Thursday, May 2, 2019

Is This The Most Exclusive Chinese Restaurant in the Los Angeles Area?

Recently I encountered a reference to a Chinese restaurant named Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle House in San Marino.  I was puzzled because as one of a number of people who criss-cross the San Gabriel Valley to inventory the stock of Chinese restaurants I had never heard this name before.   A quick Google search provided the explanation--Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle House was the on-premises Chinese restaurant at the Huntington Library in San Marino, which in 2017 replaced the sorry, much maligned and seldom patronized Liu Fang Yuan Tea House in the Chinese Garden area of the Huntington.

What makes this restaurant exclusive, of course, is the fact that you have to pay the regular Huntington admission fee to dine here, which at $29 is a pretty steep price to pay for the privilege of eating dumplings and noodles.  Obviously Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle House can't compare on the exclusivity scale to Disneyland's high price invitation only Club 33, but as far as Chinese restaurants go, this severely restricts the number of people who can add this restaurant to their Excel schedule of the Chinese restaurants at which they have dined.

Of course, the real question is whether it's even worth adding Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle to the list, particularly given the previous disaster that Liu Fang Yuan Tea House was.  And in this regard, as the crowds at Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle indicate, it is decent enough to say that if you're visiting the Huntington you might as well eat here.  Not to say that Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle would make it as a stand alone restaurant outside the gates of the Huntington, putting aside the price tag of what you pay, but there is some decent stuff on the menu.

The highlight of the menu is their chicken congee, probably the best tasting and the most photogenic bowl of jook I have ever eaten.  However I haven't decided whether that combination justifies the $13 price tag for the dish.


Another winner was the spicy wontons--not as good as someplace like Din Tai Fung, but good enough to be part of an enjoyable meal at the Huntington.





No complaints either about the chicken dumplings in broth.




I guess under the broadest definition of Chinese food, these Tibetan momos would qualify, though Tibetans certainly wouldn't agree.




The spicy Hunan noodles with beef was a real clunker, though, and it cost $13 to boot.


Offhand I can't think of a more exclusive Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area.  We don't have anything like 8 Tables in San Francisco which has limited seating and costs $230 per person. Certainly there are no reviews of Freshwater Dumpling and Noodle House floating around. And a place that costs you $50 per person when you include admission, and you just get dumplings and noodles, sounds pretty exclusive to me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Filling A Hole In Our Cantonese Rotation

While I have written a number of times on the diminishing share that Cantonese restaurants have in the San Gabriel Valley and other Chinese American communities, the issue is really hitting close to home with the recent closure of Embassy Kitchen in San Gabriel, the seeming dinnertime downhill run by Longo Seafood in Rosemead, and seeds of a dropoff also at Seafood Palace in Monterey Park.  However, it looks like we have found a suitable casual Cantonese dining replacement in Jasmine House in Alhambra.  We were scared off by some negative early reviews, but some subsequent positive comment encouraged us to take a second look, and two more recent visits has made this the most likely candidate to replace the void in our rotation. 

Jasmine House is on the busy block on Main Street just west of Garfield, and at least on Saturday nights its half filled dining room pales compared to other restaurants on the block such as Boiling Crab, Road to Seoul and a few others, but we prefer Jasmine House by a wide margin.  The most impressive dish we've found so far is the awkwardly named French style fish.   In the past few years, a new dish swept onto Hong Kong style restaurant menus in Los Angeles called French style filet mignon, seemingly a variation of the Vietnamese shaking beef.  With its slightly spicy, deeply savory flavor,  usually presented on a bed of lettuce it's now a standard here in Los Angeles.  In recent years, a few Hong Kong style restaurants have added French style fish, French style shrimp and French style noodles to their menus.  These dishes are prepared with the same savory sauce as French style steak as well as the garnishing in French style steak.  Except that originally, the "French" in French style beef referred to cutting the meat into small, bite sized cubes, something which isn't done with French style shrimp, fish, or noodles.






A visually interesting and excellent dish was the fish tofu with baby bok choy.





Definitely not Cantonese but still very good was the cumin lamb.





Hong Kong style pork ribs are really just sweet and sour pork.





Not sure why they comped us half a Peking duck.  Maybe they have a bonus special we didn't know about, but it was the best free food I've had.





The crab meat fish maw soup was also excellent.

