January 17, 2008
Crab Day 2007/8: A Prelude
|Photo Credit: Gregory J. Smith||
Crab season arrived late this year, but arrive it did. As we do every year, we rung the season in with Crab Day, a major holiday of the ancient Moche people of Peru, in which they revered the crab as the consummate prevaricators.
This year, we weren't sure what celebratory dishes we wanted to make. Crab cakes? Made plenty of those last year. Crab dip? Seems like a waste of fresh crab. Crab crepes? Crab salad? Crab Yangon (more commonly known as Crab Rangoon1)?
The answers weren't clear, and the gods were not forthcoming. But before I get into what we did do, let me first provide some general information about the regal crab.
Scientists have divided crabs into several families. I have listed them below, along with several examples of each.
Edible Crab (Deliciousidae)
Crabs Large Enough To Be Truly Fearsome And Which Are Therefore Best Avoided (Crabzilladae)
- Coconut crab
- Japanese Spider Crab
Crabs Which Are Too Small To Eat4 (Diminuitividae)
- Thumbnail Crab
- Peekytoe Crab
Crabs Which Are Often More Trouble To Eat Than They Are Worth And Yet Are Widely Touted As The Best Tasting Crabs In The World In A Way That Smacks Of East Coast Elitism (Orientosnobidae)
- "Maryland" Blue Crab
Seasonal And Holiday Crabs (Festivusidae)
- Christmas Island Red Crab
- Halloween Crab
Other Types Of Animals Which Are Not Crabs, But Which Masquerade As Crabs, Often To The Point Of Placing "Crab" In Their Name With Intent To Deceive (Doppelcrabidae)
- Coconut crab is not necessary, or even typically used for, coconut crab. This is a common misconception. The dish tastes just as good with other types of crab.
- There has been some speculation that if you eat a Spider Crab and a Crab Spider they will cancel each other out, making for a possibly tasty but zero-calorie treat. No one has as yet volunteered to eat a Crab Spider in order to test this theory out, however.
Like most crabs, the Spider Crab walks and swims sideways. But unlike the others of its kind, once a the year it can be seen walking forward and backward like normal animals: during mating season. As part of an elaborate dance that includes coordinated movements of claw, leg, and tail, the male attempts to woo the female with his mastery of non-lateral motion. If she is suitably impressed, she will turn around, bring both claws together, and bow to indicate that she is willing to mate.
It is only then that the truly dreadful act of copulation begins. The male, who is much larger, picks up the female, jams her up against whatever passes for a crab pubis, and sways about sickeningly. The female wriggles in terror, kicking out in obvious desperation. Their legs mingle in one writhing, clicking, chitinous mass. It has been said that "the only thing more unattractive than one spider crab is two of them mating." The act has been known to cause nearby fish and other animals to flee, leaving only hatchet-footed mollusks, anemones, and other unfortunate, non-mobile sea creatures to be traumatized by the image.
It is in fact so horrifying that a female spider crab will only ever mate once or twice, storing up enough sperm in that instance to fertilize her for the rest of her life, as to avoid being so degraded ever again. It is for this reason that female spider crabs are widely known as the Sex Camels of the Sea, and are further subdivided into Dromedaries or Bactrians, depending upon whether they go through life with one hump or two.
- The Christmas Island Red Crab, so called because its liver smells like frankincense, is normally a very sedate creature. For three months out of the year, however, it goes batshit insane, completely overrunning the island nearby its habitat. (You really need to see this video -- it's seriously nuts.) Authorities attempted to control the population of these crabs with the introduction of this ant. The plan backfired so badly that they later claimed that the introduction was accidental. I don't blame them, though; what indication was there that bringing over something called the Yellow Crazy Ant was a bad idea? Biologists are currently mulling over the introduction of the Maniacal Rabid Anteater as a possible countermeasure.
1.Referring to the capital of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma2.
2.A country in southeast Asia, formerly known as The Orient.
3.Scientists suspect that this crab's choice in name is at least partially responsible for its being overfished.
4.Though there has been some commercial interest in this family since the discovery of the Popcorn Shrimp by Dr. L.J. Silver in 1987.
Secondary photo credit: Clonny
February 19, 2005
IMBB #12: Lamb Fries and Beef Tongue
There aren't a lot of foods that I dislike. Oh, I've pretended to be horrified at the thought of eating, say, human placenta, but when it comes right down to it, I'd probably dig right in, if it was prepared well. Rebecca and I racked our brains for awhile and the only thing we could find that it disturbs me to eat is “Jello”. I find jello to be deeply insulting. It hurts me to be served jello. I am not sure why.
That having been said, there are plenty of ingredients that I have been afraid to work with in the kitchen, mostly because I've never had them prepared for me, so even if I have a recipe to work with, I have no idea what the end result should look (or taste) like.
When I heard that the theme of IMBB #12 would be “Is My Blog Taboo”, I figured it might be a good time to take on some of those challenges. Oh, sure, I could have wimped out and done oxtail, which I work with all the time, or beef cheeks, which I made a few weeks ago. But the real question was this: did I have the balls to take some risks and do something new instead? Well, I didn't. But I knew where to get some.
Montana Tendergroin. Rocky Mountain Oysters. Barnyard Jewels, Cowboy Caviar. Swinging Beef. Bull testicles got all the cool names. The little rams got the shaft. One thing I know for sure, though, is that the “lamb fry” name has got to go. It's not really fair to anyone. It's deceptive marketing, for sure. Might as well rename durian the “Sun Fruit” or something.
Testicles – whatever their origin – are not upscale food. Most recipes that I have found are quite straightforward. Unfortunately they are even briefer than they are simple, and omit certain details that someone who has never cooked up a batch of testes might want to know. Here's an actual example:
Blanch, strip, drain, and dry the fries. Cut thinly. Bread and fry.
Whoa, wait a minute! That's not a recipe, it's an intention. Here's the process I used, learned from what I could glean from the Internet as well as a brief process of trial and error:
Blanch testes for 5 minutes. This solidifies the insides enough that you can strip the outer membrane. (Before this, they feel like water balloons.) Make sure the water is only barely simmering, as too much of a rolling boil can cause the balls to explode. (Ouch!)
Peel off the thick outer membrane using a very sharp knife. This is the most difficult and annoying part of the whole process. Start at the Hole That Nature Made – that will make things easier for you.
Cut into thin slices. This is another reason you'll need a sharp knife, as the insides are still somewhat gelatinous at this point.
