Christmas

Fresh cut trees, trees with bulbs to decorate and plant in the yard after Christmas. Palm trees strung with lights down south. Holiday themed music everywhere you go and it will  definitely get stuck in your head. Instagram  worthy wrapped boxes under Pinterest perfect  decorated trees. Some people choose to go all out and pick the perfect gift for everyone others donate their time to the less fortunate at at soup kitchen.

Christmas may bring up thoughts of spending too much money and waiting in long lines everywhere. Its hard to remember the true meaning for this gift giving day. No, I don’t feel that its a religious events, I feel like it is a family day. A day of waking up early to see what loved ones surprised you with and a big family dinner.

Even the furry family members get gifts in my household. My dog could smell the treats inside! This is what its all about, seeing the excitement on loved ones faces as they tear open the brightly colored paper.

Making home made Christmas and holiday season cards if one of my most treasured pastimes. Its a special time of year, and I am spending quality time making these cards for people that I love. The hard work is all worth the love. The excitement of seeing all the presents wrapped under the tree waiting for Christmas morning to come.

Siam Gulf

A Thai story of food with beer of course.

Chang Beer is a mild beer with 5.2% ABV and is seen as the “Bud Light of Thailand” because it is everywhere and relatively cheap. Chang is the Thai word for elephant which means much to the country. Singha Beer is a pale lager with a full taste and has 5% ABV. The meal started with lettuce wraps bursting with flavor in crunchy chilled lettuce. Siam Gulf has done a great job with the minced chicken with water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions and Thai spices served with crispy noodle on the side.

I have learned over the years of traveling I enjoy eating many things that one on sticks! Chicken satay with thick peanut sauce on the side was a great contrast to the lettuce wraps. It also came with a fresh cucumber salad that was a flavorful contrast to the Thai peanut sauce. The miso soup and seaweed salad was a great way to clear my pallet for the main course. I was getting full at this point and so was the small table I was sitting at.

I couldn’t go out to a Thai restaurant without ordering sushi. These perfectly formed tempura roll still found their way into my growing yet happy belly. Finally, it’s time for the main course pad see ew. A stir fry with flat noodles simmered in a house sauce. Carrots, broccoli, and eggs were mixed with my choice of scallops. Simply amazing.

The space was converted from a wide-open brunch restaurant with minimal decorations to an intimate and warm dining environment. The sidewall has a beautiful mural painted on it now and there are the decorations along the counter. Dark wood planks cover the windows and divide the eating areas into private sections for a more intimate dining experience.

Siam Gulf is located a short drive from the downtown area and off the tourist areas of the keys, so the prices for this authentic Thai food is much more reasonable. The location is at 12th Street and Tuttle Ave at 1100 Tuttle Ave. Sarasota, Florida.

American Thanksgiving

Turkey! It’s the first image that comes to mind and to my taste buds is a juicy thick cut turkey. My family, like so many others, celebrates Turkey Day in excess by cooking and eating too much food and then processing to eat more by the colorful array of the desserts. Turkey crammed with stuffing and freshly boiled potatoes smashed together with milk and butter melting on top. I’m not sure where casseroles came from but I’m sure they are my favorite. Corn casserole, green beans casserole, and scallop potatoes are always full helping on my plate. There is cranberry sauce and canned cranberry which I prefer. Sweat potatoes with a golden brown marshmallow on top, buttered vegetables, and rolls getting the least attention. Ham is added to Thanksgiving and recently fried turkey has been a trendy addition to the table. There are many mishaps resulting in fires and emergency department calls. If the turkey is fully thawed dried off the oil and water make a terrible mixture. Luckily the first try for my dad went well, maybe a little overcooked but no fire as so many were videotaping waiting for the worst. Thanks, family. There were two other tragically baked turkeys so go around for our international group of fourteen.

We had a family from London and his friend and my father is from former Yugoslavia and had moonshine in hand with stories from everyone around the table. My dad’s wife had her sisters and niece with their kid all joining the group. One long table getting a plate from the buffet and finding a seat and having to explain pilgrims and Indians to an outsider is a great way to laugh about silly holiday decorations.

