Food and Drink

My Summer Vacation, Part II: Food and Stuff

[I made an edit to my last post. Apparently, the video I had didn’t embed, and I didn’t notice until Trisha pointed it out to me. I’ve put a link in the text.]

On one of my days off (it’s always a working vacation), before Typhoon Glenda hit, I went to the Yummy Eats 2014 food festival. I went primarily to pick up handcrafted, thick-cut bacon from Mad Meats, but once you have a bag of meat, there’s a tendency to start a collection. After all, what good is meat if you don’t have cheese? And what good is cheese if you don’t have artisanal crackers? And so on. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures from the festival, but the following are the ones I thought were worth sharing.

Cream Cheeses

Cream cheeses flavors with herbs and garlic. Very good, but we forgot about them and left the jars I bought in the Philippines.

Pouf!

Pouf! Marshmallow Creme. It came in three flavors: original, Oreo, and cookies and cream. I tried the latter, and it was delicious, but I didn’t think I could transport a jar of it safely back to Malaysia in my baggage.

Chicharrones

Chicharrones. Deep fried pork rinds (pork skin). Absolutely delicious.

Game of Thrones Cake

A Game of Thrones cake!

There were many more booths, one with a lasagna that I loved, but alas, I left my festival guide behind, and can’t remember the names of the vendors.

As always, the food in the Philippines was ridiculously good across the board.

Stay tuned for Part III, in which I drop some helpful tips for not being “that person” on an airplane.

A Diamond and a Nerd Cocktail

Today, I present a contrast of my own making.

The first half is the engagement ring, which I finally brought back from Taipei. It has been generally well received.

Diamond

As diamonds tend to be, unless they are sat upon.

Like both the giver and wearer, it is fairly simple, but a little twisted. The giver is actually very twisted, but the wearer doesn’t know the half of it. He is multifaceted.

The other thing is the creation and official documentation of the Fat Jedi (Green). I’ve changed its name to The Hamill, because it sounds like a dangerous trick in an extreme sport, which isn’t far off the Mark. (Dear god…)

Fat Jedi (Green): The Hamill

Nerd cocktails are the fucking worst.

There’s a bit of history regarding this cocktail, and recipes for the blue and red varieties in a previous post. In short, a long time ago, a couple friends and I went out for drinks, started talking Star Wars with the bartender–like you do–and after a bout of storytelling involving a fat man, a comic book store, and Jedi robes, the bartender helped us concoct a series of Fat Jedi cocktails. This is the first. I don’t have gin in the cabinet yet, so the Fat Jedi (Blue): The Sir Alec will have to wait until next time I decide to do something I regret.

Yes. That’s Cheeto dust on the rim. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

[Note: I do not condone or recommend the putting of Cheeto detritus into any form of smoking apparatus (pipe, bong, hookah, vaporizer, etc), nor do I condone or recommend the inhaling of the combusted byproducts of said Cheeto detritus. Do not smoke Cheetos.]

Pancake Lady

Taipei.

The hot griddle causes sweat to bead just below her hairline, but it never seems to collect in enough quantity to come rolling down her slightly wrinkled cheek, so if she even notices it, she ignores the sensation. Her black hair is streaked with a little grey, but no stoop, waddle or limp will betray her age. With a nasally bark in Chinese, she gestures to me with the oiled metal spatula in her right hand while flipping a pancake with an identical spatula in the other. When I’m done stumbling through the wreckage of broken Chinese and mangled, affected English, she barks again in Chinese, this time to the young couple working prep behind her. The woman next to her flips her a couple half finished radish pancakes. Sinewy wrists work the flat circles of cooking batter over and over with lightning speed.

When the toppings are ready, the two metal spatulas blur and gleam in the morning sun, fluffing the pancakes and clinking in rapid staccato against the griddle. The metal and wood are extensions of her arm, and she never lets go, bringing anything she needs to the griddle with a flash and clink. When the pancakes are done, the limber wrists roll them up and slide them into a bag. Finally, she lets go of one spatula and holds the bag out, gripping the handles between an iron thumb and forefinger. When I take it and pay, her eyes dart to the next person in line, and she issues another nasally, high-pitched command.

