Polynesian Paradise

We finally made it on our honeymoon to Tahiti, one of those destinations that delivered on all the hype and expectations. Other than a night on the main island of Tahiti, we stayed on the island Moorea, just a short ferry away. Everything lined itself up perfectly. Our “overwater bungalow” was situated at the very end of a pier, offering a panoramic view starting with mountains, sweeping into the distant haze of the Tahiti mainland, and ending with the vast open Pacific.

IMG_7489Our room was situated in a lagoon, with water more clear than I thought possible. When we arrived I had to immediately descended the small ladder connected to our balcony into that water. It was cold and refreshing. And then, less than a minute in, I lost my wedding ring.

But after quickly picking up our snorkeling equipment, I found it again, waiting patiently on some broken coral. This didn’t deter any future snorkeling though, especially in the mornings when the water was so calm the fish looked to be swimming behind the glass of a giant fish tank.

IMG_7547P1060133On our first morning before getting to Moorea, we walked along Tahiti’s black sand beaches which sparkled like fool’s gold. But on Moorea the beaches were white sand, and disappointingly coarse. But the perfect water and amazing scenery more than made up for such a minor annoyance.

And the fish were amazing. It contrasted Kenya’s shallow reef (abundant with starfish, urchins, and octopus but few more active animals) with a cornucopia of brilliant fish. Schools of needlefish sat just under the water’s surface like scattered pencils. Multi-hued trigger fish would aggressively dart back and forth at me as I swam by. And the same couple of yellow-fined butterfly fish swam around us each day at the beach.

P1060111Of course fish weren’t the only sea life we saw. During dinner we witnessed tiny crabs scuttling about under a spotlight, like a rehearsal for a Victorian dance. And nearly every day, from the deck of our room, we watched whales breaching just beyond the lagoon, including once during sunrise. We were living inside postcards.

IMG_7961We didn’t spend all of our time in the water of course. We spent one day by renting a “roadster” and driving it the whole 60 mile circumference of the island. We also took it up a winding road past pineapple plantations and some stone ruins to Belvedere Lookout, an overlook with gorgeous views of the mountains and Moorea’s two bays.

IMG_7687On our last day on the island the resort treated us to “Polynesian Day”. We got to see how they use every part of the coconut, from skinning it, breaking it to get coconut water, shredding it, milking it through the skin, and weaving baskets from the leaves. There was also a demonstration on how to wrap a pareo, and a look at a Tahitian version of the luau. It featured plantains, something called a breadfruit, some sort of pudding thing, and of course a pig, all grilled over several hours in a cage-like grill covered with palm leaves.

IMG_8059But of course seafood was by far the main thing we ate. Their signature dish, poisson cru (raw white fish and vegatables in coconut milk) wasn’t quite my style but all the other fish dishes I tried were outstanding. I had fish baked almost like a pot pie with a bacon-vanilla sauce, parrot fish, and a chorizo and octopus risotto. Naomi had steak several times which was also delicious, especially for such an isolated island.

We couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing and picturesque honeymoon. Mauruuru Tahiti!

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Toronto, Eh?

For our honeymoon (part1), Naomi and I went on our first adventure to Canada, specifically Toronto. Naturally, we had a great time seeing the sights and were impressed with the city, and Canada as a whole. I didn’t realize how multicultural Toronto is, (half its citizens are foreign born) and we both loved that aspect of the city. The weather was near-perfect, never above the 70’s, which made it difficult returning to the baking heat and drowning humidity of Houston. We did get the occasional shower, but like Houston, they never lasted more than a few minutes.IMG_7397

Sunday, Day 1:

