Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Iguanas Burritozilla

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Well, golly. Let’s have a warm round of applause for our two guest posters, DJDeer and Tinx! I’m quite impressed and was literally LOLing throughout most of their posts. I clearly need to step up my game. My 9 month plan has left me complacent. Those two guest posts are tough acts to follow – I’ve neither a creepy mermaid ballet and fries that look like poo adventure, nor have I a gaycation complete with a bacon-draped bloody mary tale to tell. In fact I have nothing draped with bacon at the moment. Woe is me.

What I do have, though, is a story of the FUTURE! Ha! You doubt me? You can see for yourself in the picture above, I ate a burrito on 25/45/2165. While I can’t tell you much of what is going on in that time (you know, the whole space-time continuum thing), you can at least figure out that 12/21/2012 is NOT the end of the world. Sorry Mr. Cusack!

How did I come to find myself in the future eating a burrito of no ordinary description? Well I was in San Jose with Vic for our good friend Twin’s wedding, and via Man v. Food had heard of an epic burrito to be had at Iguanas Burritozilla. The burrito itself was aptly named Burritozilla; it is 18″ and weighs in at just over 5 lbs (!) of pure burrito deliciousness. Pair it with a drink and the two items round out nicely to about 20 buckeroos.

Maybe it is a giant silver poo from Gozira himself

If you look closely you can see that the burrito was LONGER than the diagonal of the tray. Even then Vic and I had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. After unwrapping it, we just thought of it as just another burrito.

Put me in your mouth!

Nommmmm. The ingredients were not groundbreaking, just your standard Carne Asada, Rice, Black Beans, Cilantro, Tomatoes, and Avocado.  Standard they may have been, but no less delicious.

Armed with knife and fork, Vic halved the beast and we started in on our respective parts. Let me tell you, that first 5 or 6 inches were heavenly. The ingredients were distributed evenly throughout, so there weren’t just bites of rice or beans. I could hardly stop stuffing my face with it. Vic seemed to holding his own, and we had garnered the attention of a few locals. “FOODIE STARDOM!” I thought. If I had only seen through the carne asada induced haze, I would’ve realized that their smiles were ones of pity and not kindness. After those first 6 inches, DEAR LORD the pain. The feeling of fullness hit so quickly I wanted to roll over and die. Since I figured my half of the burrito was 2.5lbs and I had managed to eat over half of it (1.6lbs or so) in about 30 minutes, I deserved a break.

Me: Dude, I need a breather. This sucker is expanding inside of me.
Vic: Me too man… how do you like it so far?
Me: It’s pretty good. The meat is cooked well and there’s a lot of flavor coming through.
Vic: …I should tell you that I had a big lunch 2 hours ago.
Me: Say what?!

That’s when it truly spiraled into a pit of doom. or maybe the pit of my stomach. That place. Anyway, Vic assured me that he would do his part to eat as much of the burrito as possible considering his situation, and that I shouldn’t worry. At most I’d have to eat maybe an inch or two of his half. AT MOST?! With 2 inches left on my side, I already wanted to die. Still, the AZN inside of me said that I couldn’t waste the food (the RICE! YOU CAN”T WASTE THE RICE!) and in the next 30 minutes I powered through to finish my half, bite by painful bite. I could see from Vic’s face that he was also to the point where he was in pain yet dutifully finishing his food.  With 2.5lb of burrito inside of me already, I anxiously watched him, fearing the worst. And with about 2.5 inches of burrito left, the worst happened. He tapped out.

Vic: I can’t do it anymore, man.
Me (almost hysterically): Oh come on, just a few more bites see?!
Vic: No dude, you’ve gotta finish it for me.

The AZN took this moment to once again scream (THE RICE! EAT IT. SAVE IT. DON’T WASTE IT. WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE WE DIDN’T HAVE MUCH …). The AZN seems to share a timeline with my father. Curious, that. So I went for it. I grabbed my fork and dug in, had two bites, and needed a breather. 5 minutes after that I started in earnest. Only to stop 5 minutes after that.

I can feel it gloating, basking in its victory.

Vic bravely managed about a half inch more, but we were done. All in all I had roughly 2.7lbs of burrito and I was near tears from eating too much. The mere hint of a thought trying to finish made me throw up a little in my mouth. We clearly were not fit to live in the future, eating future burritos. We stood up, threw the remainder away, and made the obscenely long waddle (seriously felt like waddling) back to our hotel 3 blocks away. I think I died a little that day. On a happy note, the overall weekend was awesome as Twin was a perfect bride and I could not be happier for the lovely couple.

Anyhoo, if you ever find yourself in San Jose OR the future swing by Iguanas. The burrito was tasty and if that is any indicator of the rest of the food, then you’re still in for some good stuff even if you don’t take on the Burritozilla.

Iguanas Burritozilla
330 S. 3rd St, Ste A
San Jose, CA 95112

Portland Report(land)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I heart it when conference organizers choose proper cities that (a) are walkable and (b) are a random foodie oasis.  I was recently in Portland for exactly such a conference, with my dearest friend and OG Foodie Sharisa, and found my new favorite restaurant…

Ping

Ping was named Rising Star Restaurant of the Year by the Oregonian’s Diner Guide.  I was excited about their Baby Octopus Skewer (marinated in lime, chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and cilantro).

Mostly I was enticed by the price – TWO BUCKAROOS for all you see above!  Loverly.

