Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bringing Southeast Asia To The American Southwest

This does not imply fusion cooking. This is about taking all that I learned at my cooking classes and putting them to use here.

One of the things that really excited me as I took the three classes during my trip was how fast one was able to make various iconic dishes. I suppose it makes sense if you live in broiling hot climate, you want food you can prepare quickly so you don't spend too much time over a hot stove.

We are blessed in our little hamlet of Albuquerque (okay 32nd largest city in US Albuquerque) that we evidently have a robust East and Southeast Asian population and we have a number of Asian grocery stores in town. One in particular is very large, has a very large selection of items and is convenient to where we live.

The key ingredients to a lot of the dishes from Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia are a series of curry or chile pastes. A number of these, particularly the Thai ones, you can buy ready made. Others you need to make yourself. Each of these pastes is in turn a combination of a number of ingredients but almost all have some combination of shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, tumeric, lemongrass, and chiles. Then there are other components you add that create the differences.

So I set aside this last weekend to making up a bunch of the pastes and freezing them.

Here's my haul from the local Asian market. In addition to all the stuff listed above there is Tom Yum paste, Tamirind extract, Thai apple eggplant, straw mushrooms and glass noodles. I also bought a heavy duty mortar and pestle. And I placed some of the cookbooks and recipes from our classes.

The essence of the paste making is pounding a whole bunch of rather tough plant ingredients until they break down.
Here's a batch of Malay curry paste about half way there.

Our teaches told us you could make this in a blender or food processor but the taste was better if you hand pounded at least 10 minutes before punting to the machine.
Here's a Cambodian curry paste for Amok after processing

Last night I put this to use and made Fish Amok.
The Cambodian curry, Amok versus the Malaysian curry like Redang are on opposite ends of the taste spectrum with the former being very light and the later being very robust. This comes not just from the curry pastes themselves but from the cooking technique as well.
Here's my Fish Amok cooking and served.

The Fish Amok took about a half an hour to make including cutting the vegetables

Looking forward to making some Malay style fried rice with chicken later this week with a salad. I couldn't find green papaya so I'm going to try it with kohlrabi.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Transition Complete!

Can you believe this a blog post that is not about travel in Asia? Actually it has been a bit of a come down since we've been back. We were going at such a pace and we were being exposed to SOOOO much new stuff on SOOOO many levels that being home seems...well kind of dull.  BUT mellow, pleasant, enjoyable, beautiful too. I've said it in the past and stay with it, our home is one of the most beautiful places in  the world to stay...and we've been in plenty of places around the world.

We are also being blessed with wonderful weather. After the intense heat and humidity of SE Asia and the pollution of Hong Kong being in the moderate temperature (highs in the 70's and lows in the 40's), dry climate and crystal blue skies of Albuquerque are a joy. Unlike when we came back from Europe in the Fall and I was shocked and grated by driving and crime here compared to where we had visited in Europe, the calmness of the roads and the lack of noise of Albuquerque in comparison to all the places we visited in Asia has been a balm.

When I got back from our last big trip, I'd had a bit of a crisis concerning working as part of my transitioned life. With the help of my advisors and Wife, I was able to overcome that (actually if memory serves me correct, I think they outright laughed at me and told me to get back to work). Since then I have pruned what was left of my practice until I had it to exactly where I wanted it, and was able to get out and sell again with enthusiasm...all this within the limits I've set of the amount of time I'm willing to work in semi-retirement.

The acid test was this trip. As in the past there was a little anxiety about leaving but an easy transition into the international traveling life once we were there. As in the past I was able to keep all my business relationships warm, holding a number of phone meetings, doing what was necessary via email, and even signing up a new piece of business while gone. And this time, within days of getting back I was into the swing of things with my at home/part-time life. I'd already scheduled many meetings before I even left Asia. It was all smooth and natural.

I now have the balance that so many seek when they get out of their businesses or retire. I'm feeling very good.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 Asia Mega Tour - The Longest Day

We came home on Tuesday April 19...the longest day that Wife and I have ever experienced.

We started leaving the Pooh Lee Shah Imperial Suites at around 8:30 PM Hong Kong time. It is a sad leave taking...at least I think it was sad...the act of granddaughter 2.2 showering us with confetti as we left turned her bedroom back over to her according to the Honorable Pooh is a traditional act of mourning in Cantonese culture.

Less than 45 minutes later Pooh and 2B had dropped us off for the last time at Hong Kong International Airport. We now know all of the ins and outs of negotiating this airport...it's like having learned an obscure language...the likelihood of us using this hard gained knowledge in the future is just about nil.

Our flight does not leave until after Midnight so we are checking in with plenty of time to spare.

There is no one in the check-in line. We have found out that because of a light load, they've changed the aircraft from a wide body to a narrow body plane. The new plane does not have very nice business class seats. We try to change flights but no, as we are on mileage point tickets no go. This will end up being the only bad luck we have on this entire flight.

