My Top 10 Christmas Songs

Thanksgiving has passed, and the holiday season is well underway. As is now American tradition, there’s outcry about how commercialized Christmas and other December holidays have become, but there are also the more heartwarming parts. There’s the tree decorating that I don’t do because I just go home a few days before Christmas. There’s the gift shopping that I don’t do because my family is too pragmatic to leave purchase suitability is to chance. There’s even the family time that my family can’t quite make because we’re all using our vacation time differently.

I personally only have two holiday traditions. First, I start wearing my Santa hat 2 or 3 weeks before Christmas. It’s not particularly creative, but it’s rare enough that strangers may be incorrectly convinced of my holiday spirit. It also happens to be a great way to keep my head warm since my haircut is not optimized for winter. Continue reading “My Top 10 Christmas Songs”

Christmas Cooking with the Leungs

Merry Belated Christmas, Happy New Year in advance, and Happy Holidays as a catch-all! Here at the Leung family estate, being all together means a few things: whining, bickering, accusing, and, most importantly, cooking. Often all at the same time. Over each other. It’s quite an enlivening experience once you get used to it.

But Christmas is extra-special, because we put extra planning into everything: my mom coordinates all of the gifts, my mom determines what we’re going to cook for her birthday (often celebrated along with Christmas since they’re close and we’re all home), my mom makes sure that the house is organized for all of our arrival, and we all dredge up old stories to jab each other with. This particular Christmas, we all have our own kitchens to stock, so my mom appears to have amassed a huge pile of on-sale kitchen gadgets from which we can all snatch what we need. My haul was particularly good:

But moving past my obsession with containers and random gadgets, let’s focus on what we actually cooked up on Christmas. And all pictures are credited to the Zanbato iPad, which at least takes better pictures than my phone.

When it came time for planning our contributions to cooking for my mom, I was politely asked, “What are you doing?” I shrugged and offered up my services anywhere they were wanted, but my mom threw me a bone and said, “I liked the bagels you made last year.” That might make her the exception, as they were universally regarded as too salty and a little small and not fluffy, but I accept any low standards that I manage to set for myself. It makes it more difficult for people to be disappointed in the future. At the recommendation of Lisa’s Jewish boyfriend Matt, I looked specifically for a kosher bagel recipe, which I found here.

The recipe called for far too little flour, and I ended up adding close to another cup of flour to get the consistency of the dough right. It also calls for very large pieces of dough for each bagel. I made them much larger than last time, but not quite as big as recommended. I think I got the size just about right.

This recipe said to put the bagels in hot but not boiling water as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is correct, but at least they floated this time. The dough also rose more at each stage (resting, boiling, and baking).

The tops of the bagel browned up quite nicely after setting the oven to broil for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. The consistency is a little funny, which I think has to do with how I rolled out the individual bagels. You’ll note that there aren’t any toppings on it. In my excitement, I somehow ignored the etymology of “toppings” and got the notion that the bagels would work better if I had the toppings on the bottom where it would be pressed into the bagel more.

The bottom looks a little gross, but it ended up being delicious. They got a crispy side that beats any baking I’ve ever done, and it ended up being quite a success. Like many of my creations, they don’t look perfect, but the usual criticism ended there. We fortunately had some lox in the fridge, and they made a nice lunch before we started baking.

The menu for dinner ended up not being nearly as extensive as it has been in the past, but we didn’t need more food with stacks of leftovers in the fridge and more in our tummies from bagels and snacking. Nicole headed up the shrimp ravioli┬ámade entirely from scratch. I beheaded some of the largest, ugliest shrimp I had ever seen, and she made and rolled out the pasta by hand. It sounds like it was a lot of work.

The ravioli were quite large, but Nicole managed to dole out all of the shrimp filling, so it worked out. I guess this is preferable to ravioli without enough pasta around the edges that might burst. The recipe didn’t make a lot of sauce, but it made enough to coat all of the ravioli, of which it was difficult to eat more than 1 or 2 because of the size.

We had about an extra 1/2 pound of shrimp, so Lisa used that to make some Greek shrimp. Unfortunately, mint didn’t quite make it onto the shopping list, but it still ended up being pretty tasty, even if there wasn’t quite enough shrimp. She ended up slicing them in half, which worked because with the huge shrimp we had, this meant that we still had 8 pretty meaty halves.

