Musing on food and cooking ...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Orange-Saffron Tofu with Cilantro Pesto

Now that I am done with recounting the Alaskan trip, it's time to get back to what this blog is supposed to be about - food and cooking! Per request of one of my DC readers, Wednesday is going to be Vegetarian Day at GourmetGoddess. Here is the recipe for a simple vegetarian dish that was the highlight of my "Sold!" party in August of 2004.

Orange-Saffron Tofu
One container of extra firm tofu
Juice and zest from one orange
3 cups of flavorful liquid of your choice - either veggie or onion broth or white wine or a mixture
a good solid pinch of saffron
a pinch of salt

Drain tofu. Then slice in 1-inch thick slices (when sliced it should look like a deck of cards). Mix the rest of the ingredients together to form a marinade. Put the tofu in a flat pan and pour the marinade over it, making sure the tofu is covered. Marinate for at least 2 hours. Drain the tofu and pat dry with a paper towel. Spray a non-stick pan or coat it with a little oil on a paper towel (you just want a light coating to help with sticking). On medium high heat, saute the tofu until it has a crispy golden brown outside and is warm on the inside.

Cilantro Pesto
1 bunch cilantro
olive oil
pine nuts
5 large cloves of garlic

This one is a little more trial and error to make. Start with one bunch of cilantro. Wash it well. Then, get a blender ready. Using a knife, rough chop about half the cilantro and place in the blender. Add in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and start blending. You may also need to add a bit of water now and then. Then add a couple of hand-fulls pf pine nuts and a couple of cloves of garlic. Keep adding ingredients until you have as much pesto as you need and the texture is thick but not a paste. I like mine very garlicky so I add in a lot of garlic, but use your judgement. I like to add a pinch of salt and pepper at the end, to taste.

Spoon pesto over the sauted tofu. Serve with brown rice and vegetable of your choice.

Next week - chipotle lentil and potato ragu...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Canada. Canada?

Hahahaha, you thought this was only about Alaska. Yes, dear readers, the last stop on our cruise was in Canada. Victoria to be exact. Our time in Victoria was again pretty short, just half a day, so up early we went and out onto the doc. We had a tour lined up through Grey Line tours for later in the morning, and so we thought we would take the shuttle bus into town and just hang out, dudes. On our way to the suttle bus, we were waylaid by a PediCab tour guide.

And, boy, were we ever glad to be waylaid. Our peddler, Ian- he of the handsome red-hair, he of the Lance Armstrong build, he who I wouldn't mind dating if he lived less than half a continent away - customized a tour for us and drove us through the Victorian sections of town, the downtown area, and into the secret alleys of Chinatown. In the space on 90 minutes, we learned more about Victoria than we had in just about any other place we visited.

After we had put poor Ian through a workout, we got back to the doc in time for a potty break and a little gift shopping. Then we ran to our double-decker tour. Which was terrible. It was nothing more than an info-mercial. See here the million dollar condos? They too can be yours!

We were so bored. We would rather have had our money back so we could spend another hour with Ian the Yummy. So, when our tour was done, we went back to our rooms an waited to cast off for San Francisco.

Soon, we were back in the City by the Bay. We were able to check into our hotel early and then we headed off to the Asian Art Museum, which was just down the street. Past all the homeless sleeping in the park. San Fran has a serious homeless problem. It was very sad.

We enjoyed the Museum greatly, until we got to the gift shop, where our helper was terribly rude, then made an error with our Traveler's Check and then damaged something Mom had purchased, although we didn't know it at the time. Then we went back to the hotel and napped for a bit and prepared for our evening dinner at the Fog City Diner.

My god. What food! Mom had a calamari appetizer and cioppino - a kinda Italian seafood stew. I had a beet, heirloom tomato, and nectarine salad with a sweet lime vinagrette and an appetizer size order gouda mac and cheese with black forest ham and peas. I cannot describe how good this was, and I normally hate mac n cheese. I can still feel it in my mouth. In the words of Homer Simpson, *drool*

The next morning we got up and went to the post office where we waited for 30 minutes for it to open. We had to mail back a bunch of our crap so we didn't have to pay the over-weight luggage fee of $50. We then went and had breakfast across the street from the hotel at Steve's Cafe. Again, excellent food. But we were running a little late. We took the trolley to Fisherman's Wharf and it took forever. As a result, we missed out very expensive tour.

