Sunday, September 7, 2014

Greg visits a cemetery and thinks deeply about it

We live in Colma, a sleepy suburb south of San Francisco, famous for its many cemeteries. There are 1,000 times as many dead people as alive people here (really), inspiring the slogan "It's Great to Be Alive in Colma."

I had some time to kill today, so I headed across the street to Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery.

I saw a surprising amount of gravestones intended for couples, yet the second person is missing.

Adeline Marsh here died in 1956, so it's highly unlikely that her husband is still living. What could be the possible reasons that he's missing? Maybe Adeline's beloved moved on, remarried, and was buried with his new wife, leaving the First Mrs. Marsh to rest eternally alone. Maybe it's something boring, like the second half is reserved for a still-alive child. Or maybe by the time the husband died, no one was around who cared enough to make sure they were buried together.

It seems like people with Asian-sounding names lived much longer than those with Hispanic-sounding names.

The cemetery is sort of segmented into rough eras of death. I always am intrigued by the died-in-the-1800s crowd. When someone dies, people visit them for a while as long as the memory is still fresh, then on their birthdays, and then eventually everyone who ever knew or loved them is also gone. If you are in the middle of one of these ancient sections, it's likely that years have passed since anyone has so much as read your headstone, much less known who you were. Many of the headstones lack critical details like names and dates, seemingly destined to obscurity. Take the one below (there's no writing on the back).

Some of the gravestones were literally covered in shit, presumably from the Canadian geese that I saw loitering around.

To set yourself apart, it pays to have a Google-able name.

I was wondering why Miss Qaqish met her demise at age 17, and I was able to find out.

This got me to wondering whether millennial graves will be graffiti-ed with URLs or QR codes, so that passers-by can easily get details beyond the names and dates. But sadly, URLs and QR codes will someday be obsolete, and eventually the content linked to them will no longer be maintained (I'm betting against and the like existing in 500 years). Not many of us can keep pace with an ever-spinning world and changing technology.

After about an hour, I found myself deep into the cemetery and surrounded by graves as far as the eye could see.

This is just an inconsequential subset of the dead: people who have died in my metropolitan area in the last hundred years or so. Many throughout history were not so lucky, and you even see famous people on Wikipedia who have unknown exact birth year or places.

If this has you depressed, I'll leave you with a guy not worth writing home about ...

... and an aptronym.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

San Diego cooking, part 3 (featuring chicken parisienne and shrimp chilie quiche)

(See part 1 here and part 2 here).

I finished the final leg of my San Diego journey at Grandma and Papa's house. This corresponded with my last day working remote for my old job. I spent Friday morning in their garage wrapping up my projects, typing farewell emails, and saying goodbye to everyone.

I emerged around noon to Grandma's simple yet comforting lunch of tuna sandwiches, pickles, Pringles, and chicken noodle soup. This was a staple meal at Grandma's house when I was a child, along with rocky road ice cream drizzled in chocolate syrup.

Nostalgia was a big theme of the visit. Papa showed me a broiler pan he bought for 35 cents 30 years ago at a garage sale, one that has been trusty ever since. He also bought me one of my own to take home.

After looking at some slides of my mom and my Aunt Kelly from high school, including a few of Mom in her famous drum major outfit, it was off to the kitchen to make a recipe for chicken parisienne that came with Grandma's first crock-pot (although we made it in the oven to save time).

Mom came over for dinner. She's in the middle of moving between houses and handling the action items from the home inspection, but I was glad that I was able to see her. The chicken parisienne was great; it's amazing how a little chopping, mixing, and baking can go a long way.

The next day for lunch, we tried our hands at a quiche.

Some things I learned:
  • While I've been learning that it's useful / fun to substitute ingredients as your tastes allow, some things really do need to be precisely right. Grandma said to pay attention about whether the recipe calls for condensed versus evaporated milk, because it can really make a pivotal difference. Also, she said she once accidentally put in a can of jalapenos instead of a can of green chilies; you can imagine the consequences.
  • Grating cheese really isn't that hard. We always have been buying the pre-grated.
My time in San Diego will hopefully open up my culinary prowess. I've already bought ingredients for two more recipes. For now, it's back home and to the real world, as I start my new job and get back in the swing of things up here.


6 medium chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine, vermouth, (optional)
1/2 onion
1 10 1/2-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 4-ounce can slice mushrooms, drained (1/2 cup)
1 cup dairy sour cream

Sprinkle chicken breasts lightly with salt, pepper, and paprika. Place chicken breasts in crock-pot.