Our server was the cutest hapa girl, which Sharisa appreciated as she is a hapa herself.  She guided us to good cocktails and handled our frantic and impassioned ordering with style.

In addition to the octo-bebehs, we ordered a red potato skewer (salt roasted and grilled, served with spicy mayo sauce – $1!), a salapao (thai-style steamed bun stuffed with sweet shredded pork, fried shallots – $2.50!)…

deep-fried tiny fish ($2!), chinese tea egg (steeped in black tea, soy sauce, ginger, star anise, & cinnamon – $2!)…

…house-made pork meatball skewer (Thai-style, dipped in sweet chili sauce – $2.50!), house-made fish ball skewer (same), yam yai (Thai-style green salad with lettuce, boiled egg, peanuts, onions, prawns, chicken, bean sprouts, pickled garlic, scallions, cilantro, cucumber and tofu topped with a peanut dressing)…

And THESE.  Quail egg skewer (wrapped in bacon, with spicy mayo sauce).  Every neuron in my noggin was trilling with joy.  We ordered another as soon as the first hit our respective mouths.  Think smooth plus crunchy, shot through with spicy cream.  Not that I chewed to register the crunch.  I gulped them down cartoon-style – a delicious Adam’s apple!

We should have stopped there, but the fucking curiosity killed the cat (‘s palate).  We spied chicken butt – brined with fish sauce, garlic and sugar, grilled and served with sweet chili dipping sauce and ordered it.  Two thoughts, both related to R2, popped into my head.  (1) R2 told me that the a bird’s butt-al area is called its “vent” which is gross and reminiscent of wormy farts; and (2) no one loves a slanted rhyme more than R2, so I promptly texted him “What’s up?” and he texted back, just as promptly, “Chicken butt.”

Excellent.

Chicken butt is fucking disgusting.  Think of the gristliest bit of chicken that you’ve ever accidentally eaten, then shoot it through with sickly-yellow chicken fat, and then genetically hybridize it with  bouncy ball and that’s what you get.

Thinking about the chicken butt is bad.  Thinking about chicken butt while watching the episode of Man vs. Wild where he…well actually, any episode will do, but this one is the one where  he drinks his piss (which he has deposited into the skin of a rattlesnake) and then he’s eating skunk that he’s recently beheaded and describes it as “steak rubbed in dog feces…” anyway yes blogging chicken butt plus Man vs Wild is making me green about the gills.

Despite the chicken vent, I was so happy to be full-up with good food and hanging out with Sharisa again.  In fact, it was this very conference, six years ago, where Sharisa earned her nickname from our ESL Chinese friend who could not pronounce her real name and called her Sharisa (“Sharisa I have your wine!” she said about the vodka and champagne we had purchased to pregame – every kind of alcohol is called “wine” to her apparently) and called me “Janeee.”

My happiness was shot to berserk levels of happy when our server set down our check and we discovered her name was Charissa.  “HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE YOUR NAME!!” we shrieked at her, and she said “Sharisa.”  More shrieking!  What a perfect end to the night.

Except it didn’t end!  Because we next rolled ourselves over to…

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut is a Portland mainstay.  The guy behind the counter was a burly, bearded, world-weary Portlandey dude who would periodically sigh “Can I get anyone anything.”  I had, natch, the bacon maple bar, which I thought I could handle being the sweet-savory queen.  No.

Others got the apple fritter, which was a triumph.  Crisp, light as air, and the size of a large frisbee.  Many grabby grabby hands tearing off shreds and nomming with gusto.

The next day we went to…

Navarre

Navarre also had glowing reviews, so we went.  I don’t know what to say about this place.  It does everything right (local, organic, la la la, small plates big plates etcetera).  Ambiance is cool, good wine list.  But none of the dishes sang.  Good, not great.  Not always due simply to underseasoning, per se, just…boring.

Save for this one dish, which was off-limits to cheese-hatin’ Sharisa.

Pardon the awfulness of the photo.  Did I even need to show it to you?  It’s basically a huge thing of fried cheese.  We manhandled this shit like there was no tomorrow.  Shattery, sticky cheese that squished out pleasing salty grease liquid, oh lord.

At more than twice the cost of Ping and with less than a tenth of the elation, NOT WORTH IT.

The following day I went for lunch with an old advisor to…

Veritable Quandary

VQ was a medium-schmancy joint where everyone from the conference ended up for lunch.  Sharisa showed up, too, with her advisor.  I could only take a couple quick pictures because I do NOT want any of my former advisors to know about this little blog overflowing with f-bombs.  Anyway, here it is:

Vegetarian biscuits and gravy with mushrooms and poached egg.  I am laughing to myself as I look at this photo, because I could not have (a) inhaled this faster; or (b) paid less attention to my advisor.  I hope I am still shiny in his eyes after this lunch.  I couldn’t help it!  The biscuit was perfectly crisp at the edges, and the yolk that yin-yanged into the extremely rich gravy was just so drop-dead fucking (see? f-bomb!) scrumptious. Lickety lickety.

Sharisa and I ditched the rest of the conference and went on a walk of Portland that moved me to exclaim, more than once, “This is like the fucking ODYSSEY!”

