Sunday, May 28, 2017

Massive Day of Cooking

To fill the need for Southeast Asian food, you need the curry pastes that are the backbone of the flavors one remembers. Thai curry pastes are fairly easy to find. But the commercial ones we've tried have way too much chile heat for our tastes. And finding curry pastes from Cambodia, Malaysia or Indonesia? Forget about it.

So I have taken to making my own pastes and freezing them. Fortunately (as I think I have posted previously) we are blessed with a great Asian supermarket here in Albuquerque and I can get just about everything I need in terms of raw ingredients. I have had to alter some of the recipes to make them work with some of the things we have here.

Integral to this process is an extreme amount of pounding with a mortar and pestle. I had done a lot or research and almost everywhere I looked it said you could not get the same flavors and consistency trying to do things in a food processor. However, I do chop up all of the various components in the food processor prior to going through the pounding process.

The Cast of Characters
Clockwise from the lower left are turmeric root, galangal root, kefir lime leaves, ginger root, lemongrass, garlic (already chopped), shallots (already chopped), and cilantro stems
These provide the basic components for the curry pastes. Not all of them have all these ingredients and their are other additions for the various pastes

I have found that the key to getting the right consistency is to go from drier to wetter and to add one ingredient at a time. So first in goes that salt and any other dried spices. The the drier roots like the galangal. Then maybe the kefir lime leaf. Then the turmeric, the lemongrass and finally the ginger, garlic and shallots in their turn.

Getting chiles to integrate has proven difficult so I use my already processed NM green chile, harissa and sambal to provide the heat component

Sample of a completed paste - the Malaysian paste in this case
Then putting them in small containers - Cambodian Amok paste in this case

In addition to the curry pastes, I also was smoking - a rack of ribs and two chickens to replenish our freezer.
Most of this work (the rub for the ribs, brining the chickens, cleaning and setting up the smoker) were done the day before. All that needs to be done is turn on the smoker and put the meat in when its hot.
If I must say so myself I am really getting the knack of producing good ribs 😏
Tomorrow I will breakdown the chickens, make some stock from the bones, turn the skin into smoked cracklings, which in turn will give me a little smoked chicken fat.

Hope you are eating well too and REMEMBER all those who have sacrificed for our country!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book - Revelation

Before we left for the Asia Mega Tour, I made a decision that I would seek out an editor to read one of the book manuscripts I had written. I had certain suspicions about what I had done but I really wanted some kind of outside confirmation or denial.

Shortly after we got back, I had the editor's report. Most of the things she brought up  were not really surprises and were either in the forefront or back of my consciousness.  But she had made a final comment that she thought there was a book inside all I had written but it would take a  lot of time and money to unlock it and she was further willing to undertake that project.

My first reaction was that this was going to be a lot of work. I didn’t start writing because I wanted a job. I have a career. I could make a quick decision; no I did not want to make writing work. I write to satisfy an internal need.

What came next, however, was really transformational. During a hike/contemplation I realized that I have throughout my life been dissatisfied with the fiction that I have read or seen (movies/TV). No matter how good it was, there was always something done to a character or a plot that I didn’t like or made me unhappy. But when I write everything happens exactly the way I want it to. It really doesn’t make a difference if the writing is good, lousy, or mediocre. I know the story I’m trying to tell and it will be exactly the way I want it to be.

I truly write to give myself entertainment/story telling I can get from no one else – story telling that is literally perfect as far as how I want characters and stories to evolve and end. I am the audience and I write for me. That’s all that counts. It makes no difference if anyone reads what I write. In fact, in a lot of ways it is more freeing and comforting if nobody does.

This realization has been incredibly freeing and has given me great peace of mind.

Friday, May 26, 2017


I have a passion for making use of leftovers. Although I live in a palatial house where we consume way more energy than any two people really need to, I some how have this fanaticism that I should not waste food. This manifests itself a number of means of using leftovers.

The first is soup. Soup was the original means of leftover recycling. Over many years I have refined the technique for creating flavor bases for soup until now the results have become extremely consistent...and good!