I walk away, and the rapid-fire clinkity-clinkity-clinkity-clinkity follows me down the block.

For A Character Study

Homemade Pizza!

I made pizza entirely from scratch for the first time–dough and everything. I was going to take pictures as I went, but during the dough-making process, my hands got a bit gooey, and I wasn’t about to touch a camera.

Here are the After pictures.

Homemade Pizza

One quarter impulse, ensign.

and

Red Alert!

Something seems to have fused to the hull, captain. Fascinating….

Aaaaaaand we’re done for today.

Edit: Crap… I probably should have included a recipe or something.

Dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp XV olive oil

Add water, yeast and 1 tbsp olive oil to a bowl and stir until Not Lumpy. Let sit until foamy, or about 5 minutes. Get a big-ass mixing bowl and start adding the flour gradually. About half of it to start, and then about a small handful after you’ve made what you have Not Lumpy. Keep adding that flour in until the dough is somewhat tacky (not like a shirt, but like glue). Pull it out of the big-ass bowl and knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface. You don’t need to wail on it, just tender caresses. Either wash out that big-ass bowl or get a second big-ass bowl. Oil it down with the other 1 tbsp of olive oil. Toss that hunk of dough into the oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temp. It’s going to grow about 2x its size, so after about an hour and a half, you can do what you want. Toss it into the fridge (still in the bowl), maybe. Some people say to leave it for 16-24 hours after that, but you should be able to use it pretty much right away if you want. If you threw it into the fridge, put it back out on that floured surface and let it get back to room temp. It might be enough for one giant (or two smaller) thin crust pizza(s), or one large-ish thick crust pizza. Make whatever sauce you want. I threw some tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper into the blender. Top with whatever. Bake at 250-ish Celsius for about 20-ish minutes or until golden brown on the edges.

It’s a treat. Do it.

A Hopelessly Fruity Post

Today, I’m spending the day bracing myself for the Writing 101 event, so I’m just going to post pictures of tropical fruits available here in Malaysia.

Durian

I’m not bringing a stinky durian into this house, so just imagine a cantaloupe that’s covered in spikes and smells like a banana rotting inside a gym bag. It’s a big thing in this country, but almost no one else on the planet likes it. Because of its obnoxious odor, and, presumably, its use as a weapon, it’s banned on the subways in Taipei and Singapore. I tasted it, and had to eat three (3) cloves of garlic to remove the taste from my mouth. Every culture, of course, has some heinous food they consider a delicacy, but which causes most other people to scratch their heads or dry heave. As far as I can tell, durian is the Malaysian answer to Taiwan’s stinky tofu.

Jackfruit

_MG_3660Jackfruit looks a lot like a durian, but is slightly larger and more oblong. It’s also crazy sweet and has a slightly fibrous texture. The edible yellow pods have a giant pit in the middle, so one typically eats the fruit by stripping bits of it off like string cheese. This will make your house and refrigerator smell sweet, even weeks after it’s gone. If durian is Jayne Cobb, jackfruit is Kaylee Frye.

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Passionfruit

_MG_3641We’ve all probably had some sort of passionfruit-flavored this, that or the other at some point. What you may not know is that the actual passionfruit is wonderfully sweet and tart, and has some big black edible seeds that are fine if you eat the fruit with a spoon, but are super annoying when you blend them into a drink. Also weird is that it kind of looks like goblin snot. Pro tip: strain the seeds out before making a beverage out of passionfruit.

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Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)

_MG_3629There are two types of dragon fruit, so far as I can tell: white and red. White is white on the inside, and red is really more of a neon magenta than anything else. Both varieties have black seeds, like those of a kiwi. Also like a kiwi, but to a lesser degree, dragon fruit is tart. The skin (inedible) is waxy, thick and rubbery like a prop for a science fiction movie, but is surprisingly easy to cut with a knife–imagine room temperature butter. One note is that the flesh of the red variety, if eaten in quantity (roughly half or more of one fruit) will stain your insides, and you will be pissing magenta for the rest of the day. It could be a great prank if you have to take a drug test.

