Sunday, January 29, 2012

Idiotproof Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Bread

On request of Douglas Graebner. I've made this easy pastry a few times.

15 oz. canned or pureed pumpkin
3 eggs
1/2-2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3-1/2 cup chocolate chips (depends on taste)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9x9 cake pan.

2. Put the pumpkin in a large bowl - if it's canned, you need to stir it around a bit.

3. Add the milk and eggs and mix well.

4. Add the chocolate chips and mix well. It's easier to mix them in before the flour.

5. Add the sugar, flour and baking powder and mix well. You should have a sticky, doughy batter at this point.

6. Pour the batter in the pan and spread evenly. The batter makes really pretty little peaks.

7. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean but for a few crumbs. Remove, cool, serve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Milwaukee. Milwaukee? Milwaukee! Part 2

Yes, I am aware that this post is quite late.

After the museum, we spent some time wandering about downtown on our way to lunch.

As mentioned in the previous post, Milwaukee's downtown is strikingly different from Chicago's in architecture and attitude, not to mention the obvious concern of scale and importance.

So ornate! It's as if this building says "you know, I could be in Chicago, but I need to be here, for Milwaukee's sake."

That's not to say that Milwaukee's architecture is uninteresting. Rather, it has some fairly unusual characteristics that I found quite impressive:

1. There are skybridges everywhere. Building after building, connections exist that go over the street in nicely enclosed, transparent glass tunnels. A few of these bridges even cross the Milwaukee River. If you're in town for a convention and you take a cab to and from the airport, you could theoretically stay in Milwaukee and never step foot on the street.

A sky bridge crossing a frozen Milwaukee River

2. Buildings either have a lot of street retail or none. American cities tend to swing towards one or the other, but Milwaukee really varies. It should be noted that older buildings are more likely to have street retail.

A more retailed block.
3. There exists a lot of architectural juxtaposition. '50s modernist architecture stands proudly next to old, Victorian-era commercial architecture. Like Chicago, Milwaukee's urban morphology is a bit of a stylistic salad.


Lunch was at a place known as the Milwaukee Public Market. In the days before shopping malls, refrigerated shipping, and shopping carts, the Market used to be a wholesaling destination for much of the city.

Now, it's been restored to be what is essentially a classy food court, with a confectioner and a spice market.

Never forget that you are in Wisconsin!

Hillel being a confectioner-nerd by the candy stall. He had vehement disagreements with the pricing and materials used, and also commented on the manufacture process.

It was an interesting building architecturally - the developers have very much maximized the space that can be used for commercial purposes, and the building certainly feels much larger than it actually is. However, the seating is somewhat lacking - it feels like a place one runs in to buy something to eat, and then steps out again.


Then came the capstone experience: a visit to the Domes.

The Domes are giant, indoor horticultural gardens to the west of downtown. The gardens comprise three enormous, conical greenhouses that contain little microcosmic worlds of plant life from around the world.

Chicago has these gardens too (Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park), but Milwaukee's are much more impressive. For starters, the scale is enormous. Furthermore, there's way more variety.

The Domes. They're enormous.

We took the bus down from downtown to the neighborhood that the Domes are in. The bus trip was pretty non-descript, but I had a major nostalgia moment on them: Milwaukee uses the exact same buses that many lines in New York City used when I was a tiny tot.

We also passed this sign:

Spotted by three Jews and a Catholic. Well then.

Anyway, the Domes. There are three domes:

The Tropical Dome, with oodles of rainforest plants from all over the world. Among other things: a fruiting banana plant, and a sausage fruit tree. The air was pretty clear inside. We also found a Morgan silver dollar in one of the fountains - those coins are pretty pricy, to say the least. (We didn't take it - Hillel mentioned it to the desk staff instead. Hopefully, it is on its way to a charity.)

The tropical dome.

The Arid Dome, which has desert plants.

And the Show Dome, which is a kitschy letdown. It had a Christmassy model train show. Although it smelled nice! And then there was...

Yes, why yes indeed, a dinosaur by the model train.

We spent about an hour or so roaming the gardens. They're actually really, really awesome. Almost as amazing as the plant collection are their designs - the whole complex is well planned, and the building structure is quite aesthetic.