I should comment that there are still the higher end Cantonese dinner options in the SGV like Sea Harbour, Elite, Lunasia, China Red, King Hua, Happy Harbor and so on.  But as seems to be the case with much of the Chinese community (as indicated by the relatively sparse crowds at these restaurants on Saturday nights), we reserve these venues for special occasions and not for casual weekend dinners.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Launching Pad To Becoming An Accidental Expert on Chinese Restaurants

As Charley Lanyon wrote in his South China Morning Post weekend magazine cover story on me a few months ago, the fact that I have become a frequent writer on Chinese American restaurant topics (and as such a "Z" list celebrity) was wholly accidental.  Basically for over 30 years I had been minding my own business, eating at as many different Chinese restaurants as I could, in a not particularly discriminating manner, and at some point deciding it would be a good idea to list the name and address of each Chinese restaurant I had eaten at.  While the SCMP article said I created the list to ensure that I would never visit the same Chinese restaurant twice, that's not totally correct, since if that were an absolute rule I would never have a favorite Chinese restaurant.  What the article should have said was that I didn't want to inadvertently visit the same restaurant twice, though the fact is that the list of restaurants has gotten so long that I have indeed inadvertently eaten at the same place once or twice.

At the dawning of the Internet age, the only manner in which I put all this eating experience to use was to post frequently on the Chowhound message board on various Chinese food topics starting in the late 1990s.  As I have mentioned on occasion, my Chinese food writing career had been preceded four decades earlier by a career writing on Chinese-American historical topics like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the history of the Chinese in Los Angeles, at a time when there was no real academic research on the topic, and amateur historians like myself could write and speak about these topics because there were few, if any experts in the field.  However, eventually I no longer had the time to devote to Chinese American studies, aside from reading an occasional book on the topic, plus real academics finally stepped in to fill the void.  But with the advent of the Internet, and the fascination with an exciting new toy to play with, I typed "Chinese Los Angeles" in my Webcrawler (the dominant search engine of the day) to see what new information I might find, and that's how I found Chowhound.  After posting on Chowhound for over a dozen years, writer Clarissa Wei learned of my Chinese restaurant list chronicling thousands of Chinese restaurant visits, wrote her L.A. Weekly article on me and my list, and as the SCMP and other articles have related, the rest is history.

Of course many people have gone viral for a while, never to be heard from again, sort of the Internet manifestation of Andy Warhol's comment on everybody having 15 minutes of fame.  Meanwhile I've managed to plod along regularly writing articles and fielding occasional media requests.  I attribute this continued presence to the fact that I have traveled all over the country the past 20 plus years sampling Chinese food and visiting Chinese communities, giving me a broad national view of Chinese food in the United States.  But this wasn't always the case, as for the first 20 plus years my experiences were largely limited to Los Angeles, with occasional visits to other parts of the country, certainly not enough to give me any deep perspective on Chinese food in America.

As it turns out there is a specific event that marked the divide between my eating career, an event which appeared to be devastating at the time, but which in fact was the cause of my ability to reach a higher platform.  That event was the acquisition of the smaller, almost family like CPA firm  I worked at for 22 years, Kenneth Leventhal & Company, by the international giant Ernst & Young, a firm probably more than 20 times larger and an event that was traumatic for all of us involved.  Kenneth Leventhal was a Los Angeles based firm, and all of our department, regional and national meetings and training events were held within driving distance of the Los Angeles office.


Usually the meetings were in Los Angeles or Orange County, though if we were lucky we'd occasionally get to go to San Diego or Palm Springs.  In contrast, Ernst & Young was east coast based and our meetings were held in Dallas, Florida, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York and other locations around the United States. Suddenly I was making several trips a year to other cities.  For example, before the merger I had been to New York four times.  Since then I went almost 40 more times.

Those trips to New York enabled me to explore each of the city's seven Chinatowns, and trips to places like Dallas, Miami, Washington DC, Atlanta and Phoenix made it possible for me to discover suburban Chinese communities that most visitors were unaware of.  Plus in addition to seeing the immediate area of my meeting (like the cherry blossoms in Washington DC and Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting night and St. Patrick's Day in Manhattan) I could easily make side trips, such as from Dallas to Oklahoma City or Shreveport; Chicago to St. Louis, Champaign/Urbana and Iowa City; or Washington DC to Baltimore and Harrisburg.  The result of this national travel enabled me to familiarize myself with just about every Chinese American community and its food, and compare and contrast the food and the communities themselves.  Clearly this gave me a perspective that would be extremely difficult for someone to duplicate.  And rolled up with my past life writing and speaking about Chinese-American historical events, this has enabled me to develop my own unique perspective.  

