Megnut

Travel

The more things change the more they change

While poking around online (actually trying to confirm the spelling of Buttner's, an old department store on Nantucket) I came across this New York Times article from 1989, Changing, Unchanging Nantucket, bemoaning the changing island. It's quaint in its complaints about the transformation, with notes like "[T]he tariff for motor vehicles had gone to $66.50 from $47.50 each way." It's $380 now. And the development and traffic and loss of stores on Main Street he catalogs are nothing compared to what I witnessed this summer. The stores that replaced the stores he misses have been replaced again by new stores -- the Benetton is long gone! And yet it's true, the mores and beaches are still the same. "There have been changes, but Nantucket remains a very special place indeed." Indeed.

Paris recap

Somehow Paris got suddenly hectic and I got tired and didn't have time to write anymore about our adventures so this is a final Paris recap post, probably in not particular order, with photos.

Ollie pretty much went to a playground every day and by the end of the trip I'd overhear him trying to speak French to the kids he was playing with. The last day in a playground in the Place des Voges some girls were playing some kind of tag game. They'd say something, I don't recall what, and tag each other. Ollie observed for a bit, then ran up to one girl, tagged her and said a close approximation of whatever they'd been saying. Then he ran off while I stood there kind of stunned. A few more weeks and that kid would be speaking French!

I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!

At one snack break Minna drank her first milkshake. She was sitting in my father's lap when she suddenly reached for his shake, pulled it towards her and then put her little mouth around the straw! Who knew she could do that?!

I ate steak tartare twice after never having it before in my life. I'd always thought it was just plain ground beef, but it's not, it's seasoned with mustard and capers and onions and it was so yummy. I'm craving it again and I think I'm going to have to make it myself here at home soon. We also ate a lot of macarons. Ollie's favorite was "brown", or chocolate, and he's very keen to make them at home.

I bought confit de petales de rose, a rose petal jelly, but haven't tried it yet. There are always such interesting jellies and jams, I just had to get a new one to try.

Ollie and I went on a carousel at the Tuileries. He wasn't so keen on it at first, so I rode along behind him and my father stood next to him. But after it was done he was converted and stayed on for a second ride. Hopefully he'll remember what fun it was the next time we see one.

And then he's off

Did I mention that Ollie is a running maniac? And that he probably ran half the time we were out on the streets? The nice thing is that each curb cut in Paris had a little bumpy mat in front of it, so he knew just where to stop at every corner.

And I'm sure there's a lot I'm forgetting, like how both kids were so good when we went out to eat. And how Ollie can climb really high on all kinds of equipment at the playground. And how traveling with kids is really great because everyone gets forced from their routine and you discover, "Hey, that routine wasn't so necessary after all!" And how fast it goes once you get there, after months of anticipation and talking about the trip with Ollie, suddenly it's over and we're home and all we have are our memories and photos of France 2010.

I've been drinking Nescafe Espresso on this trip and what I'm wondering is: how do they make that instant crema?! It's really authentic looking. Though not authentic enough to make "artte lart", which is what Ollie calls latte art. I will enjoy a proper cafe creme in Paris, but right now, being the first one up in the house and enjoying the babyless silence, this isn't too bad at all.

For those wanting to keep up from home, I've got a France 2010 Flickr set that I'll add to as our trip progresses. There are a few more from the other day, including Ollie's first swan. Though honestly, if you've seen a swan before, it's probably not that thrilling.

Day One in Paris

I can't decide if this picture of Ollie:

Serious Ollie

Or this one of Minna:

Argh! 'Tis yogurt I be eatin'

is a better memory of our first day in Paris. Either way, I love them both because both show the kids out and about at restaurants being really well behaved! Ollie waited so patiently for his chocolat chaud and only spilled a small amount of it over the course of many pourings of melted chocolate and steamed milk into his cup. And Minna was so hungry by the time we got to this restaurant but she gobbled her yogurt and smiled and was so pleasant. A miracle! Of course now that I've written about it we'll never have a decent meal out again. But at least we had Day One in Paris!