Rambutan

_MG_3644I had a post a while back with some pictures of a rambutan tree I found when I stumbled onto an orchard in the jungle. Rambutan (singular and plural), have these thick hairs on their outsides, but they’re almost rubbery like a dragon fruit’s exterior. The inside is white like a peeled grape, and tastes pretty much the same. In the middle of the flesh is an inedible pit the size of an almond, so don’t just chomp into a rambutan unless you’re trying to remove your own teeth.

_MG_3653_MG_3654_MG_3656

Bananas

For scale.

_MG_3663

Strawberry-Passionfruit daiquiri: the crunchiest of daiquiris, if you don’t remove the seeds.

Phone Monkey: Why We Drink (NSFL)

Today is a short post because I need a day to myself. But here are some direct quotes from email or phone conversations I’ve had with customers and restaurant staff. Sprinkled in are quotes from other phone monkeys. I’ll let you guess whose are whose. Also, be aware that even though these exchanges happened in the workplace, they are 100% NSFW, not child safe, and demoralizingly NSFL.

Yeah, that cheese steak was my only guarantee to get laid. I’d like to see you fix that!

[slurring] You need to come down here and serve me. You took an oath and you have to serve me. Because you’re a public servant. You need to come down here and be my bitch.

He was drunk and on the drugs.

You’re so nice, I love you. *hiccup*

How fucking stupid can you guys be? […] A bunch of fucking monkeys!

I’ll fucking kill everyone at [_______] if you guys close me tomorrow!

Thundercunts.

I haven’t fucking gotten my food yet! Fuck!

i hate people […] bastards

We don’t read the whole order! You send it, we make it!

Reinstate my account but I don’t want that bitch [_____] to have any contact with me

Fuck you and fuck the driver you hire .
Bunch of idiots 

I love [______]/your service too! You guys really provide great customer service and I want to thank you because I’m guessing you aren’t getting paid much. And, I want to thank you before I sober up. Good job!

They should be BANNED from your site. They are shady and probally ILLEGAL ALIENS
THESE people… they are scum…

I ordered the grilled chicken Caesar wrap and it came with no Caesar which felt dry as it traveled through my esophagus […] Yea compensation would be great as I am very poor and enjoy moist sandwiches.

ALL CAPS!!!1

see you guys tomorrow. i’m gonna get out the whiskey.

Phone Monkey: Trifecta

Before I begin this post in earnest, I should probably make it clear that the vast majority of customers are decent and generally know what they’re doing. Online ordering can be tricky, but most people understand the general requirements of doing business on the Internet.

The Holy Trinity of Online Ordering:

  1. Read: Read all of the instructions, and if you’re going to use a coupon, read the fine print. Terms and conditions always apply. The safety and comfort of your home does not excuse laziness.
  2. Double Check: Always, always, always look through your order to make sure you have put down the correct contact information, billing information, and that you’ve ordered what you think you ordered. You wouldn’t rush through booking an airplane flight. Why would you rush through an order for something that you’re going to put in your body.
  3. Be Cool: If something does go wrong, start at #1 and work your way back. If there is still something wrong, your Phone Monkey will be there to help. Accidents happen, and it’s our job to pick up the pieces. Very, very rarely, does anything blatantly malicious ever happen (a fry cook spitting in food, a driver calling a customer a whore, etc), but when it does, we actually have genetically engineered weasels that we can set upon unscrupulous restaurants.

Of course, we rarely hear from people who are satisfied with the service–after all, we’re the complaints department. Still, most people are reasonable, or at least not belligerent. There are people, of course, who are always impossible to deal with, and generally make our workdays a living hell. Almost all of them are unable to grasp #3 in the Trinity. As I mentioned in a previous Phone Monkey post, I attribute most of this to the anonymity of the Internet allowing people to remove the barrier of decency between their brain and their fingers or mouth (email/phone).