Luckily, we got a nice ticket agent who transferred us to the afternoon tour. Saved, but our whole day was rearranged. As a result, we spent the day at Pier 39, which is very touristy. We did enjoy the sea lions, for all that they smell pretty bad and are very noisy. Still, they were the closest we got to wildlife. We then headed back to where we had to grab the tour bus and got on one bus, that took us to another place, where we got on another bus.

As dear readers know my mother is partially disabled. She has rheumatoid arthritis. She does use a cane once in a while. But she doesn't like to make a big deal about it and 9 times out of 10 doesn't need any special treatment. Well, the tour guide made a huge deal out of it. He had promised the handicapped seats to two skinny little blondies and spent most of the tour apologizing to them that he had to kick them out of those seats 'cause he didn;t know a special needs person was getting on. Get over it. Jerk.

Either way, the tour was about 4 hours long and we did get to see highlights of the entire city - Golden Gate bridge, Height-Ashbury, Chinatown - a little bit of everything. I wish we could have spent a lot of time exploring the city, but hey! We did what we could with the time we had.

Then we went back to Fisherman's Wharf and waited for our evening tour to Alcatraz. We were starving, so Mom got a hot dog at a nearby stand. That's when her nemesis struck - an evil seagull bomber from hell! It dived her, knocked the hot dog from her hand, and gulped it whole. The entire dock was in shock! Insanity.

Onto the boat and off to Alcatraz. Scary place. Very oppressive. And filled with great sadness. We wanted to get off asap, but there were no ferries until 8:30.

We finally escaped the Rock, and after an aborted attempt to take public transportation back to the hotel, we caught a taxi and had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Not bad at all.

In the morning, we got up early and headed to the airport. And that was the end of our Alaskan adventure! Where we will go next? Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 5!

God, will I be glad when this is over! I certainly enjoy sharing all this with you but it is taking almost as long to talk about the trip as it did to go on the trip!

Anyway, I am happy to talk about our favirote place. Ketchikan. It it wasn't our favorite place just because it was sunny and in the low 70s, either. The poor Ketchikans were terribly stressed because it was so hot. Frankly, I was as content as a cat on a hot rock.
Anyway, Ketchikan was totally cool! Totem Bright State Park was amazing and our trip to the Saxman Native Village (really, an actually Tlingit village) was mondo fun!

Again, we got up early in the morning to get out the door. But since so many people had early morning tours, we didn;t avoid the rush. Instead, we waited and waited in line. It didn;t help matters that we were almost an hour late docking. Many folks didn't make their morning tours. I hope they got reimbursed.

We made our tour. Onto a nice tour bus we went and off for a short tour around the town. The highlights? A little park that was really beautiful and the redlight district, which I wish we could have walked through. Lots of cute little painted houses.

Once the house tour was done, we headed out of town to Totem Bright State Park. Along the way, we saw some interesting "boat" houses. To avoid paying property taxes, many of the loggers used to build shacks on floating rafts that rose and fell with the tide. Because they were never really on solid ground, they didn;t have to pay taxes. Then we got to the park. I was disobedient and headed out into the woods along the path (it's a one-way path. What's the worst that could happen!? Well, bears I suppose but since it was me, I was never going to see one anyway, so whatever.) So I headed out and took some great tree and rock pictures (most of my pictures are of trees and rocks. I can't help it. It's genetic.) and then I hit the totem poles.

Like, wow! So beautiful! So impressive! So damn tall! Each pole tells the story of a particular event in the history of the tribe that cares it, traditionally. Nowadays, they sometimes aren't based on a historical happened but rather tell a different type of story. Each different symbol has a very complex meaning. It used to be that the women would chew salmon eggs, spit out the mess, and mix in different botanicals to make paint. Now they just get it at the Ace hardware. Totem poles also used to be erected and left to decay naturally. But so mnay were stolen or damaged by white men, that there is a lot of care taken to preserve them; some are even stored inside.

