The World in a Chip

If there’s one thing that I do without fail while coding, studying, or writing, it’s definitely snacking. As a proud snacker, one of the things I like to explore are international flavor versions of chips from big American brand companies. Today, I am going to take you, dear readers, through some stories about my adventures in consuming chips.

Where it all began: Japanese Doritos

Royal Garlic Shrimp

One of my all-time favorites is a Japanese version of Doritos chips that was flavored as garlic shrimp. I clearly remember when I encountered these chips. I had just passed my PhD qualifier exam. I was back home in LA for Aldo’s brother’s wedding. I was with my mom at a Japanese market (Marukai) to buy some arm warmers to keep me warm while at LCO to help drive MagAO. I saw these chips at the cashier line and bought 3 bags of them on a whim. When I sampled them, let me tell you: it tasted just like garlic shrimp. I’ve eaten a vast variety of shrimp chips throughout my life and these Doritos clearly tasted like them.

I was so impressed with these chips that I gave one bag to Aldo to help him sober up post-wedding (to which he shared with no one after tasting how great they were). I kept the third bag with me for Chile, except it never made it out of the US. I consumed the bag at DFW while waiting for my flight to Santiago. I greatly apologize, Jared, for denying you the opportunity to consume these chips in Chile. Even though you’re only finding out 3 years later.

More Exploration: Chinese Lays

My experience with eating Japanese Doritos chips has led me through sampling other international versions of chips. A year ago, at a neighborhood Asian market in LA, I saw by the cashier area a huge bin of Lays chips. Believe it or not, the pink bag was labeled, “Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor” and the blue bag was labeled “Italian Red Meat Flavor”**.

**Note: I don’t believe that these labels are intentionally offensive. If anything, they’re a marketing ploy to convince people to buy them because of exotic sounding flavors. Logan once told me a story how she encountered “French cheese” chips during one of her deployments, yet the chips didn’t taste any exotic. However, I do believe the strange names are direct Chinese->English translations where the Chinese names are the best the marketing team came up with from localization.

Chinese Lays chips with “exotic” flavors

I bought them to try out, believing I may have a similar experience with the garlic shrimp Japanese Doritos. I brought them to the office and had some members of XWCL sample them with me. Unfortunately, it was very underwhelming. The tomato chicken flavor was akin to a weak ketchup. The red meat flavor tasted like BBQ sauce missing some key spice flavors. I firmly believe that we did not enjoy the chips because here in the US, we have magnitudes of experience with authentic (and unauthentic) versions of these foods. It’s entirely possible that it’s very popular in Asia and this interpretation was adjusted to adapt it to local flavor palates.

I also managed to find Hot Pot flavored and Grilled Squid Chinese Lays chips during a previous visit to this same market. I’ve included photographic proof of their existence. However, I was not quite smart enough to buy them when I bought the other two chips. I visited this same market later in the week and the inventory had run out. Maybe someday I will find these chips and find out how they taste. Will the Hot Pot flavor live up to its name of being “numb and spicy”? Will the grilled squid flavor have that umami taste mixed with smoky tones? These chips have become my unicorn.

Reuniting with Japanese Doritos

Recently, I was at a small neighborhood Japanese market and spotted this bag of Doritos on the shelf. There wasn’t any English on the bag to identify the flavor, so I asked the cashier aunty if she can translate the flavor to me. (The staff at this market are all fluent in Japanese) She couldn’t quite figure it out either, so she asked one of the other staff members. The best they could tell me was “little salty”. Nonetheless, I bought the chips. My experience with the garlic shrimp Japanese Doritos was I’m bound for greatness. My missed connection with the Chinese Lays chips reminded me to buy the chips as if it’ll never be available again.

Mysterious Japanese Doritos

When I got home, I messaged some of my friends about it and they couldn’t come up with a better translation either. Not consommé, not umami, not seaweed – just “salt”. With all avenues exhausted, the last option was for me to open the bag and sample it. Lovers of the blog, I regret to inform you all that these chips were literally slightly salted regular corn tortilla chips. The kind you would dip into salsa.

I’m flabbergasted, speechless! This is not what Doritos stands for! Doritos is about that corn chip coated with a flavor powder that brainwashes you to consume the whole bag and be too ashamed to admit it did not survive one sitting. I’m offended on so many levels. To add insult to injury, the salsa I had available just expired.

