Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Stuff You Should Watch



I first learned about Sukiyabashi Jiro from Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. While in Tokyo he visited a tiny sushi bar in the basement of a subway station. The place seats only about ten people and they serve only one food, sushi. Sukiyabashi Jiro is owned and operated by Jiro Ono, an 85 year old master sushi chef who has been awarded 3 Michelin stars and designated as a living national treasure by the Japanese government. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a critically acclaimed documentary about the man, the restaurant, and most importantly, his sons who are charged with carrying on their father's legacy. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is available now on Netflix streaming, so your access to this wonderful film could never be easier.

Sushi has been something of a trendy dining experience over the last few decades in America. For some, its the only food they know of from Japan while for the Japanese, sushi was more of an occasional delicacy than a main dish. The explosion of popularity of sushi put Jiro Ono's way of preparing fish in a positive collision course with the taste buds of the world's most influential food critics. This documentary dives into the personality that drives this small restaurant and what it takes to maintain a high level of perfection. Perfection really is the word even though Jiro himself would say that perfection is the goal, but never attainable.

The most interesting aspect of this documentary is the exploration of the father to son relationship in this business. Jiro's standards are high and his skill is legendary. It is said by a former apprentice, that when Jiro dies, his eldest son will need to exceed his father's skill just to match his influence. His father is that important to Japanese food culture. They also explored the thoughts Jiro and his son have about over fishing and sustainable fish stocks. He explains how finding some fish and shellfish used to be easy but now it is nearly impossible. Wild shrimp, at the quality he needs, are nearly impossible now for example.

I don't want to ruin the movie for you, because its one of those that needs to be seen and experienced first hand to really gasp how important this man, his sons, and his small restaurant are for a country and for food lovers everywhere. Check it out on Netflix streaming.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

LEGO Project: Gandalf Arrives


The LEGO Project series is a look through the Second Snack collection of LEGO sets from Thomas’ childhood as well as some modern sets. For years these LEGO bricks and pieces have been laying dormant in plastic bins but with the pooled resources of the Internet, reassembling sets is now a reality.

This may surprise some of you who have been following along with the LEGO updates to Second Snack but Star Wars isn't my favorite trilogy in cinema. Fighting in space, light sabers, and star ships are pretty cool, but those things pale in comparison to a bunch of Hobbits, a Wizard, Elves, and the all-seeing eye of Sauron. Lord of the Rings is the ultimate trilogy and LEGO has FINALLY put out some new sets based on this awesome book and movie series.

The cool thing about these new Lord of the Rings sets is that there are several listed under the $30 mark. That's pretty awesome since LEGO tends to cost a bit of gold (of course its worth it) but the lower end of the price range sets are always intriguing to me. Because I had a choice of which "cheap" set to buy, I had to take my time and really think about which one would be the first to get a place on our bookshelf.

In the end, Gandalf Arrives won. When I think back on the movies, the first time we see Gandalf and Frodo together is when the fireworks laden cart slowly moves down the country road to Hobbiton. Its an iconic scene and it did a lot to fuse this story into a special place in my heart. So to commemorate how much Lord of the Rings rocks, I chose this set.

The details of this set are great. We've got fireworks in a barrel in the back of the cart, Gandalf's staff, a carrot for the horse, and a copy of "There And Back Again" for Frodo to carry around. Gandalf's sitting position is even correct with him off center. Its such a great looking set. I really hope LEGO continues with this series and produces just as many sets as they have with Star Wars. Here's hoping -- Lets wait and see.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fail Gardener Update: Learning Along The Way


This post is part of an ongoing series about the amateur gardening efforts of Second Snack. With no prior knowledge of how to do any of this, hilarity and fails will most definitely be happening. Follow along and see how this experiment turns out.

For twelve years the soil my garden is growing in lay dormant. It supported a bunch of weeds but other than that, there was no effort to make the soil work and produce anything substantial. After a decade of rest, I put my plants in and with almost no effort, my plants have taken off. There are tomato plants out there that are almost as tall as I am. I say "almost no effort" because there have been some little tricks I've used out in the yard to help the plants along and keep them healthy and productive. One of those tricks I learned was how to prune tomato plants.