The second is fried rice. I got started on fried rice kick last year after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how a chef made fried rice (the secret is cooking each ingredient separately and season each as you go). As I cook a lot of Asian flavored foods and usually have rice leftover and Wife loves leftover fried rice for lunch, it became another major user of leftovers.

Introduce now hash. I had mad a pot roast as one of many dishes for our friend Agent W for after her surgery and over did the potatoes. I decided to try the same process I used with the fried rice of cooking components separately (I had some Napa cabbage and onion left over). I took some pulled pork from last summer out of the freezer. The potatoes were already fully cooked. I mixed everything together in a bowl and then let them sit for 30 minutes to combine flavors.

Getting the hash to brown properly took a bit of experimentation. I tried a long, low cooking with now turning but that wasn't working so I just cranked the heat up. Now I got good browning. The hash didn't stay together but it didn't matter because the brown, crusty parts were substantial and delicious.

With our moving back to more potatoes and rice in our diet (more on that later), I see hash in the future as another of the leftover using team.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Not Ready Yet - The Asia Mega Tour II Analysis

Work has been busy (a blessing), and there have been things to do around the house. But I finally, finally finished last weekend going through every post I made during our trip. All I have to do now is review the notes I took and reach some kind of conclusions. Hopefully that will happen this weekend though I have a number of projects on tap for this the three day weekend including making SE Asian curry pastes (a BIG project requiring much pounding of mortar and pestle) and cranking up the smoker for chicken and ribs.

I will tell you this, it has been a real revelation to go back over all the posts from the trip. I can see why everyone thinks we two (Wife and I) are somewhat crazed. I mean I lived the whole thing but when I read my posts my reactions was 'Ye Gad that's exhausting'. Yet when we are doing it sure we feel tired but we actually felt like we were restraining ourselves.

So I have a ton of notes after going through all the posts and now I need to review them. I am really looking forward to studying them and seeing the patterns and the reveals.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Know You're Old When...

This morning was hiking morning. Hike twice a week, 5 miles as part of my overall conditioning program.

We're having unseasonably cold weather. It is 6:45. I walk outside. I am ready to go. I have my boots on and am dressed. Just need to eat something and be on my way. The wind is blowing. It is 44 degrees.

Ah the vision of my younger self arises. Hiking in all kinds of wind and cold. Master of the elements. Macho. Tough. Driven.

I return to the house and take a hot shower instead.

And in the process of showering discover that I forgot to take out my hearing aids. Fortunately no permanent damage came to them.

This is the reality.

Monday, May 15, 2017


It was nine years ago and one day that I was  sitting in a hospital operating room waiting to go under the knife to donate a kidney to my sister. I was at the same time incredibly calm and fearful though probably nowhere as fearful as Wife was.

Later that day, I woke up (sort of) in the recovery room and realized I was still alive.

Yet later that day I realized that I had TOTALLY underestimated what this procedure was going to do to me and was in the most excruciating physical pain I have ever endured until then and since.

Nine years later my left kidney (the one I donated) is working like a champ...A Champ I tell you. If I had just realized how good my component parts were (compared to the mediocre whole), I would have thought of some way to monetize me!

Seriously, thank you Lord/Lady for looking over me, allowing me to provide this blessing, and to have survived and prospered.

If you'd like to read about the great journey of organ donation, my dissertation starts here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Still Feeling The Buzz

I am still working on the massive 'analysis of the past trip' project. Last weekend I spend a good part of it going over the blog posts of the trip. I barely got half way done. My first impression - 'Ye gads how much did we do!'  It was more exhausting reading about it and imagining doing it than actually doing it. Anyway, that project will be picked up again this weekend.

What is of more interest at the moment is my observations of my internal state. It took literally only a day to recover from the trip due to our system. And ever since then I have been on this 'high'. Sort of like the endorphin high from exercise. There was something about this last trip that despite all the energy we expended and how much we did, left us both invigorated and excited.

