Vegan Crêpes, and the Ideal Filling for Them

Published at 08:59 on 26 April 2014

This recipe actually works. Something persuaded me to try it over the other recipes for vegan crêpes that I found, despite it having no egg substitute whatsoever in it. The one thing to beware of is not to flip them too early; heed the comments about waiting until they are mostly dry and just starting to brown at the edges before flipping.

As for the chocolate suggestion: close, but no cigar. Right family and right latitudinal range, but wrong hemisphere and of course wrong genus and species. The perfect crêpe filling is from genus Durio, not genus Theobroma.

A big plus is that, unlike chocolate, durian is delicious just as it is: luscious, sweet, creamy, and intensely flavorful. No need to dump lots of refined sugar and vanilla into it in an attempt (never completely successful) to cover up intense bitterness. Another plus, if like me you’re a White guy in his fifties, is blowing people’s minds. You get some pretty good doses of incredulity when purchasing the requisite ingredient at an Asian market, typically an astonished “You like that?” from the clerk.

I think I’ve figured out some of the magic of durian. It’s the combination of intense flavor and intense sweetness. I have a sweet tooth, like all primates. It’s something that’s evolved to make us crave fruits, which have necessary vitamins.

Furthermore, I have personally always loved intense flavors. Candied ginger has always been one of my favorite candies ever since a little tot, when a great-grandmother gave me some in response to my pleading after my grandmother advised: “Just give him a little piece, Nana. He’ll try it, he’ll cry, and then he’ll not pester us again for it.” No such luck. I devoured it and said “More!” From then on, whenever they had tea when I was visiting, they had to share a piece of candied ginger with me. When I got a little older, I would also raid the spices and extracts cabinet and sample said goods directly because I loved how intense the flavors were.

One of my fonder elementary-school memories was when a schoolmate was attempting to play practical jokes at recess by getting his classmates to try eating whole cloves. He made the mistake of picking me as his first mark, and one of my best friends (Indonesian, and thus used to spicy cooking at home) as his second. We both knew what cloves were because we would both occasionally eat them as-is for the flavor, so we both accepted the prankster’s gifts, ate them with appreciation, and asked for seconds. This of course got the jokester thinking that maybe cloves weren’t so strong-flavored after all and maybe someone had played a joke on him by saying they were. We saw him sneak off and pop one into his mouth, followed by immediate signs of distress and pleading with a teacher to be let in early because he was “very thirsty.”

But I digress. I love both sweetness and intense flavors. I don’t know the exact mechanism by which it happens, but durian is both intensely sweet and intensely flavorful, simultaneously. That’s something that’s normally not possible (in most desserts the sweetness wins to the detriment of the flavor). It’s probably related to how durian can, unlike pretty much any other food, taste so different from how it smells (surprisingly delicate given how intensely pungent it can be). However it is accomplished, it is for me a magical combination.

Moreover, most things as sweet as durian come with a evil, nasty refined-sugar buzz as a side-effect. But durian is a natural fruit; there is no refined sugar, so there is no nasty sugar buzz. Quite the contrary: it’s high in tryptophan, so instead of a sugar buzz there’s this nice, relaxed, gentle, blissed-out feeling that lingers. And being a natural fruit it’s actually nutritious and good for you, instead of being simply empty calories.

On top of the those aspects, the consistency is right, too. Unusual for a fruit, durian is high in fat. Plus in the USA it will (alas) always be frozen and never fresh wherever you find it, so it will be very soft and mushy when thawed. So it’s naturally the consistency of custard or Boston creme filling anyhow. Perfect for using as a filling for something.

Yeah, Right

Published at 09:06 on 22 April 2014

“No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation.” — Vice President Joe Biden

Except if the nation having the land grabbed from it is Serbia or some other nation whose government the US ruling elite doesn’t like. Then it’s perfectly fine to grab land from other nations.

Because imperialism is only okay when we do it.

Along similar lines, egging on demonstrators to storm and occupy public buildings is also only OK when we do it. If we do it, it’s promoting democracy. If someone else does it, it’s instigating a coup.

Again, because imperialism is only OK when we do it.

If imperialists didn’t have double standards, they would have absolutely no standards at all.

Well, So Much for Thunderbird

Published at 07:34 on 9 April 2014

I’ve been using Mozilla’s Thunderbird client to read my e-mail since last fall, when Apple Mail’s antics finally got to the point that the camel’s back broke. (The final straw was when message filtering mysteriously stopped working for my work computer. The amount of messages I receive at work make it absolutely intolerable for filtering to not work; it’s a must if important messages that impact my ability to do my work well are to get noticed instead of buried amongst massive numbers of unimportant messages.)

