Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rob And Laurel's Bogus Adventure

Murphy was an optimist.

After a really nice reunion with my old friend Ken Felton and his wife Lynn (and two boys Casey and Quinn) last night, we were faced this morning with the crushing realization that checkout time was 11 AM, and we had no place to put the Dirty Dozen, or to the uninitiated, the 12 bags we're carting about with us. Laurel and I were faced with having to go right to the aiport and hang out until the checkin opened for Singapore Air.... at 8:30 PM. Then I had the brilliant idea of seeing if the proprietors of this little crack den would lock up our stuff for the day for fifty bucks.

Putting on my most charming smile, I pitched this idea to the person at the desk. A negative nod of the head was about the only response I was getting. "Can you cash a travellers check so I can pay the cab driver?", I asked. Another nod to the negative. "Sorry, no cash. Come back tonight when owner here..." So there we are, out on the pavement with all our stuff, waiting for the cab to come at 11:30. No cash and the prospect of 15 hours or so in the airport.

Then a flash of inspiration. I went across to the street to the neighbouring hotel, which happened to be run by Indian people. I explained my predicament, and they not only cashed a travellers check, but they let me store all 12 bags in a secure locker for 20 bucks. To boot, the proprietor said "If you are going to India, you must look up my cousin, who runs a heritage hotel. Wonderful food. If you mention my name they will look after you like royalty". She starts writing all the info out on a business card. I had to resist the urge to kiss a stranger. Suddenly, everything was looked after, our stuff was safe, and we were free to go wander about the town again, which we happily did.

So here we are in the departure gate for the flight to Singapore. We board in an hour and a half. American airports have the most absurd theatre going on for security. At the check-in for Singapore, the dude says that the carry bags cannot exceed 7kg, and we're only allowed one each. Of course every bag we had was overweight by a kilo or two. He actually made us take out the field mixer, some of the medicines, and some books, and then produced what looked like a blue shopping bag. We filled that with almost 7 kg of loose stuff! So now we have 5 carry on bags instead of the requisite 4. We got through security, after taking out three laptops and vials of medication, removing stinky shoes and divesting ourselves of loose change. My Pelican case of wireless mics, which must look like a Taliban detonator training kit, went through unquestioned, as did the two bottles of scotch in my camera case. Once we cleared the scanners, we took all the stuff out of the shopping bag and put it all back in the original containers!

If someone can explain to me why this happens, I would really like to know. It makes about as much sense as having us all hop on one foot, and rub our tummys and pat our heads while singing "Rule Brittania" at the top of our lungs. To be ritually humiliated by sparsely trained minimum wage workers in the name of national security is incomprehensible to me. And the PA just informed me again for the 20th time this hour that we are on "Homeland Security Orange Alert".

Anyway, we're nearly on the plane, we have all our stuff, and its nearly time to tuck into the scotch. It's going to be a long 20 hour flight...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Haute Cuisine With Kids In Tow

Last night was one of those nights that began fraught with peril, but ultimately ended up being pretty darn sweet.

We took our kids to a fancy restaurant.

Yes, against our better judgement we dressed up the chimps in button down shirts (myself included), jumped on the Van Ness bus, and headed down to Market Street to have dinner at the Zuni Cafe. We had stopped in earlier in the afternoon to make a reservation in person. The maitre d' looked me up and down, dressed in my stained hoodie with my two pet orangutans, and smiled and said "I can fit you in at 6:45". His body language, however, told me that he would prefer to fit us in after a certain region to the extreme south had frozen over completely.

So we arrive in the button down shirts, with Laurel looking nice and me with the bulk of the stains removed from my hoodie with a wet cloth earlier. After a brief wait, we are led through the restaurant to the most distant corner table in the place. I commented to the gentleman leading us that "this must be the childproof table, eh?". I received the same smile I got earlier. Now Zuni is a nice place. Huge wood oven. Open kitchen. Gorgeous bar. The closest table to our demilitalrized zone table was occupied by a very elegant looking couple in their late 50's/early 60's. They were about halfway through their starters. Their faces visibly fell as we were led past them to our table a few feet away, as they realized that their quiet and elegant evening out was about to be invaded by the simian exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo. I smiled at them and made some lame joke about their imminent need to wear protective clothing, and they wanly smiled back.