Lights illuminated for the setting of the day

On our way back, we spent some time walking around the Historic Third Ward - a neighborhood south of downtown. There's not much to report here, really - it's more of a day place, it seems.

Then we took the bus back home to Chicago and I arrived back to my room 14 hours later, tired but happy, and fresh from a new city.

Milwaukee was interesting. I don't know if I'll go again anytime soon - maybe after I turn 21 for beer breweries and carboxylic fun. Who knows? It was a great trip, nevertheless.

Common to the country, but rare for the city: an Amtrak train crosses the road in Downtown Milwaukee

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Milwaukee. Milwaukee? Milwaukee! Part 1 (Yes, this post is late.)

When I tell people that I went to Milwaukee over the weekend for fun, they give me this weird look. As if I am crazy. Why yes. I am.

A frozen Milwaukee River passing through the central core of the city


All the way back in September, when I was still in China, I realized that day-trips are

a) very achieveable in the US, with our wonderful cheap cheap bus system. Greyhound Express is amazing. It costs less to travel 250 miles roundtrip here than in Mainland China.

b) a great way to see different states/places - I did a fair few to the Philadelphia area when I was in high school and volunteering for Obama/looking at schools. It's a really nice way to get a taste of a different world and go to bed at home.

c) absurdly fun. I did some of these trips over the summer in China and had a blast. Guangzhou or Zhongshan, anyone?

So I decided to plan a day trip. Here's the thing: many of the places in the Midwest are either extremely seasonal (hiking, beaches, etc.) or a bit of a stretch for a day. Milwaukee nicely avoids that.

The original plan was to do it in the middle of autumn, but life happened. So I organized it for Martin Luther King Day and got three of my friends to come...

My friends waiting for a bus later on in the trip. Left to right: Douglas, Hillel, David


We took an early morning bus up to Milwaukee. Buses aren't really much to write home about, but the road is.

Firstly: you know you're in Wisconsin because, suddenly, the road quality becomes fantastic. The highway up in Kenosha County is ridiculously smooth, and the ride doesn't bump pretty much until you hit Milwaukee.

Secondly: CHEESE.

I totally understand now why people talk about cheese and Wisconsin together. The state is literally bleeding cheese.  On the highway, you see things like a giant billboard that just says CHEESE, and then you see establishments like this:

Mars Cheese Castle, in Kenosha, WI. Jay Stanton told me that his parents would make pit stops here on the way back from Jewish camps so as to provide some entertainment.

Thirdly: there is a really sharp line between Illinois and Wisconsin, and that is in football. I hate the sport, but I can't help but notice the sheer proliferation of Green Bay Packers paraphernalia all over the state. On the flyover into Downtown Milwaukee, I saw a flag for the Packers that was at least eight by twelve. Truly enormous.


We got into the bus station at about ten-thirty, and went about first exploring a little bit of Milwaukee's central city.

Downtown Milwaukee has a rather different flavor form that of Chicago. Firstly, the architecture is more ornate: while Chicago's architecture is somewhat simpler and Germanic, Milwaukee very much follows the "classical" school. Many columns, many little features, and very grandiose for a town that, for most of its history, has played a very much softer second fiddle to a giant city just down the lake. The trying to prove something.

There's also a certain "artificial" flavor to the area. Chicago's central core is very "lived-in." Milwaukee's is very...stiff, in a certain regard. It's not quite a place you go on the weekend.

That doesn't mean that we didn't see some interesting buildings on our way:

The Milwaukee Public Library

A Presbyterian Church dating from 1870

A Victorian gazebo on the grounds of the Wisconsin Club. The Club is a gated social gathering place of a certain sort - it seems to be quite exclusive. This little pavilion, however, is adorable.
The Milwaukee County Courthouse. In 1925, the B'nai Jeshurun synagogue and various (read: Jewish) surroundings were torn down to make way for this colossal construction. Milwaukee had some strong ethnic divisions in its day - and anti-Semitism was part of that mix. The situation has improved since then, though: Milwaukee is the hometown of Israel's former Prime Minister, Golda Meir, and the city has taken great pride in that fact.