We started the trip with a long walk through the city, into Chinatown (the 2nd largest in North America after LA), and finally to Kensington Market. We walked down the aptly named Church Street, which had several beautiful old churches. In Chinatown, we perused the curios and knock-offs, and I sampled some grilled cuttlefish balls. Eventually we made it to the Kensington Market and luckily for us, the last Sunday of each summer month, the Kensington area blocks the streets to create a pedestrian-only haven of street-meat vendors and local musicians. Just as we would wander out of range to hear one band, we’d begin to hear another different style just ahead. The food was delicious too. We had some chicken tikka masala, samosas, and some amazing ice cream. Naomi wandered in and out of vintage shops and even skipped rope with some locals who’d set up a “recess” area to release your inner kid. We ended the day at Big Smoke Burger, which was good, but the Boylan’s root beer was even better.IMG_6957

Monday, Day 2:

IMG_7042We continued our city exploring the second day. This time we checked out the old and new City Hall buildings; the old a beautiful Gothic structure with a massive clock-tower complete with gargoyles, and the new a sleek and modern building. In front of them was a fountain and pool with some spiffy sculptures by Ai Weiwei representing the Chinese zodiac. We lunched at Bannock, trying some seafood. (I loved my haddock-and-shrimp cake. Naomi wasn’t impressed with her halibut salad.) After a run through Graffiti Alley, we forced my worn feet back to our hotel. Dinner was at Paganelli’s, featuring excellent pizza served with scissors.

Tuesday, Day 3:

Easily our favorite day wasn’t even in Toronto. We took a tour bus out to Niagara Falls, and loved every minute we were there. The Canada side is definitely the best side, with amazing views of the falls. Not content with the beautiful views at the top, we took the Maid of the Mist, a boat that took us right up to the falls in the midst of the mist. You get a real sense of the power of the water as it roars all around you in 180 degrees forming a cloud of vapor that reaches high into the air. Our tour also included a stop at the small town Niagara-on-the-Lake, which offered a gorgeous view of a more serene part of Lake Ontario, with a tiny silhouetted skyline of Toronto barely visible on the horizon. After getting back to the city, we tried the most famous Canadian food, poutine, (french fries with cheese curds covered in gravy.) We weren’t impressed.P1050027

Wednesday, Day 4:

We decided to take a jump-on-jump-off double-decker bus tour for our remaining days. The tour was pretty interesting but the route was really long and we couldn’t quite use it as a taxi like I’d hoped. Our first jump-off point was Casa Loma, a Castle-style mansion built by the man who brought electricity to Toronto. It was quite impressive, but it had a depressing story, as its owner lost everything before its completion. My favorite part was the fact it was used as the school for the X-Men movies. We ended the day at a huge indoor food market, the St. Lawrence Market. All the fresh meats, seafood, and produce made us wish we lived there so that we could get some. Naomi had at least three different bowls of fruit which included juicy watermelon and the freshest peaches I’ve ever had. I mostly had dessert and birch beer, which is like root beer but even more awesome.IMG_7197

Thursday, Day 5:

Surprisingly for me, the only museum we visited on this trip was the Bata Shoe Museum, which sounds lame but was actually quite interesting. It had shoes from throughout history and a very well-done sneaker exhibit full of gaudy and hilarious shoes. We continued with another tourist attraction, the CN Tower. We’ve done a lot of tall-buildings-overlooking-the-city attractions in our travels and the CN Tower wasn’t among my favorites, despite being the tallest. (Chicago’s Willis Tower Skydeck is my recommendation, though the Top of the Rock in NYC is pretty awesome too.) We followed that with a jaunt on a ferry to the Toronto Islands, which is basically a giant park crossed with a fairground with beaches. After chasing the geese around and resting on the pier, we headed back, stopping at the park next to our hotel where a they were giving out roasted corn-on-the-cob and lemonade.IMG_7328

Friday, Day 6:

While watching TV one evening in the hotel, I saw a commercial for some food network show about burger places and one that flashed by was The Burger Priest, which I’d just seen the day before. So I allowed that bit of marketing to work on me and we started our final day in the city with lunch there. I had the Red Sea, which for some reason is a chili cheeseburger, and it was amazing. Thanks TV. The rest of the day was spent wandering around shopping, first back in Chinatown, then to the Eaton Center, which is just a big mall in the middle of downtown. We also made a stop at Tim Horton’s, a local doughnut-and-coffee franchise that was on every block. We had the timbits, which are just doughnut holes that they renamed and claim to have invented.IMG_7408Overall, we loved the markets and scenery, but weren’t terribly impressed with the touristy stuff. We usually vacation off-season, and this peak-summer trip reaffirmed that we should try and stick with our usual time frame.

