the trip home. I loved the crab roll; my mom loved the shrimp roll but I thought it had too much mayonnaise. Service was swift, friendly, and helpful.

In addition to all this, we shopped at Columbus Circle and Uniqlo, and window-shopped up and down Madison Ave. We spent hours at the Winter Fair at Bryant Park, and I found some really lovely and unique gifts plus a necklace for myself. I'd wanted to eat at Momofuku Noodle Bar, but they turned out to be closed on Sundays. (Hello! Update your website with correct hours, people...)

All in all, a lovely weekend despite the driving rain and sleet on Sunday.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review of Grass Roots Creamery (Granby, CT)

Grass Roots Creamery is one of the must-stop places if you're in north-central CT. They used to be open only April-November, but are experimenting with staying open all winter this year. Please go support them!

They serve ice cream, all of it made in house, much of it wildly creative. In the summer there's about three dozen flavors ready to be scooped; they seem to have cut back to about two dozen right now, but it's still a great range of options. Example: my mother-in-law once got a three-scoop with Geranium, Lavender, and Rose Chocolate Chip as the flavors. They've had flavors as disparate as Pear Blue Cheese, Maple Bacon, and Olive Oil Rosemary. They're constantly trying out new flavors and sadly, this sometimes means that they shelve old ones (I once had a scoop of jalapeno-chip ice cream there. It was amazing. I've never seen it again.)

There's a fascinating back-story of activism and courage behind the store and the name.

The owners are currently expanding, with an eatery opening next door. (Edited to add: open as of 11/28/18)

My only criticism of Grass Roots Creamery is that it's bad for people with specific food allergies, as they cannot guarantee a lack of cross-contamination. They are completely up front about this, but don't have an easy way to address the problem, as they use the same equipment to produce all their different flavors.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Review of Mei Tzu (East Windsor, CT)

Mei Tzu is a small Chinese restaurant in East Windsor, CT. It also has an excellent sushi bar and a few Thai offerings, such as curry. It's located in a strip mall between a tattoo parlor and a gun shop, but ignore the surroundings. The restaurant inside is pretty, cozy, and serves the best Asian food in the area.

Although you can get such typical fare as General Tso Chicken (and it's very good), you really want to try the house specials. The Mongolian Beef is crispy, spicy, and a real treat. The Basil Beef and the Garlic Shrimp are delectable and my whole family adores the Boneless Duck. My personal favorite is the Thai Casserole, a delicate but complex blend of spices, coconut milk, vegetables, chicken, and shrimp. If you're eating alone, this is a balanced dinner in a single pot.

From the regular menu, I confidently recommend the Spicy Jengdu Dumplings and the Hot and Sour Soup (yes, I know the latter is vegetarian - trust me, you won't even miss the meat.) I love the Garlic and Ginger Sauteed Bean Sprouts with Chicken and I've yet to feed it to somebody who doesn't end up liking it. The chef is very good with noodles: try the Drunken Noodles, the Chow Fun, and the Pad Thai.

The sushi is also great, with some really creative special rolls like the White Forest Roll, the Fujiyama Mama, and the eponymous Mei Tzu roll in addition to the usual fare.

The lunch menu has a wide range of options. The basic lunch is a great deal at $7 for a plate of pork-fried rice, brown, or white rice and your choice of entree. You can add on an egg roll (don't bother) or soup (all three options are very good) for just a dollar. I recommend the Beef with Broccoli, the Vegetable Delight with Tofu, the Kung Pao Chicken, or any of the Thai Curry options.

The menu is clearly marked with both gluten-free and vegetarian options, and the servers will help you select dishes that fit your dietary needs.

My only complaint about this restaurant is that they use wide, shallow serving bowls that take up an unreasonable amount of real estate on the table. But this is a small matter. The servers are friendly and efficient; the food is delicious and reasonably priced. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Review of Tiger Belly Noodle Bar (Granby, CT)

Tiger Belly Noodle Bar is located in a quiet little strip mall in Granby, CT. Parking is relatively plentiful. The restaurant itself is a bit hard to find: follow your GPS to 9 Mill Pond Road and it's the middle store in the second plaza on the right. If you just park and walk around, it will be easier to find.

The restaurant itself is long and narrow. There are two big tables up front that each seat up to 8 people, and are often being shared by smaller groups. There are two smaller tables that seat up to 4 people each in back, by the bathroom. In the middle, there's an L-shaped seating area surrounding the kitchen and sushi counter. The view is partially obstructed by all the ingredients they keep piled up on the counters, but you can get a good sense of what's going on. It's completely casual, and service is a bit erratic, but there's a lovely sense of warmth and good humor emanating from the chefs and the harried servers.

Tiger Belly is part of the same restaurant group as Mei Tzu, so the sushi menus are almost identical. The sushi is reasonably priced and very good, with some complex options (the Mei Tzu roll is out of this world) and the usual basics.

The appetizer menu includes standard options like edamame and fried beef gyoza, but you have to give the bao buns a try. They're messy, but so delicious that you won't even care. Seriously, I've had worse bao buns at 3 star restaurants in NYC. They're a must-buy. (Two buns per order at $9, so feel free so share with a friend.)

The main menu includes two types of fried chicken, a rice bowl, and three types of soup. The fried chicken is shatteringly crispy and delicious. My kids wrinkled their noses at eating chicken on the bone, but they quickly got behind it and devoured the whole plate. We haven't tried the rice bowl yet, but the table next to us got it and seemed quite pleased; it looked like a generous portion.

The vegetarian ramen is good, the pho with brisket and dumplings is better, and "The Darkness", their signature pork ramen, is unbelievably good. I recommend trying them all, either sharing around the table or on three separate visits.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review of Han Restaurant (West Hartford, CT)

Han is a hot-pot specialty restaurant located on a side street in West Hartford, CT. There's plenty of parking. Reservations recommended for popular times, but we walked in on a Thursday at 1pm and there were plenty of booths still available.

Han is slowly branching out to include more foods that aren't hot-pot. The hot-pot is so yummy that I haven't tried anything except their fried dumplings, which are quite good.

The specialty, of course, is hot-pot. They have a choice of a dozen types of broth, many of them either sour or spicy. For beginners, I recommend either the Mushroom or the Chinese Herbal broth.

The lunch special is quite a bargain: broth, noodles or rice, a choice of basic protein (lamb, chicken, shrimp, fish, or beef) and a platter of vegetables and mushrooms, all for $11.99 per person. If you're a heavy eater, you might want to order one more serving of meat.

The dinner menu is bit pricier, but portions are larger. The vegetable platter at dinner is huge and can be shared over 2 or 3 people. There are several pages of options for things to put into your hot pot: mushrooms, meatballs, noodles, meat, a whole page of vegetables!

One of the best features of Han is their sauce bar, which features about two dozen different options, plus a couple of pre-made sauces. It's hard to go wrong unless you hate cilantro and accidentally put it in your dish. I really like both pre-made sauces and will jazz them up with diced preserved vegetables or cilantro and scallions.