If you will remember from our prior trip to Frantaly, we had the opposite reaction - we had felt tired and beat up with lots of adjustments we felt necessary to our travel life. So why the big difference? I'm not sure. As I continue with the massive navel gazing (Daughter #3's contribution to family imagery) project, I'm sure I will come up with some kind of analysis.

But in the meantime, the energy from the trip has carried over to my 'at home' persona which is basically about about work and writing. I will deal with the writing project with another post. But as far as work is concerned, I have been just a humming dynamo. I have certain metrics of how many meetings I need to have to develop business. I am already at twice the number I set as my goal for the month of May! I have lots of proposals out. All kinds of good client stuff being done. And I'm not working any more than I have set as my limit for my semi-retired state.

Almost everyone I meet with who knows me comments on the fact that I seem to be buzzing with energy. And it's true. It is all very mysterious to me. You all know I have a deeply spiritual bent so i can only say thanks for God's grace because I truly don't understand exactly why things are happening the way they are.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Down To A Science

I promised you the traditional postmortem but I've been so busy here that I haven't had the chance. That is one measure at how successful and seamless the transition has been from our travel mode to our life at home mode.  This was the sixth big trip we've taken (trips of more than a month out of the country) since 2014 as part of the post-full time work, transitioned state. Almost everything about this trip went smoother than had been the case in years past. This was especially true about coming home.

Our system of doing the coming back in two days rather than try and get back in one, continues to make a big difference in how rapidly we overcome jet lag. Unlike past trips, I had no emotional angst about going back to work. In fact we got back on a Thursday and by the following Tuesday, my work schedule was completely booked.

We worked on the garden today. Our timing was pretty good and we missed the snow storm that was here last weekend so we're getting things in as early as is reasonable. The peach tree was viciously de-fruited to avoid the mass over production in prior years.

Daughter #3 has asked that I do a deeper dive into the postmortem so I am going to spend the afternoon rereading my posts from the trip in order to create a definitive trip review.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - The Trip Home

Our flight home didn't leave until 7 PM so we had some time to kill in Tokyo yet. We went out shopping for various things that children had requested. Unfortunately the Japan they evidently visited or bought things from was an alternative universe from the one we were in. We dutifully showed pictures to various staff at our hotel and at stores only to be met with stares and typically polite Japanese regret that they couldn't help us. At the hotel they even called around to a number of stores for one particular food item with no success. That used up most of our free time.

We were at one of the department stores on this search and I used my new found knowledge to buy some sashimi. Wife wanted Japanese fried chicken and there was a place right next to our hotel. They were cool with me eating my sashimi while Wife ate her chicken. Then we picked up our bags, caught a cab to the train station, took the train to Narita airport. We turned in our IC Suica cards without problem. Actually I had made a mistake and put both our train rides to Narita on one card and didn't have enough to get out but the automatic 'card recharge machine' was down. So they waved us through. This was picked up when I turned in the cards. But then they didn't charge us for it anyway!

We hung out in the ANA business class lounge. Not as good as Singapore Airlines or EVA by far though the guy making sushi, who was a character, gave me an extra piece because I was willing to use my five word/phrases of Japanese with him.

The flight to LA was totally uneventful. We stayed at a hotel very near the airport. We had our traditional first sticker shock meal back in the US where our 10 inch pizza, shared salad and two glasses of wine matched the most expensive meal we ate in two months in Asia.

The next day it was home to Albuquerque where instead of sun and blue skies it has been snowing and highs in the 40's!

We have this process of coming home down to a science. The jet lag has been managed to a minimum. Wife has about two days to catch up on accounting and stuff. I already had my business meetings set up before we ever arrived. It hardly felt like we had left.

We are so incredibly lucky and grateful to have the ability and the wherewithal to do what we do. The traditional postmortem of the trip will be in the next day or so.

It was really, really, really fabulous.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Finale, Search for the One True Ramen

With a single day left on two month tour, we were exploring our options within the Tokyo area. I wanted to see some water and had suggested visiting Yokohama, only 30 minutes by train from Shinjuku. As I researched I came across something that struck my eye...the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum! What was this? Going to the museum's site I found out a lot about ramen and the fact that the museum's key feature was subsidiary branches of multiple top flight ramen places from around the country representing the best of their regional styles. This led to more research on my part and my finally understanding the component parts of ramen and the wide range of regional variations.

