National SRMK18N Rice Cooker Pan

My 17-year-old National SRMK18N rice cooker still works. I had already replaced the inner pan twice. Unfortunately, there will not be a third time since the replacement pan is no longer available. I was a bit devastated by this unplanned obsolescence. Panasonic still sells replacement parts for the SRMK18N, but none of them include the inner pan.

I’m going to give the Instant Pot a chance to serve as the daily rice cooker to see if it is up to the task.


Stir-Fried Lotus Root

I prepared this dish based on the Caramelised Lotus Root recipe from Kylie Kwong’s My China with some substitutions and modifications.

  • 3 pieces of lotus root, peeled and sliced thinly
  • peeled and sliced ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • garlic olive oil
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp shao hsing wine
  • 1 tbsp chinkiang vinegar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp chili oil with black bean
  • chili oil
  • fresh herb, such as cilantro or basil

Add oil to a hot wok. Once the oil is heated, add the ginger and whole garlic cloves, and stir-fry until toasted and fragrant. For that extra boost of garlic flavor, I add a splash of garlic olive oil, which is sold at Costco. Next, I stir fried the lotus root for a few minutes, before adding the sugar, wine, vinegar, and soy sauce. The sugar and vinegar gives it a pleasant sweet-and-sour flavor. Kylie’s original recipe called for 1/4 cup of brown sugar, which I thought was a bit excessive. I ended up closer to the 2-3 tsp mark, and you can always add a bit more at the end if the balance between sweet and sour is off.

As the lotus root caramelizes, add 1 tsp of chili oil with black bean. I use the 老干妈 (laoganma) brand and stir fry for another minute. I finish the dish with some additional chili oil, and then some chopped fresh cilantro or basil leaves, depending on what I have on hand.


MacOS Mojave 10.14 Will Not Install

It took way too many attempts this morning, but I was finally able to upgrade to MacOS Mojave 10.14. When I first attempted to upgrade from High Sierra, I was able to download and run the installation app. It then proceeded to close other applications and restart. However, a quick check of About This Mac showed that I was still running High Sierra.

I confirmed that my Late 2013 MacBook Pro was eligible for upgrade, and it was. I attempted to install again, and got the same result. What finally worked was restarting the MacBook Pro in safe mode by holding down the shift key at restart. When I installed Mojave this time, I finally got the installation time line after the MacBook Pro restarted.


Dry Roasted Cauliflower 干锅菜花

After having 干锅菜花 at a few Chinese restaurants, I’ve worked on a home version of my totally non-authentic dry roasted cauliflower. First, I start off with Chinese cauliflower, which I found available at selected 99 Ranch markets. I’ve been finding it consistently at the Cupertino and Mountain View stores, but not the Foster City one.

Chinese cauliflower
1 shallot, sliced
1-2 chili pepper, remove seeds and sliced.
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 Tbsp Light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Chili oil with black bean
Hunan bacon 湖南腊肉, cut into slivers.
1/4 tsp Chili oil

1. Preheat a large cast iron skillet on low heat. I started with the 10.25-inch Lodge cast iron skillet, but switched recently to the 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet. With 30% more surface area, I could precook all my cauliflower in one batch instead of two.

2. Wash the cauliflower and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I then dry the cauliflower in a salad spinner so that the cauliflower will roast instead of steam.

3. Add a thin layer of olive oil to the cast iron skillet. When hot, add the cauliflower. I leave the cauliflower alone for 5-10 minutes, allowing it to sear. As the cauliflower sears, I turn the pieces over and leave it undisturbed for a few more minutes. Repeat as needed. Once the cauliflower has been roasted evenly on all sides, remove it from the skillet.

4. In a hot wok, add some oil and stir fry the sliced shallots and chili peppers. I’ve used red chili peppers or green jalapeños, sometimes even both. As the shallots caramelize, add a pinch of salt and sugar. Add Hunan bacon to taste and continue to stir fry. Add the chili oil with black bean. I use the Lao Gan Ma 老干妈 brand of chili oil with black bean sauce.

I’ve been using the Hsin Tung Yang 新东阳 brand of Hunan bacon. I’ve found this in the refrigerated dried meats section at 99 Ranch and also in the dry goods shelves at Marina Food. I was perplexed, but the packaging states that it only needs to be refrigerated after opening. When refrigerated, the Hunan bacon gets hard and difficult to slice. Nowadays, I purchase a package of Hunan bacon and allow it to return to room temperature. I thinly slice the entire package and store it in a plastic food container in the refrigerator.