We started out walking along the river, where we happened on a huge fair.  Apparently this happens every week?  But it covered several blocks and I counted three different live bands!  Sharisa and I lamented that we were both full and couldn’t partake in any of the lovely fair food, fun stuff like bentos, gyros, curry!  Also, there was a cool artist who painted with numbers.  Not by numbers, but with numbers.  From far away it looks normal, but up close it’s like 1’s and 2’s and 3’s (well, you know what numbers are) that, like pointillism, from far away comprise a picture.  Pretty nerdy cool.

We kept walking and stumbled upon a city block that was crowded with loud people in wacky wacky costumes that walked that line between jolly and frightening.  A little too loud and drunk and homeless-looking.  Sharisa and I stood on the edge of the block, breathing hard and gathering courage to walk on.  We did, and encountered a guy dressed as the Last Supper (he was Jesus in the center with cutouts of the others, with a full-on table with bread and stuff on it slung around his neck.  Then a crusty looking guy ran up, grabbed a baguette from the table, and started wacking cardboard Judas with it, causing Jesus to get pissed and yell HEY HEY HEY HEY at increasingly menacing decibels.  Sharisa and I scampered right out of there.

Next, we passed Cupcake Jones.  Donuts are the new cupcakes and we had been there, done that, but we stopped nonetheless to pick up a baby cupcake each.  She: vanilla (flecked through with real vanilla bean and topped with a preshus edible pearl).  Me: red velvet (topped with a darling edible flower petal).

Blood sugar restored, we went to the world’s largest Anthropologie, which was a bit meaningless because I can never find anything that looks good on me there and Sharisa already owns all of it.  Next to Anthropologie was…

Powell’s City of Books

Goodness Gracious.  Truly a city.  I stepped in and I was shell-shocked.  I was on a hunt to find a used Edgar Rice Burroughs book for R2, who is collecting all the ones with Ace covers.

Usually he’s lucky if he can find any ERB books at a used bookstore.  Here, there was not only one book, not only one bookshelf, but three and a half bookshelves FULL of ERB books!  I breathed “Ohhhh he’s gonna die…” and whipped out my phone to call him and gloat.

I picked up two books to add to his collection, read through a Bon Appetit that said photographing one’s food was rude and should be outlawed (gulp!), texted Sharisa to find her, and left in search of a cocktail.

And I spied this thing!

EEEEEEEE!

Our final stop in Portland, recommended to me by a Portland native, was…

Clyde Common

The new home of noted mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, we were excited to try some weird cocktails.  First we cooed at the impossibly cute dog outside, who looked like a pig and cow and puppy rolled into one.  No picture, sorry.  I suck at taking animal photos, remember?

We got one Copper Penny: Old Overholt rye, Clear Creek pear brandy, Punt e Mes, apricot, one B.M.O.C.: bourbon, raw ginger syrup, Angostura, soda water, one Tonga-Tonga: Smith and Cross Jamaican rum, lime, grapefruit, Trader, and one Beginning of the End: Boca Loca cachaca, lime, amaretto, egg whites, apple butter.  The latter was my favorite due to my intense love of egg whites which was further thickened with the apple butter – captivating!

And thus, we said goodbye to Portland in the best possible way – slightly-beyond-tipsy.

Segway Tour of San Francisco

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Tinx and I decided at 11 pm last night to go on a Segway tour.  We snagged the last two spots on the 1:30 pm tour today, and took the good ol’ 30 Muni over to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Where we went to In-n-Out, which is a little silly because we were both in LA not 24 hours earlier, but when the grilled cheese animal style calls, you answer.

At $70 a person, the tour is a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it.  The people are so nice, and make the 45-minute training sesh relatively painless with their funny jokes.

Our tourguide was Sarah Silverman.  I’m not joking.  Well, I am.  But for serious.  She looked just like her, talked just like her, scrunched her nose up just like her whilst talking just like her, and dead-pan humored just like her!

Example: [going by a disgusting, padlocked porta-potty] Anyone need to pee.

Getting ahead of myself (as usual, but more so since I am eager to blog after a long time of bizziness).  Did you know that Segways were codenamed Ginger?  This was exciting to us because Tinx is a ginger.

So the training truly is 45 minutes long.  They do a one-on-one with you, AND you watch a video, AND you do training as a group, AND you do training in pairs, AND you do figure-8s through a mini cone obstacle course.  The actual ride on a Segway is actually very intuitive. The trainer dude joked that it works by reading your brain waves, but it really does feel like that.

They each had funny names, too.  I wish mine was Panda Socks but I had Special Sauce – very apropos given what was all over my fingers at the time.  Tinx’s was Misplaced, which was, if you will, lame sauce.

In our group was your requisite jackass who was trying to show off and being all crazy and dangerous on the tour (almost rear-ending me multiple times, fuckin assballs) and your requisite out-of-it-uncoordinated lady who did the falling-on-one’s-face thing for everyone else’s comic benefit. Oh, and the requisite scaredy-cat (who of course was in front of yours truly in the caravan) who was definitely doing some wishful thinking when she chose the helmet with speed flames painted on it.

On the tour, we learned:

  • There are more dogs than children in San Francisco
  • For the 60th anniversary of the boardgame Candyland (or “Xandyland” as it says in my iPhone notes) they turned Lombard (the crazy loop-de-loop street) into Candyland and lined the streets with marzipan and decorated it with lollipops.  SWEET!  [Tinx – “Literally sweet, get it?  Hahahaha that was funny joke put that in”]
  • The oldest Italian restaurant in America is in North Beach (not anywhere on the east coast), where they have a scale outside so you can weigh yourself before and after you eat.  I do not remember the name of the resto but a quick Googly search will surely getcha there.

