Sunday, July 29, 2007

The honeymoon is over

After 329 days on the go, and with over 31,000 miles under our belts, we have returned to northern Michigan, where we started our journey around the globe. We've laughed; we've cried. We've gotten drunk and shaved our heads (actually, that was just Tam). We've made friends from all over the world and come to understand the implications of the International Dateline. How could we ever begin to quantify or summarize our many exciting adventures? Some people make lists:
  • Blog posts: 95
  • Countries visited: 12
  • Cities / locales in which we spent at least one night: 39
  • Languages in which we learned to say hello and thank you: 5 (including English, from "G'Day" to "Cheers")
  • Number of times we were transported by the following means of conveyance:
    Airplane: 16
    Boat: 12
    Bus (for intercity travel): 19
    Bicycle: 2
    Rental vehicles: 3
    Taxi: Too many to count, but including one really memorable moonlit trip along the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula and our first foray into travel by stretch limo on our approach to Waikiki
    Train (for intercity travel): 20
    Tuk-tuk: 2
  • Pictures taken: 1, 294
  • Postcards sent: 54
  • World Heritage Sites visited: 26
All year, we've used our humble blog to report on the yummy treats we've enjoyed on our trip around the world, but we thought we also ought to share some of the perspective we've gained - and resolutions we're hoping to follow now that we're home - especially with regard to food.

First, we've resolved to eat more seasonally. The best part about our time in Israel was shopping for food almost exclusively at the Mahaneh Yehuda market, where, for instance, strawberries were evident in abundance and sold for a pittance for a couple of weeks, then replaced by cherries when the new harvest began. In Thailand, people use fruits and vegetables picked that day in the street food with which we were so enamored. Even in England, where the climate doesn't lend itself to the production of delicious produce in January, gastropubs hunker down in the winter with parsnip purees and soups of celeriac, eschewing fruits and vegetables imported from warmer climes.

This leads to another vow of ours - to eat locally, something done by necessity in most of the poorer countries we've visited but often hard to accomplish in the United States, where the average grocery store food item has traveled 1,500 miles to reach your plate and a peach grown in California is cheaper to buy than one grown down the road. Of course, the issue of “food miles” has received a lot of attention lately, not least in the form of books recounting experiences of eating totally locally for extended periods of time. The truth is, we're unlikely to stop using flour milled from imported wheat or sugar grown in the Caribbean; but we are going to make every attempt to buy produce and meat grown and raised reasonably close to our house. The environmental impact is tremendous, but there's a culinary one as well; the locally-grown, fresh parsnip is likely to make a more satisfying winter meal than the aged Californian avocado, with a little of the ingenuity that cooks in other nations display to a much greater degree than we Americans who are used to having oranges (however desiccated) whenever the desire strikes. So, inspired by rural France, urban Malaysia and even the corner pub in Hammersmith, we have resolved to sharpen our knives and ignore the temptations of mangoes in Connecticut.

We’ll be spending the rest of the summer gorging on cherries and peaches in northern Michigan. In a few weeks, it’s back to our little corner of New England in time for the first apples (and maybe, just maybe, the last lobsters) of the season. We may share a few new recipes, travel experiences and totem pole updates in the coming months, and we’re hoping that the memories of warming winter stews, street-side satay sticks and humble plates of hummus will sustain us and inspire our cooking as we try to apply the lessons of a year abroad to life at home. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Get out your adze

Since we left the States last September, Tam has been snapping shots of the (sometimes totemic) sculptures we've seen in our travels. Most of these photos have made appearances in this space before, but never all together or in a nifty embedded slideshow ...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two days on an isthmus

On our last official stop before returning to northern Michigan, we spent a couple of days in Madison: state capital and county seat; home to the mighty Badgers of the University of Wisconsin and the best farmers' market in the US; and, if that weren't enough, a hotbed of pinko commie liberal politics. On our visit, we were treated to some great local beers, an outdoor concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and a basket of fried cheese curds, all at the same time. What a magical place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back in the USA

After an overnight layover in Auckland, New Zealand, we touched down unscathed and set our weary feet on American soil for the first time in nearly eleven months in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. We are going to have some re-acclimating to do.

