Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do skilled people hate living in the Valley? (

Interesting articles from The Arizona Republic/
Various snippets from the articles:
  • "The cost of living is cheaper here than in Chicago," Tim Baker said. "But in terms of quality of life, Phoenix isn't a bargain."
  • "In the summer of 2004, the Maricopa Regional Arts and Culture Task Force released a report that found the Valley ranked last or close to the bottom in nearly every standard used to measure the strength of a region's arts and culture sector. Measured against nine economic competitors (Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, N.C., Denver, Indianapolis, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Diego and Seattle), Phoenix spent the least money on arts, culture and humanities organizations. Phoenix also had the fewest number of museums, performing arts companies, and other arts and culture establishments."
  • "Housing accounts for at least $1 in every $3 that is generated in metropolitan Phoenix."
My thoughts:
Except for a few certain areas (i.e. Chandler), the Phoenix metro area is lagging big time in so many areas (income, culture, education, infrastructure, etc.).

At least the food scene is decent. =)

On a related topic, this month's issue of Travel + Leisure has an interesting article about the "25 top urban destinations in the U.S.". Visitors and residents alike scored Phoenix low in almost all categories.

See the article here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Camping among the tall pines

This past weekend, we went camping with a few friends in the Sitgreaves National Forest (elevation 7200 ft.).
Campground entry
We had hot pot for dinner (a few people had it for breakfast the next day as well). It was really nice having hot food with the chilly climate (the low for the night was around 40 degrees).
Hot pot dinner
After dinner, we enjoyed s'mores for dessert...mmmm....s'mores please!!!

For breakfast, we made french toast and fried eggs.
French toast breakfast
After breakfast, we packed up and headed back to HOT Phoenix. It has been about 20 degrees warmer than normal for the past few days (today's high is 92!).

Here are a few more pictures:
Pine tree forestBeautiful falling leavesour campfire
and favorite picture of the trip:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A reminder to double check those "sell by" dates

We bought some flour from our local Albertson's tonight. When we got home, I noticed that the "Better if used by" date was July 11, 2007. Um...that was almost 4 months ago!!!

I'm usually very good about double-checking these things before buying, but somehow I overlooked it this time. What a hassle - now I've got to go back to the store tomorrow and exchange it. I'm assuming they will have some "fresh" flour in stock?!?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Top Chef Knife Skills

Hung Huynh (Top Chef Season 3 winner) demonstrates his knife skills. The part where he makes the comment about the Chinese cleaver and then laughs like a maniac cracks me up. I'd love to see a "knife-off" between him and Martin Yan. Both of them have serious knife skills.

Monday, October 22, 2007

LA and San Diego trip

My grandpa passed away recently so Patty and I drove to LA last Thursday to attend his funeral service.

On our way there, we stopped at In-N-Out for lunch. (Even though we have a store about a mile from us, it's a requirement that whenever we drive to LA, we must go to In-N-Out.)
In-N-Out burgerDoesn't it look like the burger is saying "Eat me..."?

After arriving, we had a snack at Niko Niko Sushi (Redland, CA). We ordered a genki roll (crab, eel, salmon) and inari to go. Both were pretty good.
Niko Niko Sushi - genki roll and inari
Later in the night, we went to Victoria Gardens (an outdoor mall in Rancho Cucamonga) to walk around. I wish there was something like this in Phoenix. The most comparable mall here would be Kierland Commons. It's much bigger (and better) than Kierland though. Tempe Marketplace and Desert Ridge don't compare.

Before going back to my parent's house, we stopped by Pinkberry for a green tea yogurt w/ mango. (It was kind of chilly so we ate inside the shop - no pictures allowed.)

We had a quick lunch at Tea Station. We had luo buo gao (turnip cake), fried taro balls, fried tofu, and gua bao (a kind of "bun" sandwich). We also had a boba tea. The food items were pretty bad (how can you mess up fried food???) but the drink was good.

Here are some pictures:
Tea Station - boba teaTea Station - turnip cakeTea Station - gua baoTea Station - fried taro balls
After lunch, we headed to the Buddhist Mausoleum at Rose Hills for my grandpa's service.
Here's a picture of him...
my grandpa(Dec. 16, 1911 - Oct. 11, 2007)

Up until his late 80s, he was still riding a moped to get around. He was probably famous in our neighborhood as "the old man with the red scooter"...

After the service, we met up w/ my parents for snacks at Diamond Plaza (in Rowland Heights). We got pastries (can't remember the name of the bakery) and yogurt from Kiwiberry - hover over the pictures for descriptions. I loved the mochi topping on the yogurt...

Here are some pictures:
Kiwiberry - yogurt w/ strawberries, blueberries, and mochiKiwiberry - green tea yogurt w/ strawberries, watermelon, and mangotaro cakegreen tea cake
For a "pre-dinner" snack, Patty and I went to Canaan Restaurant (in the Diamond Plaza Food Court). We had mi fun and won ton soup. Both were good.
Canaan Restaurant - mi funCanaan Restaurant - won ton soup
Patty and I drove to San Diego for a short overnight trip.

