The Otium

[remodeling soon!]

Cape Gooseberry Pico de Gallo & my Relationship with Michigan Football

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I spend my summers waiting for them to end.

The last weekend in August has been my favorite time of year for as long as I can remember.  It’s the weekend when I organize my new stack of spiral notebooks, ready to be filled with lecture notes.  It’s the weekend when the days remain warm, but the nights get cold, teasing the change of seasons.  And it’s the weekend college football returns.

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I loved — and I’d like to think I still love — college football, ever since setting foot on the University of Michigan.  That place has a way of turning even the most counterculture of us all into a maize-and-blue-bedecked zombie who staggers to and from Michigan Stadium every Saturday for three months each autumn.  I was one of them.  I attach many of my favorite memories to Michigan football games:  bonding with girlfriends after an epic win over Penn State sophomore year; being almost-late to my sister’s wedding because of the nail-biting triple-overtime win over Illinois; and my S.O. and I going to our first game together at Michigan Stadium when Nebraska came to town after joining the Big 10.

I love the atmosphere of college football, and how the fans have a deeper connection than they do with a pro team.  I usually celebrate Michigan’s season opener with a spread of tailgate food — even if it’s just the S.O. and me.  But somehow, this year, I didn’t even realize college football was kicking off this weekend until I logged in to Facebook and saw several “Go Blue!” posts.  I wasn’t excited.  I just felt obligated to watch. (more…)

New Boise Restaurants: Patel’s Chaat House Indian Street Food

Finally, finally, Boise has Indian food worth paying for.

When the S.O. and I moved to Boise a year and a half ago, we knew we’d have to make sacrifices.  We gave up our weekly biryani runs to Namaste Flavours.  I quit my Andhra special pesarattu addiction at Athidhi, cold turkey.  And our long weekends in Toronto, spent gorging ourselves on Indo-Chinese Hakka noodles, Sri Lankan takeout, and kaju katli, became distant memories.

We gave Boise’s Indian food scene a fair shake, trying each of the three Indian restaurants in town at least twice.  But ultimately, we’ve relied upon becoming better home cooks to fill the void.  And that’s fine.  We want to cook Indian well.

But we’d also love the convenience of being able to grab some chaat for a quick lunch.

And now, finally, we can.

Last Friday, Patel’s Chaat House opened its doors.  Patel’s is located inside India Foods grocery store (6020 W Fairview Ave, Boise).  The order taker and kitchen are at the back of the store, and a small dining area is off to the side.  They’ll bring your order to your table, but water, cutlery, and napkins are self-serve.  Bus your own dishes.

Patel’s has the characteristics of every legit Indian joint:  food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks and spoons, and the place is already a dive despite being brand new.

The menu focuses on chaat, or street food, from North India, specifically Gujarat.  They have an impressive and broad menu posted on the wall, but are only offering a few items while they get their sea legs under them.  Menu items range $1.99-3.99; if you’re looking to make a meal out of Patel’s, plan on 1.5-2 dishes per person.

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On offer today was khandvi, one of my favorite chaat items.  As soon as I saw this Gujarati specialty on the menu, I knew Patel’s would be a winner — the difficulty of making this dish precludes it from appearing on many menus.  Gram flour dough is made into thin strips, then rolled into spirals with mustard seeds and cumin seeds.  Patel’s khandvi was tender and wriggly, and moved like a cube of Jell-O thumped with the backside of a spoon.  It had an earthy, savory flavor enhanced by the mustard and cumin.  Topped with coconut, cilantro, and sev (crisp gram flour shreds), this snack is served cold with chutney.

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Day Trip: Japanese & Latin Food Adventures in Onatrio, Oregon

Rarely does a farm town of barely 11,000 residents offer a more compelling immigrant story than the nearby 600,000+ metropolitan area.

But such is the case in Ontario, Oregon, a small community straddling the Idaho-Oregon border, about an hour west of Boise.  During WWII, the Treasure Valley welcomed the Japanese escaping internment on the West Coast, offering them farming jobs vacated by servicemen.  As a result, Ontario saw an influx of Japanese seeking work in the onion fields.  Over time, the Japanese-Americans gained a presence in Ontario’s commerce and have left an indelible mark on the town’s history.  Having grown up Japanese in Hawaii, Ontario’s story hit home.

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Visitors can taste the Japanese influence on Ontario at Ogawa’s Teriyaki Hut (375 E. Idaho Ave., Ontario).  Don’t expect kaiseki.  The menu is unapologetically, gun-totingly Idaho, offering rice bowls topped in teriyaki sauce, simple sushi rolls, chicken katsu, and — of course — hamburgers.  But the food is tasty:  the sushi is reliably fresh and rolled neat and tight, the rice bowls are comforting on a cold day, and the chicken katsu is crisp and succulent.

After lunch, visit the Japanese garden at the Four Rivers Cultural Center (676 SW 5th Ave., Ontario).  The Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple (286 SE 4th Ave., Ontario), established by Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, hosts weekly services and an annual summertime obon festival where one can immerse oneself in Japanese dance, taiko drumming, and food. (more…)

Remembering Our Heroes in Normandy

Finally, the last post about the Summer ’14 France trip!

We had a fitting end to our French nuclear facilities tour with a day paying tribute to our American heroes who fought alongside the Allied forces in WWII in Normandy.  We started out in Sainte-Mère-Église, then made our way to Pointe du Hoc.  The Pointe du Hoc is a cliff atop a promontory separating Utah Beach (to the west) and Omaha Beach (to the east).

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On D-Day, American paratroopers landed on both Utah and Omaha Beaches.  A group of Army Rangers also scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc and captured the Pointe from the Germans.

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Noticing Details at D-Day Sites

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My favorite photos capture small details of a place that would be forgotten if not for the picture.  On a family trip to Japan several years ago, my mother made endless fun of me for zooming in and snapping photos of nubs cast into a decorative post at some temple.  But after seeing my photos, she admitted that the nubs were her favorite picture.

Details matter.  Especially at an excessively overphotographed tourist site — everyone shoots the landscape, so their capture looks no different than that taken by their neighbor three years ago.  So I prefer shooting the overlooked details that make a photo stand out and a place more memorable.

Our French nuclear facilities tour concluded in the Normandy region on a Friday night, so we spent our Saturday visiting the historic WWII sites and beaches en route back to Paris.  Our first stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, a small town best known for American paratrooper John Steele becoming suspended from the church tower during the D-Day landings.  The little Gothic church now keeps a mannequin of an American solider, with a parachute flapping in the wind, tangled on the spires. (more…)