Friday, December 30, 2011

Moving Towards 2012

Is this really my last post of 2011? Wow...

While it's been an odd year for me personally, I've been really happy with lots of things related to the blog this year. I'm glad that I was able to add some on-location vlogging to posts (check the vlogging label on the left); and despite my occasional hatred of Facebook :), I've been happy with the growth of Try Anything Once's Facebook page. Plus, I feel like I've gotten to know many of you through your comments, blogs and tweets, and that has been quite fun. You all are a funny, encouraging and fascinatingly diverse group of people.

I looked back on what I wrote year-end last year, and I did accomplish some of the things that I wrote about in that post. I did a lot more entertaining at home (we entertained three times plus hosted Thanksgiving dinner), and I stopped whining about my blogging frustrations. :)

Here are some blog-related goals I'd like for next year (I figure if I write this out I'll do it):

Be more helpful to you all. I think many of you enjoy the travelogue posts and restaurant and eating stuff, but I would like to offer up more valuable information here. I don't do more posts offering up tips because I often feel as if I might sound preachy or be stating the obvious. I think you all are super smart and well-informed already, but perhaps I can add a little perspective next year.

Be a better Facebooker. I'd definitely like the TAO Facebook page to be a place where you an access more content and be more informative to you.

Conquer my fear/procrastination re: baking. When I don't want to do a certain activity or when something stumps me, I procrastinate. I procrastinate for other reasons too, but these particular reasons apply to baking. I don't need to become the second coming of Betty Crocker, but I would like to be able to bake something from scratch that doesn't taste like cardboard.

Be a little more provocative. I'm still working on this one, since I didn't really do this at all this year. Blogging is my happy space, but there are some things that I'd like to get off my chest. I'm not talking about rants but just things that need to be said and topics that I'd like to explore more here on the blog.

I want to thank all of you who publicly follow the site (I see you there on the left column); those of who subscribe to the blog through RSS feeds and various blog readers; those of you who follow me on Twitter; and those of you who have joined me on Facebook. I appreciate your continued support, comments and readership so very much!

I am wishing you all a year of peace, health, discovery of new places and new tastes, and, most of all, a discovery and knowledge of what brings you joy.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best of 2011 - Travel

I hope you enjoyed the Best of 2011 food post.

I have to say that even though it was a hard to wittle down a year's worth of eating, it was just as hard (if not harder) finding ten travel photos that encapsulated this year for me. My travel year consisted of revisiting Los Angeles after not setting foot on the West Coast of the U.S.A. for almost nine years; my first time taking a plane within my own state to Buffalo, NY; seeing my family in Antigua; and of course discovering the wonders of Turkey. For all of that, I really do need about 15-20 pics. My travels may not be as extensive as some travel blogs out there, but I wouldn't trade this year for anything. :)

Again, in no particular order and with links to relevant posts, I present my Best/Favorite/Most Intriguing (to me) travel photos of 2011.

The Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, California at sunset. Check out my trip to Los Angeles by clicking the California label on the left.

The view of English Harbour from Shirley Heights, Antigua

The ceiling of the Aya Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Niagara Falls (New York side)

Betty's Hope, Antigua

The Celsus Library - Ephesus, Turkey

Up and Away - Cappadocia, Turkey

Do you have any favorites of these the pictures? I'd love to know which one and why. :)

Do you have any travel plans already on the horizon for 2012?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Recipe for Ujima on Kwanzaa Culinarians

Today is the third day of Kwanzaa. While I know that many people don't celebrate the holiday or think it's even a "real" holiday, I don't believe that it should be ignored. Why? Well, I may not agree on many ideas espoused by the founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, I think he's done a great thing here. By creating a celebration focused on principles, I think he's adding a grounding aspect to a season that often can be filled with excess (financial or otherwise).

I was very flattered to be asked to write a piece for the Kwanzaa Culinarians site for today's Kwanzaa principle of Ujima.

Ujima stands for Collective Work and Responsibility.

