Tag Archives: Food

Russian Odyssey

The Corona Virus and its Shelter in Place requirements in California have kept me on my toes creatively, to plan each day at a time and to fill it with learning and entertainment. For one of my favorite activities, I combine both opera streaming with sketching..

The daily operas presented by the New York Metropolitan Opera (go to metopera.org) provide an anchor, so in addition to listening to wonderful music, I can study and record performers’ faces that hold long enough for a sketch. In the case of opera, it’s pretty easy once they launch into a famous aria. But I can’t say that I can follow the story at the same time!

In addition to opera sketching, there are plenty of live zoom sketching events. I follow those sponsored by SF Sketchers, so we have sketched each other from our homes using 3, 5 and 8 minute sketches. Down and dirty, but lots of fun and we engage.

In another sketching event yesterday, we took a gondola tour of Venice and stopped along the way to sketch at a couple of spots. It triggered fond memories of traveling. I had already reduced my plans to travel this year and had made no bookings for the summer. Since all international travel is off the books for now, I wasn’t stranded with cancellations.

Nevertheless, it’s still disappointing to realize that there is no end in sight to being able to visit different parts of the world in the foreseeable future. In lieu of travel I have reduced my carbon footprint by traveling via books. Currently I am reading “Sasha’s Dance”, a cultural history of Russia, in conjunction with “Anna Karenina”, a Tolstoy masterpiece. They are wonderful to read together by weaving both front and back stories.

After having nostalgic thoughts about Russia, I went back to watch a video I made of Vladivostok. These videos remind me of the the coastal city’s austerity. The video below is the quick version.

For those of you interested in the long version, I am reposting what I wrote on Day 59 on Vladivostok. It was part of my 80-day world trip in 2016. For this portion, we traveled from Beijing to Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian Express eastwards to the coast, then flew from Vladivostok to Tokyo. Look on the next post.

P.S. In the image featured above, I did the “everything” activity yesterday, by combining food and opera on a blustery Saturday evening. I made handmade chicken and spinach pasta with homemade pasta sauce, then plopped down to enjoy “L’Elixir d’Amore with Pretty Yende, Michael Polenzani and a glass of wine. Wish you were here!

A REPOST FROM 2016 WORLD TRAVELS: Day 59: Vladivostok, Russia

Here are some first views of Vladivostok coming from the north by train on arrival at sunset the night before:

Dinner at Three Brothers across from the hotel, complete with live American jazz music for $30 for both of us with wine

Evening Entertainment: Portugal vs. Wales with Rinaldo scoring 1 of 2 goals

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If you were visiting Vladivostok for the first time like we were, you could start an early morning walk at the Friday morning Central food market:

You can take a minibus to the new Mariinskiy Opera and Ballet Theatre. It is hosting the first International Piano Competition at the end of this month. I predict that it will be a great draw for concerts, ballet and opera in the future. You might consider taking a trip to attend this magnificent new venue and the emerging new productions and stars that will perform here!

After that, you can catch a bus back to the city and stop at the Lookout Point over the new Golden Bridge completed in 2012. Does the design look familiar to you?

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Later in the day, get your cultural brains in gear and visit the Primorie Art Gallery. When we attended, it was showing an exhibition of Russian Art from 1700-1900. We were intrigued with the very personal touches of each painting, that may have reflected or imitated more famous Western paintings of the same era. Sargent, Picasso, and Matisse came to mind.

There were also a number of startling paintings that represented new subjects seldom seen in paintings of the same era. Chinese or Muslim figures were represented in historical settings that required more context and explanation. Unfortunately, all paintings were titled in Russian or limited English.

At the end of the day, kick back and have dinner at the Three Brothers for evening meal. This was our return visit from the night before. The outdoor dining was perfect for the cool balmy weather of Vladivostok. The city is very similar to San Francisco, with hills, coastal fog, city views everywhere, and a lively ambience. We’re in love with this city of 2 Million!! This city is destined to be a big tourist destination in the next 10 years, so come soon.

Reflections on Iran (An Excerpt from Dec. 2018)

In light of this week’s tragic events over Iran, I felt compelled to share a video I produced at the end of 2018. It captures my current thoughts and feelings about Iran (in conjunction with other countries visited that year). My heart goes out to the Iranian people and their uncertain future.