So we began our training seminar on how to behave in a nice restaurant. Inside voices only. The napkin gets shaken out and laid on your lap. The small fork is for your first course. Sit up straight. A little shaky at first, but they started to kind of get it. We ordered some raw oysters, which, ironically were from BC. They came with both a lemon wedge and a lovely mignionette. The older couple actually stopped eating and stared somewhat slackjawed as Miles slid a whole raw oyster into his mouth and pronounced it "Excellent!". Isaac, who declined the actual oyster part, insisted on loading up an empty shell with a combination of lemon juice and mignionette and sliding that down his throat. "Yummy!"

Then came the starters. Laurel and I both had the house cured anchovies with celery and reggiano with black pepper. The boys split a starter of serrano ham and braised fennel. We ordered a nice local gewurztraminer, and about halfway through our starters, Laurel put the glass under Miles' nose and asked "what do you smell?". "Grapes!" came the reply. "And spices!" We did the same for Isaac, and then insisted that they both have a teeny sip to see what it tasted like with the ham. Enthusiastic approval, despite being mildly illegal.

After a little time went by, the waiter came out to apologize for the delay in the delivery of the mains, and said that the chef would like to buy us all dessert to make up for this incredible faux pas. I didn't mind the wait actually. North Americans tend to eat too fast anyway.
Then came the mains. I had some seared scallops with braised cabbage in a mustard sauce, the boys shared a ricotta gnochi dish, and Laurel had a spaghetti with chanterelles, although there was a mixup and they first sent out a fish dish. All told, quite tasty and we were actually able to suppress our regular urge to yell at the kids. It would seem that the apes were evolving into humans.

All through our meal, the neighbouring couple kept looking over at the boys. As they were getting up to leave, this very elegant woman sidles up to our table and said, in the most heartfelt way imagineable, "I had begun to think that our civilization was coming to an end, but seeing this heartens me". She seemed genuinely thrilled that we were taking the time to try to educate our young dudes in the way of fine dining. I'm not ashamed to admit, that at that moment we felt kind of proud of ourselves. Of course that feeling evaporated moments after they left when the waiter arrived bearing crayons, and encouraged the boys to cover the table in kid art. Which they did. Actually we all did. A moment of evolutionary snakes and ladders...

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Tacky Tourists

Woke up early this morning to check on news from Mumbai. It looks like things will calm down over the next few days, but shit... 150+ dead and 300 injured. That's pretty nuts. I've got emails in to our Indian travel agent to see what the airport status is, and I'm hopeful that we won't have to change our plans much. I figure that in a week, Mumbai will be the most secure place on the planet.

We were in for quite a shock (as opposed to shiok) last night. Turns out that Americans are damned fond of their turkey. A little too fond, if you ask me. Thanksgiving is a really serious holiday around here. So much so, that when we went out in search of food last night, we were greeted with block after block of closed eateries and businesses. We walked with the kids for a couple of miles until we finally found a mediocre Chinese place to have an overpriced snack and a beer. Mind you, after walking the hills for a couple of miles and searching for an open establishment for over an hour, it was the BEST place in the world to eat. I'm not exaggerating. The sign on the door said just that. 75 bucks lighter, we took a cab back to the hotel and crashed pretty early.

This morning, we transformed from the worldly hipsters that we fancy ourselves to be into tacky tourists. I even wore my camera around my neck. The only thing missing was bermuda shorts, socks with sandals, and his and hers hawaiian shirts. We went down towards the Fisherman's Wharf area, despite every cell in my body screaming at me to run in the opposite direction, and bought some 3 day Muni transit passes, which let us ride the cable cars, busses, and trams all we wanted. Pretty cool actually. Cabs all add up, and dammit, there's a wee bit of Scottish blood flowing through these hardened arteries. The cable cars, while being the quintessential tacky tourist trap, are actually a great way to see the city. Much faster than walking, and slow enough to appreciate the suberb architectural details of so many of the buildings here. Laurel and I would love to have a pied a terre here, if we could ever afford it.

Breakfast was at a crappy diner, but we travelled using our new passes to the Castro District for lunch at a Mexican eatery that Laurel and I knew from a previous visit. What a great area! Beautiful old row houses with citrus trees. Funky shops. One had a Christmas display in the window that featured several extremely buff Santa's Elves with power tools in various stages of undress. Its great to see a place where people of all persuasions feel free and comfortable enough to be themselves. Or be elves... Walking through the Castro area, its hard to imagine how Proposition 8 shamefully passed, effectively banning gay marriage in the State of California. I thought this was the most liberal state in the union!

Tonight, we have reservations at Zuni Cafe, which aside from Tuscany Restaurant on Bowen, which is sort of a second home to our family, will be the boys introduction to fine dining. This is a really cool place on the edge of the tenderloin district. We may look a little rough around the edges when we arrive, so I hope we are not denied entry for having the appearance of Gypsy ancestors. More on that dinner tomorrow...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

And.... They're Off!

The good news is that the house is the cleanest it has been since we moved in. The bad news is that we're not there to enjoy it!

The picture of the bags is everything that we're taking for 7 months. 12 pieces of luggage affectionately referred to as the "Dirty Dozen". The other photo was taken moments before our good friend Julie showed up to take us into Vancouver. But first... more injections! We literally had to chase poor Isaac around the doctor's office, as he ran out the door crying. Foolishly, he backed into a corner, sobbing uncontrollably. I picked him up, and held both his hands whilst the doctor quickly punctured him and topped him up with the last of the Hep B vaccine. Poor bugger.

While waiting in the ferry lineup, we had our 15 seconds of fame as Julie Andres (different Julie. There's a bylaw on Bowen that states that every third female must be named Julie) , the editor of the local paper, snapped a couple of photos for the venerable Undercurrent. It was a pretty strange feeling to sail off on the Queen of Capilano, not expecting to return until July.

The weird feeling we experienced leaving was nothing like the one we got when we turned on the news in our hotel room in Vancouver. Massive terror attack in Mumbai, as 100 hundred people or more are killed and hundreds more injured. The usual Indian election time bullshit that goes on, only this time the numbers of dead and injured were a little higher than usual. This morning, on the way to the airport, the cab driver laid out a very impressive conspiracy theory as to who was ulitmately responsible. His claim was that political groups regularly hire mercenaries to perform violent acts in order to encourage ill will between Hindus (80% of the population) and Muslims, all for political gain. His claims were bolstered by the fact that his uncle was the mayor of Delhi, and that he had shaken the hand of Indira Gandhi not once, but twice. Come to think of it, he also seemed to have a pretty good idea who killed her too. It seems that the Sikhs were once again the scapegoats in the whole affair. I nodded, and dared not disagree. Not at 5:30 AM and without the benefit of coffee.

We finally found the right check-in line, and managed to get the Dirty Dozen checked in and carried on. At last, we're off! Well... no. "Uuuuuuuuuhhhh this is your captain speaking. Uuuuuuuhhhhh... it seems like there is too much fog in San Francisco to land, so uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh.... we're just going to park here off to the side for a bit until uuuuuuuuuhhhhh.... we get clearance to take off." And that we did. For about an hour and ten minutes. The flight was uneventful, as any good flight should be. Nary a pretzel to be had though, as bad sandwiches and overpriced cashews were only available for sale. So we get into position to land and then we hear "Uuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh this is your captain speaking. Things are a little backed up down there because of the fog, so uuuuuuuuuhhhhh... we'll just be doing some figure 8s up here until uuuuuuuhhhh.. some of the congestion clears out". That was good for at least another half hour.

Finally we landed, and all of our gear appeared to survive the trip, which next to my kids, was my biggest worry. While we were waiting for the luggage, the PA system kept blaring "Homeland Security Orange Alert!!!". I wondered to myself if that was anything like "Double Secret Probation" in National Lampoon's "Animal House". Made about as much sense. A cab ride into town, we were checked into the hotel, a delightful little remodelled crack den known as the Redwood Inn.