After spending a lot of time at the park and taking a million pictures, we got back on the bus and headed back to the pier, where we caught another bus for our next tour - to the Saxman Native Village. An actual functional Tlingit town, we got to learn more about Tlingit history and language. We watched a short film and then went to the ceremonial lodge to view a traditional dance troop. Yours truly got to put on full regalia and dance! It was so exciting. Women's dancing among the Tlingit is even less physically active than women's dancing among the Ojibwe (if you are a regular woman and not a fancy dancer), but it was way fun! It reminded me of when I was a little girl and we would go to the pow-wows in Wisconsin. I would dance so much, I would wear holes in my mocs. Once, I got pulled off the floor, because - at 8 or 9 - I was a little too young to be dancing in the eligible young women's dance. I was mad as hell and threw a hissy fit! No need for a hissy fit among the Tlingit. They let me dance.

Our guide was actually a white woman. She reminded me a lot of my friend Timi from Kentucky...similar voices, similar mannerisms, similar body types. This guide had some sort of an interesting relationship to the Saxman villagers; I am not certain what it was but it felt like family.

We got to see a totem pole carver working and learned that he makes about $60K per average pole. Nice! And beautiful work. I was going to swipe another curl, but I found an interesting knothole from a piece of wood being readied for carving that I was able to take home with me.
I didn't get many pictures at Saxman because my camera battery died. But I did get a tasty reindeer jerky snack and a not so tasty salmon jerky snack. I just don't like salmon. I just don't! But I do like reindeer, which makes sense as I prefer eating venison whenever possible. In fact I got some cooking on the stove right now....

Well, we were pretty tired after Saxman, so we headed back to the ship. Mom went on board and I did a quite sprint through the town to see if there was anything I actually wanted to buy. I found a hidden Native artists cooperative and purchased the most beautiful scrimshaw bracelet made of fossilized mammoth ivory. It was so fabulous, I didn't even blink at the price. Which is rare for me.

We got back to the ship and it was italian night at dinner! I have to say, of all the food on the cruise, the italian was the best. Other than a few occassions when they added brown sugar to the sauce to stretch (nonononono!!, the Italian food was pretty decent. I had my favorite dish - amatriciana, which is paste in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and pancetta.

The next day was another at sea. Another boring day. A day of total hell for me.

Nothing went right. I can't even remember everything that just didn't go well. Everything tasted funny. I didn't feel 100% and I was bored and crabby. I decided to go sit in the hot tub. That always cheers me up. Well, not here. The hot tubs were filled with nasty little 10-year-old girls. Unsupervised. One of them informed me that fat people shouldn't be allowed to wear swimsuits. So I sat next to her to make her uncomfortable. Then I went back to the room and tried to read. After dinner, I wanted to go see The Matador, a film I had been wanting to see for a while. It was great! Until about half way through when it died. And couldn't be fixed. So I went back to the room, where Mom was resting and we decided we wanted a snack. Maybe pizza. There was a pizza place on board so i decided to go up and get one for us. I get there, and am informed that pizza cannot be ordered take out. Well, shit. So then I decide on peanuts. And they have no peanuts in the store. Only a $4.50 container of Pringles. Pringles it was. I took them back to the room and shared them with Mom and went to bed. Tomorrow, at Victoria, it must be a better day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 4 ....

Ah, Juneau. That's where we headed after Sitka. And it was the port at which we would spend the longest on shore. so, we kept ourselves rather busy. Well, I did. I am not certain about Mom. I think she probably spent a lot of time waiting for me to get back from my galivanting....

According to the Pitter Patter, which we awaited breathlessly each evening around 10, Juneau's primary reason for being in the white man's world was the presence of large amounts of silly gold. Really, I have never much understood the attraction. It's soft and heavy and fairly useless on a day to day basis. Nevertheless, it drives people mad.

Anyway, we were up bright and early, hoping to avoid the mad rush of bling crazy shoppers about to flood the shops nearest to our dock. And we succeeded. First we went to this place called Caribou Crossing, which is sort of an Alaskan artists' cooperative, where I ordered a fabulous mythological painting by a local artist. Then we got the ever-present t-shirts and picked up some bottled water. Than we took the tram up Mt. Roberts. 1800 feet almost straight up. Totally cool! In the fog... very spooky.

