Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Motor City Madness

St Clair Shores, Mich - I'm proud to say I'm from Detroit. It makes people think I'm tough, which I am, although that may not be apparent at first glance.

Seriously, though, the Motor City gets a bad rap. I won't argue that the city isn't going through some tough times (and has been - since before I was born). It makes the city an easy target for criticism. Maybe that's why I find the videos and photos of Detroit's abandoned buildings so boring. This has been going on for years, people - can't you find something new to say?

If you're not familiar with the videos and photos I am referring to, see 100 Abandoned Houses, which was recently written up in the New York Times. "With such a dramatic decline [in population], the abandoned house problem is not likely to go away soon." So writes the photographer, Kevin Bauman, who has since relocated to Denver.

Okay, I'm not exactly in a position to fault the guy for moving out of town. We are not beholden to our hometown. If you're going to make it the subject of your creative project, though, can't you think of something good to say? Or at least something that has not been said 100 times before?


Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, Canada

Ontario, Canada - This weekend we drove from Detroit to Toronto for a wedding. It's the first time I have been to Toronto in about 15 years, and the first time I have driven over the border in almost a decade.

We all know that times have changed since 9/11. But driving to Canada was a bit of a shock for someone who used to drive to Windsor to go drinking on a Saturday night. Nowadays, passports are definitely required and it takes at least a half-hour just to cross the border.

It's most startling after traveling in other continents, where barriers are being broken down, not built up. These days in Europe, you can drive from country to country without even being aware that you are crossing a border. Yet in North America, the borders are becoming tighter and tougher. Irony. 

Despite the fact that we had to wait a  long time to get there, Canada is alright with me. I think it's cool that all the signs are in English and French, even though only about a quarter of the population actually speaks French. And I really appreciate that you can order a small coffee (or whatever) and actually get a smallish-size, as opposed to the super-sizes that prolifierate in our obesity-inducing consumer culture.

But I still wonder why Canadians insist on wearing that Maple Leaf whenever they leave their fair country. Only the Brazilians can rival the Canadians when it comes to flag pride - why?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Somerville, Mass - The ice cream maker is getting quite a workout this summer, as we have whipped up strawberry gelato, cherry walnut ice cream and tropical sorbet over the last few weeks. Still, until this week, the best ice cream I had had was the seasonal specialty, Fresh Mint, from Christina's in Inman Square.
Now, I know that the folks at Christina's are real professionals. They do this for a living and well, they are pretty darn good at it. It's well-known that Christina's is pretty much the best ice cream in the world, consistently winning Best in Boston. There are a few staples at Christina's that are hard to beat (eg, Coconut Almond), but the place also tempts you with seasonal specialties like Rose Petal in summer and Pumpkin in fall.
Anyway, I won't pretend that my homemade conconctions can compete with Christina's, but her Fresh Mint was so smooth and creamy and delicious that I just had to try to make it at home. Normally, I like mint (or mint-chip) ice cream okay, as long as it isn't green. I know that the food coloring probably does not affect the flavor, but the fake color really ruins it for me. Christina's version, however, is a soft creamy color with just a subtle hint of greenish hue, which is the natural coloration from the mint leaves.
Last weekend, we were having a few folks over for dinner to celebrate my cousin's birthday. My aunt promised to bring her famous (and delicious) chocolate cake, so I decided to attempt to make the fresh mint ice cream as a complement. What else am I going to do with the fresh mint leaves that are busting out of their pot on my back porch? (Note the little snail trying to get in on it.)

I think Christina's recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but I did find some alternatives on the internet. The challenge was that almost all of these recipes called for 4-6 eggs, and my guests were strict vegetarians who do not eat eggs.
I looked at a lot of recipes and finally came up with this amalgam. Apparently, soy acts as an emulsifier, so I substituted soy milk where other recipes called for regular milk. I added in the arrowroot to thicken it a bit, although I'm not sure that was even necessary. Note that my guests were NOT vegan, so I chose to keep heavy cream as an ingredient, in hopes of attaining the creamy quality that makes Christina's so divine. It worked! The end result was every bit as rich and creamy and delicious as I had hoped.
  • 1-1/2 cup soy milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tsp arrowroot
  • 1-1/2 cup heavy cream
Heat soy milk over low heat. Stir in sugar and arrowroot until they dissolve. Add mint leaves and allow to simmer for 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate soy milk and mint leaves mixture overnight. The next day, strain the milk mixture and discard mint leaves. Sir in cream and pour into your ice cream maker as per usual. As the churning finishes, you could also add in some dark chocolate chunks - if you're not planning to serve it with chocolate cake, that is. Freeze overnight. Then enjoy cool and creamy, mint-eriffic heaven!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Climb to the Clouds