Right now everyone but me is napping and trying to make sense of the fact that we're a long way from home, and recent events promise that it's going to get a wee bit stranger before we're done. Our biggest problem right is to figure out what to do about dinner!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


'Shiok' is commonly used in Malaysia & Singapore.
It conveys a feeling of strong physical/emotional pleasure, excitement or tingling taste buds(when used with regards to food), as in "Wow! This chilli padi/wasabi is damn SHIOK!"

We went into Vancouver yesterday for Laurel's dad's memorial service, which was a very touching affair with some moving tributes by Laurel's brother Dan, and a few of Ed's professorial colleagues. Ed was a respected scholar, and it was wonderful to see how much he was loved and missed by so many people. Laurel and the rest of the family went for a private interrment ceremony, and I drove the boys around for a few hours doing errands and such. I took them to the Pink Pearl for a Dim Sum treat for lunch. Either my tastes are improving, or the old Pearl is showing its age. The Dim Sum was oily, and cold to room temperature at best. Perhaps it was an off day. Or year.

After the reception, we were in the mood for something uplifting, so we both turned to each other an said "Orchid Delight!" in near unison. This is a brilliant little restaurant that I've been going to for well over a 14 years. The original location was in a weird little strip mall next to a Mac's convenience store and a donut shop. It was within walking distance from my old office at Electronic Arts, so it was a regular lunch stop, with sometimes 2 or 3 visits in a week. A few years ago, they moved out, and a terrible cry of sorrow was heard across the land. Where else to go for laksa? They resurfaced a couple of years ago at a new location on Burrard, just north of Broadway. Same owners, same cook, nearly identical menu. Huzzah!

Pauline and Michael are the owners. Pauline does front of house, and Michael is the cook. Many years in Malaysia and Singapore inform the absolute authenticity of Michael's cooking. It's a real family run gem. Over the years, we have become friends, and I've gone from being a long haired overworked skinny solo geek to a guy who brings his entire family in to dine. We always get a warm welcome and hugs, and when he can, Michael always makes a point of coming out to sit with us and visit to catch up on family news. Very sweet people.

So last night, we had the fabulous deep fried tofu with chili and peanuts, Char Kway Teow noodles, Ayam goreng chicken, and beans done with chili and shrimp paste. Simply awesome. I've been trying to find a way to give this place some props for a while, and now I have an excuse.

Go see Pauline and Michael. Tell 'em Rob and Laurel sent ya'.... It's damn shiok!


2445 Burrard Street, 604-731-0221.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drawer Lint And Yorkshire Pudding

Cleaning. Organizing. Packing. 3 words that strike terror into the hearts of most men. A man that can lasso a moose with a rope he wove himself from cedar bark ripped from trees with his bare teeth can be reduced to tears at the prospect of removing every last bit of lint from every drawer in the house. At least I can. And for the record, I was exaggerating a little bit about that moose stuff. It was a Douglas Fir, and not a cedar.

We're packing stuff up, and its irritating. I'm finding stuff I had forgotten I had, and that's God's way of saying "Dude, you have too much shit...". Perhaps it would have been phrased differently in the Old Testament. "Take thine posessions, and packeth they neatly into vessels of the finest cardboard, lest ye be anointed in the dung that be flungeth from thine enemies, in my mercy..." You get the drift. We have to get everything into boxes and locked up in a room by Tuesday night for our incoming tenant, who arrives from Denver on December 1st. We have most of our other stuff pretty much packed up, except for a change of clothes each. Electronics gear aside, its going to be New Adventures In Asceticism, because we're taking a toothbrush, change of undies, shorts, and the clothes on our backs. Begging bowls are optional.

In the ongoing effort to divest the freezers of their contents before we flee, I am preparing a venison roast from the deer I got last year. In addition, there are roast potatoes, roasted beets in balsamic, carrots, brocolli, and...... Yorkshire Pudding! Sometimes, the comfort food is just the ticket to combat the rain and the prospect of boxing up EVERYTHING.

Speaking of comfort food, I came across a great web site about the food in Singapore. If it sounds like I have an obsession about Singapore, I do, but its nothing like the obsessed people on this site, Singapore Food Site. There is a great "Hall of Fame", as well as a "Hall of Shame" for Singapore hawkers. Down towards the bottom is the real gem. Mom's Recipes. All the Hawker stall classics are there, and the recipes are truly authentic. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Have A Gweat Fwiend In Wome, Named...Biggus...

