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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Leap Year

2012 is a busy year.  The US, Mexico, Venezuela, France, Egypt and countless others have national elections, which could theoretically change the landscape of the politics on planet Earth.  Speaking of planet Earth — 2012 will also be the end of everything…according to those kooky Mayans.

2012 is also Leap Year.  I never really put any thought into Leap Year, until I saw a rerun of this episode of Frasier in late 2008 (just missing Leap Day).

I like the idea of doing something out of the ordinary on this day that will happen less than two dozen times in our lifetime.  I want to find something unique to do on this day. I don’t want to do something silly like they did on Frasier — I’m not getting a hair cut, go to Montana to visit an old cop buddy of mine, or sing Buttons and Bows on PBS.  Although the last of those three would be something COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone.

There is also a Leap Year Project, which encourages you to take a risk that will change your life, your community or the world for the better.  This is in line with Frasier (the first part, at least).  I want to do something and I need your help. I would like to do something that would help people — not just myself.  Although, my immediate goal is to do something new on Leap Day.

Have you heard of the Leap Year Project?  Do you traditionally do something new on Leap Day?  What are your plans for this Leap Day? Do you help others, or turn your focus internally on self improvement? What would you suggest I do?  Do you want to hear me sing Buttons and Bows? I love reruns of Frasier, don’t you?


Food Journeys – Vietnam

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was a National Geographic book called “Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe”.  Of these 500 places, 3 are in Vietnam.  Score.

The first on the list was to take a cooking class in the home of a Vietnamese family.  The class starts out in the markets early in the morning.  After you pick up the items you’ll need for lunch, you return to your hosts house to cook the meal.  The class includes an English language guide to aid in translation and to help explain the cultural nuances we are experiencing during the day.  The book also includes a couple of websites for companies they recommend using.  Unfortunately, the three website they recommended weren’t helpful at all. Two of them aren’t valid any more and one is just for a hotel.

The next options was Vietnamese Street Food.  Basically, this article says we should just go out on the street and find a great place to eat.  We were planning on doing that anyway.  It also suggests we find a street vendor with squat stools and belly up with the locals and eat Pho. Sounds good enough to me.  There were no real suggestions on specific locations, but they did recommend a couple of websites that might offer guidance.

The third Vietnamese Journey is in the Best Places to Enjoy Cafe Society.  Hanoi is number four on the list of top 10.  According to the book, Hanoi’s social life revolves around cafes.  A throwback to the colonial days when the French established Vietnam’s first coffee plantations.  I can easily see us sitting at a small cafe in the old quarter of Hanoi and drinking some coffee (I’m not a coffee/caffeine guy, but will do it on vacation for the experience).

Vietnam is listed in one more section of this book — as one of the best (number 3 out of ten) best New Year’s Feasts.  We are not going to be in Vietnam for Tet — which is probably a good thing as most things appear to be closed for 2-3 weeks around Tet.

I was a little disappointed the websites weren’t very helpful, but I do think that probably more of a function of Vietnam and not this book. I’ve checked out a few other websites for destinations that were not in Vietnam and they worked just fine.  I think the way to use this book is to use it as a guide and not a bible.

When you travel do you want plan your meals far in advance or do you just wing it?  Do you like to take cooking classes while on the road or at home?  Do you find the idea of grocery shopping and cooking in someones home while you are on vacation to be vile?

Southeast Asia – Planning Phase – Halong Bay

Halong Bay is in northeast Vietnam about 3 hours outside of Hanoi.  When thinking about pictures of Vietnam, I’m sure one of those pictures will be of Halong Bay.  A few friends who have been to Vietnam have all gone on a cruise along the bay.  They’ve also said the cruises have excellent service (and we all know what a stickler for great service I am) and an amazing price (and we all know how…cheap/frugal I am)…so it sounded like a great option.

The cruises range from simple day trips out and back all the way up to seven days and six nights.  Since we don’t have a lot of time, we opted for a two day, one night cruise.  We opted for a cruise that will allow us to go kayaking along the limestone caves, visit a floating fishing village and take a bit of a hike to get great views of the bay. While on board we’ll have three meals, countless cocktails, do some late night squid fishing, hang out and play cards/games with other guests after dinner and a sunrise Tai Chi instructional class.

