Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quick, Vapid Thoughts

I've joked about the size of my readership in previous posts - I am 95% confident that my readership is between 2 and 10 people (for those statisticians out there). Consequently I feel no compunction about the posting my vapid thoughts occurring late in the night.

I'm still a bit disappointed that I have not gotten around to writing an intelligent post yet. I haven't had a chance to look at Indian GDP data from 1913 to 2010 (and from 1913 to 1947, I presume that data aggregates Pakistan and Bangladesh too). I'm very curious to see when India and rest of the subcontinent slowed down in economic development - was it during the Raj, or after the Raj, or somewhat more muddled than that?

I'm also a bit disappointed with my post on socca in Nice - it could have been a much better story. Maybe someday I'll rewrite it.

I have a post in my draft box about my efforts to bake proper socca once back in DC - I'll have it up maybe next week. Who knows, it may not even be boring!

For those very few people wanting to satisfy the 'smart' quotient of this blog, for now all I can offer are the blogs I regularly read. I'm crunching numbers in my spare time, but will not be blogging about the results of that (I'd say the results are shared only on a 'need to know' basis, but that would be a lie). You're welcome to ask, but you'd probably be bored with the answer.

Finally, I tried a version of this lime & peanut coleslaw for dinner tonight, using red onions and avocados in place of the cherry tomatoes. I thought I should have added more of the lime dressing to the dish, but otherwise it was very tasty with the peanuts. I might want to slather the peanuts directly in the dressing too before adding both to the dish, since even after the roasting they seemed a bit bland.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One of my favorite suits

I present below myself in one of my favorite suits. I first wore it on a tour of the Houses of Parliament in 2008 (very fun, incidentally). I also wore it at Tom's wedding (rather appropriate, as he made the suit!), and then at James and Darya's too. I have to say that though my waistline as expanded and contracted since 2008, the suit has not failed me yet. And with it's pinstripes and peak lapel, I think it'll be a stylish favorite of mine until my waist is too big for the trousers.

After James and Darya's wedding

Hopefully by Christmas I'll have a new picture of me in another favorite suit of mine. That, however, is contingent on me actually losing weight. I had that suit made in 2006 at Maurice Sedwell, during the month that I lived in London after graduation from Georgetown. (I rented a flat for a month, so from my point of view, that's living in a place.) When I tried it on recently, I strained the trouser waistline enough that I did not want to risk wearing it. I guess my waistline has expanded quite a bit since 2006. Must be because I'm not dancing anymore. (And if I wanted any more proof that it must be because I'm not dancing, I barely fit into my black tie trousers that I used for dancing in the past.)

In the mean time though, here's me in that suit back in May 2007 in Blackpool, England. If you look closely, you can see the purple horizontal pinstripes on the navy blue cloth. The jacket is a single button only and with peak lapels. It's definitely not run of the mill, which is why I want to fit in it again.

Balancing on the railing in Blackpool, England (also the first image I put on my credit card)

Favorite Doctor Who episode (season 5)

I'm venturing outside of my circle of competence here. Then again, I've been doing that for all of my blog thus far. I'm no expert on cooking, after all. Nor am I a writer for a travel magazine. Nor am I an expert on history. And when I write anything regarding my thoughts on economics, well, despite the degree in Economics and Mathematics, I would definitely state that I am not an expert there. Well, not in Macroeconomics - I have some working understanding of Microeconomics, such as perfect competition, barriers to entry, and an inclination to look at the world from a more quantitative, economics point of view than a wishy/washy type of view that I seem to see among environmentalists, organic farmers, champions of local produce and urban/suburban passenger rail, and the like. (Am I setting myself up for some flames from my very, very small readership? Well, why not? Force me to defend my opinions!).

Anyway, I now happily go outside my circle of competence by stating that the duo Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone from the fifth season of Doctor Who are the best episodes of that season. However, I'm not outside of my circle of competence when I state that they're my favorite episodes in Season 5.

All of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who were written by Steven Moffat (Season 3: Blink; Season 4: Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead; Season 5: The Eleventh Hour, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and the above mentioned episodes). Maybe I'm not discerning?

I like these two episodes because they continue a few narrative elements from Doctor Who. They are part of a larger story, not a mere episode. We see the Weeping Angels again, who we first met in Blink (incidentally, not a bad viewing for Friday the 13th based on reactions I observed when doing so).