Had a fabulous visit yesterday from my dear old pal, Daryl Burgess, who brought along his parents Neil and June, a pair of miscreants I have not had the pleasure of seeing for several years.

Daryl is a really talented songwriter who has lived in Nashville, Tennessee for the last 15 years. He's also an extremely awesome drummer. We played together in 1986 with Jim Foster. We did a Canadian tour of soft seat theatres and hockey arenas as the backup band for an American outfit called Mr. Mister. They just happened to have the number one album, single, and video in North America at the time, and Jim Foster had a top 10 single in Canada. It was my first real big tour with airplanes, tour buses, and screaming crowds of teenage girls. We roomed together on the road, and this accounts for the origin of the nickname alluded to in the title of this post. We also played in a band called The Rhythm Snakes, which showcased all D.'s original songs. I even rented the basement suite of his house for quite a while in the early 90's. We've been good friends for years, and over time, it has kind of blurred into family. He is a badass, funky mother******

15 months back, Daryl came up from Nashville and we recorded an album of his songs at my studio with some of our old bandmates, John Ellis, Brian Newcombe, and Buff Allen. 3 days of intense effort, and many laughs. Probably the most satisfying engineering gig I've ever done. Daryl took the tracks back to Nashville and added some new vocals, Hammond organ, cello, and other sweeteners. He came up to drop off the hard drive that contained all the additions to our original bed tracks so that I can mix the album when I return in July. I'm going to do both a 5.1 surround and stereo mix version of it. It sounds reaaaaally good....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drug Dealing

My how times have changed. In my younger days, $1400.00 worth of drugs looked a little different.

There may have been more girls around. Or perhaps not. The lighting was also a little dimmer. Regardless, events over the last week have convinced me that I'm in the wrong business. We have been injected, poked, and prodded with more things than I can name. My hesitation to take out a second mortgage is the only thing that prevented us from being innoculated another round of "optional" vaccines that would have doubled what we have already spent. We went to pick up our prescriptions at London Drugs yesterday, and as we tried to pay with my credit card, the message "call for authorization" came up on the terminal. It seems that the system flagged this as an "unusual purchase" because the total was so high! We did get it straightened out with a phone call to the call center, which, ironically, was probably in India.

So now we have 7 months worth of anti-malaria meds for four. E-Coli infection preventatives. Innoculations against Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B. Diarhea medication (why one would need this in India, I have no idea...) and its companion, electrolytic restoratives. Pain killers. Sterile needles. Sunscreen. There are probably more things that Laurel has catalogued in a spreadsheet somewhere that I am blissfully unaware of. I long for the days when drugs were fun. And cheaper.

The other photo is a shot of our mobile documentary film-makers kit. Everything fits into a series of Pelican cases, which are watertight and could just about be dropped from 30,000 feet and be just fine. There's a field mixer, 3 wireless mic transmitters and receivers, a shotgun microphone, numerous cables, 30 AA rechargeable batteries, a camera mounted light and battery pack, boom pole, tripod, Universal AC adapter/transformer, and so on. The camera is a Sony HVR-Z1U HD camera, fitted with a Century Optics Wide Angle lens. It's broadcast quality stuff. I also bought 50 hours worth of high grade video tape yesterday that added another 750.00 to the fun. Ouch. As you may have surmised from this shot, we are taking very little clothing with us. A change of undies and socks each, and a couple of pairs of shorts. We're going to buy all new clothes in India, and probably abandon them on the way back.

So. 8 days to go. Much anxiety. Panic to get things done. House packed. Bills to pay. I'm freaking out a little bit that I'm committing financial suicide by taking a year off in order to import a bunch of exotic parasites. I'm waking up at 5 AM a little more than I would like. On the other hand, this could be the coolest thing we've ever done, and the start of a new career for Laurel and me.