Toy boats at the Jardin du Luxembourg

Setting the Fish Boat off on its journey

Every visit to Paris, I watched little kids play with wooden sailboats in the duck pond at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Today Ollie and I rented our own little "fish boat" and spent an hour chasing it around the pond. It crashed into another boat and got entangled near the duck house. It heeled way over on its side and soaked the deck (no scuppers!). Once someone else pushed it away from the edge before Ollie got there with his long stick to give it a nudge.

Oh and that long stick! Ollie was a danger running everywhere with it, getting it stuck in the edge of a grate and almost pole vaulting into the air. But by the end he'd learned to keep it under control and was pretty good at getting his boat turned around and back into the big sea.

I can't recommend this enough if you've got kids in Paris. 2 Euros for 30 minutes of sheer pleasure in one of the most beautiful gardens anywhere. Every day in summer. Wed, Sat & Sun rest of the year. We got there around 11 AM and there were plenty of boats to choose from. When we passed back through in the afternoon around 3 PM, all the boats were sailing.

Day Three in Paris

Highlights include the Toy boats at the Jardin du Luxembourg. And the whole Jardin itself, so beautiful today as it finally warmed up and the sun shone while we were there. We also visited the Grande Epicerie De Paris where I got some rose petal jelly and fleur de sel from Madagascar, because a girl can never have enough salt!

Ollie very much wanted an ice cream, even passing up a big macaron at the Grande Epicerie saying he'd rather wait for ice cream. And wait he did, because when we got back to the ice cream spot we'd seen on our walk, it took 10 minutes before the guy was available to scoop Ollie's vanilla cone. And only 5 minutes later, as he was rounding a corner, a girl coming by on her razor scooter collided with him. He didn't get knocked down, and he valiantly held onto his cone. Alas the impact broke the top half off and all the ice cream ended up on the sidewalk! I almost cried, but he held it together and ate the cone as we walked home.

Our European Vacation

Ollie at the park

Our first full day in France near the Swiss border, we tried to go to CERN but it was closed so we drove to Annecy instead. I can't tell you too much about it because we ate crepes and then ran around in the park. Ollie found several treasures, including two feathers of undetermined bird origin and one pine cone. The weather has been uncooperative so far and though we've been told we're surrounded by snow covered Alps and Mont Blanc, there's been no sightings of anything more than verdant foothills. I've got more pictures to upload, including Ollie's first swan viewing and some French cows -- big hits both -- but the connection is a bit slow here. As you'd expect, cheese has been fantastic, bread excellent, and every morning we've had pain au chocolat for breakfast.

Tomorrow it's the TGV on to Paris and hopefully some warmer weather. If Ollie weren't having a blast here playing with all the new toys, I think he'd be excited for the train trip. But right now all he wants to do is play with a fork lift toy that says, "Back it up!" then beeps and reverses across the room. Oh France!

My year in travel

Following Jason's example and call to action with his The year in cities, I present my Year in Cities. Not surprisingly, it's a lot like his!

Etna, NH*
New York, NY*
Boston, MA*
Munich, Germany
San Diego, CA
Paris, France
San Francisco, CA
Orange, MA*
Blarney, Ireland
Ballylickey, Ireland
Waterville, Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
Ennis, Ireland
Nantucket, MA*
Woodstock, VT
Middlebury, VT
Rochester, VT
Las Vegas, NV
Waitsfield, VT*
Hong Kong*
Bangkok, Thailand
Saigon, Vietnam

Wow! Six countries, not including the US, and six states. Of the countries, four I'd never visited before (Ireland and the Asian countries). Of the states, I'd been to all before. Here's to even more countries and states in 2007!

In Hong Kong

Jason's got a post about our trip to Asia. I meant to link to this before we left but ran out of time. So now we're here in Hong Kong but I'd still love to hear any suggestions you may have for us while we're here. So if you have some for Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Saigon, go ahead and post to Jason's thread. Of course I am especially interested in food suggestions and places to get great authentic meals.