5. Add the roasted cauliflower to the wok. Add the shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar. For this dish, I don’t use measuring spoons–just a splash her and a splash there. After stir frying for 2-3 more minutes, I start taste testing.

First, I’m looking at the texture of the cauliflower. I want the cauliflower to be cooked, but still retain some crunch. I’ll take a bite and adjust my cooking times accordingly. Next, I’ll adjust the seasoning of the cauliflower to taste with more soy sauce or salt. Once the texture and flavors are to my liking, I add just a touch of chili oil. I recently started a new bottle of Hsin Tung Yang chili oil just for variety. I’ve also used the S&B La-Yu Chili Oil before. Each has its own taste, so use whatever you like.


Sonnet Dio CF SD Reader Keeps Ejecting

I purchased a Sonnet Dio CompactFlash and SD card reader a few years ago to read the CF cards from the Nikon D800. While I still use the D800 on occasion, I mostly shoot with the newer D750, which used two SD cards instead of the CF/SD combination. One advantage of the D750 is that I can just pop the SD card directly into the MacBook Pro to import my photos, so I haven’t used the Sonnet Dio as much as of late.

When I recently tried to use the Sonnet Dio, I encountered a connection issue where the card kept getting disconnected. Not the safe disconnect, but the one that prompts a warning. At first, I thought the reader was somehow failing. However, this morning, I thought that the USB cable may be the culprit. So, I swapped cables and the connection problem disappeared. Glad I was able to figure this one out.


Chinese Sous Vide Beef Shank

I’ve been making braised beef shank for many years, but the end product had never quite matched the description in my cook book. I’ve tried braising in a cast iron pot for 2 hours. I’ve also left the beef shank in a crock pot for 8 hours. In the end, I’ve never achieved the jellied braising sauce until now.

To start, I adapted the braised beef shank recipe from Ken Hom’s Fragrant Harbor Taste. I vacuum sealed the following ingredients in a FoodSaver bag, and let it marinate for a few hours.

1½-2 lbs of beef shank
6 star anise
2 Tbsp whole unroasted Sichuan peppercorns
2 oz rock sugar
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1½ Tbsp light soy sauce
4 slices of ginger
2 two-inch sticks of cinnamon
2 tsp five-spice powder

Next, I cooked the beef shank at 175°F for 16 hours. When the beef shank was done, I removed it from the bag and filtered the reserved juices. For the first time, the braising sauce coagulated from all the gelatin extracted from the shank. The meat was incredibly tender.

Beef Shank Sous Vide

I sliced the beef shank thinly, added a dab of hoisin sauce, and wrapped it all up in a green onion pancake.


Lima, Peru Chinatown

I’m not a purist when it comes to Chinese food. Having grown up in America in the 1970s, I am accustomed to food that doesn’t taste quite like it does in China or Hong Kong. However, nowadays, the options are plentiful and the quality is much improved. When dining out in Chinese restaurants, we even have a selection of different regional cuisines. Yet, old school Chinese restaurants still have a place in my heart.

In a recent adventure to Peru, I could not pass up the opportunity to see the Lima Chinatown. A traditional gate marks the entrance to Chinatown. On it are the characters 中华坊 or China Square.

Lima, Peru Chinatown

Although the guide books refer to the neighborhood as Chinatown, that would be a term foreign to taxi drivers. The sign posts call this place Barrio Chino.

Barrio Chino

Without a fast data signal, I had to pick a restaurant for lunch by appearances. I saw a lot of ground-level cafes that seemed to offer fast food; i.e., fried rice or noodle plus one protein. Not what I was looking for. Instead, we ended up at Restaurante Salón China (中华喽)which is located on the second floor above a small street-facing bakery. On one side was the buffet offering and on the other side were the few people who were ordering off the menu. Of course, we opted for the traditional restaurant service.

I often joke that I know restaurant Chinese. After all, outside of the house, ordering food at a Chinese restaurant is the only time I ever use Chinese. Well, my restaurant Chinese skills were put to the test because the menu was in Chinese and Spanish. Usually, the fastest way for me to order is to read the English translation and then confirm with the Chinese text to make sure I’ve ordered the correct entrée. No such luck here.

This was the first Chinese restaurant that I’ve been to where the waiter did not speak Chinese. Fortunately, he did speak English, and even knew the names of the dishes in Cantonese. In fact, at first, I had ordered a different beef and noodle dish, but he suggested the beef chow fun (干炒牛河) dish instead, which came out remarkably well. The flavors were spot on.

Beef Chow Fun

At this point, we were very optimistic. The shrimp cheong fun 虾肠粉 looked exactly the same as you would get in America.


The egg tart 蛋挞 could have been better. That’s not to say that the kids turned it down, but I’ve had and seen better on many occasions.