At the top, at a Tlingit-run visitor center, we watched a movie about the history of the local tribes and their interactions with the Russians and the Americans. Then we visited the gift shop and heard our loud friend Lorraine, she of the booming voice. We then escaped outside into the rainforest, where we freaked out about how high we were and commented on the extreme amount of moisture and moss/lichen hanging everywhere and then I went hiking further up the mountain.

I did about 2.5 miles up into Mt. Roberts, into bear country, although all the animals were wisely in the warm, dry dens, and I saw no bears, no squirrels even. I was scolded by a hoary marmot, which is like a giant praire dog with a pissy attitude. I did see some beautiful views, even if it did rain every damn time I got out my camera and I returned to the visitor center completely drenched. Mom and I ate lunch there and I had an excellent Dungeness crab with some sort of interest butter/bear fat mixture for seasoning.

We then made our way down the mountainside via tram to head off for our next major adventure - a trip to a salmon hatchery, then a visit to Mendenhall Glacier, and finally a salmon bake.

The hatchery was interesting... it had a fish ladder and we learned about the types of salmon, but how long can you stand around watching fish flop around in a breeding frenzy and then croak? About 30 minutes. Then we headed off to the glacier, where again, we had hoped to see a bear but didn't.

I don't know why we were so frantic to see a bear. Wisconsin has tons of bears. I have even been bear hunting. Maybe we thought that Alaskan bears would be somewhat special. Huge giant bears!

Anyway, no bears, but we did see our first wild mammal - a sassy red squirrel in the parking lot.

The glacier and its lake more than made up for the lack of large, fanged and potentially woman-eating bears. With a huge waterfall and completely cold waters (I know. I went wading in it to pick up a rock), we were fascinated and took tons of pictures. Then - of course - it started to pour again and we all got herded onto the boss to head off to the salmon bake.

Now, I am not a huge fan of salmon under any circumstances. Honestly, I would have sooner eaten the squirrel from the parking lot - as small a mouthful as he would have been. But when in Alaska, do as the Alaskans do, so I eat salmon. Well, I tried to. We got off the bus to be greeted by the foul stench of rotting salmon from the nearby stream and a man-made duck pond that obviously had not been cleaned for years. And the food was, well, let's just say that - yet again - it was aimed at people who were going to be gulping and shoveling rather than savoring and enjoying. That being said, they had good cornbread. And I don't even like cornbread. Once we were done eating, I went hiking again up the stream where all the salmon were dying and saw the waterfall they just couldn't get up... beautiful but deadly!

Our driver on the way back to the ship was a local Tlingit who was funnier than anyone who currently has a network show. Truly, he was in the wrong line of work!

That night, we basically dried off and got warm. Man, we were so tired of the rain! Luckily, the rain broke when we hit Glacier Bay National Park the next day.

Glacier Bay is basically a boat tour you take of a bay field with tons of glaciers. You don't get off. You just look and go oh! ah! look at that! At the main glacier, we did some recording with the video camera. The first time a chunk of iceberg "calved" off, we were like someone just fired a cannon! It was that loud. Again, we saw now wildlife except birds although we think we saw an orca fin. Somebody claimed to have seen a bear on the shoreline but they must have Superman eyes. We couldn't see anything even with the binocs! Anyway, the bay was beautiful and a sight everyone should see, because who know how long the glaciers have until they melt entirely. Tomorrow, Ketchikan!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 3!

Alrighty, I'm back...I've been gone. I've been lazy. I've been having, well, issues.

Nevertheless, when we last connected, your plucky adventurers - Mom and Me - were just about to hit Sitka, Alaska. According to the Pitter Patter...

Wait. I haven't told you about the Pitter Patter.

Each night, the cruise line put out a newsletter about what was coming forth on the coming day. Mostly, it was filed with advertising ("Now's a great time to get aromatherapy for $299!"), but it also listed what movies were to be played, what bad pseudo-musicals were happening, where you could go to play Trivia. It's formal name was the Princess Patter, but we quickly renamed it to the ...