Somerville, Mass - Now that I have cycled across Africa and I know how to change a flat tire, I finally feel comfortable calling myself a "biker".  Plus, I have the gear now, so that pretty much settles it.
That said, I'm not sure that I will ever again ride the distances that I did over the winter and spring. I enjoyed the training - I really did - but it was so time-consuming. And while I would like to do some more long-distance bike tours, I would prefer a route that averages 50 miles a day instead of 100 miles a day.
Since my return from my inter-continental journey this spring, I have resumed riding pretty regularly. Indeed, it's a joy to be out on my bike. But my standard route follows the Minute Man Bike Trail, either its terminus in Bedford (about 28 miles roundtrip) or the slightly extended trip to Walden Pond (35 miles). No strong desire to go too much farther than that at this point in my life.
Today was the first day I joined my old riding group, the Charles River Wheelmen for an organized ride. Although it was the group's summer century, I opted for the shorter 62-mile ride. It's called the Climb to the Clouds because the route takes in Mt Wachusetts in Princeton, Mass. So, yes, there's some serious climbing involved. This year we were warned that the access road to the 2000-foot summit was closed for repairs. Let me tell you, I was thrilled. It was hard enough getting up Mountain Road to the visitors center.
So that was the longest distance - and certainly the hilliest route - that I have ridden in a while. No wild animals were spotted, but the weather was perfect and the scenery from the mountain was spectacular. And after 62 miles, I was beat. What more do I want from my bike ride?

Monday, July 13, 2009

TDA Highlights

Somerville, Mass - All of the Lonely Planet team members contributed to this little slide show about the highlights of the Tour d'Afrique.

The original presentation was actually a PDF file, but I can't figure it out how to post that. Apparently I can't post a video without sharing it with the world on YouTube. So here it is - one more time - as a photo album.

There are a few consistent themes, but for the most part, it's interesting to see how everybody really had different experiences.

One recurrent theme seems the be "The People". Many of the riders said they enjoyed meeting the locals along the way. You'll notice that this was not a highlight for my partner Tom or me - that's because we only met about 7 people in Botswana and Namibia. They are kind of sparsely populated.

Does this inspire you to start planning an exotic bike trip? Visit the Tour d'Afrique website.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One Love

Somerville, Mass - Deadline looming (technically past). No time to write, except for reviews of pierogi parlours and underground jazz clubs... but you'll have to buy the forthcoming Krakow Encounter guide to read those.

In lieu of inventing something myself, let me share this awesome video made by 35 musicians from around the world. Sorry to contribute to Bob Marley Madness but this is a unique rendition. You can see some other "Songs Around the World" including some original compositions on the website Playing for Change.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fly Kiwi

Somerville, Mass - In case anybody has not seen the Air New Zealand ad that's been making the rounds of the internet. Apparently these painted bodies are actually Air New Zealand employees, not actors. Enjoy! 

The comment made by the older woman at the end of the video is "Don't you love a man in uniform?" Cute.
Aside from this advert, they also made a safety video to be shown on Air New Zealand flights. It does seem like a good way to get people to pay attention.

I only feel bad for rest of the Air New Zealand staff, who now - undoubtedly - must endure endless questions about why they are wearing clothes instead of body paint. If I worked for this company, I would be in favor of a new policy prohibiting such questions. An outright ban. Seriously, you're not allowed to make jokes about hikjacking the plane or you get kicked off the flight. Same goes if you make a joke about getting naked... you're outta here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

From Ale Pail to Bigos Bucket

Somerville, Mass - This year we joined the Food Project CSA, which is a fantastic way to support a good cause and get a regular supply of delicious, locally grown, organic veggies at a very decent price. But it's not without its challenges. This week, we received a gigantic Asian cabbage, completely unannounced. What on earth am I supposed to do with that?

Regular readers will know that I have recently returned from Poland, so I had the brilliant idea to use the cabbage to make bigos, the most delicious of Polish peasant foods. It's basically sauerkraut, cooked long and slow with wild mushrooms, onions, sausage and anything else you feel like clearing out of the root cellar (or fridge, if you're not actually a Polish peasant). So what a perfect use for my Asian cabbage.
But first, of course, I have to turn it into sauerkraut....
A quick google search made it clear why sauerkraut is an ideal thing for peasants to eat. First of all, it requires only two ingredients: salt and cabbage. Second of all, it sits in a cool dark place and lasts for weeks on end. No refrigeration required.
Basically, you add liberal amounts of sea salt to chopped cabbage, allowing it to release the water that it contains and start the fermentation process. Apply pressure to squish out the water and keep out the air. Put it in a cool place and let it sit for two to fours weeks (!) You can start eating it as soon as it tastes good. Or you can let it sit there and keep fermenting until it stops tasting good, which could be months.
This is not exactly what I expected; frankly, I thought I would be eating my bigos in the next day or two. But why not? I mean, what else do I have to do with a giant head of Asian cabbage?

The recipes recommend using a big crock or a food-grade plastic bucket. I do not own the former, but I do have the Ale Pail, which came with our beer-brewing kit (temporarily known as the Bigos Bucket).
The most time-consuming aspect of this project was chopping the cabbage. Once that's done, you salt liberally and you're ready to go. You can also add extra treats for flavour or colour, eg, I added some julienned carrot strips because I had a bunch of those from the Food Project too.

As you mix everything up with the salt, it starts to generate the juices. Cover with a plate or a lid that you can press down on the cabbage, and weight it will some heavy stones. (This is the fancy peasant cooking technique.) As the fermentation process takes place, the level of liquid rises; so after one day, the brine already covers the lid.
I put the Bigos Bucket in the basement to keep it cool. Now my instructions are to let it sit. (Fortunately, we have plenty to eat in the meantime, unlike peasants.) Stay tuned for sauerkraut status reports.