Immigration and security are a breeze so it is off to the Business Class Lounge which (in this case) is operated by Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines has a reputation for having some of the classiest service in the skies. The quality of the food service makes the US airline clubs look like elementary school cafeterias.

For those who have followed de-Intimidator for years, this picture of Wife sitting in the airport lounge is a classic. No matter where in the world it is taken, it has this timeless quality to it.
I have to make one more rave for the Singapore Airlines Club...they offered hot, made to order soup noodles! My way of saying Au revoir to East and Southeast Asia.
Laksa - a Malay version

Then just around Midnight, the first hour of Tuesday April 19, we boarded our first flight from Hong Kong to Seoul (Incheon) Korea). There were only three of us in Business Class so we spread out. In spite of the less than optimal seats we caught a few hours sleep during the 3.5 hour flight.

Arriving in Incheon, we ended up being the first people through the immigration line. An American behind us who travels this route a lot told us we were lucky because two jumbo jets arrived just behind us. 

It's pretty quiet in the halls as it is about 5:30 AM Korean time until you get to the main transit area.

If you read up on airports, you hear that the one at Incheon is one of the best for a long layover. They actually have free tours for those who have long layovers. Unfortunately our timing wasn't good and we arrived too early. 
Ah! Here we are. The Rest and Relax area. Here among other things they have a slew of practically flat couches you can use to catch some rest or sleep. You can also 'rent' a blanket to keep you warm for free. There are free showers as well. (more on showers later)
Wife and I were able to catch another couple of hours of sleep here as well. Then it was on to the Asiana Airlines Business Lounge. While the food their doesn't match Singapore Airlines, it was still way better than the US. In fact if you look at the second picture and the guy on the far right with chef's hat...he was making fresh made fried eggs. Nice touch.

Let's talk about showers.
They offer free showers at the Asiana Club (and my understanding at the free rest and relax area). These aren't just 'showers'. These are really nice areas with a sink and toilet, and all the amenities like soap, bath gel, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, slippers, robes, hair dryers, even shaving equipment. Going into one of these after what has already been a 13 hour overnight travel experience is the height of refreshing luxury. It made you feel new and refreshed. 

Finally! Nine hours after arriving in Incheon, it is time to get on our flight across the Pacific to Los Angeles. 

We are flying an Airbus 380 which is a two level monster. 

Into the Business Class section for some of the widest, nicest Business Class lay flat seats I've encountered. 
Wife is ready to get home!
Only 6427 hundred miles to go!

Asiana Airlines service is a class act. This flight left at 2:40 PM Korean time and was scheduled to get in to Los Angeles at 10 AM. So our plan was to eat, drink and get to sleep. We were both able to get some reasonable sleep due to the accommodations, the timing, and the lack of sleep from the day before. 

We arrive in Los Angeles early! In fact during this whole trip every plane leaves on time and arrives early! Thank you Global Entry! We zip through Immigration and Customs. We walk to the United Airlines terminal. It is lovely, sunny and warm out.

Thank you TSA Pre, we zip through security.
Going to the United Club after the Asian airline clubs is like slumming it. We buy a burrito, enchiladas and drinks for lunch and part with a cool $40+...ah welcome back to the land of overpriced food.

We have a four hour layover in Los Angeles and then a two + hour flight to Denver.
Hello Denver International...I know you. (Actually I'm on pretty friendly terms with LAX too).
A beautiful sight...our fourth and last flight to home.

We used Uber to get home and it worked fine and cost less than a cab.
We trundled into home at around 8:30 PM Albuquerque time still on Tuesday April 19. So far Tuesday April 19 has lasted 34 hours and we still have 3.5 hours before the day is officially over in Albuquerque. 

We have no trouble sleeping.
The 2016 Asia Mega Tour is officially over

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Asia Mega Tour - Malaysia, The Food Posts

Eating in Malaysia was a real revelation. I'd had hints of this when we were in Singapore a couple of years ago but I was not prepared for just how delightfully different the food in Malaysia was. I'm sure you're all on top of your history of the region, but just to review, Malaysia has been a crossroad for trade for millennia. The ocean trade routes connecting China, the Spice territories of Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and Western Europe all have to go past this geographic area. Originally influences were from India and there is still a strong Hindu presence. Then came the Muslim world's trade and influence. Malaysia is majority Muslim today. Chinese influence expanded in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries with substantial migrations of Chinese to permanently live in Malaysia. Then there was the British establishment of colonies in the 18th century. Malaysia today has English as one of its official languages. For the cuisine it has resulted in food with influences from many places as well.