The good china is usually taken out for special holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving along with the best flatware. These are traditionally the items passed on in a woman’s dowry along with the serving dishing, linen napkins and tablecloths and glassware only used on these special occasions making it all the more magical.

Dessert is always the best part and the hardest to plan ahead for but what are a few more bites! Pumpkin pie, cheesecake, pecan pie, and a cookie- cream pie all found their way toon my fork. The real meaning of Thanksgiving day is togetherness. Coming together and being part of my family dinner and my boyfriend family dinner. Both dinners had the family home cooked meals with way too much food. Plastic containers are filled with leftovers and send home in filled plastic bags. As with any other worldly traditions, the eldest usually run the dinner keeping their parent’s memories alive and keeping the family rituals. Leaving the table uncomfortably full is completely normal.

The art of coffee in New Zealand

Although there are Starbucks close to everywhere New Zealand does coffee slower and much better. Like a lot of things in the country, Kiwis take pride in their coffee making. There are a few distinct differences when ordering coffee in New Zealand (and Australia). The two big differences are the flat white and the tall black. There are many other types of coffee available when you walk up the the counter. The barrister takes pride in the art of coffee in New Zealand. Every coffee is started with fresh roasted grounds perfectly pressed into an espresso machine. Drip coffee pots are very hard to find.  If you enjoy coffee then drinking four hour old coffee may not be your idea of a good coffee. Every coffee is made to order and is worth the wait and the line to get your morning coffee. It is not only in coffee shops and restaurants that this bean art is taken so seriously, gas station also follow suit with a coffee bar with someone there to make it. There is no stale coffee in pots or urns. So you better know what you want as you walk up and dont just say “I want a large coffee” because you will get a strange look. Most coffee is espresso based in many varieties.  You can get a large, not so strong cup of coffee called the Americano which is a espresso diluted with water. Short black, long black, short macchiato, americano, long macchiato, flat white, latte, cappuccino, mochaccino, piccolo, affogato, and vienna are all common espresso drinks you can find and should try. But the drink of the Kiwis is the flat white and its easy to see why. The flat white is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk with mineral foam. It is still up for debate where this drink originated from . Both Australia and New Zealand both lay claim to starting this drink. It is a common and heated topic at times because both countries are very passionate about the coffee art.

  • Flat white• starts with a double espresso with steamed milk and foam. The difference between a flat white and an
  • Tall black • no milk, no sugar just great coffee, and strong

Coffee art is very trendy lately and New Zealand is no stranger to the beautiful creations made atop your coffee. As see above my cup of flat white has a little bird and a fern, a symbol of the country. The barista make it look so effortless as they dump the steaming coffee and creamy foam into a mug. But the most important this is the taste. The flat white is where the pride and the art comes in. It is much harder to make a pretty picture on top of a tall black. If you love coffee then try the local favorite of the area you are in. Go out of your comfort zone and try new things, you may never go back to drip coffee again.

Oktoberfest!

Welcome to the beer fest of all beer fests!

Oktoberfest in Munich Germany puts on a grand show every year for almost 7 million people starting at the end of September. But before you can drink a pint of beer there is much planning, prep, and building that must go on with a team of highly skilled teams create a new vision each year. There are 700 vendors ready to set up for the weeks of madness ahead. The area of the event is already a construction site by July and doesn’t stop for ten weeks. The first thing that comes to mind is the giant beer tents. There are 14 major tents and 15 minor tents. In the biggest tents, there can be upward of 8,000 festival-goers. The tents are made of all wood grounded to concrete that is poured every year. For the management, this is a full-time job planning and pulling off this annual party. Several thousand people come together to wrap up the project in the few weeks of construction. Tear down is about half the time of set up running around five weeks. Most parts are stored in storage containers and delivered to the storehouses in Munich

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I planned my visit for the opening day. It was a calm morning when I arrived with my mother and took a stroll down the main road of beer tents standing tall. By the time we doubled back, the roads were filling with beer drinkers waiting for the day to get started. We picked the Hippodrome tent and sat and had a bite to eat and noticed that most tables were reserved. We quickly learned that there is an opening parade and each owner comes into their tent and taps the first barrel and the beer drinking does not stop for a few weeks after. From the beautiful windows, I watched the parade roll by with barrels of beer and horse-drawn carriage and everyone was dressed for the occasion. There is such a buzz for the town for the opening day, Like the city of Munich has been waiting to unwrap its gift for months, watching the structures go up for months in town.

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My favorite photo of my mother joining me October Fest in 2013

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Yes, this is a blurry picture but they move so fast with all that beer! This was the best I could get an even more beer was rushing by, being gripped tightly by fingertips.

My advice is to get here early to get a seat or wait for the short lines of smaller tents. I definitely would recommend going to multiple tents for different environments in each one. If you have a larger group it pays to plan ahead of time and reserve a table in a tent of your choice. All of Munich books up for this beer event, so planning ahead helps get more of what you are looking for before it’s booked up. My last bit of wisdom is if you drink a few too many pints, there is a nice grassy hill to rest your eyes until the next round. It’s all a very happy party and the locals are waiting to welcome you in. Do your country proud, don’t make a drunken fool of yourself. We have all seen this too many times. Safe travels and smart drinking!

Be local

Go local! We have heard it said, but what does that mean to you right now. If you are sitting at a desk not doing work you should be or sitting by a pool on a far away island you can find what is off the beaten tourist path of chain stores and malls if you look around.

Being a local in your current city, home town when you visit family, or find something local in a far away place. It’s always worth it to go local and see how people are going about daily life. If the locals love a great restaurant, it’s safe to say the food will be worth the trouble.

If you need to be pulled out of your fast food comfort food zone then listen to these reason why going local, anywhere, is important everyday.

  • Big box stores dont need anymore of your money.

Which do you think gives better service and quality, the multiple billion dollar corporation paying minimum wage workers who have trouble answering questions or the small locally owned businesses ran by a family and is tied into the community. I would rather put my money into the hands of a small business owner even if its cost a little more.

  • Google doesn’t always know everything.

There are places in this world (believe it or not) that are not connected to a Facebook page or Google maps. When you are in the far corners of the Earth you may not be able to understand what information is on the internet. If you happen to pass a place where the tables are full and there is a line, there must be a good reason and its usually worth the wait. “Greasy spoons” and “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants have some of the best homemade cooking in every city.

  • Locals know what’s happening

As you are strolling by a busy lunch spot for the afternoon rush of the blue collar area and decide to see what the fuss is all about then you have made it past the first step. The next part is tricky (not really) and involves speaking to others. Ask your server or eat at the bar and talk to a person near you. See what is going on around you. Even if you are asking about what is going on in your own area you still can learn about amazing places from word of mouth. When you are in a place with a language barrier there are always still ways to ask about great things to do. Draw a picture, translate a question, or hand and body language talking. It seems like a lot of trouble but the rewards can be amazing, even if it’s just the tale of getting lost on the way.

Supporting the little guys doesn’t just benefit the small business owner. It is good for you the consumer! Usually going small means it’s not a touristy spot and the prices are cheaper. In the cases that you pay for for an item chances are the quality is much higher then the cheaper box store version. I would rather purchase a homemade gift to a gift anyone could buy on Amazon.

This is a photo of a woman I meet selling woven elephants on the sidewalk outside a market. I gladly paid for this fine craftsmanship and a very unique souvenir from my time in Thailand. Go out and get lost, or meet your neighborhood Baker and make a new friend. It may be the most fun thing you do all week.

Melbourne, Australia Chinatown vibes

The Chinatown in Melbourne Australia in the central business district and is home to places of business, worships, and restaurants for the home of the longest continuous Chinese settlement. The Chinese originally came for the Australian gold rush and stayed for a new life. This small section of Melbourne is home to the Chinese’s New Year festival which lasts for a few weeks every year with fireworks and the waking of the dragon.

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Many people just pass by  Little Bourke Street on their hustle of the madness of the downtown. I can not say enough how amazing getting away from the droves of people can be. The hidden discovers to be found. Chinatown is missed often because there is so much to do in Melbourne. You can walk down the gate that is the start of Chinatown and see many different Asian restaurants and shops.  Chinatown has grown from one block with a gate on each end to now have grown to multiple blocks over the past few years. I learned that in American Chinatowns, there are mostly Cantonese settled there. In Melbourne, there is a much more diverse Chinatown represented. Why is that good for you? Many more types of food to try and more mixing of cultures.