Hong Kong flat duck

Flat ducksOne of the great things about living in New York City is the access and exposure to so many varied cultures and cuisines. Unfortunately that means that upon traveling abroad, one's first reaction to walking the streets of Hong Kong and its markets is to turn to one's traveling companion and exclaim, "Hmm, this is a lot like Chinatown." Except in NYC Chinatown I haven't ever seen the flattened ducks shown in this picture. I couldn't tell if that was fat or skin or a combination of fat and skin surrounding the duck. Nor could I discover what one would do with a duck like this after purchase. Reconstitute in boiling water?

Jaded and shallow NYC Chinatown/Hong Kong comparisons aside, so far Hong Kong is hot! I was ready for winter in October, and now I'll really be ready for winter when we return. But the breeze along the ocean is cooling, the ferry trips across the open water choppy and fun, and the shopping opportunities amazing! Or they would be if we cared to shop, which we really don't. So today we're heading to one of the outlying islands for a more "authentic" experience. And hopefully some reconstituted flat duck dumplings! Or, you know, some great fresh seafood.

Out to Hong Kong's outlying islands

Boats in harborToday we took the ferry to Cheung Chau, "a picturesque island with a waterfront that bustles with activity." Only a thirty minute fast ferry ride from Central, Cheung Chau was indeed picturesque when we arrived. Fishing boats were moored along the water's edge. School children walked through the streets in their school uniforms. An old woman with a large straw hat placed small fish on a screen for drying. A man worked to repair very fine wisps of fishing net in the bow of his boat. And everywhere people biked to and fro, as the island has no cars. We disembarked with the enthusiasm of tourists ready for a new site. And then the heat nearly felled us.

Outside Pak Tai TempleMy God, but it was hot! The clouds that hung above the skyscrapers of Hong Kong were gone, and in their place was relentless blue. Within minutes we were sweating heavily, and all thoughts of renting bicycles to tour the island were forgotten. We shuffled down the main drag, taking note of possible lunch spots, then ducked into the shade of the Pak Tai Temple, where we lit incense for long life. We should have lit incense for cooling breezes instead!

At Tung Wan beachThen over to Tung Wan beach, which was littered with sea glass of all sizes and colors. I collected two green souvenirs as we walked its unshaded sandy length. Then it was back to the harbor-side of the island for lunch, but not before my sandal had a blow-out. On day two of a twenty-one day trip! Sandal blowoutLuckily, the blow-out didn't seem to effect the mechanics of the sandal whatsoever, and I walked along almost in more comfort than I had when it "worked" as we headed to lunch.

Shade and a checked tablecloth alongside the water's edge beckoned us to Hing Lok restaurant. Looking over the menu, we bemoaned our lack of gastronomic capacity. So many delicious choices, but an emulation of R.W. Apple's culinary adventures was not to be. Jason ordered fried noodles with soy sauce and pork, I ordered "salt and pepper shrimps" and a (what turned out to be quite large) Tsing Tao. As we waited for our food, a woman came out from the restaurant with a live lobster in her hand, its tail flipping and flapping, showing it to the table next to us for approval before cooking. Again I cursed our small bellies with room for only one item each! Secretly I hoped she'd show me a handful of shrimp, but it didn't happen.

Eating yummy shrimpsSoon they whisked a heaping platter of pink shrimp to me and I dug in. By "pepper" I think they meant hot pepper, and by "salt" I think they meant garlic, but no worries, these shrimp were delicious, and I decapitated, peeled, and consumed with relish! When we were finished, we strolled back to the ferry, content to return to its air-conditioned comfort and our return journey "home," a delightful--if slightly shortened--outing to the outlying islands complete.

Battle hairy crab

Scary hairy crabOr, Why I Won't Ever Try and Emulate R.W. Apple Again...

In preparation for this trip to Asia, I read various food recommendations over at the New York Times, including an article by Nina Simonds entitled
Hong Kong Reignites Fire Of China's Regional Cuisines. Praising the Shanghai-style restaurant Xiao Nan Guo (Little Southern Country), she wrote:

At Little Southern Country, hairy crab, plump with sweet meat and available only from May through December, was succulent. It was in a rich, reduced soy sauce glaze atop soft rice cakes, which absorbed the mellow sauce.