Our path: Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach & Washington Square to Pier 39 to the swimmy place to Ghirardelli Square to the outlooky pier on the other end of the swimmy place and back.

Near the Pier were the famous bathrooms SF imported from France – the completely automated ones where you pay to use them and the toilet folds back into the wall.  They cost $250,000 each and the city bought 25 of them.  Waste of monayyyy, especially when you hear, as we did, that since the toilet folds back into the wall you don’t have to flush it, but this confuses people, who end up pushing the emergency button instead, calling the fire department to the toilets time and time again.  Dumbasses.

Oh, also, the toilet doors open automatically after 20 minutes so you have to “make sure you get on with it” said Sarah S.

The outlooky pier, our final destination, was really fun because this is where our guide SS said that we could race each other, go really fast, pull fancy tricks, etc.  Tinx and I had fun zooming around and around the gun turret at the end, and then we posed for some pictures for the company’s FB page.

Our noms:

  • Pregame: In-n-Out (PS that In-n-Out is a clusterfuck – only one in the city)
  • Bread nom at Italian French Baking Co., which supplies basically the entire city with its bread (with the oldest ovens in the city; see above) – we got an Italian Stubby which we ate throughout the rest of the tour.
  • Pistachio gelato at Gelato Classico – not your usual neon green pistachio, folks (see below).  This was oozy, silky gelato with huge, whole and shattered, roasted, slightly salty pistachios throughout.
  • Postgame: Irish coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
  • Post-postgame: Hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square

A note about Buena Vista – it is famous for its Irish coffees, which are made by placing two sugar cubes in the bottom of a glass, hot coffee on top with generous room for a huuuge splash/cascade of Bushmores (hee), topped with freshly whipped half and half.

Tinx and I were apparently not looking cheerful enough so the other bartender (with a crazy spiderweb of facial hair and an almost mullet, but all very Santa-esque) threw a sugar cube at Tinx, who promptly picked it up and ate it.

It was the most gorgeous, non-SFy day for a tour, but I can imagine on a shitty foggy drizzly day these things would be moan-inducing.  Good moan.  It’s warm on your tongue and warm in your belly; just a hint of sweet and  the foam was very pleasingly chilly yet rich.  And just one will do it – Tinx and I were weaving around Fisherman’s Wharf and hiccuping.

And we then stumbled into the sundae shop at Ghirardelli and had a hot fudge sundae with dark chocolate fudge.  The three spoonfuls I could stomach were quite thrillingly delicioso.  Continuing the hot/cold treat train, I enjoyed how the cup was almost too hot to hold from the fudge.

So.  I highly recommend this for SF inhabitants who want something touristy to do with their out of town guests but are sick of doing the same touristy shit over and over again.  Just riding the Segway around for three hours is fun enough, not to mention eating your weight in random foodstuffs.

Book your tour here!

    Amazing things you plug into your car thingie

    Sunday, August 9th, 2009

    On my move up to SF, Simon and I stopped at Delta Co (Del Taco but more fun if you say it this way), which was attached to one of those hardcore truckstop convenience stores, where every so often they blast “CUSTOMER NUMBER 72, YOUR SHOWER IS READY.  SHOWER NUMBER 10, SHOWER NUMBER 10!”  I was browsing the aisles and came up on the one pictured above.  “Oh, I see they sell appliances here,” was my first thought.  My second thought was, “OMG REALLY???!?”

    Because these all are appliances that plug into the weird cigarette lighter thing in your CAR!  I guess truckers need to make good time; their livelihood depends on it, but seriously??!?  Here’s a PARTIAL list of what was available: curling iron, hairdryer, air purifier, digital compass, cooler, warmer, huuuuge refrigerator, slow cooker, portable stove, portable oven, “portable saucepan to make popcorn,” portable frying pan, sandwich press/maker, carpot, coffee maker, super wet/dry vacuum.  Who needs a fucking Crockpot in their CAR?

    It’s a racket alright, with each appliance needing its own accessories, like the above stove pan for the RoadPro portable stove.  Unbelievable!

    And yet…I kind of wanted one of everything.  Just think of the efficiency of your dinner parties!  Wake up in your car (no need to pay rent), put a pork shoulder in the slow cooker, primp in the car with your sunshade mirror and portable curling iron, invite a maximum of four people (someone will have to sit bitch) over, drive to the club simultaneously during dinner, and suck up whatever trash (or vomit) with your super wet/dry vac.  Brilliant.

    Four Winds II: Snorkeling Cruise to Molokini

    Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

    Tinx iPhoning, me dying

    Simon, Tinx, and DJ Deer and I went to Maui a couple weeks ago.  The flight was a gift from Simon for gradumacating and the condo was a free timeshare donated to us by Simon’s auntie.  YESSSS!

    Most of our trip was being lazy.  In Tinx’s case, it was wake up, eat breakfast, take a nap, wake up, eat lunch, take a nap, wake up, eat dinner, go to bed early.  The one activity that hypertron DJ Deer and Slothasaur Tinx could agree on was a snorkeling cruise.

    We looked through our guidebook and found one that they recommended – the Four Winds II.  There was some stuff about how they stay at Molokini (a crescent-shaped island 2 miles out from Maui) the longest, and how their BBQ was delicious, but our eyes didn’t light up until we read the part about how the Four Winds II “has the longest open bar out of all the Molokini boats.”  Done and done.