Here’s the video:

(The notes below are an edited version from the original post, “Wring out the Old”, from December, 2018.)

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

Turkey Wrap

Sadly, our weeklong foray into the dazzling Blue Aegean coast of Turkey has come to an end. Daughter Melissa‘s quest for the freshest, most creative food did not disappoint. I came for the connoiseur’s ride.

Turkish Food

Delicate bits of chopped morsels are packed with texture, flavor, and color to delight the senses. You swear you could eat like this every day, convinced of the variety and healthy ingredients.

Dolmas, eggplant spread with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, and artichoke with mustard sauce
Bodrum to Izmir

The four hour public bus from to Izmir to Bodrum followed the coast, was a safe and comfortable trip, and cost us each a hefty $6. In true Turkish hospitality, they even served tea and cookies! We gazed at the stark countryside, lit by the low winter sun behind turbulent clouds, as olive and tangerine groves slid past.

View of Mountains and farmland from bus
Bizim Lokanta

On arrival back in Izmir, we couldn‘t resist returning to the lokanta in the Bazaar where we had eaten earlier in the week.

Tongue soup, bulgar with fava beans, and cabbage rolls with thick, creamy yogurt
Kudos on two walls of this vest-pocket diner were self-explanatory
Bazaar Fun
It‘s a Wrap!
(Meatless) Kale and Cheese Wraps for a pittance

It‘s always bittersweet leaving a country, especially after such a short visit. But the food focus, imperial demands, abundance of land, and Mediterranean climate requires one to succumb to one of Turkey‘s finest features.

Emphasis on Ephesus

Our visit to the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey required an overnight stay in Izmir. Although we had a chance to get acclimated, we immediately took to the streets in search of lunch. Thanks to Melissa’s intrepid search for the tastiest food in any country and her Googling skills, we traipsed through the town’s nearby grand bazaar and after numerous twists and turns, tracked down a local locanta.

Izmir Locanta
Izmir Bazaar Favorite among locals

This is where the locals dine on some of the heartiest meals made with the freshest ingredients. We savored the sardine soup recommended by the gentleman sitting across from us. It’s one of those diners where you point to the big vats of steaming concoctions or decorated casseroles in order to get your meal secured!


Stewed Eggplant
Ephesus

The short 40 minute drive from Izmir to Bodrum jolted us into realizing how ancient the land in which we were traveling is. From biblical figures like John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and their pilgrim followers, to the largest civilization outside of Rome at its peak, it was hard not to be impressed by the significance and grandeur of Ephesus.

Once inhabited by 250,000, Ephesus is a UNESCO world heritage site and was carefully restored and brought to life. It is a relatively late-bake on the list, as its discovery is fairly recent and only a fraction of it has been uncovered.

The library at Ephesus

Highlights include the odeon, a theatre; an amphitheater, an agora, terrace houses, and a library. You can download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app for free and use it as you walk the site. All the details of what we saw were based on his excellent instructions. I highly recommend trying it out, and he certainly covers the major features. This fascinating site was once a thriving port city before the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the Goths each had their go at destroying it!

We decided to hire a car for a day to get from Izmir to Ephesus and Ephesus to Bodrum, our final destination. The only catch was making certain that we could call the driver after he dropped us off at the carpark at the top of the entrance to Ephesus. He was to meet us at the bottom of the hill at the exit 90 minutes later. Minor details: he had our bags in the boot!! We needed a backup just in case we could not find the driver. After a bit of cell phone finagling, conversations with hotel personnel, and a lot of good faith—we managed. Where we spent on the driver, we saved on time and the cost of a tour and guide. Just a reminder on how you can travel the way you want, with just a few creative tricks and determination to be a traveler and not a tourist.

Boviera

Known as “Boviera”, sparkling Aegean resort towns along the Western Turkish coast include Bodrum. It’s off-peak and chilly presently, but well worth the quiet solitude and even threats of rain to avoid the throngs of English-speaking tourists.

As close as you can get to the creatures being served at your table before they are caught!
Anchovies, artichokes with pineapple, cheese and walnuts, and squash in yogurt

Note: due to traveling light and leaving my Macbook at home for this brief trip, I am using my Iphone to compose and post photos. The capabilities are limited, but I hope you will still enjoy the material the same as regular posts!