This led to THE QUEST. The Quest for the One True Ramen.

Some history...remember back to our trip beginnings. We were in the south/west of Japan on the island of Kyushu in the cities of Kagoshima and Fukuoka. We'd had all kinds of issues finding food we liked but our fall back was ramen. It was rich, meaty, and had all the flavor points we were looking for. Fast forward to being in Taiwan. It was our last night there and there was a Japanese ramen place in the train station next to our hotel. The ramen there was 'Tokyo style'. That didn't mean much to us but we were very disappointed when our bowls came with a heaping pile bonito flakes on them giving the ramen a distinctly fishy flavor. We didn't think much about this until we finally made our way to Tokyo. Our first meal was ramen and it was nothing like what we'd had when we were down south. The broth was very fishy and they put a dollop of salted fish in oil on top of the bowl. We were very disappointed and feared to try ramen again.

But my research showed the types of ramen, their use of different broth components, flavoring components (called 'tare' it is a strong flavor on the bottom of the bowl), noodle types, noodle length of cooking time, and additions. And I found OUR ramen, the ramen of the south, the ramen of Kyushu, the TONKATSU RAMEN based on a rich pork bone broth and no fish!!!!!  Lo and behold at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum was a place offering the very ramen we sought! The quest began.

First it is necessary to go to Yokohama
Yokohama is a city of 3 million that is part of the 35 million person Tokyo metropolitan area
Compared to the intensity of the areas of Tokyo we'd been in to date, it was an island of calm.

Yokohama struck us as a particularly attractive and photogenic city
Upon our arriving we went from the main train station to a development next door (almost always the case with Japanese train stations from our limited observation)
We noted this mural
 Yokohama was the major port of entry into Japan after it was opened up in the mid-19th century 
This mural has scenes depicting that era

Next we took a water taxi to another part of the city which gave us great views of the city 
The weather was glorious and the inner photographer freshly blooded from his recent workshop came forth
Study of Yokohama Harbor on a Rising Sun Theme

Study of Yokohama Harbor without Rising Sun

ARG what is this we spy?
Our nemesis - The Cruise Ship
Actually they all seemed to be in places other than Yokohama today
Into the lovely bay side park

Statue notable for something but I forgot to write it down
Hopefully Wife puts it on her blog
Photographer's study of other photographers

Then we went to what was reputed to be Japan's largest Chinatown
There a slew of school children in uniform
Some kind of end of year field trip we suspect

By this time a number of hours had passed and we were getting tired and hungry
We wanted Japanese fried chicken but this was the kingdom of steamed buns and there was none to be found
Wife wisely recognizing the infamous de-I family hunger crabs made a command decision to buy some recognizable spring rolls which we wolfed down

Next we needed to get to a particular train station to get to Shin-Yokohama, a suburb around Shinkasen train station (not the same as the regular station) where the museum is located
Now the quest truly began
Train station
So close looking on the map
So NOT close by way of the feet and attempts to navigate with map and google
But despite the long, hot walk there were still pictures to be taken

And what is this?
Why I believe it is monument in homage to the veritable ramen noodle itself
At last we reached our goal 
Arriving at Shin-Yokohama a Japanese gentleman struck up a conversation with us in English
(very unusual)
He had a warm spot for Americans based on working there
He walked us to the museum

Ah the splendor of it

Inside the museum (which had a steep discounts for seniors thank you - the first and only we'd seen in Asia) - it was laid out as 1950's Tokyo would look like

After some searching, we find our place
Further frustration trying to figure out the system for buying tickets from the machine (too the right) for getting what we wanted
But ultimately the price
Gad it was good
Delicious rich pork broth, crispy fried garlic over the top, highly seasoned pork meat, and NO fish
With extra meat it was $9
I was in heaven 😇
So let us say goodbye to our quest with one last
Feral bikes clearly are a big problem in Yokohama

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Food Tour Japan

With only days left to the mega tour, we had booked a food tour with the company, Culinary Backstreets. We had used these folks for a tour in Istanbul and had had a marvelous experience with our visiting far more of the city than we would have otherwise and learning much beyond food. We were supposed to take a tour with them last year in Shanghai but we had to cancel because of our Vietnam food poisoning. So we were really looking forward to this one in Tokyo.

