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: