I’ve always loved cooking, and I think the moment I realized I might be a grown up was last week, with my special shopping notebook and shopping bag at Safeway, meticulously picking out avocados and grapefruit. I compile recipes at least two days in advance so I don’t have to do grocery store runs that often, pulling from epicurious.com or my favorite magazine, Everyday Food, and keep copies in a binder, separated by genre of cooking. When this blog went dormant I long thought about reviving it into a food blog, but I think I’m now content to just share some favorite recipes from time to time, as I will today.
One of my favorite restaurants here in town is Continental Treat. It looks like a restaurant for old people, to be honest, and does cater to an older crowd, but the food is amazing. The mains are savoury and extremely filling Polish style entrees, but really gets me are the steak tartare and soups – especially their dill pickle soup.
They ran the recipe for dill pickle soup a year ago in the paper and I finally made it last night. It’s easy, perhaps a little too easy, so I added some ingredients (more veggies, basically), but the final output was dilly and refreshing. This recipe is just for two people, but I’m definitely going to double it next time.
We had ours with veggie sandwiches, something that’s our fall back dinner. Served on Cobs bread, it’s delicious and nutricious.
Dill Pickle Soup & Veggie Sandwiches
Dill Pickle Soup (recipe for 2 servings)
4 cups of vegetable stock (one Tetra-pack carton, use one low in sodium)
1 medium potato, diced (very small, or shredded)
2 carrots, shredded
half an onion, diced
2 sticks of celery, sliced
3 medium pickles, shredded (just jar pickles are good. Vlasic kosher dills are crunchy and good)
half cup of whipping cream
1 tbsp flour
dillweed (I used the freezedried kind, but fresh is better)
Simmer the vegetable stock with the potatoes, carrots, onion and celery for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add the shredded pickles and the flour. Bring back to a simmer, and add the whipping cream and dillweed, seasoning with pepper (I find between the stock and pickles you need little salt added). You’re done! (If you don’t want it to have the yellow appearance and you’re not a lazy cook you could skim off the fats that come off the stock)
Veggie Sandwiches (Eaten before I took a photo)
Two thick slices of bread of your choice. Right now we like Cobs’ Farmer White.
Spreading one side of the bread with cream cheese helps the sandwich stick together. Normally the layering is cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado and pickles on the one bare side, then sprouts and cream cheese on the other. I give the tomatoes and avocado a good sprinkle of salt and pepper before closing up the sandwich. To make it easy to get avocado slices, I cut it in half lengthwise, then take a grapefruit knife (slightly curved on one end) or a butterknife and go around the edges, then slice vertically inside. Perfect slices!
As if to spite me, Mike got the Michelin guide to Tokyo a week or two ago, and I’ve been reading about all the other places we could have eaten in Tokyo. We didn’t do badly at all, but … there is so much left to eat there. Must return. We’ve also been watching a great series called Japanorama, released in three series on BBCThree. It’s amazing.
Anyhow, I realized I haven’t actually written a lot about our trip to Tokyo. Obviously five days is all but a skimming of a city of Tokyo’s size, but I feel like we did everything we wanted to and it only whet our appetites for more. I can only say I’m nuts for food touring.
Even though the time we were to spend in Tokyo made up less than 10% of our trip, I was definitely the most excited about it and spent quite a bit of time researching things and trying to plan how to get to places. I was excited about things like gardens, general sightseeing and shopping, but the biggest reason we wanted to visit Tokyo was mostly for the food. With thousands of restaurants I wanted a general idea of where to start, so after finding a place to stay I pored over epicurean forums and review sites, magazine articles, anything that would point me in the right direction.
I perceived the language barrier and address finding would be difficult in Tokyo, so I found a few websites useful; reviews by Robbie Swinnerton from the Japan Times were extremely well written and included precise directions to the restaurants. Chowhound and Sunnypages were also useful, but I took the reviews on them with a grain of salt. Travel + Leisure magazine and the NYTimes also offered guidance. I did buy a guidebook, the Lonely Planet Tokyo urban guide, which turned out to be extremely useless in the streets as the directions were poor (even completely wrong in some cases) and were mostly good for sights to see and general prefecture information.
We picked out the things we wanted to eat, specific Japanese cuisines. Sushi topped the list of course, followed by udon and soba noodles, izakaya (specifically those serving whale and horse), yakitori, kobe, tonkatsu and tempura…basically eat as much as possible.
We ended up staying in a long-stay serviced apartment chain called Oakwood. I was dying to stay at the Park Hyatt, of course, but am not ready to spend that much on a hotel. The Oakwood (Shinjuku) was perfect for what we needed. $120 a night, a beautiful fully functional room (with only a double bed, though) in a great area. Shinjuku out to be a great place for two first time visitors as it was never longer than a few minutes ride on the train and no huge fares to get to the major other prefectures and sights. We stayed in the smallest studio room, and although I was honestly expecting a closet, the place was extremely well designed and laid out, even hiding a washing machine and kitchenette. Every nook and cranny had a purpose and although it was a bit tight with luggage and two people (one well over 6 feet tall) dancing around eachother, it was perfect.
The main hallway. There was a small nook to the right, like a reverse L, for the
double bed to hide in.
With over 200 exits and millions of people transiting everyday Shinjuku was a surreal train station to navigate at rush hour. Miraculously the seas of people parted as we walked ourselves and our luggage through the station, looking for the west exit (the hotel had provided decent directions but it was still disorienting to find where to start). I would highly recommend looking for the two maps posted in every train station and near every exit; the train station map and also the vicinity map. They are extremely useful and we were not the only people using them. The Tokyoites were often by them comparing a map on their cell phone to the vicinity maps. Streets are not always clearly marked, but eventually we realized we were heading the right way and soon were at the hotel.
Our first night we just ate at the first place we found. I think it was just a tempura/noodle joint, part of a chain. It was okay, but probably the worst meal of the trip. But, it got some grub into us and we went back to collapse in bed.
