52 States in 8 Months

Yum yum, Indian Cuisine!

Posted in Meals by Ulf on June 23, 2009

Some weeks ago my office mate Vivek and his brother Vishal invited me so some Indian restaurant. They’re both vegetarians, and they’re used to Indian food, so I believe that I’m the one who enjoyed the Indian food the most :-). I basically tried everything the buffet offered. I guess that Mascha would say something like “Yum yum in my tum tum” :-).

So, what are my memories: The Indians also serve some bread to their meals, it’s called Naan. I like that! They have about 10 different curries, yammi yammi :-). There was some very tasty potato-like thing with peas inside (Edit: Samosa). And of course, there was the desert:

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Besides the melons you see basically pure sugar. (Edit: Not true! It’s almost pure milk. With sugar. And the yellow sauce is Mango pudding.) Wow, great, want more, amazing! And the best news: Vishal said that I would pay just about 2 Euros for such a meal in India. That is almost a must-go, isn’t it? *g*

Chopstick action — or just my third Chinese meal

Posted in Meals by Ulf on April 25, 2009

When I first talked about my Chinese meals, Caro proposed a chopstick eating challenge, and Pingu asked for some action scenes. To give you an impression of how superior my chopstick eating skills already are, let’s have a look at my third Chinese  meal.

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The name of this dish is Guo Bao Rou. It’s very simple. Just take some large pieces of pork, coat them with breadcrumbs, fry them and finally serve them together with rice (and very little vegetables such that there is a little bit of green color). And finally, eat it all with chopsticks. So here we go:

I guess it takes a lot more training until I can really compete. But I’ll take my new chopsticks with me, so we can start the challenge in Stuttgart!

Update: Unfortunately the cook who prepared Chinese food for us every Wednesday has gone back to China for three months, so this might have been my last Chinese meal here in Newark.

麻婆豆腐

Posted in Meals by Ulf on April 8, 2009

Some weeks ago I told you that Wednesdays are my Chinese food days. Here we go, this was my second Chinese meal: Mapo doufu!

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(Oh no, once Caro sees how I hold those chopsticks in my hand she’ll laugh and ask me if I really want do the eat-quickly-with-chopsticks competition.)

The characters in “Mapo doufu” stand for:
麻 = Pock-Marked
婆 = Old Lady (completely left-out in the inscription on the box)
豆 = To
腐 = Fu (whoever wrote the name onto the box was also a bit lazy when drawing this character…)

Once you read the first two characters you’ll notice: I ate an old, pock-marked lady. Wikipedia has a story behind it — whether it is true or not. At least the translation itself is correct, because when Chen Xi wanted to explain what “Mapo doufu” means, he also talked about an old woman with “many little flawy spots in her face”.

And the last two letters stand for “Tofu“. Ok, but what on earth is tofu? Actually, all I knew so far is that vegetarians like Moritz eat it because they’re afraid of real meat. Nothing I really have to care about. I’ve heard about “tofu würstchen“, but I never had so take them serious.

Tofu is made from soy milk. What is soy milk? Actually, all I knew so far is that some people drink it instead of real milk. Vegans, I guess. The totalitarian vegetarians. Well, nothing I really have to care about ;-). Anyway, soy milk is made from soybeans. All I knew about soy beans so far is that they are a great playground for genetic manipulation and that soybeans can be used to make oil which can be burned in internal combustion engines. But that’s off topic today, let’s find out how soy beans look once they are converted to soy milk, tofu and finally mapo doufu:

Chen Xi said that tofu would be very common in China, and mapo doufu would be one of the most well-known tofu meals. Actually, it is not vegetarian. The tofu was mixed with real meat. Tofu basically tastes very much like nothing, but that doesn’t matter since there is enough sauce around. In fact, the tofu bits reminded me a lot of the German “Eierstich” (something made from eggs which goes into a traditional German “Hochzeitssuppe“, but I didn’t find any translation which didn’t turn out to be ambiguous).

And apart from the tofu, how does the meal taste? I would say that is tastes like every other Chinese meal :-). I lot of chili sauce which makes it spicy, and much rice so you’ll be full after the meal. Oh my god I’m so bad at describing how food tastes :-(.

American Cooking: Hamburger Helpers

Posted in Meals, USA by Ulf on March 31, 2009

When I told you how cheap ground beef is in the US, I bought about 2.5kg of it. I didn’t want to make 2.5kg of Klopse or a similar amount of Spag Bol. Therefore I bought a few “Hamburger Helpers“. Really tasty :-)

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Have you noticed the different cooking instructions for high elevations? They tell you to increase the simmer time from 16 to 19 minutes in altitudes between 3,500ft and 6,500ft. However, they don’t tell you what to do in higher altitudes. Luckily we didn’t bring this to our 10,023ft breakfast :-).

The cooking instructions here in the US also differ from those we have in Europe. There are no weights given. I’ve never seen a kitchen scale here in the US. Everything is measured in volume. The units are either cups (or fractions thereof) or spoons. And luckily the designers of Hamburger Helpers make sure that one set of measurement cups is enough for you:

For the “Classic Cheddar Cheese Melt” recipe I needed 1 3/4 = 1+1/2+1/4 cups of water and 1 1/3 = 1 + 1/3 cups of milk. I needed no fraction of a cup twice. Very considerate of you, Hamburger Helper guys!

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A melting pot of cereals

Posted in Meals by Ulf on March 19, 2009

I realized that I have red cereals, whitish cereals, black cereals, yellow cereals and a variety of brown cereals:

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Do you want to know what these colors reminded me of? ;-)

At some point my room mate came into the kitchen, that’s why there is a little cut in the video. He is Hispanic. When I talked to him afterwards, he told me that Hispanics in the US would sometimes say “Keep it brown” or “Stay brown”, so they refer to them selves as “brown”, too. To I should have used the light brown cereals for referring to the Hispanics while using the dark brown for the Indians.

For stories about other melting pot besides the US, look at Wikipedia.

Wednesday is Chinese food day

Posted in Meals by Ulf on March 11, 2009

Chen Xi, one of my Chinese office mates, orders some Chinese food every Wednesday. I decided to do the same, so I’ll try another Chinese meal every week. The first one was “spicy potatoes”. I’ve chosen this because I could not imagine that Chinese people eat potatoes at all. I mean, the Americans brought the potatoes to Europe and not to Asia! (Wikipedia says the largest amount of potatoes per capita is grown in Europe while China and India are planting more potatoes in absolute numbers.)

So, this is how it looked like:

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My prejudice concerning the Chinese use of potatoes was completely reconfirmed when I discovered that the side dish was indeed rice, and that the potatoes were sliced and served as a main dish. Actually, I didn’t even recognize that there were any potatoes at all ;-). I asked another Chinese for a translation of what the inscription on the styrofoam box said. Qi also said it would be potatoes, so I guess that’s just what it was :-).
I don’t want to create a wrong impression. I really liked the meal a lot! And I ate almost everything with my chopsticks, and Chen Xi was surprised about my speed :-). However, I must admit that I did not hold them the way I was supposed to. I’m looking forward to next week’s Chinese meal!

PS: Why on earth is the plural form of “potato” written as “potatoes” and not just “potatos“? And why did I think that the translation for “Vorurteil” is “prejustice” and not “prejudice”?

+++ Weight warning! +++

Posted in Meals by Ulf on March 6, 2009

In the end of January, this was my weight:
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Google says, 154 lbs would be 69.7 kg. I was so happy when I saw this, I immediately decided to take that photo. That was the first time since … well, probably about 12-15 years that my weight was less than 70kg!

One month later, on February 28, I was shocked again. At that time I didn’t even hit the 150lbs line anymore when stepping onto the scale. My weight dropped to less than 68kg. That really is too little. I’m missing the lofty feeling of carrying vast amounts of kinetic energy around while moving. Or when I’m walking up some stairs, I always remember that I’m just lifting 68kg. That basically means that I’m almost not doing any work at all, so lightweight people are lazy. I don’t want to weight less than 70kg.