Mix white wine, soup, sour cream, onion, and mushrooms until well combined. Pour over chicken breasts in crock-pot. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. Serve sauce over chicken with rice or noodles.


1 regular pie crust shell, thawed
2 eggs
1 small can (5.33 fl oz) evaporated milk
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can chopped green chilies
1 can deveined medium (or small) shrimp, drained

Preheat oven and cookie sheet to 450 F. Partially bake pie shell about 6 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Beat together eggs, evaporated milk, flour and garlic salt. (Mixture need not be smooth.) Stir in cheese, onion and chilies. Pour into pie shell. Spread shrimp on top of custard mixture. Bake on preheated cookie sheet, until knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

San Diego cooking, part 2 (featuring enchiladas)

(See part 1 here and part 3 here).

After a few days at Dad's, I've moved on to my step-sister Heather's house. I hate calling her my step-sister instead of sister, but I guess you have to sometimes, as someone asked us yesterday how we could be siblings but only be 3 months apart in age.

Like mother like daughter, Heather is a great cook in her own right. I had to learn how to make her famous enchiladas. So we cooked it together, while Heather made her older daughter, Aubrey, a separate dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. All of this motherhood multitasking is seriously insane to me.

As I was tearing the meat off the rotisserie chicken, I told Heather how Sharon and I always call it "space chicken," because the plastic lid makes it look like the chicken is about to lift off into space. We also made strawberry dip for dessert. Below is Aubrey showing her appreciation.

A few things I learned:

  • You don't always have to use every ingredient or measure everything super precisely. This is especially true for casserole-type recipes. We were left with a little more enchilada sauce in the can, but trying to use it all would have just made the recipe unnecessarily soupy. If we have leftover chicken, we can put it in a broth or use it for a sandwich for lunch the next day. These opportunities will come up a lot more as I cook more frequently.
  • I can branch out from existing recipes. I'm a huge veggie fan (as evidenced by putting together a salad the other day), so I can easily dream up versions of this recipe that incorporate green onions, bell peppers, etc.
  • I'm learning to keep diligent notes, as the two recipes I've done so far in San Diego came from cooks who have it memorized. Combined with my bad memory, I guess I'm just a process-focused person who likes documentation. Hopefully the recipe below is a faithful re-creation.


Vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
Rotisserie chicken
Green enchilada sauce, 28-oz can 
Shredded Mexican-blend cheese
Diced green chilies -- two small cans
Black olives -- large can

Heat oil in a small saucepan. Fry the tortillas one at a time, flipping on each side, until they are hard. Shake the oil off before setting aside on a plate covered in a paper towel.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pull apart the meat from the rotisserie chicken into medium chunks. In a 12-inch pan, combine the following into three layers of approximately the same height: tortillas (break apart if need to fill in corners/sides), cheese, chicken, chilies, olives, and enchilada sauce. Top the final layer with a good amount of cheese and sprinkle enchilada sauce on top of that. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Let stand 5-10 minutes, then serve. Feeds 4-5.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

San Diego cooking, part 1 (featuring pulled pork)

(See part 2 here and part 3 here).

I'm spending a week in San Diego ahead of my new job. I'll be staying with my dad and step-mom, then my step-sister, then my grandparents. I emailed each household asking them to teach me a recipe one night and give me general cooking tips. The first cooking adventure was tonight, as I helped my step-mom, Pam, make pulled pork in a crock pot.

But before we could get started, we were in for a busy day. We left the house at 5:45 a.m. because Dad and Pam's friend from work were running a 10-mile race along the coast near Del Mar. They were both troopers, finishing in around 1:30. Pam sat out with a leg injury, and I sat out with general laziness and inability to run for that long. It's the first time I've seen a marathon-esque event in person, and it looks pretty fun. It might inspire me to train for one in the future (maybe even come down next year for the same event).

Anyways, Pam's leg has been bugging her for about a week, so we had a quick trip to the hospital to get it checked out. The doctors say she should be fine in a few weeks. With that, if was off to the kitchen.

Pam and I have a similar sense of humor. There were a lot of quips are where the pork is actually pulled from (with some crude suggestions). She's also one of my favorite cooks; I made her chicken divan recently, and I've always been amazed at the skill she's shown whipping up a huge Thanksgiving / Christmas dinner.