We also join up with River Song again, who we first met in Season 4 in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. I was very intrigued by River's story in those episodes - her past is the Doctor's future - so I loved how we learned some more about River in Season 5 overall and in these two episodes. As long as Steven Moffat is showrunner for Doctor Who, I'm guessing that we're going to have River Song around to tease and worry the Doctor. The beginning sequence of The Time of Angels was brilliant, with River sending a message to the Doctor from the past overlaid with the Doctor and Amy receiving the message in a museum. And the Doctor's reaction when River piloted the TARDIS better than he during the chase of the Byzantium was hilarious (when the Doctor asked about the noise the TARDIS ordinarily makes when landing but did not when River landed, she said 'It's not supposed to make that noise. You leave the brakes on.').

Also, there are the quotes from The Time of Angels:

"Two things always guaranteed to turn up in a museum: the home box of a category four starliner and, sooner or later, him." - River Song

"What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us. The time of angels." - River Song reading from the book about the Weeping Angels

And finally, the cliffhanger (spoilers, yes, but fun nevertheless):

Anyway, that's my opinion. You may be a fan of the old Doctor Who series rather than the new, or may not even have heard of the series. But given the quality of what Steven Moffat has written, besides some Doctor Who episodes (the new Sherlock series on the BBC, Coupling,  and Jekyll, for instance), I think that watching these episodes of Doctor Who would be quite rewarding

Monday, September 13, 2010

Books on the reading list

Surprisingly, I didn't get through much reading in Nice. I finished both God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World by Walter Russell Mead (worth reading along with To Rule the Waves) and Eat, Pray, Love. Quite a juxtaposition of themes, don't you think? Well, it was lighter reading than The God Delusion, the book I was reading the last time I was in Nice.

I didn't finish Kitchen Confidential, though the parts I read I loved. And I started The Way of Kings, just because I am a sucker for door-stopper fantasy novels.

So where am I on my reading list, my extracurricular reading, if you will? Doing quite poorly. Last I checked, I still had these books to go through:

  • The Ascent of Money - Niall Ferguson
  • On Liberty - John Stuart Mill 
  • Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill (optional)
  • Considerations on Representative Government - John Stuart Mill (optional)
  • The Subjection of Women - John Stuart Mill (optional)
  • The Contest in America - John Stuart Mill (optional)
  • Essays on some unsettled Questions of Political Economy - John Stuart Mill (optional)
  • The Flight of the Intellectuals - Paul Berman
  • Leviathan - Thomas Hobbes
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments - Adam Smith
  • Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith
  • This Time is Different - Reinhart and Rogoff
  • Works of Edmund Burke
On a related note, I love the site FiveBooks - a lot of my extracurricular reading is from there.

What's my curricular reading? You're probably bored by the extracurricular list already, but this list is shorter, significantly.
  • More Money than God - Sebastian Mallaby
  • Liar's Poker - Michael Lewis
Given the size of the extracurricular list, I'm not adding any more to it. However, I'm happy to add to the curricular list should anyone be able to toss anything my way - the curriculum includes diverting fiction and business/investing reading. Extracurricular is typically history, economics, and political/philosophical commentary, with a dash of popular science, though I usually am tempted to have the economics in the curricular section too.

I leave you with a quote from John Stuart Mills that may make it clear why On Liberty is on my reading list:

‘In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away. Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.’

For those who slip into the "us versus them" mindset whenever considering the political party opposed to what you think is right (and because you think it's right, of course it's correct!), maybe they should read this and pause, breathe, and let the emotions out.

Spontaneous breakfast thought

In France, I love a simple breakfast of croissants or a tartine with espresso and orange juice. Back home in the US, I enjoy a relatively hearty breakfast of oatmeal with almonds and flaxseed along with fruit and espresso. When in India, I seek out a breakfast that is also hearty and probably unhealthy - samosas or pakoras with chutney, fruit and tea (it seems to me that in Indian culture, breakfast foods for the well-off were the appetizers you'd have for dinner, and if you've been to an Indian restaurant, you know how unhealthy they are).

Point being, with the exception of my stateside breakfast, which has hints of Scotland in it with the oatmeal, I typically try to eat a breakfast that is local to the locale I am visiting when abroad. That simple sort of pleasure is one of the highlights of any trip I take, and adds significantly to my joie de vivre when abroad.