I just don't know.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson

Yet another digression from the tasks at hand. I must be in denial that we're actually leaving in twelve days. One of the jobs I had to finish before fleeing the continent was our new tool shed. This is a project I started last January, and I finally got the last of the shingles on it today. A deck will eventually adorn the front, but for now, the roof is good and the outside is secure enought to keep out the water.

This was a particularly satisfying project, as I did everything myself, with the exception of some assistance attatching the roof rafters. It surpasses code, and when insulated, could actually be lived in if necessary. The doors are custom made from fir truck decking, and I built all the door jamb stuff. Same with the fir knee braces that hold up the roof. Geeky, but really fun. Now I just need to run 220 service to it from our main panel...

Tomorrow we start to assemble all our gear in the family room to see how many bags we ultimately have and how much they weigh. More to come tomorrow.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We Do Dumb Stuff Here. Lots...

Okay, this is a digression, I admit. In the months to come, expect to see many goofy signs in mangled English posted up here. Unintentional double entendres. Unintelligible messages. Last time we were in India, our favourite sign was at the Hotel Samrat, which I believe was in Amritsar. The crudely painted sandwich board sign was obviously intended to pull customers off the street with the exhortation "Hotel Samrat. Nearly as good as a 3 Star hotel!".

Just as a warning shot across the bow, I wanted to first put up these ones I found in order to prove that Asia does not have a monopoly on stupidity. In fact, for the last eight years, stupidity has been the main North American export...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

India Beckons

The birthday is done, and now the real work begins. Our trip is a quickly looming reality, with departure only 13 days away. How is that possible? We've been talking about doing this for years, so much so that phrases like "when we go to India" have been part of our children's lexicon since they could talk. If we have been planning so long, why is there so much to do, and so little time to do it in?

Now we have to get on with the mundane details of global travel. Boxing up our clothes and belongings so that our tenants don't feel like we're coming home at any minute. Procuring a massive collection of medications and getting the last round of shots, so that we don't come home infected with something resembling the 3 eyed fish from The Simpsons swimming around in our bloodstreams. Putting the garden to bed. Cleaning the house. Draining and cleaning the hot tub. Pre-staging all of our electronics gear to make sure that no crucial cable has been forgotten. There's so much to do, and only 13 damned days to do it in!

Amidst the chaos, there are indicators that this odd path the we have chosen for ourselves could actually resonate with correctness. I received a wonderful email today from our man in Cochin, Krishnagopal. We were introduced online by a mutual friend, and have been carrying on a correspondence for a few months now. Originally, he was going to be the one helping us to find a house in Cochin, but it's evolving into something greater. Over the last few months, we have learned more and more about each others lives and families. He just lost his father in October at the age of 91, and Laurel just lost her dad. We are both involved in "creative endeavours" to say the least. Here's the email:

Dear Rob,
Wishing you a very happy birthday and happy days and full of sunshine in India.Iwas really hoping that you must be a Scorpio like me.
Most of the creative people are scorpio born.I am happy to find one more
bird of same feathers.
On turning 50 no wonder you are searching where the 20 years
have gone.Time has taken us to so many places and people .We were allover
looking for something ,chasing shadows ,some times loosing balance
between the family and work.All this we indulge because we all believe in
"karmasu kausalam" - "skill in action".
Since we have somany things in common like birth signs,profession,
loosing some one close to us in the same month-I lookforward meeting you
and spending some good time together.This must be a God's wish that we
should come together for "saha veeryam karava vahai"-"come let us work together".
Warm regards
Krishna gopal
Is that not wonderful? It really made my day after what has been a pretty eventful week of festivities. Could it be that we may actually arrive safely with all of our stuff? Might we be able to quickly rent a house that will be suitable for all of us? Will there be a friendly and welcoming face to greet us when we get there? Its beginning to look like that might just happen. When I look out the window and see the morning sun on the water and the dense fir trees that surround us, I can't even picture how different things will look in a few weeks.

The picture I'm including in this post is one I took in Khajaraho in 2000. Khajaraho is a little town that is kind of difficult to get to, but is quite famous for its collection of about 17 temples that were constructed about 1000 years ago. They are of varying sizes, with the biggest one being several stories high. Their distinguishing common feature is that they are all covered, every square inch, with erotic carvings of such imagination and variety, that after a viewing a few square feet one is left with the distinct impression that there truly is nothing new under the sun. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that there is a reason the Kama Sutra was written in India.