Marinate for at least one hour. A simple vinaigrette makes a good marinade, or try something using beer for more cultural authenticity.
Pat the slices dry. Salt and pepper them. Dip them in flour, then into a (beaten) egg, then into panko or bread crumbs. Shallow fry them until the breading is a deep golden brown. Serve immediately.
There you have it. Like most deep fried entities, these are best eaten immediately after being made. And you know what? I don't know that I'll be making these again, but all in all, they weren't too bad. You can bread and fry anything and it tastes pretty much the same. It's definitely the most approachable way to eat testicles. Just don't eat too many; you'll spoil your appetite for the tongue.
Beef Tongue in a Rich Tomato Sauce.
There's an old joke that goes like this:
A guy went into a restaurant and asked 'What's the special of the day?'
'Beef tongue,' the waiter replied.
'Ugh!', the guy said, 'That's disgusting! I won't eat anything that comes out of a cow's mouth. Fry me up a couple of eggs!'
I think we're all in agreement that people's food preferences are pretty arbitrary. You must admit, though, that a beef tongue can be pretty formidable to someone who has never prepared one before – or seen it prepared. I seriously had no idea what to expect. For instance, I assumed that the whole of the tongue was a dense, solid meat, kind of like – and I say this with full awareness of how stupid it makes me sound – kind of like a bologna.
In fact the pink part is just a piece of skin, and just like many other pieces of skin, what lies underneath is a thin layer of goop (technical term) and then a muscle. What you eat is the muscle.
As you might imagine from all of the talking that cows do, the muscle is quite lean and tough and must be subjected to a long braising or boiling. After that, though, things change. The tip of the tongue is made up of long muscle strand like brisket, only it's softer and more tender than any brisket ever could be. The back of the tongue is denser and more solid, but still has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that is difficult to describe. It's little wonder that Mexicans (the real ones, not the mythical ones that made the menu at your neighborhood Taco Casa) use this meat in burritos. It's miles above, say, ground beef.
1 2 to 3 lb beef tongue
4c cider, wine, beer, stock, or combination thereof.
3 cloves garlic, whole
6-7 cloves Garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/3 soy sauce
2 c beer – preferably Strong Brown ale or Belgian-style
2-3 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp molasses
4 pcs thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
3 tbsp fresh tarragon
1 14 oz can tomatoes
- Wash the tongue. You can scrub it, or you can blanch it in boiling water with a cup of vinegar added to it, like I did.
- Rinse out pot or pressure cooker. Add tongue, 4 cups of cooking liquid (as above), fresh herbs, and garlic cloves. Braise for 1 hours (pressure cooker) or 2 hours (normal pot).
- Towards the end of this time, fry the bacon in a medium-sized pot and reserve it, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Saute the onion in the bacon fat until it is nearly translucent. Add the garlic and saute. Add the tomato paste and saute until it browns slightly. (You need to be done cooking the tongue by this time if you're using the pressure cooker.) Add the can of tomatoes, 2 ½ cups of the braising liquid, the bay leaf, the soy sauce, the beer, the tamarind, the molasses and the tarragon. Let cook for 20 minutes. Puree the sauce in small batches in a blender or food processor. Thicken the sauce if you like.
- Remove the outer layer of skin from the tongue. It should slough off very easily now. Cut the tongue into slices. Add the tongue slices and the bacon lardons to the sauce. Cook 10 minutes. Serve.
One caveat: the part that I am least sure about is the braising time. Recipes I consulted to compare with have wildly differing cooking times. I actually braised for about an hour and a half in a pressure cooker, and I thought that was a bit much – the outer edges of the tongue were a bit mushy. Maybe they get this way no matter what. Regardless, the meat should be pretty much done by the time you take it out of its initial braise, so if the meat at the back of the tongue isn't tender and succulent, braise it for another half hour and check it again. If you do try this recipe and have a different experience, drop me an email and let me know.
If you were wowed by the thought eating lamb testicles, you love boobies, and you live in or near Montana or are willing to drive there on your Harley or in your motor home, you should check out the nation's one and only (as far as I'm aware) Testicle Festival. Lots of “fries” of various kinds for you to eat, and for some reason, while you're there, women of varying degrees of attractiveness will take their tops off! Must be all that testosterone in the food.
If, on the other hand, the thought of eating human placenta gets you going, there are many resources for you to check out. (Apparently, it's far more popular than testicles and boobies.) Also be sure to check out the hilarious Straight Dope column on the subject. And don't worry, there's still somewhat of a likelihood that you'll get flashed while waiting in line for your placenta -- I hear those new mothers wear some pretty skimpy outfits when going into delivery. Whoa, mama!
December 01, 2004
WBW #4: New World Riesling
The Folly Of Youth
I wasn't always bullish on white wines. A few years ago, I could be downright hostile. Chardonnay and White Burgundy I treated with grudging respect (any white wine that was worth putting a little oak on couldn't be all that bad, I thought), but anything that might remind one of lemons or grapefruit I held in suspicion, and anything off-dry I outright scorned. Oh, I didn't deny that these styles had their place; something to drink with white fish, for instance (in the case of the former), and perhaps spicy Asian cuisine (in the case of the latter). So I did what any reasonable wine drinker would do -- I drank beer with my Chinese take-out and avoided eating fish altogether.
Riesling I shunned in particular. I think it's because the first wine I drank regularly (back in my undergraduate days, so you know I had plenty of it) was a cheap domestic Riesling. It was some time before I realized just how bad it was: cloying, flabby, ridiculous...I soon fell in with a pack of Sonoma Cabernets and never looked back.
The Road To Damascus
I used to persecute white wine drinkers with some fervor. At best, I felt, they -- like the wines they drank -- lacked seriousness. At worst? Sallow-tongued Fresca-drinkers. After one tasting session at which I mentioned to an acquaintance -- let's call him Ananias -- that his German Riesling might be best consumed while wearing a pretty white cotton summer dress but that I wondered what he wore in the winter, he gave me a suggestion. Well, he made two suggestions, really, but the first one was very unflattering and I ignored it.