This is Doritos: love and devotion. Step aside Cool Ranch, Spicy Sweet Chili is the reigning Doritos of my heart. Also, rumor has it these chips are vegan.

Come on Japan, you were supposed to be the chosen one – for excellent, unusually flavored snacks! There’s over 300 flavors of KitKats sold exclusively in Japan! Those garlic shrimp Doritos of memories past were so good, full of promises. What happened that caused you to go for boring salted corn tortilla chips?

Japan, I trusted you

Although my feelings were definitely shattered by these experiences, this was not a show-stopper moment. I’m still going to keep trying international flavor chips as I can find them. The world is big enough for both big and small flavors. I’m going to snack my way through as many as possible, troubleshooting one line of code at a time. When I find these chips, I’ll make sure to share my experiences with you as well, dear readers.

Song of the Day

I mentioned unicorn and it reminded me of Robot Unicorn Attack. Does anyone remember it? I played it a ton back when I was in undergrad. Ah, the good ol’ days of Adobe Flash games. Therefore, today’s song will be the main soundtrack from the game:

Erasure – Always (2009 Mix)

Southwestern Cooking: Mesquite

Since we’re back to the blogging business with Arizona’s second (albeit smaller) shutdown, I decided to revisit my first blog entry from the first shutdown. I attributed my dalgona coffee’s successes to having the appropriate kichen hardware available. For my first blog post in the second shutdown, I decided to go the opposite direction: how successful can I be following a recipe which calls for specific kitchen hardware but instead I work it manually? This has brought me to today’s blog post: mesquite chocolate chip cookies.

What’s mesquite? Let’s talk about it:

According to Wikipedia, mesquite is a type of small leguminous tree that is native to the southwestern US and Mexico. The mesquite tree is a common southwestern desert ornamental plant, due to its durability to survive drought. (It is also surprisingly an invasive species in its own native land.) The tree’s wood, fruit pods, and sap have a long legacy of uses with the southwestern indigenous people’s cultures, widely ranging from shelter, furniture, medicinal uses, and culinary staples. Outside the tribal nations, mesquite maintains an ubiquitous presence in southwestern cuisine.

The scent of smoked mesquite wood is known to be tangy and sweet, which has led to its popularity with smoked BBQ. Mesquite is a staple southwestern BBQ flavor that Tucson Foodie posted an article in February 2020 listing BBQ restaurants in Tucson, with many places featuring mesquite wood. Additionally, local distillery Whiskey Del Bac has a line of whiskeys where the malted barley is smoked using mesquite wood.

Mesquite flour is created from milled dried pods. It’s known to have high protein, low glycemic content, and gluten-free. Mesquite flour has a slightly sweet and nutty scent, which shows up in baked goods. It is easily accessible in Tucson, whether you mill your own dried pods with a local harvester or buy a bag of the flour from a local retailer. When I bought a 1 lb bag of San Xavier Co-op Farm mesquite flour at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, the bag included the Tohono O’odham language’s name for it – “wihog cu:i” (wee-hawg chew-ee). After doing some research, I found the individual word translations into English:

  • wihog” is “bean pod” (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
  • While I couldn’t find “cu:i“, I did find “kui” (koo-wee) for “mesquite tree”. (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
Mesquite flour has a grittier texture than standard all purpose flour along with a dull yellowish hue (but not as yellow as cornmeal).

Let’s bake some cookies!

I was introduced to mesquite flour this past year through a local business named Arizona Baking Company, who released a mesquite chocolate chip cookie mix. I tried it out, pleasantly liked it (Lauren and I once ate half a dozen in one sitting at our office, during the pre-covid era), and decided that I was going to learn how to make them myself. I’ve made cookies before, surely I can do this too, right?

Mesquite chocolate chip cookie recipes were an easy enough find, so I made the first one I saw on Google (source: David Lebovitz)… which strongly recommends using a stand mixer. My problem: my stand mixer is currently located in Los Angeles (one of many woes in my LDR). However, the recipe says I can still do it manually. So, ready to blow some steam after a long day and very determined to eat mesquite chocolate chip cookies, I set forward to trying this recipe manually. For the blog’s viewing pleasure, I have also included in pictures from my attempt.

