Archives by Date
June 2002
Salzburg ·  Recipe: Braised cabbage with chestnuts ·  Recipe: Tiramisu ·  Ivrea ·  Travel is confrontational, and Walensee ·  Alpine Shangri-la ·  Art of our age ·  Pearl Balls ·  My lady ·  Hike in Ticino ·  Hiking in the Alps · 

June 28, 2002  |  Salzburg

This small hometown of Mozart's is a beautiful jewel of a city. A river runs through it, a castle overlooks it, baraque ornamentation in layers and layers like icing, the city is simply a storybook setting. Some building facades seem to be leaning against granite hillsides like stage backdrop, but the catacombs in the same hills prove they're indeed hollowed out many centuries ago. Baroque style is not my favorite but it absolutely works here, and the Austrian work ethic kept everything well-maintained and prestine. I stand in the cathedral square watching a large-scale chess game and am enchanted.

The next day I chose to go an hour outside of town in place of the ubiqitous Sound of Music tours. My destination are some ice caves high in the Austrian Alps; I know what I like. After train, bus, walking, funicular, more walking, I leave the heat and enter the caves where it's 0 degrees inside. It's hard to imagine the mountains being hollow inside (though a week later I went spelunking under Budapest) and house a kingdom of ice. In places the ice have thin layers that can be read like the annual rings of trees... it's estimated the ice in the cave is more than 1,000 years old. A blink in any geological measurement of time, but puts human history into perspective.

Posted by yingzhao 01:01 PM | Permalink
June 25, 2002  |  Recipe: Braised cabbage with chestnuts

(from the New York Times Cookbook, 1979)

1 3lb. Red cabbage (we used regular cabbage and it was good too)
20 chestnuts
¾ lb. Salt pork, but into small cubes (can also do without to make this dish vegetarian)
¼ cup finely chopped onion
3 cooking apples, about 1 lb.
1 cup dry white wine
2 tblsp. Dark brown sugar
2 tblsp. Butter (could do without)
1 tblsp. Red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Peheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Quarter the cabbage and shred it finely.
3. Using a sharp paring knife, make an incision around the perimeter of each chestnut. Place in one layer in a baking dish and bake about10 minutes or until they open. Peel them while they are warm.
4. Heat the salt pork in a large saucepan, until rendered of ist fat, then add the onion and cook briefly.
5. Thinly slice the apple and add to saucepan. Add the wine and bring it to boil. Add the cabbage, with salt and pepper to taste. Add the brown sugar and chestnuts and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure the mixture does not stick and burn.
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 1 hour, or until the cabbage is thoroughly tender. Stir occasionally as it cooks. Stir in the butter and vinegar and blend well. Serve piping hot. Yield: 8 to 12 servings. (note: ours ended up that the chestnuts have mostly disintegrated... I would have cooked it less so the chestnuts still have ist shape and flavor, since they are the reason for this dish in the first place.)

Posted by yingzhao 03:10 PM | Permalink
Recipe: Tiramisu

2 eggs (must be very fresh, as tiramisu is not cooked)
1 package ladyfinger biscuits
50g sugar (about 3 tablespoons)
200g Mascarpone (Italian cream cheese, about 2.5 scoops of ice cream size)
½ lemon skin peel (only the skin, not the thickness) and ½ orange skin peel
1.5 dl dark coffee (some say espresso is best, about ¾ cup)
a bit of coffee liquor or cognac, to mix with the coffee
chocolate powder for sprinkling on top

Separate egg yolk and egg white. Blend egg yolk with the sugar until almost white.
Add in the lemon and orange skin peel, and the Mascarpone, and blend well. (We used a blender.)
Beat the egg white separately, until the froth tips stand up like mountain peaks... that’s a lot of beating if done by hand.
Fold the egg white into the egg yolk and Mascarpone mixture, mix but be careful so that the airy texture of the egg white is still there.
Put one layer of ladyfinger biscuits in a rectangular container (such as for baking cakes), sprinkle with coffee (we eventually dipped the biscuits instead), then put on a layer of the creamy mixture. Then put another layer of ladyfingers, another layer of mixture... we did three layers of each.
Put in fridge for at least an hour. And there you go... the best desert in the world.