Pitter Patter. Anyway, according to the Pitter Patter, Sitka was a Tlingit (pronouced kling git) indian village until the Russians arrived in 1799, when general unpleasantness between the two groups ensued, what with the Russian claim that the land (i.e., the fur-bearing animals) were theirs and their access to warships and firearms. Because we only had about 7 hours to spend there, Mom and I signed up for a Russian-American history tour that included a jaunt to the totem pole park. So, we get with our group to be ferried to shore and wait. Our tour group was somewhat interesting as it included the loudest woman in the world, Lorraine. She sort of hooked up with the Jones-Brown chicks, probably because we were closest to her age, everyone else on our tour being about 103. We get on the boats (tenders) that took us to shore, got off the tenders and then boarded the nastiest, smelliest school buses anywhere, where our guide - a 20-something blonde surfer dude from California - proceeded to drive us about three blocks to the Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town. We were given 20 minutes to look around, which turned out to be plenty - especially as we weren't allowed to touch or photograph anything in the church. So we went in, spent five minutes looking, and then went outside and got ourselves a reindeer dog.

The dog was quite excellent. A bit drier than a regular hotdog, it had a somewhat spicy finish. It cost $4.50, so mom and I shared one as we didn't have enough cash and the stand-worker was freaked out by our Traveller's Check.

Anyway, we got back on the bus and were driven three more blocks back to the harbor to view the Russian-American dancers - all of whom were women and none of whom were Russian. They were just interested in Russian folk dancing and decided to start a troop. Fun. We got to spend 30 minutes there.

Then we got on the bus and drove about half a mile to the totem pole park, which was described as just a taste of what we would find in Ketchikan. So I hiked around and basically played out on the shore - the tide was out and I was amused at some teenage boys who were teasing crabs, only to get their comeuppance through a quick crab-pinch. I also enjoyed the gift shop, which had a solid block of tea for sale. Damn, it was so fragrant. I almost bought it, but it was $20, and really, it was just tea. I did gather up a curl of cedar from a totem pole being carved on sight and a bunch of rocks. Fabulous gifts, I must say.

Well, we got 45 minutes there and back into town. We had some time, and so we decided to explore, finding an excellent soap and jam shop and then of course looking for t-shirts. And that is where I fell foul of the un-Savvy Traveller.

What's that, you say? I've heard about that before. Yes, dear readers, you have. One night on the ship, when I was going to make some changes to a tour we were going to take, I ran across Evil Erika, cruise line shopping expert (yes, they employ a shopping expert). She accosted me. Was I going to be shopping on shore? Well, yes, I actually was. I was afeard that the jacket I brought wasn't going to be warm enough for Glacier Bay so I decided to buy a nicer jacket. Well, Erika could help me! Here, get this coupon book for $20. It has tons of coupons for free stuff, including a 15% discount at Brennen's, the best place to get a jacket in Sitka. Well, ok.. free stuff and a coupon. Sign me up! So, I haul this book with me into Sitka and head to Brennen's.

What crap. I have never payed $300+ for a coat in my life, let alone a thin, useless coat. So, I didn't use my coupon. And actually, I never used a single coupon from the un-Savvy Traveller, as it was really only useful for people who want to spend big bucks on bling. Which I don't. Live and learn.....

Anyway, I eventually got a very nice knit sweater at a shop not associated with the un-Savvy Traveller, and Mom and I had a little dim sum dumpling snack at a local hole in the wall, decided we were tired of the rain, and headed bacck for the ship, preparing to head for Juneau!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 2!

When we last left our plucky adventurers, they had just boarded the Regal Princess, preparing to set sail for northern waters on their 10-day Alaskan cruise. Little did they know .....

They had entered the Floating Home Shopping Network!!!!! *ominous music here*

Yes, dear friends, a cruise ship is one big and easy way to spend cashola. It's constantly pushed at you - Buy this gaudy jewelry! But expensive fine art! Buy a fur! Buy drinks! Buy a future cruise!

And there was almost nothing else to do until we got to Sitka. On Thursday. And we started sailing on Monday. And it rained nearly the entire way.