The base of the recipe is pretty simple: just some water, this thing called "liquid smoke," a sliced onion, and some pork shoulder / Boston butt. Which of course lead to: "Why does it say shoulder and Boston butt on the label? Well, which is it, the shoulder or the butt?" Since we had less time than normal for crock potting due to the race and hospital, we cooked it on high for 3-4 hours.

When the meat was nearly done, we took it out from the crock pot and drained most of the remaining liquid (keeping the onion slices and stray pieces of meat). Then began the pulling, in which we shredded the pork and made sure to remove all of the fat along the way. This was the most time-consuming part, and sort of hard to do because the pork was hot and I was either burning my fingers or futility trying to remove the fat just using a fork. Then it was throw the shredded meat back in, squirt in amble amounts of barbecue sauce, cook for a little longer, serve on some buns, and you're ready to go. It was a delicious meal, and honestly a lot less work than I would have thought! It would have never occurred to me to cook such a thing, as I have been so limited to stove top.

A few things I learned:

  • I've always been uncertain about when things are done, especially if there's a long range in a recipe, or if I'm cooking meat a la carte. Pam encouraged me to get familiar with certain indicators I could use, such as color of the meat, tenderness, and temperature as measured by a food thermometer. I think it just takes practice, but it's pretty apparent how much different a done pork shoulder (or should I say butt?) looks from when it started.
  • When pulling the pork, make sure to take it completely out of the crock pot first. Otherwise, the pieces of fat and the pieces of onion will be hard to distinguish.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A role-reversed Valentine's Day (featuring chicken divan)

Sharon went off to work on BART and then came home to build furniture. Our move from DC went off pretty well, but we had to rebuy a TV stand that got busted in the process. The second pic is the result of me asking Sharon to "show me your manly muscles."

Meanwhile, I stayed home (working remotely for a bit to close out my old job), did the dishes, and continued my fledgling cooking spree, opting tonight for my step-mom Pam's famous chicken divan. The melted cheesy goodness mixed with the croutons (second crouton reference in as many posts!) really does it for me.

I thought I had never made it before and even asked Pam for the recipe recently, but I dug up an email from her from 2009 in which she had already sent it to me. I had replied back that I had made it and "felt like I used every dish in the house." Maybe I'm getting better at cooking, because it didn't seem as overwhelming this time. Since I had no memory of making this before, it spurred me even more toward writing some of these things down. Despite a small to non-existent audience, it gives me sort of accountability to keep trying.

Tomorrow, it's off to San Diego for a week to see my family before starting my new gig in San Jose. I have arranged for more cooking to follow.


Put into glass Pyrex dish first to last:

20 oz cooked broccoli (fresh or frozen)
2 cups cooked cubed chicken (can buy it in a bag all ready to go, or cook raw chicken breast or tenders by boiling them until cooked through)

Mix:  2 cans cream of chicken soup
        1 cup mayonnaise
        1 tsp. lemon juice
        1/2 tsp. curry powder

Pour over broccoli and chicken. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top. Take 1/2 cup croutons (whatever flavor you like) and mix with 1 tsp. melted butter.
Sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, watch for the sauce to start boiling. Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In which Greg cooks

Hey! I hope you've been keeping in touch via other means, since it's been nearly 3 years since I've posted here. We've since moved to San Francisco, gotten new jobs, and all that jazz.

Anywho, every 6 months or so, I decide that I'm going to become a better cook. Our typical routine has been pan-fry some sort of meat, make frozen vegetables or spinach, and prepare some rice. And I know even that's ambitious compared to other people our age. But now I'm going to try some actual recipes. Who knows how long this will last? Maybe another 3 years will go by before my next post, but hopefully this will be more of a regular thing. I'm mostly writing for selfish reasons, so that I can remember things that I've cooked.

A week ago, I decided I wanted to make a killer salad. I was always a big fan of the salad bar at my work cafeteria. This was the first time I went and bought 10+ ingredients for the specific purpose of tossing a salad. I just picked a lot of my favorite things: chicken, feta, croutons, green onions, olives, walnuts, etc. It's amazing how satisfying just mixing these things in a bowl can be.

Tonight, we've used a recipe for a book given to us by Sharon's friend Yesenia, who works at Chronicle Books. I made sauteed pork chops with sweet potato and apples from the book One Pan, Two Plates. I learned a few things:
  • I should have made all four pork chops instead of just the two the recipe called for, mainly because I am a fatty.
  • A little bit of cinnamon goes a long way. You can taste it in every bite despite only having 1/4-tsp in the recipe.
  • Sharon will make a grossed-out face any time mustard is involved. So that just means more for me.