Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Barber's Pole

In medieval Europe, surgery was more of a craft than a science. In 1163, when the clergy (who were the "surgeons" of the time) were forbidden to participate in any activities involving bloodshed, their duties were passed to the barber, with his array of sharp tools.

The barbers became known as the "barber surgeons," and would regularly perform bloodletting, dental extractions, minor surgeries, amputations...and haircuts.

Image credit: T. Tauri
The barber's pole was often placed outside shops to signal that the barber there performed bloodletting services.

The red and white stripes represent bloody bandages wrapped around a staff – a staff that a patient would grip during a bloodletting procedure.  The top silver cap represents the basin that held leeches; the bottom silver cap represents the basin that would receive the blood of the patient.

It was only in the 18th century that the surgeons formally split from the barber and formed the "Company of Surgeons."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Feijoa, or Pineapple Guava

Last night, R shared with me feijoa fruit from his cousin's backyard.

You eat these like kiwis: cut in half, and then scoop out the flesh. They were about the size of duck eggs, with a thick and waxy skin.

The insides were smooth in the center, becoming grittier as they neared the perimeter. Both the skin and the flesh smelled and tasted very familiar. It took me a while to land the particular taste...

...which was of Cherry Lip Smackers! Strangely artificial tasting and overly sweet. So much so, that I'm not sure that I would eat these again. Though I can see how these might contribute to an cold mixed juice drink.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tropical fruit and spice park

In November 2011 I traveled to South Florida and visited both Fruit & Spice Park and Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens*.

I was hoping to sample more tropical fruits this trip, but only a few varieties were fruiting in mid November. If I visited in July, I would've been there for Mango Madness, where Fairchild offers samples of rarer mango cultivars at the peak of their ripeness.

And if I lived there I'd be able to regularly attend workshops with themes like Ice Cream from Tropical Fruit and Lychee and disturbs even me the levels of jealousy I experience when I think about these things I'm missing as a non-South Florida resident.

Anyway, here are several of the more fascinating plants I came across at Fruit & Spice Park:

Ylang ylang
The blossoms are very fragrant, with narrow yellow-green spidery petals. Essential oils derived from the flowers are used in perfumes like Chanel no. 5.

Ylang ylang blossom

You know the root, but might not be familiar with the flowers. Squeezing the flowers produces a clear liquid that smells very fresh and fragrant. It's often used to make sweet-smelling lotions and shampoo.

Ginger flowers (picked)

Wild pineapple
Also called the "original pineapple," this plant bears egg-shaped orange fruits that taste exactly like pineapple. It's often planted near fences or under windows because its extremely sharp, deep green leaves that can act as effective barriers.

Wild pineapple

Certain chewing gum makers came across this fruit, and tried to replicate its taste in Juicy Fruit gum. The fibers were very strong and elastic, but it tasted and smelled like a mix of pineapple, banana, and strawberries.

Jackfruit being cut up for samples

Jackfruit growing on the tree

Egg fruit, or Canistel
Soft and crumbly, with the texture of a cooked egg yolk (hence its name). Tasted like a baked potato crossed with an unripe persimmon, with a lingering chalky aftertaste. Not my favorite, but apparently it's great for ice creams and custards.

Canistel fruit. Photo credit: Carib Fruits

Bay Rum.
Used in men's aftershave/cologne. Leaves smelled exactly like it.

Bay rum leaf

Midnight Horror, or the Broken Bones Plant
A tree that's creepy in a couple ways. When its large leaf stalks wither and fall off the tree, they appear like piles of dried human bones. It's also a night-bloomer, with blossoms that emit a strong and foul-smelling odor that attracts bats, which pollinate it.

Midnight Horror. Look hard to see the elongated seedpods.

African Sausage Tree
Best name for a tree, ever. The fruit are leathery and not really edible for humans, but hippos, baboons, giraffes and other mammals love these.

African Sausage Tree

The little fruits turn from white to red to black as they ripen. When ripe, the fruits are sweet and sour, reminiscent of pomegranates, but with the texture of miniature blueberries.

Antidesma fruits

These fruit were the size of a large grapefruit, with a spiny exterior and magenta-red insides that have been likened to "human intestines." The red oil from the seed chambers is used as a dye. The mesocarp (yellow flesh) of the fruit is poisonous, but the seeds and red oil surrounding the seeds are edible, though on some accounts not very flavorful, and not worth eating unless for potential nutritional benefit.

Gac fruit, found on the ground

There were some other plants that I encountered – poisonous, hallucinogenic, and crazy in all types of ways – I'll write about those some other time.

* These two parks offer totally different experiences. Here's how I'd describe the difference between the two: Fairchild is like a Whole Foods; Fruit & Spice is like a farmer's market. Fairchild is enormous, its displays are meticulously pruned (walking in their Rainforest section reminded me of the Lost World ride at Universal Studios), its visitors are on the more affluent side, and it's extremely touristy. Fruit & Spice just had a lot more local flavor, felt a lot more intimate, and offered generous samples.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The elusive mangosteen...finally eaten

It's been said that the mangosteen is the most delicious fruit in the world.

I've heard it multiple times, but it wasn't until a couple months ago that I finally got a chance to form my own opinion.

At the time, I was in the city of Dezhou, in the coastal province of Shandong, which is located on the breast of the metaphorical "Rooster of China." The climate there in the summer is hot and humid, the type where an hour-long walk outdoors will soak your shirts, so I shouldn't have been so surprised to come across a bin of mangosteens in the supermarket.

I took out my camera and was immediately reprimanded for taking this photo:

Supermarket workers in China, I've found, get very excited in a horrible way when they find you taking photos. Bowling alleys, too. My brother and I actually had a very bizarre encounter with a worker at one, but that's a story for another time.

As for how it tasted: the fruit was fragrant, sweet and tangy, lightly tasting of banana and pear. Its flesh reminded me of the lychee's, in that it was white and juicy, but was a bit slimier and not as firm – it melts as you eat it. The insides are sectioned like a tangerine's. The seeds were large, with smooth, chestnut-like shells.

Photo credit: Cream and Sugar

The verdict? It was OK. Just OK. It's very possible that these just weren't good and ripe and fresh mangosteens. They could've been imports. In any case, they were a bit too tangy for me, and the fruit to seed ratio was not as high as I personally like.

Wishlist for Blogger UI (ongoing)

Here's a list of UX complaints I have with Blogger. Will add more as I become more familiar with the interface.

WARNING: Probably won't make sense to non-Blogger users. And in either case this is not titillating material.
  • Make it quicker to publish a post by moving the Publish button to the bottom part of the right panel. That's a standard spot for action buttons (e.g., Save).

    It's also the fastest to get to. It takes some time for my mouse to locate the Publish button's hot spot currently since it's in the centerish of the top panel. (When I'm writing a post, my mouse is not usually resting at the top of the screen – it's resting somewhere in the post body.) And as Fitt's Law dictates, it's speediest to move your mouse to the four corners of the screen.
Here's what I see at the top of my screen.

  •  Shorten the pathway to customizing the blog's appearance. It takes way too long to get to the 'Edit CSS' area. The current pathway is: Dashboard → Template → Customize → Advanced → Add CSS. I know it's not a basic feature, but if a user's obviously not using a default template, there's a good chance that they're tweaking CSS and could benefit from a shortcut somewhere.

    I think that this "Design" link in the topnav

    should immediately go to the "Customize" view:

    It's more likely that a user's going to want to customize their current theme, vs. picking a new skin and starting from scratch – that's a more drastic, less frequent action.

  • Better image integration. I can't really embed slideshows or utilize any other sexy gallery navigation.

  • Offer themes that people will actually want to use. Tumblr's beautiful themes are enough for me to want to drop blogger. It's only due to account centralization that I haven't gone there yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A couple Yucatán fruits

In April 2011, I traveled to the Yucatán peninsula. This was a place that I'd been aching, absolutely aching to go to. Top reasons were its cenotes – freshwater sinkholes with crystal-clear turquoise water, often found in limestone caves – and its diversity of plant and animal life.

A couple fruits that I managed to nab at a small supermarket in the less touristy areas surrounding Playa Del Carmen:

Cainito Fruit, or Star Apple
It's called the star apple because you're supposed to bisect it properly.  (Oops.) I got a green-skinned variety, though there are purple ones as well.

Its insides were a gorgeous magenta and white hue. Taste-wise, it was creamy and mildly sweet, a bit of melon and a bit of sour grape. Texture-wise, it was very soft and pulpy.

Custard Apple
The exterior was a bit reptilian, though not as nearly as much as the snakefruit's. Another interesting name for it is Bullock's heart – you can see why. Its flesh was soft and milky, tasting a little bit like banana and pineapple, but more tart. Didn't taste very custard-like to me, it was much too tart for that.


P.S. Check out Playa del Carmen!