One more spontaneous thought that occurred to me during breakfast:

I've noticed that my blog is not living up to either the boring (unless you're bored by self-absorbed travelogue) or smart portions of the title. My apologies to you for messing with your expectations! I have some more travel entries to deal with, so please bear with me.

Socca and Beignets de Fleurs de Courgettes

If you'd a fan of chickpeas, I think you'll love Nice. Two of the regionals specialities of Nice are chickpea related - socca and a variety of beignets (I like the ones of fleurs de courgettes, or squash blossoms) Socca is a type of flatbread made from chickpeas flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper, at least in Nice. In Genoa it's called farinata and also has onions and rosemary in it. I'm a fan of both, though unfortunately I've not tried the Italian version yet except for making it at home (and making it at home is not the same...). The beignets are chickpea batter fritters of a variety of vegetables and fish. I'm vegetarian, so I've avoided the ones with fish.

Back to socca - I've been cooking a version of socca, a very thin crepe made in a cast-iron pan on the stovetop, back in DC. Or at least I thought I was cooking socca. I was not. I was making something inspired by socca, but definitely not socca. Socca is apparently baked in an oven (wood-fired if you're authentic, apparently, and whatever that means in this day and age!). It's not cooked on a stove-top. So to all my friends who enjoyed my stovetop version, sorry!

The first version of Socca I tried in Nice was a thick (compared to the crepes I was making back in DC),   flatbread baked on a huge (5 ft in diameter) cast-iron pan in an oven. I procured this version at Chez Rene Socca at 1 Rue Pairoliere, a few doors down from my apartment (13 Rue Pairoliere). I absolutely loved how soft and moist the socca was, and how simple it was too - just chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. It's soft enough that instead of cutting slices, the server just made slashes and scraped pieces of socca up in a scooping motion, serving a heaping plate of socca strips/scraps.

In some ways it's too soft though. I was lucky to get the first or second serving of socca the first time around at Chez Rene. The second time, I was fourth or fifth in line, and hence got the middle of the pan. That was pretty much soft, semi-gooey socca. Too soft for my taste. According to some of the locals I befriended at Distillations Ideales though, that's what socca is like closer to the middle (except at Chez Pipo).

That is also how they do it at Chez Theresa at their stand in the Cours Saleya - a tourist trap of a socca place, since they make the socca at an oven in the old town and then motor it over to the Cours Saleya (5 min drive), charging 3 € (It's 2.5 €  at Rene Socca). After trying Chez Theresa twice, I think it's the same quality as Rene Socca, but with longer wait times because the oven baking the socca is not in the Cours Saleya where they serve it.

Socca at Chez Pipo (highlighted by David Lebovitz here, including good photos) is also delightful, at 2.5€ an order. Like Rene Socca, it's served fresh from the oven - mine came to me piping hot. It also as thick as at Rene Socca. However it has a crispier top than Rene Socca, and looks like it baked and cut easier without sticking to the Pan, unlike Rene Socca. So Chez Pipo has better socca than Rene Socca in my opinion, because of that crispy crust that it has while also maintaining the moist interior. And the flavor is still simple, just chickpea batter and salt!

In fact, said locals I was chatting with at Distillations Ideales (another story, I swear, involving plenty of smoke and wishing that I had a pipe) also thought that Chez Pipo has the best socca in Nice, in part because of that crispy crust all over the socca rather than just being crispy at the edges like everyone else is.

I've been experimenting with socca now that I'm back in DC, and while I can not get it as good as Pipo, not having the oven they do, I've managed to make a respectable socca with a moist interior and crispy crust thanks to my broiler.

As for those delightful beignets, my favorite is the beignets de fleurs de courgettes, or squash blossom fritters. They're usually seasoned with salt, though I think they could use more. They're also very simple and something I think that can be found also at any Nicoise restaurant as an appetizer. Of course they are fried, which is what makes them taste so good. And since they're available for 3 € at Rene Socca, they're cheap enough that I'll probably gorge on them every day.

2 Amys in DC occasionally serves squash blossom fritters as a summer special. Having tasted them in Nice and seeing them regularly available, I wish 2 Amys made them available more often because they're so tasty! (It could be the psychology of being in a foreign locale tasting a regional dish that is enhancing my memory of the taste beyond reason though...).