One of the things I learned about baking better is to weigh your ingredients instead using measuring cups. I originally bought this huge brick of Amish Country butter from the grocery store to make my own ghee, but discovered when I got home that it’s actually salted butter. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I used it for baking. Unsalted butter is better for baking, but salted butter is fine so long as you don’t add in the additional salt listed in the recipe.
The ingredients overview shot. The rag on the bottom of the mixing bowl is for keeping the bowl in place (a tip I picked up from Serious Eats). Using a wooden spoon because we’re going manual style.
Creaming the butter required me applying many stabbing motions with the wooden spoon. This was the first step where using a stand mixer would make things easier. The rag worked well holding the bowl at the bottom.
Churned in the sugars and eggs with the creamed butter, then adding some vanilla extract.
Added in the mesquite and all purpose flour mix. The dough starts getting a bit tough to mix with the spoon.
By the time I add in the oats and chocolate chips, the dough is too difficult to mix with the spoon. This is where the stand mixer would work very well. The recipe recommends putting your hands in to mix it, so I went with it. It’s very sticky.
Final results: tastes great! My hand, wrist, and forearm are kinda sore, but these chocolate chips are totally hitting the spot. Tastes like a nutty chocolate chip cookie without any nuts incorporated.

Comments about mesquite flour: Since it’s a gluten free flour alternative, it does suffer from the gluten free baking problems where it spreads out and is flat. There is also a bit of a gooey texture to the cookies. Experimenting with the baking times, we found that increasing the time in my oven for a couple more minutes helps brown it a bit more and gives it a less gooey texture. Letting it sit out to slowly finish out cooking and cooling does help with a firmer texture. But, as always, your miles may vary based on your home oven. (I’ve learned that the reason ovens cost so much is their ability to maintain a steady, consistent temperature)

Would I do this again manually? yes, assuming my cravings are strong enough such that the physical labor doesn’t bother me. The reward is definitely worth the effort. But if I had a stand mixer, all bets are off – I’m using the stand mixer.

SONG OF THE DAY

Speaking of stand mixers, the most commonly known stand mixer is from KitchenAid. I bought a Professional 500 5QT model off Tucson craigslist back in 2015 for $100. It was barely used, making it an even better deal. According to Kitchenaid’s website, the first stand mixer was invented in 1919.

While I occasionally imagine myself being at the level of a French pastry chef, there’s nothing Parisian about mesquite. However, mesquite does grow in Texas and there exists a city of Paris, Texas.

So, with that a date and location applied to this entry’s theme, the song of the day is “Paris 1919” by John Cale:

John Cale – Paris 1919

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 44: Award-winning Video Game Music

This may surprise people, but did you know that a video game theme has won a Grammy award? In 2011, the main theme of Civilization IV, “Baba Yetu” (Swahili version of The Lord’s Prayer), won a grammy award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). The composer is Christopher Tin and features the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Here’s the song, it’s a great listen (despite the video game graphics of 2005):

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Baba Yetu

This song also made to America’s Got Talent in 2018, where it was awarded the Golden Buzzer:

Angel City Chorale Choir – Baba Yetu – America’s Got Talent 2018

Before starting my PhD, I was living in Los Angeles and I found out that Christopher Tin had a small classical recital one Friday evening in Santa Monica. I attended it with Aldo, and we met Christopher Tin afterwards (he is super nice!). I own a copy of each of his albums, “Calling All Dawns” (which also won a grammy in 2011 for Best Classical Crossover Album) and “The Drop that Contained the Sea”. My favorite song from his second album is “Waloyo Yamoni”, which translates from Lango (Uganda) into “We Overcome the Wind”. It’s also features the Soweto Gospel Choir, just like with “Baba Yetu”.

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir – Waloyo Yamoni

SONG OF THE DAY

Christopher Tin has a new album coming out this August. I supported it on Kickstarter when it was announced 2 years ago and it became the highest funded classical music Kickstarter ever. I’m hoping they’ll do a west coast (particularly Los Angeles) live concert for this album in the future, so I can go attend it in person. Therefore, the song of the day will be the first song that has come out for this album, which also happens to be the main theme for Civilization VI:

Christopher Tin – Sogno di Volare (“The Dream of Flight”)

To be honest…I don’t play any of the Civilization games. Never have been a turn-based strategy player. Now, if you want to talk about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’m totally in.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 42: Green Thumb

One of the things I have been pursuing with little success through my PhD is trying to keep plants alive to their first birthday (or sometimes their half-birthday). I usually do well enough in the cooler months, but with summer comes me traveling, intense heat, and the monsoons that months of progress go kaput. To add insult to injury, strong winds have blown off off a succulent plant from my balcony not once, but TWICE.