Oh my god!

To be honest, I really don't remember what we did on Monday evening. Oh! I made an appointment for a manicure, which ended up costing $44 (piracy indeed). And we had our first dinner, which wasn't bad. Our table companions were are very nice people, including one fabulous 11-year-old named Rachel. Wonderful young woman. Sadly, I remember very little about what we ate. Honestly, I was not impressed with the food on the ship. It was ok, but not anything nearly as good as I have had elsewhere. I remember only a few dishes over the course of the cruise. The escargot, which was great (how can anything in garlic butter be bad?). An Alaskan Rock Fish, mild and tender. Poached peaches with an almond souffle - damn good! And I tried and enjoy Morbier and dulce leche cheese. But other than that, it was, well, mostly plain. No seasoning. I mean, I understand they are cooking for an older crowd, but no seasoning at all. I had one curry dish that had no flavor, although it was bright yellow. The pasta was decent but not spectacular. My primary goal the entire trip was to have a piece of toast that was warm enough to melt butter. It never happened.

And that was eating in the dining room, where the food was ten times better than the buffet. I was in shock listening to people rave about the buffet. Truly, too many people eat so quickly they don't taste what they are eating. It is quantity versus quality.

Well, between the time we got on board and the time we got to Sitka on Thursday morning, Mom and I did pretty much nothing, as there was nothing much to do. Other than to buy things, attend boring art auctions (listening to the auctioneer was like watching paint dry - painfully boring and slow), paint your own ceramics, and Pictionary in the bar. We did see one high school musical style review of the history of early rock n' roll. I purchased an infamous un-Savvy Traveler (more about that later) Boring boring!

We had our first formal dinner, and I must say that Mom and I were totally cute.

Needless to say, however, we were terribly excited for land ho! on Tursday morning. That morning, I had gotten up early to go and get some coffee upstairs in the buffet. I was so excited to see land that I needed to sit down. One older woman sitting alone at a table that could hold ten seemed like a nice place to start. And when I asked her if I could sit across from her, she screamed, "No! Get away!" So I did. Land ho! Sitka on the horizon...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 1!

Yes, yes, I know, I know. Alaska was a couple of weeks ago. Too bad! It took me a while to get everything organized.

Over the next few days, I will be posting a little bit each day about my fabulous trip. Enjoy! All 500+ photos will eventually be posted at Gourmet Goddess's Flickr account

Anyway, back to Part 1. I prepared to fly to San Francisco on August 13, leaving my house around 3:30 am on a Sunday for a 6:50 am flight. Who could possibly be flying at Sunday morning at 4 am? Apparently, everyone in Chicago, Indiana, and Ohio. The line was out the damn door, a situation not helped by the fact that only one of the security checkpoints were open at that time of the morning.

Oh, and I have mentioned the terrorist monkey wrench? The one where you couldn;t bring anything liquid or gel-like on the plane (as if a TSA agent would know the difference between a gel and a liquid and a colloid). As I sent to friends in an e-mail before I left, I was afeard the situation would end like this:

TSA Security: It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.

Yours Truly: Mister... my family will pay cash. Whatever ransom you're askin' for, they pay it.

TSA Security: It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again. [to his dog, Precious] Yes, it will, Precious, won't it? Itwill get the hose!

Your Truly: Okay... okay... okay. Mister, if you let me go, I won't -I won't press charges I promise. See, my mom is a real importantwoman... I guess you already know that.

TSA Security: Now it places the lotion in the basket.

Yours Truly: Please! Please I wanna go home! I wanna go home please!

TSA Security: It places the lotion in the basket.

Yours Truly: I wanna see my mommy! Please I wanna see my...

TSA Security: Put the fucking lotion in the basket!

Sorry, Hollywood, but I couldn't resist.

Anyhoo, I finally made it through security and to my gate only to discover they have oversold my flight by about a billion people. Since United is offering a free round-trip voucher plus a First Class Upgrade on the next flight to San Fran, I volunteer to give up my seat. It was working for me. The catch - they might not actually need my seat. So I wait and wait and make a fabulous new friend while waiting only to be called to the counter 5 minutes before the flight, handed a new boarding pass, and told to get on the plane. Kid you not. "Get on the plane." No thanks, no nothing, bastards. Not only that, but they took my old seat away and stuck me right next to the bathroom.