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Foodstraveganza

There have been a lot of fun foodenings in the Poole house over the last few months, so here’s a quick grab-bag of some of the more notable examples of our culinary adventures.

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Chicken satay skewers from Red Lion. So good.

We seem to be into a lot of British TV series lately, and that interest in our neighbors across the pond extended to food too. So, Naomi and I tried out the Red Lion Pub, a great British restaurant. They have the English staples, like fish and chips, cottage pie, and bangers and mash, as well as lots of great Indian foods, like beef vindaloo and tikka masala. Huge, delicious portions.

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In other adventures in trying new things, I ventured into the foodstuffs section of Ikea and tried several of their juices; elderflower, lingonberry, and rosehip. The elderflower was my favorite, but it was flavored with some grape juice so I can’t rightly claim to truly know its flavor. I couldn’t even finish the rosehip. Bitter and awful. I can’t seem to remember how the lingonberry tasted, so I guess that points to its what-you’d-expect flavor.

2013-05-11 09.34.09But not everything notable I’ve eaten lately was made in restaurants or stores. I actually made some things too! I know, amazing. I’m always collecting super simple recipes from around the ol’ internet and my favorites so far have been cinnamon waffles, and homemade 2-ingredient ice cream.

To make the cinnamon waffles, you simply get a tube of Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough, and squish it out over a waffle iron, which in my case was waffle stick shaped. Spread the icing an voila, deliciousness. I’m sure you could make the dough like some sort of gourmet, but my brain doesn’t function until at least 10am, so I’m all about the easy breakfast.

Speaking of easy, the 2-ingredient ice cream that isn’t really ice cream is just as simple. You mix 2 cups of heavy cream with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and stick that in the freezer overnight. That’s it. It’s creamier than regular ice cream and super-delicious. I suggest adding crumbled candy bars for added awesome. I used Oreos and Crunch bars.

I use my George Foreman Grill to make burgers all the time. It’s a simple burger, just meat, Worcestershire sauce, and a burger rub. I don’t adorn mine with many accoutrements, but Naomi claims that she has discovered the perfect ingredients to accompany my patties in order to create the Ultimate Burger.

2013-07-18 18.58.02She takes a slice of tomato, adds a bit of mozzarella and basting oil with herbs, and bakes that in the oven for 5 minutes. She then puts that on the burger with some avocado and dried cranberries. She pours some of the best ketchup I’ve ever had, made with agave nectar, and sticks all that in a homemade bun from the bakery at HEB.

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Exploring New Heights

2013-06-08 13.09.22Last Saturday we decided to go on an exploratory trip to the Heights area of Houston. The area teeters on an interesting line between hipster and wary dilapidation.

My favorite find was an antique store with an enormous collection of old books, mostly from the 1800’s.¬†Highlights included entire shelves of Twain and Poe, dozens of huge, ornate Bibles, and a rare three-volume collection of The Count of Monte Christo from 1850. But by far my most tempting finds were several volumes of works illustrated by Gustave Dore. Some time ago, I acquired The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Dore. I’ve admired his engravings since and have been looking for his illustrated volumes of Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, and The Bible. I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwould’ve settled for a modern printing, but the store’s collection of his works, well over a century old, is certainly tempting. If the store had a few more first editions I’d be more impressed, but I’m sure I’d also be equally astounded by the asking prices.

The store was filled with other eclectic things, as antique stores are wont to do. I love looking at these things but I can’t imagine who buys them. But then again, my place contains quite a few things most people wouldn’t buy. (Just ask my wife.)