Here's a link to my post featuring one of my favorite Antiguan dishes and a discussion of how it relates to Ujima.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best of 2011 - Food

Hello, all!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, is ready to finish out Hanukah, and has had a great start to Kwanzaa!

I can't believe that it's December 27. Where did this month go, and, more importantly, where did this YEAR go?

What I do love about the end of the year are lists of what people think are the best of anything. Last year, I made a list of my favorite food and travel shots of 2010. You can take a look at them here (or just click the Top Ten label on the right).

These pics are a mix of the most intriguing or memorable things I ate in 2011 as well as some of my better food photography (which isn't saying much. LOL!). Here they are in no particular order with links in case you missed a post or two....

Wild Rock Lobster (River Cafe - Brooklyn, NY)
Roasted lobster tail, mango, fennel, lemon, olive oil

Chicken & Waffle Cupcake (Robicelli's - Brooklyn, NY)
A piece of chicken on top of a waffle. Love it!

Buffalo Wings (Anchor Bar - Buffalo, NY)
Buffalo wings in Buffalo! :)

Taylor Bay Scallop Ceviche (River Cafe - Brooklyn, NY)
On the half shell with sea beans, tomato and coriander

Manti (Pasazade - Istanbul, Turkey)
lamb-filled pasta topped with tangy yogurt sauce, tomato sauce and spices

Deviled Eggs (Prune - New York, NY)
A good one from my IPhone. People love this on Foodspotting. Have you tried out the site?

Cheeseburger Animal Style with sauteed onions and extra sauce (In 'N Out Burger - Culver City, California)
My first In 'N Out burger!

Irmik Helva (Pasazade - Istanbul, Turkey)
A traditional Turkish dessert

Ducuna with Ling Fish & Chop Up (Miss Brenda's Food Stall - English Harbour, Antigua)

Mistanya Kuzu Firin (Imbat - Istanbul, Turkey)

Here's to more great eating in 2012!

Stay tuned for my Best of 2011 travel photos.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Hello, everyone!

Well, this will be it from me before the height of the holiday season (I'll be back next week). I hope everyone has special plans with loved ones and friends this year. I'll be headed up to New England to celebrate with Husband J's family. Apparently, my niece, Baby J, is walking and talking up a storm, so it should be fun.

On Sunday, I should hopefully be sitting down to a table that looks like this.

Also, if anyone wants to save a latke for me, please do! Happy 5th Day of Hanukah! Next year, I want to go to a Hanukah party. Any New Yorkers care to give me an early invite for next year?

I'm loving this fabulous, modern menorah!

If anyone is gearing up for Kwanzaa, I do urge you to check out the Kwanzaa Culinarians site, which is chock full of engaging articles. I'll be sure to let you know about my contribution to the site next week.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to.....

Husband J.

He's now my old man literally and figuratively! Just kidding! :) He's not old. At least not yet (but he's getting there). :)

I wish many more birthdays to my favorite eating and travel partner (and a great life partner period)!

In Antigua, 2008

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Back Trackin' - Old Salvador

I'm not particularly verbose this week. Perhaps my mind is on vacation already. :)

I realized that I may have given Salvador, Brazil short shrift thus far on the blog. One of the many things I loved about it was the sense of history and antiquey-ness of it all. The central Pelurinho district, where I stayed, is really good for taking in all of the old buildings. Since Salvador was actually the first capital of Brazil, they made sure the buildings were rather stately, and the churches extra majestic.



Igreja (Church) do Sao Francisco

Close-up of Igreja do Sao Francisco

Rua das Portas de Carmo, right outside my hotel, Casa do Amarelindo (loved that place!)

Ummm..I forgot :( It was being renovated when I was there. It's right off of Terreiro de Jesus.

The spires of Igreja da Nossa Senhora dos Pretos

Palacio Rio Branco

So, are you a fan of older architecture, or do you like sleek, modern design?