The next morning at about 8:30am we immediately headed to Tsukiji market. Although we got up relatively late, we didn’t actually want to go see the market in progress, just wanted to eat! (most people would recommend going as early at 5 or 6am to see the market and also to avoid lines waiting for a restaurant)
There are quite a few sushi and udon restaurants in the area, very few of them marked in English in any way. We walked from one of the exits at Tsukiji-shijo station taking a left then another left and through a truck loading zone. We weren’t even sure we were heading towards the actual market at that point and had no concept of where we were. We walked down one of the many side alley/walkways, passing rubber boot shops, souvenir joints and some restaurants. Down one there were two huge lines. I had read that any decent restaurant in Tokyo will probably have a line up, but we were also looking for either Sushidai or Daiwa Zushi to try, so we wandered a bit more, hoping for some clear sign for where we were.
These awesome “garbage can” battery powered scooters are everywhere,
delivering fish and assorted goods. They fit down alleys you’d never expect them to,
and soon they’re bearing down on you, honking furiously.
Finally, hungry and a bit cold, we decided to just go for the line up places. Somewhat randomly we picked the right hand lineup; after thirty or more minutes in line, we finally realized it WAS the line for Sushidai, and the other was Daiwa Zushi. The line up for Daiwa seemed to be moving faster, but we stuck to our guns. After a bit a little lady came out and sorted the line a bit. Because we were a group of two we were directed to the left hand sided. The line up seemed to be in a snake, winding horizontally from the restaurant. They would work in larger groups in between the smaller pairs, but it seemed a bit haphazard and random to be honest.
The line for Sushidai.
We probably waited just over an hour to get in. By that point we were cold as hell (packing for both a long trip to Thailand and a short trip to Japan proved problematic) and hungry. With about a dozen seats their turnover was surprisingly quick; the message is clear, eat and then get out. We both got the omakase (chef’s choice, the best of the day) which was stunning. Accompanied with hot green tea in a hand warming ceramic cup and a hot little bowl of fish head miso soup, the sushi came out fast and furious. There were ten pieces of nigiri, plus one of whatever you wanted for 3600 Yen ($36); fatty tuna, sea urchin, eel (conger, I think) shellfish, a seasonal, a roll, egg and few others thrown in.
The warm vinegary rice was hand packed and the fish was sliced on the spot, with just the right amount of wasabi (not freshly grated, sadly) and sometimes a sauce if needed. We were often told “no sauce” when a piece came out, and to be honest very little of the fish needed the assistance of the soy.
Buttery eel, creamy sea urchin, tender squid, clam, mackerel, tuna, even fluffy, slightly sweet and steaming tamago… we downed the pieces eaten right off the counter, hungry for more. We also ordered a few a la carte items, and the bill came to just about $75 for two. It was a magnificent feast for breakfast.
Aji, or horse mackerel with a garnish of scallions.
Our chef, one of three. His English wasn’t too bad, so we had a good idea of what we were consuming.
The bar curves, with just the smallest amount of room for the waitresses to get by to bring you tea and miso.
The sea eel
Some artist friends DEMANDED we check out some contemporary art in Japan, and although we weren’t sure where to go, Roppongi ended up being the destination, as we had a few things we wanted to see in the area. We passed Joel Robuchon’s restaurant and bakery in Roppongi Hills and I regret being so full of sushi (almost) because the baked goods looked so great.
The Mori art museum is on the top floor of Roppongi Hills, and we bought a combo ticket that gave us access to the museum and also to the Tokyo City view. Although there are free places see Tokyo from above, it seemed a good opportunity to get both things done as we were so time limited.
Roppongi Hills is well known for the giant spider sculpture, “Maman”, by Louise Bourgeois outside.
The museum was really great. There were free audioguides which enhanced our visit greatly. Some of the concepts and ideas were mind bending and truly beautiful, and even exposed some bits of Japanese culture which were fascinating.
This is by Deki Yayoi; it’s thousands of imprints of her fingers.
It’s also a totally illicit photo, which is why there are no more.
But the other works were also incredible.
After 90 minutes or so in the museum, we walked around the circumference of the floor, looking at the tiny people and cars 52 floors below. The haze and smog over the city was sadly covering Mount Fuji, but apparently you can see it on the right day.
People gazing out over the city from the tower.
The view below.
Now starving, again, we headed back towards Shinjuku. We originally hoped to find an izakaya but it seemed hard to think straight through the hunger and not get lost in the side streets of the area called “Piss Alley”.
There was a noodle place called Kuro-mon that seemed reasonably popular. We weren’t sure if they had an english menu, but pointing hadn’t done us wrong yet, so we gave it a try. Turns out they had a simple english menu, and they served soba and udon noodles. I got a regular sized plate accompanied by a cold broth filled with leeks and onions, served with some steamed chicken that I ordered as an addition. Mike got the “machinegun” broth, with a warning it was very spicy. He seemed to do alright at the start, but by the end as he slurped down the noodles his eyes and nose were watering. We both got a large mug of beer, complete with the head the Japanese seem to love on their brews.
The steaming baskets for the noodles.
A series of beeping timers helped the chef keep track of what batches were ready.
Day two started with a quick pastry from one of the chain coffeehouses near the hotel, and a hot Suntory coffee from a vending machine. YUM. Hot beverages aren’t dispensed like in North America, where it’s a hot coffee poured into a cup…in Japan the can is heated in the machine and comes out like a hot bullet.
In retrospect this wasn’t the most pleasing day in Tokyo; it was raining and quite a bit colder than the previous day. We spent most of it wandering around Harajuku and Shibuya, lost in mazes of stores that all looked the same. I love shopping, but even I felt overwhelmed by the multi level store complexes with entire floors dedicated to a specific trend/look. Little fit tall Mike, so we were dejected and worn out by the time lunch rolled around.
Still in Harajuku, we first visited Kiddyland (a toy store with several floors) which was an amazing source of childhood figures and icons from the past, but also new ones. There were also some super fun vending machines that spit out toys randomly. Some our scores were octopus bouncing balls, a small display of the female anatomical system and a Nintendo themed mini pen.