The second, however, proved to be very enlightening. He told me about a wine importer on Pier 19 (in
San Francisco) named Dee Vine Wines that specialized in German imports. Their periodic tastings were,
he claimed, can't-miss events, and one was happening the following weekend. If came away from the
tasting without thoroughly enjoying the wines, he said, I could make all the derisive comments I wanted
My comrades in arms and I were very confused when we arrived at Pier 19. Fisherman's Wharf it ain't -- this looks like a working Pier. It's a giant, dark, dank warehouse. The security guard at the entrance looked at us with the wary eye of a man who has learned the hard way not to trust anyone who doesn't have three days' beard growth and a tattoo of an anchor. "You here for the WINE TASTING?" he spat.
We were directed to a section a few hundred feet back that contained -- you guessed it -- a wine store, at the front of which were three tables supporting thirty five buckets of ice between them. For a mere $15 we tasted everything from Kabinetten to Trockenbeerenauslesen, some of the latter of which were going for well over $100 for a 375 mL bottle. Those were fantastic, I must admit, but it was the Spatlesen that really grabbed me. All the richness of a late harvest wine, all of the approachability that a little of sugar can give, perfectly balanced against the steely minerality and citrus of a cold weather white wine. Then throw in the mix just a hint -- sometimes more -- of some funkiness that Ananias had described as "petrol". I now understood what he meant. I was hooked.
My road to Damascus wound up being the Embarcadero. That visit changed the way I drink wine. Oh, I still love my reds, don't get me wrong. But these days I think nothing of cracking open a bottle of white wine instead. Also I am humbler now. And I am no longer afraid to eat fish.
And while my tastes have since broadened to include other great wines such as White Burgundy, Gruner
Veltliner, and even Albarino, my favorite white wine in the world is still a good Spatlese, and I don't feel as though I must cross-dress to enjoy it.
New World Riesling?
All that having been said, I was pretty skeptical of the whole "New World Riesling" thing. I guess I still have ancestral memories of that fatty, sweet, cheap California Riesling I drank in college. But I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to see what the rest of the world is doing with the grape these days. But I still planned to compare it to my favorite Mosels and Rheingaus, where it would no doubt fail to shine.
I didn't have a chance to make it to the wine store before the weekend, however, but as I was cooking a late Thanksgiving meal for friends, I had one of them pick up something for me. He doesn't know much about wine, but I had him relay my preferences and circumstances to the wine store staff, and ask them to give me "something interesting".
What I got was indeed unexpected -- an ice wine from Chateau Ste Michelle. I read the back: 40 brix at harvest, 29% residual sugar. I thought I was in for a flaccid, insipid, sickly-sweet experience. I couldn't have been more wrong.
October 30, 2002
gre preparation tips
I took the GRE this morning. It's been a long time coming. Damn am I glad it's over.
My math score exceeded my expectations. I'm very happy about that. My verbal score, while still fairly high, wasn't as good as I'd anticipated. Since I'll probably be applying to Computer Science departments, that's less important. I don't think I did very well on the analytical writing section. I'm not sure how important that is. (Ed. note: The author wound up doing just fine on the analytical section.)
By and large, though, I'm happy with my performance. My preparation, though spotty and undisciplined, was mostly sufficient.
Here are some tips based on my personal experience that you may find useful if you're preparing for the GRE. This is written mostly for adult students returning to school after a potentially long hiatus, as was the case with me. The tips are haphazardly presented and poorly worded, I realize. In addition, they are math-centric, as that's where most of my preparation was focused. Hopefully there's a little useful information for everyone.
Start Early, Ease Into It
Plan to start studying at least six months out. That way you don't have to cram all of your preparation into the last month or two. Furthermore, you'll have time to judge whether or not you've truly internalized the material. This is particularly important for returning students.
(Don't despair if you don't have six months. You don't really need six months; I just wish I'd done it slowly over a longer period of time rather than intensely at the end. It would have been far less stressful that way. I did my preparation in less than two months.)
When I thought about spending money on GRE books, the normally inactive neurons in my brain responsible for frugality started firing. "Why don't I just buy books over Ebay?" I thought.
I'm not saying this is a bad idea. You should just be aware that not all GRE books are created equal. First, be aware that the composition of the GRE does change over the years. Buying old books is not necessarily a bad thing, but you can't rely on them exclusively. In addition, the GRE format has changed since certain editions. Books that are a few years old will give you problems oriented towards a 30 problems in 30 minutes pacing, which is very different from the current format of 28 problems in 45 minutes.
(Additionally, of course, as of October 2002, the format of the analytical section dramatically changed, becoming an analytical writing section instead, and completely invalidating the sections devoted to analytical preparation in older books. If you're not aware of this change, you should definitely read about it on the official GRE site.)
Second, some books just suck. Maybe they're just not geared toward high performers, or are trying to be all things to everyone. But I went through a couple of books that didn't even mention some of the more difficult problem types.
In particular, the 2000 Arco GRE was a complete waste of money and time. In the early stages of my preparation, when I was getting 75% on the practice tests from some other books, I was getting 95% and higher on the Arco tests. Eventually I stopped working out of the Arco book altogether.
Books that I had good luck with include:
o GRE: Practicing to Take the General Test, the book of sample exams published by ETS, was indispensable. Don't even think about going without.
o I found Kaplan GRE Math Workbook to be a halfway decent math review. There's a lot of cruft -- you'll probably want to ignore all of the "basic" and many of the "intermediate" problems -- but in the end it's probably worth the $12.
Given that the GRE is a computer-based test now, it's surprising that there isn't a ton of similar computer-adaptive testing software out there for praciticing. Of course, each of the major test prep companies (Kaplan, Peterson, etc.) offers online GRE CATs (computer adaptive tests). But it's not always clear what you're getting for your money, and generally speaking, those companies use the CATs as a carrot to try to draw you into purchasing additional prep services from them. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use them. Presumably their material is at least passable.
I preferred tests that I could download to my hard drive and peruse at my leisure to the online services provided by the major companies. Unfortunately, there aren't that many tests out there like that. The two that I used primarily were:
PowerPrep (the sample ETS tests): This is the online test package that you can download for free from ETS, the organization that writes the actual GRE. It's the best gauge of your preparation, and you can't beat the price. Since there are only two tests, here's how I'd suggest using them: Take toward the beginning of your preparation. The score will tell you where you're at and help set your expectations appropriately. Take the other one toward the end of your preparation. (Actually, take them both -- you'll probably have forgotten the first one by then, if you've given yourself at least a few months to prepare. But don't take them any more often than that.)
800score: This company sells five downloadable computer adaptive tests for $18. One math section is available for free so you can see what you're getting. I found these to be worth my while.
