Library Fun

Libraries are not typically associated with fun.  You’re supposed to be quiet, you’re not allowed to run, and those who are too boisterous are asked to leave.  Patrons sit quietly, don’t smile much, and are generally engrossed in their own interests.

But I say that libraries are fun.  First, they’re free!  Totally!  Free books, free ebooks, free computers, free database access, free classes, free one-on-one consultations with educated, experienced reference librarians.  Free is fun!  Yes, sure, you pay property (or whatever flavor your community uses) taxes to support your library, but it feels free.  And what’s not fun about free?

It’s also quiet – and though we usually associate fun with loud and boisterous, it’s hard to find quiet in our increasingly crowded and industrialized world.  Sanctuary from noise isn’t obviously fun, but it can be.  I think it’s quietly fun to put on your library face:  serious, calm, studious.  Walk slowly, look as if you’re deeply engaged in serious thoughts – then make faces at all the little kids, and smile at everyone who makes eye contact.

You can browse – and Google and other electronic search engines have sucked a lot of browsing out of our lives.  I admit I was very sad the day that Michigan State University retired the library’s card catalogs – thumbing your way through the cards always popped up unexpected and interesting finds.  Modern electronic searches rarely yield that sort of off-topic surprise, and the demise of the card catalog took a little bit of mystery, a little bit of magic, out of the world forever.  I’ve never heard anyone talk about how they google for giggles, but walking around the library in a section you rarely enter can be quiet library-style fun.

But the best fun in a library is hobnobbing with the librarians.  Just as we don’t see libraries as particularly fun, librarians are seen as almost the antithesis of a fun person.  Which is so wrong.  Librarians are a hoot!  Underneath their mild-mannered exterior, their button-down, soft-spoken, hair-in-a-bun stereotypical appearance lives a bunch of wild men (and women).  Okay, it’s usually expressed in quiet, dry wit rather than dancing at the party with a lampshade on the head, but some really (quiet, calm) fun can be had with library staff.

Because they’re cool people, and they’re also really bored.  Not all the time, not all of them, but the electronic scourge has hit them hard.  My library (Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, OH) is truly world class, having been awarded #1 Library in the US and Library of the Year awards in the 6 years I’ve been here, but, despite the incredible facilities and awesome staff (and they are), most people don’t interact much with the librarians.  They’re too busy using the computers, or searching for books on the computers – heck, they even check out books using a computer!

So librarians are just itching to have fun.  Many of them went to school and got a very difficult degree (library science is tough), and now they spend their days reshelving and diddling on a computer.  These people live to help people find out what they want to know, and most of us ask Google instead.  So, go have fun with one!  Ask a really esoteric question that you’ve always wanted to know the answer to:  “What is the meaning of life?”  “How long does it take light to travel from the center of the sun to the Earth?” (the answer will shock you) “Do dating sites actually work?”  You’ll see – librarians are fun.

In fact, why not ask them about library fun?  You may be in for a surprise.

Fun With Food II: This IS the Huy Fong Sambal Badjak

The holly daze got in the way, and then a case of the flux – the grippe – the ick – the flu, caught from one of my grandkids (grandnephew Winston or grandson Julian), knocked me off the office chair and flat on my back.  So it was with little hope that I went back to Saraga International Market to look for red jalapeños, knowing that they’re seasonal.  But it seems that recreating Huy Fong‘s Sambal Badjak was destined to be – right inside the door they had jalapeños on sale for 79¢/lb, and red jalapeños for just 10¢ more.  Yay!  BTW,  check out the Sambal Badjak link – despite the fact that Huy Fong doesn’t make Badjak any more, they still have a brief page on it with an image of the old bottle.

I’d forgotten that I used empty Huy Fong Sambal bottles to store nuts & bolts when I made my first try (see Fun with Food I), and tried to get the ingredient list off from Huy Fong.  Here is the first reply:

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your interest in our products! We strive to make the best sauces using quality ingredients in every bottle.

In regards to your email, we do not produce the Sambal Badjak. If you are interested in purchasing, you will need to purchase through a distributor.

Again, thank you for your inquiry. If you have any further questions or comments please do not hesitate to e-mail us.


Customer Service

I wrote again, a simpler, shorter email that just asked for the ingredient list.  In reply:

…In regards to your email, we no longer produce that product so we do not have any information we can help them for you. We are sorry for any unconvenience.  Thank you for the comments and support…

I must say that I felt unconvenienced, though I did love that email.  I looked on the web for an image that was good enough to read the ingredient list – no joy.  Finally I remembered the nuts & bolts storage, and found an old bottle of Sambal Badjak.  Here’s the ingredient list:

Huy Fong Sambal Badjak Ingredients:

  • Chili
  • Distilled Vinegar
  • Soy Oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Shrimp Paste
  • Potassium Sorbate
  • Sodium Bisulfite
  • Preservatives

Wow!  No nuts, no coconut, and, if the ingredient list was in order from most to least by weight, less onion and garlic than sugar and salt!  Surprising, but in some ways not so surprising for a commercial product.  So I decided I’d do something similar:

The Ransom Recipe for Huy Fong Sambal Badjak, v. 2.0

Sambal Badjak ingredients
The ingredients for the second attempt at Badjak
  • 30 roasted red jalapeños (about 1 1/2 lb)
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy oil
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 3 tbsp light Kikkoman soy
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 12 big cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp fermented shrimp paste
  • 1 tbsp tamarind
  • water
  • 1 tsp dried lemon grass (Penzey’s)
  • 2 tsp dried galangal (Penzey’s)

As suggested by Jeff in his response to my Fun with Food I post, I roasted the jalapeños, using my Cajun Cooker (a simple gas jet – works like a charm!).

Scorching jalapeños on the Cajun Cooker
Scorching the peppers on my Cajun Cooker – 10 seconds!
Scorched jalapeños
The jalapeños after a scorchin’

Everything got blended together except for the oil, shrimp paste, tamarind, and spices.

Blended ingredients
Blended ingredients – enough water added to permit blending
Start of cooking
Blended ingredients added to hot oil at start of cooking

I brought the oil up to medium hot, added the blended ingredients, and after the mixture started poppin’, reduced heat to a low simmer.

Sambal cooking
The Sambal after an hour of cooking.

After it cooked for about an hour with stirring, I added the rest of the ingredients (shrimp paste, tamarind, spices).  I continued to cook the sambal all afternoon, adding water regularly to prevent it from thickening too much and sticking.

The Sambal Badjak the next day
The Sambal Badjak the next day

That evening I turned off the heat and let the sambal sit overnight on the stove.  In the morning it was just about what I remembered from the old Huy Fong Sambal Badjak:  brown with beautiful ruby red oil separated out.

Spooning up the Sambal
Spooning up the finished Sambal – you can really see the consistency in this shot
Loading a Huy Fong bottle with Badjak
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!
Spoonful of Sambal Badjak
Wouldn’t you like to just gooble it up?

Here’s a few notes on the cooking:  The red wine vinegar smelled like a mistake at first, it gave off a lot of acetic acid and a definite red wine aroma that I feared would dominate the sauce.  However, that character almost completely boiled off, though next time I’m going to switch to distilled white vinegar.

The consistency, color, amount of oil, color of oil, sweetness, and heat are all – as well as I can remember – spot on!  I might add more oil next time (say 3/4 cup) because the oil is really delightful.  The galangal is a dominant flavor of the finished sauce, so next time I may reduce or even eliminate it – and if you’re trying to faithfully recreate the sauce, I would definitely not include it – but it gives the sambal great flavor.  I really like it.

In general, despite the fact that I largely guessed the amounts, this came out amazingly close to the original.  If you loved the Huy Fong Sambal Badjak, I think this is it!  I’m going out to Saraga tomorrow to get more peppers . . .