I expected an entire floor dedicate to Hello Kitty but instead there was just this “small” corner.
We bought several souvenirs and headed for lunch near Omotesando-dori. We had seen a review for a place that served tonkatsu (crispy fried pork cutlets) called Maisen in a free magazine and decided to walk there, despite the chilly weather.
Omotesando-dori is a pretty significant place for both fashion and architecture in Tokyo, incidentally. We came across the Prada store, and waltzed in, dripping wet and muddy from rain, all over their TOTALLY BEIGE CARPETS and they did not care. There wasn’t a mark on them, either. It was sick. We got an awesome bag for our umbrellas too (every store had some sort of auto bagging device for wet brollies) that had PRADA on it, but I was too shy to ask to keep it and tossed it in the bin with the rest of them.
Maisen turned out to be just what we needed. We followed a maze of alleys following a series of signs on lightposts to the restaurant (built in an old bath house) which was packed. We didn’t have to wait long, however, and were seated at the bar (which became our preferred seating place, due to it’s service and people watching). I had reservations that it would be a tourist trap, but it was excellent.
We were promptly served by a severe old woman, and warmed ourselves with hot tea that instantly appeared and later, miso. The tonkatsu were divine light-as-air, tender meat pieces, with a variety of sauces to apply. They were served bento style, with accompanying pickles (in addition to the appetizer plate of pickles we got), the aforementioned miso, a haystack of shredded raw cabbage and the cutlet on a wire rack, so as to not drip grease all over…if there was any to start with. Sitting at the bar allowed us to watch the proceedings in the kitchen as pound after pound of pork was marinated, dipped in the panko and fried. It was an efficient and delicious operation. If you do not care to wait, you can get your meal to go at the take out window outside the restaurant.
Somewhat recharged, we headed back out into the city and wore our feet out wandering about Shibuya. We had a few places in mind for dinner, one an izakaya, the other another soba place. After almost two hours of looking we could find neither, although we did manage to find the city’s gay district which was interesting. We seemed totally lost and dejected I’m sure, prompting a local gaijin out with his Japanese friend to ask us if we were lost. Neither him nor his friend knew where the Lonely Planet suggested restaurant we were looking for was, and they couldn’t suggest any (! still boggles my mind !) nearby places to eat other than an “Indian place that’s pretty good, and a Thai place above it that isn’t as good.” Thanks for nothing, dude.
We finally decided to head back to Shinjuku and picked the first izakaya we came across and had a variety of plates with large mugs of beer. Wanting to try more than one place we tried heading to another izakaya we’d seen earlier, only to find it was closing soon. It was Saturday night and there were legions of stumbling drunk young men on the streets, and a few people hurling into bags or garbage cans. It was pretty amusing.
We stopped to buy some plum wine and snacks near our hotel and spent the rest of the evening in, taking turns soaking in the incredibly small but incredibly deep bathtub that kept the water hot, automatically.
Ravenous the next morning we ate at the first french-style bakery we found, which served more Chinese based buns, with red bean curd and various meats in them. We had decided to stay close to home as our feet were still weary, and skipped on our plan to try and get into the sumo contest that was just getting under way. We had neglected to try and get seats the day previous and didn’t want to risk sitting on cement or even standing the entire day.
After eating we headed into nearby Isetan, and checked out the food hall, immediately regretting our sad breakfast. The Isetan at Shinjuku is amazing. I’m not sure if it’s the flagship store or how the food hall compares to others in Tokyo; I only have Singapore and Thailand for reference, but this place was mind boggling. They had grocery items, from kobe beef at $120 for 100g to a wall of soy sauces. The produce included “Queen’s Fruit” with $200 melons and $4 strawberries (how could we resist? It was excellent by the way).
Musk melons at the low, low price of 20000 Yen.
There were rows and rows of chocolate desserts, baguettes, pastries, cakes, cookies, all being pointed at by young ladies dressed in traditional kimonos and elaborate hairstyles for the coming of age ceremony that was happening that weekend. Salted fish, fresh fish, as well as ready to eat hot items and free samples for almost everything. We even had a mini tasting of sake at the liquor section, and bought a bottle. We got a few gyoza and other nibblies and made a mental note to return the next day for snacks for our flight to Bangkok
The only other thing really on our plate that day was eating more. We had wanted to rent a bike and eat a picnic in one of the parks but the weather was somewhat off putting, and there were too many restaurants and too little time left to mess around. I really need to learn to binge and purge before my next food-cation.
Many websites that discuss food in Tokyo divide the selections into area of the city or food category, or both. I had compiled a list of what cuisine we wanted to eat into areas of the city we wanted to visit so that if we were in an area we could find a suitable restaurant instead of traveling across the city for a place. One of the soba places I had chosen sounded absolutely divine and as soon as we had an inkling of hunger we immediately headed to it in Ginza.
After the horrible experience of the night previous, I was anxious we wouldn’t be able to find it, but it was daytime, it wasn’t raining and we weren’t blindingly hungry, so I was hopeful. In addition, the directions were incredibly precise…how could they lead us astray?
The place was shockingly easy to find, although the entrance was nothing more than a set of stairs down below the sidewalk and a small Japanese scripted sign outside with even smaller “Soba Sasuga” written in English at the bottom.
Not my picture; but this shows the small, unassuming entrance.
We weren’t sure if they had gotten an english menu (the review we read said it was forthcoming), so we had a simple list of three things to try, plus the necessary sake. When we entered the astonishingly beautiful and minimal dining room we were pleased to be seated in the more private back area, and even more pleased to get an English menu.
We still went with our initial picks however, and were graced with some simple chilled sake, a set of three tiny hills of pastes (miso, wasabi and buckwheat based, I believe) as an appetizer, and our main soba selections.
The three ‘hills’ of appetizers.
