Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fermentation Fest

Once again I messed up -- my trip to California was to Los Angeles County, not Orange County so I will not be able to complete my Valencia orange research this year.  My cousin Ben's wedding was awesome and I was able to squeeze in a visit to Round Table Pizza to check in on the company that pretty much funded my retirement.  The Gourmet Veggie pizza was as delicious as ever.

Round Table Pizza restaurant in Torrance, California

Wedding Venue at Terreanea Resort
Last week I attended the Fermentation Festival in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  I'll let the organizers describe it:

A food and farming festival with a focus on live culture in all its forms from dance to yogurt, from poetry to sauerkraut

There’s something brewing in the crocks, kettles and jugs of Reedsburg, Wisconsin. From sourdough bread to home-crafted beer, pickles to soy sauce, chocolate to cheese, compost to silage, the Live Culture Convergence has it all. Farmers, chefs, artists, poets and cheese makers converge with a series of  classes, tastings, lectures, art events, and more.
The signature event for 2014 will again be the Farm/Art DTour, a fifty-mile self-guided drive through scenic working lands of northwest Sauk County punctuated by temporary art installations, Roadside Culture Stands, PassWords, Field notes, and Pasture Performances.
I went on a Friday so I missed the musical performances and classes but the Farm/Art DTour was fantastic.  Some of my favorites:

 A corn maze with the maze part replaced by inspirational signs and the sound of corn stalks blowing in the wind.

This was my favorite - from the brochure* - "Too much pig, a giant straw diorama, depicts the wild invasive swine species encroaching on rural communities in southwestern and central Wisconsin. Their recent discovery threatens farmland, livestock, and the natural environment."  

This is a box of very expensive candy I bought from one of the vendors for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't notice that it had an "enjoy by date" of November 11 so unfortunately, I had to eat it all.  The one with hot chili peppers was really good.

I highly recommend this event.

*There are actually two pigs in the diorama.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Summer Wrap-Up

According to the teacher calendar, summer is officially over when we start back to school so this is a wrap-up of my summer food experiences.  I will be going back to California in a couple of weeks to continue my research on Valencia oranges but in the meantime, here is the best of the summer of 2014.

Winner - Best new food

Mangonata -- mango ice cream, chili sauce, simple syrup, more chili sauce and chopped mangos. Mangonatas can be purchased in Mexican ice cream parlors -- I got this one inside the chicken place at 35th and National in Milwaukee.  I also found them for sale in Highwood, Illinois.  I plan to locate all the Mexican ice cream parlors in the upper Midwest.

Mangonata with tamarind straw

Winner - Best food to take back to Milwaukee on the train 

Garrett Mix (formerly known as Garrett Chicago Mix).  No further explanation needed.

Second Place - Hen House Banh Mi from Saigon Sisters
Third Place - Four cheese sandwich from Specialties

Winner - Best Breakfast near Union Station

Lou Mitchell's

I tried a bunch of different places recently but Lou Mitchell's scrambled eggs in a skillet with free prunes, orange slices and Milk Duds can't be beat.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


My cousin's wedding was fantastic.  The reception was held at a beautiful orange grove outside the city and the food was wonderful.  It was a late night but we managed to wake up early enough to squeeze in a couple of hours of shopping and paella by the beach with our cousins.  The next morning we were off to Barcelona on the train.

The price of our train ticket included lunch and cava.

I had been in Barcelona 40 years earlier and basically seen nothing.  Mom and I stayed in a great hotel near the Barcelona Cathedral and we spent two days sightseeing.  We saw two of Gaudi's buildings

Ceiling of the Sagrada Familia

Interior of Casa Battlo

ate some more tapas and had one last paella by the beach.  A great trip even though I was unable to do my research on plant hybridization.

Barcelona Cathedral

Monday, July 7, 2014

Even more Sightseeing

We finished up with

  • The cathedral (which includes what may or may not be the Holy Grail)

Interior of the Valencia Cathedral

  • These floats and figures that are kept in a museum until the Feast of Corpus Christi

  • A walk on the beach

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sightseeing in Valencia

We decided to skip our day trip to Gandia after several people told us it was not worth a visit. Instead we have been focusing on Valencia, particularly the old city where we are staying.  So far we've been to:
  • The central market where we had a great lunch and bought food to eat at the apartment. It is located in a wonderful old building - lots of fresh fish, fruit, and several stands with gourmet products from the area.  
  • The aquarium (biggest in Europe!), part of the Calatrava-designed Arts and Sciences Center. It is a fantastic series of themed buildings and outdoor areas. This is a cool video of jellyfish that my sister took (I added the corny music).

