Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Solitude

Wife and I are still getting back on track after our trip.  It was not just the jet lag.  We also both caught colds.  And the sort of sensory, emotional overload of being with the #2's as they were running around like crazy trying to get everything arranged for them to return to the US from Manila on the same day we were coming home just ground us down*.  

As a result we have been in major hermit mode since we got back and there was no thought at all at putting out any type of Christmas decorations.  In fact it was quite weird to suddenly be immersed in Christmas after spending the last three weeks in a pretty much Christmas absent environment.  We had two invitations from friends to participate in their Christmas activities but neither Wife nor I really wanted to do anything with anyone.  So we went to a matinee and saw the latest Hobbit movie (too bad they are stretching this into three movies as it means they are just filling time in with long drawn out battle scenes that just slows down the flow of the story and plot) and then came home and made our traditional Christmas pizza.

It came out great.  We are really getting the pizza making thing down to a science.

Hope everyone else had a lovely day whether it was with others or by yourselves.

*No negatives being put on the #2's by this.  We had made our reservations a year before and then #2 got pregnant earlier than she thought she would and their schedule got changed dramatically.  I think if both they and us were a little clearer headed it would have helped all parties if we had gone to a hotel those last couple of days but hindsight is 20-20

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nothing Says Christmas... treating yourself to a full supply of Southeast Asian cooking ingredients so you can make all those yummy flavors at home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Thrilla From Manila - Another Epic de-I/Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel Battle!

I'm sitting in the Tower Office of de-I-Holm, looking over the snow covered Sandia Mountains and thinking "Wasn't I just in a hawker mall eating Malaysian Noodle Soup in 90 degree Singapore a couple of days ago?" 

The trip home took 28 hours from leaving #2's demesnes in Manila to setting foot in The Tower in Albuquerque.  And it was ANOTHER EPIC DE-I / MAGICAL UNICORN PONY GOD OF TRAVEL BATTLE! 

I believe the permanently juvenile horned equine demigod thought that de-I was going to be easy pickings.  Maybe the little deity thought that just because de-I hasn't been doing the heavy duty business travel he has done in the past that he had lost his edge.  I will tell you the tale and you can make your own judgment. 

MUPGT announced its intentions immediately when I got an email from Delta Airlines the night before we left telling me that the Tokyo to LA leg or our flight was going to be two and a half hours late.  As we needed to not just change planes but change airlines in LA meaning we have to change entire terminals.  This took our time period between flights from four and a half hours to two hours.  Enough time in theory if the Pony with Horns had no more tricks up its hooves

On Saturday morning the battle began in earnest.  Pulandia was relocating and as a result they were shipping out on the same flight as us.  This meant their entire menage - 5 people, 2 pets in air carriers, and 15 bags needed to be transported along with Wife, I and our 4 bags.  She had ordered from the Embassy motor pool 2 vans to be sure that there was enough space for everything.  One showed up! How were we going to get all of us and our gear to the airport? This was a blatant attempt by MUPGT to disrupt our entire trip right at the start. (Maniacal laughter from Pony God)

After only a brief moment of panic, 2B came up with the solution of taking out two of the rows of seats out of the van (leaving two).  They were able to put all of the bags and animal crates in the back and with 2.1 sitting on the dog crate, 2.2 on Wife's lap, and 2.3 on my lap, we made it to Manila airport with plenty of time.  ("Blast that resourceful 2B!") 

The five hour flight to Tokyo was uneventful.  While the Unicorn Minor Pantheon member was thinking that we would have the discomfort of a five hour layover, he forgot that I am a member of a major airline club that we were able to make use of the facilities of ("Pah de-I, that is small potatoes.  Wait until you get to LA and see my real powers. Bwahahahaha")

The actual flight 10 hour flight from Tokyo to LA was uneventful.  We were actually even later taking off but they were able to make up some time en route.  We rolled up to the gate at LAX just about 10:30, the projected arrival time.  From this point, I will present the play-by-play of the climatic part of the battle.  The blows by the Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel are in italics

Unicorn Pony God causes us to sit for an extra 15 minutes just before the gate waiting for a tug to bring us in.  More valuable time lost 

de-I makes use of Global Entry membership to whisk through Immigration with barely any time elapsed.  Big time savings.

After we get our bags there is only one person at Customs and he is going incredibly slowly.  Potential for major time loss.