I got the hot broth soba (only served in the winter months) with a tempura of baby shrimp as a side, which was akin to eating a crispy cloud of shrimp flavour. I also received a small grated pile of fresh wasabi root and could do little to control my joy as I ate. Mike got the soba with hot broth.
The basket the soba are served on, if you get them chilled.
His hand made buckwheat soba came on a small basket plate and was made to be dipped into his broth. Just as his soba was down to the last noodle, a small teapot of sauce arrived and our server informed him he should add it to his remaining broth to drink. We said little as we savoured our meals, but noticed those around us were eating almost our exact meals; save for the champagne they were ordering bottle after bottle. Apparently it’s a great accompaniment to delicate soba.
The fresh wasabi and beautiful earthenware.
Our service was divine, and we weren’t sure how much English was spoken, but at the end the server (owner?) asked how it was. She seemed especially interested in how we liked our appetizers which she was was a traditional Japanese item. Her anxiety was unfounded however, as everything was amazing.
It was still really freakin’ cold out, so there weren’t many cosplayers out, sadly.
We spent some time walking through Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi park (and checking out the ubiquitous rockabillies and cosplay kids) and then went to a popular chain of izakaya called Tengu back in Shinjuku. It only became apparent to us upon close inspection of the sign that it was the place we were looking for; there is no english and the sign is described as a “long nosed goblin” painted in red.
See the goblin?
The location nearest our hotel turned out to be the second izakaya we had tried to go to the night previous, so it was somewhat fortuitous.
The place was packed!
We again sat at the bar and ordered item after item. Oysters, salted cod guts, pickles, tempura, and two of the items I had chosen this chain for; whale bacon and horse sashimi (Sorry if this offends my polite reader’s sensibilities). While I found it intensely odd and even somewhat morally suspect to be eating whale, I enjoyed the horse more. The whale was paper thin and had a fluorescent pink tinge to it. The horse was so tender it was like trying to pick up butter with chopsticks, and came with onions and a heaping pile of garlic to dress it with.
Whale on the left, horse on the right.
The drinks came fast and furious as well, many sochu or sake based cocktails in painfully unnatural colors. It was a solid choice for a chain, but I want to go somewhere a little less mainstream on the next trip.
We made plans to wake early to go back to Tsukiji and Sushidai again the next morning (our last day!) and awoke at 5am to get a move on. The city was pretty quiet and as we arrived at Tsukiji it seemed that the market was shut down, even though it was supposed to be open. We were pretty sure it was a public holiday, and we were shit out of luck. Fortunately we had a back up plan; it would require spending a bit more money but that seemed alright. We went to a branch of the Michelin starred sushi restaurant, Kyubey (a common alternate spelling is Kyuubei). It turned out to be the best decision of the trip and was a perfect last meal in Tokyo.
Mike got the omakase and I got one of the special set menus. Our meals differed slightly; I got things he did not (that he later ordered a la carte) and he got some things I did not; yet there was no lag in service or obvious missing items. The bill was about $230 for lunch for two.
The bar and chefs of Kyubey.
The fish was immaculate; chosen and cut for perfection on the spot; even seemingly sized differently for the size difference in our mouths. True made to order sushi and nigiri. Some of the fish would come out of the kitchen and our chef would further trim it at the bar if need be. Again, fresh grated wasabi root (which we did not get at Sushidai) and ginger were served right on the bar.
Although I think there is some merit to the idea that some western tongues could never understand the difference between a $20 and a $200 sushi meal, it was apparent to us what the differences were. We tried several types of clam we’d never seen before, tuna belly, abalone, horse mackerel … some unusual things we may not have until our next visit, to be honest.
It was English limited so we’re not completely sure exactly what we got, but every piece was amazing. Also included were miso and a palate cleanser at the end of refreshing daikon slices with shiso leaf and plum sauce in a sort of sandwich. While we were there our chef also prepared some sushi rolls in elaborate wrapping for a woman to take home with her. I couldn’t think of a more perfect present for a food lover.
We visited Isetan again, picked up some satsumas and other little snacks for the plane ride onward to Bangkok. Our plane was delayed quite a few hours and we spent time drinking beer dispensed by the beer pouring robot in the Northwest Airlines lounge, visiting the origami museum in the terminal (highly recommended) and even getting therapy at the oxygen bar for free.
I can’t wait to return to Japan…so many foods left to try, and eat again. I’ve heard some describe the city as alienating and confusing, but I find it was anything but. We never made it to a kobe, shabu shabu or fugu place, so those are definitely on the list.
There was an update to WordPress, the software I used to update this blog, and it was extremely inspiring and exciting. I took advantage of a free afternoon to do some things I’ve been meaning to do for a while, including updating the About page and, more excitingly, the Photo page.
Although sometimes I wish I could say I’m 25 and work at Home Depot, one of those things is obviously no longer true.
This week has been a series of failures, probably brought on by the fact that I ate meat on Good Friday. I’ve been in and out of the hospital the last few days, was not able to successfully recreate the Sonic Drive-In Cherry Limeade I’ve been so desperately craving, and any time I’ve gone looking for a milkshake, I’ve been shut down, either by medication interactions or by the mysterious disappearance of the Dairy Queen in City Centre. (seriously, where did it go? food court tenants are meant to be predictable and long lasting so that office workers can whine about them everyday)
The only things that have worked out was a rice pudding I made today, and my little shower cap that I made for my hand that had the IV in it.
Even through the haze of being high on Benadryl I was able to be an inventive person. Perhaps driven by necessity, however. With twice daily trips to the hospital looming and Mike not around to wash my hair, I had to get my grossness under control.
See? It’s like a boxing handwrap. I cut a hole for my thumb
and for my four fingers and…VOILA!
Kind of reminiscent of hobo gloves, actually:
Also, photogs, take note: I am now (partially) editing my photos with Photoshop Express, a new service. It’s obviously not as awesome as the full release version, but it’s on the web, it’s free, and it’s great for simple clean ups. Photoshop Express
First of all, Austin Wal Marts at 2am are waaaay less scary than Montana state Wal Marts at 2am. Strange, but true.