We slowly wove our way up to our big destination number 1: the Milwaukee Public Museum.


The Museum is one of these big general museums that have a touch of everything, but nothing major. It is very much aimed for a local audience - and it very much attracts one at that. The exhibits come in three flavors: science, Milwaukee history, and general culture.

A set of bones, dressed up for Christmas. I nicknamed it "Santasaur."

We mostly roamed the museum. The science exhibits were small, but interesting and very well presented. The Old Milwaukee exhibit was a bit strange. There was a "model room" area called European Village. The exhibit consisted of a few dozen ostensibly authentic rooms from each of the European ethnicities that came from Milwaukee. This is what I have to note:

1. Some of the ethnicities were not so badly done, particularly the Slavs.

2. But some were completely and utterly hackneyed, particularly the Jews and some other groups.

3. It was all very, very, very overdone and romanticized.

National costume dolls in the European Village exhibit.

The Old Milwaukee exhibit was...somewhat irritating. However, it was an utterly fascinating study in museum design, exhibit design, and how cultural institutions cater to an audience's core expectations. I left thinking not about cultures and misrepresentation, but how museums work.

Finally, I myself went over to the cultural exhibits, which were further upstairs, and walked through the Arctic exhibit. The information is somewhat dated - I am left to wonder about the MPM's funds - but generally not so bad. However, they continue to use "Eskimo" for "Inuit"- which was rather irksome. Again, I was made to think of museum exhibit design and content control - how does one explain these things to different audiences?

We are, after all, in Wisconsin.

A print by a Nunavummiuq artist in the Arctic exhibit.

We left the Museum after a good amount of time and continued our urban adventures...(coming soon)

An awesome installation on the East Side of the Milwaukee River

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

中文翻译的《挪威的木》Norwegian Wood - in Chinese

A few months ago, I translated Milkshake by Kelis into Chinese. It was my most popular post, until y'all got bored at Christmas.

If you want to see that, it is here: 我奶昔让小伙子过来

Anyway, I planned to translate more songs, but that did not happen. Until now.

So I'm not normally the biggest fan of the Beatles - I find them kitschy and overhyped. However, I really, really like this song by them - it's short, and sweet, and simple. I decided to give it a go in Chinese.

Firstly: the Beatles write simply, but it's very hard to carry the tone well in Chinese. Preserving the fourteen-syllable rhythm is also really hard - many of the Chinese terms don't translate neatly.

Secondly: this is a very Western song, so it sounds really weird in Chinese.

Thirdly: it is a set of lyrics that makes sense (unlike Milkshake), so one also needs to carry over the meaning and imagery. However, the imagery doesn't always make sense, and it's hard to carry over.


英文:The Beatles (匹头士)

以前, 我有女了,可能就是,她有我了,

她问我留, 还告诉我 ”坐在你想的地方,“

到两点聊天,然后她说 ”是上床时间“

我回答 “没有,” 就离开到浴盆为睡觉


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reverse the Jet Age: New York-Chicago by Train

Sunrise near Waterloo, IN - sunrise through a snowstorm

I'm a plane nerd. I can identify commercial aircraft in the air in a snatch; I've memorized the routes out of JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Midway. I love aircraft. And yet...flying is not the only way. Or even, necessarily, the best way.

I took the train from Croton-Harmon - near my family - back home to Chicago - a one-way whim thing that started off as "I might as well do this."

It turned out to be really awesome. The train is civilized, and comfortable - the seats are a bit bigger than airplane seats, and plushy. Even at night, you get to see the scenery. My friends were on the train, and it was great just to sit in the cafe car, with a coffee, watching this country in her majesty speed by...

I really intend to do it again at least a few more times. It was civilized, clean, and normal, and felt like travelling...a good experience. It's one thing to fly over a snowstorm and have a 20-minute approach. It's another to go through it on a speeding train, snow between the cars, and have a 2-hour approach to Chicago.

And now, a few photos!

Croton-Harmon Station

My train is arriving!

The train interior. Quite comfortable.

Parked at Toledo, OH

Stepping on Ohio soil during the rest stop at Toledo

Erie, PA, at 1:30am