Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Azeri-inspired quinoa: a “recipe” without measurements

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Azeri-inspired quinoa

I traveled to Azerbaijan recently with my family. While we saw many parts of the country and took numerous pictures, what stuck with me the most was the subtle differences in the flavors and ingredients in the food. I ate more tarragon than I ever had in my life up to that point – it is not an herb that’s been in my family’s culinary repertoire. I loved the pickled sour cherries, especially when they were cooked into rice and soups. And, I noted that the flavors tended to lean towards more sour than spicy. I put these elements together in my mind with whatever I had in the pantry when I got home (except I had to go out and buy the tarragon). What came out has nothing to do with anything I ate there, but it turned out more delicious than I’d imagined it could be, and made me fondly reminisce about Azerbaijan.

I don’t want to put precise measurements here, because I made a small batch and “winged it” with the proportions for what felt right. You should do the same. I’ll just tell you how I made it.

– quinoa
– olive oil
– Craisins
– lemon
– fresh tarragon
– salt

1. Sauté some craisins in olive oil, salt, and some lemon juice for a bit. Zest the lemon peel and add some of it in there, too.
2. Bring water (proportional to quinoa package instructions) to a boil and add it to the craisins.
3. Chop up plenty of tarragon and stir it in with the water.
4. Add quinoa and cook it.
5. I threw some fresh tarragon on top as a garnish, just to be a poser. You don’t have to do that. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of these instructions.

10 Pictures of Tuscan Pigeons

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Two weeks ago I was in Tuscany. Whereas most people would put up touristy pictures from their travels, I preferred to write a pigeon-centric post instead. Before we proceed, I’d like to point out that I did not intend to have a round number of pictures; I picked the better ones out of a group of thirteen, and the resulting number happened to be ten.

Florence rooftops – can you spot the lovely pigeony couple? Let me help… (close-up below)

Pigeon pair enjoying a sunny day in Florence.

A pair of helpless squabs, tucked away in a nook in a stone wall, fearfully looked at me as I walked past them on my way to the top of a tower in Lucca. They fidgeted nervously as I snapped a few pictures.

Pigeons relaxing at the dome of a very tall tower in San Gimignano…. far away from those pesky humans.

Old Italian buildings were very pigeon-friendly, as they had multitudes of nooks in their stone walls, a byproduct of the scaffolding used during construction. Some of the nooks have since been filled in or netted, but the available ones are prime pigeon property.

Gatekeeper pigeon guarding her eggs and the arched gate into the city.

Pigeons with a prime view of the Tuscan countryside.

Proud parent eyeing the photographer suspiciously (same pigeon in the picture above, resting in the hole in the top left).

Puffed up pigeon resting at the edge of a fountain in Siena town square on a rainy day.

For more Tuscany pictures, visit my Tuscany photo set on Flickr.

A few shots

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

In Istanbul.

MIT Energy Conference Nuggets

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I went to the 6th annual MIT Energy Conference this past month, partly because I had missed Boston, and partly because MIT alumni had a registration discount. Similar to my sustainability conference blog post last year, here’s a smattering of takeaway messages I got out of it.

But first, an image. This was the only picture I snapped all weekend, during the Friday Night Showcase of hundreds of new energy technologies. Naturally, I was drawn to the oil and biofuels panels, but I made my rounds through all the exhibits. The big round thing was some sort of floating wind turbine.

The conference had quite a military focus, which brought in a different perspective for the motivation for innovations in energy. The keynote speaker Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech was particularly striking with the main idea, “Energy is fundamentally an issue of national security.” The most staggering factoid: Every time oil prices increase by $1, the Navy spends an extra $31 million due to the steep cost of transporting and guarding fuel to remote areas like Afghanistan. Therefore, the Navy’s goal is to obtain 50% of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. 17% of the energy is already obtained from nuclear power. Since energy diversity leads to energy security, the military is taking leadership in energy innovation.