Munchin’ in München (36 hours)

At the start of the New Year, dessert chef/ daughter Melissa and I are making a quick stopover in Munich en route to Western Turkey for a few days.

We searched high and low for tasty, affordable dishes. In Germany, it’s a challenge to avoid meat-forward or vegan counter-reactionary approaches. There seems to be very little in between.

Nevertheless, Melissa decided to go classic and identified the Cafe Luitpold. We indulged in a delicate croissant assemblage and a cheese plate for breakfast.

Cheese Plate at Cafe Luitpold

Meanwhile, our main objective for stopping in Munich was to hit as many museums in one day possible.

To digress, speeding thru museums when the kids were young helped. We broke into parent-child pairs for a one-hour treasure hunt. Finding famous pieces and objets d/art such as the Venus de Milo in Louvre was energizing. It helped each of us remember what we found!!

Quality was less relevant than quantity in order to win! I feel less guilty about subjecting our children after this daughter became an art history major.

Back to the ranch. We decided to tackle the Pinakothek Moderne today. It’s a behemoth museum that dwarfs artwork and erases any artist‘s notion of grandeur. The Reichstag-like atrium was wet with a pendulum-swinging, egg-shaped disco ball.

Pinakothek Atrium, Munich

After a short break, we visited the Brandhorst Museum across from the Modern. A huge Cy Twombly exhibition displayed his beautiful series on roses, as well as his Sketches and Scribbles.

Twombly’s Roses

The museum celebrated its tenth anniversary by providing souvenir cards of many artists’ works. It saved buying an exhibition catalog, that often are killers to transport home.

American contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons were well represented here, juxtaposed against German Expressionists and the Dusseldorf Academy faculty.

This is one museum worth visiting, and the late Thursday opening allowed viewers near-exclusive access to an amazing collection.

Jean Michel Basquiat, untitled, 1983
The Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer, 1922

(Author‘s Note): if you think we’re crazy to do two museums in one day, we scaled our goal back from the four in the Pinakothek collection that we had intended to visit!

Guangzhou to Hanoi

Getting to Hanoi from Guangzhou was an adventure! Initially, we traveled by train for four hours in the evening. We finished with a land route from the Chinese border at Pengxiang to Vietnam. We passed gorgeous mountain peaks reminiscent to those in Kweiin, but also traveled through many rice fields being burned. They polluted the sky and left us wondering why there weren’t alternatives for clearing the spent growth.

After three hours, we arrived in the old city. Our kamikaze driver got us to the city in half the time of a train ride. The honking horns and endless stream of motorbikes reeked chaos and anarchy. We were relieved when we arrived at the hotel safely.

A glimpse of normal life in Hanoi

Hanoi Central Park

From our rooftop breakfast room at the hotel, we spotted a small lake in the middle of Hanoi. We headed over for a look. The leisurely stroll refreshed our souls and allowed us to escape from the constant traffic noise. Girls and ladies in beautiful Vietnamese gowns posed for pictures, sketch artists entertained curious passers-by, and both tourists and locals enjoyed sharing the human experience.

Hanoi Street Life

On our first night, we ate street food along with crowds of tourists watching a local soccer match between Vietnam and Thailand on big outdoor screens. The crowd was cheerful, friendly, and intent on their home team’s win. Nearly every food stall took advantage of the opportunity to bring in business by offering seating, food, and large screens.

In the next morning’s walk, we waited for a couple of bank assistants to fill the depleted ATM machine. Metal cartridges of money were stacked beside them, but they seemed stymied at how to install them properly. They were searching the internet for instructions, using their powder pink and Hello Kitty decorated phones, while squatting in their high heels!!

Vietnamese Food

The Vietnamese food has been a delightful surprise. We did not expect such glamorous presentations and freshest ingredients. Meat or seafood, vermicelli, peanuts, and matchsticks of carrot and cucumber wrapped in rice paper make yummy, albeit a bit sloppy, finger foods. Black rice and tapioca topped with ice cream was a typical dessert and great palette cleanser.