Posted by yingzhao 03:09 PM | Permalink
June 20, 2002  |  Ivrea

From Switzerland I made a detour to visit northern Italy, Ivrea, where a new interaction design school is gaining attention. The town of Ivrea didn’t have too much to offer, working class, unkept, in the smouldering heat I have a hard time imagining staying here for two weeks, let alone two years. The town is dominated by the company of Olivetti, which is 1911 produced the first typewriter. The navy ministry placed the first order, and a new industry was born. During the war the company focused on precision machine tools, especially when German supplies were unavailable. In the design industry the company is well-known—the ad department, headed by Adrian Olivetti himself, created many memorable designs throughout last century and the company worked with leading architects to create then shocking buildings for factories and workshops. These all glass facades don’t look so good anymore… as is the old industry. The company is shifting focus to research and services, in the new sectors of communication—including founding the interaction design school.

A muddy river divides the town; a sculpture dedicated to Olivetti junior marks its main bridge. Rather naively conceived, there is a small tower of rusted giant-size nails, then an even bigger nail, with Olivetti’s bust on its head, inserted into the wall of a small waterfall. Rather than commemorating a productive, influential life, the sculpture’s impression on me was that Olivetti’s reward is an afterlife of toil, being hammered into the wall, being pounded by water. It reminded me of Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a mountain each day for eternity. I felt tired from walking and from the sun. Haven’t we all earned our rest? (My dream is to coast down a river in a valley, there are mountains on the sides for me to admire and to scale if I felt the urge, but meanwhile it’s effortless, smooth sailing.)

But then I remember an interesting interpretation of Sisyphus’ fate—that he is lucky rather than punished, that each day he has an assigned duty that he can perform, and the next day and the next day, and he does not have to worry and sleeps soundly at the foot of the mountain each night. Indeed our work, be it blue or white collar, are not so different from Sisyphus’s task, and to curse or to be grateful for this fate is a decision for each, or, until we’re worn down enough that we give up and accept the inevitable. How does one push a rock up a mountain? This might have been a Zen koan. And the secret of the universe is that each time it would be different.

I pass by the bridge a couple more times during my stay. Though the sculpturer’s idea is still of doubtful quality to me, perhaps accidentally it achieves a more accurate portrait of a working stiff. To work is to participate in humanity’s procession, it is said, and I am aware that my hiatus from it is only temporary, not just for economics, but, well, what else is worth the bother? Not that I’m saying it’s the only way to live, not at all. To have time for oneself, to live by unconventional means is admirable, but to be forever idle is to be out of tune with the rhythm and progression of all things. Until our bodies disintegrate, until time and pressure wear us down, there is work to do.

Posted by yingzhao 05:20 AM | Permalink
June 14, 2002  |  Travel is confrontational, and Walensee
Travel is confrontational... never my strong trait. Confrontation with the outside world and in.
No expectations. Revelations come at the most unlikely times, in the silences between the confrontations mentioned above. This revelation: no expectations. Kahlil Gibran says, if you come into the temple to be humbled, you shall not be lifted.
Yesterday I went on another long hike in the Walensee area. The first time I laid eyes on this lake I fell in love with it, with its color--a subtle aquamarine shimmer different than other lakes here, and reminds me of the Pacific ocean on the best days. High, seamingly unsurpassable peaks--the Churfirsten range rises directly from its waters. After much driving and walking I find myself with spellbinding views: two mountain ranges with snowy peaks stretch around me as far as the eye can see, in between them a lush, paradisical valley, and the blue waters far, far below me. I catch my breath from the hike, and wonder, 1. Can you get high from such views, and 2. How can I convey this beauty... Then I realize it's not possible to others to see and feel what I see and feel right now... that’s what traveling is all about; and more importantly, what is in front of me does not need to be validated by any other, it is all that matters, it is all I need right now. I look at it a long time, I close my eyes for a while so that when I open them there's that surprise... yet it will be a while until this is real rather than surreal, until my interpretive instincts are worn out and the senses win, so that I may truly perceive the the beauty before me.

Posted by yingzhao 10:46 AM | Permalink
June 12, 2002  |  Alpine Shangri-la

When Kahlil Gibran asked, "Does not your house dream? And dreaming, leave the city for grove or hilltop?" He must have had the Alpine meadows with the Swiss chalets in his vision.
"Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow.
"Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments."
Some of these lazy mountain villages are truly shangri-la.

Posted by yingzhao 10:41 AM | Permalink
June 10, 2002  |  Art of our age

The art of our age is advertising. I'm displeased to find out that in the movie houses here they play even more commercials before the previews, and I may remember some of the ads better than what I see in the museums. There seems to be a great obsession with cellulite, even more so than in the US.