To fill out the rest of the meal, we also had a few crackers with some very ripe brie and leftover cranberry sauce:

some asparagus:

and a simple salad. The most exciting part of the salad, from my perspective, was the avocado we used. I carried it back with me from California in my luggage after Julie and I picked it off of a tree at Stanford. We were worried that we picked it too soon, but it ripened nicely. The inside was bright green, soft, and juicy:

The other big effort was in making the birthday cake. My mom wanted something not too sweet and relatively light so that it wouldn’t languish in the fridge for a long time like the rest of our leftovers. It took a good portion of a car ride for her to describe a fruity cake, which was essentially the fruit tart we had always done, except with a sponge cake on the bottom instead of a crust. Why we couldn’t have just done the crust we’ve always done is beyond me, but I don’t do any planning.

The recipe we found for it turned out to be a vegan recipe, which we only realized after Lisa made the cake, and we started the custard, all without using eggs. Quick tip: if there aren’t any eggs in it, it’s not┬ácustard. Anything pretending to be is suspect, and by suspect, I mean probably bad. While I was stirring the custard, we tried a bit, and it wasn’t very good. Lisa made a game-time decision and tossed that custard down the drain and started again with a real custard. Better success followed.

Although it’s probably not the fruit cake you’re thinking of around Christmas time, it ended up being pretty good. The cake had an interesting (but not bad) consistency and definitely held its lime. The custard was as delicious as you might expect, and the array of fruit all worked pretty well.

I hope you saw something that you liked!

Christmas is for Kids

This Christmas, my family is all back together, which, these days, is very rare. My sisters, my dad, and my grandparents have had staggered entrances and some quick exits, so the only day we’re all together is today. My sisters and mom are putting in the kitchen work behind me to prepare for dinner, while I do my duty and provide moral support by being in the same room, and helping out with tasks of no greater difficulty than stirring and mashing.

For which I’m very thankful. While dorm food is decent, there’s nothing like home-cooking, whether that’s steamed fish or Texas steak. It’s funny being with my parents and grandparents, because I realize there’s a hierarchy of food here. When I’m eating by myself, I’ll tough out the nasty bits and reach for the chicken bones to pick them clean. When I’m eating with my parents, I’ll go for the meatier pieces and pick out the ginger to give to my mom. But when my grandparents are around, the bones are passed up another round to my grandpa who apparently likes gnawing on bones. Regardless, I get the good cuts when with the family. It’s like being a kid all over again.

Anyways, I have a nice 3-week vacation here, and being home for the holidays is just like it always has been. I tell people that the holiday season starts as soon as I’m done eating turkey, and fun it is. Wearing the santa hat around gets comments, and I’ve compiled what I think is an impressive playlist of classic Christmas songs, assuming you agree that “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and a little Mariah Carey is classic. Relatively arbitrary reasons to be happy are good.

It’s a little tragic that my family doesn’t have any really strong Christmas traditions. I’ve recently bcome fascinated with the conventional aspects built around holidays. For example, I’m sure many people know cranberry sauce only as a cylinder with the ribs still on it. And malls are a fantastic place to see rampant consumerism and little kids in line for Santa. One of my sectionees mentioned that a tradition in his family is to watch a 1992 tape recording of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” where the real fun now is to watch the commercials. Now there’s a very unique tradition.

I still try to catch Christmas specials when I can, though. Sometimes it’s not about it actually being good, as much as just feeling good. Last week, I watched the Muppet’s Christmas Special, which should’ve been fun for everyone. Like most kids’ entertainment, there were jokes and gestures in there obviously for the older crowd, but it really was all about being a kid. For example, in my mind, “Shrek” is almost two movies: it’s a slightly twisted fairy tale for kids, and it’s a series of allusions for adults. Christmas music doesn’t have two levels. When Grandma gets run over a by a reindeer, that’s the only humor going on. But the Christmas spirit is about being a kid, too, because we can all use a break.