When you make it to the busy area of CBD of Melbourne make sure you take time out to walk the few blocks of Chinatown. Even if it is just to see the beautiful buildings and for the free smells.

A first look at Melbourne Australia

Florence

The colors in Florence is one of my favorite things about this city.

Incredible detail from floor to breathtaking ceiling.

After a long warm afternoon, I treated myself to a nice pasta dinner. It was so delicious that in my haste I forgot to take a photo. I did, however, get a photo of my amazing custard with a blackberry sauce.

Taiwan

This is my random lazy 7-11 Taipei style dinner. Sushi was a great and cheap way to eat in Taiwan when you were not around the many markets. The 7-11’s of the world have such vastly different items.  Just walking down the chip aisle is a tasteful experience. There are flavors like ketchup, seaweed, and blueberry just to name a few.   Looking back I should have taken more photos of the weird and wild things I saw in the many 7-11 stores I found myself at. At the time, while I was jumping to countries quickly, these strange flavors started to seem normal.

This is a photo of my amazing pod hostel in Taipei. Before you go writing a comment about how you would never sleep in a coffin, let me explain how I was sleeping between eight to ten people (yes, mixed) in a room for almost six months before reaching Asia and their wonderful world of pod or capsule hostels. I ended up choosing a place called Sleepbox and the staff was amazing! For the first few minutes after my taxi driver dropped me off from the airport( in front of the 7-11 mentioned earlier), there were no signs I could see in English that told me where to go. So, I called the hostel and a younger woman answered the phone in broken English and tried to explain how to find the hostel, which was right around the corner and down a set of stairs which was not as scary as it sounds. It was very late at night at that point, after being stuck in the airport for a few hours, due to my credit card not working in the ATM and subsequently not being about to get local money in my hands. No, Mastercard does not work everywhere like the advertisements say in the states! I grabbed my relatively small backpack off the luggage belt, which is always the best thing to see when stepping into a new country as almost everything you have is in that bag. The next usual place I head when globetrotting is the ATM to guess how much local currency I will need. When the three different ATMs wouldn’t give me any cash I start to get worried. I called and stayed on hold and was reconnected to the correct number After waiting on hold to find out I didn’t have all the information needed, and then to call back again and literally use the ATM with a customer service representative on the phone… my card magically worked! This whole fiasco took a few hours and the cab ride took another hour to the hostel. The lesson here is to always have a backup for plastic and not to judge a country on your airport experiences. Taiwan ended up being one of my favorite countries of all. A large part of the love for Taiwan came from the kindness from my first week in Taipei with the Sleepbox hostel.

Sleep Box Hostel

 

Food Roulette

Walking into a restaurant in a foreign country with no English menu and only a few pictures scattered around you and must make a decision by pointing and hoping for the best.

This is a photo in Hong Kong at a window kitchen from the bottom floor of a large apartment building in Kawloon. There were different shops and other selling food out the window. The window I picked had a few people waiting in the line for the while I watched it. As one person walked away, another stepped up to wait, so I felt it was a popular and trusted enough place to eat random and in some cases unknown selections. I walked to the counter with money in hand trying to order in English to Chinese only speaking locals. After I failed at asking for whatever they will give me for $20. Finally the woman running the cashbox told a man something as she pointed to the back and then she called for the person behind me to come forward to select fried goodies and pay. As I thought this wasn’t the way to order foot and I should go back to the pointing and grunting method, then a younger man came forward from the rear of the kitchen. He spoke in very good broken English and asked what I wanted and with a smile, he filled bags and bowls full of things on sticks and some fried balls of something with spicy sauce on them. I could figure out what some items were and others I didn’t have a clue. I sat in the hostel balcony and tried everything loving some and not too sure on others, but it was amazing gamble that I think is a great way to try local foods.

If anyone knows what I was eating in the photo above please let me know, because I still do not know.

This amazing dish is kangaroo and I can’t rave enough about it.