I’m not at all a guy who like a cruise.  My mom and I went on a cruise the year after my dad died and I was really tortured. She enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t my thing.  Luckily this isn’t going to be a traditional cruise — this isn’t a Carnival Cruise ship.

The cruise wasn’t as cheap as I was expecting — but it’s definitely not expensive.  We are paying $185/person – everything is included. Except for booze.  Why is that always the case?  How much booze can we really drink anyway?

Southeast Asia – Planning Phase – Bike Ride

I never was much of a biker (bicycle not motorcycle). Until a couple of year ago I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in elementary school. While in Ho Chi Minh City we wanted to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. I wanted to go on a bike ride while there, but we were both quite concerned about riding bikes in Ho Chi Minh City — one of the tour books mentioned that an average of 30 people die each day in traffic accidents in Ho Chi Minh City. How insane is that?

Being the risk adverse person I am, I don’t want to get killed in a traffic accident while on vacation. I stumbled across an opportunity that will allow us to go on a bike ride and see the Cu Chi tunnels. The trip even has our hosts pick us up in a vehicle and drive us about 30 km out of the City, then we start the ride. How fantastic does that sound?

Since the tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels take only about half a day (including travel by car), adding on a bike tour sounds like a great way to really explore the country side. We are planning on working with Exotissimo Travel.

Have you used Exotissimo Travel before? Do you like to bike when you travel? When you want to see a very touristy historic location to you head out on your own or do you book a full blown tour with a travel company — or do you do a mix of both?

Where I’m Eating…Maude’s Liquor Bar (Chicago)

The week between Christmas and New Years is traditionally a quiet time for me — not so much this year.  I had dinners/lunches planned almost each night.  On Thursday, I went with some former co-workers, turned vendors, turned former vendors to dinner at Maude’s Liquor Bar on West Randolph in Chicago.

We had reservations at 18h15 — which is a pretty ungodly hour for dinner, but a good time to sit and start a long slow French meal.  Started off with a St. Germain Fizz (vodka, aperol and st. germain), which was quite a tasty treat.  Definitely something that should make my summer drink repertoire.

We were seated around 18h30 and spent about 15 minutes reviewing the menu before we started off with the Cheese of the Day and the Escargot.  The cheese was a double cream brie – the portion was very generous and coupled with the warm fresh bread, I loved it.  There were three of us a dinner, one of which had never had much experience to French food (I hadn’t had much before this past summer).  She was a trooper and tried (and loved) everything.  The escargot was a traditional preparation and while it wasn’t anything mind blowing, it was a nicely flavored portion of escargot.  Dipping the bread in the remaining butter and garlic was a great little treat as well.

I decided to switch from my cocktail to a bit of bubbles.

For our entree selection we decided to split the Traditional Cassoulet and the Sausage of the Day, which was a 50/50 beef/pork sausage.  The Cassoulet was nice but extremely rich.  Eating it as an entree would be just too much — I would hate it after eating about 1/3 of it.

The sausage was mild and lovely and served on the most flavorful cabbage ever and whole grain mustard.  I do wish the sausage had a bit more bite too it, but I would definitely try it again — and if the other daily sausage is as good as this, you can’t go wrong.  I do wish the plate would have had more of the cabbage — yes, it was that good.

We also decided to split the Blackened Brussels Sprouts (does it just seem strange that these are call Brussels Sprouts versus Brussel Sprouts?), which was cooked with butter and Parmesan. I must say, these sprouts were just fine — they had more of a bitter taste than I was expecting.  The sprouts were the only thing that was left on the plate after we were done.

Toulouse Lautrec

This place had a Montmartre Paris feel about it. There was so much energy, the only thing it was missing was some can-can dancers and perhaps a drunken Toulouse Lautrec causing a stir.  I was really reminded of some of the bar/restaurants we visited while in Paris — it even came with the indifferent server.

I cannot wait to return and spend a few hours lounging, drinking and eating rich, yet well prepared food.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures that go along with this meal — I was prepared only for a business dinner not a blog entry. I will attempt to be more prepared in the future.