February 28, 2010


Some months ago, I read this article in the NYTimes about a contest to name a new product line: Vegemite blended with cream cheese. The name that won was Vegemite iSnack 2.0.

iSnack 2.0 Vegemite

Apparently, there was an angry reaction to that name, and Vegemite lovers voiced their displeasure online with
"...thousands of Twitter posts, at least a dozen Facebook groups and a Web site dedicated to 'Names that are better than iSnack 2.0.'"

One online commentator suggested that the 27-year-old designer who had submitted the winning name be tarred with Vegemite and forced to run naked through the streets of Sydney "as retribution for his cultural crime." Others called the name 'uStupid 1.0' and 'un-Australian.'" -NYTimes
As a result of the firestorm of crticism, Kraft countered by changing the name to Cheesybite. I was able to procure some of the "Cheesybite," though in the iSnack packaging, and the real problem is not with a ridiculous title, but that upon tasting the product, I was unable to fool my taste buds into thinking I wasn't licking dumpster refuse. I'm sorry to say that Cheesybite or iSnack or uStupid or whatever you want to call it is not much of an improvement over the original Vegemite. Apologies to my Aussie friends who enjoy the stuff.

Scott reported from down under on Australian foods more palatable than Vegemite. He ate lamb and some 'kanga bangas,' which is kangaroo sausage. He lives in a predominantly Polynesian area now, and they have a drink called horti (or-tie) that's really good. Scott said you can change up what goes in, but it's a drink with milk and then whatever kind or fruit that you want to shred up into it. I was unable to find more information about "horti" online despite my search prowess, so either Brother isn't spelling horti the way everyone else does or the creators of horti aren't advertising their invention online, at least not in English.

Scott further said of Polynesian food that it has almost no flavor and is very starchy. He said he's seen two kinds of cheese there: tasty and light...and neither is tasty at all. I think it's nice that my brother, who was always Mr. Meat and Potatoes for dinner and who avoided ethnic cuisine is in the middle of the Australian melting pot. It seems he's expanding their food horizons himself, though. After hearing a talk with the metaphor "trying to savor the goodness of a grape while trying to chew a jalapeño pepper," he explained to them what a jalapeño is.

Other than that, he said everyone makes them cakes and they are not even close to being like mine, which I take as a compliment. And he said that he was biking down the road and someone threw a metal can at him from their car, but it hit him in the helmet. Hopefully he'll give me some new stories to tell soon. I've been telling that can story for a couple of weeks now and it's played. I should spice it up with "and then they tarred him with Vegemite because they didn't want to eat the stuff..." uStupid.

February 15, 2010

No means no, except in Chinese

One of the most interesting things that has happened to me in the last few weeks was meeting my new friend John from Beijing. He is a professor in China and a visiting scholar here, and he needed help at the library, so that's where we met. He is still learning English and has difficulty speaking it well. Anyone that even attempts to learn English earns my respect, especially native speakers of tonal languages. The English language is a mess. So John often comes up to me in the library with a list of things written down that he wants to tell me. I think he was happy to find someone that was nice and patient with him, so he kind of latched on to me. He has trouble saying my name. At first he called me Kim-ber-ler and kept that up no matter how many times I sounded out Kim-ber-lee for him. Now he's started calling me Kim-burger, but I'm trying to stamp that out, too.

John is a pianist and very talented musician. When he found out that I play the piano as well, he was very excited and insisted we play the piano together. The first time we played, I brought along a Nat King Cole songbook, and played some old jazz standards, or as John said, "American jaws." After that, not only did he ask when we could get together to practice English conversation, but he started asking repeatedly when we could play piano together next. Also, every time I see him, he tells me to go to China, where he could get me a really good job as a professor making $10-20,000 a year. You work too hard at the library, he says.

I learned from Katie and now from personal experience that there is not really a word in Chinese for no. Seriously. So my attempts to turn him down gently for after-work meetings, piano rehearsals, and moving to China haven't gone well. At first I say, "Maybe," then "We'll see," then "I don't think so," then "I can't," then "No," and I still think something's lost in translation.

And I feel so guilty that I can't stand it. I'll never forget how frustrated I was when my family and I visited China. I couldn't figure out the currency or the subway system, the ticket machines didn't take credit cards, and the attendant didn't speak English even though he claimed to. It was a nightmare. I can't imagine how frustrated John must be.

Not only do Chinese people never say no, they're also incredibly giving and would do anything for a guest or friend. In Taiwan, one of Katie's friends that we'd only just met bought us dinner, a birthday cake for my mom, and as we were about to leave on the train, she even took the barrette out of hair to give to Katie - they're that eager to give. John took my picture and drew a pencil sketch of me. It was very beautiful - not that I'm beautiful, but the sketch was very good! I'm getting enough Chinese paraphernalia from people I've helped at the library to decorate my office with an Asian theme.