It's important to note that these tests -- the math sections, anyway -- are more difficult than the actual GRE, and near as I can tell, the scoring is more aggressive (you're penalized more for wrong answers). At first I was very disappointed -- frightened, even -- by my performance on these tests. It was only after taking the ETS-supplied tests that I realized that I would not have to commit seppiku to avoid dishonoring my family.
Whether the difficulty level is intentional I don't know, but I found it to be helpful -- having a target to shoot at that was above the level of the actual GRE meant that I spent more time working on the things that I found to be difficult, rather than patsy problems and busywork. It also meant that I had a much lower stress level during the actual test.
The important thing to remember is to use these practice tests as benchmarks, not as the primary material for your preparation. You should use static material -- GRE prep books, etc. -- to study. The practice tests should serve to prepare you for the format. Space them out at regular intervals throughout your months of practice. Take a verbal section here, and a math section there, maybe once a week or so. I, for one, was always tempted to take another test right away if I did poorly. Don't yeild to that impulse -- it won't do you any good in the long run. Your computer adaptive tests are precious; don't abuse them.
Studying for the Verbal Section
Unfortunately, I didn't take a single practice verbal test or do any verbal preparation whatever until two days before my test. What I would have done, though, if I'd been a bit more proactive and had a little more time, would be to start studying vocabulary at the very beginning. There are a lot of good vocabulary lists available on the web for free, e.g., here. Download a bunch of them. Delete the words that are in your working vocabulary -- words that you actually use. Leave words on the list even if you know what they mean but don't use them. You can always take them off later. Use the edited, compiled list as your basis for study. There's a lot of good information out there on vocabulary preparation, so I won't rehash it. The aforementioned site also has links to decent preparation software.
The only way that I can think of to prepare for the reading comprehension questions is to take sample GRE tests.
Studying for the Math Section
Personally, I feel that good preparation can have more of an impact on your scores on the math section than anywhere else on the GRE.
Studying for the math section, if you're a returning student or a even a student who majored in a non-technical discipline, will have two phases. The first one is deficiency. You'll need to remember all of the high school math that you never use. You'll need to brush up on ratios and fractions, factoring, and all that nonsense. This really shouldn't take too long. Take a few practice tests, go through a few diagnostic tests in the books you bought. Figure out what you've forgotten (or never knew) and commit it to memory. That's it. The math itself is not complicated or difficult.
The second phase is the longest, most difficult, and most crucial. It's here that you face the real obstacles to getting a high GRE score. And the only solution is enlightented practice. Each time you take a practice test in a book or on the computer, you must go back through and diagnose your errors.
The primary skills you must develop through practice are:
o Pacing -- Unless you're mathematically gifted, you must pay close attention to your pacing strategy for taking the GRE. Pacing the CAT is very different from pacing a paper-based test, since all problems on the CAT are not equally important. There's a lot of information out there on CAT pacing that covers the subject more completely than I could, so I won't offer specific strategies here.
Once I'd implemented a basic pacing strategy, I found that the major obstacle for me was my own nature. I'd be working on a problem and know in the back of my mind that I was taking too long, I'd find myself thinking, "I can do this problem. I know how; I just need a little more time!" It was hard for me to sacrifice a problem that I knew how to do even if I was way off of my pace. (The strange nature of GRE scoring makes assessing whether or not to give up on a problem even more difficult.)
Only by practicing -- primarily on CATs -- can you get a good internal sense of how long to take on a problem and understand when to give up. The 800score tests are good because they have a built-in pacer that lets you know how far off pace you are, and when you're reviewing the answers, it shows you which questions you took too long on.
o Number Sense -- The GRE is easiest if you have an intimate relationship with numbers. This is not the case for me, nor is it the case for most people. The good news is that you can significantly improve your relationship with numbers in ways that will help your GRE score with a little investigation and practice.
Many problems on the GRE are quite workable via longhand, but are much simpler if you know a bit about the numbers involved. As a classic example, I've seen problems on practice tests that require you to calculate the length of the third side of various triangles as part of the solution. Often the lengths of the sides of these triangles are all whole numbers less than 20. There aren't that many of those! Memorizing them is not too much trouble.
Other simple examples:
o Knowing (and by knowing I don't simply mean "being able to calculate") the relationship between a circle's radius, its circumference, and its area
o Being able to tell if an arbitrary number is divisible by k, where k < 12
o Knowing various methods of judging whether one fraction is larger or smaller than another, and being able to pick the easiest method for the situation
One approach that I used is to read through the "tips and tricks" section of every GRE preparation book I could get ahold of. You'll likely be aware of most of the information, but every book will have at least a few choice bits. Write those bits down on flash cards and go through them periodically. If necessary, compile some sample problems that exercise those specific skills.
There a number of websites devoted to number sense. I wish I'd stumbled upon them while I was studying for the GRE -- I imagine they'd be a great aid if you were starting early enough. Some of the sites focus primarily on doing basic calculation, but even this could be very helpful. Probably most of the time you spend on the GRE Math will be performing calculations by hand. You have much better uses for that time, the more that you can reclaim for actual thinking or careful reading, the better.
The primary obstacles to a high GRE score, having factored out knowledge (of the problem types) and skills (such as those mentioned above) include:
o Misreading -- If you're anything like me, in the heat of taking the test will elicit a large number of errors. You will see right angle indicators where none existed or omit them when they are present. You will see "square" when the problem clearly says "rectangle" and decimal points will move around as though they were insects. The only way to avoid these kinds of errors is to take your time and read the problem carefully, whether you're under time pressure or not. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Diagnosis of your errors under test conditions is the only way to be sure you're not fooling yourself about the degree of your misreadings or any other errors.
o Calculation Error -- Screwing up the basic math is another major source of error. Having good number sense will help with this. So will good pacing, so you will be under less time pressure.
Note that once you pass the "deficiency" stage of your preparation, you should take tests from books as though you're taking a CAT. Observe strict time limits. Don't change answers once you've written them down. Don't skip problems and go back to them, even if you have time at the end. (It's fine if you want to go back after you've scored the test and work any problems you skipped.)
Studying for the Analytical Writing Section
I made a big mistake in eschewing practice of the analytical writing section. The main reason I did so (besides lack of time and general focus on the Math section) is lack of objective feedback using criteria similar to the ETS judging criteria.
What I should have realized is that pacing is crucial. It's important to have a good feel for the timing of writing a 30 or 45 minute essay. If you're in school and you take essay tests with some regularity, this may not be an issue. If you're like me, and you haven't written a timed essay in seven years, you should pay some attention to this.