Our first stop was La Jolla. We walked around the Village and Ellen Scrips Browning Park.
Here are some pictures:
La JollaLa JollaLa JollaLa Jolla
For lunch we went to Curry House. We ordered a pork katsu curry, corn soup, and iced green tea. All of the items were just ok for me.
Curry HouseCurry House - Pork Katsu Curry w/ 2 supplemented shrimp
After lunch we walked around Nijiya Market (which is in the same plaza as Curry House).
Japanese candyJapanese raisins
We checked into our hotel, took a short afternoon nap, and then headed to the downtown/Gaslamp area. Before leaving, I checked out the Chowhound California board to see what restaurants people were recommending in San Diego. A French place called Cafe Chloe seemed to be mentioned most often so I decided to go there for dinner. We arrived at 5:20pm, right before the dinner rush. By the time we left (around 7), the place was packed. It's a nice looking place w/ indoor and outdoor seating. Here are a few pics:
Cafe Chloe - exteriorCafe Chloe - dining roomCafe Chloe - bar area
We ordered the following items:
  • Garlic Shrimp Brochette
  • Steak and frites w/ a cauliflower gratin
  • Black Cod w/ pumpkin puree and artichokes
  • Pomegranate Mimosa
After almost twenty five minutes (from the time we placed our order), the Shrimp Brochette arrived. The shrimp were overcooked and lukewarm. Not a good start...
Cafe Chloe - Garlic Shrimp Brochette
We waited another twenty minutes before our entrees arrived. The steak and frites were lukewarm. The accompanying cauliflower gratin was extremely hot. The black cod was also lukewarm. I'm guessing this was a timing issue where the kitchen was waiting for the gratin to finish.
Cafe Chloe - Steak and FritesCafe Chloe - Black Cod
The steak and frites were just ok. The black cod was slightly above average. The cauliflower gratin and pumpkin puree were probably the best items.

Service was somewhat erratic throughout the meal. Thinking back, we definitely should have mentioned the temperature of the dishes and the overcooked shrimp.

I was pretty disappointed w/ Cafe Chloe. It's a nice place but the food seems overrated.

After dinner, we walked around the Gaslamp area and Horton Plaza.

Next, we headed to Little Italy. We stopped at Cafe Zucchero for a chocolate and nocciola (hazelnut) gelato. We thought the gelato would/should be decent in Little Italy but we were wrong. The texture and flavor of both the chocolate and nociolla was off. Both had a powdery texture and artificial taste.
Cafe Zucchero
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Saffron for a "post-dessert" snack. We originally wanted sticky rice w/ mango, but the cashier told us that it was only available during the summer months. We ended up getting sticky rice w/ banana instead. It was very tasty!

We spent the morning at Balboa Park. It was beautiful - I wish we had something like this in Phoenix. It's so sad - I can't think of any major "attractions" in Phoenix. Whenever people come to visit, we end up taking them to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, etc. Why are we still here?!?
Balboa ParkBalboa ParkBalboa Park
As we were walking back to the car, we saw condos (directly across from the park) w/ a banner - "Starting from the 300's". We were going to check them out but upon closer inspection, we saw that they had studio, 1br, and 2br units. 300k for a studio?!? Given it's a prime location, but still...we passed and went to lunch instead.

For lunch we went to Dumpling Inn. I've been to Dumpling Inn twice before, on previous visits to San Diego.

We had spicy beef noodle soup, marinated cucumber, and xiao long bao. The beef noodle soup was good, although the beef was not quite as tender as it should have been. The marinated cucumbers were great - the best thing I ate during our trip. The xiao long bao were good - not the best I've had, but good.
Dumpling Inn - spicy beef noodle soupDumpling Inn - marinated cucumberDumpling Inn - xiao long bao
After lunch we headed back to Phoenix. It looks like we got out of there just in time! (raging fires in San Diego)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is the "Tan Man" going down?

Angelo Mozilo a.k.a. Mr. Tan Man(Photo from L.A. Times/Reuters)

Finally! The SEC has begun investigating the stock sales of Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo. Since the beginning of this year, Mozilo has sold over $130 million in Countrywide stock. Employees of the company (especially those w/ CFC stock in their 401(k)s) must really love him now. In various interviews, he's also been changing his story as the housing/mortgage industry tanks.

This guy just seems shady. Kind of like Kenneth Lay and Enron.

Read more about the SEC investigation here.

Here are some great comments and articles about Mozilo:
  • Howard Lindzon observations here (make sure you read the mock letter from "The Fly" - it's hilarious)
  • Brett Arends/ article here
  • Maria Bartiromo's (Business Week) interview w/ Mozillo here
Here's a great comment from a Business Week reader regarding the Bartiromo/Mozilo interview:

Angelo Mozilo says: "Remember, we didn't reach out to home buyers. They came to us." Countrywide is still running commercials saying: "No points! No documentation fee! No title or escrow fees! Absolutely no closing costs, so you end up with more cash." Either Mozilo defines "reaching out" as "grabbing the arms of people walking by our offices" or he thinks readers are stupid enough to believe Countrywide did not push no-cost cash-out loans. Either one is insulting.