At any rate, when I was planning my trip to Nice, a culinary tour was not the main reason I was going there. But once I found out about socca, and actually tried it while there, socca and beignets de fleurs de courgettes became an obsession of mine. I ate both whenever I could. And while I'll probably not make the beignets back here in DC, the version of socca that I make is better for me having gone to Nice and trying it there. Socca was not the only reason I enjoyed Nice, but it definitely was a good one.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


[I've editted this post to include pictures from my last day.]

I just love a simple relaxing petit dejeuner. I took the time, at the ungodly early hour to stop by the boulangerie and cafe near my flat and enjoy a petit dejeuner of two croissants, orange juice, and an espresso. I normally don't do this at home, so this really was a nice, simple luxury for me.

From Nice, France

Bear in mind, there are plenty of small boulangeries and cafes serving croissants, espresso, and whatnot in the morning, and for the undiscerning American, you'll probably not be able to tell the difference between any of them in quality (I wasn't). Or maybe they all are quite good. Anyway, this was the one closest to me, so that's what I chose. When I was at the Place Massena last time, I visited another small boulangerie for this same sort of simple decadent morning. And when I was at a studio on the Promenade des Anglais, I procured fresh croissants or olive bread from the Cours Saleya and treated myself to a fresh omelette, fruit and fresh croissants or olive bread out on my balcony after my morning swim.

The view might not strike some as romantic, but whatever. I don't mind the smell of fish market in the morning.

From Nice, France

It's time to board [at the time I originally wrote this], so I've reached the end of this fluffy post. But still, this is a simple pleasure that I will probably indulge in at home, while reading a novel or the FT.

Au revoir, Nice! And until next time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Last Day in Nice

Today was my last full day in Nice - my flight departs tomorrow morning at 10.30 am, and I expect to be back in DC a little before 6 pm. After which I have some errands to run for a friend requesting something from me that I could not get to him until back in DC (another story, another time).

My day here was simple - I woke up in that lovely flat with the sea view that I had a link to in my prior post. Tom and I went on a sort of pub crawl last night, drinking glass after glass of rosé, before I walked with Tom home. Once I did that, I really didn't feel like braving the streets to get back to my flat, so I slept over on the couch (it's really very comfy).

Tom, Claire and I met up around 1 pm to enjoy the beach. We went to the beach near the Castel private beach, relaxing until 3 pm. We met up again at 4 pm after showering, and I showed them my flat before we started looking for food. Since most restaurants in Nice are only open for lunch (12 to 2.30 pm) and dinner (7 to 11 pm), this was a problem. We attempted two places in the Place Garibaldi before ending up in the Cours Saleya at a touristy restaurant. They served decent quality food, though I am consistently disappointed that restaurants in Nice seem to use ordinary mozzarella rather than buffalo mozzarella for their pizzas. This close to Italy there really is no excuse! The crusts have never disappointed though.

We later popped by Paul's place for a small party. Paul is the proprietor of Go-Nice, which we used for our flat rentals. Paul became good friends with Tom over the course of a few vacations Tom took in Nice. No pictures from the party, but I will say that the terrace Paul has for his flat is beautiful - it's at the top level of his building, and has a potted plant garden.

Incidentally, one of Paul's friends, Ben, loves to explore the off the beaten path places in the area, since Nice in July and August is intolerably crowded to anyone who's a local (for someone from DC or NYC, Nice is not that crowded at all even in the high season - I dare say it would feel normal for NYC people). He gave a great idea for a day trip the next time I'm here: if I take the train from Nice to Ventimiglia in Italy, and then transfer to a Genoa bound train and de-train at Imperia at the Porto Maurizio stop, I can walk along the coastal area for 20 some minutes to get to some isolated fisherman's area called La Foce. Besides the local flavour of such a town, apparently the place is very relaxing and the beaches cheap. Add to that that I can get cheap coffee (cappuccino for €1.30 anyone?), and I'm sold on that. I think it sounds like a great day trip, ironic as it is to take the train from Nice and its beachs to Italy and its beaches. But I've never been to Italy, and I think a day trip like this would be fantastic for dipping my toes in the water, especially if I wanted to get away from the crowds in Nice for a day.

Anyway, around 10 pm we said our farewells to Paul and walked back to our flats in the old town. I said my farewells to Claire and Tom, though of course it won't be for long. I might see them again this year, either when Tom's in New York or if I am able to go to Cumbria after the baby's born.