Our hotel in Waikiki (where we got upgraded to an "executive" room - the only explanation being that the check-in lady pitied us, in our torn, travel-stained garb) was just steps away from the beach, where we splashed in the surf and sipped startlingly delicious guava juice under a centuries-old banyan tree at the Moana. Not too shabby.

The next morning, we caught a plane to the Big Island (Hawaii), where we visited with friends and played astronaut on the lunar landscape of the Kilauea caldera in Volcano National Park, where the air smells of sulfur (not unpleasant to a sinner, as Mr Clemens remarked) and steam rises ominously from cracks in the ground. (The sky, too, was looking ominous, as tropical depression Cosme blew closer to the island. Thankfully, we were not washed away.)

After a morning of guessing at the provenance of tropical fruits at the the Hilo Farmers Market, we split up the coast to Waimea for a day of splashing at Hapuna Beach (sustained by surprisingly delicious beach-side fish tacos), a sunset stroll on the coral and lava-rock coast at Waikoloa, and a dinner of locally sourced mahi mahi, amberjack and kalua pork (the little piggy is salted, wrapped in banana or ti plant leaves and slow cooked in an imu, an underground oven, to produce a delicious shredded meat reminiscent of Southern pulled pork barbeque).

Back to the south, we visited the black sand beaches at Punalu'u (supposedly the hangout of outlaws and Witness Protection Program participants, but also famous for its population of huge sea turtles) and Rainbow Falls near Hilo, and sampled some local grass feed beef and poke (raw ahi marinated in spices and tossed with green onion and sesame). We are not ready to leave for the mainland, but we must heed the call!

More pictures of our exciting (and all-too-short!) adventures in Hawaii are available here:
Belated birthday wishes to Uncle Gary!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Freezing here in the south

On our way from Sydney to Melbourne, we stopped in Canberra, notable as Australia's national capital and the city where Laura made her first appearance in the world. She was, by all accounts, a beautiful child, well mannered and a joy to behold. The city of Canberra, on the other hand, is a total bore. Onward!

We found Melbourne to have considerably more character, with lots of hip bars and cafes. On Saturday morning, we hit the Queen Victoria Market, where foodies from all over the city come to do their weekly grocery shopping. It's a fabulously multicultural affair with local meats, produce and prepared foods of every description from every culinary tradition imaginable. We grazed on chargrilled artichokes and tiny Italian pancakes served with fresh berries and cream and dreamt of having a market like this back home.

On our last full day Down Under, we took a tasting tour of four vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Rather than the Chardonnay or Shiraz for which Australia is best known, this cool climate growing area is a source for fine Pinot Noir and an outpost of Domaine Chandon, where they make sparkling wine according to the traditional French m├ęthode champagnoise. Who would have thought that a nice brut would pair so well with a vegemite sandwich?

More pictures of our adventures in Canberra and our exciting adventures in Melbourne are available here:

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Strange things are afoot at the Circular Quay

Yeah, we know, we promised: no more pictures of that captivating and photogenic structure that dominates the Sydney skyline ... We've seen the Opera House from every angle and at every time of day. We've seen it from the ferry, from the Harbour Bridge, from Taronga Zoo and from Campbell's Cove. We toured it from the inside on the Fourth of July, when we went to see the Barber of Seville and earlier that afternoon, we gazed at it from a restaurant at the end of the wharfs of the Circular Quay (coincidentally called Rossini, and home to the most wonderful panzerotto, a donut filled with cinnamon-scented sweet ricotta cheese).

But we haven't spent all of our time in Sydney standing agog at the foot of this architectural wonder. Oh no! We've also walked among the fishes at the aquarium at Darling Harbour. We've spent lovely afternoons strolling the beaches and watching the surfers at Manly and Bondi. We've toured the Rocks and shopped the Paddington markets. We've visited the impressive collection of modern Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We've sipped a few beers at a few charming pubs and thrown back some extra-schmancy cocktails at the Victoria Room in Darlinghurst. We've had coffee - really excellent coffee.

And we've been careful to stay well fed. On our very first night in Sydney, we supped at the hip little trattoria across the street from our flat, feasting on calamari Sant'Andrea; a light, creamy al dente risotto; a fork-tender braised pork ragout; and a pair of exquisite cheeses, all from a blackboard menu scribbled in Italian. Over the weekend, we lunched at a speakeasy overlooking the Campbell Parade and Bondi beach. The tasting menu included a sweet, babaganoush-y grilled eggplant dip; a well-balanced rocket salad with dried cranberries, cashews and radish; more calamari (it's a thing); and grilled kangaroo (!) on a bed of creamy mashed sweet potato.