Yesterday morning I notice that Thunderbird is definitely eating messages on one of my inboxes. They simply don’t show up. Sometimes, they show up but a week or more late, in one big batch. There’s no clear reason why. So far the only explanation I’ve found is to delete “bad” messages that “confuse” Thunderbird, and to be sure to “compact my folders” regularly.

Well, sorry. Neither should be my responsibility. None of those “bad” messages confuse Apple Mail or the Squirrel Mail software I use to read that mailbox over the web. Moreover, it is not my responsibility to babysit a program which is incapable of managing its own databases by manually “compacting” files. I’m busy enough as it is without having to add extra busywork to the picture, busywork that makes me miss important communications and thus mismanage my time if I don’t do it.

So the search for a mail client that does not abjectly suck resumes.

Score One for Probability Theory

Published at 11:49 on 7 April 2014

So, I’ve been on the Island for a year it’s lease renewal time for me. I have two options: a normal lease at $1400/mo, or month-to-month at $1600/mo. The penalty for breaking a lease early is a fixed $1500/mo.

Wow, a fixed penalty of $1500/mo that’s less than the normal rent of $1600/mo without a lease. It seems like a no-brainer. Not so fast! Time to run the math.

The way to do it is with what is called expected value, essentially a weighted average taken by enumerating all possible scenarios then multiplying a scenario’s cost by its probability. After much thought, I chose a Poisson distribution with λ = 4 months as an educated guess.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the local real estate market and I actually think it will be more like three months, but I’m being a little pessimistic in case the entire spring and summer fly by and I end up buying nothing. In that case, things will get dead in the coming winter.  So, given those assumptions, here’s what happens when I find a home so many months into my continuing tenancy here:

MONTH       PROB        CUM      LEASE     M-to-M
    1     0.0183     0.0183    1427.47    1600.00
    2     0.0733     0.0916    1484.25    1575.54
    3     0.1465     0.2381    1491.58    1462.45
    4     0.1954     0.4335    1359.71    1230.32
    5     0.1954     0.6288    1086.19     917.64
    6     0.1563     0.7851     754.07     603.03
    7     0.1042     0.8893     457.11     350.16
    8     0.0595     0.9489     244.25     180.90
    9     0.0298     0.9786     116.24      83.83
   10     0.0132     0.9919      49.76      35.13
   11     0.0053     0.9972      11.39      13.41
   12     0.0019     0.9991       6.67       4.70
TOTAL                          8488.69    8057.11

PROB is the probability I will find something that month and CUM is the cumulative probability (i.e. the chance I find something that month or in an earlier month). Odd; what’s going on here?

The issue is the percentage cost. $1500 isn’t much a chunk of 11 month’s rent, but as time goes on, it becomes a bigger and bigger chunk of the remaining rent if one quits early:

    1     9.74
    2    10.71
    3    11.90
    4    13.39
    5    15.31
    6    17.86
    7    21.43
    8    26.79
    9    35.71
   10    53.57
   11   100.00
   12     0.00

Why 100% instead of 107.14% for quitting in month 11? Simple: only a fool would pay $1500 in penalty fees when it’s cheaper to pay $1400 to rent an unneeded, empty apartment for an extra month.

Still feel like I’m pulling my own leg here, using lots of math when common sense says it must be the other way? Consider the case where I find something in five months (that’s the point where the odds become in my favor of finding something).

With a lease, I pay 5 × $1400 + $1500 = $8500.

With no lease, I pay 5 × $1600 = $8000.

Sure, there’s a chance I’ll pay more, if I end up spending another year here and not finding anything. But the odds seem to be in favor of my paying less. In fact, the lease is only to my advantage if it takes eight or more months to do something I expect to do in four or five months.

Mine is a corporate landlord; doubtless they’ve run this sort of analysis themselves and deliberately crafted their lease-renewal offer to have a seductive yet economically disadvantageous option to it, knowing they can expect to pocket on average around $400 of pure profit each time they sucker a tenant into agreeing to it.

Freeze-Dried Durian: Not Bad

Published at 17:48 on 4 April 2014

Posted because if you Google “freeze dried durian review” you mostly get useless hits like this one. After this post, I will return to more typical subject matters for this blog.

I mean, sure it’s not as pungent or flavorful as the frozen kind, but it’s still not bad by comparison, and it lends itself much better to be taken as a snack on hikes than thawed frozen durian (which could be very messy should its Ziploc bag spring a leak). Some of the savory aspects (in addition to the expected sweet ones) of the flavor even managed to survive the freeze-drying.

Actually, “not bad by comparison” means “very yummy”, because face it, it’s still durian. I can only imagine how awesome it must taste fresh. If I ever visit Southeast Asia rest assured my trip will be during durian season.

The one surprise is how big the the three bags that came in the mail were; about twice the size that I was expecting, in fact. (Not that it’s going to be any challenge to consume it all or anything; maybe I’ll try concocting a recipe for durian-flavored granola.)