At one point, I had given up on becoming a plant parent that I bought a chocolate silicone mold with succulent shapes. If I can’t grow a plant, I’ll make a “plant” out of matcha chocolate. Except I learned that sharp corners in chocolate molds are regions where air bubbles like to form, no matter how many times I tap the mold to push the air bubbles up. Even with chocolate, something I have some level of confidence, I cannot make plants look great! Talk about additional insult to injury.

I tried a few times, but my succulent matcha chocolates don’t look so happy.

On one of my shopping trips around the start of quarantine, I noticed that green onions were not as readily available (they are now though!). Luckily for me, I already had a pack of green onions from Trader Joe’s beforehand. They come with their roots attached, which let me to my next thoughts – can I regrow them and if so, is it low enough maintenance for my incompetence? After reading through a few food blogs, I found the simplest way to regrow green onions was to keep the white base part with the roots, put them in a glass of water, and set them by the window for sunlight. So I did that – put them in mason jars on my kitchen windowsill that faces west. I switch the water in the glass daily in the early afternoon, when the sun starts to shine towards the kitchen window.

And you know what? After 4 days of this, the green onions started to grow!!

Green onions, day 4 in water by windowsill

After consulting with MagAO-X DM whisperer and #1 plant parent, Kyle Van Gorkom, I resolved to try out potting the green onions in soil. I decided to experiment with this by transferring half of the green onions to potted soil outdoors and comparing it with the other half in a mason jar indoors. I would say I was trying to be a scientist, but the reality is that I didn’t want to bother microwaving the soil to kill the gnats.

Outdoor green onions,day 1 indoor/outdoor experiment (day 7 total)

After 10 days, I compared both green onions and they pretty much grew like weeds! They’re so beautiful! I chopped them off and ate them with cold soba noodles for lunch. I sampled both the green onions from outside and inside and they both pretty much taste the same: oniony.

Green onions, Day 10 indoor/outdoor (day 17 total)

It’s been 30 days (37 days total) since this green onion experiment began. I’ve gotten 2 harvests from each of the green onion sets. I’ve also extended it to include some leek, which was used when making bone broth. The mason jar set isn’t looking as brilliant as before, so it’s likely time to retire it and bring on a fresh batch from the market. The outdoor plant is starting to wilt a bit, I’m assuming from the weather heating up. When this experiment started, the weather was still in the 70-80F range, but it’s in the high 90’s these days. I had one onion dry up considerably, meaning I need to adjust the watering. I may need to start increasing watering everyday from every other day. I’m also thinking of pulling out a couple dried out onions to transplant the leeks.

Green onions, day 30. Indoor top, outdoor bottom. Look how long the roots grew!

To turn full circle on this post, I want to post another achievement: remember the succulent that fell off the balcony back in March? They got re-potted over a month ago when I started the green onion experiment. I’m proud to say that they’re thriving well and have not fallen off the balcony after being transferred to a heavier pot.

The poor traumatized succulent has been revived!

SONG OF THE DAY
This post has been brought to you by the color green. Green is roughly in the 500-550 nm wavelength range. Therefore, today’s song is I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers:

The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

ta-da-da-ta, ta-da-da-ta…

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 41: Forks and Knives

The days have cooled down a bit, no more peaking above 100F. I’m enjoying being able to keep my blinds open while I work in the daytime. Once it becomes consistent days of being above 100F, then the blinds have to be closed at all times.

One of my quarantine purchases has been getting a bicycle trainer. It attaches to the rear tire and transforms my bicycle into a stationary bicycle, perfect for indoor exercise. With quarantine approaching 2 months, it’s about time I stopped using that as my excuse for not exercising. Please excuse my messy apartment…

The best part is that the whole contraption folds up, making more room in my apartment when not in use.

With a bike trainer, you can adjust the resistance at the back. I usually cycle with my bike on higher gears and a bit of resistance, which means after 30 minutes I’m sweaty and ready to get off the bike. The best part of exercising is that I feel I have earned my meals. Or at least that’s what I tell myself to convince myself that exercising is important.

SONG OF THE DAY

I was digging through my music library recently and pretty much rediscovered Beirut. I first heard of Beirut about 8 years ago, when my friend sent me songs and we would listen to them together. He’s a postdoc now at NIST. I look forward to visiting him in Colorado in the future and we can listen to Beirut together again. Here’s one of my favorite tracks by Beirut:

Beirut – Forks and Knives