Monday, December 19, 2011

In My 'Hood - Chuko

I don't know anything about ramen. One thing that I have learned recently is that it's called "Japanese soul food". People line up all over Japan for their favorite local ramen joint, which can come in the form of the most upscale to a completely Mom & Pop operation. Here's a great Intro to Ramen video from the New York Times Travel section.

I'm still learning so much about what's authentic and what's not regarding ramen, but as usual, I aim to eat what tastes good. When I heard about a new ramen restaurant, Chuko, opening up near me in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, I knew I needed to go. We are a little starved for good ramen in this part of Brooklyn. Chuko was highly anticipated because the two men who've opened the restaurant were formerly at Morimoto. If you've ever watched Iron Chef, Iron Chef America or even Top Chef, you're probably familiar with Mr. Morimoto himself. Either way, Chuko's founder were bring a lot of buzz with them.


As per usual often in Brooklyn restaurants on a Saturday night, there was a wait; and, boy, did we wait. Even with a walk to kill time, we waited and waited some more. I will say that the staff was friendly and apologetic about the situation. The staff and service at Chuko is friendly, quick and seamless (just go earlier or later on busy evenings). Often at small restaurants, service seems to be the forgotten element, and it wasn't at Chuko.

I was in the mood for veggies, so Husband J and his visiting friend, Davey, agreed to have some veggie appetizers.

Charred Brussel Sprouts
with fish sauce, peanuts and sliced chili

WHAT?! Brussel sprouts should always be made this way. I purposely went for the chilis while avoiding the peanuts and made sure to cover the brussels sprouts in fish sauce when I could. Asian flavors are the perfect way to highlight this fall vegetable.

Crispy Kale Salad
bacon, golden raisins, ginger dressing

When we tried this kale and the brussel sprouts, we realized that the wait was worth it. I'm still wondering how they made the kale so crispy. I was impressed that the chefs had found a use for the ubiquitous ginger salad dressing that you get at Japanese restaurants. It was stuck on the bottom of the bowl, but what a nice surprise when you reached that portion of the dish. Also bacon. 'Nuff said.

Yes, we actually DID eat ramen.

There are three types of ramen on Chuko's menu, and you have a choice of having them with added chicken, pork or sans meat add-ons for the vegetarians.

Our friend Davey had the Pork bone ramen (the soup base was pork bone) with poached egg. I have to say that I didn't taste this. Davey and I are cool (I still like him even though he laughed at the Giants' loss to the Redskins yesterday), but we're not sharing food.

Husband J had the miso ramen that night, and I had this on a subsequent visit to Chuko.
It's like buttah! Seriously, this soup was buttery smooth. When I think of miso, I usually think salty, but that just might be my limited understanding of the power of miso. This ramen was creamy, with al dente like noodles and crunchy corn kernels. There was something so warming and comforting about this soup. Let's just say I understand ramen's Japanese soul food designation now.

My dish...

Spicy Pork Ramen
red bean paste, kimchi, spicy minced pork

Noodle money shot :)

O.M.G. First of all, when the waitress said kimchi, she had me. I don't think that kimchi is usually associated with ramen (Anyone? Anyone?), but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have spicy ramen AND kimchi. The soup almost resembled a creamier base than some of my favorite Korean soups (kimchi jigae in particular) with the addition of chewy noodles and a very soft poached egg. It was heavenly. Please note that this is a special, so I don't know how much longer Chuko will serve it.

By the way, since I'm not a ramen expert, I don't know if Chuko wins any points for authenticity. Just know that it's good.

Winter is definitely in the air. Thank goodness for good ramen close by!

552 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fantasy Travel Friday - The Orient Express

When I hear the words "Orient Express", I think of elegance and Agatha Christie. How can you not? When I decided to write this Fantasy Travel Friday post, I was shocked that the Orient Express train still existed. When I think of the hey day of train travel, I think of the early to mid-20th century, and the fact that people slept and ate sumptuous meals in the comfort of a train. I take the train at least three to four times per year here in the Northeast U.S., but it pales in comparison to the luxury of the Orient Express (and it's only for four hour rides).