    Should we have trusted a guidebook?  One that had the actual line “What do sea turtles eat? Dolphins.”  They’re either seriously misinformed or else they have a shitty sense of humor.  Either way.

    Anyway, we were told by Simon’s overbearing dad that we should get there an hour early because parking at the marina fills up.  The cruise left at 7, so we woke up at 5:30 and got there super early.  We yelled, “THERE’S ONE!!!” at the first open parking spot and burnt rubber into it.  And then walked a quarter of a mile to the actual ship, past probably 100 open parking spots.  Fail.

    The one thing the guidebook didn’t love about the Four Winds II (oh, by the way, it’s $100 a person, not the $80 that the guidebook says) was the incessant sales pitch.  We experienced this firsthand.  The barrage of shilling included waterproof disposable cameras, waterproof digital cameras, photographs of our tour, SNUBA, and, of course, a DVD of our snorkeling extravaganza, marketed exhaustingly to us by Trey the Videoooographer, a blonde surfer dude with a very weird vocal cadence.  “HEY GUYS! IT’S ME, TREY, THE VIDEOOOOGRAPHER.  COME CHECK OUT THE COOL FOOTAGE I GOT OF YOU GUYSSSS!  WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR A GREAT TIME SNORKELING HUH GUYS?  CHECK IT OUUUUT!  CHECK OUT THE GALLERYYYYY!”

    Our captain, who continually referred to himself in the third person as “Cappy,” was a scraggly old dude reminiscent of the lecherous grandpa that everyone tolerates but would never, ever, under any circumstance, give a microphone and control of 180 people to.

    Some notable things about Cappy – He pointed out the nude beach and said, “We’ll be heading over there after snorkeling.  Ladies, feel free to get ready now.  Fellas, let’s wait until we get there.”  He had a 2:00 tee time so he wanted us to be SURE we were dying before we called for help in the water.  He referred to Tinx continually as “Red.”  “Hey Red, better get some sunscreen on that skiiiiin of yoursssss.”  He had fishing lines off the back of the boat so he unnecessarily took us around the rough side of the island so that he had a better chance of catching some tuna.  He had a fetish for tags sticking out of bikini bottoms and would announce over the entire ship’s broadcasting system when he spotted one.  Or, in our case, he said, “Hey!  Red!  Hey Red!  Your friend’s tag is sticking out!  Better fix it!  Yeah, you!  Better fix it!”

    Anyway, we finally got to Molokini, which took almost two hours.  That’s 1 mile per hour.  Yeah.  

    At that point I was very uncharacteristically seasick.  It could have been the extreme stench of birdshit blowing off the island and into my nostrils.  (The island itself is not open to people, but np – why the fuck would you want to go on that crap mountain?)

    I figured when I got in the water it would be better…and indeed the snorkeling was amazing, astonishing, stunning, all of that.  Minus the part where TREY THE VIDEOOOOGRAPHER came around swimming with his underwater still and video cameras and made us pose like idiots.  Damn him.

    So, usually seasickness gets better once one is in the ocean, right?  Not for me apparently.  The fish were so gorgeous and cute, though, so I stayed in as long as I could.  I stayed in until I knew in five seconds I was going to feed the fish with my vomit and they would likely eat my face off.  I scampered onto the boat in a hurry, where the crew was BBQing and some guy got a burger flipped into his face, haha.  I asked in a trembling voice for some Dramamine and Cappy said, “We don’t have any.”  WHAT AND CRY!  Why wouldn’t a cruise ship carry DRAMAMINE?!?  Cappy got onto the mic (his favorite) and asked if anyone had any extra, and a nice midwestern lady gave me … one tablet.  Lame.

    I climbed up to the second story to live out my misery, passing an Indian family on the way who went snorkeling full-on in their saris, haha.  I spent the rest of the cruise getting sunburnt (no wherewithal to stay on top of the sunscreen sitch) and rolling around feeling awful.

    I know, I know.  Wah wah I’m in Maui for free and I’m siiiick wahhh.

    Not what we saw.

    So there’s this place called Turtle Town that all the cruises go to.  Cappy said, “Screw that Turtle Town!  We’re going to Turtle UNIVERSE!” and took us to a place, cut the engine, and…crickets.  “Hmmm.  Usually they’re a million around here…”  Everyone was craning their necks (except mine, which was lolled over the edge of the bench in agony), and finally – ONE TURTLE!  We saw maybe five total from pretty far away, causing DJ Deer to use “Turtle Universe” to refer to anything that sucked for the rest of the vacation.

    In sum, fish rock but everything else about this cruise, including the fact that I didn’t get to take advantage of the open bar, was only so-so.  Also the fact that Cappy told us that the raffle prize was a sea turtle and a year’s worth of food (a year’s worth of DOLPHINS!??!) but he lied – it was just a T-shirt.  But still, the Four Winds II spends the longest amount of time at Molokini, so it’s probably worth it.

    Even if you do have a leering Cappy staring at your ass the whole time…

    Four Winds II

    808.879.8188

    Taiwan Part II: Chicken Food – How the Taiwanese Do Thanksgiving

    Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

    Continuing with Day 1 in Taiwan, we weaved our way back down the mountain on the wretched tour bus, already greeeen at the gills from motion sickness even though we had just gotten a lot of nice fresh air. One happy thing that happened on the drive back was a bathroom stop – happy because Shimi was having a peemergency and because I made friends with a super cute stray dog with big glisteny puppy eyes. Taiwan is overrun with stray dogs, which sounds scary but was really fun for me.

