An Obsession with Fish Tacos

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 3, 2008 : 2:32 am
Some home made fish tacos

Some home made fish tacos

I’ve had an interesting path in life that led to my eventual love affair with fish tacos. It started in the town of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. Back then, there weren’t a huge amount of Mexican restaurants, short of chains like Azteca, Chevy’s, Mazatlan and the various fast food establishments. When a Taco del Mar opened up around high school, I dropped by and was intrigued by the fish tacos being advertised.

A friend who was with me scoffed (and happened to be part Hispanic), claiming that fish tacos were a Western invention and not “authentic” Mexican food. Of course, I know that’s complete bunk now, but being an impressionable 16 year old at the time, I believed him and opted for a chicken burrito instead. It would be years later on a plane ride to LA, that I had a pleasant conversation with an elderly gentleman on his way to Mexico, who happened to be a historian of sorts. He explained the rich seafood tradition of the country and also that I absolutely had to try some the local seafood should I find myself there – but especially in Ensenada, the home of the fish taco. So, I did.

While stopped in a port city on a cruise, I walked straight past all the drunk college kids at the Hard Rock and went straight into the inner parts of the city with my two years of fragmented high school Spanish and sense of adventure. After a moderate walk, I found what seemed like a restaurant popular with the locals, found the “tacos de pescado” on the menu and have been hooked ever since.

I’ve heard claims from some uppity California folk that Seattle has no good fish tacos. Oh please. I would easily eat at Ooba’s, Cactus or Agua Verde any day, though I might avoid certain others – at least for the fish tacos.

Pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

Basic pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

It would seem to me that fish tacos depend on three absolute things to work well: the sauce, the pico de gallo and the battered fish. I almost don’t want to include the pico because that is near impossible to mess up, though it has been done before. This really leaves the fish – which is really just a beer battered white fish – and the sauce, where in my opinion, the magic happens.

I wanted to experiment for myself on what exactly goes into the sauce for fish tacos, and found via Google that common ingredients are: sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, lime and chipotle. As with all recipes, the formulas vary, but these had the most mention. So, I ran off to the store and grabbed a few ingredients and tried my own concoctions.

Sauce #1: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, organic mayo
This was my baseline sauce. While it wasn’t bad, I felt it was a bit simple in terms of flavor. The problem I found is that the sour cream and mayo make for a chunky sauce, so it took a high ratio of lime juice in order to make it a spoonable sauce rather than globs of stuff. As such, it was pretty heavy on the lime side – which as a lime and citric fruits lover – says a bit. If you use lime in your pico, then this might be just a bit too tart for taste.

Sauce #2: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, lemon-pepper mayo, Rachel’s Kiwi Passion fruit Lime yogurt
I like Rachel’s yogurt, which I saw once at Whole Foods and buy on occasion. My thinking was that it would work great for sauce because the yogurt is naturally a bit more runny than normal. The end result worked well; much more balanced and with less lime use and about equal parts of cream, mayo and yogurt. This is a good mix of tart, sweet and still a smoothness that I think compliments the fish and other ingredients well.

Sauce #3: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, Greek God’s honey yogurt, chipotle peppers
If you haven’t had Greek God’s brand yogurt, here’s a warning: it is rich. If you have any concerns about your health at all, don’t even come near this stuff. If you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating a soft and lighter version of cream cheese. But man is it good! This ended up tasting as a complete contrast to sauce #2, as the flavor was much more in your face, with a distinct, velvety kick that had big American taste all over it. It made me feel like the fish and other ingredients were a delivery vehicle for the sauce.

I liked #2 the best, for an overall package, but Steve was floored by #3, which he thought was easily good enough to serve in a restaurant. So, while sauce is obviously subjective as well, I’m going to keep tinkering around to try and find the “best” fish taco sauce around. If you have any fish taco recipes of your own however, I would loooove to hear them!

(In case anyone wonders: I used pico, green and red cabbage, shredded carrots and Pumpkin spiced beer battered cod as other ingredients. And since you’re going to ask, the Pumpkin spiced beer was not some culinary experiment, but just what happened to be what was left in the ‘fridge.)

When Contextual Ads Go Bad

Categories: news — Tags: , , , — Posted by: Grant @ June 3, 2008 : 3:46 pm

News article car crash screenshot

Screenshot of a article relating to a car crash during a bike race. Notice the text advertising below the article and you’ll see why contextual advertising can sometimes be bad.

Lighttpd, mod_rewrite, url.rewrite and Error 404 Handlers

Categories: news — Tags: , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 19, 2008 : 4:19 pm

Alert: Total geek post.

Thought I would do a favor to anyone Googling for answers out there that might experience what I’ve run into the last day. Lighttpd is a relatively new webserver that I’ve picked over Apache, simply due to speed. Light does not handle .htaccess files however, which can post a major problem to developers familiar with the already arcane mod_rewrite, RewriteCond and RewriteRule voodoo that already goes on.