Our tour took us to two areas of the Tokyo region - Shibuya, the home of the ultra-hip, ultra-chic and then to Kichijoji, a smaller town in the Tokyo Metro area that represents a more laid back lifestyle. Our leader, Noam, an American from San Diego who is married to a Japanese woman and has lived in Japan for 14 years, wanted to give us a taste of the high end Japan and the Japan of every day. 

We also got a lot of food history in. It turns out that many of the foods we associate with Japan come from elsewhere or are relatively recent inventions.

We started off with sushi
We then went through the basement of a large famous department store
We found out that just about every major department store has a food that provides regular groceries, ready to eat food, and gift food. Who knew? No one told me this before going to Japan. This would have changed our eating in the country substantially. We found that this store had a huge sushi and sashimi selection.
Fresh wasabi root...very hard to find
In addition to the regular food, there was food for gifts
Gift giving is a big thing in Japan and they tend to use food as apartments are small and people don't want more things.
So let's say you have a need to by de-I a gift
How about some beautifully perfect, wonderfully packaged mangoes?
Very nice...only $162
What you say that you want to show de-I respect but has a tad lower sticker price
How about some perfect cherries?
A steal at $97
But no. You want to show de-I the respect he truly deserves
How about some melons?
$233 worth of melons buys you a lot of de-I appreciation.
Want to give some great looking sushi?
This sushi packaging one some kind of award for design

Beautiful cut up fruit cups
And a sponge cake whose roots are Portuguese
Then we took the train to Kichijoji
This mural is in the Shibuya Station. Looks Mexican doesn't it
Turns out that this was done by Japanese artist for a Mexican hotel that went belly up before it could  be installed
In Kichijoji, this sign which means nothing in the context of our story

A key market street in the town
Here our goal is minced meat cutlets
Not croquettes
Not Beef cutlet on a stick or pork cutlet on a stick
No Minced Beef Cutlet
There was a long line
They were making them in droves and we stood in line for a while to get them
The finished product
Need some primo meat while you're waiting?
While our minced beef cutlet costs about $2, the meat above costs between $40 and $100 a pound
Enjoying Minced Beef Cutlet goodness
Then on to the artisanal rice cracker shop
Three generations now in the family
The current matriarch 
The current maestro
At his work
Samples of their wares
A good luck piece over the door to the small workplace in back of the store
They buy this from a local temple each year
Next up 
Takoyaki! Octopus Balls!
Who knew that Japan was a major player in the maintenance of octopus fertility?
Japan makes millions and millions of Takoyaki a year
Many of these never make it to the creatures but are shunted aside for food,
Takoyaki production line
Happy octopus ball making guy
Next it was off to a yakatori place
Food on a stick!
We tried all kinds of things including heart, liver and tongue
Boo no chicken skin available today :(
Our group looking very happy sitting traditionally on the floor
We weren't
Even the younger ones were in agony by the time we were done
Next off to a traditional Japanese drinking establishment
An Izakaya where you drink and eat small bits of food
One happy, one not
Mr. F (an Italian working in London) has taken a food challenge from me 
Wife has not
Mmmmm guts
Stewed offal
It was actually really tasty and not chewy or off flavored
Bitter Melon on a stick
A bit...well bitter
As we were drinking and eating away, some candid shots
A customer across the way giving us a toast
It is so interesting to see the behavior of Japanese when they are letting their hair down whether as tourists on the train as we saw earlier or at an izakaya
The lovely Ms. K, an American from Chicago now working in London

After almost 7 hours of activity we took the train back to Shinjuku