Also, they sell cactus parts. For eating!
And the aisles are blissfully clean and free of people at that time of night.
SuperTarget still has my back though. Wal*Mart had no Polaroid film. Barely any film at all, infact. So I will blame the death of film on Wal*Mart, naturally.
I ate some delicious food while in Austin, not even counting the wedding reception.
Carne asada tostada and an avocado corn taco from La Tapatia. I was in love. I was too embarassed to take any photos. I was in the the minority there and everyone stared at me come in and the watched me eat and I didn’t have a second to snap a photo. But the plate was heaping with queso, salsa verde, lettuce and just general goodness. $3.50, too.
Cherry lime soda from Sonic. I also ordered two other drinks because it was “happy hour” and was happy that the car had four cup holders. It was really embarassing, since it was clear no one else was in the car, but I wasn’t sad when I went on my 45 minute car ride to some outlets and was well supplied with beverages.
Except I really had to pee.
After the outlets I raced the sun and some ominous looking clouds down some F.M. roads (that stands for farm to market, y’all) to find an infamously famous BBQ spot, The Salt Lick.
I did not get any fireworks, despite the killer buy one get five free deal.
I drove around these curvy country roads for a while, since my directions were coming from a weird start point and I was a bit lost. I kept smelling BBQ smoke, though, and knew it had to be close.
Turns out I passed it twice before I finally got it. My dad even warned me about that. I blame the charming looking steers I kept seeing for distracting me.
At the wedding someone referred to the Salt Lick as the “Disneyland of BBQ” and it kind of was. The sheriff was out, directing traffic and entire spans of generations were lugging coolers of beer into the place (it’s a dry county). A country band was playing and I could smell something good.
It was this.
You got your sausages on top, and your turkey near the back there, and brisket all around. To the left, a big vat of BBQ sauce.
I ordered off this grease stained menu; sliced brisket sandwich with the sides, plus pickles and onion, which turned out to be a half, raw.
(note the vegetable plate)
Anyhow, the pigging out had to end, and I had a wedding to attend. The church was a modest affair that just happened to be directly across from the stunning state capitol and in the downtown core of Austin’s hip streets.
There are no photos from the ceremony because I was crying too hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that, either.
Afterwards, we adjourned to the Driskill Hotel (the place Van Morrison was chucked out of during SXSW a few weeks ago) a classy affair with a decidely Texan flair. It was beautiful, and the wedding decor was amazing. Normally I can take or leave weddings (sorry, married friends) but I was in awe of this one.
There were circling hors d’oeuvres, champagne and regional cocktails like margaritas. A man sat on a piano, playing classics. When the wedding party arrived, they were announced via mariachi band.
The food was great, small tasty bites and live action stations with mashed truffled potatoes and prime rib, as well as duck quesadillas, crab cakes, etc etc. Yum.
There was even a cake just for Nick, the groom.
Gregg and Beth, the groom’s parents and close family friends, flank me.
And this is Beth and the man of the hour, Nick.
At the end of the night, we sent Nick and Adriana off in a shower of rose petals into their horse drawn carriage. Then they magically appeared later in the bar, so I call shenanigans.
Gregg stood dutifully with his fist of petals.
After this, we went to the bar, which was packed with trendy SXSWer’s attending the film portion of the festival. I remember drinking champagne and discussing the pros and cons of living in Singapore.
And this couch
Then I saw that shoes had started to come off, and the night was drawing to a close. Some bums caught a cab for me and I sped off into the windy Austin night.
From the plane window I saw this fantastic sunset, and also northern lights!
Thank you, Nick, Adriana, Gregg and Beth for being such great hosts.
Nick and Adriana are currently in the Maldives, enjoying the honeymoon of a lifetime.
Well, not quite. I had hoped to be able to upload my photos from Texas today, but a mix of having an exam next weekend, spending yesterday in the emergency room and not having any photo editing software on the laptop right now has just irritated the hell out of me.
So I shall study and perhaps later have a business meeting with the Wii.
And because I could not deny you of all photos from Austin, here a creepy graffiti style painting of Miley Cyrus, perhaps better known as Hannah Montana, available for purchase at Target. She looks more like the mothers of her target audience…like a 35 year old with deep smile lines, non?
(on a side note, there was an ENTIRE AISLE dedicated to this girl and her musical stylings. How they relate to throw pillows for your 12 year old’s room, I’m not sure. But if you want Miley’s face on it, they have it at your local Target. I just had unicorns all over, so what do I know about decorating a “tween” room?)
Well, not really big news. At work we have a photographer’s blog, but the photographers are usually so busy, you know, taking photographs, they don’t have time to update it. Which leaves us, the desk staff (aka, deskers) to do it, if we have the time and interest.
I personally love it, because there are a lot of photos that don’t get play in the paper or have no room to be fit into, so I can post some of them up on the blog. But I, like many of our readers, want to know the story behind the photos. Cool things happen to photogs sometimes. They may not think it’s a big deal, but they live fairly interesting work lives, in between the shots of old ladies, new animals at the zoo and weather.
Anyhow, I updated the blog on the death of Polaroid, which caused me great consternation when I was away in Asia, because I knew I would miss the last batches of film in Edmonton. Luckily Austin was a strong hold of film and I loaded up.
But, I had the great pleasure of being on the workplace website the other day (which is neat, because I do lot of work on it, but my name is never associated with any of my work). Also on the screenshot; a piece of audio I edited and the word penis. Good times.
In February, when I picked up Mike from his retreat at Suan Mokkh, he was a talking machine. I mean, who wouldn’t be after 10 days of silence? He talked for almost 6 hours straight, telling me about the training he underwent, the ups and downs of bathing from a basin, sleeping on concrete and pains from meditation. He also told me about his fellow meditators which greatly interested me, as a people watcher.
At the end of the retreat, the participants were given an opportunity to speak about their experience, and he said a few people stood out, including a man in his 70s named Al. He said Al looked great for his age and had been to the retreat many times over. He had lived in Bangkok for many years, and was basically just enjoying life and keeping his health up by attending the retreat and practicing deep breathing. Pretty impressive.
Al gave Mike his contact info, and he sounded like a genuinely interesting fellow, so I encouraged him to look Al up. We set up a meeting with him at a pub on Sukhumvit on our second last night in Bangkok. I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what the hell, it was happy hour and the beer was brewed in house. We’d have a drink or two, then go out for dinner, parting ways.
That isn’t what happened at all.
First, it must be said that Mike’s tolerance was greatly decreased by the fact that he hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. So we were both halfway through our first pints and feeling glassy eyed. I was hoping Al would come quickly, because I had a feeling he might want to have a few drinks with us as well and I wasn’t sure how long I could hold out.
Luckily, the man appeared quickly. The waitress brought him his drinks without him ordering, and he quickly launched into how great he was feeling post-retreat, and how no one ever took him up on his offer to meet up in Bangkok, so he’s glad Mike did.
The man was a 70-something-year-old dynamo.
Scowling about Thailand’s new smoking laws, he went outside to light up his cigar. When Mike went to visit the men’s room, he told me about why he was so intrigued by Mike at the retreat; his sunglasses. He said Mike would arrive (to the dining hall/yoga etc), with his sunglasses on, scan the room, look like a robot, then sit down and eat or meditate or whatever. I think he used the word “Terminator” to describe him. Naturally, I asked him to put on Mike’s sunglasses. (Note the unbuttoned shirt.) I don’t know how long we stayed at the bar. We originally had plans to go for dinner on the other side of town, but it was getting a bit late (this always seems to happen to me when I drink in Bangkok). Al said he knew a place we could go for food, but I asked him what he was doing, and would he join us? He sheepishly admitted that he was going to Soi Cowboy, one of the city’s *ahem* entertainment districts. I asked, could we join him? He seemed taken aback, but quickly hailed a cab and we all clambered in.
Al immediately told us he was “looking for his friend Henry” and said we had to go check the ‘clubs’ for him. So, we walked in and out of several go-go bars, with women in various states of undress on the stages, looking for “Henry.” We never found him, the old bastard, but we sure did see a lot of other… people.
Mike perfected the “White Man in Sex District” look of astonishment.
Finally we settled in at a small club where Al knew the owner. We sat on the patio so Al could smoke and we could people watch.
Al got us some bugs to eat from a cart that passed, so I tried a huge sort of water skimmer / roach I think.
We hung out with him for some time, shooting the crap with oil field workers coming in and out of the place, and just watching the mayhem on the street. Eventually Al said he had some business to attend to, and we parted ways as he went off, saying something about “…finding Henry.”
We walked down Soi Cowboy, bathed in the eerily Vegas-like neon lights and into the Bangkok night.
I guess I could split the rest of our time in Bangkok up into days, but to be honest, it was mostly just eating. I can’t remember much outside of the haze of that, except for one night in particular that I will dedicate a post to.
Our first meal, the one that Mike had been craving since escaping from the meditation retreat, was Indian. We tried a Kashmiri Indian restaurant – they don’t seem to be as into geographically isolating the Indian food in Edmonton, which is unfortunate. A strong point about most restaurants in Bangkok and Tokyo were that they specialized, and did one thing well. In Edmonton, they try to please everyone. This is rarely good.
Anyhow, we went to this charming gardenesque restaurant called Indus. It was down a long soi (street) that started with Japanese restaurants and massage parlours advertising this:
Smile teen indeed. They get straight to the point, huh? Anyhow, Indus was incredible. They are probably best known for their marinated meats. The grilled meats were amazing, as were the homemade chutneys and papadums. The curries were alright, but the okra we got was outstanding. We were stuffed.The next morning we headed out, hungry for more.
Yum yum dim sum.Well, “tim sum”, actually. Previously, Mike and I thought our best dim sum had been at Sun Sui Wah in Vancouver. I had read about a place on a foodie’s blog we were going to try, part of a chain, but when we got there, the building was closed and being demolished. Which is all fine and well because we finally ate at the place (called Chok Dee, which means good luck in Thai; I foreshadowing?) our last night and ended up taking off before finishing; something we’ve never done during a meal before. It was that bad.
Anyhow, after our first choice was closed, Mike was very sad, but I saved the day by taking him to another chain, but a very high end one out of Singapore called Crystal Jade, located at Paragon shopping center. Even still, it was tens of dollars cheaper than our dim sum in Vancouver and ten times better and became the best tim sum we’d ever had.
Later, we tried to find Thailand’s (apparently) only Ethiopian restaurant, The Abyssinya Cafe, but again, it had moved or closed down. There was definitely a pattern going on, but luckily this trend ended after that night and we had great luck finding our dining choices.
We ended up wandering around “Soi Arab” in Bangkok, which is basically where all the Middle Eastern tourists and expats congregate. The streets smell of grilled shawarma and kebabs, shisha and the restaurants glitter with silver and mirrors. It was just like being back in Abu Dhabi again.
We had ANOTHER dinner of grilled meats (Mike blames it on reading “The Kite Runner”) with various pickles, some excellent hummus and hand made pita at Shisha Nasir. We recalled how delicious this fantastic dinner was after having a terrible dinner back home here at a Middle Eastern restaurant last night. Seriously, it was terrible; Sultan’s Palace sucked. But! This is about the good times of Bangkok. The next morning we had another breakfast of tim sum set up, but at a much swanker place.
We rode The Oriental’s guest-only boat to their special pier and stepped off into undoubtedly one of the finest hotels in the world. Many of the world’s writers have lived in residence there, probably watching the sun set over the Chao Phraya river, contemplating life from their sweet suite. We were only there to eat though, as we’re not baller enough to pay $350 a night for a room, yet. We were still treated like kings, and were guided to our restaurant, China House. It was in an old converted house just outside the front door of the hotel, and was renovated a year or two ago at some astronomical cost. Money well spent, however, as the room (house?) was gorgeous.