And now, it's off to bed before my flight tomorrow.

A few words though before I do so. So far this blog's posts have kept in order with when events happened, more or less. However, I still have not written or posted photos from my day trips to Monaco (after which I saw Tom and Claire, and had all that champagne on the balcony of their flat), Marseilles and the Chateau D'If, Grasse (and its luxury perfume industry), or my explorations of Nissarde cuisine (mainly on the front of socca) and how they will influence some of my cooking when back in the States. I did write up my observations in chronological order, but all of these still need editting, and since the purpose of a vacation is to relax rather than post blog entries, I deemed it reasonable to go to the beach and swim in the Baie des Anges rather than finish my blog post for Grasse and post it.

Hence, over the next week these entries will appear, even though I'm not on vacation. But I hope people will enjoy them, particularly since it may give you some ideas of where and what to do when in the Riviera. There's more to the Riviera than just the beaches, after all, and while I did not go to nearly all the places you could go in Nice and the nearby Riviera, seeing some of the places I went may influence you one way or another and may make an excursion of yours to the Riviera more rewarding.

More importantly, this blog is not ending with the vacation posts. I wrote in my first post that I invited you to come along in my pursuit of joie de vivre. Needless to say, it doesn't end once back from vacation. And while some of what I may write (i.e. views on investing) may seem very far from what you may view as joie de vivre, they're not for me. At the minimum, you may learn something from those posts.

Au revoir, Nice!

Various Photos of Nice

The first time I came to Nice, back in 2008, there was a light drizzle, which was unusual. I stayed at an apartment on the Place Massena: http://www.go-nice.com/3_place_massena_property_details.aspx

I can't say that I fell in love with Nice, per se, but I might well have. Why else would I be back here for a vacation, when I usually try to visit new places when on vacation. For crying out loud, the Place Massena is featured on one of my credit cards. While not the picture on my card, here's one of Place Massena:

From Nice, France

From Nice, France

From Nice, France

And then here's a picture of the Place Massena at 7 am in the morning, the ungodly early hour (for a vacation) that I was awake in order to catch a train for a day trip to Marseilles.

From Nice, France

Anyway, I'm staying at this charming one bedroom apartment, sans air conditioning.


The next time I'm in Nice though, I'm going to go for one of these two flats. Advantages? Both have air-conditioning. One is very charming, a flat in a former monastery with an excellent sea view.

From Nice, France

The other is a studio on the Promenade des Anglais, which is perfect for a daily jaunt to the beach (I stayed here briefly in 2008 also after a jaunt in Bulgaria that left me a little jaded about that portion of the EU).

At any rate, here's a view of the beach from the Chateau park in Nice. Perhaps it'll give you an idea of why I find Nice so charming.

From Nice, France

Here's a view of the old town and the Cours Saleya, where there is a farmers market every morning and sellers of bric-a-brac all day.

From Nice, France

And here's the entrance to the Port in Nice:

From Nice, France

So I'm enjoying my vacation here; I hope you enjoy my amateurish pictures of Nice:


Cheers to everyone!

St Paul de Vence

I went to visit St Paul de Vence on the 27th of August, I believe, because I wanted to see this tiny mountain town. I also ended up going to a modern art museum there (Foundation Maeght) which I thought overpriced. Perhaps that's just my neutral attitude towards modern art.

I'll let the pictures of St Paul de Vence speak for themselves, for the most part. I found the town to be really beautiful, a town so tiny that there pretty much is one road that you can drive on in there, and it's not that much of a drive.

I also visited La Petite Cave de Saint-Paul, a small, basement wine shop selling a lovely selection of wines (some were quite exclusive, including wine from the vineyards of the modern art museum, which I disdained to buy because of the cost). I ended up buying rosé and two wines from Languedoc.

Anyway, here are some of my pictures from St. Paul de Vence, starting with a picture of St Paul de Vence from the outside:
St Paul de Vence

The vineyards below St Paul de Vence

The cat's hiding from me! Good to know, since I have allergies to them!

A series of steps from the perimeter of the town, where the defensive wall is, to the center.

La Petite Cave de Saint-Paul
The Church Tower
Lucy's Diner! Complete with hamburgers, french fries, and Coca Cola.
The street outside the town, where the bus stop and La Columbe D'Or (restaurant worth visiting) are