Another customs officer arrives and announces "Global Entry people to me".  We are through!

We just miss the shuttle bus that will take us to the terminal for Southwest Airlines another valuable 15 minutes lost waiting for the next one.

We arrive at the Southwest terminal where we need to check in our bags.  THE LINE TO CHECK IN IS HUMUNGOUS!  It goes out the door and down to the next terminal.  At this point we have one hour left.  All appears lost.  ("Bwahahahahahaha.  There is no way he will make his flight.  With the overbooked Christmas flights he'll be in LA for days. Days you hear me de-I!")

Now the part that will be sung by road warriors in their ballads for ages to come.

de-I is not the frequent flyer he is for nothing.  He has worked all through this year to get his newly minted A-List frequent flyer status on Southwest.  Leaving Wife with the bags in the line, he does a reconnaissance in force going around all those standing in line to the far other end of the terminal on the theory that there is a priority check-in area with a smaller line.  There is!  He returns to Wife.  They bring their bags back all the way around all the waiting people and are let into the priority check in line WHERE THERE IS NO ONE WAITING!  ("Take that you foul excuse for a minor deity!" "Wha! This can't be!).   Lickity split our bags are checked in.  We go to security where they look at my A-List status and put us into the TSA-Pre line WHERE NO ONE IS WAITING!  In just minutes we are through security and safely available for our flight with 20 minutes to spare.


The Travel God just for spite caused our flight to Albuquerque to be 30 minutes late but that was to no meaningful effect.  Victory was ours.

Except for the effects of 28 hours of travel and jet lag.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Finish The Asian Foodie Posts! Part 2 - Singapore

The reason, The Reason we selected Singapore as one of the destinations for this, de-I's first Asian trip was because of its renown as a foodie destination.  Even the official tourist office information calls eating the national pastime.  With its multiple cultures, mix of socio-economic classes, and strict hygiene laws it is a place where you can spend as much as you want or as little as you want and still get great food.  Therefore Supreme Foodie Partner Pulisha and I are known for our foodie centric trips (France and Italy) disciplined, mission oriented food traveling, we had a plan in place for how to best leverage the limited time we had.  We focused a lot on the famous hawker malls where they have put the street vendors and where all kinds of great foods from the various ethnic groups can be found.  Our major expenditures were saved for seafood.

So here is our meal-by-meal Singapore eating experience

Sunday Breakfast
Tiong Bahru Hawker Market

Chicken noodle with soup (right), Pork noodle with wanton soup
The soup is served separately from the noodles

Have to try a snow pear soda with it right?

Sunday Lunch
In a hawker mall on Orchard Street for the workers not the tourists

Malaysian Nasi lemak (with the fried chicken) and Nasi goering with beef randang

Don't even ask me what some of these things were.  We would look at the bewildering variety in the stalls and just say, "Let's try that."

Sunday Snack 
From stall at Tiong Banhu rapid transit stop

Fried things - gyoza (meat dumplings), crab paste, scallops.  There were three on a skewer.  They were yum.

 Sunday Dinner

First of three meals at...


...just 7 store fronts down from our hotel.  We went there every night, it was that good.
 Braised baby bok choy in special broth

Wife - "So what think thee honorable daughter Pu?"
Pulisha - " Mmmmmmmmmm"

Chicken with chile

Venerable Pu working on the piece de la resistance
Singapore's famous Chile Crab

Aftermath of dinner #1

Monday Breakfast
(No pictures :( we were chatting with a Singaporean and Vietnamese gentlemen we were sharing tables with) at a joint just around the block from us halfway to the Tiong Bahnu Market

Hainanese Curry Rice with Pork Cutlet and Duck Noodle Soup

Monday Morning Snack

Ice Cream Sandwiches

The ice cream is cold as a rock to make it survive the heat after serving
They take a rectangle of ice cream and then put to thin wafers around it to make the sandwich

Monday Lunch


We went over to Little India.  But it had taken a lot of effort walking around the botanical gardens and then finding our way to Little India.  We wanted to go to a hawker mall there but #2 was very tired.  So we decided to go to a restaurant so we could sit down and order.  This was probably our least impressive meal of the trip as it was very much like Indian food we would get in the states.  It was very good mind you and would be very pleased at this quality if we got it in the states but it wasn't anything really different. 