There are plenty of sample questions on the web. Review ETS' judging criteria and write a few, periodically, under test conditions. Review your essay as objectively as you can. This is the very least you can do for your analytical writing preparation.
If you wish to have a more objective judge, there are GRE prep services which will give you a sample question and judge the result using the ETS criteria for around $20.
Good luck on your GRE!
October 20, 2002
harry potter jelly bellies
The following is a review of the new Harry Potter Jelly Bellies, or "Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans", as they are branded and distributed. I have confined my review to the flavors which are not present in the standard Jelly Belly distribution, as there is no need to spill more ink lauding Green Apple or Banana and reviling the hated Buttered Popcorn, as is done with the advent of each Jelly Belly vintage.
Booger: A little greener than perhaps it should be, and the occasional flecks of dark brown make you wonder just what it is that this person had up his or her nose. The overall flavor, however, is a bit of a disappointment; perhaps a little bit salty but also sweet and almost minty in a way that actual boogers most certainly aren't, and one is inevitably led to the conclusion that Bertie is here relying upon the mental image of booger consumption to supply the gross-out factor. Rating: D
Black Pepper: Somewhat closed and inaccessible upon first bite -- at least relative to my expectations of the flavor -- the Black Pepper bean soon opens up into sweet, spice-laden black pepper flavors. Well executed, though one imagines it not much of a challenge to create. A solid effort nevertheless, and -- unlike some of the other flavors -- there's a chance that this one could make the crossover into the standard distribution. Rating: B
Vomit: This bean is quite disgusting. While lacking the acidic bite of actual vomit, the bean is surprisingly successful at evoking the revolting chunky miscellany of the experience. The flavor does not immediately recall the taste of vomit, but it is nauseating enough that, in more psychologically suggestive types, it might actually serve as an emetic. I feel compelled to give it two scores: the first to indicate the pleasure that I took in the experience, and the second to evaluate Bertie's success in recreating an experience that all of us have had and few care to remember. Rating: D-/B+
Earwax: Like Booger, this flavor is a yawner. It's doubtful that the creators of this bean were even attempting to recreate earwax, which although I cannot vouch for its flavor, has a distinctive odor which is not even alluded to by this bean. Probably they had a failed experimental recipe for one of the other flavors and asked themselves how they could market it, considering "Toejam" and "Sputum" before settling on Earwax. They should have given the whole thing a miss. Rating: D
Spinach: One imagines what Bertie is going for here is the flavor of frozen or canned spinach -- and in this respect, it's a success. This beans opens up strong and the spinach flavor carries all the way through to the finish. rating: B
Sardine: Oily, briny, fishy -- and with that unnamable flavor that one can find nowhere else -- this is an impeccable re-creation of the experience of eating canned sardines. Bertie has created the consummate savory bean. If you can only try one of Bertie's new releases, make it this one. One wishes for a letter in the alphabet preceding "A" in order to give a fair rating to this masterpiece. Bravo! Rating: A++
Grass: Anyone who has ever actually eaten grass knows that its flavor, while not exactly pungent, is very distinctive and sticks on one's palate. Someone should have forced this bean's designers to do some grazing as research. Overly sweet and with only vague weedy flavors, a bean which should have been strongly suggestive of summer chores (and, by extension, summer vacation), this bean's slight vegetal flavors force the eater to stretch for their own mental associations. An excellent idea flubbed in execution. Rating: C-
Dirt: Redolent of potting soil and minerals, this is a masterstroke. Starting with a subtle clay note, the Dirt bean explodes into earthy, loamy flavors. There's even a siltiness to the texture that I originally thought was entirely psychological, but now I'm not so sure. Bertie has managed to take everything good about eating dirt -- and none of the bad things -- and concentrate it into this bean flavor. Rating: A
August 26, 2002
napa trip log: french laundry
Editor's note: Entire Napa trip report begins here.
(With this dish we ordered a half bottle of NV Billecart Salmon Brut Rose.)
This dish consisted of a small bowl with a bed of pearl tapioca at the bottom, a few pieces of poached oyster meat resting on that, and caviar on top, surrounded by a pool of some kind of cream sauce.
Not typically the kind of dish I enjoy best. But I loved it. I worried that the dish would be briny, something I'm sensitive to, but it was instead just pleasantly (and mildly) salty. The combination of textures of the oyster, tapioca, and caviar was fun!
(With this dish we ordered an aged Austrian dessert wine made from a lesser-known relative of Gruner Veltliner. I wish I'd written the information down.)
Given the choice between the endive salad and the Foie Gras, we all ordered the Foie Gras. The torchon was creamy and delicious, as you might expect.
(With this and the following dish, we ordered a half bottle of 1999 Premier Cru Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine Marc Colin, which is a white Burgundy, which is typically made from Chardonnay.)
Fantastic. The halibut was done perfectly , with a crispy sear on the outside and a firm but velvety texture on the inside. It was also inexplicably flavorful, as if this halibut had lived out its life in a pool of chicken stock and white wine instead of seawater. The beans, squash and tomato were perfect complements in texture and in taste.
The wine was very good. I can see this being a "bridge wine" that might draw lovers of California Chardonnay into the world of Burgundy -- it's very accessible, full of peach and pear flavors, but still exhibiting the restraint and balance that's characteristic of good Old World wines.
Otherwise known as the "Tower of Lobster". The base of the tower is built from lobster tail meat. This base is covered in a thin layer of bright green paste, ostensibly the "Melted Green Leeks". This paste is a kind of mortar which joins the base to a second layer of lobster -- this time composed of claw meat. Set gently atop this majestic column is a wide, thin cracker of fried potatoes ("Pomme Maxim"), which makes this dish look like a radio telescope in The Little Mermaid.
The tower is surrounded by a moat of "red beet essence", a thick red sauce made from beet juice and a strong stock, among other things. This sauce is the tastiest thing imaginable. I wanted some with every course. Including dessert. ("Sir, here is your Creme Brulee with Red Beet Essence...")
The whole ensemble was good -- sweet, buttery lobster framed by the strangely neon green leek mortar -- but what I remember most is the Red Beet Essence.
(This course was served with a half bottle of 1999 Pommard Les Perrieres Jean-Michel Gaunoux, a red Burgundy from Cote de Beaune.)