Apparently jellyfish are in the process of taking over the entire world. For more information, follow my soon to be published blog entitled "Jellyfish Are Taking Over the Entire World" or read this book 

                Stung! On Jelly Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, by Lisa-Ann Gershwin
  • The Toy Soldiers Museum (biggest in the world!) with over 100,000 pieces on display and 900,000 more in reserve. In addition to soldiers and battle scenes, there were figures of world leaders and some surprisingly violent dioramas. The following picture has been edited for content

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tapas and More Tapas

Last night we took a tapas tour. Three restaurants and about 15 different different types of tapas. I was the best at drinking from the parron*

This unidentifed member of our group came in a close second

*From Wikipedia - To drink from a porron, a beginner starts by bringing the spout very close to his mouth and tilts it forward slowly so the beak points towards the teeth. Once the liquid starts coming out, the porró is pulled away from the face while the drinker looks up. To finish drinking, a beginner lowers the porró and brings it back down and closer to the mouth again before stopping, quickly tilting the spout up at the last moment so there is no spillage.
A regular user can start and stop drinking from the porró with the spout held at a distance without spilling a drop.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Arrival in Spain

We arrived safely in Valencia this afternoon and explored a little of the old city before coming back to the apartment to nap and freshen up for dinner.  I started my research and was surprised to learn that the Valencia orange was actually developed in California.  I guess I 'll have to wait until I return home to continue my project.  At least I will have more time to concentrate on tapas, paella, and my cousin Zach's wedding.

In the meantime, I sat next to this guy on the airplane
His name is Eric Adams and he is the lead singer of a heavy metal band called Manowar. He has had a very interesting career and he was a lot of fun to talk to. We will just miss his concert in Barcelona but my mom is anxious to see him when he comes to Chicago this fall.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Luggage Upgrade

Since I will be doing lots of travelling this year, I decided to upgrade my luggage.

  • Two-wheeled duffle. One of the wheels devolved into a square which made it difficult to roll.
  • Grungy backpack that I carried on the plane with all my junk stuffed in it.
  • Worn-out toiletry bag.
  • Plastic $1 coupon holder which I used to carry my documents.
  • 21" roller with four wheels in purple.
  • A set of three organizer bags, also purple.
  • Kind of tacky (but new) toiletry bag from Target.
  • This cool electronics organizer.

  • An expandable black nylon carry-on bag.  The most important feature - it is not a backpack.
  • A $2 purple plastic document envelope.
The only thing I kept is a beautiful leather passport holder/wallet which my friends gave me in 1995.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It Is Time To Start Traveling

School is out so it is time to hit the road.  This year I have picked a theme for my trips - food.
Many of you are aware of my life-long interest in plant hybridization. When I read about the threat to the Florida orange crop (, I decided to go to Valencia, Spain to do some research on the history of Valencia oranges. I was able to convince my sister and mother to join me.  The adventure begins soon, so please check back often.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Final Thoughts and Interesting Facts

  • There are so many flights, so many airlines, and so many tourists leaving on pre-dawn flights in Myanmar that when you check in for your flight, they give you a sticker to put on your clothing.  The stickers let the airline employees easily identify who should be on which plane.  When it is time for a flight to leave, an employee walks around the departure lounge with a sign -- other employees then make sure you are wearing the correct sticker before they let you on the plane.
  • In Myanmar you still have to confirm your flight by telephone the day before departure and airlines still issue paper tickets.

  • Singapore Airlines provides free, excellent meals in economy class and they give you a printed menu.

  • I have been traveling internationally for over 40 years.  December 30, 2013 was the first time I was dressed better than someone from France.
  • Since the 1960's, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Myanmar.  For some reason, steering wheels are still on the right-hand side which makes for some very interesting left turns.
  • Most of the cars in Myanmar are white.  Our guide told us why but I can't remember the exact explanation.
  • There is a "Last Bag" sign at the Bangkok Airport.  If you don't see your luggage and the sign goes on, it is officially time to panic.
  • Very few places accept credit cards in Myanmar and there are very few ATMs.  Many places will only accept US currency as payment and the bills must be brand new and unused.  Bonus points if the bills are in sequential order.
  • One more balloon picture
    I'll be renaming this blog and continuing to post about my travels.  The theme for 2014 is famous fruit from around the world.  Thanks for reading.