Needless to say, I got no sleep. Some people were up to the bathroom five times during our 4.5 hour trip. Five times. I counted. They must have peanut bladders,

I finally get to San Fran, collect my luggage, and begin to make my way over to the terminal where Northwest flies in to meet up with Mom. Her flight is an hour late, but she arrives, and we collect her luggage and catch a shuttle. We get to the hotel - Hotel Miyako - in Japantown around 2 pm, where we get checked in and realize we are completely famished. We hit the little shopping center immediately next to the hotel and stop at a Korean restuarant for dinner.

I give it up for Mom. She will try everything joyfully! It's so refreshing. Anyway, we had a seafood pancake appetizer (a favorite of mine from when I lived with a South Korean woman at HDS). And then ordered the squid and bulgogi platter. It came with tons of little authentic side dishes like kimchee and various pickles in addition to soup, and rice. It was so good. So good!!!! We ate everything. Then we went out and explored the street fair.

Yes, friends, we hit a street fair. What an excellent intro to San Fran. We got to see some real folks, listen to some music, visit with artists, and watch local dancers. It was great. Then we realized we were still hungry and went to a Japanese noodle shop, where I had my regular beef udon soup with a side seaweed salad and Mom tried the Nebeyaki Udon. She loved it and intends to learn how to make it at home.

Exhausted, we went back to the hotel and vegged, taking advantage of the Japanese style soaking tub, for a while and then went to sleep.

In the morning, we got up and checked out, hailing a cab to take us to Fisherman's Wharf. The cruise ship left from pier 35 and we figured it would be a short walk and a nice time for some sightseeing. We started walking and ended up having breakfast at the Eagle Cafe at Pier 39, described by my San Francisco for Dummies book as the only authentic restaurant at Pier 39. Again, very delicious. I had a California style omelet, that was stuffed with bacon, avocado, and sour cream, and served with fruit sourdough toast, and red-skinned home fries. Hot damn, people! I almost managed to eat the whole thing, which is saying a lot considering how small my stomach is now.

We then walked over to pier 35 and dropped our luggage with a porter and went and hung out on a bench adn watched the port, until noon, when we could get in line to board the ship.

When we got in line, we were handed a little form that described the noro-virus as a mild intestinal discomfort. Um, excuse me. I had noro-virus once and I honestly thought I was going to die. It was so bad I lived in the bathtub for 24 hours. Whatever. If you have had any symptoms of noro-virus within the last 24 hours, the cruise line denies you boarding. Doesn't matter if you have the illness or not. No cruise for you!

Well, neither of us had any vomiting, etc, and so we got on, got to our cabin, and then went to go see what everyone else was up to.

Word of advice. If the cruise employees try to sell you something within the first day, wait. Mom and I both jumped at the purchase of unlimited bar soda for $37.50. Which is really only good if you are going to drink a lot of soda, which neither of us did. Oh well. Live and learn.

What everyone was doing was eating at the buffet, which is apparently the primary activity of everyone on the cruise. I was not all that impressed. I honestly couldn't tell you what I ate, except for fruit salad, which was quite good.

After lunch, we participated in the life saving drill, which involves a lot of people standing around putting on their life jackets before they are given permission to do so. Frankly, if I fell in the water in Alaska, I was just going to die. I'll never let go, Jack! Yeah, right.

Then we left port!

Heading north, we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, and then Mom and I went below deck. Damn cold up there in the wind.... Little did we know that we were preparing ourselves for nearly three days of nothing but water, water, water, and so-so food, broken movies, bad Broadway reviews, and rude passengers!

Part 2 to come .......

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Renaissance Faire Redux
You Really Can't Go Back Again

I had the great pleasure of going to college not far from one of the better Renn Faires in the United States. Not having had the chance to embrace my inner D&D nerd in high school, it went into full-fleged craziness when I got to Bristol. I went at least once a summer for every summer, and even took my younger cousin there one summer, several years after graduation.