One panel discussed the impacts of Obama’s goal of having one million electric vehicles in the U.S. fleet by 2010. The speakers mentioned considerations for Seattle’s electric vehicle infrastructure (70% of charging stations will be residential, there will be 1.4 charging stations per electric vehicle, software integration for finding and/or reserving chargers, etc.). The message that stuck with me from this one was that the increase in electric vehicles is not large enough to require a new power plant until 2/3 of the fleet is electric. The greater concern is around upgrading the local circuits (transformers, etc.).

Another panel that caught my attention was one around upcoming renewable fuels technologies. One company, called Joule Unlimited, is developing energy obtained from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, utilizing alternative metabolic pathways with genetic engineering – the speaker threw out the term “industrial photosynthesis.” Their goal is to derive a closed carbon cycle like how nature intended it to be. Sun Catalytix also sounded confident in displacing fossil fuels with the promise of harnessing energy from water. ARPA-E also funds non-photosynthetic technology for biofuels. All piqued my interest.

The conference itself was very well organized and executed by a team of around a hundred current MIT students. They had even prepared fact sheets for various energy sources and handed them out to each conference attendant, along with a tote bag and a mug. I also ran into two MIT alum friends that work in energy, whom I didn’t know were in Boston, which was a plus!

This blog entry doesn’t really do the conference justice, but the conference did enable me to explore the cutting edge research and development taking place in energy by participating in awesome discussions I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. For instance, I met several people who had worked in oil companies for 20 years before transferring into these interesting start-ups to help develop and scale up the technology. Sounds pretty awesome; I’d be down for that sometime in the future!

Spotted Dove Spotted!

Monday, July 5th, 2010

When I go to different cities, one thing that captures my attention is the difference in variety of local urban birds. For instance, the starlings in Arizona were huge compared to the ones I’m used to seeing in Southern California. The mourning doves in Istanbul are more of a reddish color than the ones here, and coo differently. I can’t help but feel like Charles Darwin, observing the difference in beak shapes of the finches in the Galapagos Islands, each type formed through years of evolution in isolation on an island. Usually, it’s the rock pigeons (the run-of-your-mill gray pigeons we see in almost every city) that seem to look the same everywhere.

Hong Kong had a disturbing lack of regular pigeons in the city, but I did notice many doves. They looked like standard mourning doves I’m used to seeing…

…except, these ones had silvery looking heads and dark necks laced with white spots! Yes, I was looking at a spotted dove, or Streptopelia chinensis.

Like all doves I’ve seen, they’re so impatient to walk around in circles frantically, making it difficult for me to photograph them well.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon sighting

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I was in Hong Kong last week. More on that later. Unexpectedly, one of the highlights of my trip was visiting the aviary in Kowloon Park. I finally saw a Victoria Crowned Pigeon in person.

I’d wanted to see a Victoria crowned pigeon ever since I saw a picture of one in an encyclopedia back when I was nine or ten years old. I was doing “research” for a two-page comic about a mourning dove teaching a classroom full of young mourning doves about pigeon and dove ancestry and the many kinds of doves that exist today. You can see that my unusual fascination with doves began at an early age. The comic is more pedagogical than entertaining, but what can I say…. I was a nerd.

(click to enlarge)

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of the creature in the aviary. The photo above is taken from Extraordinary Pigeons by Stephen Green-Armytage.

Arizona desert

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I was gone the past week at a conference in Pheonix, Arizona. I’d never been there before, so the desert landscape, flora, and fauna looked quite different to me. We were treated to a hummer tour of the desert on the last day, which was magnificent. Here are a few pictures from the tour.


Sustainability nuggets on Earth Day

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Last month, I went to the First Conference of Sustainability for the Pacific Northwest Region in Seattle, sponsored by AIChE’s Institute for Sustainability. The conference had pretty good coverage of progress on various sustainability efforts, and the curriculum was a balanced mix of technical and social topics.

What better day than today to reflect on my learnings? Here is a simple list of “nuggets” or take-away messages I jotted down.

Sustainability General

  • The three pillars of sustainability: Energy Security, Economic Productivity, Environmental Impact.
  • Many speakers mentioned the need for metrics to measure progress in sustainability, especially in the corporate world. Only then will it be possible to compare to benchmarks, set goals, and monitor progress.
  • Water is a raw material, not a utility. ~1 billion people lack access to clean water.
  • Sustainability can be profitable for companies, because minimizing waste and optimizing energy usage save on costs.
  • Optimal sustainability has higher net positive benefit than zero impact.