    Sunday, February 9, 2014


    Although I was sad to leave Myanmar, I was looking forward to spending a couple of days in Singapore.  No guide was necessary and we took full advantage of the subway system and consistent internet access.  Singapore is part kiddy theme park and part shopping paradise, neither of which I was interested in.  Our hotel was in the Little India section of Singapore and was built around several pre-war shop houses.  In addition to walking around Little India, we went to the Botanic Gardens (the National Orchid Garden was amazing) and then took the subway back towards downtown to see some of the newer parts of the city.  

    Three hotel towers with a fake boat-like thing linking them across the top.
    The flower shaped building  is a museum.  Of course there is also a Ferris wheel.

    We finished that day with a look at Raffles Hotel (only guests are allowed inside) and trip to a food hawker center.  All the centers are now regulated by the government but it was still fun to choose food from the different vendors and people watch.  

    We had time to visit Kampong Glam, one of Singapore's older and well-preserved neighborhoods, before our plane left.  Fortunately, there is a growing movement to preserve some of Singapore's older neighborhoods.  The amount of new construction that is going on is amazing -- it seems like there is one shopping mall and apartment building for every ten residents.

    Kampong Glam shop houses

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Back to Yangon

    Twenty five minutes on a boat and another half hour in a car brought us to Helo Airport for our flight back to Yangon.  As our guide predicted, the flight was delayed a couple of hours due to fog (our arrival was delayed by fog also) and we arrived in Yangon later than planned.  At that point all I wanted to do was visit the synagogue but we asked our guide to take us to Chinatown and Little India first.  We walked around looking at more markets, more stores and a Hindu temple until it was time to go to the synagogue.  I was unable to get into the synagogue in 1996 and I had been really looking forward to seeing the inside and learning more about the Jews of Yangon.*  

    Inside of Musmeah Yeshua synagogue

    Although we didn't get to meet Moses Samuels, who has taken on the responsibility for keeping the synagogue open, or his son, Sammy who runs Myanmar Shalom (our travel agency), we enjoyed the time we spent looking around the synagogue.  The building is beautiful and Moses and his family have done a remarkable job maintaining the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery.

    We were on our own for our last full day in Yangon and we spent time walking around downtown looking at the remaining colonial buildings, visiting the Strand Hotel, and shopping at Scott Market.  We had time to make a second sunset visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred site in Myanmar, and yet another truly remarkable place.  It was amazing to see how the colors of the various structures changed as the sun went down.

    Yangon has very affordable cabs so we were able to easily get around the city.  Unfortunately the restaurants we wanted to visit had closed or relocated or we were given the wrong address by our hotel or ... take your pick.  This resulted in two wild cab rides around Yangon on our last two nights.  We ended up having Indian food at a place recommended by our cab driver ($1.20 for both of us) one night and Burmese food at a lovely outdoor restaurant on our last night in Myanmar.

    * The most current article about Moses Samuels is in the Winter 2013 issue of B'nai B'rith Magazine which is available online as a PDF file.

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    Inle Lake

    Inle Lake is the last stop on the tourist route.  There are two options -- stay in town and visit the lake by boat or stay in a hotel on the lake.  We stayed on the lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort) in a bungalow that was suspended over the water.  It even had an outdoor shower.

    Hotel rooms

    We had another wonderful guide and saw some amazing things.*  Inle Lake is famous for:
    • Floating gardens  - crops grown on floating islands secured into the lake bottom by bamboo poles. See for more information and pictures.  
    • Fishing technique

    • Leg rowing

    • Shopping -- each village on the lake centers around one industry and the local market alternates between villages.  We visited the silversmith village and the textile village and bought things at each.  It was interesting to see how the textiles were made and we got very nice scarves.  I am not sure how authentic it all is but the shopping was good.

    We spent New Years Eve and Susie's birthday at Inle Lake.  There was another mandatory dinner but this time it was well worth the money.  The best part was the pre-dinner carnival.  I won one game of chance and Susie won three times - including two games of skill.  There were even prizes.  The highlight was the New Year's Hot and Famous Fashion Show.  This involved cross-dressing by one male and one female employee from each hotel department (maintenance, housekeeping, kitchen, etc.).  The best part was that the entire staff got stop what they were doing to watch the fashion show.  Below is the program for the evening.  We had to skip the Spicy Disco Dances because we had to get up early to catch a flight back to Yangon.

