Quin's Progress


4 Comments

Some Stuff – Pacific Islands Edition

In Batangas, Philippines.

In Batangas, Philippines.

As of today, I have been on the road for exactly six months. I can hardly believe it. Seems like just a few weeks to me, and yet, when I consider how much ground I’ve covered since leaving San Francisco, how far away my life as an office denizen feels, and how many truly lovely people I’ve been privileged to meet along the way, it seems like an awful lot for such a short period of time.

IMGP0621

One of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Steven, of Yap.

In this edition of Some Stuff, I bid adieu to the islands I’ve visited since New Year’s Day 2014, in Micronesia and the Philippines (I know the Philippines is officially categorized as part of Southeast Asia, but it’s also one of the Pacific island nations, so I’ll cover it here). There are so many wonderful people and amazing things I will remember fondly from my travels around the Pacific. Without repeating things I’ve already written in other posts, here are just a few.

Everything’s Pretty in Saipan

Saipan

Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Banzai Cliffs in Saipan

Saipan is pretty. It’s quiet and lush and the water is so blue it looks fake, like it was dyed with Tidy Bowl toilet cleaner.  But, when I say everything is pretty in Saipan, I mean everything is “Pretty” in Saipan.

Kokoda, Kelaguen & Corndogs

Foodspotting App.

Foodspotting App.

I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings by saying that I don’t think the food is the best reason to travel to Micronesia. The Philippines, yes. But, Micronesia’s culinary offerings are, to me, a bit less of a draw, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining fresh ingredients, other than fish and taro root. That’s just my opinion, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. In fact, the Foodspotting app—which uses GPS to direct foodies to delicious dishes in their immediate proximity—recommended popcorn at K-Mart as one of the top lunch options in Guam. This, I don’t understand, when there are corndogs on that island.

IMG_6843Yes, corndogs! There is a Wienerschnitzel inside the airport, and a Hot Dog on a Stick in the Micronesia Mall, where, on weekdays, it’s buy one get one free. IMG_6737I was so happy! By the time I left, the girls at the Hot Dog on a Stick and I were on a first name basis.

As much as I would like to try, one cannot live on corndogs alone, and there are a couple of stand out Micronesian foods that I still crave.

Kokoda

Kokoda

Kokoda is the Marshall Island’s coconutty take on ceviche. It’s a soupy concoction of lime-marinated seafood—squid, fish, clams, whatever is fresh—with chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro and coconut milk. You scoop it up with salty tortilla chips and wash it down with beer. So delicious, so rich, so messy.

Kelaguen is Guam’s culinary crowning glory (if you don’t count barbecued fruit bat, which is illegal now). Saipan’s, too. A Chamorro specialty, it is actually pretty healthy, and would be a huge hit with anyone watching carbs, or looking for a unique dish to bring to a barbecue or potluck. KelaguenEvery local family has its own recipe, and most of it is inexact kitchen science; a little of this, a little of that, spicy or not, as you like. Originally, kelaguen was made of minced raw fish or shrimp, cooked only in the acid of lemon juice. Today, the one I saw most prevalently was made with barbecued chicken, but you see it at the night markets made with any and all types of lean protein, including beef, shrimp, fish or even octopus.   Some add shredded fresh coconut, usually to chicken or fish versions, but I prefer it without. It’s served by itself with “titiya” flatbread, as a salad topping, or as a side dish with barbecue, or grilled fish. Here’s the recipe and instructions I got from Randy, the ATV driver on my jungle safari, after we bonded over a mutual love for kelaguen. It’s his family’s recipe.

Randy’s Chicken Kelaguen

ŸBarbecue a whole chicken, cut into parts, making sure to get it black in places, so the flavor of the smoke and char gets into the chicken meat, without drying it out. (You could use a rotisserie chicken, but Randy says it’s best to barbecue the chicken yourself, so you can make sure it’s good and charred and smoky.) Let cool, and remove skin and bones.

Ÿ Chop the meat very finely. The chopped bits should be about the size of grains of rice. You can use a food processor, or if you have some aggression to get out, a Chinese cleaver works well, too. Transfer chopped chicken to a mixing bowl.

Ÿ Finely chop about six or so scallions, and add to the chicken. You could use a red or a Spanish onion, if you prefer, or a combination, but the classic has scallions.

Ÿ If you like a little spice—and Randy and I both do—finely chop a Serrano, jalapeno, or bird chili—any hot pepper of your choice—and add as much or as little of that as you like. You can take the heat level down and keep the flavor by removing the seeds and ribs before you chop the chili. Add to the chicken and onions.

Ÿ Add the juice of one large lemon, and toss to coat well.

Ÿ Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ÿ If you want to add some coconut (I don’t care for it in this), mix in a handful of FRESHLY grated, unsweetened coconut. Don’t even think about using dried coconut. If you do, the police will spontaneously show up at your door and…pull your hair. I don’t know, just don’t.

Ÿ You can serve it right away, but Randy says it’s better if you let it sit in the fridge, and allow the flavors to marry really well, for a few hours at least.

Enjoy!