  • There is much biofuels research, but the constraint to scale-up is insufficient biofuel feedstock needed for an industrial scale.
  • Algae was popular for producing biomass, but it grows too slowly for an industrial production purpose.
  • Gasoline and diesel provide 96% of the United States’ transportation.
  • Even if all cars become electric, liquid transportation fuels are required for heavy truck engines.
  • Ethanol makes gasoline blending difficult; it needs to fit the existing infrastructure (distribution, nozzles, car components).
  • If terrestrial carbon is not valued, it can lead to destruction of unmanaged forests and pastures.
  • Net water intensity of power can be high. Low-carbon energy solutions can be water intensive (i.e. up to 90% more water used in carbon capture and sequestration).
  • Today’s electric grid operates in a “just in time” production process, with uncontrolled demand. Its challenges are a changing supply mix, increased demand, complexity of grid, and the vulnerability of energy infrastructure.
  • A smart grid could turn off idle/unneeded power consumers so that the power distribution is optimized during peak hours. These changes would only last a few minutes and would be unnoticed.
  • Peak shaving can be achieved through incentives. In addition, allowing consumers to monitor the power consumption of their appliances motivates them to minimize their power usage.
  • Closing the nuclear fuel cycle ideally requires 20% of the total nuclear reactors to be fast breeder reactors to manage waste from light water reactors. The key steps for moving forward include improving safeguards technology, lowering cost of reprocessing, identifying disposal path for wastes, and addressing public concerns regarding safety.

Other factoids

  • Biogas generated as a byproduct of digesters in wastewater plants is often treated and used for powering the engines/boilers and for natural gas sales.
  • 3% of the world’s water is fresh water. 0.3% of fresh water is surface water. 87% of surface water comes from lakes.
  • 96% of all consumer goods are petroleum-derived.
  • Mixtures of bacteria can be utilized to produce specialty chemicals (for plastics, artificial flavors and fragrances) from various kinds of biomass.
  • 90% of coal is put into the power system.
  • Reducing end-use by one unit saves at least three units source energy.
  • John Tyndall described the greenhouse effect in the 1860s. Arrhenius wrote about increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 1896.
  • Global warming is unequivocal. The principles are settled, but the effects are unpredictable. Global average temperature will “likely” increase 2-5 degC, but it may increase up to 12 degC. This will likely change the distribution of water thoughout the year (rain vs. snow water).

Those were some of the more interesting points I captured in my notes. Of course, I don’t go into much detail here. You can find more infomation about the topics and speakers on the conference website.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Today in Japanese class, the teacher was asking us what our plans were for Thanksgiving. One girl said, “I’m going back home to California,” and I thought, “Man, I wish I could go home.”
I always thought going home for Thanksgiving would be out of the question, because you spend 12 hours traveling on a four-day weekend. But right then, I thought, “why not. *sigh* Maybe I’ll go home next year.”
Then, Spencer said, “I was planning on going to New York, but I changed my mind and got plane tickets to California last night.” And that inspired me. I called my mom right after the class ended, and asked her to look up tickets. My dad used his frequent flyer miles and got me plane tickets for $65 for TOMORROW. Dude. I leave Wednesday and get back Saturday.
I thought it was appropriate, because I’m mentally tired. In addition, I’ve been dreaming about my parents for the past week (scary, I know), and I miss my real close friends back home. I also miss my room and (I hate to admit it) the sunny California weather. (Don’t worry, I still love the snow.) It seems like I get more and more homesick throughout the years.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

The Japanese language department had a sushi party for the Japanese students yesterday afternoon. We ate catered sushi and Japanese snacks, and chatted with our professors in Japanese. It was kind of stressful, because we couldn’t think of answers fast enough, but at the same time, it was fun because most of the time it was one professor surrounded by a group of students. I think they organized this party to show us how much we can talk about.. We still have a lot to learn, though.

Also, they talked a little about their Japan abroad program. I’m definitely going to apply to their summer internship program. Aahh! I’m kind of excited, even though this thing is more than a year away.