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To find out about the measurement errors, I tried another scale. The mechanical one measured … well, something between 149.5lbs and 152.5lbs, with average values near about 151lbs. I do therefore assume that the static offset between both scales is about 1kg, while the mechanical scale has an additional statistical error of about 2 lbs.

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Still, my room mates say that the digital scale shows less than those scales at airport check-in counters, so doing multiple measurements with the mechanical scale and taking their average value might be more reliable than believing what the digital scale says.

Maybe I’ll try to find out how the numbers from the digital scale depend on the battery’s state of charge. In the meanwhile, I’ll try to increase the number of meals and choose less healthy food. :-)

PS: Elke, wehe du wendest deinen Hautfarbensuchalgorithmus auf meine Füße an! ;-)

A special meal: I tried an avocado

Posted in Meals by Ulf on February 12, 2009

bild4853A few days ago I had a special meal: My roommate Alvaro (he is from Colombia) gave me an avocado. The Latin name of that fruit is “Persea americana”, so you can guess that it’s more common here than in Europe.

Actually, Alvaro eats one avocado a day. So that should give you an impression of how widespread the fruit seems to be in Alvaro’s home country. He told me to bring some salt, so that’s what I did. However, he did not tell me what parts of the avocado to eat and what parts not to eat. This time the German Wikipedia filled the gap:

Während die Schale und der Kern der Frucht nicht genießbar sind, ist das Fruchtfleisch um den großen Kern sehr nahrhaft.

So, I finally started eating it. I must admit that once I opened the avocado, I knew that I had already eaten one before. Maybe it was on Hawaii, there were just so many fruits around, I don’t remember them all.

The avocado is a very special fruit. It does not really taste like a fruit. It is more like a mixture of butter and oat. But this probably makes it a good staple food.

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Anyway, following good old German tradition, I’ll stick to bread, apples and potatos :-).

No pics of the International Spy Museum, but a few of our Supreme Court

Posted in East coast trip, Meals by Ulf on February 11, 2009

2008-12-29_08-35-25-christmas-trip-4388My diary about our Christmas holiday continues on December 29th. We had to get up rather early as our car was parked in the street which is not allowed during rush hours. Well, Pingu and Mila went to the car at around 6:30 am while I decided to stay in bed for another 15 minutes. Pingu and Mila found a car park close to our hostel which cost around $15-$20 for a full day. About five blocks away (at 5th and K street) there were offers as cheap as $5, but we did not know this at that time.

After we had a rather modest breakfast at our hostel, we went to the International Spy Museum. This is the only place in DC so far where I paid an entrance fee (roughly $18). It was not easy to convince one of my Swabian fellows to spent the money (since all the Smithsonian Museums where we could have gone to instead are free). However, it was absolutely worth it!

We spent something between three and four hours in the museum. The tour started with giving everyone a new identity. In the meanwhile I’ve forgotten the details, but I think I chose to be some kind of a British arts student. Mila, Pingu, do you still remember your camouflage identities? Then we were trained in finding places for hiding messages (such as tree stumps or rusty cans) or leaving signs (like little chalk dashes on postal boxes). They showed different observation techniques and brought surveillance cameras and tourists with watching holes in their newspapers to our attention ;-).  Afterwards there was a huge amount of spy technology. Cameras in an arbitrary small size were on display, and it seems like especially Minox supplied quite a number of governments. They also had all kinds of bugging tools and devices to find them. And there were of course several “hidden weapons” such as the KGB “Kiss of death“, a lipstick pistol. That is real James Bond technology! The museum also presented lots of stories about real spies from ancient times to the cold war. Especially Berlin got a lot of attention: I did not know about the “Operation Gold” before, a 1953-1956 CIA wiretapping  against Eastern Germany and Russia. They also presented a real Trabi in the museum and showed where people could hide. It’s not easy to believe that a man can hide in front of the engine, next to the car’s radiator…

After we finished the Spy Museum (and its gift shop!), we went to the National Mall again. Our destination was not the Capitol (which is on the first picture), but the building just behind it: The US Supreme Court.