Left to their own devices, tomato plants will grow like crazy and most likely collapse on themselves due to excessive weight. Tomato plants are weird because they'll grow and grow and grow without any regard to energy efficiency. One example of their inefficient way of growing is their tendency to sprout "sucker stems." Check out the picture above (blurry sorry) and look for a young stem sprouting in the "crotch" of two existing stems. A couple of times a week, every week, I'll examine my tomato plants and pinch these off. Why would I purposely remove growth from my tomato plant?

Well, tomatoes are like factories that package energy into their fruit (the parts we eat). Leaves bring in sunlight and help with the production of energy for plants so they're good to have on a plant. But, if you have a lot of them, the plant also has to use energy to maintain the stems they're connected to. Sucker stems may eventually bear fruit, but if they don't, they're basically a diversion of energy that could have been going to fruit production on the main stem. By removing sucker stems, you help guide energy towards the main parts of the plant and ultimately, to the fruit which you want to harvest.

It felt weird the first time I started snapping stems off my plants but I've seen the positive results of doing so. My San Francisco Fog variety is loaded with tomatoes growing steadily. The main stem and branches have more than enough leaves to help bring in the sun's energy, but the plant is trim and efficient because of my selective pruning of sucker stems.

Another benefit of removing sucker stems is that you help keep the plant open to air and wind moving through its leaves. This helps reduce the chance of disease and pests and dries the leaves if water happens to fall directly on them.

Pruning sucker stems is not necessary at all. A tomato plant can produce just fine on it's own with just a cage to keep it propped up along with some watering. But, to help it along and get better fruit out of your plant, keeping it pruned and efficient will yield great results.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

LEGO Project: TIE Interceptor & Death Star


The LEGO Project series is a look through the Second Snack collection of LEGO sets from Thomas’ childhood as well as some modern sets. For years these LEGO bricks and pieces have been laying dormant in plastic bins but with the pooled resources of the Internet, reassembling sets is now a reality.

Hey another fun small set from LEGO! This one is extra special because Sarah gave it to me for my birthday. There are very few pieces but one of the biggest pieces I've seen in a LEGO set is included. As you can see in the picture, its the Death Star piece on the right in the picture above. Along with the Death Star is a miniature model of a TIE Fighter along with a pilot mini-fig. These two sit on a custom stand with a plaque explaining what the model is. Quite a neat little set and from the looks of it, its one of three that LEGO has put out that is similar to the other two in the series.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fail Gardener Update: FOOD!


This post is part of an ongoing series about the amateur gardening efforts of Second Snack. With no prior knowledge of how to do any of this, hilarity and fails will most definitely be happening. Follow along and see how this experiment turns out.

Well, the plants are definitely producing now. Last time I showed you what I called the calm before the storm. Now, we've got food coming in to the kitchen from the yard a couple of times a week. Unfortunately most of my pictures are on my phone and I'm too lazy to post those pictures but I've got two for you for this blog post.

Above is a picture of the first Sungold tomato to ripen. This is a cherry variety and is so... dang... good. The other day, I plucked this tomato from the vine, rinsed it off, and popped it in my mouth. I will remember the sensation of how that tomato tasted for a very long time. The explosion of flavor that resulted from the crush of my molars into that little tomato was intense. I stood in the kitchen with my eyes closed (how embarrassing) chewing on that tomato and yelling at Sarah, "duuuude this is so good!"

Most of my harvesting so far has been bringing in zucchini and yellow crook-neck squash. Their flavor is subtle but compared to a store-bought version, very distinct. Usually when I cook with these two vegetables after getting them from the store, their flavor pretty much blends in to whatever else they have been cooked with. The versions from the garden retain their flavor and can be identified very easily while eating. Its just amazing what flavors you can get from a home grown vegetable.

The biggest surprise to come out of the garden has been the green beans off of the six bush beans plants that I put in. Bush beans are cool plants because they aren't vines and don't require a stake or ladder to climb. Honestly, I put them in because they filled space. After everything around them grew, they've actually become quite crowded out. They're thriving despite this though. So far I've been able to harvest about three big handfuls of green beans. Enough to feed me through one meal and an awesome panko crusted snack.

The great thing about these green beans is that even after cooking completely, they retain their snappy and crunchy texture. I don't remember ever having a green bean that didn't get mushy after a good amount of time being cooked. Next year, I may have to plant more bush bean plants because so far, this might be the best treat from the garden.