We had chicken tikka, Nepalese vegetables, Nepalese chicken and some cucumber pickles.

Monday Dinner

The second of three meals at Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant

Singapore style noodles, not like any version I've had in the US.  No major curry flavor
Deep fried fish skin - If you like gribbnes and cracklings, you're going to like this.  They are very thin and totally crunchy.  I give it three Yums!

The major seafood of the day, Mantis Prawns in salt and pepper flavor.
They were very sweet and tasty but there was much less meat than we thought given the size and it majorly adhered to the shells so was very difficult to get out.

Coffee Flavored Pork Ribs, these were a revelation.  It was kind of like a barbeque sauce with this pronounced but not overpowering coffee flavor.

Tuesday Breakfast

We woke up late and headed to Chinatown where once again we were in a hawker mall.  Today it was Laksa, a Malaysian noodle soup with a balanced amount of coconut milk, plenty of heat, and chicken.

After wandering around Chinatown, we again decided that a sit down place was a better choice.  Pu eyeballed a place with a list of Singaporean specialties.  Even though this is a major tourist part of town, we ended up with a winner.

Oyster Omelet, this was a really nice dish.  It was far milder in flavor than we expected.  Wife is not a big fan of oysters or very fishy tasting food and she loved this.

Belachan Stuffed Fish, after the fact I googled balachan and found out it is a pungent shrimp paste.  For this dish, it is pounded with shallots and dried peppers, stuffed into the fish cavity and down slits along the back, then it is pan fried until the skin gets very crispy.  The crispy skin bits were the best.  I give it many Yums.

Tuesday Dinner

Third of three meals at Sin Hoi Sai Seafood Restaurant

We be excited and happy!

The crab Mother Lode

Fried Chicken with shrimp sauce, I think had some of that shrimp paste flavor from the balachan.  Many Yums.

Kangkow (greens) with Sambal

The seafood star, Black Pepper Crab.  Not sure which I liked better, this or the Chile Crab.  The crab itself was so sweet.  Lots of Yums :)

Each meal #2 and I ordered something we had no idea of what it was.  This night it was fried egg plant with chicken floss.  Even after eating this we couldn't figure out what the chicken floss was.  Only one Yum.

The Last Breakfast (boo, hoo, hoo)

Lor Mee, a different type of Malaysian Noodle Soup

Char Shiu Rice, a Cantonese barbaqued pork

Fried pork and scallion fritters, fried yam cake (I liked it but not everyone's favorite), and fried shrimp paste - they fry so well here.

Big Sigh.  Then off to the airport and back to Manila

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Begin the Asian Foodie Posts! Part 1 - Cambodia

Our segment in Cambodia was not the primary foodie part of our trip.  Nonetheless there was lots of culinary adventuring to be had.

What Wikipedia has to say about Cambodian Cuisine:

Khmer cuisine (Khmer: សិល្បៈខាងធ្វើម្ហូបខ្មែរ) or, more generally, Cambodian cuisine is one of the world's oldest living cuisines. With an emphasis on simplicity, freshness, seasonality and regionalism, Cambodian food has won praise for its elegant and understated use of spice; its harmonious arrangement of contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures within the meal rather than a single dish; and its thoughtful and, at times, extravagant presentation of dishes with plenty of herbs, leaves, pickles, dipping sauces, edible flowers and other garnishes and condiments.

Our (#2 and I) observations on Cambodian Cuisine:

 The cuisines of Southeast Asia are extremely varied but thus far the only ones that seem to have made any significant inroads to the US food scene are Thai and Vietnamese.  Our experience with Cambodian cuisine was (like its geography) in between the two but distinctly its own.  It had a lot of the flavor bases of Thai with the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, galangal, kefir lime leaf and coconut milk flavors.  But it lacks the chile component.  In general based on our limited exposure the sour component from the lemongrass and kefir lime leaf dominated.  It is a different kind of sour than we often experience from citrus bases because it lacked the citric acid component.  So sort of a sour flavor without the acid.  As befits a poor country there were lots of veggies and small amounts of meat in most dishes.  The veggies in general were very good.  All the flavors were very fresh and vibrant.  #2 and I took a cooking class at the end of our stay in Cambodia and found out why.  The whole flavor base methodology was different (almost opposite) of Western cooking.  Here in the dishes we were taught you start with some flavor base pastes (Amok paste, shrimp paste, etc.) in hot oil, start adding fluids (coconut milk, water, broth), and only then add your aromatics (shallots, garlic, ginger, kefir lime leaf).  This is the opposite of Western methodologies where you typically build your flavor base with your aromatics sauteed or sweated in oil.  The ubiquitous sort of 'national/regional' dish was Amok of which there were numerous variations.