So when Charley Lanyon referred to me as the "accidental expert" he didn't know that it was a compounding of two completely different events, over a decade and a half apart, that made me the accidental expert.
 
  


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Secrets of Fujianese American Restaurant Industry Go Public


My latest Menuism article carries the title "Why Are Chinese Restaurants So Similar."  However the title I gave the piece was "Secrets of Fujianese American Restaurant Industry Go Public."  While the titles are vastly different, the text is largely the same, with a small amount of editing consistent with the published title.  But the spin in the two titles is different.  The Menuism title emphasizes the result at the restaurant level of similar dishes and flavors at different restaurants.  On the other hand, my title emphasizes the new discovery of how the Fujianese-American restaurant industry is organized, with a single food supply company furnishing goods and services to over 3,000 mom and pop Chinese restaurants throughout the Southeastern U.S.  In the end the information contained is mostly the same, but the message is a tad bit different.  Here is my original article.


In the past quarter century, the growing influence of Fujianese American restaurants has been one of the major developments in Chinese dining in the United States. For the most part, most of this activity has been below the radar, away from the public eye, particularly since these events are attributable to the actions of literally thousands of mom and pop Fujianese restaurant operations, rather than involving a limited number of large players.

Fujianese immigrants have been flowing from China to a New York “mothership” since the late 1980s, and as we have written, has now reached the point where Fujianese dominate the Chinese restaurant industry east of the Mississippi river. From the Fujianese mothership in Manhattan Chinatown, Fujianese owned Chinese restaurants throughout the eastern United States are staffed via dozens of Manhattan Chinatown employment agencies, with newly hired workers ferried from Manhattan Chinatown by a system of independent bus lines to various points throughout the east, Midwest and south. This bus system is necessitated by the fact that a large portion of these Fujianese workers are illegally in the United States, and do not have the identification required for other modes of transportation. It also gives these workers incredible mobility in changing jobs—dissatisfied with your job in Orlando? Well, catch the Manhattan bound bus from Orlando, pop by one of the employment agencies in Manhattan Chinatown, and scarcely hours later be on a bus to your new job in St. Louis.

A general description of the Fujianese New York mothership was first publicized in 2001 in a New York Times article about Fujianese Chinatown.    While not focusing specifically on the Fujianese restaurant industry, it did introduce us to employment agencies, restaurant workers riding the bus lines, and Fujianese wedding banquets. Numerous subsequent articles in various publications have focused on the lives of individual itinerant Fujianese restaurant workers. We learn that Fujian restaurant workers are often housed in dormitories owned by their employer, that employees take turns as to who make the weekly Monday sojourn to Manhattan Chinatown to pick up supplies, and that some workers may change jobs (and job locations) several times in a month. But these articles provide little additional insight on the restaurant operations themselves.

The first clue that these Fujianese owned Chinese restaurants in the eastern United States were not exclusively a random aggregation of mom and pop operations appeared in two discussion threads a decade ago on the Chowhound message board.  One east coast observer noted that certain dishes appeared to be identically prepared at different Chinese restaurants in his area, while another eastern observer commented that some Chinese restaurants in his area appeared to have nearly identical menus. It is likely that neither observer was aware that their local Chinese restaurants were run by Fujianese immigrants, but message board responders caught on and raised the possibility that some kind of Fujianese organization was guiding these mom and pop operations in a manner promoting a degree of uniformity among these unrelated businesses. Some responders suggested that a mainstream food supply company like Sysco, or perhaps specialized Chinese food supply companies were providing ingredients to local restaurants. This led to a heated debate on the board as to whether small Chinese restaurants prepared all their dishes in-house, or whether they resorted to outside food suppliers.  In the end, with the lack of first hand knowledge, these discussions ended up unresolved, but certainly did plant the seed that there was some kind of guiding hand, be it some kind of cooperative organization or restaurant supply companies, helping the legions of Fujianese operated Chinese restaurants in the United States.

