Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cherimoya, the "ice cream fruit"

*Update 1/21/2012. I take back all the negative things I said about this fruit. I had some fresher ones later in my trip and they were so, so, so much better.


There's one fruit I've been wanting to try a long time...and that was the cherimoya. After all, it's what Mark Twain called "the most delicious fruit known to men."  (I was wondering how he managed to snag one, as they only grow in the tropics...apparently he once traveled to Hawaii as a reporter for the Sacramento Union.)

Anyway my photos are pretty disgusting. I got the cherimoya in relatively normal condition this morning from the Hilo Farmer's Market (it was soft and green with only a few small twinges of brown – which meant it was ready to eat), but it got knocked around in my car trunk the entire day, thanks to the abrupt starts and stops along Hawaii Belt Road, which is undergoing construction in multiple places.

It also could have potentially been due to my not ever driving in the past year, but we're not going to explore that option.

So here's a nice picture of a cherimoya (looks a bit snakey doesn't it):


And since my photos are so ugly I'm hiding them til after the jump...


When I'm petting the cat...

When I stop petting the cat...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Macadamia nuts: Harvesting, de-husking, cracking, eating.

I now know why macadamia nuts are so expensive. There's a macadamia nut pasture in the backyard of a farm on the Big Island, and I got to see what work goes behind macadamia nut processing (at least the small-scale, by-hand type).

Enter the macadamia nut pasture...

This is how the nuts look on the tree. Most I spotted by themselves or in twos, but a few were in big beautiful clusters such as these.

If they're low enough and you're not too short, you can pick by hand. This is rarely the case though – for most I used a macadamia fruit picker (not pictured, but imagine long wooden handle with something that looks like half a bird cage attached at the end).

The green ones are younger; the brown ones are older, but you don't separate them by color. You separate the ones that have cracks from the ones that are still whole.

For the ones that are whole (they might be green or brown), you need to "age" them before you can eat them, which mostly means getting them as dry as possible.

To do that, you can layer the nuts in a bin between layers of cloth (to take out the moisture), and leave them there for weeks until the husks are starting to crack. At that point, there will be some compost in the bin (and a ton of bugs too...there were actually millipedes and earwigs in there...I somehow managed to restrain myself from screaming/sobbing. Aghhh I guess that's how you know they're organic).

Here are ones that have cracked:

Once they've cracked, their outer husk is easy to remove.

And on in the inside is a smooth round seed:

Once you have the seed, you can now use the macadamia nut cracker (pictured in the lower left here):

If they're still "wet," the edible portion will stick to the shell, and it's very hard to remove. The little shards can still be roasted and eaten though.

If they've dried sufficiently, the inner "nut" will have shrunk in size so that it doesn't stick to the shell, and comes out easily.

The taste of raw macadamia nut is pretty incredible. It wasn't at all what I expected – it tasted like mature coconut meat: crunchy, fresh, and slightly sweet.

The nuts of my labor:



Its name comes from the Malaysian word for hair ("rambut"), and you can probably see why. They also remind me of miniature dragon fruit, with extra pointy scales.

The one in my hand is probably 130% the average size of one.

This fruit is NOT easy to peel. It's not going to make you bleed per se, but ripping it apart is not comfortable. If you've ever picked fresh chestnuts, it feels a little the same way: rubbery and spiky (though not as piercingly hard as chestnuts).

I ended up having to google "how to eat rambutan." A little sad. Apparently if you squeeze hard enough the outer shell pops open, but no matter how I tried, it wouldn't work. I ended up just ripping off the slight bump from which the stem attaches to the fruit, and that gave me a crack that I could enlarge and then ultimately use to rip the whole shell apart.

That was actually a really gruesome sentence.

The fruit is sweet and tastes like a firmer, chewier, dryer lychee...and it's hard to describe how lychees taste. Sweet, tropical, floral, a little citrusy. Texture-wise, it's like a very dense grape.

If I had to pick between a lychee or rambutan, I'd probably pick lychee because of this:

There's a fine, woody, papery husk on the pit that tends to stick to the flesh. It's very hard to separate and I found myself just eating it...more fiber right.

I got these at the Kea'au Village Market on the Big Island for $2 a bag that contained maybe about 10 rambutans.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Opaeka'a Falls

The first landmark visited on our Kauai trip. Opaeka'a Falls is located along the Wailua River, on the eastern side of Kauai. Prior to the visit, I had written in my notes that it would be an "eye-popping photo op," but I'm not sure how those photos are being taken, since visitors can only get as far as the photo below shows (without zoom).