John kept inviting me to go eat Chinese food with him at Lin's Chinese Buffet. I took him to China Town instead. He ordered the food, and we had salted duck and bamboo shoots with a brown sauce. I thought I was pretty open-minded when it came to food, but I could only eat a few bites of that meal. I concentrated on my hot and sour soup. John saw that I liked it and sent for another bowl over my protests. John kept repeating that we should go to Lin's Chinese Buffet. He described the huge room full of good food, to which I said, "No. I do NOT go to Chinese buffets," but he couldn't understand me, so he kept asking, undeterred.

Last week John asked me if I would perform a piano solo at the TTU Chinese Students Association Chinese New Year party. He asked me to play some American jazz. He doesn't take no for an answer, so despite my qualms, I finally agreed to play "Night and Day" by Cole Porter.

He had written down the time for the rehearsal: 1500. I understand the 24-hour clock, so I said "Three o'clock?"

John answered yes, that it was at "One o'clock."

"Oh, ONE o'clock," I repeated.

"Yes, thirteen o'clock."

It was the same routine trying to find out what time the actual performance started. I wasn't entirely sure if it started at six or seven until I saw a formal printed invitation.

Saturday afternoon (at three o'clock) I played my song at the rehearsal. I was pretty nervous because I was one of the only non-Chinese speakers in the whole theater besides the sound and lighting techs, who seemed to be as confused as I was. My heart was pounding because I had no idea what was going on or what I might be asked to do. Sure enough, John asked me to accompany him on a traditional Chinese song he was going to sing. I ended up sightreading the music he had handwritten, and his singing, although good, was not in rhythms, pitches, or words that I could follow, so I was pretty sure this would end in disaster.

At the performance, I told the stagehands to push the piano onto the stage when it was time for John's song, but they either didn't believe me or couldn't understand me. They were late pushing the piano onstage, so John improvised and spoke to the audience in pure Chinese - again, I had no idea what was happening. The stagehands put the piano directly under a vent, so my music was blowing off the stand the entire time. I had to hold the music in place with one hand while playing with the other (see minute 1:48 in the video).

As for my jazz performance, I was the only American in the middle of two hours worth of Chinese performers singing and dancing to traditional Chinese music.

Chinese New Year Performance

It was COMPLETELY WEIRD that I played my song at that program. I know that the audience was thinking 'What the ?' when I got onstage. I felt like the pianist in this Seinfeld episode.

Mom, Dad, Katie, and Porter attended the performance and confirmed that my inclusion in the program was as out of place as I thought it was. It's not as if I'm some honorary member of the Chinese Student Association, or like I asked if I could perform, but there I was, crashing the party and bringing the coolness level down.

Who's the foreigner here?

February 14, 2010

Cold, Cold Heart

This probably comes as a surprise to everyone including me, but I'm not the least bit sad about not having a Valentine this year. Having no Valentine is definitely better than having an idiot for one. The dating pool here is as dried up as I am, and I don't think any of my eHarmony matches could even pass the Turing test. I guess I could change and try to be more attractive and less geeky, starting with not making references to the Turing test and not obsessing over cooking and food, but what's the fun in that? Today, I am okay with being single.

This year I celebrated my cold, cold heart by hosting an ice cream party and inviting some of my best lady friends. I spent a fun couple of days making four different ice creams - Vanilla, Apple Sorbet, Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet, and Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato - and two different toppings - hot fudge and caramel sauce.

Ice Cream Party I promise that not EVERY picture on my blog will have this same red backdrop in the future.

For some time, my favorite homemade ice cream was plain old vanilla. Vanilla can be complemented by any number of sauces, fruits, or toppings, or it can stand alone. However, this night, the apple sorbet was out of this world! I poured caramel sauce over it, and it tasted like a caramel apple that wouldn't ruin your dental work. Definitely the easiest to make out of the four flavors, and I think many of my guests agreed it was the best.

Simply mix 1 quart of apple cider, 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of dark rum (optional, or sub 2 teaspoons of vanilla), chill, and churn. The mixture tasted delicious unfrozen, and I'm sure you could heat it if you're into warm beverages on cold, winter days instead of ice cream like I am.

I'm happy to report that four quarts of ice cream was more than enough for nine women. Those are leftovers that don't get pushed to the back of the fridge - people fight to finish those off.

Maple Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce

My ice cream is already famous. I often take interest in where my flickr photos show up. My Bacon Ice Cream is on a list of Bizarre Ice Cream Flavors. My Rocky Road is promoting Milkmade Ice Cream. Last year's Maple Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce photo is on a health-promoting site next to this headline: Ice Cream and Foods High in Saturated Fats May Encourage Overeating. Oh, that's really nice.