After dining at the Orchid Restaurant, we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make the fantastic dishes. In addition to learning from his family, the chef was trained for four years in a cooking school. He worked for over ten years in French, Italian, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.

The four-hour class started by a trip to the market. It offered one of the most p ok ingredients that we had seen anywhere in the world.

We returned to the restaurant and donned aprons. We honed our cooking skills by learning how to filet fish, julienne vegetables, and wrap spring rolls.

If you come to Hanoi, try one of the many combo restaurant/cooking schools in the Old City. Vietnam cuisine ranks high on our list as one of the most colorful and tasty in the world.

We’re heading back to Zhongshan and Guangzhou, China via Hong Kong, so stay tuned…

Searching for (Lotus) Roots: Village Visits

House in Bamboo Garden

The Chou Family village home in the once-rural area of Punyu is now consumed by the urban demands of Guangzhou. Located in the Bamboo Garden Village in Bai Yun near the Guangzhou airport, the stately home was originally built in the middle of rice paddies. Through the maze of six to seven-story buildings haphazardly built in the 80’s and 90’s, the narrow alleyways lead to this peaceful oasis.

The house is the oldest remaining home in the village. A few remaining pieces of furniture shown above survived the past. The family residence remains unoccupied, but hopefully its redeeming features will support new life and purpose.

An Tang Village

A search for the Lum Family house in An Tang Village proved to be more challenging. The house no longer exists, but finding the precise location was also elusive. The search demands people, place, and time. Rickety 80’s and 90’s adhoc housing sprinkled throughout the village similar to that found in Bamboo Garden obscure landmarks. Being in a more rural setting, the An Tang Village contained more traditional village houses. This could be related to funding, demand and proximity to an urban area.

We located the home of my mother’s uncle. Adjacent to it was a 20’s era clinic. It reminded me of the contemporary style of Sun Yat Sen’s Residence in Hong Kong. Athough unoccupied, it appears to be a historic building ripe for attention and TLC.

The series of Ancestral Temples made the village visit worthwhile. In addition to the artwork that preserves the legacy of the Lum Family, local street murals scattered throughout the village provided inspiration for its residents.

Foodie Heaven

One could never escape a stay in Guangzhou without being first confronted, then blown away by the exquisite simplicity of flavors and unadulterated freshness of ingredients. The consistency of quality is truly remarkable. Restaurants compete for business. Reputation is everything. Now add innovation and creativity to rival any five-star presentation.

In one restaurant, a huge automated lazy susan brings the food to you. Similar to the sushi boat concept, you barely have to “lift a finger” to get the food to your plate!

Transit Nightmare

Despite the herculean feat of moving teaming masses of humanity, public transit in Guangzhou is still a frightening, mesmerizing, and astounding experience. High speed trains get you from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and other remote areas in less than an hour, buses interconnect to desired locations, and the internet provides information and easy ticket orders.

Nevertheless, the human experience is overwhelming. The length of the new Guangzhou South Railway Station is .6km and it takes nearly 5 minutes to transverse it! (See https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/newguangzhou/

Having worked on the HK Mass Transit Railway when its first line was under construction, I am at a loss at how to improve this situation. This development addresses mankind’s needs and for the time being, it is about as good as it gets.

Teeming humanity
The new Guangzhou South Railway Station is the length of 6 football fields

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!!

Every year, about when Indian Summer in San Francisco begins to strike,  we receive wishes from friends and relatives in China for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The mooncakes are given to celebrate the unity of the family, on the 15th day of the 8th Month of the lunar calendar. Moon watching and lantern lighting are part of the festivities in many countries in Asia.

The origin of mooncakes dates back to the Tang Dynasty, when a Turpan businessman gave the cakes out after the Hsiungnu were defeated in Northwest China (at the gateway to the Silk Road). The gift of mooncakes became a tradition after that.

You can read more about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Autumn_Festival

Our daughter and dessert chef at Mr. Jiu’s in San Francisco created her interpretation of mooncakes in the picture above. She hosts a pop-up shop, “Grand Opening” every second Saturday of the month, with different limited-edition desserts paired with savory specialties created by in-house or guest chefs.

You can find more information here:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2Wxor0hh13/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

Hope you enjoy this fanciful artwork, and the short summer we are about to experience in San Francisco!!