Anyway, I must go and apply the last of the shingles to the workshop, tidy up the house, gather cables and battery chargers together, clean up the network room, and and and and and.....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old, Tired, and Happy...

We've got to be the luckiest people in the world.

Last night, our dear friends Christophe and Julie, the owners of Tuscany Restaurant, hosted a wee soiree to celebrate my 50th(!) birthday. Actually the word "wee" doesn't really apply when you get 20+ hardcore food fanatics trying their best to outdo each other at a potluck!

Our good friend Jesse, despite the obvious handicap of being from Spain, somehow managed to assemble a truly epic paella, which was as large in flavour as it was in size. Everyone seemed to be channeling their "inner Martha", as beautifully presented and extremely tasty appetizer plates magically appeared. Fantastic cheeses, magnificent pate, glorious home baked breads, and teeny stuffed nibbles of every description disappeared all too quickly.

Tuscany has a fabulous wood burning oven, so Christophe and I decided to put it to good use. A couple of months ago, the two of us, along with our friend Park Heffelfinger (the owner of the Memphis Blues BBQ chain) decided to dive into the deep end of butchering our own hogs. Park brought over three entire halves of pig, and we spent the morning naively breaking them down into the various cuts, which was a huge adventure to say the least. It looked an episode of The Sopranos by the time we were done. We both saved the saddles from our pig halves, and from that we combined them into the most gargantuan crown roast of pork ever. We brined the entire thing along with some bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary fresh from our garden, then roasted the beast on the wood burning oven with some nicely aged cherry wood I brought along. There's nothing quite so satisfying as standing in front of a warm oven with a glass of wine, watching your piece of art get nicely brown. The sauce was made with the magnificent mushrooms I collected on Saturday. Was it good? Ooooooohhhh yeah, baby......

Laurel, being the Goddess of Baking, made the one dessert that I have a weakness for: cheesecake. And not just any cheesecake. A chocolate caramel cheesecake. The likes of which induces a Homer Simpson-esque drool and moan at the mere thought. There were other things too. A vertical tasting of Nota Bene. I think a salad or two was in there. Perhaps a vegetable or two. Yummy wines, and some thoughtful gifts to boot.

But the biggest thing? Looking around, realizing that I was fifty years old, and that I loved everyone in the room. Everyone should be so lucky.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Mushroom Mania

After 3 weekends of scouring the soggy landscape for signs of fungal uprising, we were rewarded yesterday by first signs of the annual Bolete Bloom. At first you see only one. and then dozens reveal themselves like a Polaroid picture slowly developing. The boys call it getting your "mushroom eyes", and they're geting pretty good at it. There's nothing quite like hearing your 4 year old shouting excitedly "I found a Zeller's Bolete!!! No, wait... this one's past it".

We picked about 6 pounds of Zeller's Bolete (boletus zelleri) in under 45 minutes! On the way back from the hunt, I stumbled upon the monster in the picture. It easily weighed a couple of pounds, and it was in perfect shape!

It will help to make a great sauce for the massive crown roast of pork that we're making on Tuesday night at Tuscany restaurant.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is It Time To Relax Yet?????

Unbelievable. We were able to book AND pay for our final flight from Mumbai to Cochin after nearly three weeks of trying to book that leg of the trip. Train? Nope.... Online airline reservation? No way... Obscure travel agent in Tamil Nadu who can process a North American VISA card? YESSSS!!!!! Many thanks to Chindi V. for hooking us up with her personal travel agent. What a load off. Or course, India being India, there is still the potential for things to go horribly awry, but we reamin hopeful...

Tonight however, is a time for fun and relaxation. A few months back, I thought it might be fun to do a night of music at the local pub to celebrate my 50th birthday. A few months back, it seemed like a great idea. This week, not so much. With so much going on with packing the house, making sure that we have everything we need, memorial services being planned, and trying to finalize the last leg of travel, there has been precious little bandwidth to devote to making a quality evening of music happen.

