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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Pudding

Last Christmas I made a Bûche de Noël with meringue mushrooms from Jacques Pepin's book to serve at a Christmas dinner party.

This year I thought about making another one but didn't quite get into the same holiday spirit. This was partly because Christmas is actually not a holiday in Taiwan; it is just another work day. Nevertheless I was still hoping to have some holiday treats. Just as I was wondering about what to do, dear friends of ours surprised us with a Christmas pudding from Duchy (started by Charles, Prince of Whales) and a jar of brandy butter.

My friends know full well my penchant for food and I was delighted with the gift. I must admit Christmas pudding is actually a new thing for me. While I enjoy some British cuisine, my knowledge of British desserts is quite limited. As one can see from the picture at the top, I typically favor the French. Therefore, before I followed the instructions to reheat the pudding, I started to research about this concoction.

Christmas pudding is essentially a steamed pudding with a lot of dried fruit, nuts, and some brandy. It is usually made a few weeks before Christmas and then reheated before serving. The pudding is typically enjoyed on Christmas Day and we decided to follow suit. Traditionally the pudding contains silver coins, which is believed to bring wealth for the following year. The pudding is also usually served with a flaming brandy doused on top of it. I skipped this part since it was not in the reheat instruction from Duchy. Of the three methods to reheat: steam, boil, and microwave, I opted for the last one. The first two methods require a couple of hours, which I didn't have. The microwave method took only about 15 minutes. While the pudding was being reheated, it smelled great; the cognac in the pudding perfumed the apartment.

After the pudding is cooked, I flipped it onto a plate. I must admit the Christmas pudding is definitely not the prettiest of desserts. It is essentially a black pudding and I didn't have the usual decoration of holly to lighten up the appearance.

Nevertheless, looks can be deceiving. The pudding was actually quite tasty, especially with the creamy brandy butter.

Therefore, a big "thank you" to our dear friends for introducing us to another British tradition. Maybe next year, I will try to make one myself with some coins and flaming brandy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Au Revoir to All That

Recently I finished reading Michael Steinberger's Au Revoir to All That. The book is about the decline of the quality of French food culture. There are chapters on the influence of the Michelin Guide, the problem with Camembert cheese, the rise of the entrepreneur chefs such as Alain Ducasse, and the success of McDonald's in France. I quite enjoyed reading the book.

I learned from the book that the McCafés in France serve macarons. I was quite amused by Steinberger's account of him trying the macarons along with other journalists:

Petit [Chief Executive of McDonald's France] began making the rounds with a plate of macarons and insisted I try one. I took a pistachio. Not bad, I thought, but no Ladurée. As if reading my mind, Petit immediately chimed in, "We get the macarons from Holder, the company that owns Ladurée."

Below is an ad for the macaron at McDo:

I am reminded of my earlier blog entry on asking Vera to choose between Robu's macaron and McDo. It looks like in France, it would be no contest.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quote | Trace

Unless you trace the line you will not remember.

- Le Corbusier, cited by Michael Graves in an interview about books and learning from precedents.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quote | Customers

We are architects ... We serve customers...I can't just decide myself what's being built. Someone decides what they want, then I work for them.

- Frank Gehry responding to charges that his buildings are too extravagant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gehry for Gaga

Is there anything Frank Gehry cannot design? The octogenarian just designed a hat for Lady Gaga, and drew the initial design on his iPhone.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lang Lang

Maria and I were invited to attend Lang Lang's concert with Taipei Symphony Orchestra at Taipei Dome. It was unfortunate the concert had to be held at a sports arena instead of a concert hall, because the music had to be amplified and the acoustics simply left much to be desired.

The same can be said of Lang's outfit. He wore a slightly shiny, black tuxedo-like outfit. The jacket has shawl collars with white trim, which continues down the side seams of the pants. I don't understand why today's classical musicians, especially conductors and soloists, can't just wear normal tuxedos with tails, which never go out of style.

As for the concert I was a bit disappointed with the program. In the first half, Lang played the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. I like the piece except I can no longer disassociate the piece from United Airlines. Lang probably cannot either since he made a commercial for United Airlines with Herbie Hancock last year. In any event, I don't feel classical-jazz improvisation is Lang's strong suit.

After the intermission, Lang played Chopin's Opus 22. He finished the concert with Yellow River Concerto. I thought he would be tired of playing this piece since he plays it constantly in front of Chinese audiences. I would have preferred to listen to something like Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, the piece he is planning to play later this month in Berlin.

Lang played two more pieces, both by Chopin, as encore to end the concert: Op. 10 No. 3 and Op. 25 No. 1. There is no question that Lang is an extremely talented pianist. He also seems to be a charismatic person, very much at ease with the spotlight, and has a desire to connect with the audience. However his interpretation or style of play simply doesn't suit my taste. This was clearly illustrated by the two encore pieces. Besides his gyrations and expressions, he likes to drag out the notes and play the pieces much slower than my liking. For me there is a bit of unnecessary indulgence. While I admire his prodigious talent, I have to respectfully disagree with his approach.