All told, we've been having a really excellent time. It's weird, though, to be so far (nearly ten thousand miles) from home and to find ourselves in a culture that seems so familiar. Still, it's an awfully pretty country.

We're off to points (further) south; more pictures of our exciting adventures in Sydney (and surrounds) are available here:

Friday, June 29, 2007

Meat pies & the Opera House

Philadelphia has cheese steaks. New York has soft pretzels and pizza-by-the-slice. Chicago has hot dogs. New Orleans has po-boys (and Dino's pizza, but only for the truly initiated). New Haven (our fair city) has hamburgers at Louis Lunch. London has curry. Dublin has fish-n-chips. Oxford has those sketchy kebab vans. Cairo has kushari. Bangkok has satay. And who can count how many shwarma and falafel stands we've seen in the past several months?

In Sydney, there are meat pies. We've only been in the Gateway to Australia for twenty-four hours and already our modest perambulations have revealed numerous pie stands, where hungry Sydneysiders can stop for a quick bite after a couple of pints. The most famous one on the continent, Harry's Cafe de Wheels, dates from 1945. We sampled the house specialty known as the Tiger, a "floater" or stack of beef pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy, all meant to be gulped down while admiring the view at the end of the Wharf Woolloomooloo. The floater is probably not going to take the world of haute cuisine by storm any time soon, but Laura would like to state for the record that she thinks mushy peas are an underappreciated menu item.

With our appetites sated, we rounded the Domain towards Farm Cove, for our first encounter with the trademark scene of the hemisphere. The Sydney Opera House has just been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and is looking even shinier and grander than usual. (Incidentally, the Opera House - billing itself as "the Wonder Down Under" - is also vying for nomination to the list of the new seven wonders of the world, as are some other sites we've visited this year, including the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids at Giza, and Petra. Get your votes in now!)

We hereby pledge that we will not, in the coming days, fill this humble space with picture after picture of Sydney Harbour, but man, it's a beautiful city.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Flat III

We're subletting a one-bedroom flat in the Potts Point area of Sydney for the next couple of weeks. It's fine, complete with a small kitchen for deep-frying wallabies or whatever, but the beauty part is the view to Elizabeth Bay:

G'day mate!

Well, our readers will no doubt be relieved to hear that we are alive and well (if exhausted)and in Sydney, Australia, after a five day camping expedition in Far North Queensland and a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Our itinerary for the past several weeks had the ultimate aim of getting us deep into the Outback in time for a three-day Aboriginal Dance and Cultural Festival this past weekend. After a seven-hour overnight flight from Singapore and a five-and-a-half-hour drive (in an enormous campervan on the wrong side of the road!) north along the rainforest-edged coastline, we made it to Laura (not the person, the town where the festival was held) just as the sun was setting.

Once we'd gotten our fill of didgeridoo playing (as you do) and reluctantly come to terms with the fact that there would be neither waltzing nor dancers named Matilda, we drove back down south to the Atherton Tablelands, for some more rainforest trekking Ozzie-style. We spotted a number of waterfalls, a couple of platypi and a truly impressive fig tree, but alas no roos (woe) and thankfully no crocs (yay).

Truth be told, this was no culinary adventure - witchetty grubs were not on offer and we subsisted mostly on sandwiches and canned soup - but in Yungaburra we did enjoy one elegant meal of redclaw yabbies (crayfish, for those from Up Over) and sweet potato gnocchi, roasted pumpkin and avocado salad, and local roast beef with watercress, all washed down with an excellent Tasmanian Pinot Noir. It was our first anniversary, after all. One thing we have learned: the Ozzies love coffee (there are several plantations in Northern Queensland). At the dance festival, you could get a cappuccino but not a hot shower. We're still learning how to order (there's a whole independent system - "flat white" means coffee with milk, "short black" means espresso, etc.), but in the meantime, we're sucking down lattes like they're going out of style. (Which, of course, they are. Trends are circular; they ebb and flow; nothing is permanent; the moment is fleeting; carpe diem and so on.)