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Just as many places we’ve seen in DC, the supreme court has an impressive marble structure. It’s even astonishing inside the building! The stairs which connect the first and the second floor are completely made of marble! This even includes the hand rails! Please also look at the color of the elevator doors!

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As a complete contrast, the statues in the building are completely black. The depicted one shows John Marshall who served as the Chief Justice in the Supreme court for 34 years (1801-1835). During this time he dominated the Supreme Court. Wikipedia says that he was only outvoted a single time within more than 1000 decisions, and that he formulated the majority opinion in 519 of those cases.

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Before we came closer to the court room itself, we had the opportunity to look at some very detailed models. Can you imagine that the following models have only the size of roughly a square foot? The level of detail was unbelievable!

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The first picture shows the Supreme Court room in the Capitol building (I’ll show you real pictures in a few weeks) while the second model is the current court (please compare the picture of the model from above with the photo of the actual court room below). They did not mention the former Supreme Court locations in New York and in Philadelphia. I will at least show you pictures of the latter in a few days.

Now that you’ve seen the models of the court rooms, I can also show you pictures from the real one. The entrance was hidden behind a Christmas tree and many marble columns:

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But do you want to know what happened right when I glimpsed into this room? Some security guys found an ownerless backpack. At first I did not care, but then all of the sudden the second floor was evacuated. I lost track of Pingu and Mila, and finally they’ve thrown us out of the building. This is how it looks like if there is such an emergency evacuation:

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After about 10 minutes we were allowed to enter the building again, but we had to line up for the security check which also took some time.

It turned out that Mila and Pingu had more luck: They were sent to the lower floor where they could stay. I have no idea how such a semi-evacuation can create more security … but I guess the guards just followed a stupid protocol when they threw us out. Sorry, but Schaeuble sucks, Bush sucks, CCTV sucks and most so-called security measures in the US are dispensable, annoying and give only little advantage.

After we left the Supreme Court, we went to a local Subway restaurant (unlike New York, the people in DC call their underground train system “Metro”, so it cannot be confused with the fast food chain). Actually it was not easy to find the Subway restaurant although it’s only about 200m south of the Capitol. Luckily Pingu brought his GPS, so he could guide us directly to this place :-).

Have you ever seen a fast food restaurant like this? There was only a small door on road level, and the real restaurant was located one or two floors up. It was not spacious at all. I think they just converted a residential flat to a restaurant. But the sub was very tasty — which is always the case when I eat at Subway’s.

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On our way back to the mall Pingu took some pictures of a squirrel. As Christina noted in a comment earlier in this blog, there are many squirrels here in the US. They don’t look as redish as they do in Europe, they are more like gray here. Oh, I just remember that I already told you about them. But anyway, the DC squirrels do funny gestures:

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While we were walking through the city, we also went past a car with a funny number plate:

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Do you want to know what this number plate reminded me of? Someone once told me that the number plates in TV ads for cars would always have letters like A, H, I, O, T, U, V, W, X, Y or numbers like 0, 1 or 8. Do you recognize a pattern? All these characters can be mirrored and still make sense. This saves costs as most cars look symmetrical and one therefore only has to flip the images for moving the steering wheel from the left-hand side (where it belongs) to the right-hand side.

Well, Porsche, BMW, Ford and GMC can’t use this trick because they have non-symmetric brand tags. Sorry guys ;-). And Nissan can’t use this trick. Not only because of their brand label, but also due to their mysterious and non-symmetric car designs. I somehow like the design of the Cube‘s back door, but the shape of the overall car is really disgusting. Luckily they don’t even try to sell it outside of Japan … yet.

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KFC in Kentucky, and a surprise in West Virginia!