    Shimi and I discussed our rehearsal dinner outfit on the way back. We were psyched because we were to have Chicken Food for dinner (that’s what it said on our itinerary). Venus told us it was sort of like Taiwan’s answer to Thanksgiving dinner – rice with turkey on top, covered in a yummy soup stock. Mmmmmmmmmm.

    After finalizing our outfit plans, we arrived back at the hotel…

    …except not. We had come straight from the mountain to the restaurant for rehearsal dinner. OK, I guess Shimi would have to make her speech in her jeans and hoodie, and I would get to eat Chicken Food with hair as greasy as KFC. Awesome. We decided to sit as far away from the vegetarians as possible to maximize our dish options. This took us to the Japanese peeps’ table, which included the parents and best friends of the groom. This ended up being an excellent decision, and these people ended up being some of my favorite guests to hang out with on the whole trip.

    First: GREEN STUFF! MMMMMM! Unlike most people, I love “gloppy” as a food texture, so I was really excited to try this. Also, I had just frozen my butt off on the top of a mountain, so some restorative soup was just what the doctor ordered.

    Except it had shrimp in it. BASTARDS! I had my epi-pen in my purse, but I wanted to make it alive to the wedding since I was singing, so I didn’t risk it.

    HERE IT IS! The elusive CHICKEN FOOD! I can honestly, honestly say that this was my favorite thing I ate on my entire trip to Taiwan. It’s a trademark dish of Chiayi, the city in which we were staying, and just dynamite! Listen: white rice, turkey, marinated bamboo shoots (menma or shinachiku is what we call it in Japan), and crispy fried onions, all drizzled with a very mirin/soy-ey, tasty broth. I glanced around and noticed that there were two left on the table. I schemed about eating one more and then sneaking the other one back to hotel for a late night snack.

    But then I was distracted by another dish that was set dramatically on the gigantic lazy susan. It was another off-limits crustacean item, but I didn’t want to piss off or inconvenience the wedding guests who didn’t know about my blog (I didn’t really know how to explain “food blog” in Japanese) so I had to be snappy with my photos. Luckily we were at the Japanese table so excessive photographic documentation of everything did not seem so strange. This dish looked like some very potentially good fried crab bits. I asked Shimi and she said, as always, “Underseasoned.” WTF Taiwan?

    Oooooh! Sashimi! A dish that I could season to my heart’s saltiest content! Shimi and I attacked this aggressively, only noticing later that the other guests were demurring on the fish. Were they just being Japanese? Or did they know something we didn’t know? I realized that the fish was on ice, and we aren’t supposed to drink the water in Taiwan. Maybe that was what was bothering them?

    It turned out that what was bothering them was indeed fear of inadequate food handling and bacteria, but also they were turned off by the gigantic cuts of sashimi. Indeed, each piece of fish was twice the size of a normal slab of sashimi, and Shimi unearthed a fish bone in one of her pieces, but I am immune to food poisoning (never ever had it!) and Shimi just plain loves sashimi, so we dug in.

    OOOOOOH! Sesame balls! I love this shit at dim sum restaurants! Shimi and I very ungracefully started stuffing our mouths, asking the other guests if it was ok if we had another, then having another without even waiting for the answer, and then “splitting one last ball” but then splitting two more after that. We were not really being good ambassadors for America with our behavior at this dinner, but they were irresistable! Crunchewy and steaming hot insides to boot!

    So. With that dessert, our meal was over. OR SO WE THOUGHT! If you only remember one thing from this post, remember that your meal is not over in Taiwan until the fruit comes out. If you have room to remember one more thing, remember that tomatoes are considered fruit in Taiwan.

    So after I sat back, satisfied with my chicken food and balls, a new round of food came out. This included real turkey, a la America but a little bit weird (e.g., Taiwanese seem to not like their bird skin crispy, so it wasn’t, and as with everything else in this country, underseasoned), that was carved by the chef (fancy! …but cut with the grain?) in the middle of the restaurant.

    Then came “gravy” and “cranberry sauce,” which Shimi was too scared to try (OK, you’ll eat raw fish loaded with 0-157 colonies but not this cranberry sauce?) so I was the guinea pig. The result is pictured top. It was pretty good, actually. Made me want some mashies.

    Three MORE courses later (with ugly, unpublishable pictures – my bad), the fruit came out. Everyone’s favorite was the citrus fruit which everyone was calling “mikan” – the Japanese word for clementine, even though this looked more like a lemon (see it hiding innocently at the left part of the pic? You can hide but I’m gonna eatchoo anyway lil’ lemon.) and tasted like a very very sweet orange. After traveling for six days by this point, my insides were a little, ahem, gummed up? So I appreciated the roughage.

    The “toothpick” pinwheel = cute, no?

    Also note the aforementioned comment about tomatoes being considered a fruity dessert-like-item. I should have noted this and wouldn’t have committed a grave error later…

    But first, the bride and groom rolled up – he in jeans and a polo, she in tracksuit pants and a t-shirt (PHEW glad I didn’t change), and Shimi had to translate the maid of honor’s speech from English to Japanese (stressballs!) and then the best man’s speech from Japanese to English. The maid of honor went off script and started talking about riding stationary bikes in the snow, which threw Shimi off a little, but otherwise she performed brilliantly.