In the end, those who suggested that there were Fujianese businesses engaged in providing food supplies to small Fujianese operated Chinese restaurants were correct.   Interestingly, it has taken a financial news item to shed the light on the process. As you may know, except for the smallest businesses, most businesses in the US are operated in corporate or limited liability company form, for sound legal reasons. A small corporation may be owned by a single owner, or perhaps several family members, or two or more business associates. However, as a business grows it may have to bring in strangers as outside investors. And if it really becomes a large enterprise, its capital needs may result in the corporation selling stock to the general public in an initial public offering (IPO) registered with the US government’s Securities and Exchange Commission, and have its stock listed on NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange.

During 2018, there was such an IPO for a company called HF Food Group (NASDAQ—HFFG) out of Greensboro, North Carolina. A 20 year old man named Min Ni Zhou immigrated from Fujian to Manhattan in 1987, part of the early wave of Fujianese migrants. Starting at the bottom of the Chinese restaurant profession and working tirelessly and ambitiously, within four years of arriving in the US, Zhou owned a chain of eight Chinese restaurants and a catering business in the Southeast. Six years later in 1997, bedeviled by problems of procurement of supplies for his Chinese food operations, he established HF Food Group. Eventually, HF Food Group expanded into procuring Chinese food supplies for third party Chinese restaurants. At the time of the IPO, HF Foods had sales of $300 million with a customer base of 3,200 Chinese restaurants throughout 10 southeastern states, serviced by a fleet of over 100 refrigerated trucks. It operated warehouses in Greensboro, Ocala FL and Atlanta, and operated a 24 hour call center for its customers located in Fujian province. HF Foods’ filing documents also confirmed the dominance of Fujian restauranteurs within its trading area, estimating that over 80 percent of their customers were Fujianese.

Clearly H F Foods is the big dog in the Fujianese American Chinese restaurant supply sector. But H F Foods only operates in the Southeast, so are there similar companies in the Midwest and East? The H F Foods IPO filing does provide a couple of clues as to this question. One reason for H F Foods going public is to provide it the capital to expand its geographic footprint. In this regard, H F Foods refers to the general fragmentation of the Chinese restaurant food supply industry in the United States, and the need of H F Foods to make acquisitions of existing participants in the industry to expand its geographic footprint. This would lead to the conclusion that there are similar Fujianese operated Chinese food supply companies operating in the United States, but not nearly on the scale operated by H F Foods.  In any event, we are fortunate to have gotten this peek as to a major element of the Chinese restaurant industry in the United States.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Video Shoot Is Hard Work

I had a great video shoot today with Clarissa Wei, now Senior Reporter for Goldthread, the digital arm of Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post focusing on Chinese food, culture and travel.  As you may know, Clarissa is the writer who discovered me and my Chinese restaurant spreadsheet back in 2012 when she was writing for L.A. Weekly, and wanted to do a video interview in her current position and introducing/updating what I've been up to for her new audience. 

The overall theme was evolution of Chinese food in California and the United States, so the first location was Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant in Monterey Park, whose early 1990s opening probably marked the apex in large Hong Kong style seafood and dim sum palaces in the United States.  At this venue we discussed Chinese food in America through the end of the 20th century when Cantonese was by far still the dominant type of Chinese food here, and indeed for the first century of its existence, the rural Toishanese version was the only exemplar of Chinese food in the United States.  Then with the change of the immigration laws in the late 1960s, immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan brought more modern and appetizing versions of Chinese food to our shores.   We also discussed how the San Gabriel Valley was shaped to be the future home of Chinese American communities and Chinese food by the previous years of housing discrimination against minorities, including Asian Americans, and that new residential construction in Monterey Park co-incident with the Civil Rights movement provided an escape from the previous housing segregation.  We finished this segment by going through some of the Chinese restaurant menus I had collected over the years.

Next it was off to San Gabriel for some street scenes along Valley Blvd. and in the San Gabriel Square shopping center.  I gave some information about this shopping center and the adjacent centers on the next two blocks.  They then had me walk from Kee Wah Bakery to the corner, then cross the street to the center adjacent to the San Gabriel Hilton, all through that shopping center, then back across the street.  The entire time a cameraman was walking with me either fronting me or behind me, or sometimes on the side.  I can imagine what the people out on the sidewalk and in the shopping center might be thinking.  We then did the same walking routine through the first level of San Gabriel square.  Lastly then they told me to stand in front of a fountain and smile, while facing the cameraman who was not still, but kept walking side to side and back.  Then they had me slowly move my head and look at the different buildings in the mall.