Our last adventure in Queensland was a day of snorkeling on the Norman and Hastings reefs. The winds were high and the water choppy, but we squeezed into our wetsuits and dove into the Pacific with gusto, only to be greeted warmly by a whole host of new brightly colored friends. Our readers will understand why we did not take any pictures of the incredible iridescent coral or the many schools of brilliant fish teeming around it; everyone knows what happens when you take your camera snorkeling and we're no dummies.

... but more pictures of our exciting adventures Down Under (so far) are available here:
... and, as promised, more pictures of our exciting adventure in Singapore are available here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Singapore fling

We arrived in Singapore by train from Kuala Lumpur, dropped our bags at our hotel and split for the Raffles Hotel for a couple Singapore Slings. The official recipe for the famous drink, first created here by a Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon circa 1913:

30ml Gin
15 ml Cherry Brandy
120 ml Pineapple Juice
15 ml Lime Juice
7.5 ml Cointreau
7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
10 ml Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry

More pictures of our exciting (sometimes sober) adventure in Singapore coming soon! In the meantime, some pictures of Kuala Lumpur - where the Malaysian flag was first raised in Merdeka Square fifty years ago this August; and where Laura saw monkeys in the (relative) wild for the first time (they hang out in the trees and are fed by passing motorists in the Lake Gardens) - are available here:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

While in the Cameron Highlands, in addition to touring the tea plantation, we threw ourselves into some intrepid jungle trekking.

More photographic evidence of our astonishing display of fortitude in the wild is available here (on our way out we also visited a honeybee farm):

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tea for two

This morning, we took a tour of the BOH tea company’s Sungai Palas Estate. We gawked at the breathtaking sight of tightly pruned tea trees clinging to the steep hills and paid careful attention on our tour of the factory. Here’s what we learned:

Like wine, a tea’s character is greatly influenced by the environment in which it is grown. A tea garden’s particular climate, soil, altitude and amount of rainfall create subtle differences in the tea’s flavor and aroma. Cloned plants are selected based on yield, resistance to disease and number of plucking points, nurtured in shaded nurseries, and transplanted to the fields after one year. In about two years, the tea bushes are ready for plucking. Many of the tea trees on the plantation are over eighty years old and the plants can live to be over 120.

Workers pluck the tea bushes about every three weeks when new shoots grow or “flush.” Machines, winches and vehicles are used where the land is flatter and more accessible, while on the steepest slopes, individual workers (here, mostly from India and Nepal) use shears to pluck the plants by hand.

After plucking, the leaves are withered to reduce moisture. The plantation uses either troughs with perforated beds through which warm air is blown or bins in which the ambient air is blown through the leaf. The withering process takes 12 – 20 hours and is usually done overnight.

Next, the leaves fed into rolling machines that twist and break the withered leaf, distorting and rupturing its internal cells and liberating and exposing its juices for fermentation. Again, the factory employs a variety of methods, including its original rolling tables that date from 1935 and newer Cut-Tear-Curl machines with interlocking rollers and rotovanes, which are basically huge corkscrews that squeeze and grind the leaf.

Fermentation, or more precisely, oxidation, is a natural chemical process in which enzymes in the leaf are exposed to oxygen. It is at this stage that the leaf develops the right flavor, aroma and color. The leaf enters the fermentation process still green; at the end, it has turned coppery in color. The leaf is either spread on trays to ferment or fed through a series of rotary blades.

During the drying process, the fermented leaf is fed into machines through which hot air is passed. This halts the fermentation action, reduces the moisture content and crystallizes the juices, thus converting the leaf into its familiar crisp, black form. The factory’s furnace is fueled by rubber wood.

After drying, the made tea is graded according to particle size by passing it through a series of vibrating sieves. Each grade of tea has its own density and flavor characteristics. There are four main grades: “leaf” indicates made tea whose whole leaf is intact; “broken” indicates made tea whose leaf is broken; “fannings” are small broken grades; and “dust,” the smallest and lowest-quality grade, is most often used in tea bags because it steeps more quickly.

Tea tasting is an important part of the process, too. The tea taster checks the flavor, aroma and stringency, swilling the tea around the palate to judge its thickness or body. We sampled the plantation’s Palas Supreme tea, which is hand-picked and –processed, so none of the above applied. It was excellent.

Oh, and LOTS more pictures of our exciting adventure in Southeast Asia (so far) are available here:
... and here:
... and here:
Happy Father's Day, P!