    Then, off to the night market. WHEEEE~! I was so psyched. Dozens and dozens and dozens of stalls with food, Engrish clothing, and other randomness. For example, I contemplated for a long time whether or not to buy a Doraemon humidifier that plugs into your USB port. It would be good for my singing, but real estate in my suitcase was in high demand, so I passed. This, inexplicably, saddened crazy tourguide Frank, who was following us like a hawk (after the fiasco on the mountain he was apparently determined to not let us out of his sight).

    Another notable item – BUNNIES! SLEEPING IN A BLUE-LIT BUN PILE! AAAAAA! Just the kind of stall that makes a parent go, “Oh fuck. The kids are going to go apeshit over this and I don’t want to take care of a fucking rodent.”

    After browsing through the whole market, Shimi decided to get a cream puff that looked absolutely divine – fluffy and decadent. It tasted, like everything else in Taiwan, bland. In fact, she said, “This probably isn’t even worth the calories,” and threw it out. Disappointment City. I was intrigued by fruits-on-a-stick that were coated in cherry-colored hard candy. I picked out a stick, thinking the red orbs were plums or strawberries or something else yummy, but it was (can you guess the punchline?) candy-coated cherry tomatoes. Fail.

    Up next: How you do a wedding with 1,500 people, Taiwan-style.

    Taiwan Part 1: Ghost Train of Alishan

    Thursday, December 4th, 2008


     

    So, for Thanksgiving this year I went to Tokyo and then to Taipei and Chiayi in Taiwan. My friend Venus was getting married in Chiayi, Taiwan, and had asked me to sing in the wedding. I was reluctant, because the last time I sang in a wedding I sang At Last in 4/4 time, while the string quartet was playing At Last in 6/8 time (WHY and WHAT THE FUCK?), not to mention I cracked really horribly like 4 times.

    Anyway, water under the bridge. THIS time I was determined to succeed and sing brilliantly. And the trip was going to be the trip of a lifetime, because Venus’ family was picking up the tab for ALL of the lodging and ALL of the food while we were there~! And many, many fun things were planned, like karaoke, night markets, and epic sightseeing on tour buses.

    I have to say, it was epic as promised. Here’s what happened on Day 1.

    Our first activity was a trip to Alishan (a.k.a. Mount Ali or Ali Mountain). We were loaded onto two gigantic tour buses – one for English speakers and one for Japanese speakers. [Venus’s fiance, now hubby, is Japanese, so many of the guests were from Japan.] Shimi and I got on what I called the whoring bus for English speakers.

    Frank, our “English-speaking” tourguide, was very sweet and VERY excited as he clutched his mini-megaphone and told us about the plan. From what we could decipher from his English, we would stop by a tea factory on the way to Alishan National Scenic Area. The trip would take 3 hours there and 3 hours back.

    What was not mentioned was that the 3 hours was 3 hours of driving up a mountain. This meant 180 minutes of a very tall and enormous bus weaving through impossibly curved, steep roads that, for some reason, had huge, very deep drainage trenches on either side. Frightening. It was around this time that we also discovered that the tour company had taken out life insurance policies on all of the guests. Bad timing to get this info. Anxiety all around plus extreme nausea.

    Frank had the sense to distract us from our misery by putting in a DVD about Alishan. The focus of the DVD was the Alishan Forest Railway, which is super famous and was described in Shimi’s Lonely Planet book as a “must-see.” It is a train that has multiple switchbacks that takes you from the bottom of the mountain through three different climates – tropical, temperate, and finally alpine. The film footage looked absolutely gorgeous (Taiwan is so amazingly lush with vegetation) and I couldn’t wait to get on a vehicle that traveled in a relatively straight line.

    But first, the tea factory! First we visited the actual tea plants and watched the workers pick the tea leaves. It was EXACTLY, and I mean EXACTLY, like the Snapple commercial with the old Chinese man jacking off a baby tea leaf:

    I did my own “Whiiite tea is a baby tea leee” impression on Shimi and she thought it was spot on. : D

    Then we went to the actual factory, and watched as they bundled the leaves into giant cotton-wrapped balls, squeezed them in machines, threw them into a huge spinning vessel, took them out, re-wrapped them into balls, re-squeezed them, re-threw them into the vessel, repeat, repeat, etc. etc.

    We were then invited to sample the tea, which was just stellar. They kept saying it was green tea but specifically it was Oolong tea. David Lin, Venus’ dad’s spy/chaperone sidled up to me when I tried to buy some and said something to me. I think he was trying to communicate to me that we would receive free tea as a gift from Venus’ dad, but that that tea would not be as expensive/high quality as the one I was attempting to buy. I thanked him for the hot tip and waited for the free stuff, which, sure enough, appeared at the end of the day as a souvenir. Not one, but TWO boxes~!

    Then, another two hours of bus-riding that brought us to the brink of vomming (no WONDER there were barf bags in every seat pocket!). We finally reached the top and jumped off and headed for the gift stalls that were selling all manner of dried fruit that we could sample (mostly yummy plums, but also, to Shimi’s dismay, congealed wasabi powder that looked disarmingly like a yummy plum – sorry babe).

    Then, softly pressed into my fingers, was this abomination:

    Crunchy slime. That’s the only description.