Both Rebecca and I like rabbit, but nevertheless I liked this much more than I expected to. The rabbit was flavorful and moist, and the giant fresh pasta ravioli was the embodiment of chewy goodness.
The wine, I must say, was a perfect choice. Earthy and slightly spicy, and with a long finish, this is a great wine -- especially so for the price. Wine is amazing. Just when you think you're getting the slightest handle on it, you realize there's a whole wild world out there of wildly different stuff just waiting for you.
It's not like I haven't had Burgundies before. But every time I have a good one I get this feeling, as though it's a drink from an alien planet. (Which I suppose it is -- it comes from France. ) Slowly I'm coming to realize that it's a planet that I'd like to spend some time on.
(With this course we ordered a bottle of 1998 Chateau De Pez, a red Bordeaux from St. Estephe.)
The perfect veal dish, I imagine; succulent, perfectly cooked slices of veal atop a risotto cake. Trouble is, I'm never deeply impressed by veal. I've never walked out of a restaurant thinking, "Oh my god, that was the best veal dish I've ever had." This probably was, in fact, the best veal dish I've ever had, but I found myself wishing I had some Red Beet Essence to go on top of it or something.
The wine is another story. My complaint about inexpensive Bordeaux is that they often feel flat in my mouth; there's a nice start and often a decent finish, but nothing in the middle. Not so with this one. It's incredibly full-flavored and left my entire mouth tingling slightly. The only thing that made it even better is knowing that if I can manage to find it around town, it'll cost me less than $30/bottle.
Now begins the endless parade of dessert courses to wind down the meal. One gets the feeling that, behind the politeness and decorum, the waitstaff has the desire to see you explode.
This phase of the game is all about economy. Spread as much of the food around on your plate so you may miss some, not realizing there is more to consume. Resist the temptation to order any more wine in an effort to conserve space in your stomach. Attempt to convince whoever finishes first to have a couple of bites of yours. Whoever's stomach ruptures last wins.
Actually, the pacing has been very good. I've had tasting menus before (most notably the remarkable meal at Masa's) where I was getting full going into the two "main" courses. It wasn't until this point that I got that funny feeling that means that your stomach is reaching the limits of its elasticity.
Simple as it was, I enjoyed this dish immensely. The cheese is a great find, and is superb in combination with the sweetness of the golden raisins.
Editor's note: We now see the first significant manifestations of the author's food-induced psychosis. Here he jokes about the waitstaff being out to get him and the meal being a competition of sorts. These seemingly harmless humorous gestures are in fact indicators, as you will see, of the author's growing paranoia.
Getting full. Not sure how much more of this I can take.
A Financier is merely a small rectangular browned-butter pound cake, but describing this one thusly doesn't do it justice. It's a paradox: light but somehow substantial. The perfect platform for showcasing the sorbet, which is a masterstroke.
Despite being close to capacity, I found myself checking other people's plates to see if they had sorbet they couldn't finish.
Editor's note: The author's handwriting becomes increasingly erratic at this point. The experts we consulted see the sudden shift to present tense to indicate an dangerous change in mental state that is common in food-based psychosis.
Barely holding it together. In the future for meals like this I will bring a girdle, in the hope that compression will assist in keeping my stomach from ripping at the seams and the contents of dinner spilling into my intenstinal cavity.
Heavy but well balanced chocolate dessert. Frankly, I don't remember too much about it, as most of the blood had migrated away from my brain and to the vessels in my stomach lining. I must have liked it immensely, since I ate it all, despite not having any space for it.
That was the last course, so after a brief walk to my hotel I can spend the rest of the evening immobile in front of the television. So I think I'll be fine, no thanks to those gits in the kitchen who keep bringing me more food to eat.
Editor's note: The author's aggressiveness may seem sudden, but as we have pointed out it has been a while in coming and was clearly forecast in the text.
Bastards! They've brought an entire plate of strange little cookies! They said we were done eating! Now they taunt me! In particular there is a tartlet with a large glowing yellow ball in the center, somewhat reminiscent of lemon curd, which I must investigate. They have researched me and know about my weakness for lemon curd. I must be watchful.
Editor's note: The author's handwriting is nearly illegible.
I have downed several cookies and managed to avoid consuming the others. But now the waiter dropped the final gauntlet. He's brought a box containing five macaroons and set them in the center of the table. Each macaroon, he explains, had its own delicate flavor: jamaican vanilla bean, saffron, red beet, pistachio, and coffee. I see their plan. They made them different flavors so I must try each one . They don't think I can do it!
They have no antacids here, so I have ordered a preparation of baking soda and water, which my mother always took for stomach problems. I will take a short break and resume eating the macaroons and whatever else the devils bring me from the kitchen.
Now I am ready. People will tell tales for years of my victory over Thomas Keller. They will sing songs in my honor. I will begin with the saffron macaro
Editor's note: The record ends here. The author's
psychosis prevented him from seeing what any seventh grader
who has dreamed of blowing up seagulls would have spotted:
bicarbonate of soda should never be used as an antacid on
a full stomach. In a particularly ironic circumstance,
we suspect that the baking soda had a virulent
reaction to the vinegar in the Red Beet Essence which he
had eagerly slurped off of the plates of his dinner companions
earlier in the evening.
The subsequent rupture of his stomach combined with the
existing psychosis sent him into what is known in the
vernacular as a "food coma". He has yet to awaken from
this state. Food comas resulting from dinner at The French
Laundry and other, similar restuarants have been known to
The author has been released, still comatose, from the hospital
where his ruptured stomach was successfully treated. He is now being
cared for at home. Messages and inquiries can be sent
The subsequent rupture of his stomach combined with the existing psychosis sent him into what is known in the vernacular as a "food coma". He has yet to awaken from this state. Food comas resulting from dinner at The French Laundry and other, similar restuarants have been known to last years.
The author has been released, still comatose, from the hospital where his ruptured stomach was successfully treated. He is now being cared for at home. Messages and inquiries can be sent here.
July 07, 2002
nature most foul
In anticipation of our trip to French Laundry at the end of August, Rebecca and I watched the episode of A Cook's Tour where Tony Bourdain goes there. Before he makes the trip up to Youtville, however, he tools around San Francisco a bit, going to Polly Ann's, a famous San Francisco ice cream parlor, where he tries their durian-flavored ice cream.
For those of you unfamiliar with durian, it's an unusual fruit from the far east. It looks like this:
Durian is widely known for its incredible stench. In places where it is popular, you will find signs prohibiting you from bringing it into restaurants, on busses, or on airplanes. This fruit stinks so bad that whole countries have crafted legislation banning its consumption in public.