The tempting words Available only struck me, along with her glowing review, so Jason and I went last night for dinner. I will now admit I am not the eater I thought I was. It is sad but it is true.

First of all, why was I suckered by the Available only? May through December? That's eight months! That's like telling someone they need to come to Vermont to experience winter, "we only have it November through April!!!!" Second of all, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO EAT A CRAB!

This became apparent when they brought the plate to our table and there were two creepy sticky looking creatures. The waitress brought a cracker, but when I picked up the claw I discovered the dark covering was slimy (the hair, I guess) and I was repulsed. Then I noticed the top coming off the body and goo oozing out, and a minor wave of revulsion passed over me. I put down the claw and utensils and said to Jason, "I don't think I can eat this." He was all understanding, as he had no intention of eating it in the first place.

The soup dumplings were excellent though: the broth was lighter than in the US but still rich in flavor. I could have eaten an entire order myself. And Jason's "Grandma's pork belly" had crazy looking mushrooms that were delicious, and the pork was sweet and yummy too. So I didn't leave too hungry. Still, my culinary confidence has been shaken. Perhaps a trip to Alain Ducasse's Spoon is in order for this evening.

Related: How to... Eat Hairy Crabs.

Delicious portable beverage drinking

Those who know me in real life know that I don't drink much beyond water, coffee with soy milk, and wine. OK, and some juice (orange or V8) in the morning. But I usually stick to water throughout the day because I don't like all the sugary drinks we have in the US everywhere, like sodas, or juice drinks like Sobe that are still full of sugar. So yay! for Hong Kong, where I've found two yummy drinks while out and about to accompany my water guzzling.

Malted soy milkFirst is Malted Soy Milk, which boaz recommended in Jason's thread about our trip. I spotted it when we stopped for bread snacks near the Star Ferry. Since I love soy milk, and I love malted milk, I figured malted soy milk would be perfect for me. And it was! It was a tasty sweet little treat, and I plan to have it again.

MUJI cafe au laitThen yesterday we headed to Mong Kok to check out the MUJI, and boy what a MUJI! It had food (freeze-dried!) and drinks even! So after stocking up on MUJIlicious items like demitasse spoons, a 3D acrylic snowflake, a lovely eggplant-colored scarf, and some simple items of clothing, we topped off the basket with drinks! Jason got a fizzy apple juice, which I didn't try but he said was, "interesting." And I got this MUJI cafe au lait. It was amazingly tasty, and I gulped it down in about two seconds after leaving the store. MUJI, please come to NYC, and bring your delicious bounty of drinks with you!!!

The mango queen

Mango puddingJason has a nice write up of our tasty dim sum lunch yesterday at Spring Moon in the Peninsula Hotel, Soup dumplings, part 2. He mentions that I had mango pudding for dessert, which I did. And it was so yummy! I've turned into something of a mango fanatic this trip. When I lived in Mexico I tried many times to enjoy mangos, but I never did. And since that time (which admittedly was a long time ago!) I've never tried mangos again, until day one of the breakfast buffet at the hotel. But now I'm mango loco. I have a huge plate of them every morning. And when I read about mango pudding, I knew I'd have to try it.

I've never had mango pudding before, so I can't honestly say it's the best mango pudding in the world, as Arthur claims. But it was perfect, as perfect as I could imagine mango pudding to be. There were small chunks of mango mixed in with the lightly sweet creamy yellow pudding. The pudding was smooth and it captured that distinct tang of mango, so the aftertaste on the tongue was a feeling of being refreshed rather than drubbed by sugar. It encapsulated all that I love in a dessert: a sweet light finish to a meal rather than a sugary over-the-top "I'm so full now I'll burst" termination. I might have to have it again today. Apparently you can order it in the cafe in the lobby!