Many off-the-shell CMS packages like Joomla, WordPress and Drupal use URL friendly filenames to help with SEO. It turns URLS that look like:
http://www.coffee.net/index.php?id=52&page=2&content=article

Into the more readable:
http://www.coffee.net/article/51/2.html

This is most often achieved with the very simple .htaccess command of:

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule (.*) index.php

As mentioned earlier, lighttpd does not support .htaccess files or this mod_rewrite syntax. It uses url.rewrite and url.redirect instead for various common redirection and rewriting tasks.

Searching on Google, I came across various posts on how to achieve the same effect, some using mod_magnet with a combination and others simply having their error 404 handler take care of things. I didn’t want to do either of these, because:
1) Having gone the error handler route, the server will DROP (yes, drop) any GET requests sent. I’ve tested this in Apache initially as a shortcut to save some cpu cycles thinking that Apache’s error handler would be faster than mod_write examining the disk. It worked great until my entire CMS system failed completely and left me debugging the hell out of the system until I realized the GET vars were just being dropped. (For the curious, light works in the same way)
2) Mod_magnet and lua, while I’m sure work fine, look like more overhead on top of mod_rewrite already. I hate overhead. Like, a lot.

So, Googling around more, I found some nice clues. First was lighttpd’s very own configuration docs that mention two servers variables: $PHYSICAL["existing-path"] and $PHYSICAL["path"], both of which seemed to be promising as variables to indicate whether a URL requested is a file that exists on the system. Paydirt. Then I realized it requires light 1.5.0 and that I don’t yet have that installed. Poop. (Yes, I could simply upgrade, but having just got things working, I don’t want to risk destroying anything until AFTER I get everything solidified. Looks like we’ll have to do things the hard way.

Here’s the eventual code that I came up with do perform the similar feature:

url.rewrite = (
"^/reserved/(.*)$" => "$0",
"^/static.html" => "$0",
"^/.+\.(html)$" => "/index.php",
"^/(.+)/$" => "/index.php"
)

It’s short, sweet and leaves many lovely CPU cycles untouched vs some big regex monsters. Obviously, this specific code is made for Coffee.net’s own CMS, but it’s not hard to tweak it to your own desire. The first and second line is to set aside any special directories or filenames that you don’t want rewrite to process. The rest looks for .html or directory requests- which should be what your webserver is receiving if you’re using friendly URLs.

Of course, I’d prefer -f and -d anyday given it’s probably faster, but this will do for now (at least until I upgrade lighty to 1.5 and see if I can get the $PHYSICAL var to do some magic).

User Reviews, Coffee Store and What’s up with Seattle?

Categories: news,seattle — Tags: , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 3, 2008 : 4:58 pm

“When can we sign up and post restaurants reviews?”

Answer: One month. (I think.)

Now I understand all those programmer jokes about how to estimate a project deadline. For those who aren’t so geeky, the jokes often go along the lines of:

Estimated project time + 3 months
Multiply by 2
Add [age of boss x 2] days
Add [number of programmers on projects] months
Add [number of meetings] weeks
Get final total.

Take total and multiply again by 2 and you have the genuine project completion time.

So really, user logins should be done in about 18 months, apparently.

Seriously though, hopefully one-month is the timespan for user logins. There’s a few issues going in, namely 1) I have zero experience coding sessions 2) I understand they are a security vector 3) I am coding for a scalable, multi-server environment and 4) I’m supposed to be on vacation. Or as Dante from the movie Clerks would say, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”. For the PHP savvy, if you’re wondering why someone in this day and age would not have experience with sessions- let’s just say I knew of css, php and mysql about 7 months ago. It’s been a lot of firsts for many things this last year. I don’t think anything could be nearly as bad as the learning curve of IE and CSS, so I’m sure sessions will prove to be fairly standard.

While we’re on the topic of “things that need to be done”, the Coffee.net store is on that same to-do list. We’ve got lots of t-shirts, mugs and Black Gold DVDs that we want to put up for sale, but it’s just a bottleneck issue now. Paypal is the obvious choice, as it makes credit card processing temptingly easy by skipping the need for a merchant account, payment gateway and store. Not to mention, Paypal has the lion’s share of the electronic payment market, which would increase transactions simply due to familiarity. On the other hand, there are a few ethical issues that are of concern to us regarding Paypal. This leaves us with the possibly of Google Checkout or rolling our own solution (because we don’t have enough to do, apparently).

Speaking of not enough to do, the astute among you might realize that our Seattle directory is no longer pointing to our restaurant reviews. We’ve moved it to the (drum roll…) restaurants directory instead. It made more sense, though we had some search engine reasons for making it Seattle to begin with. Now in the Seattle directory, we’ve put in place a variety of articles in there as filler for now (at least we’re honest?). The long term idea however, is to make it a short and sweet Top Ten lists of things, places, restaurants, people to (do / see / eat/ meet) in Seattle. Some visitors like deeper topics like Bryan’s article on the homeless, while others might like a Top Ten List of Weird Ads in the Seattle Weekly. We here are Coffee.net are shameless is selling ourselves to the lowest common denominator (if it’s for a good cause).

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