Compared to the food in Thailand which is right next door, there are definitely heavier Indian influences. And the food in general has a stronger more pronounced flavoring. I first thought this had to result from different flavoring. But the cooking class taught us that is was much more related to cooking technique! For example one of their curries use almost exactly the same ingredients as Cambodian Amok but the order in which things are done is reversed resulting in a dramatically different taste profile. Fascinating. Here is a collection of the best things we ate during our three days.

On our first night we went to the outdoor place with all the small stalls. Two of our choices were the satay (grilled meats) and shrimp mee (mee is noodles). The shrimp mee immediately announced that the taste sensations would be much different here.

Dinner at The Living Room
This was a restaurant that 2B researched and was confirmed as really good by our driver who brought us in from the airport. We went there twice.

Shrimp with curry
Stir fried bean sprouts with garlic
Some kind of noodles that I forgot the name put were yummy
Nasi Goring - Malay fried rice
Salt and Pepper Squid
The Living Room could deep fry like crazy and this was without a doubt THE most tender squid I've ever eaten. Even 2B who is not a seafood love raved about them.

Sizzling chicken, Chile beef, and Thai style fish (the true winner of these three)

Chicken in Kapitan Curry (I have a recipe for this tee hee)
Deep fried ice cream and Banana fritter (I'm no dessert eater but these were delectable)

Another take on Soup Noodles
Hokkien Mee - for breakfast in our hotel - more in a gravy than a soup broth

From our Cooking Class
Beef Rendang (which we also had at the Living Room) a real classic Malay dish
A Mango and bean salad
Coolest dressing ever! No oil.

Near the hotel, some of the best street food 
A very think crepe turned into a crisp shell like a taco with all kinds of choices for fillings (mostly sweet) with a neat couple running it. This place was packed each night.

2016 Asia Mega Tour - Penang Pictures

The Mega Tour is coming to a close! We flew to Hong Kong today where we will be resting at the Pooh Lee Shah Imperial Suites for a day and a half before we begin the great schlepp back to
Albuquerque. And when I say schlepp I mean schlepp. But I will save that for a post in few more days.

Let's talk about more pleasant things like the pictorial presentation of the 'Official Pooh Lee Shah Beach Vacation in Penang.

Still in Hong Kong
Wife taking advantage of the crafts workshop provided by the child sweatshop workers at Pooh Lee Shah Imperial Suites

After heavy duty touring, we're going to experience the 'classic' Pooh Lee Shah Tours Beach Vacation' with the Honorable Dragon Lady Pooh and her Consort themselves.
We're flying Dragonair - marginally better than Air Asia and Hong Kong Express - more legroom and free drinks and food (though pretty terrible food).

See...on the beach!

Hmmmm you Trekkers you...doesn't this name look suspiciously like a certain capitalist race...I believe the invasion of Earth continues.
 I have to say that I am not at all sure how to conjugate the verb root of "Whilst"

I'm pretty sure the Pooh Lee Shah Travel folks said that acting silly and crazy was required to be on a real beach vacation.

Venerable Pooh and I went our separate way the next day to do another food class (special thanks to Consort 2B for finding it for us!)
I will cover Malaysian cuisine in the next post.

At the market we tried a bunch of things like various sweets (still don't like the texture and sweetness of most Asian sweets), pickled things, salads, and noodles - all served on your hand :)

On to the class room!
Our teach was a Nonya, which means a person of Chinese descent in Malaysia. These could be people whose family roots go back hundreds of years but they still consider themselves slightly separate and their take on local cooking as more refined.

Toasting coconut

Blending on of our curry pastes

Beef Rendang, a real classic cooking

Honorable Pooh
I AM the Master of the Kitchen

Deep frying the Malay take on fried chicken
The meal we made served.
We did pretty darn good I must say

Meanwhile 2B and Wife are doing serious bonding with a driver taking them to various sites in George Town the major city on Penang.

 And without culinary terrorists de-I and Dragon Lady Pooh they can indulge their desire for not so crazy food like fish and chips.
That night was Pooh and 2B's Anniversary so we treated them to dinner at the resorts on the beach grill restaurant.

Trip to Monkey Beach
Consort 2B says "you have to take the boat trip to some other beach or it's not a true Asian beach vacation."
Here we are on a beach with our craft ready to take us off
 Ah the bucolic ride on the ocean

Or the reality of the trip

"Dude! You got to have Beer and Stuff for a real trip on the boat!"
Panorama of the beach proving that I actually went into the ocean water.
Other major feats included buying and using flip flops and actually going into a swimming pool where other people were present.

 Then we went fishing to try to catch a fish that would be grilled for our lunch
This picture hardly captures the fact that both Venerable Pooh and de-I were within a short period of time flat on our backs trying to fight off seasickness!
We caught squat
But fortunately they plan for this and we had a great meal of grilled fish and other stuff
(which I enjoyed after getting over the sea sickness)