Well, the last time I went to Bristol was almost seven years again. I, luckily, happened onto a $10 coupon and went back again this last weekend for closing activities.

Sadly, it really is true - nothing ever stays the same and you really can't go back again. Now, don't get me wrong. The Bristol renaissance Faire is still one of the better one I have ever been to. The grounds are beautiful. It looks like they spend more on landscaping than some of the richie riches in Newton do. And it certainly has a tremendous amount of high-quality shows (Dirk and Guido being a particular favorite act) and tons of performance artists and fabulous musicians. And flush toilets. And excellent craft demonstration areas (I particularly enjoy the Celtic Croft area). Those are worth the admission price by themselves.

But things have change, oh my how they have changed.

First off, the size of the Faire has doubled. You might think this is a good thing right? Wrong! It's gotten bigger but added nothing new. The extra size is just "sister shops" for shops that were already there. Honestly, how many pottery shops selling crappy embossed mugs does one Faire really need?

And the knights. What happened to the knights? They are definitely not the same,

I used to be so proud to say to my friends, "The knights really joust!" Oh yes, I am sure a lot of it was staged, just like pro wrestling. But it looked real. Those horses thundered out of the barn and when the knights got knocked off the horses, they really got knocked off those horses. There were always four, but only two mattered - the dark curly haired guy who represented the honor of England and the tall cool icy blonde who was cast as the bad knight.

Frankly, he looked like a bad mother. He just oozed menace. He was one of those horribly gorgeous bad boys who - if you are of that orientation - makes you all shivery and sets you to wondering just how much fun it would be to play with fire. And then, after a brief moment of disorientation, you got smart and realized you would probably need a full body condom if you took him home, because god knows where he's been...


Anyway, the new knights are pansies. Sorry guys, but you are pansies. I am a short fat woman who hasn't ridden a horse in 16 years and I could get out there and give a great shout, prompting you to fall off your horse. Case in point, I ended up in the cheering section of the purple and gold knight. On his way to go pay homage to the Queen in the center of the ring, just walking the beastie, he fell off. Fell off. Dude.

And what's with the whole creeping Robin Hood disease that is striking Renn Faires every where. Hello, Robin Hood is a Crusader character, not a renaissance character. Stop it, just say no!

Anyway, Bristol still has some of the best food I've ever had at a Faire, and - all things considered - not too expensive. You can get the sasparilla (dudes, it's really just root beer, not even close to real sasparilla) for $1, the best beverage deal at the Faire. Vegetarians would survive well.... there is everything from the garlic mushrooms (best ever! I would pay to gete in just to eat those) you eat with a toothpick, to artichokes, pizza, tempura vegetables and various others. For carnivorous, there is every kind of meat on a stick and, of course, the huge-ass turkey drumsticks. And puffins! Can't forget the puffins - friend dough with powdered sugar and fruit preserves on top. I personally ate a big bowl of 'shrooms and drank the broth down. A small twist of cinnamon cashews. I shared a turkey leg with a complete stranger, because I sure as hell couldn't eat the whole thing. And for dessert, I had a "Dragon Tail," a delicious puff pastry twisted with cinnamon and sugar before being baked into crispy goodness. And tons of sasparilla....

I spent a good ten hours at the Faire, finally ending it by spending 30 minutes listening to Taiko drummers and then another 30 minutes listening to a flute quartet. I had my fortune told and was informed tha in the next year I am going to go to culinary school and that I should dump my dark-haired lover 'cause he's the big bad wolf. Of she never asked me what my favorite version of "Little Red Riding Hood" was, so bully to her!

Anyway, I will go again next year, because it is great fun and people watching is half of that fun. Plus the 'shrooms.


Heather's Approximation of Bristol Renn Faire Garlic 'Shrooms

Pound of 'shrooms - button or Portabellas, preferrably

One large onion, chunked.

One head garlic, diced


1-2 cupes of Broth, of choice

Throw it all in a pot. Cook until bubbly. Serve with a toothpick for easy eating. Best enjoyed while standing up while feasting with a beskirted and leathered barbarian named Thor.