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.


Helix Community Science Center, Los Altos, CA

Helix by Exploratorium is a children’s science center located on State Street in Los Altos, CA. In the Bay Area, larger science museums provide more of an all-day experience. In contrast, Helix is a place for local kids to spend an hour or two in an educational environment.

Helix Community Science Center

The center is a two-story facility with hands-on exhibits placed throughout the space. The retail space occupies much of the downstairs, and is a welcome space to find some thoughtful birthday gifts for children.

Helix Retail Store

In the magnet exhibit, learners will learn and players will play. Even younger children can interact with the exhibits without having the master the finer points of magnetism. Just having fun is okay.


Adults can experiment with the spinning table and try to place the perfect object that it will remain spinning in place as the surface rotates.


The center is not large, but is probably just the right size for young elementary school children. Enough to keep their attention, but not too large that their patience will be tested.


Hiller Aviation Museum

I’ve driven past Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA many times. This afternoon, I finally set foot in the museum and was really impressed with the exhibits.

Hiller Aviation Museum

In the lobby, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane floats above your head.

Wright Brothers

In the cavernous exhibit hall, you can see an impressive collection of helicopters and airplanes, ranging from the historic to the experimental. The exhibits are well-curated with accompanying explanatory videos.


Plan on taking about two hours to visit the museum.


Mission Peak Regional Preserve

I climbed up to Mission Peak in the Mission Peak Regional Preserve, which is located at the end of a suburban street in Fremont, California. I arrived shortly before 8 a.m. on a weekend and the parking lot was full. In fact, the entire street leading to the preserve was full.

Mission Peak

First off, this was not a hike. From my parking space two blocks away, I had a steady climb up to the entrance of the park. And, as I headed up to the peak, it was an unrelenting uphill march. Not a stretch of flat land where I could relax and catch my breath. I usually get my 10,000 steps in a day so I am not completely out of shape. But, walking up a steady incline is a different beast than walking on level ground, as all the still sore muscles continue to remind me. A bit hazy in the morning, but I did enjoy an aerial view of Fremont.


I couldn’t see Mission Peak until the last 20 minutes of the climb. The entire time, I was just focused on the next turn in the trail. Didn’t take long before the people further down the trail looked like little ants.

Mission Peak

Eventually, you’ll make one more turn and Mission Peak will be right in front.

Mission Peak

Then you wait in line to take a photo with the marker.



D-Day Tours

Next week, Normandy will celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I was in Normandy last December and signed up for a tour of Normandy with Christophe Gosselin of Normandy Heritage Tours.

My adventure started at the Paris Saint Lazare station. I am glad that I arrived early at the station because I needed every single minute to retrieve my tickets from the machine. With my print-out in hand, I walked up to the ticket machine and entered my information, only to be told that my tickets could not be located. That’s when I began my mad search for a staffed ticket office. I walked through the entire station and was redirected to the correct platform and another machine that displayed the same symptoms.

In addition to the confirmation code, the machine also asked for my name. The reservation listed First-Name Last-Name, so I tried that and it didn’t work. I reversed the order and tried Last-Name First-Name and that didn’t work either. As a last resort, I tried Last-Name only and that worked. The machine promptly printed my tickets and I was off to the platform. The machine should have simply asked for a family name or surname, and I would have be spared from all this angst.

Upon arriving in Bayeux, we walked to the Hotel Reine Mathilde. The hotel was centrally located within walking distance to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, Bayeux Cathedral, and nearby shops and restaurants.

Hotel Reine Mathilde

The next morning, we met up with Christophe in the hotel lobby. His van comfortably transported us on a private tour of Normandy. If you have time, you may consider a two-day tour. Normandy is such a large area that one-day may not feel enough. It all depends on your level of interest in World War II and historical events.

Sainte Mere Eglise

Our first stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, which Google Maps tells me is 55.9 km (39 min) away from Bayeux. On the exterior of the church, you can see a paratrooper with his parachute caught in the tower. Inside the church, we admired the stained glass windows which honored the paratroopers who helped liberate the city.

Next, we drove along the hedgerows and stopped briefly at the Batteries d’Azeville et de Crisbecq. Then, we proceeded to Utah Beach.


The Utah Beach D-Day Museum was closed during our visit. However, there are monuments and artifacts outside that you can see. Even if the museum was open, I’m not sure that we could have spent too much time there since our schedule was quite tight. From there, we drove to the church at Angoville Au Plain, where medics Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore treated soldiers from both sides of the war.

On D-Day, U.S. Army Rangers had scaled the cliffs to capture Pointe du Hoc. The site itself is quite impressive with massive craters still in place marking the allied bombardment of Pointe du Hoc.


Also, look at the bulk of this casement.


Our last destination was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. These men and women gave their lives so that we could be free.

Normandy American Cemetery


Let It Go in Chinese

If your child has already watched Frozen several times and has already memorized the lyrics to Let It Go, here’s a challenge. Learn the song in Chinese. Disney has a Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin version.

I like 随它吧 by Bella Yao the best of all the Chinese versions.