Paul Manoogian

I was thinking the exact same thing when I read the interview...

Have fun w/ the SEC, Mr. Mozilo!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A full weekend

For brunch on Saturday we went to the Market at Vincent's. The market (held every Saturday from 9am-1pm) just resumed operation last week, after being closed for the summer.
Saturday Market @ Vincent's - sign
We decided to share a panino and crepe.

The panini are made to order w/ your choice of the following: shrimp, chicken, basil, tomato, mozzarella, peppers, onions, pesto (these are the ones I remember...I know I'm forgetting a few). We ordered a shrimp panino with pretty much all of the available ingredients. The panino was great. Patty thought it was even better than the panino we had eaten the night before at Andreoli. They were very different so I don't know if I would compare them directly. Overall, Vincent's panini had more flavor (as there were many more ingredients), but I really loved the beef at Andreoli. Andreoli's panino was a very simple sandwich (beef, fontina, and bread), where the flavor of the beef was the main focus.
Saturday Market @ Vincent's - panini
For the crepe, I decided on a mixed berry filling (blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry).
The crepe itself was very good but the fruit filling was extremely sweet (like eating straight sugar syrup). We ended up removing most of the filling from the crepe. The residual filling still provided more than enough sweetness. Next time we'll try one with ice cream instead.
Saturday Market @ Vincent's - crepe
We both really liked the market. We'll be back soon...

After brunch, we met up with Al, Linda, and Selena to see Lust, Caution. For those of you have never heard of this movie before, it was directed by Ang Lee (director of Brokeback Mountain) and won a Golden Lion for best film at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. Patty had been anxiously waiting for this movie to come out. I thought it was a great movie. It's a espionage thriller set during the time of the Japanese occupation of China. Many critics have given it pretty mediocre reviews while regular viewers all seem to love the movie. The critics all seem to be focusing on the rather explicit sex scenes (the film is rated NC-17) and probably don't understand all of the cultural issues and history behind the story.
Poster for Lust, Caution
After the movie, Al, Linda, Patty and I went to Mandala Tea Room for dinner. This was the first visit there for all of us.

Mandala is an organic vegan cafe located in Old Town Scottsdale. Although I've read about this place a few times, I had forgotten about the vegan part when I suggested it....oops. =)

We ordered a few teas, soup of the day - African Peanut Soup, curry vermicelli rice noodle bowl ("asian inspired dish with cold vermicelli rice noodles topped with grilled tempeh, chilled organic veggies + almonds - served with a hot coconut curry sauce"), and mandala macro platter ("complete balanced meal - brown rice, house adzuki beans + sauteed seasonal organic veggies + fresh green side salad served with dressing infusion of choice on side").

Here are some pictures:
Mandala Tea Room - teaMandala Tea Room - African Peanut SoupMandala Tea Room - curry vermicelli rice noodle bowlMandala Tea Room - mandala macro platter
I thought the soup and teas were good. The soup was the best tasting thing that we ordered. It basically tasted like a butternut squash soup w/ a bit of curry and finely crushed peanuts thrown in.

The main dishes to say it nicely...a bit bland? The noodles were decent but the macro platter was basically a plateful of beans, rice, and lettuce. Without the accompanying "dressing infusion", it would have been pretty hard to finish.

Although I did feel quite healthy after our meal, I thought the main dishes were way overpriced ($13 each). The food cost of each dish is probably less than a dollar. Oh yeah - it's organic...make that two dollars. I think a price of around seven to eight dollars would be reasonable.

I'm still glad we tried it, but I wouldn't go back for the food. Maybe for a tea if I was in the area.

After dinner, Patty and I headed to the Greater Phoenix Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. This was our first time going to this festival. I was surprised at how many people were least a few thousand people. We watched some dancing performances and then had an after dinner "snack" - a gyro and a bottle of greek beer. Both were good.

Here are some pictures:
Greater Phoenix Greek FestivalGreater Phoenix Greek FestivalGreater Phoenix Greek Festival - gyro and beer
On Sunday we made pumpkin pie (using this recipe) for the first time. Although I kept reminding Patty that there was such a thing as canned pumpkin filling, she insisted on making the filling from scratch...for the "experience". We did use a pre-made crust though.

Here's a picture of one of our "victims":
The pie turned out pretty good. It wasn't overly sweet (we modified the recipe amounts a bit) and the level of spice was just right.

Here's the finished pie...minus a sample slice. =)
pumpkin pie
We also made roasted pumpkin seeds w/ melted butter, salt, cinnamon, sugar. Yum...
roasted pumpkin seeds