Why do people eat it? Supposedly, despite the odor, it has a wonderful, transcendent texture and flavor. Devotees of the fruit are often quite zealous in their search for converts, believing the durian to be the "King of Fruits".
I didn't think I could do the smell justice, so I've culled several descriptions from the web and other sources:
"The durian's smell is its outstanding feature-it is pungent, a bit like a clogged drain or rotten eggs." -- Financial Express
"Judging by the fruit's smell, its flesh could just as well be a deadly poison." -- durian.net
"To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect." -- 19th Century American Journalist Bayard Taylor
"On first tasting it I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction." -- 19th Century French naturalist Henri Mouhot
"It has been likened to rotting onions, unwashed socks and even carrion in custard, but the most accurate description by far is that of a sewer full of rotting pineapples." -- h2g2
"Try leaving cheese and a dead body out in the sun and you're in the same neighborhood as the smell of durian." -- Tony Bourdain
When I lived in Texas, I worked with a guy from Singapore who loved durian. He'd occasionally get people in the department to try it, spiriting them away to some undisclosed location -- probably outside -- to partake. Most would come back with a shell-shocked look on their face, wondering if there was some culinary harassment law on the books they could sue under, or whether perhaps criminal prosecution was in order: reckless endangerment, perhaps? Occasionally a person would claim to actually have enjoyed the experience, but it was invariably someone of dubious moral character, and if we didn't think so before, then we certainly suspected it afterward.
I was never so foolish as to fall into that trap. I'd seen the wild-eyed, desperate, my-god-get-it-out-of-me looks on people's faces that had come back from trying the world's most foul fruit. My one and only experience with durian was this:
I was hosting a party at the largish house in suburban Dallas that I rented with some friends. The party gathered momentum early in the evening -- around 10ish -- and promised to be a long-running good time. About fifty people had shown up so far. One of those people was an Asian co-worker of mine who was, it happens, also an evangelcal durian lover. And he brought two sticks of frozen durian to the party. I should have taken a cue from the fact that, unlike any other frozen fruit, these came hermetically sealed and vacuum-packed. He cut them open -- in the kitchen, mind you, away from the bulk of the attendees -- and within five minutes the entire house had been cleared of people. The entire party had relocated to the front lawn in order to escape the stench.
As you might expect, this killed the party's energy, which, as we all know, decays in proportion to the square of the distance from food and beer. This may explain my antipathy toward this satanic "fruit".
Anyway, as I was saying, we were watching the Cook's Tour episode in which Tony eats fifteen or twenty different kinds of ice cream at Polly Ann's, and Rebecca says to me, "hey, let's go out there and get some ice cream," and I didn't have anything to do but avoid getting work done, so I said sure, what the hell.
Polly Ann's is in the Sunset, which if you haven't spent much time in this area, is a large, quiet, suburban neighborhood on the western side of San Francisco. The houses are all crammed together, built in exactly the same style. Imagine this multiplied by a million:
Rows of these houses stretch on for miles, out toward the Pacific Ocean. The Sunset has a desolate, almost postapocalyptic feel. It's densely packed with cars and houses, but there aren't a lot of people out walking around. Just empty streets packed with houses that all look the same.
Fortunately for us, the N (light rail) goes within three blocks of Polly Ann's. We were there in less than a half an hour.
Polly Ann boasts a huge list of flavors. I'm not sure exactly how many, but it's more than fifty. Deciding which we should try was not easy, especially given how divergent our tastes can be. We wanted to try a few different ones, and try flavors that we don't normally get. We settled on Turkish Coffee (a concession to safety), Red Bean, Taro Root, and hmmm... what else...
"Durian?" Rebecca asked.
Well, sure. Perhaps my memories had unfairly maligned the durian fruit. It's been five years or more since my last encounter with it, and maybe I've blown things out of proportion. I mean, how bad could it be, really? Perhaps it was an opportunity for rapprochement, for reconciliation. And after all, Tony Bourdain seemed to like it; I should at least give it a second chance.
As soon as it was set on the counter I knew I'd made a mistake. It even didn't have a chance to seduce me with its innocent, pale neon green color, as the scent reached my nose before the light found its way to my eyes. Everything they say about the smell is true, and then some. Definite rotting flesh odors, and I'd mix in fifteen or twenty rotting onions and a touch of sulphur to the mix.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to choke any of it down, but hey, I'd come this far -- no turning back now. I quickly learned that the best way to eat durian ice cream is to take a deep breath before you bring the spoon near you, then to exhale slowly, in a very controlled fashion, while you roll the ice cream around your tongue. This is important, because if you can smell this fruit, you can't taste anything .
Bourdain says that durian has a "smoky camembert avocado flavor". I'm not sure I would use such positive terms, but okay, I can see that. I can see why someone might like it -- if it didn't smell like the musty crotch of Satan himself.
I didn't eat more than a quarter of the scoop before I just couldn't do anymore. I just couldn't handle it.
Surprisingly, Rebecca at more than I did -- maybe a third of the scoop or more. We threw the rest away in a trash can on the street, not knowing if special disposal procedures were required.
At this point, we were both a bit exhilarated. We'd eaten durian -- well, durian ice cream, anyhow -- and lived to blog about it! It's all over and we'd survived!
But I'm going to let you in on a little secret -- one which the pro-durian forces labor to keep under wraps. You won't see this in any of their literature, and their representatives will greet your inquiries about this with bad breath and stony silence. The secret? You're not done once you've eaten the durian. You've only just begun. You'll be burping up durian for hours afterward. And the stench of each burp is just as bad as a whiff of the original fruit.
I feel very sorry for the people on the train with us as we rode home. They did not deserve to smell the fruit of our hubris and I extend my most humble apologies. Even so, I must say that things were much worse for us than for them. It's a lot harder to avoid the smell when it's coming from within.
We tried eating strong-smelling candy, stinky cheese, pate, and many other things in an effort to combat the smell or dilute the concentration of durian in our stomachs. This strategy was eventually successful for me; after dinner -- three hours later -- I was able to burp without consequence. Rebecca was not as fortunate. She continued have durian- tainted belches (which I was able to smell five feet away) five or six hours after ingestion.
I'm not trying to persuade you one way or another regarding the disgusting durian fruit. I'm just offering an objective account of my own experience. Try it if you want. Just make sure you have all of the facts.