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Bachelor Gameathon

Before my recent wedding, (more on that later) the guys threw me the sort of bachelor party befitting our geeky standing; a game-and-movie-athon lasting roughly 30 hours (minus some time for sleep). We tried pairing the movies with games of similar themes. We ended up watching 7 movies, and played 13 games.

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IMG_6732Here are our pairings:

  • Shadow Hunters and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
  • 7 Wonders and 300
  • Ascension and Princess Mononoke
  • Ra Dice and The Mummy
  • Lords of Waterdeep and How to Train Your Dragon
  • Pandemic and The Crazies
  • Legendary and The Avengers

Since movies lasted much longer than games did, we also played Quarriors, Yomi, Cloud 9, Race for the Galaxy, Tanto Cuore, and Thunderstone.

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A Splattering of Post-Oscars Thoughts

This year’s Academy Awards were certainly better than last years, but still nothing amazing. The opening monologue with Shatner was beyond lame and continued on past the point of paying attention out of anticipation of something funny happening. After that, MacFarlane was mostly fine, but nothing noteworthy. (But he at least wasn’t falling asleep, James Franco!) Overall I enjoyed that no film ran away with too many of the awards, though there were few surprises, which is itself not a surprise.

Here are some additional thoughts, presented without transition. It’s like a live blog but 2 days later!

  • Just like last year, there were major sound issues. I’d just like to point out that the ceremonies take place in the Dolby Theater.
  • I didn’t think Christoph Waltz would win after winning for Inglourious Basterds, though I’m glad he did. He needs to be in more things, and apparently those things should be Tarantinos. (That sounds like a pizza but I propose it is more fun to say than a “Tarantino movie”. You know I’m right.)
  • I wanted Skyfall to win everything but all it got was a tie!? for sound editing. Instead Life of Pi won all the visually related awards. I suppose it deserved it but I still released a little “boo!” (I’m pleased Adele won, but Best Song felt more like her award than Skyfall’s.)
  • Period pieces win all makeup and costume awards. Not cool Academy. Hathaway’s shaved head doesn’t beat all those dwarf beards.
  • The presenters were even more terrible than usual. The supposed “avengers reunion” was awful and no one told John Travolta how to say Le Miserables. Also Kirsten Stuart looked like she was just hit by a bus. More than usual I mean.
  • The supposed “music of Hollywood” theme was a total dud. I thought they stopped performing all the Best Song nominees because everyone got bored. Playing Chicago songs well after anyone cares seems to be a step backwards.
  • Pixar gets another Oscar for a mediocre film. I think all the Academy voters just picked it because they hadn’t seen any of them, though to be fair, the other nominees I actually saw (ParaNorman and Pirates) were equally mediocre.

Another year of Hollywood congratulating itself is over. Now we get to look forward to all the summer blockbusters that we’re all looking forward to that will earn more money than small countries. Yay! Can’t wait for next year’s ceremony!

Anything else stand out for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Almost Made It…Again

Oscars are closing in and I was on a role for a while, but, like last year, saw everything but one. This time it was Le Miserables that I never got around to seeing, but here are my rankings of the other 8 best picture nominees.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wilds
7. Life of Pi
6. Amour
5. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Lincoln
3. Silver Linings Playbook
2. Django Unchained
1. Argo

That list was very difficult to finalize. Argo and Django are both fantastic films, which I had reversed in my top films of 2012 post. Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln are also pretty much a tie for me, so their rankings keep switching back and forth as well. My lack of praise for Life of Pi has been met with some flabbergasts but it just didn’t impress as me as much as it apparently should have.

There were many films nominated in other categories I wish I’d seen, but just didn’t make time for. The Impossible seems like a movie I would like, because I like to make myself feel powerless by reading about natural disasters. Similarly, The Master centers itself around a subject toward which my curiosity occasionally drifts. I’m not quite sure how I managed to miss Wreck-it-Ralph.

Finally, the Hollywood Reporter has an honest look into one unnamed director’s votes on all the categories in no real order. It’s a fun read and has some great insights into how industry veterans vote. (I assume he’s a veteran from the context of his opinions.)

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