Last stop was Bistro Na's in Temple City.  They put us in a private dining room that held a table for 15 people.  Whereas Ocean Star represented old 20th century Cantonese food, Bistro Na's represents today's non-Cantonese regional Chinese food, often operated by Mainland China based restaurant chains.  Clarissa pulled up my Chinese restaurant list on her laptop and we discussed some of the entries.  We then went to talk about the flip of Chinese dining from Cantonese to Mainland food over the past decade or so.  The video shoot finished showing me driving out of the Camellia Square parking lot.  What wasn't shown was that I had to go downstairs to the underground garage where I had parked, and drive up to surface level so they could shoot the final scene.

All in all, it was 5 1/2 hours on location, which when adding travel time to and from the San Gabriel Valley was a good 7 hour day.  I have to say that it was more draining and tiring that I had anticipated, but clearly it was also an enjoyable day, and I'll be interested to see what the final product looks like after the two month post-production period.

Friday, February 1, 2019

My Visit To Bistro Xia's (not Bistro Na's)

Chinese restaurant names have proven to be an interesting subject of their own.  There's my Menuism article listing some of my favorite Chinese restaurant names.  Then there was LA Times reporter Frank Shyong's personal blog article analyzing my Chinese restaurant listing for trends in Chinese restaurant names.  Separately there's the issue of Chinese restaurants often having a lack of respect for American concepts of trade name protection.  This has been most prominently demonstrated by names of famous Chinese restaurants in China and other parts of Asia being stolen by operators in the United States.  Examples of such thievery include the use of the names Little Sheep, Din Tai Fung, 85 Degrees, Hui Lai Shan and Crystal Jade, all of which were eventually stamped out when those real restaurant chains became aware of the situation.

Another example of the lack of trade name respect is the current use of names like Northern Cafe and Tasty Noodle House by different, unrelated owners in the Los Angeles area, as well as Dolan's Uyghur Cuisine by unrelated parties in Los Angeles and Washington DC.  And then there are nearly copycat names like the original Betelnut in San Francisco and the copycat Beatlenut in Miami.  Then there's the recent opening of Longo Seafood in Rosemead, which I can't help but think is appropriation of the Longo car dealership name (what does Longo have to do with anything Chinese)?  This was followed suspiciously soon after by New Century Lobster also opening up in Rosemead.  (New Century BMW is one of the premiere car dealerships in the San Gabriel Valley, though admittedly New Century is much more generic than Longo.)  I'm surprised that Apple Green Bistro is still operating in the shopping center directly across the street from the Apple II campus in Cupertino.  And oldtimers may remember after Chinese seafood restaurants called ABC, NBC and CBS became popular in Los Angeles, they were followed by CNN Seafood and also NBA Seafood, too.

One can only speculate as to whether the newly opened Bistro Xia’s deliberately copied Bistro Na’s name or not, though given the possessive “Xia’s”, I would suspect so. Of course the similarity ends there because Bistro Xia’s is located in a well worn shopping center in Alhambra, and it serves a combination of Xi’an style and Shanghai style food, mostly noodles, but also a few other items, such as big plate chicken and some off menu specialties. However, while Bistro Xia’s is no Bistro Na’s, our first meal there was quite impressive. Particularly noteworthy was the Shanghai style yellowfish potherb noodle soup, one of the most flavorful noodle soups (if not the actual best) I can recall eating. 

The broth was very distinctive, a combination of seaweed and unnamed herbs. The handmade noodles visually resembled western spaghettini but less dense. I asked the lady who runs the restaurant (easily distinguished by the maroon streaks in her hair) if it was a Shanghai or Shaanxi noodle, and she replied it was neither, but rather a creation of her own.

Our second dish was the Bistro Xia’s House Special Half Noodle Soup, called “half” because it was halfway between soupy and dry. Not as good as the yellowfish noodle soup, though I suspect if I had only eaten this dish I would have been quite impressed. Clearly there is bean paste in the sauce, but the lady claimed that it was only a small part of the concoction.