Candygram

Dear divemasters of Palau:

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

This guy was probably 12 feet long.

If there is even a slight possibility that there will be a school of huge sharks circling under the boat, please do your divers a favor and tell them about it before they jump in the water.  It’s just good manners.

Coconut-Eating Chickens & Snorkels the Pig

ChickenutsHere’s something I bet you didn’t know: Chickens love coconut. I learned this in Yap. I know chickens aren’t typically discriminating diners. I had chickens when I was a kid, and ChickensI saw one eat a piece of string so long once, that it started pooping out one end of the string before it had finished swallowing the other end of it. But, they go really bonkers over coconut. It’s like…chicken nip.

Also learned in Yap, vis-à-vis barnyard animals and coconuts: you shouldn’t park your pig under a coconut tree. This is Snorkels. Snorkels was my friend. Snorkels lived under a coconut tree.

(If the video doesn’t show above, click here.)

Gentle friends, may you never hear the sound of a coconut falling on a pig. (Don’t worry, Snorkels was okay.)

Tuba

IMG_6543“Sweet Tuba” is not a really nice brass musical instrument. It’s a milky wine made of the fermented sap of a coconut tree. You see Tuba all over Micronesia and the Philippines.

Bottles of Tuba

Bottles of Tuba

The Tuba Man has to climb up the tree and hack at the base of the fronds every day to make sure the sap continues to run, so he can gather enough to make Tuba.  Tuba comes in sweet, for beginners, or the regular, high-octane variety for the hardened Tubaholic.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

Sweet Tuba in a coconut cup.

I only had the sweet version, which is not as lethal, but will still give you a hell of a hangover. The morning after I hung out with the Yapese Tuba guys, I felt like Snorkels after the coconut.

Subterranean Flows

On an island in Palawan, in the Philippines, there’s a deep system of limestone caves, through which one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world flows directly to the sea.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

The mouth of the Underground River, Palawan, Philippines.

UNESCO put it on the World Heritage list in 1999, and in 2012, it was named one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” by that group in Switzerland that has appointed itself arbiter of such things. I can see why, too, it’s a pristine and eerie Underworld.

He's about to snatch my friend's purse.

He’s about to snatch my friend’s purse.

The mouth of the river is guarded by a band of extremely larcenous monkeys. Underground RiverIts vast caverns are full of bats, stalagmites and stalactites. They said there were tarantulas, too, but thankfully, I didn’t see any, or I would have jumped out of the boat.

Midget Boxing

If you’ve been watching the news about the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, you may have noticed reports that the USS Pinckney—a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer—was dispatched to assist in the search. IMG_6853It was close by, according to the Pentagon’s official explanation, conducting “training and maritime security operations” in international waters. Well, apparently, by “training and maritime security operations in international waters,” they mean refereeing midget boxing matches over drinks at the Ringside Bar in Manila. Busted!

I want to join that Navy.


5 Comments

Customer Service Is Not Dead a.k.a. My Lifelong Obsession with the Tom Collins

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

This past St. Patrick’s Day, I was sitting with my dad in the bar at the Chena Hot Springs Lodge, about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.  We had been together for a week already, and had kind of run out of small talk, so we were just kind of sitting there quietly, sipping our hot toddies, checking out the various taxidermied animals on the walls, and enjoying our post-hot springs soak state of relaxation.

I was wrong, it wasn't Schweppes, it was Canada Dry (Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I was wrong, it wasn’t Schweppes, it was Canada Dry
(Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I don’t really know why this occurred to me at that particular moment, but out of the blue, I said to my dad: “Hey Dad, remember that phase I went through when I was about eight or nine years old, when all I would drink was Tom Collins Mixer?”

My dad furrowed his brow and looked askance at me.  “Tom Collins Mixer?” he said, like he’d never heard of it.

“Yeah, the mixer for a Tom Collins cocktail.  It came in a green bottle, like tonic water.  I think Schweppes made it.  Remember, I used to ask for cases of it for my birthday?”

Then, he started to laugh, and said, yeah, he remembered something about that, and we proceeded to try to remember how I had been introduced to it in the first place (we think it was probably Uncle Frank’s doing), what a peculiar kid I was to get addicted to Tom Collins Mixer at age eight, and pondered if one could still buy the stuff, or if the Tom Collins had gone totally out of style.  It was really good, tasted kind of like carbonated SweeTarts.

That's the stuff!! (Image from Ebay.com)

That’s the stuff!!
(Image from Ebay.com)

As we were talking, the cute young bartendress (who didn’t look old enough to drink legally) went and sat in the corner with a tattered old bartender’s guide.  We didn’t pay that much attention to her, really.  But after a bit, she came over and set a tall glass of something fizzy and vaguely lemony-looking down in front of me and said “Let me know if this is it.”

The girl had gone and looked up the recipe for a Tom Collins in her book, and made me a glass of the mixer from scratch!  How sweet is that?  I was so touched, that I kept to myself that she had missed the mark entirely, and told her she had made it just right.  We have to reward effort, right?  That’s customer service — give your people what they want before they even ask for it.

