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Honeymoon Recap 1: Prologue

December 19th, 2010 No comments

The food sucked, we got majorly sick, and John went to a strip club.

I was too jet lagged to remember now whether or not my first report on our trip to the Philippines was quite so terse, but that, according to Tracy, is how I summed it up to our friend Doc while in LAX’s international terminal awaiting our final connection back to Denver.

Truly, I would require some more sleep and/or practice in choosing my mention-worthy highlights before I could be trusted to paint a fairer picture of the whole 18-day experience.

For it wasn’t that bad, whatever images popped into your head while reading the opening words above is most likely a far cry from how our trip went.  And it is in that spirit that I would like to acknowledge a few things up front and get them out of the way:

First, it is true that, of the now 4 international adventures that Tracy and I have taken together, this one happened to take 4th place.  And I’m not bummed by that.  After all, one of the 4 trips would have to take that slot, and I see no reason to think that particularly disappointing because this one was our honeymoon.  The flip side of that coin is the realization simply how fantastic it is that we’ve enjoyed now 4 trips of a honeymoon-esque scale and radness.

Second, I want to grant up front that I would not recommend the Philippines to a friend.  Tracy and I wrestled with this a bit while over looking the South China Sea from our 3rd floor balcony one night, wondering if that meant we were genuinely not having a good time?  We decided that more than anything the reason we wouldn’t is because it’s TOO hardcore: we love to find travel bliss in more obscure places, preferring to sidestep touristy hot spots, but for even us the Philippines was too far off the beaten path, a bit too rugged, and even (oddly enough) not touristy enough.  One hint that we are not alone in this belief was the sheer regularity of the question “So why did you come to the Philippines?” as posed by locals to me.  I gather that they really wanted to know, as though the obvious rationale of tourism somehow did not apply.

Third, though as a rule I prefer to refrain from being a big complain-monkey, I will go on the record here and now stating that yeah, the food did kinda suck.  There’s a curious and consistent culinary quirk in the Philippines, and that is the sweetness found in everything.  Basic staples like butter and bread are infused (sans exception, it seems) with sugar, and it permeates out from those basics accordingly: even the catchup for french fries and marinara sauce for spaghetti are acutely sweet.  Once the novelty wears off, it’s just kinda gross.

That about covers the upfront caveats: I lay them out here with care because of the tendency for people to expect that your honeymoon should be this magical, unforgettable getaway where you have your first span of time together as husband and wife.  It’s a sweet presumption, for sure, but for it I feel compelled not to dash anyone’s well meaning presumptions with tales of my honeymoon that came in 4th place.

With all of those things said and done with, I wish to clearly articulate now all of the things that were fantastic about our trip to the Philippines.  Tales of our travel–free of superfluous commentary on things like sugary spaghetti–begin with the next post!

Categories: Travels Tags: ,

Keeping up with Hummus Afficionados

February 1st, 2010 1 comment

Last night Tracy and I took a walk through the neighborhood and to the Whole Foods half  a mile away: just an excuse to stretch our legs.  Already flush with groceries, we decided we’d pop in and get just one item as a momento of our trip.  But what to get?

While in Chicago I had a most excellent hummus provided by my host Tom.  So I called him: “Tom, boobie, I’m at the Whole Foods playing Millionaire, the question is which hummus should I get and I’m calling you in as my life line.” I said emphatically into my cellphone whilst wandering the aisles.  To my delight he replied just as emphatically “Sabra’s, baby, it’s gotta be Sabra’s.  If they don’t have Sabra’s, you need to go shake whoever’s in charge and ask what the heck’s wrong with them and their obviously two-bit operation.”

There’s no Sabra’s on this shelf.  What now, boss?  Aside from the shaking part, I mean?  “Get the good stuff.  Spend the extra 50 cents and get the good stuff.  I’ve used dish detergents that are 4 bucks apart and there’s no perceivable difference between the two: not the case with hummus.  50 cents gets you into a whole new realm of hummus.  Get the good stuff.”

Right on then, the $3.39 hummus it is.

After a few more tips from Tom on how to be a big hummus serving stud (get mini pitas and cut ’em into chips and oven bake ’til warm, squeeze fresh lemon on the chips, with a scissors cut little ends off of fresh dill over the whole thing), it was time to check out.  “Did you find everything ok?” is a common expression of check out clerks.  It’s so often delivered as rote that I will usually unconsciously reply “Yep” to, regardless of how I actually fared while wandering the aisles.

This time though, to Donovan the checkout clerk I had presence of mind enough to reply with a more thoughtful “Actually no, I’m told I should get Sabra’s hummus and that any self-respecting place should carry it, but I couldn’t find it.”  It was then that Heather, the groovy night manager who was hanging at the end our our lane ready to bag our paltry three items (hummus, mini pitas and a lemons: Tom ma’ man, you would do well on commission), chimed in to school me on the brands of hummus that her store proudly stocks.  “You’re looking for a great hummus?  Come with me, we can exchange that one out for you.”

Now that’s some good customer service: we wandered back to the sad, Sabra’s-deprived shelves and she pointed me to her favorite choice for a really creamy hummus (Wild Thyme Natural’s).  THEN we wandered to another part of the store with the more specialty items, where they stock their most expensive brand, Yummy’s Choice.  “Here you go, we’ll exchange your original one for the Wild Thyme, and I’ll sample this one out to you so you can give it a try.”  Sweet, bonus hummus!  Score one for speaking up and believing that they actually care when they ask you if you found everthing ok!

And the hummus treat itself?  Turns out the Wild Thyme tasted significantly better than the Yummy’s Choice (too much tahini!), and Tom was right: warmed pita chips are made most excellent with a few drops of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Categories: Eating Well Tags: ,

Living Well on the Cheap: Quick Picks from Buenos Aires

January 5th, 2010 No comments

The sister of a friend contacted me recently looking for tips for her upcoming visit (as she puts it, “I like touristy things but my friend and I (who will be there for 2 weeks with me) are more interested in good food, good wine, good people and dancing!”).

Armed with both hindsight and fond recollection, I came up with the following.  Bear in mind that the exchange rate during my visit was about 3.8 Argentine pesos to the US dollar, so to get dollars the mental math is just to divide by four, then add a little more.

  • The Japanese botanical gardens.  5 or 8 pesos well spent and the weather should be great for leisurely wandering about (hopefully not too hot!).  The restaurant there has primo sushi.
  • Practica X tango dancing.  Ten pesos gets you in for great dance every Tuesday night with a great crowd geared towards more relaxed tango practice, complete with a lesson at the start.  http://practicax.net/ for complete details.
  • Ricoleta fair on Sundays.  Right on the grounds surrounding the famous Ricoleta cemetery, it has tons of stands featuring artesian crafts and more importantly great crowds of people laying about on the lawn, enjoying yerba mate and often live music.  Try the “pan rellenos caliente” being peddled about, a hot tasty snack of stuffed bread for just 8 pesos.
  • Freddo helado.  Ice cream that is kinda ritzy at 15 or so pesos a cone, but well worth it.  My favorite cone combo is the regular chocolate and the regular dolce du leche.
  • If you’re in to meat, parrilla (Argentine-style grilled meats) can be found all over.  One superb experience I can recommend is at a restaurant called Miranda.  50 pesos gets you an amazing beef tenderloin (lomo).
  • Duck your head into any bakeries (patesseries) that have nummy things on display.  I highly recommend anything with dolce du leche in it, especially the churros.

The other day I paid about 7 bucks for a so-so steak at the local King Soopers.  It made me appreciate and miss places like Miranda and Roberto’s meat counter.

Categories: Travels Tags: , ,