Mango mania ensues

After yesterday morning's post, I went on a mango splurge day, or as I'll forever remember it, "Day of Five Mango Happiness" (to give it a phony Chinese translation spin). First I had a huge plate of mangos for breakfast. Then at lunch we all shared two mango desserts (more on that meal to come). Then while walking around Soho we stopped at a mishmash snack stand -- mishmash because in addition to the Nepalese dumplings we had, they offered fish and chips, hamburgers, pizzas, and assorted other things -- where I had a mango lassi. Finally atop the Peak, we enjoyed ice cream cones, and what flavor did I order? MANGO! Mango ice cream rules, and when I get home to the USA and get an ice cream maker and find a good place to buy mangos, I'm going to make mango ice cream! Can I squeeze in six mangos today, our final day in Hong Kong? Is today perhaps "Mango Ultimate Happiness Day"?! We shall see, my friends, we shall see...

The joy of the morning swim

Morning swimThe hotel we're staying at in Kowloon has a lovely pool on its roof with views across the harbor to Hong Kong. And for whatever jet-lag-related reason I don't understand, we've been waking up around 6:30 AM every morning. So we've taken to heading to the pool for a nice morning swim. And it's lovely! I love swimming, and there's something especially nice about starting the morning that way [insert possible crazy explanation here about a new day being a rebirth and pool being like cozy womb, etc. etc. etc.]

Afterwards, we head downstairs for our complimentary morning breakfast buffet which is amazing. I've been eating a huge plate of tropical fruits every morning while I enjoy a nice strong cup of coffee and read the South China Morning Post. Looking across the water at the skyscrapers, watching the boats pass, enjoying my meal and my dining companion's company, it's been the nicest way to start the day of any vacation I can recall.

Adios Hong Kong

We're off tomorrow morning for Bangkok so two parting photos of buddhas for you from Hong Kong until I post again. First, from yesterday's walk along Hollywood Road in Hong Kong:

On the street in Hong Kong

Then a self-portrait from today's trip to Lantau Island to visit the Po Lin Monastery and its awesome Big Buddha:

Big Buddha

Learning to cook like a local

Though it was our first day in Bangkok, we dove right into the action by heading to the Baipai Cooking School for a half-day of Thai cooking classes. A friend of Jason's from Minneapolis recommended Baipai and I whole-heartedly second her recommendation! It was simply a wonderful experience.

As you can see on their web site, they offer five different schedules. I picked today because it featured my favorite Thai dish (at least favorite Thai dish eaten in America): fish cakes, or tod man pla, plus the old standby pad thai. The cooking school picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were donning our aprons and headed into the kitchen to learn how to cook Thai food!

Tab Tim Grobb, or Water Chestnuts in Coconut MilkOur first item was a dessert (because it had to chill) called tab tim grobb or "water chestnuts in coconut milk". Our translator and guide Mona told us it literally meant "crunchy ruby" in Thai due to the dessert's lovely red color and crispy texture. It was easy to prepare, and we learned how to prepare fresh coconut milk (see this photo of me using a traditional Thai "rabbit" for coconut grating). Grating and milking fresh coconut is very time consuming though, so unless I hire some prep cooks for my home kitchen, I'll be using the canned stuff.

Jason making Tod Man PlaNext we prepared tod man pla, aka Fish Cake or "Deep fried oily fish." The best part of making this was slapping the fish mixture into the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients. In this photo you can see Jason using his hands to mix it all together. No photos of the slapping, it required serious concentration to keep it from flying out of the bowl and splattering around the kitchen!

My tod man plaAfter we finished each dish, we took a break to sit down and eat it. We ate so much I was very full by the end of class. Here in the photo you can see my tod man pla. It was yummy! Also, I learned you can substitute other meats for the fish, like chicken or pork. I definitely plan to make this when I return home.

Ingredients for Tom Kah Gai soupAfter fish cakes, it was on to tom kah gai, or "chicken 'n galangal in coconut milk soup," another one of my favorites! I learned that this soup is all about the galangal, tom kah means "boiling galangal" and then you add gai (chicken) or some other meat or fish to it. Galangal is related to ginger and you can see it with the crazy stalks in this photo of all the ingredients for the soup.