I need not have worried. Last night, we had a house full of people frantically rehearsing to perform 3 sets of music. I feel pretty lucky to have so many good friends who are also really great musicians. Even luckier that they actually wanted to donate their time to play. Our old friend Dave Rankin, aka Artie Devlin (he's the one who introduced me to Laurel) will be playing guitar and mandolin, and also lending his fabulous voice to the evening. Buff Allen, one of the finest drummers in the country, generously agreed to play. He even brought me a wonderful bottle of Scotch! Pete Robinson, a relatively new friend on Bowen is also playing acoustic and electric guitars, and singing. My dear old friend Doug Johnson, who for more than 20 years has been a good bud AND the keyboard player from Loverboy will be tickling the ivories. Not many people know that he's a pretty smokin jazz player. Chris Coon, whose CD "License To Depart" I just produced, will be performing a few numbers off the disc, and contributing some percusssion. The there is the coterie of vocalists, dubbed last night to be the "Comfy Couch Choir" consists of my good friend Tony Dominelli, Brenda Reid, and Louise Escalier. What a trip to hear those voices rising up to help my little croak actually sound half decent. We're going to do a bluegrass/folk set, a set of jazz standards, and a set of electronica/funk/dance music.

That's why I love living here. An amazing community of beautiful and talented people that I'm proud to call my friends. Is there any better 50th birthday gift?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Well, it seems that there may be hope after all. Obama (shown at left) stormed the gates of the White House last night (yaaaayyyyy!), and delivered a resounding defeat to the right wing fundamentalist regime that has been dominating global politics for the last eight years. Huzzah!

Hopefully, Sarah Palin will return to what she does best, which is driving kids to hockey and blasting away at moose. Actually, Sarah Palin gives moose a bad rap. I grew up on the stuff, and it's fantastic. I can't wait to go and bag one of my own in the fall when we return from our trip. When I was a kid, my folks would say "go downstairs to the garage and grab a loaf of bread from the freezer", which meant squishing in between the boat that was parked there and 4 big hairy quarters of some hapless ungulate hanging from big hooks in the ceiling. Mmmmm... the smell. I'd brush the coarse hair off of my pyjamas and return upstairs with a loaf of freezer-burned shitty white bread, thinking that of course, every family hung dead creatures in their basements for extended periods of time.

But I digress. This is a food and travel blog, after all...

After another delicious thali lunch at our friend Chindi's Chutney Villa restaurant (see post below) we had a chat with her about our flight booking issues for the last leg of our trip (Mumbai to Cochin). As a result, we have finally contacted a reliable travel agent who seems poised to make our stress levels dip a little. Interestingly, booking a flight for three adults and two kids from a travel agent in Vancouver would cost in excess of $1400.00. If the travel agent in India books the exact same flight, the total cost is closer to $500.00. The differential would pay for three months rent in palatial digs somewhere in Cochin. Yes, I'm cheap. I freely admit it.

The response I got from the travel agent this morning warmed my heart. The Indian use of English always fascinates me, as it is a peculiar hybrid of very proper raj-era expressions and modern-day fractured slang. So I had to smile when I read this...
Dear Robert Bailey,

Greetings !!
At the Out Set , we thank for the mail & Ms. Chindi for recommending us,
We Assure you , We can able to book your Flight tickets

Please find the cost & schedule
Air India express ( 06Dec 08 ) : Mumbai - cochin Dep:1630 Arr:1815 total
fare: INR Rs : 24250 for 03Adults +02 Child ( below 12yrs ) .
child fare is applicable for child below 12yrs ..

Please note 12 yrs & above is calculated as Adults fare, )
Please Advise the Ages of the child

Please confirm the fare with name & ages which enables to book the
necessary Flight
Again, These fare are Subjected to Change. The mentioned fare are available
as of now .

Have a nice day !!

Thanks & regards,
Absolutely fantastic stuff. This is a pretty mild example, actually. Laurel and I "collect" Indian signage with amusing grammatical errors and malapropisms. I'm not being snooty about it, I have a genuine love of this use of language. When you see a sandwich board on an Indian street that advertises tutoring for students of English, and more than half the words in a badly formed sentence are spelled incorrectly , you just smile and go "Aaahhhh..."