Posted in East coast trip, Meals by Ulf on January 31, 2009

Our next destination was Charleston, West Virginia. But between Tennessee and West Virginia, there is the state of Kentucky. It was almost a 6 hours drive, so we had plenty of time to look at the landscape. It is a wide area with large houses somewhere along the road. A few were supposed to look like castles, others had a bourgeois touch. Many houses were just wooden ranches with fences around them. They had a midwestern touch.

But they all had one thing in common: There is always an ugly telephone line (or power line) in front of them which destroys the whole scene. Why do the Americans do this? Everybody who is able to build a road can also dig a small ditch to bury a cable.

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Anyway, we were on our way to Kentucky. Nobody really knows where the name Kentucky comes from. Even Wikipedia isn’t sure about it. However, I have a theory: Maybe they’ve just taken the name of a large fast-food chain from that area, “Kentucky Fried Chicken“?

To find out, we decided to visit one of the KFCs in Kentucky. It was just after Lexington, KY. I must admit that I had quite some problems understanding the lady at the counter, but finally she understood that I wanted some “Original Recipe fried chicken” with … actually, I did not really care about what the chicken came with *g*. I ended up saying something like “Here is my money, so give me something to eat, please”. Normally I only have trouble understanding Afro-Americans, but this lady was caucasian!

Anyway, the food turned out to be nice! I could have eaten a bit more, but it was really tasty!

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Did you notice the number of food stores in one place (on the left-hand side picture)? And our satnav did not even list all of them! You basically can’t starve along an American interstate.

Somewhen in the evening we arrived at the Charleston airport where we picked up Mila. She’s a friend of Alex from the Stuttgart area. Right now she studies “International Management” in cooperation with the Daimler AG which is mostly Economics. However, Mila never gets tired to emphasize that she likes the “international” part of her studies more than the “management”. That’s probably how she got to know Matt. Matt is an American student who spent a year or so in Europe within a “study abroad” program.

Now, Matt is from Charleston this way we could spend an evening at the house of his parents. In fact, December 26 was also Matt’s birthday, so this was a very special occasion. The following picture shows (from left to right) Alex, Matt, Matt’s father Rick, our new fellow vacationist Mila and finally Matt’s mother Sarah:

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We spent a great evening and discussed topics. Sarah for example is a teacher. Although it she does not need it for her classes, she recently learned the American Sign Language which she introduced to us. This helped her to talk to her neighbors (a deaf couple). Sometimes when she sees deaf or dumb people in public she can also use her ability as a translator.

asl_welcomeShe taught us some words (and a few letters) in ASL. The only way I remember is how to say “Welcome”. You have to move your hand on a semi-circle in front of you. The axis of the circle should be parallel to the horizon. In the end the palm of the hand should be up.

With Rick I had a nice talk about ecofriendliness. Just as many educated people I met in the US in the US, Rick and Sarah were not like we Europeans think that Americans are like. Rick told me about their effort to improve the thermal insulation of their house. His current objective was to replace the windows. The family had also recently switched to a smaller car. Rick was now driving a small Honda. He even compared the ecological impact of an artificial Christmas tree with a real one (keep in mind that it was still December 26). According to his calculations, an artificial tree would be more ecological than a real one after it has been used for four seasons.

The biggest surprise of the evening however was a map of Germany. Sarah asked us from where in Germany we originated. When I looked at the map, my first impression obviously was that it still shows the divided Germany with the old administrative divisions of the eastern German Democratic Republic and Karl-Marx-Stadt as well as Thomas-Müntzer-Stadt and Wilhelm-Pieck-Stadt (do you find any more renamed cities?).

The biggest surprise on that map however was my little home between Hanover (which they’ve printed with two “n”s. just as we do in German) and Bremen.  You can really find Staffhorst on this map! I cannot explain how our little village with something between 400 and 600 inhabitants made it to this map, but it was there! I’m still totally amazed!

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I mean, our glorious Staffhorst definitely deserves being on this map, that’s beyond debate. The thing is, most cartographer just don’t know about Staffhorst’s importance. But this one obviously was smarter :-).

Matt, Sarah, Rick: Thank you very much for your hospitality and this lovely evening!