It was highlighted in red silk and dark woods, with fine fabrics luxuriously draped all over the place. There were small enclosed booths for private conversations and meals spread out over two floors.
The music was mood enhancing, a mix of old jazz standards and heavy sounding Chinese instrumental pieces. Initially we were the only ones dining and we had three or four people serving us. This later went down to two waiting on us hand and foot; what is the world coming to? Although I expected the meal to be extremely expensive, it was only moderate, and probably about what we pay for dim sum back here at home… but the quality was jaw dropping. Fresh ingredients, not over cooked…just excellent.
We received a small amuse bouche to start the courses:
I think it was a mango dragonfruit prawn gelee parfait. The restaurant is also well regarded for it’s selection of Mariage Freres teas, and it’s one of the only places you can get it in Thailand I believe. I mean, I enjoy my tea, but this was above and beyond anything I had had. We ordered a pot of the signature blend they had comissioned for the restaurant (there was also one of the hotel)…but it was no easy feat to pick one out. Their tea menu was many pages long:
Better yet, they kept refilling our cups for us, and refilling the pot; but never letting the tea steep in the pot and become bitter. There a special tea bar, with water always at a perfect boil and the teas arranged on a wall.
Anyhow, the meal was amazing. We got mango shrimp rolls, deep fried taro, pan fried pork dumplings, pork and abalone steamed buns, braised pork belly with butterfly shaped steamed dumplings and more… and we even had room for dessert. Mike’s was the best; “three lime soup”. That name is deceptively simple as the dish came out as this:
Even the washroom (as in each singular toilet stall) was elaborate; when you closed the stall door, there was a flat screen playing old Chinese films on it. We were in love and then THAT became the best tim sum we’d ever had.
Walking around the next day we saw a movie being filmed. They were using New York style cabs. I don’t think it was a big production though as when we walked by later the main actors seemed to be Thai, so probably for domestic theatres only.
We had high tea at the Erawan tea room, which overlooks the Erawan shrine, probably one of Bangkok’s most loved shrines with dancers you can commission for luck. The tea room served an impressive spread of Thai and western snacks and treats, and a steal of a deal at $6 I think.
Plus their furniture was all curvy and sexy. For dinner we visited another ‘high end’ restaurant…again, for probably the same price as an expensive meal at an Earl’s or some other mid level chain at home in Canada. It was at a small Relais & Chateaux hotel (they are an organization that recognizes excellence in small luxury hotels and their restaurants) and done in a colonial style.
We dined at D.B. Bradley at the Eugenia. Initially we were the only ones in the room and it felt luxuriously awkward to be fawned over.
The service was a little try hard and fussy, but well meaning. The appetizers (Kobe pho and seared Kobe with mushrooms and grilled romaine Ceasar salad) were outstanding. The main dishes were just okay. After dinner we walked around the tiny hotel. It had mounted animals from Africa decorating the walls, furniture and floors, and some neat pinned insects.
The next day we did some more shopping and visitied the aquarium. Last year, I paid about $12 for entrance. This year, they did what all tourist attractions seem to do eventually – price for Thai and foreigners. It’s a fact of life in Thailand, but it’s kind of rude when they price their Thai only prices in the Thai script so foreigners may never know, and also the discrepency is pretty high. So now entrance fees are closer to $22. It’s still a great aquarium, but it put a bad taste in my mouth.
My precious garden eels!
Lobster checking me out.
Seahorses. Theirs were in exceptionally good health and were eating when we arrived, snorting tiny shrimp in through their snouts.
There are two stonefish in this picture…can you spot them?
The only manta I saw the entire trip.
We then grabbed some light snacks and headed out to meet Al. You’ll meet Al in the next post.
So, tomorrow I am going to a wedding in Austin, Texas. It’s also the beginning of SXSW (Google it, okay?) but I’m not a big enough geek to attend. I will be eating from taco shacks and bbq huts though. A lot.Anyhow, because I’m going away, I thought I might knock off another post. It’s a long one, so hang in there.
After Mike did his meditation retreat, I went to pick him up. Since we arranged to meet very early in the morning, I had to get there a day early and spent the night along in Surat Thani, that awesome town I’ve mentioned before.
The city is basically clapboard houses above Chinese storefronts and power lines. Lots and lots of power lines.
After the bus ride, I retired to the luxurious Tapee Hotel. At $9 a night, I got air con, a hot shower and even TV. I got some snacks (pomelo, a fruit, sticky rice and a Pepsi) and retired to watch “The Sentinel” starring that powerhouse, Michael Douglas.
I grew tired of that quickly, so I wandered about to see what town was like after dark.
It seemed like most areas were seedy. The docks were seedy. The narrow alleyways by the bus stop were seedy. Even the dudes hanging outside the monastery were seedy.
It gave me a false sense of security, and I headed to an area that I knew was rife with red light type places to see if there were good photo ops. I saw this large decrepit tarantula outside a defunct club. I crossed the street to snap it, near some men who were drinking in the street. After I took the photo, one of men joked (maybe?) that I should now pay him 200 baht. I wasn’t sure what to do; so I joked back, saying in Thai I would only give him 100 baht because the spider was missing an eye.
I was tense; would he get it?
He nearly fell off his seat laughing, and shook my hand. I made my escape quickly, but not before he offered me a massage…”free free!” You know. One of THOSE massages. His friends laughed as I quickly walked away.
I went down a side street where some … women? Ladyboys? I don’t even know, it was really dark, offered their services to me. Not wanting to offend, nor be chased away, I practiced using my long exposure on my camera. Eventually the pack of ladythings went away, and I got this shot.
When I got back to the hotel, sugar ants had started to devour a the drippings from my Pepsi. It was clearly time to leave.