Posted by yingzhao 10:32 AM | Permalink
June 08, 2002  |  Pearl Balls

6 tablespoons short-grain rice
4 Chinese mushrooms, 1.5 inches in diameter (dry ones can be used, soak for 30 min.)
1lb. lean bonesless pork, finely minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2.5 tsp soy sauce
1.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
6 canned water chestnuts
1 spring onion, including the green top

This is delicious, with beautiful presentation, and is very easy to make. Once successful there can be endless possibilities with the filling. Takes about 30 min. prep time and 30 min. cook time.
1. The original recipe calls for soaking the rice for two hours, drain and let dry on a towel. But if you forget this step it's all right, just steam the balls 5 min. longer and test to make sure the rice is cooked.
2. Finely chop everything. A cinch if you have a food processor, a fine opoortunity for meditative repetition if you don't.
3. Mix thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Then scoop up about 1.5 tblsp and with your fingers shape it into balls 1 inch in diameter. Repeat with rest of mixture, moistening your hands from time to time with a little cold water. Arrange on wax or other cooking paper.
4. Roll one pork ball at a time in the rice (on a flat surface) until rice coats the balls.

To cook______________________
Water should come within an inch of the steam rack. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pan tightly. Keep the water at a continuous boil and steam for 30 min. Serve at once, as a main course for 4 or as part of a Chinese meal for 6 to 8.

Posted by yingzhao 03:17 PM | Permalink
My lady

In the morning I walk with my host lady to the car, which is parked on the backstreet, to go to the grocery store. "We have to walk across the neighbor's garden," she said, and we do, over the perfectly manicured Swiss lawn. At the gate she tests the latch and says "oh no, you see sometimes they lock it," and proceed to swing her leg over the fense, then jump down on the otherside. I smile to myself then follow her, more clumsily, then ask why her own gate, some 10 yards away, couldn't be used. "It's rusted shut, you see, well I could use it, but sometimes it's just easier to use the neighbor's, and they don't complain." Later at dinner, we admire the view of the hills from her bay window. Commenting on a tree in the garden that for me was part of the landscape, my host tells me it belongs to the neighbor, and she occasionally cuts down branches at night because she doesn't want it to block the view. "I love to cut down trees at night," she laughs, "big branches, but you could never tell they have been cut." I think of a 62-year-old woman amputating trees in the night and disposing bodies of evidence, all in the communal backyard, and I say, "but, but couldn't they hear you?" "No, they're old, you see," she pauses, "and I buy this green sticky stuff that you can use to cover up..." I'm staring at her now, and as she went on to say she thinks its better for the tree as it's a kind of pruning that's ultimately good for it and for the neighbors, I ask, "wouldn't the neighbors like that you're doing this, if you just asked them?" "No, you see, some people you just couldn't talk reason to them..." I look at this woman with her lightening-struck frizzy hair in amazement, and understood why the neighbors haven't been greeting us. Yet I'm enjoying her company and her friendship all the more.

Posted by yingzhao 02:32 PM | Permalink
June 05, 2002  |  Hike in Ticino
The Italian-speaking Southen part of Switzerland, Ticino, has a totally different feel. The lakes are exactly like what I imagined (see the movie Enchanted April for a charming portral), and the vegetation is incredibly lush. On a hike I moved from chestnut forest to birch forest to pine forest as the elevation rose, each with its beautiful character.
There is never a hike that is boring. But they are impossible to discribe.
The paradessence of meditation: an ambiguous focus. Any activitity that supports this frame of mind is meditative, and therefore, zen: walking, running, gardening, etc.

Posted by yingzhao 10:30 AM | Permalink
June 03, 2002  |  Hiking in the Alps

As I imagined in the anxiety and excitement before leaving, or perhaps this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, I would feel most at ease on a hiking trail. But then the Alps are really something else. The two first days of hiking near Interlaken, at the heart of the Swiss Alps, have been among the most beautiful walks I've been on. (The others: Yellow Mountain in China; the Great Wall; Olympia national park; White Mountains in the height of Fall colors; Baja California.) The glacier-carved peaks are bold and awe-inspiring yet delicate at the same time, with every turn a more beautiful angle from which to admire them. The paths often cross snow still; but the wildflowers, more numerous and colorful than I have seen anywhere, alpenroses, daisies, pansies, crocus, gentian, dandylion, and numerous others I can't name, have dressed the meadows beautifully for warmer weather. The hikes are often very strenuous; but the keen walkers here twice my age can easily kick my ass. A humbling experience in many ways.

I learned the names of the little blue wildflowers in German, though I can't utter the most basic greetings. I would be quite content as a botanist.

Posted by yingzhao 10:29 AM | Permalink
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