The Unholy Trifecta of Customer Service
1. Lawyers, Law Students, and Pedants

We are definitely not ones to holler, “Kill all the lawyers!” from the bell towers. As I mentioned in a pervious post, they keep us safe from you, and the other way around. As a rule, we’re not opposed to dealing with anyone because they come from any specific social group. But when we see an email addressed To Whom It May Concern, there is much muttering and sighing. One time out of a thousand, we’re surprised, and what follows is courteous. All of the other times, the email is a terse demand, usually for “restitution” and almost always employing the words “rendered,” “pursuant,” and “forthwith.” All they’re missing is the “Good day, sir!” at the end.

Why is this not OK? I understand where this comes from. You’re dealing with someone you’ve never met and probably will never meet, and doing so over the Internet, so the temptation is to come in hard and no-nonsense–make known your intentions. But what it actually turns out to be is bullying. In a meat-space service environment, the people who cause the most stress are the ones who can come into the store or office and physically intimidate. When we’re in the realm of black-on-white, we’re like Neo in the Matrix–muscles don’t mean a damn. As a result, those with command of language are at a huge advantage, which is why your phone monkey is likely to be someone who thought they could make a living as a writer, got a master’s degree, and then fell into a deep dark hole of debt, failure, and regret. And while we wind our way through complaints with tact and grace, the cynics come and present the black-on-white version of a gun. Loaded or not, we have to treat it like one, which means that instead of having a cordial service experience, you’re going to be treated like a menace, and we’re going to hate you for it. Working under duress sucks, especially when it’s the calculated threat of legal action. Be cool, not cold.

2. The Atom Bomb

Some of you may know what a chargeback is. For those who don’t, a chargeback is the result of a financial institution reversing a charge made to a credit card. This can be a great thing for the consumer, as anyone who’s ever had their cards or card numbers stolen can tell you. I can attest that our company would never want to keep a charge from someone whose identity was stolen. Unfortunately, this tool, like any tool, can be and is regularly used for evil. On a daily basis, customers use the threat of a chargeback to get their way from us or our vendors. Sometimes, it’s for major things, like food not delivered, but some days, like today, we have people tell us that they will be asking their bank to reverse the charge on the whole order because nachos and guacamole had clearly been fraternizing. But shouldn’t they? Tsk tsk … come now.

Why is this not OK? It should be obvious. As with the legalese, this is again us working under duress and treating the customer like a threat. But it goes a little deeper than that. Even if the bank denies the chargeback, it’s a pain in the neck for us, labor wise. It can also be hard on some of the small businesses we work with, as frivolous and opportunistic chargebacks can put undue strain on an already uncertain financial situation. By letting customers file chargebacks as freely as they do, we’ve essentially given the keys to a financial atom bomb to people (mostly college students) already in debt to their necks.

3. The Righteous Clueless

You’re home late from work, and all you want to do is sit, relax and order some delivery. Maybe you’ll crochet a sweater with cats on it for your friend. You get on the computer and pop in an order for some Chinese food from the best place in town. The thought of dumplings and roasted meats makes your mouth water. Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rings and you pay and tip your driver, because you’re happy as a clam. As you unpack the bag, the steam fills your nostrils and you tear open the lid to your dumplings and chomp into one. And that’s when it hits you: you’re kosher/halal/vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian/breathairian! How dare the Chinese restaurant give you pork! Get thee to the Better Business Bureau!

Why is this not OK? This mistake happens far more often than it has any right to. After living abroad for some time now, I’ve come to realize that Americans generally don’t have any clue what other people around the world eat. There’s the old dismissal that Chinese food in the States isn’t really Chinese, and to the extent that it’s been molded to an American palate, that’s valid. (You might be surprised, though.) The real concern here is an ignorance of what kinds of things people eat. The quick-and-dirty explanation we got when we came to Malaysia about party etiquette was, “The Muslims don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol, so don’t offer them. The Hindus don’t eat beef, so don’t offer it. And the Chinese eat pretty much anything, so go hog wild.” In the States, more people need that kind of brief education before leaving home. That’s not to say that my education in this matter is finished. In Taipei I learned that pork is a vegetable. True fact. So if you’re ordering from the pretty-much-anything restaurant, expect the unexpected.

Above all, be cool.