I’ve been drinking Nescafe Espresso…

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.

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!

Driving in Mexico

Everyone tells you (by which I mean "everyone" who is writing guidebooks and "telling" me by my reading of their guidebooks) how hairy it is to drive in Mexico. But in general the Yucatán isn't as bad as some other areas I've driven around in the country. Everywhere you drive you need to be on the lookout for a tope (pronounced "tow-pay"), or speed bump. In general you find them on the outskirts of towns and on the main drags through them. They come in various shapes and sizes, some consisting of little round metal dots, others raised platforms of concrete. Some times they're quite wide if they're doubling as a sort of pedestrian walk-way. But my favorite were some homemade-looking ones we spotted, especially along the Boca Paila Road south of Tulum. They were just several thick pieces of rope laying across the road in a clump. Whenever we spotted one, I could not resist referring to them as ropes ("row-pay") because, see, they were topes made of rope. Ha ha, get it? Good times like these were numerous on our honeymoon.

A bit of Maya history

While in Mexico, I'm hoping to do some traveling around to various historic sites. The Yucatan peninsula is filled with ruins and temples of the Maya civilization. When I lived near Mexico City I visited some Aztec/Toltec/Olmec ruins, but I've never been to this area of Mexico before, so I'm looking foward to it. The Wikipedia link above has a ton of information about the Maya, including this section about their Pyramids and temples. Between visiting such sites, some colonial cities, hanging on the beach, and sleeping, it should be a pretty busy visit.

Off on my honeymoon

I'm off on my honeymoon for a couple weeks, so posting will be limited to a small number of items I've scheduled in advance. Nothing major, though honestly this site hasn't seen major amounts of posting in some time! Hopefully that will change after the honeymoon. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves and I'll see you in a few with some travel tales and pictures. Hopefully.

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!

The SE Asia high low

I don't usually think of things in terms of "best" and "worst." Actually, that's untrue. I often say "best" or "worst" but I don't really mean it; everything's "best" with me whenever I have any regard for anything, prone as I am to exaggeration. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I usually don't do any kind of comparative judgment and actually mean it. But Mr. Noodlepie asked us during lunch one day in Saigon about some of the highs and lows of our trip, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

So now that I'm back, I thought I'd give a little high-low summary:

HONG KONG
Low: The crab dinner at the Shanghainese restaurant. I think it also qualifies as the low point of the entire trip for me.

High: Our visit to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island at the Po Lin Monastery, eating yummy salt and pepper shrimp on our trip to the outlying island of Cheung Chau.

BANGKOK
Low: A Friday walk to Chinatown. Most guidebooks and people will tell you that Bangkok isn't really a walking city, but we're stout walkers and we endeavored to walk as much as possible. One day that was nearly my undoing as we walked (for what seemed like forever) along exhaust-choked avenues filled with racing cars. At every intersection we had to deal with crossing the smoggy street with no crosswalks or in many cases street lights. By the time we reached our destination, I was ready to call it quits and head to the air-conditioned breathability of our hotel room.

High: A tie between our visit to Jim Thompson House and our Thai cooking class. Also high: the food in Bangkok, from street to fanciest hotel, it was amazing and delicious and I wish I had some right now! Bangkok was my favorite of the three cities we visited, and the cooking class probably was the highlight of the entire trip for me.

SAIGON
Low: There was no particular low in Saigon, though when Jason hit his head, "into a metal box hanging off of a pole" that was not so great.

High: Our day in the Mekong was really nice. Also all the yummy French food. Saigon didn't have the highs or lows of the other two cities. Perhaps I was more in the travel groove? Or perhaps I was more out of the travel groove and ready to come home? Not sure. I didn't enjoy Saigon quite as much as I'd expected to, though I have a feeling I'd like visiting the Vietnamese countryside, and some smaller cities like Hue. I would like to return and find out.

All in all, a good first trip to Asia. I look forward to going back another time, once the four-movie-watching looooooongness of the fifteen+ hour plane rides have faded from memory.

Home again home again

After nearly twenty-four hours of flying, we made it back. About half-way through the flight, Asia already seemed like another lifetime ago. Perhaps it was because I watched four movies on the plane (Bewitched, War of the Worlds, Cinderella Man, and Hustle & Flow) and slept a bunch as well. Hopefully a few more posts on the trip will trickle in and I need to go through my pictures as well. And now that I'm back on a routine with the writing here, I hope to keep it up. Ha, right. We'll see. Anyway, it's nice to be back home. I'm looking forward to eating a good old cheeseburger and fries.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing

For our Thanksgiving the other evening, we headed to Le Bordeaux in Ho Chi Minh Ville (I love that ville, all the French restaurants say that on their menu) for a special dinner. Once our taxi driver actually located the restaurant, things were very nice, if a bit more than I'd anticipated.

We started with a Champagne aperitif and enjoyed some kind of crab amuse in a spoon with dill and a mayonnaise-life creaminess holding the chunks of firm crab together. For my appetizer, I ordered a "Foie Gras Three Ways" (which Jason, ha ha ha, called "ménage à foie"). There was a slice of terrine, a poached sliver, and then a crisply seared chunk. Each was nearly the size of a typical order of foie gras, so when they put the plate down before me, I was both overjoyed and a bit overwhelmed. It was a lot of foie, but it was delicious! My favorite was the seared piece. It had a wonderful crust on the outside but was cooked just enough so that the interior maintained its firm texture. It was the least transformed or adulterated of the three preparations and so its true flavor was most evident. And being a liver lover, I appreciate that!

For my main course, I had a magret de canard with an orange sauce that was sort of marmaladey. And what did I spy atop the beautiful fanned presentation of tasty duck breast? Mon dieu! It was another chunk of crispy seared foie gras! It was delicious, but by the end of the meal (I could only eat half of the duck, and the owner came to ask if everything was OK with the duck when they saw how much I sent back to the kitchen!) I couldn't help but wonder: is there such a thing as too much foie gras?

I love foie gras but it's so rich. Moreover, it's so special. For me it's a few-times-a-year indulgence, and something I really look forward to. Each bite is a nibble of magic. Eating that much at once caused some of its magic to diminish, as if I'd exceeded the foie gras limit. Because I believe for everything, even the yummiest most delicious amazing foods, there is a limit. Six oysters is perfect for me. 18 would not be. Two glass of Champagne is about enough. Three or four glasses and something is lost. A nice chunk of foie gras is just right, and I don't need three.

It reminds me of Thomas Keller's philosophy and the diminishing returns one gets upon successive bites of the same food. The tongue fails to distinguish; the Champagne's bubbles blur or a BBQ pork's tang recedes. Eventually it's just another sip of liquid or bite of liver. And I don't ever want to feel that jaded about anything I eat, be it foie gras or liverwurst. There's a magic that happens when we put tasty food in our mouths, and I don't intend to lose it.

It was in many respects the perfect Thanksgiving dinner: I was stuffed, yet appreciative of what I had. I was thankful for being able to make this trip to Asia; thankful for being able to eat such great food not only on Thanksgiving, but during the entire adventure; and thankful for being able to share it, not just with Jason, but with everyone reading along at home.