Obviously you can’t judge a restaurant on just two dishes, but this visit was definitely an impressive start.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Untold Story Behind My Profile Picture

So with the "10 Year Challenge" the current rage, I'm sitting this out since I haven't changed my profile picture lately.  While I haven't used the picture for 10 years, it's been up for a while, and I have no plans to change it in the near future.  In the years of  film photography I was a prolific photographer for decades, but for some reason in the past 20 years I've pretty much stopped taking pictures.  I will bring the camera out on a trip to a far flung place like Dubai, India or Australia, but even here I only take a fraction of a percentage of the pictures I would have taken in the past.  And yes, while I take food pictures to post on Twitter and Instagram, once posted I immediately remove  the pictures from my camera and camera roll.

Consequently when I needed a headshot when I started on social media a decade ago, I really had to scramble for an appropriate picture of me by myself, settling for a snapshot that my son had taken of me by the ocean near Ventura, when I moved him back to Los Angeles from the  Bay Area after he graduated at Stanford Law School.  That was my universal profile picture for a four year period from Facebook to Twitter to everything in between, including Linked In.  But using it on Linked In caught some flack when I was told that a picture of myself wearing a polo shirt by the Pacific Ocean was unprofessional.  So what to do?

This was right at the time that Frank Shyong wrote his Los Angeles Times Column One Front Page story about me.  That led to several follow ups by other media outlets, including ABC News which asked for pictures of me in or around Chinese restaurants.  Once again I had to scramble and my son found a shot he had taken of me outside of Seafood Village in Monterey Park, which ABC News and Yahoo News used in their story which made their daily rotating list of top current news items, and which stunned my friends and relatives who happened to click on to the ABC or Yahoo News homepages and saw me staring right back at them.  (One friend was spooked because she never went to the ABC  News site and the one time she just happened to go there, there I was.)


Then I was contacted by Channel 7's Sunrise television show in Sydney, self-proclaimed as the highest rated breakfast TV show in Australia, who wanted to do an interview with me.  No, they weren't going to fly me to Australia to the interview.  Rather they wanted me to go to their studio in a Century City office skyscraper (who knew?) to do a remote live interview with hosts Samantha Armytage and Andrew O'Keefe who were in Sydney.  They even provided me an advance list of questions they might ask, a far cry from any of the live interviews I had previously done.  

Due to the time differential, my interview was between 4pm and 5pm in Century City for their early morning next day broadcast.  I was ushered into a windowless and dark interior room, seated under bright lights in front of a blank screen, with a TV monitor in front of me.  I was told to smile and look straight into the TV camera.  The show was on commercial break but because I was on a live audio feed with Sydney I was told I would hear the hosts conversing off the air, and that I needed to be aware when the telecast resumed.  While the show was still on commercial break, I noticed that I could not avoid looking at the TV monitor, so I told the technician to turn it off.  When the show resumed we had a nice interview lasting several minutes, and while surprised they asked me some questions that were not on their advance listing, I was able to handle the surprise questions well enough since all my prior interviews had been unscripted.  When the interview ended, one of the technicians said that if I could wait a few minutes he'd give me a DVD of the broadcast.  I had thought that I might not ever see the broadcast, so I was very happy to get a copy on the spot.  (Ultimately the show was uploaded to YouTube, so I would have seen it anyway.)

When I got home, I popped the DVD in my computer and was utterly surprised to see that I was interviewed with the skyline of Los Angeles in the background, as seen from Mount Hollywood.  As I mentioned, I was actually interviewed in front of a blank screen, but it was a "green screen" which enabled other images to be remotely imposed on it.  The irony is that the view of downtown from Mount Hollywood is the same view I have from my house roughly a mile away,  except that I'm at a slightly lower elevation.  Indeed, people I know could have well presumed that I was being interviewed at home!  

As I watched the interview I wondered if I could get a screen capture of the video that would be good enough for me to use a profile picture.  Experimenting with the Windows Snipping Tool, I discovered that it was possible to grab a screen capture from video being played on the computer, so I took several "shots" this way, with the best one looking like this.

So now this is my standard profile picture.   Sometimes the picture gets distorted due to the oblong shape, as is the case here on Chandavkl's blog.  However for the most part the picture comes out fine, and it's hard to see me replacing this picture, given the way that it came about.