Life on Break

So what would the average male teenager do given several days of basically nothing? Video games, of course.
It’s kind of sad how much time I’ve invested in them. I can’t say that CS:S leaves me with the most satisfying feeling. Neither do I feel ‘ne smarter for doing it. And I’ve spent way too much time for it to be a simple “escape”. About the only thing I get out of it is knowing that my twitch reflects are a little better, and that my headshot is just that much better.
Sad, isn’t it?
Well, I guess my break hasn’t been entirely unproductive, as I know many will understand. SAT prep is obviously high on my list (though probably a greater worry for my mom than me), so I’ve gone in to Testmasters to write a few tests. My private lesson teacher has prescribed a “warmup” from the LSU tuba teacher that involves 5 different types of scales, 2 tonguing excercises, 3 lip slurs, and 2 finger excercises. Takes about an hour right now, and by the time I’m finished with that, I’m finished. I’m currently working on a Java program that will end up being a fully designed RPG, but right now, work is slow. If you don’t know much about Java, know this much: it’s impossible to make it look pretty. The GUI (graphical user interface) designed by it is probably the biggest pain known to man, and even though full documentation exists for it, it’s really written more as a reference than a teaching tool. In ‘ne case, that’s going to take quite awhile, though I could use some help on it. I need someone to draw little pictures in Paint for me. And someone who knows RPGs to write up a default campaign.
Christmas was also relatively uneventful. Although we did have our usual Christmas Eve dinner with family friends, that’s about it. My nuclear family was all here, which was nice, but my dad was constantly, literally, on conference calls with work. My grandparents, who usually come in, didn’t this time for reasons I’m sure I know but can’t think of at the moment. Regardless, it was a bit of a surprise, though there’s not much I can do about that. My sister and I didn’t hold up our tradition of waking up early to drink hot chocolate and watch a movie because, well, we didn’t have ‘ne good movies to watch. Seeing as we had all of the presents known in advance and such, there wasn’t much to present unwrapping. With so little accessible family home, the rest of the day (after the, about, 1/2 hr of actual “Christmas”) was like any other. I spent a couple hours reformatting (and my total comes out at 4 that I’ve done in the past 2 weeks) and putting apps on a computer that we’re donating to Evan, who’s apparently been suffering with a sucky one for the past however long.
As much as I know that there’s a good chance I won’t like it, I’m extremely anxious to see my report card. The anxiety is definitely the worst part of it.
So that’s my break. I hope yours is more exciting.

5 down, 3 to go

Well, the fall semester of jr year has ended, and, boy, I’ve never been happier.
They always say that jr year is the toughest, and even with a light schedule, it is worse. Tolerable, but worse.
Exams were too bad in that not bad until something happens on my report card sort of way. Exempting band, cs3, and pre-cal, I took both of the exams for my AP classes, which went okay. History was a joke, and English wasn’t too bad, except for a section on figurative language that had me baffled. And I need an 87 to get an A in that class. We’ll see what happens.
So I finally got around to reformatting my computer for the first time in the 4 years I’ve had it (that means I wiped the hard drives and reinstalled everything from drivers and windows up). If you just use your computer for the internet and whatever, it’s no big deal, but if you do ‘ne sort of gaming or intense comp work, I highly suggest you do. You’re supposed to do it bi-annually (at least once a year, if you’re lazy), though I’ve always put it off since it sounded like too much work. Well, just a couple weeks ago, one of my neighbors gave us a “dead” computer, knowing that I knew a little about them, for me to try and fix. With a bit of work, I figured that the comp was fine, but it had a fried hard drive. So my mom, figuring to give the comp to my sister, who has a dying comp, bought a new hard drive for it. Well, this new hard drive happens to be bigger than my secondary (if you ‘member, I got a 2nd hard drive a couple weeks ago). So, since my sister doesn’t need all the space, she suggested that I rip out the one I had and take the bigger one, giving her the smaller one. So then I figured that I should reformat. And I just wasted about 30 s of your life in a meaningless story. Well, regardless, if you haven’t reformatted, it’s great. I’ve loaded almost all the software I had before, and yet my C drive has about 10 gigs less of stuff on it (beats me). My registry is surprisingly uncluttered, and my startup has about half as many processes as it did before. It’s glorious. A very nice performance difference.
Yesterday was great. I came in for my 8 mins, getting to both sleep in and not stay for an exam. Just before school did end, however, I came back since we were supposed to play nerd football. Wow.
I normally ask around and get at max 10 ppl. This time, I picked up mebbe 4-5 ppl on my way out to the field, where we started an okay 6v6 game. Then someone would come. And they wouldn’t stop. And suddenly, there were 24 ppl. We ended up splitting up into two games since we had so many. Tons of fun, even as cold as it was.
After that, I went over to Bobby’s house, where I did a Magic draft with some friends (if you don’t know what that is, it’s okay; it’s a nerd thing). It went fine, and I came away with some good merchandize, though it’s unlikely we’ll do it again. How sad.
Today was Tuba Christmas. If you don’t know what that is, a bunch of tubas and euphoniums get together down near the Galleria to play a concert. Unfortunately, we had had predictions of freezing rain for today, so it scared off the Casserlys and Janda. And UT happens to still be in session, so Mark M. and Will D. couldn’t come back, and Andrew K. is on a cruise or something. And then Johnson slept in (apparently they tried to wake him up, but he wouldn’t; he claims he has no recollection of this event), so we had a grand total of 1 alumni: Heumann. It was a disappointing event since the rain kind of screwed it up, and without alums, it wasn’t a great nostalgic journey either. Oh well. At least Chili’s was fun.
So with that, have a Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas.