Thursday, December 27, 2007

Peppermint Bark at Jefferson Street

Peppermint bark is better than it's bite. Jan made a tin of this for Christmas and Richard and I could have eaten it all ourselves. They also made a Buche de Noel which everyone enjoyed very much. Rand made a delicious corn side dish and we had Jan's
favorite lemon sorbet - the perfect end to a mid day meal.

Christmas at Jefferson Street was particularly enjoyable as the kids are all at the perfect age for gift giving. The floor was
littered with toys and kids were spread out everywhere assembling kits and trying out all the new gizmos. Kayla was absorbed
in her new portable play station but still found the time to switch to the more low-tech piano and serenade us with a few caroles, assisted by her little cousin Colette.

The street was all lit up and looked beautiful. On Christmas Eve a family of wind instrument players walked up the street
playing carols at various houses. It made the day perfect. To top it off, we went to dinner at Doug and Jan's favorite Italian restaurant which turned out to be a great find. Osso Bucco for $17.95 - and it was delicious.

Laurel and Hardy was the entertainment scheduled. Some of us watched the Music Box over several times, noting new things in the film with each viewing. A comedy classic, the duo is spectacularly funny moving a piano up a flight of very steep stairs over and over again, each time meeting with a new disaster which sends them with piano, back to the bottom.

We drove up and back and ran into traffic on the way home. It took us about 8 hours to get from San Ramon to home. The Grapevine was chugging along at the speed of 10 miles per hour.

I've never had a better Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kitty Chicken Soup

We have two new kittens in the household, Pink and Buster. Somali cats, they are lean and very smart. The breeder fed them a raw diet supplemented by something called Pro food. We converted them to Fancy Feast mixed with cooked chicken. They like the diet and eat voraciously - I think more than I do. The gobbling of food is amost desperate and I wonder sometimes if they are
getting enough so we continue to feed them until they are stupurous.

Buster is more aggressive and vigorous and probably gets the most food although when I watch them, Pink seems to be getting enough. Side benefit of cooking chickens is the wonderful broth which becomes our share. We add barley, anise and whatever veggies are lingering in the fridge. Kittie Chicken Soup!

The kittens are a source of great joy and amusement. The only unhappy entity here is Brini, the old Burmese cat, who is completely disgusted with her new living arrangement. She is spending much of her time in the bedroom closet, the rest, sitting on the dining room table, out of reach of her torturers.

Kitten Chickens

Two new Somali kittens have joined our household - Pink and Buster. Healthy little boys, their breeder had fed them a raw diet until we brought them home. She fed them raw chicken, a Pro diet and kibble or as it was called "cookies" at will.  Now they are getting cooked chicken, Fancy Feast cans and the same kibble. The cats eat what seems like tremendous amount. I think they eat more than I do. They're in a very fast growth stage.

Food has never seemed more delicious -  more succulent. When I put their plate on the floor,they leap on it and the whole world stops. They see nothing, hear nothing and cannot be dissuaded from consumption. Once they clean the plate, a stupor follows.

Buster is bigger than pink and more aggressive but I don't think he gets more to eat. Pink is persistent and seems to be getting his share. Meanwhile we are getting plenty of chicken soup. Every time I cook a chicken for them, we get the delicious broth and add whatever is leftover in the fridge. A bit of anise in the soup we've found helps the flavor.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sky High Meals

New airlines for this trip. We made our Northwest quotas in September and could now use up some of the frequent flyer miles. Against our better sense, we booked on China Southwest and although we had first class seats, prior experience filled us with doubt. Our premonitions seemed to be coming true when we got to the airport and couldn't even find the terminal. Richard and I split up - I went to park the car while he worked out ticket printing details with Northwest. Finally we found the right spot and went though the goat rope at LAX - a total mess. Our gate was located in a dimly lit area of the airport with the usual fine eye for decorating - wires hanging out of the ceiling and too few seats to accommodate the throngs.

The flight turned out to be wonderful. First Class was almost empty but even had it been full, we would still have been comfortable as the seats are well designed. Service was exceptional - after anyone used the toilet a flight attendant went in and checked it out to assure that all was well. Meal service was very good. After the meal, the cabin lights were dimmed and we were not disturbed for hours. A small bar was set up at the front of the plane with drinks and snacks on it that you could take as you wanted. The 16 hour flight was actually not bad - we slept, watched movies and were very comfortable. Much better than Northwest's business elite with narrow seats and OK service.

The Guangzhou airport was astonishing. Completed in 2004, everything is squeaky clean and efficient. We were met by a China Southwest attendant who walked us through customs and to baggage claim. Happily we found that there was an earlier flight to Vietnam and we didn't have to kill time in Guangzhou. 3 hours in the China Southwest lounge passed quickly - we checked email and walked around all the shops. The flight to Hanoi was on-time and we had a lost bag (with the diving equipment). The China Southwest baggage attendant took care of this quickly and later in the day our bag was delivered to the hotel. A very impressive airline experience.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chinese dinner in KL

We love the night market in the China Town in KL, along Petaling street. Although we only had a few hours in KL we planned our time so we could take the airport transfer train from our hotel, the Pan Pacific, downtown and then the "el one" stop for the market. We managed to get there by about four o'clock; did some serious watch shopping and then settled down to eat at the outdoor restaurant. Richard bought a couple of watches, his favorite shopping experience. I bought a Jimmy Chu bag for $50. They were asking over one hundred, but took my first offer at fifty so I probably got screwed but I expect that to happen. It's part of the fun.

For dinner, we had a tofu dish with ground pork, chicken with lemongrass and fried rice. We shared a large beer and it was all perfect - out on the street, energy crackling through the air, beer touts moving along the tables and the main restaurant touts standing out in front, waving people in. We recognized one of the touts from last time - he's fairly old and gray and squeezes a cigarette between two fingers, puffing away as he extolls the virtues of the restaurant.
 Night fell as we ate and the tempo at the market got more and more frenzied. There was hardly room to push along the aisles. Watch sellers were everywhere unlike last time we visited when we had to hunt them down. They had everything you have ever seen advertised, even the very latest watches, just released. After a post-dinner pass through the stands, we were exhausted, the food had kicked in and it was time to make our way back home. Next time in KL we'll do it again. 

"It ain't over until a big guy pulls a bus"

After the wedding feast in Hanoi, we heard that Dominique, a large, muscular member of the French-Canadian contingent was going to "pull a bus". "What?" Out we all trooped and sure enough, Dominique had his red kerchief tied around his head and was donning a chest brace. He spent some time hooking ropes up to the bus axle. Meanwhile, the cute little Vietnamese girls were all twittering and giggling, flirting with him and looking coy. The rest of us were all standing around still wondering, "What??"
After a few more minutes of preparation, Dominique braced himself and then as he was leaning way forward, almost parallel to the ground, the pink bus started to roll forward. By this time, some of the little Vietnamese girls were in the bus along with a few people who still did not get what was going on. Once the bus had some momentum, he kept pulling for about a hundred feet all to the shouts and cheers of the crowd. Later the groom came out and hooked up. He too, pulled it a few feet. Hugely macho, it was a decidedly masculine display appropriate for a wedding day. We heard later that there is a group of these friends who do pulling stunts to raise money for charity. Dominique it was said, had pulled a 747 on one occasion.  

Hanoi Surprise

Wandering around in Hanoi, waiting for the water puppet performance to start, we
were reading menus and peeking in restaurants, thinking about where to go to dine after the show. In one place, a woman was sitting at the front of the restaurant, and as we glanced over the bill of fare, she offered that it was the best restaurant in Hanoi - and she added that she could say this with authority because she'd been there for over a month. An American in her early thirties, she was in the city adopting a baby. Her little girl, Jade was 11 months old and she was getting ready at long last to take her home the next day.

Green Tangerine was a beautiful place, almost like an opera set and after the American woman's sincere endorsement, we gave the place a try. The restaurant is in a restored colonial building and is decorated with beautiful antiques, artifacts and art. The food is French with a Vietnamese twist - lemongrass, cilantro and tamarind among the flavors added to the basic rich French food. Were we pleasantly surprised! We ordered 5 starters and a dessert. The restaurant is very popular as they turned down about 10 parties while we were eating. Even though we arrived at 5:30 with a reservation we still had to eat in the patio as the dining room tables were all reserved.  The food was all served on glass plates of various sizes and shapes. Every appetizer lived up to its name and we were blown away by the inventive presentations. 