See?  The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass (Image from Ebay.com)

See? The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass
(Image from Ebay.com)

Since then, I’ve been thinking I should lead a one-woman campaign to bring back the Tom Collins in time for Summer.  So, I hereby officially declare it the QP Cocktail of the Summer for 2013!  You’re going to love it.  It’s really quite light, zesty and refreshing.  I prefer the vodka variety to the classic with gin, but you do what you want.

As it appears that neither Schweppes nor Canada Dry makes Collins Mixer anymore, here’s a poncey British video on how to make a proper Tom Collins from scratch, which I chose mostly because I think the bartender demonstrating for the camera is super adorable — check out that sizzlin’ look at 2:14 when he pours the gin in the shaker!  I have to take issue with the lack of a maraschino cherry as garnish–that is an absolute requirement for a Tom Collins.  But, otherwise, this looks delicious, as does “Mauro”:

Sexy Latin Guy Makes a Tom Collins

Who’s with me?!


Leave a comment

One More Iceland Thing….

Oh, Dad, I almost forgot.  One night, while I was in Reykjavik, I went to dinner at a really nice, traditional Icelandic restaurant inside an old house.  It was a linen tablecloth and waiters-in-ties kind of place, that specialized in local seafood.  I didn’t have a reservation, so I had to wait for a bit for a table.  The bar was in the attic, up a narrow, spiral staircase.  The roof was pitched, so you couldn’t stand up all the way unless you were in the center of the room, and it was furnished with all this lovely, comfy, overstuffed furniture with lace doilies on the arms, like you’d see at your great aunt’s house.  It was small and cozy and warm, and kind of dim in the candlelight.  People were dressed nicely, sitting about sipping wine and cocktails, waiting for their tables for dinner downstairs.

There were no chairs available, so I squeezed in to a spot at the end of the big, blue velvet couch, next to an elegant elderly couple.  I had a touch of a cold, and my throat was a bit sore, so when the waitress came, I asked her for my daddy’s tried-and-true Texas cowboy cough syrup:  a double-shot of Jack and a sugarcube or two, with a good squeeze of lemon, which I swirled and warmed over the candle on the coffee table.  Oh, so good when you’re feeling a little off.  Goes down easy, and I don’t know if it really helps the cold, or if it just makes you not care about the sore throat, but either way, you end up feeling better, which is the goal.  It was so good, I had another one.

The next thing I knew, the waitress was shaking my shoulder and saying “Miss, Miss…your table is ready downstairs.”  I opened my eyes, and realized I was sprawled out across the couch, drooling and snoring like a pirate!  I sat up with a snap, and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and looked around.  The sweet, elegant elderly couple who had been sitting next to me were in chairs on the other side of the room —  I had chased them away!  Oh my god, how embarrassing!  And clearly, as they were there before me, the restaurant had obviously bumped me to the head of the line, just to politely get me up and out of the bar and sobered up!  Icelanders are very polite.

Well, far be it for me to refuse, so I just gathered myself up and slunk (it’s a word, I looked it up) out of the bar and downstairs to one of the best lobster dinners of my life.  And no, the dinner waiter did not offer me the wine list.  Haha!  Just as well.


Leave a comment

Taxidermy & Booze

Half a Bear Sticking Out of the Wall Over Our Table at the White Spot Cafe

Half a Bear Sticking Out of the Wall Over Our Table at the White Spot Cafe

Gentle friends, I know this will not come as a surprise to any of you, but can I just say for the record, it is frickin’ cold in Alaska!  Holy chilblains, people, I am pretty well insulated to begin with, and I look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with all my thermal bundling, but I still get a full body ice cream headache every time I go outside.  Thankfully, we decided to start our Alaskan Adventure in Anchorage, where the mild coastal climate is a balmy 10 degrees Fahrenheit–a good stepping down place to adjust before heading to Fairbanks, where it is currently -17 (as in, 17 below zero, not counting wind chill).  Did I mention I’m from California?  We complain when it gets below 60.  Okay, thank you for letting me get that out of my system.  I feel better now.

Anchorage Skyline Across the Cook Inlet

Anchorage Skyline Across the Cook Inlet

Anchorage in March is kind of like an episode of the Twilight Zone.  During the day, the frozen streets are pretty much deserted, businesses with illuminated “Open” signs are empty, no one answers the phones, glassy-eyed taxidermy animals stare at you from every wall, and when you do encounter a human being, they assess you almost suspiciously before telling you that you should have come in the summertime instead.  It’s a little spooky.  It’s livelier at night, mostly because everyone seems to be bombed.  I know I was.

Peach Brandy Toddy--Delicious!

Peach Brandy Toddy–Delicious!

There was a bar next to our hotel where they made hot toddies with peach brandy, and it became our evening habit.  Definitely took the chill off!  Here’s the recipe for you, in case you are feeling a chill coming on, too.

Hot Peach Toddy

In a mug of your choice, add the following and adjust proportions to taste:

1.5 to 2 oz. peach brandy
A tablespoon or so of honey
A tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice
Hot water
Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge.

Cheers!