Read another person's durian experience here.
February 20, 2002
ostensibly simple roast duck recipe
Simple Roast Duck with Found Ingredient Sauce
One duck, mostly unfrozen
Two 8 oz cans of apricot jam with dust on the lids (see preparation instructions)
4 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped very fine (or ground)
Dregs of the chutney bottle found in the back of the fridge
The last bit of chardonnay which is just taking up space in the refrigerator door, about 3 tbsp.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
red pepper flakes
shallots and garlic
Remove the duck from the fridge. Realize, as the duck lands on your finger, that although the top of the bird is soft and pliable, the bottom is still frozen solid. Decide that you should wait another day before cooking the duck, especially considering that the bag of giblets that the shippers have thoughtfully placed into its crotch is frozen there and does not look amenable to being pried out. Put the duck back into the refrigerator and consider other food options.
Realize that there are no other food options, and further, that if you don't roast the duck now, you won't be able to for four more days due to scheduling issues. Pull the duck back out of the refrigerator and put it on the counter, taking care to avoid dropping it onto your fingers.
Look in the cupboard for apricot jam. Remember that you used all of the apricot jam for an ill-fated chicken recipe two months ago. Run quickly to the scummy corner market. They do not have apricot jam. Panic. Run to the equally scummy market on the next block. Fortunately, they have two jars of apricot jam. Buy them, taking care to wipe off the thick layer of dust that has accumulated on all horizontal surfaces. Return home.
Fill a tall stockpot nearly full of water -- enough water to cover the bird, but making sure to leave room for the bird itself.
Using a big cooking knife or some other large prodding instrument, attempt to unfix the duck's frozen legs from its body and pry open its crotch, ignoring any symbolism or personal associations that may come to mind. Pry out the bag of giblets without ripping it, which is a task, because it too is frozen to the bird, as is the bird's severed neck, which you should remove as well. Poke around briefly for the bird's head, just in case they decided to include that, too. Cut off the bird's wingtips and the large flap of fat and skin at the neck and put these in the stockpot. Prick the duck skin all over with a fork, deep enough to poke through the skin, but not deep enough to actually penetrate the meat.
Insert duck into tall stockpot filled with hot water. Note the boiling hot water spilling over the sides of the pot, onto the stove, the counter, and scalding your skin. This indicates that you have inadequately calculated the displacement of the duck. Curse. Remove duck from water. Mop up water from stove. Pour out some water from pot, taking care not to burn yourself.
Insert duck into stockpot. Watch the displaced water rise and observe that it looks like there is enough to cover the duck completely, but note that after it fills the body cavity of the duck, there is not quite enough. Add more water glass by glass because the stockpot is too big to put into the sink, particularly due to all of the dirty dishes.
Remember that you should add the neck and giblets to the stockpot during this process. Add neck. Grab the pack of giblets and be surprised that it is not in fact a pack of giblets, but is instead instant orange sauce that the vendor has included as a bonus. This means the packaging for the giblets is still in the bird, which is in boiling water in the stockpot.
Curse. Grab whatever kitchen implements are within reach and attempt to remove the bird from the boiling water, ignoring personal safety as many of your exposed surfaces have burns anyway. Grope inside the bird for the package of giblets. Remove it gingerly, as the package is made of paper and is completely soaked through. Put the giblets in the stock and return the bird to the pot. Mop up water from the stove and counter surface where you set the bird.
Let bird cook for 45 minutes. Attempt to relax. Fire up the Playstation, as you're nearly done with Bandersnach 2: Frumious Vengance and you'd like to finish it before dinner.
Remove the bird from the pot. Pat it dry. Set aside the stock for further reduction later, for which you will also use the inedible portions of the bird carcass. Return to your Playstation, where you're not making as much progress as you'd like. Despite your slithy gyrations, your progress is still stymied by jaws that bite and claws that catch. Allow yourself 30 minutes or so to find and kill the Bandersnatch and for the bird to air-dry. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Despite the fact that the Bandersnatch is not yet dead, put the bird on a roasting rack in a roasting pan along with some of the stock for basting. Put the pan in the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes, after which you intend to baste the duck. Go back to your Playstation.
When the timer goes off, remove the duck from the oven. Notice giant billow of smoke when you open the oven. Take some comfort in the rapidity with which the smoke alarms go off all over the house. Close the oven door, try desperately to find some place to put the roasting pan down that won't cost you your entire move-in deposit, and race around the house with your girlfriend, opening windows and doors, putting towels over fire alarms, and, finally, pulling their batteries. Marvel at how the new fire alarms keep sounding even when you pull their batteries. Bring a fan into the kitchen to assist with cross-ventilation.
Baste the duck. Listen to your girlfriend when she suggests, based on the mess that you're making with the basting, that the reason for the smoke is that the roasting pan isn't deep enough and the roasting rack is too tall, so that fat is splashing out of the pan and onto the oven's surfaces. Watch as she fastens a makeshift splashguard out of aluminum foil. Marvel at her perceptiveness and efficiency, but don't mention it to her; she's got enough of an ego already.
Return the duck to the oven. Set the timer for another 15 minutes. Realize that the duck is almost ready but you haven't given any thought to side dishes yet. Screw side dishes, you haven't even made the sauce yet, the sauce which is half of the reason that you wanted to make duck in the first place. Embrace a moral relativism that allows you to leave the Bandersnatch to rule his domain as he pleases while freeing you to make the sauce for the duck.
Put a little oil in the a pan, and throw in 2 tbsp of ginger and perhaps some garlic. Saute. Add the contents of one jar of apricot jam. Add some vinegar, about 1/8 cup. Stir. Taste. Add some more to taste, leaning towards the strong side because that's how you like it. Add a tbsp of soy sauce for the salt. Let the girlfriend taste it. She will think it too vinegary. Tell her it will calm down after cooking a bit. While her back is turned, dilute it with a couple of tablespoons of jam from the other jar, just in case.
Decide that you want some sauce your way. After hers is done, pour it into a serving container and repeat the sauce recipe, only this time sauteeing shallots along with the ginger, and adding red pepper flakes. Supplement the lost jam with the dregs of a bottle of chutney that you found in the back of the fridge, as long as there's no fuzz around the lid.
Check the temperature at the base of the thigh -- the duck's, not yours -- after 30 minutes in the oven. It should be nearly done.
Voila! A simple roast duck recipe suitable for a weeknight.