    *  We also saw some incredible pagodas and Buddhas.

    Monday, January 20, 2014


    Lots of people skip Mandalay but I think it has a lot to offer, including some of the best food we had on our trip.  We had a fantastic guide who seemed to know exactly what we would find most interesting.  The sightseeing was more relaxed and I did not feel as overwhelmed.

    Highlights -

    • A trip to a village with some amazing old pagodas
    • U Bein Bridge - the longest teak bridge in the world 
    • The teak Golden Palace Monastery. The carvings on the outside of the building are fantastic.  It was moved to its present location from the Golden Palace in 1878 and since the Golden Palace was destroyed during World War II, this is the only structure that remains.

    Detail from the outside of the Golden Palace Monastery

    • Mahamuni Pagoda -- So much gold leaf has been applied to the statue**, the outline of the Buddha's body is hard to see.  We skipped the 4:30 am ceremonial face washing and teeth brushing. 
    • The world's biggest book (730 stone tablets)
    • Boat trip to Mingun to see the world's biggest bell and what would have been the world's biggest pagoda - it was never finished.  

    Our guide, Aung, ringing the bell

    Non-highlights -
    • The reconstructed Golden Palace, located in the middle of an army base.
    • The view from Mandalay hill
    Shopping highlight - 
    • I found the demented baby puppet I had been searching for in Bagan.

    *  Please be proud of me for resisting the temptation to call this post "The Road to Mandalay"
    ** Only men are allowed to apply gold leaf to the Buddha's image

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    Bagan Continued

    I am afraid of roller coasters, Ferris wheels and small airplanes.  I don't like walking over wooden bridges and I have a difficult time using my step ladder.  I was dreading the four flights we had to take while we were in Myanmar because I knew the planes would be small prop planes.  

    I was most terrified of our scheduled hot air balloon ride in Bagan.  Although I knew it would be an incredible experience, part of me wished they would lose my reservation so I could watch Susie take off and then go somewhere for coffee and croissants.

    Like almost every day of our vacation we got up before dawn.  We took a beautiful restored old bus to the balloon ascension site (I think that's what it is called), drank some coffee and got a safety lecture.  I had been to a hot air balloon festival before but this was the first time I was actually going to be a passenger.  It was not easy getting into the basket and I didn't love our take-off. 

    This is what I saw at the beginning of the balloon ride.

    After only a couple of minutes I was feeling comfortable enough to actually stand up (it helped that I was right next to the pilot).

    This is what I saw when I stood up.

    What a great experience.  It was so quiet and the ride was so smooth that I stopped being scared almost immediately.  Seeing all those temples from above was magical.  And we got champagne at the end.

    Cleaning up


    Friday, January 10, 2014


    All I remember from my trip to Bagan in 1996 is a horse cart ride to visit a lot of temples, a day spent on the porch of my guesthouse due to what I thought was a bad stomach, and the long train and pickup truck ride it took to get there from Yangon.  I also remember having to walk a long way to the only hotel that had "international" telephones.

    There are still a lot of temples and it is still hard to remember what each individual temple looks like, but things have changed.  We flew from Yangon to Bagan on a small prop plane and waited patiently as the luggage was carried by hand to the terminal.  Our guide was a devout Buddhist and he was very eager to show us each one of the 3000+ temples. 

    Our Guide

     What is amazing about Bagan is not the individual temples but the fact that there are so many in such a spectacular setting (pictures to follow in another post). In between temple visits we managed a trip to the local market,  a sunset cruise on the Ayeyarwady River and a horse cart ride.

    Our hotel was located on the river which made for some lovely outdoor dining. The location was about a mile away from restaurant row - no taxis so we had had to hire a car and driver for the night if we wanted to eat somewhere other than our hotel. (We had the same problem in Mandalay.)

    These guys joined us for breakfast one morning.

    We arranged to spend a third day in Bagan on our own and spent the day touring more temples and the towns of New and Old Bagan by bicycle.  It was a very relaxing day and a lot of fun.  I spent an additional hour riding from temple to temple looking for a puppet I had seen a million times on our first day there.   Of course when I was ready to buy one, they were nowhere to be found.  I broke the first rule of souvenir shopping -- when you see something you want, buy it immediately because there is no guarantee you will ever see it again.  

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