About halfway through our meal the American showed up this time with Jade in tow. We were able to get a peek at her pretty little face and wonder about her life ahead as an American.

Poverty Conference

When we checked in at the Raj in Colombo, Richard noticed on the "Events" board,  a
posting about a poverty conference. The Raj pretty will lives up to it's name in the context of
Sri Lanka and Colombo. It's a 5 star hotel with a grand lobby, comfortable rooms and some
upscale dining. 

Later at the buffet we saw a table of about 10 people wearing ID badges.  As they went back and forth to the buffet line with their flaming crepes, bouillabaise and pate plates,we could hear them talking about setting up lines of communication, sensitivity training and all the typical buzz words you'd expect from any such group. The view from the dining room looked out to the beautiful pool and landscaped grounds enabling the conference attendees to feast their eyes as well as their bellies while they wondered what the poor people were doing that night. 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Buffet Helper

After 10 days of buffets in Sri Lanka and Bandos Resort, we were starting to get acute buffet burn-out.

Night after night, a chicken roasted and slathered in sauce, appeared under a different AKA. Chicken Espagna, Chicken Veronique, Chicken Leona, Chicken Martinique. The sauces varied little and the naming was the most imaginative thing about the dishes. In Bandos, in particular, the desserts seemed a flop. They had wonderful names, like Mango Bavarois, Apricot Cake, Cheesecake and they were nicely garnished and presented- but they all tasted the same, like Cool Whip with a tiny bit of flavor - not related to the name. decided we should create a new shake-on seasoning called Buffet Helper. You couldn't sell it to a tourist on day one but about day eight, I would think they would leap on it with glee. The other big assist might be "Buffet glasses" that you don before walking the walk...a rose colored tint might help cast the whole affair in a better light.

Bandos had the worst food overall, but perhaps that's because we ate there four nights in a row. We recognized items from one days lunch tarted up and renamed for dinner - the carry-over was kind of fun, trying to figure out what the dish was in it's former life. The buffets all looked good, were kept neat and tidy and drinks service was prompt. Some of the nights the salads were quite good as were the vegetables. The native Maldivian food was good on at least one night, but mostly it was a sort of brown goo with an unpronouncable name.

At Elephant Reach in Tissa, we trudged in for dinner expecting the same dismal repast. Because the place is very small, we wondered how they would handle dinner. We were presented with a menu with three dinner choices: a chicken burger, grilled seek and a curry. Were we surprised when the first course appeared - a lovely soup with a basket of warm, freshly baked breads. The entrees were beautifully plated and the food was excellent: hot (as in right off the stove) and delicious. Looking at the plates, you'd think you were in a fancy downtown restaurant somewhere. It was heaven after the dejas vue buffet experiences.

Honky Tonky 2

Honky Tonky 2 in Negombo, Sri Lanka was a great place to eat. We stopped for a drink in the afternoon and were totally charmed by the funny menu. The proprietor has copied complimentary letters and used their backs (reverse side) to print the menu on. The Honky Tonky 2 is a "resturrant" and the menu is replete with this kind of mispelling which adds to the charm.

Skeptical of the rave reviews, we sat down later in the day and ordered dinner. I had the grilled shrimp with rice and we waited and waited and waited. I ordered a glass of red wine and it was just this side of vinegar...probably the worst red wine I've ever tasted. I had to go into the restaurant to find someone to bring us a large beer instead. When the entrees arrived, the shrimp was wonderful. The shrimp had been marinated and the rice was aptly named garlic rice. It was redolent with the stuff as well as minced onion and peppers, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. Beer was served in a styrofoam holder to keep it cold. We couldn't believe how good the shrimp and rice were.

While we were sitting there waiting for the meal (genius takes time), all manner of funny vehicles went by..tractors that looked like a long lawn mower fitted out with a cab and seat; a guy wearing a big cowboy hat riding a big black horse, a van selling "tasty food", the usual tricyclo's and cabs. A very old motorcycle pulled up and parked - it's rider was a trim German chap who ended up eating at HT2 along with a few other Germans. The area seems to be popular with Germans and Swiss.