After a fitful night of non-sleep, I picked up a distinctly thinner Mike at the train station as we had planned and we took off to the jungle. Khao Sok is a few hours away from Surat, in between the two coasts on the pointy bottom of Thailand. It’s based around a large lake that was man made; a dam was made to feed the energy requirements of Southern Thailand, and so a whole valley was filled with water during the construction.
Not unlike Canmore in the Rockies, there is a small area just outside the park gates that has a wide selection of accomodation. Inside the gates, there is only camping and rafthuts on the water, but they are hard to get to, and quite pricey. We opted for day trips.
We chose Jungle Huts when we arrived in Khao Sok; the price was right and they seemed quiet. If I were to go back to the area again, I would not stay here again. They offered tree houses which we wanted, but had shitty beds, holes in the mosquito nets and not a lot of room. Then, on the way out, they wouldn’t give us a ride to the main road, which is standard for most resorts there. I think it was because we didn’t eat at their restaurant. There was also a bonus, however: wildlife!
Our “treehouse”. I can only imagine the spills that happened off that stairway.
As we moved into our room, up on a neighbouring roof was a small group of macaque monkeys. Excited, I took a photo. “This bodes well for our nature viewing,” I remember saying to Mike. This was true.
After we showered and settled in, I opened the curtains to the patio, and just about fell over. “MIKE! MIKE!” I whispered as I woke him.
“THE MONKEYS ARE OUTSIDE!”
He got up quickly, and we carefully made sure all the screens on the windows were secure against tiny monkey hands. We then watched for a long time.
They played for us…
…posed for us.
They shat on our table and then wiped their asses with my towel that was drying on the patio banister. No kidding.
It grew old quickly, I have to tell you. The constant threat of a monkey attack was, well, constant. I feared them running into the room, grabbing my panties and going off into the jungle with them. I wouldn’t mind so much, but Victoria’s Secret ain’t cheap, you know?
Occasionally we’d hear the monkeys on the roof. The roofs were tin, so the primates would scamper about, and it would echo into our room. Suddenly it became clear where the hole in our ceiling had come from.
Little eyes would peer in, then furtive hands, and finally entire arms would reach through this hole. I was okay with the zoo outside the windows, but them being in the attic was unsettling. We could also see that they got into the treehouse next to us…monkey breaches of security were always imminent.
Eventually they chilled out and just let us watch them; there were probably 5-8 of them hanging about, in a range of ages. Mike would touch the screen, and they would touch his hand. He’d make a face, and they would copy it; it was enchanting.
Finally, they seemed to tire of our hijinks, and grew tired of us, as we grew tired of them.
We did other things, of course. Spy on our bathroom frog, for one.
We also ate at a restaurant called Misty Restaurant a lot. They had their own garden and every meal, our fruit shakes had a new flower arrangement on them.
This one reminded me of a rambutan, a type of fruit.
(That mango shake, by the way, was the best I’ve had in my life)
This was really a dessert, but we ate it for breakfast a few times; mixed fruit with warm sticky rice and coconut milk. It was pretty amazing.
There is a main road that has all the guesthouses and restaurants off it. There are a few little stores as well, tour operators, all the wants of home.
Even “FAST” internet.
Mike got to hold a baby golden gibbon!
We went on a day trip to the lake, mostly to check out a cave. There was only one cave open following a rainy season flash flood that killed a German tour group and two Thai guides in the other.
We drove to the lake, road a boat for an hour, then hiked a bit, and finally rode on a bamboo raft to get to the cave.
Our guide told us this was mouse deer poop. Seeing one would be rare; even after looking at the Calgary Zoo for a half hour, we didn’t see the one they claim to keep there.
Yeah, it’s cool, I walk on rocks with bare feet too.
CAVES. Hot. Dark. Bat filled!
You guys should watch the Planet Earth on caves. It’s creepy.
This limestone formation is called 100 Elephants.
After the cave, we went to the rafthouses for lunch and some kayaking. Well, you could swim, but Mike and I wanted to see if we could spy wildlife, so we wanted to kayak.
You can see the dead trees from when they filled the valley with water! You could also hear the calls of gibbons somewhere in the forest as we paddled.
We rounded a bend, desperate for shade. As we did so, we heard some rustling on land. I was pretty sure it was a bird or something lame, but eventually it became clear we were spying on a gibbon! He was just hanging around, swinging about, eating leaves. We watched him for almost an hour before heading back to our longtail boat. But it was pretty awesome. Pretend you can see him in this photo:
Yeah. Right there. In the middle.
Why couldn’t he be cool like his cousins the macaques?
Our last morning, we woke up early to go bird watching. I found a website with a small guide to the area and a walk to see some birds on (potentially). The park gates opened at 6, but there weren’t many people going in. In fact, we were the first on the log book for the day. Later, coming out at 8am, we saw some groups with guides going in. It was already hot and steamy, and I felt bad for them. I also doubt anyone hiking the trail needed a guide, it was easier than some river valley trails. And going earlier probably meant you’d see more by yourself, as tours didn’t start until 8am.
Blue green fern.
Where the F were the wild elephants?
Apparently you CAN see them, but they’re increasingly rare. It’s a big park; they hang out all over. Also to be spotted: wild pigs, gibbons, dusky langurs, civet cats, snakes, mouse deer (yeah, right) and the most elusive: tapirs. We hardly even saw birds…hornbills are frequent visitors, but usually only during rainy season; which is during the other 11 months of the year…seriously. We went during the only dry, leech free month. Thankfully.
Just after snapping this bamboo photo, Mike and I heard some rustling. I assumed it was a squirrel, but Mike pointed something slightly larger moving about in the bush…
A MOUSE DEER.
WE SAW A GODDAMNED MOUSE DEER.
NOT JUST ITS POOP.
They are about knee high (well, my knee) and very tiny and oddly shaped. Nocturnal, they tend to stay away from anything noisy. I don’t know how we didn’t scare it away, but I’m glad we saw it. Again, no photo evidence, but you believe me, right?
We turned around at these ‘waterfalls’, but not before I caught Mike falling into the water on camera.
Of course, I rushed to help him. After taking the photo.