Train travel is still a major part of travel in Europe, but I think the Orient Express (now called the Venice Simplon Orient Express) goes beyond getting you from Point A to Point B via the rails. I'm adding this to my "Wow! This pretty expensive, and I need to win the lottery list" of travel dreams.

The Orient Express has a variety of routes, but I would choose the Paris to Istanbul route leaving from Gare de l'Est and arriving at Sirkeci Station a week later with stops in Budapest and Bucharest.

I know that I'd be staring out of the window a lot like this woman.

Catching views like this....

A lazy afternoon of staring deserves some afternoon tea to go along with it.

Knowing me, even with all of the pretty scenery, I would go exploring through the train to discover as many of the public and private spaces as I could.

One of my first stops would have to be the dining car, of course.

In the early evening, I suspect people sip cocktails here in the lounge.

I will say that the Orient Express knows how to use space well. Each cabin has both a daytime and nighttime configuration. Your personal steward changes the room over while you are "out" for the evening.

I would love to lie in bed watching the world go by.

Maybe a bunk wouldn't be so bad (I don't see Husband J going for this)?

Do you think I could get Husband J to agree to splurge on a luxury cabin?

I can't think of a more fun way to see Europe.

Have you ever been on an overnight sleeping train? What has been your most memorable train trip?

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Asked for It - Dueling Travel Personalities

Here's another reader-inspired post, and this one comes from Megan of Notes from the Bench. She asked the following:

Do you have any advice for traveling with someone who has a completely different vacation style?

I've only really traveled with two individuals that happen to be great travel companions for me: my BFF and Husband J. They both are relatively active sightseers like me. My BFF is way better for beach-ier locations since we both can read a book and lounge for the day rather easily. Husband J cannot do the beach for long without some exploring thrown in. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have had great experiences with both of them.

What can I say about this issue, but that all parties need to COMPROMISE. I know that is sort of a no-brainer; but really what can you do but that? Here are some things that I think you'll need to think about when traveling with someone who envisions traveling very differently from you:

1. Pick a place that has something for everyone - If you're a beach bum, and your travel companion(s) love active sightseeing or adventure activities, sitting on the beach in Anguilla for a week is probably not going to fly with them (no pun intended). Pick a destination that's going to square well with all of your individual interests. Maybe instead of Anguilla, try somewhere like Belize or Costa Rica, which offers pretty beaches but also everything from zip lining to ancient Mayan ruins. Now if you have a particular destination in mind, then.....

Luckily, there were places to take Husband J in Antigua. He gets antsy at the beach.

2. Do activities that you'll both enjoy AND be willing to expand your idea of fun - The key to travel is flexibility. That means that if you're traveling with a group or another individual, then you may need to do an activity or see a sight or two that may not be a priority for you. Adjusting your expectations will be key. Even if the activity is not up your alley, you may find the experience something that you didn't think you would enjoy. Surprises are fun, and traveling is about being open to new experiences anyway.

3. Communicate - I feel as if I'm giving relationship advice here, but if you're not having a good time, tell your travel partner(s) in the nicest way possible. Depending on the type of relationship you have with said person(s), honesty is still better than stewing and being a sourpuss. Most adults I know appreciate knowing if their companions are having just as much fun as they are. One of the main reasons you're not traveling solo is probably because you want to experience this place TOGETHER. Talking it out while you're there will only help make the trip better.

At Niagara Falls

4. Don't be afraid to do things by yourself. Are you the hard charging walk all day type while your travel partner(s) want to take a nap or lounge at a cafe for an afternoon? Depending on where you're traveling, feel free to once in awhile take a break from each other for an hour or two. It's okay. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. :)

This isn't an exhaustive list or really that earth shattering, but I hope this sheds some light on this issue. You could also just travel solo, which has its own rewards. :)

Have you ever gone on a trip with someone who liked to travel very differently from you? How was it? What did you do to make the trip more enjoyable for everyone involved?


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