    Frank came around, chastising us, yelling, “NO! BETTER FOOD OVER HERE!” and led us farther up the mountain street. We went inside a restaurant and sat down at huge tables with soup already bubbling away in the center of the lazy susan.

    SO! MUCH! FOOD! I counted 10 courses here. It was my first real foray into Taiwanese food so I totally dug in…

    …Hmmm. Maybe it is because I am of Japanese descent and our blood is actually a mixture of blood and soy sauce, but everything tasted underseasoned.


    Doesn’t this LOOK like it should be salty?

    This, combined with the rather gristly/fatty meat that was part of many of the dishes left me a little disappointed. I should mention that what we thought was beef turned out to be venison, so it should have been expected that that meat be tough.


    Rudolph.
     

    I should also definitely mention that I’m deathly allergic to crustaceans, so I couldn’t eat the really good stuff – shrimp, crab, lobster.


    Off limits to Janet. Cry.
     

    But it was the general consensus around the table that the best dish was the simple stir-fried cabbage.

    Most entertaining, however, was the whole-fried chicken head. A shout came up at every table as they respectively discovered the existence of the head. I should have eaten it. I really regret this now.

    Then, we were herded into the Alishan Visitor’s Center. After all the buildup and the long journey, I was ready to just see the damn mountain already. However, we were told to sit in a mini auditorium to watch another movie about the Railway. This movie was…I don’t even know. I was speechless. It started out as locomotive sounds played on top of pictures of trains. Then it morphed into a crazy, philosophical biopic of a young woman on a journey, who, while riding the train, would say (through voice-over), things like, “On Ali Mountain, will you find a beautiful landscape? Or, will you find…yourself?” THEN it morphed into a scene on top of a bridge, where a young boy is told by a young girl (ostensibly his crush): “I’m…sorry. I’m sorry.” And then the young woman runs off as the train passes underneath. Fade into the next scene, where the young boy is now a grown man, visiting the bridge with his new girlfriend. The train passes underneath, and he turns to his new girlfriend and says, “Every time I see a train, I think of her.” This struck me as not a very nice thing to say to your current girlfriend, and I said that out loud. Shimi then said, “Can we leave?” and we ditched the theater to go to the 7-Eleven, where I bought hot pads to warm my freezing self.

    Finally, after half an hour, we were ready to see the goddamn mountain. Jerry, the husband of the cousin of the bride, asked Frank where the train station was. Frank responded that we weren’t going on the train.

    ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS ME?? TWO FUCKING MOVIES ABOUT THE TRAIN AND WE WEREN’T GOING ON IT!??!?

    Sigh. So we set off on a walk around the mountain. The first stop, which Frank was really excited about, was to be the Alishan Hotel, which he gushed was “Werrry espeneev!” I kind of preferred stopping at naturey things rather than a hotel plunked into the middle of nature, but whatever. The Japanese guests asked the Japanese tourguide (whose Japanese was astoundingly good – better than mine!) how long the walk would be, and he said 6 kilometers. Shimi then fretted that the little children of the English-speakers (some were JUUUST old enough to walk and certainly wouldn’t survive 6 km) wouldn’t make it and should she tell the parents or what? She is very considerate like that.

    We set off on the hike at the pace, naturally, of a child JUUUST old enough to walk. Shimi and I power-walked to the front of the line and tried to take off, but Frank was not having any of it. He said “Eh-Stoppu!” and made stern, come-hither waving motions with his hands. We then negotiated that we would meet the group at the hotel, and the two of us jetted off.

    The hotel, though, was literally 3 minutes away, so we didn’t really get any exercise. The group caught up with us and took another bathroom break, and we realized that we had to get our cranky asses away from this epically-slow-moving group. We worked on Frank and he finally relented, saying to meet back at the tour bus by 4 pm.

    So we went on a hike through the absolutely gorgeous trails of Alishan. Particularly stunning was the “Giant Trees Trail,” which was an elevated, wooden, meandering trail through astonishingly lush trees and brooks, with the age of each tree (thousands of years!) marked on a placard. I was in heaven.

    We killed as much time as we could, but still arrived back at the bus thirty minutes early. Balls. As we turned the corner, though, there was a clump of people from our group who saw us, threw up their hands, and said, “Oh, god! There they are!!!” and rushed towards us with open arms.

    “WE CALLED YOUR CELLPHONES!”

    “WHERE WERE YOU?!? WE WE SOOOO WORRIED!”

    “WE CALLED VENUS TO SEE WHAT WE SHOULD DO!”

    “WE SENT A SEARCH PARTY AFTER YOU!”

    Oh, shit. Apparently Senile Frank (I will provide you with proof of his senility in future posts) totally forgot about our 4 pm arrangement and freaked out when the huge group got back to the buses after the children (predictably) tired after 20 minutes of walking and everyone turned back and we were nowhere to be found. I felt terrible, particularly for disturbing the stressed bride while she was prepping for the wedding back in Chiayi, and I could tell some of the (particularly English-speaking) guests were pissed at us, since they were hanging out for over an hour waiting for us (and all the while we thought we were EARLY!). Later on, though, the girls in the “search party” confessed to us that they didn’t really look for us – they just wanted to get in a hike of their own.

    Shimi and I filed back into the bus, this time adding shame to our mix of nausea and anxiety on the 3-hour ride back home.

    Up next: Chicken Food – How the Taiwanese do Thanksgiving