My tom kah gaiHere's my completed tom kah gai at my station. One of the great things about this class was that we each had our own station. So after Nam and Mona demonstrated how to prepare each dish (and gave us a sample!), we went to our stations and did it ourselves. There's nothing like doing it yourself to really learn how to make something.

Guay Taew Pad ThaiOur final dish was the familiar "pad thai" or guay taew pad thai (noodle stir-fry Thai style). It, like everything we learned today, was straight-forward and simple. The complex flavors and depth of Thai food belie the ease with which it can be prepared, at least the dishes we learned today! In this photo you can see chef Nam -- having cooked the noodles until they absorbed all the liquid -- adding the eggs in the side of the wok. Once they're cooked, you fold the noodles back on top, and then incorporate the remaining ingredients. The result was the best pad thai I've ever tasted!

My guay taew pad thaiAfter we finished cooking our pad thai, we returned upstairs to eat it and to enjoy our now-chilled and ready to consume dessert of "crunchy ruby." And like that, our lovely class was over. :( I didn't even manage to take a single picture of the facilities or our gracious hostess/guide/translator Mona.

My tab tim grobb, or water chestnuts in coconut milkIt was a great class. Not only did I learn how to prepare some traditional Thai dishes, I also learned about new ingredients and I'm now inspired to incorporate some of the new flavors into the more traditional "American" dishes I like to prepare. And I can't wait to locate and buy Thai ingredients back home and recreate these meals again for dinner. My only wish? That I could go back every day for cooking classes at Baipai!

Details:
Baipai Cooking School
Bangkok, Thailand
http://www.baipai.com/

As of Nov. 15, 2005, half-day class was 1,400 baht, or ~US$34, including transportation to and from hotel

Thai massage and the worrier

Nearly everyone I've ever spoken to who's been to Thailand says, "Oh! When you go, you've got to get a Thai massage, they're AMAZING and like only five dollars!!!" So while we were in Hong Kong, as my feet swelled and hurt from so much walking and my backache strengthened from lugging my camera around all day, I told myself to be patient, to wait for Thai massage in Bangkok. All would be put right. Today we finally found a spot and asked for foot massage and Thai massage - nearly two hours of massage for 300 baht each, or ~US$7. You'd think I would have enjoyed it. You'd think I would be happy now. But no, if there's anyone who's such an over-thinker/worrier that she'd worry during a massage, that would be me!!

First, I've noticed I've been getting lots of little bruises on my arms and legs during the trip, which happens to me whenever I don't pay enough attention to what I'm eating. Plus I just bruise easily no matter what. So when the masseuse went to town on my feet and legs for the foot massage, all I could think was, "Oh no! I'm going to get more bruises!" This concern distracted me for quite some time, until she massaged near my kneecap, which prompted a string of "kneecap dislocation" scenarios in my brain, all ending with me in a strange Thai hospital having my kneecap re-located, while screaming in pain and trying to explain to Jason where I'd saved the electronic receipt for our travel health insurance on my laptop.

Then we moved from foot massage into another room for Thai massage. Again with the pain, again with my worries about bruises, until she started pushing and pulling my limbs. As she pressed the sides of my skull I thought about something I read once about how you can kill someone by pushing on the soft spot near their temple. What if she pushed there, by accident? How qualified was she, really, if they only charged $7?!

As she worked around the vertebrae of my neck, all I could think was: my neck is small! What if it's smaller than she realizes and she accidentally breaks it and I'm dead here on the mat while Jason is happily massaged and relaxed next door?! When she pulled my toe to crack it, I thought it might break. When she bent my back, I thought I'd pulled a stomach muscle. I was certain she'd torn my hamstring when she yanked me forward, but it managed to snap back into place when she released me. I just kept thinking about how I'd never run again, maybe never even walk! All because I was greedy for a Thai massage...

When it was over, she folded her hands and did a wai, a Thai bow, and thanked me. Amazingly I could still move. Even more amazingly, Jason was all smiles. "That was good," he said, as we made our way to the exit. I didn't say anything at all.

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