Our Cambodian Food Tour

I'm afraid I didn't do as complete a job of documenting the Cambodian food scene as I did in Singapore so as I went back over my pictures there were definitely some gaps.

First Meal - Our handler (guide) took us here.  As #3 and #2 found out in Viet Nam, you guides are trained to bring you to 'Western friendly' places which often means the foods are tailored to Western tastes...not what we were looking for.  At this place the food looked nice, was over priced compared to any other meal we had and the food was pretty much like you'd get in the US at a Thai restaurant.

Green Papaya Salad with Chicken

Banana Flower Salad with Chicken

Spring rolls
We ate tons of these and they were uniformly fresh and vibrant

Tom Yom Soup and Red Curry


2B took charge of our culinary life for most of the rest of our Siem Reap trip.  He had done a bunch of research on TripAdvisor and talking to friends and fellow Diplomatic Corps compatriots.  He was spot on (he found our hotel too which was great).

Chamkar, a vegetarian Cambodia specialty restaurant
This was a HUGE improvement over our lunch

Showing here were a sour vegetable soup and a fried calamari dish (Cambodian flavored)

We also had a vegetarian oyster (oyster mushrooms), fried vegetable fritter, and 'Stinging Amok' dish (the white sauce at the bottom).  One of the best versions we had.

The Pause that Refreshes

#2 and 2B extolled the praises of green coconut for fighting thirst.
There were vendors everywhere we went who for just cents would chop them open and give you a straw to fresh juice within.  Coconut juice is a natural sports drink with tons of electrolytes.  On was enough to quench your thirst where many bottles of water would not.


Haven was a really neat place.  It is run by a Swiss guy who takes orphans and other disadvantaged youths, trains them in Swiss style hospitality at his restaurant here and then places them in the hospitality industry throughout Siem Reap.  He serves up an eclectic menu of Cambodian and Western fare.  

2B raved about his burger.  Expats get hungry for the tastes of home

We had another version Tom Yum Gai, fried calamari, a green papaya salad, and a fish dish

Cuisine Wat Damnak

This is a very high end place with a set tasting menu.  Just give you an idea of how affordable it is in Siem Reap, I took a picture of the menu.  If you'll note you could get an 18 year old scotch for just $8.  Everything was great.

The amuse-bouche was a crispy morsel of fried rice
I could have this with drinks by the bowlful

 First courses - The marinated chicken salad and the prawn fruit salad

The stuffed calamari - not sure what the stuffing was but it sure was tasty

Fish baked in banana leaf - this had the familiar amok flavoring

The Mekong Shrimp sour soup

The frog leg meat - really good

Pan fried Chhang fish

The beef cheeks

The only things we were not excited about were the desserts

The coconut panna cotta

The steamed chocolate cake

Walk on the Common Side

For lunch we were back at Ankgor Wat.  We eschewed the tourist restaurant that our guide took us to for breakfast after our sunrise visit there two days earlier and picked out our own place that had a lot of Asians in it.  It was kind of Pan-Asia fare and was good.  2B looked it out later and found out it had a very high TripAdvisor rating so let's here it for luck.

For dinner we just chose a place in the main tourist section where Chamkar was.  I had noted this place that was very inexpensive and also had locals in it.  We were not disappointed.  

Fried whole fish

Fish fillets in a sauce that I forget

Greens in chile

 Cambodian breakfast at the hotel
Rice soup - I can eat and love just about any version of Asian soup, especially for breakfast

Cooking School
Our classroom

 Where we enjoyed the fruits of our labors

 Venerable Pu showing off the mis-en-place for our spring rolls
We learned a neat technique of rubbing the finished rolls with some garlic flavored oil that keeps them from sticking together for a long period of time after they are rolled.

We were taught to make traditional Amok
Just before devouring same

Making a really neat banana dessert that was incredibly simple but yummy