Try to spot the waterfall...

The name of the falls means 'rolling shrimp,' dating back to the time when native freshwater shrimp were so plentiful that they could be seen tumbling down the falls (thank you Wikipedia).

You can cross the highway to get a view of Wailua River State Park. In 2009 I kayaked down that river and hiked to Secret Falls, but passed this time.

October 2012

A walk around Lake Elizabeth

Last night around 4:30pm:

^ That's how close I was able to get to the seagull before s/he finally flew away.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kauai (through iPhone)

I'm planning on doing more detailed write-ups of my Kauai trip at some point, hopefully before my memory of the trip completely evaporates. In the meantime, here are some pictures I took with my iPhone. Enjoy my irregularly cropped photos!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I drew a bird wing

I'm rusty. Hopefully that gets fixed as I do some more illustrations in the next couple weeks for some upcoming Tavern Books covers :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Skeuomorphism in Design: Good or Bad?

 Last night I went to a panel called Skeuomorphism vs. Simplicity, hosted by the Designer Fund and Asana (who has an amazing space, by the way. It's got that well-designed, stripped warehouse feel).   If you're interested in watching the video of the panel, you'll be able to check it out on the Asana blog.

My one and only image of the event. Yes it's horrible. Sorry. 
Panelists included: Wilson Miner (Rdio/Facebook), Stephanie Hornung (Asana),
Kerem Suer (previously Fitbit), Naz Hamid (Weightshift),
Mark Kawano (formerly Apple) and Alan Urdan (Windows 8).

A quick definition of skeuomorphism:
A skeuomorph is a design element of a product that imitates design elements functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design.

Prior to the panel, my main thoughts were (1) skeuomorphism is simply just visual adornment (leather texture on the edges of a calendar app, for example) and (2) it's currently being bashed in the design community as something that's useless and gets in the way of content, and I tended to agree. 

Here's the interesting stuff I learned:

1) Skeuomorphs aren't only visual.

There are physical skeuomorphs.  Take these cigarettes for example. The paper is printed with the texture of cork, because that's what cigarettes used to be made of.

There are also audio skeuomorphs. The click of the shutter release when you use a digital camera is essentially an "audio adornment" to provide feedback that something's happened – it's comforting and satisfying.

For skeuomorphs in general, my biggest takeaway was that they're not black and white – either good or bad. There are certain times they are inappropriate and inappropriate. You have to consider their context and the task that the user is trying to accomplish. I think this tweet frames it nicely:

Skeuomorphism is good when it helps the user accomplish something, or intends to evoke an emotional response (e.g. nostalgia, comfort).

Example: Some might say that the iPhone's compass app is overdesigned and overwrought, but it does immediately communicate to the user what the app is for and what it does. It encourages interaction (people know immediately how a compass works, or they should) and it's much more engaging than showing a single number, i.e. the directionality.

Skeuomorphism is not good if it's completely irrelevant, doesn't have a purpose, and obstructs the user from completing their task.

Example: This podcast apps that uses the cassette tape* as a skeuomorph. It's not a successful metaphor as many young people have never even used a cassette tape before (yeah, oh my god, I'm getting old). Though gorgeous visually, the design actually hinders the understanding and interaction with the app.

*By cassette tape, I mean reel-to-reel. Sorry. Generational gap.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Longan, or Dragon's Eye

In Chinese, the longan is called Long Yan (龍眼), which literally translates to "Dragon's Eye." From the picture below, you can probably see why.

(Oh yes, and this photo was taken on a beach in Kauai, shortly after sunrise. No big deal...)

The longan is related to the lychee. They're the size of jawbreakers, with a brittle, golden brown skin. From the outside, they look a little bit like mini spherical potatoes.

The longan is quite easy to unpeel – all you have to do is apply pressure between your fingers and the skin will crack to reveal the translucent flesh underneath.

The flesh is a little similar to the grape's – it's off-white and translucent (also referred to as "mucilaginous"), but holds together more firmly. Some disagree, but I think it tastes quite similar to the lychee. The flavor is somewhat musky, tropical, and sweet, but less floral than the lychee's.

You can buy these canned from Asian supermarkets, but they'll most likely be drowning in sugary syrup. I think they're best on their own, as is.

And here is the "pupil." The seeds inside are hard and lacquered black.