The glutinous rice 罗米饭 was popular with the kids.


The bean curd skin roll 腐皮卷 was popular with the adults.


The least liked item was the Shanghai dumpling 小笼包 which was really off in terms of size. There was nothing 小 (small) about the 小笼包. Maybe that was my fault for ordering a Shanghai dish in a Cantonese restaurant.


Overall, I was very impressed with the restaurant. It had its highlights, service was attentive, and the exquisite beef chow fun made me feel at home. I didn’t stay in Lima long enough to fully explore the city and see if the best Chinese restaurants are outside of Chinatown, like they are in California. Considering our location, it was a pleasant surprise, and we even received a free Chinese calendar at the end of our meal.


T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan

I switched to AT&T when the first iPhone was released and have had no coverage issues for the most part. Of course, if I ventured to the Grand Canyon or another remote part of the United States, all bets were off, but that is to be expected.

The one thing I did not like about AT&T was whenever I had to travel overseas. Basically, I had to turn off cellular, forward my number to Google Voice, and rely on hotel wi-fi. Being disconnected from electronic devices can be liberating, but sometimes having a phone in hand is essential. Recently, I had a chance to test the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan when traveling to Peru.

The plan is supposed to charge $0.20/min for voice, and provide free and unlimited data and text. However, calls to Peru from the United States cost $2.69/min (I later discovered).

In terms of data and text, I accrued no extra charges. T-Mobile reported that I had used 263MB of data. AT&T charges $30 for 120MB of data with an overage charge of $0.25/MB, and $60 for 300 MB of data with an overage charge of $0.20/MB. On AT&T, it would have cost me $30.00 + $35.75 under their Passport plan or $60 under the Passport Plus. Although the iPhone was displaying the 3G icon, the data speeds were not 3G. It felt more like EDGE with the slow loading maps.

In terms of voice, the big surprise was the $5.38 charge for a two-minute call to Peru. That was unexpected. However, I had a number of short calls to 800 numbers that were not charged because they were over hotel Wi-Fi. The only long call (65 minutes!) from the airport in Lima back to the United States only cost me $13.00, or $0.20/minute. AT&T charges $1.00/min under Passport and $0.50/min under Passport Plus. $13.00 is better than $32.50 or even $65.00.

For the most part, I can live without a phone while traveling. However, during this trip, having a phone really saved me. This is the first time that I’ve experienced a flight delay, missed connection and a canceled flight all in one trip. Being able to call back to the United States to re-arrange my flight plans was well worth the $13.00 charge, even if it took over an hour to straighten out.


Apple iPhone Import Contacts from SIM Card

Solved an interesting problem tonight. I had an old AT&T Z221 phone, and wanted to migrate the address book from the SIM card to a new iPhone. The AT&T website had a support page with information about copying contacts to and from the SIM card. Still, I had no idea how to transfer that data to the new iPhone. Furthermore, the AT&T Z221 phone I had on hand had a busted screen. It would have been impossible to navigate through any menus on it.

From Apple, I found a support page on importing contacts stored on a SIM card. I knew that the iPhone 6 would have a different sized SIM card than the AT&T Z221 phone. So, I popped open the SIM card slot on a three-year-old iPhone 4S. No go. The iPhone 4S SIM card was too small. Thankfully, I still had a five-year-old iPhone 3GS on hand. I had to search a bit for the SIM card slot, which was located at the top of the phone. This time, the SIM cards matched.

For the final step, I signed into iCloud from the iPhone 3GS. After importing the contacts, the sync was instantaneous. I checked the new iPhone 6 and the contacts matched the address book of the old cell phone. Success!


Base Ten Blocks

How do you teach arithmetic? One approach is through the rote memorization of algorithms. For adults, that may be the obvious solution since that is how we solve simple addition and subtraction problems. But why do we carry-over in addition or borrow from in subtraction?

Base Ten Blocks

To illustrate this concept, I turn to base ten blocks. I had purchased a set of base ten blocks last year for supplemental Singapore Math instruction at home. We’ve used it on-and-off to illustrate math concepts. Lately, when my child has difficulty with a math question, I bring out the box of base ten blocks. With little assistance, my child is able to calculate three digit subtraction using the base ten blocks. And, after she has tackled a few questions, I return to the questions and explain the algorithm for notating the exchange of 1-ten for 10-ones.

I had also purchased mathlink cubes and ten frame boards. The base ten blocks are the most useful by far. Instead of memorizing algorithms, the base ten blocks let children figure the calculation themselves. Then, the algorithm becomes a short-cut of what they already stand.