Sunday, January 31, 2010

Easiest maki in the world

I make no claims to be a sushi expert or maki master. I just like eating it!!

"Maku" is the verb for 'roll' or 'coil' in Japanese. Let's take that to mean that there is no right or wrong way to make maki, so long as they're rolled.

1) Assemble ingredients:
  • rice (I'm lazy, so this is just regular rice, no vinegar/sake/mirin/etc. Still tastes good!)
  • nori (seaweed sheets - as you can see, mine are actually for hand rolls)
  • fillings (avocado, thinly sliced cucumber, kani kama a.k.a. fake crab, and cream cheese)
  • wasabi paste (not shown)
2) Put a little rice on the flat rice spoon and smooth it about 2-3 grains deep onto the nori sheet, which is sitting on the bamboo rolling mat. Leave a space at the end of the nori. I smashed my rice, which isn't aesthetically pleasing, but it stays in place.

3) Place fillings at the edge of the rice adjacent to the blank space. Don't cover more than 50% of the rice, otherwise it won't close!

4) Dab some wasabi on the end if you dare.

5) Wrap the goodies with the blank nori edge using the bamboo mat to grab the lump and make it round.

6) Open the mat and re-adjust the maki towards the end of the mat closest to you again.

7) Finish rolling the maki until all the nori is incorporated. Squeeze it gently and try to make that round shape again.

8) You can now cut the rolls into thin, bite-sized rounds with a sharp, slightly wet blade (so it doesn't stick to the rice), but remember I'm lazy, so I just eat them!

I know full well that this isn't the "correct" way to make maki. Usually you have to take the freshly cooked rice, mix it with the perfect amount of vinegar, etc and special stirring techniques, but I think that scares people away from just making the things. Plus, I like the taste of plain rice better. Most people use too much vinegar and then you can't even taste the fillings or fish.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thailand - Jungle Fever

After the madness that is Bangkok, we flew back to Phuket and took the 3-4 hour bus ride to Khao Sok. It's not on the coast, but rather is characterized by its rain forest, abundant wildlife and beautiful flora. We stayed 3 nights in the extremely cute Our Jungle House resort in one (well, two actually) of their open-air tree-houses on the river.

Our tree-house! No bats as one of the reviewers claimed. I was actually a bit disappointed :(

The only bummer was that the website claimed we would wake up to the call of the gibbons, but never heard any. We did however see a family of 7-8 monkeys playing on the cliff across the river from our balcony each afternoon.

Go monkey go!

Our feet still hurt from all the sightseeing in Bangkok, so we spent the first day relaxing in the river, eating delicious food from the outdoor hotel restaurant, and reading books from their small library (I gobbled up The Lost Book of Salem). Our first full day started with an early canoe trip on the river. Even though we weren't allowed to paddle ourselves, we saw plenty of kingfishers, a couple large snakes including a python sleeping in a tree, a family of monkeys, a few large lizards, and plenty of beautiful scenery.

A super enhanced picture of a kingfisher. These guys were hard to photograph!

That afternoon was one of the highlights of our trip: an elephant ride! It was a leisurely hour and a half on the supremely cute Saonui (which means "Big Sister" in Thai). We got on the rather uncomfortable metal seat (why don't they use wicker seats?) from a platform, adjusted ourselves to the back-and-forth swaying on the elephant's giant plodding feet, and got a ride through the rain forest to a small waterfall where Saonui got a 15 minute break. On the way back we took turns sitting on her neck, which was far more comfortable and easy to balance than the seat. Legs tucked behind her warm ears, hands on her spiky haired head and bum resting easily on her fleshy neck, it was a lot of fun! After the ride we got to feed her some bananas which she greedily accepted before she went off for another ride. I'm happy to report that our mahout (elephant trainer) never hit Saonui. When she occasionally stopped, he simply said, "Ehh?" to her and she would giddy-up to her place behind the lead elephant.

All smiles on Saonui


The next day was quite a workout. Khao Sok is famous for the giant Rafflesia flower which is very rare and blooms only for 3-4 days before decaying entirely. Only a few places in the world have this flower, and Khao Sok with one of the largest known populations of it had only 11 known flowers this year (though this is significantly more than the 6 or so a year only 10 years ago). It's a parasitic flower with no roots, stems or leaves of its own, and seems to pollinate by air, which seems horribly difficult since there are so few and they are often situated rather far form each other. A bud is the size of a football, and a full-grown flower can reach 110 cm, though most are around 50-60 cm. Our hike was 2 km, 90% of which was UP a hill. Took about 1.5 hours. But the reward was several buds, a dead flower, a half open bud, and a gorgeous 55 cm flower. (Just a note: We were extremely careful about not touching the flower or it's host).

Yum. Don't worry, it's too stinky to take a bite.

Sweaty and happy with the Rafflesia

If you ever get a chance, visit Khao Sok! It's gorgeous.

Travel tip: If you go to Khao Sok from Phuket Airport, take the airport bus south a little bit and tell the driver you want to get off at the bus stop on highway 402 (main road) to catch a bus to Khao Sok headed for Surat Thani. This saves you an hour of traveling in the wrong direction to get to the main bus station in Phuket Town, only to drive another hour back to where you started (near the airport). The bus stop on 402 is next to a Wat guarded by two gaudily painted statues that are nearly as tall as the pedestrian overpass next to them. We waited 45 minutes for our bus towards Surat Thani, which eventually dropped us off for another bus to take us to Khao Sok, and it cost maybe $8-9 total per person.

Bird of Paradise growing wild

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thailand - The Bangkok experience

We took the long way to Thailand. The very very long way. Flights (and trains to the airport) in Japan are expensive, so instead, we flew for about 1/2 the cost from Korea using Malaysia Airlines. Sure it took a couple extra days to get to our final destination, but we got to see friends in Korea on the way, so it was worth it.

(side note: Malaysia Airlines is amazing. Best airline food I've had, best service, best outfits, and very comfortable. They routed us through Kuala Lumpur actually, and since we booked 6 months in advance, there was (of course) a schedule change, so they ended up paying for one night's stay for us in KL. Fun!)

In Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown with the first of many many coconuts.

After KL, we flew into Phuket airport and hopped right onto the local, cheap but good Nok Airways to Bangkok for a 3-day stay.

Arrival at Phuket Airport.

Nok Airlines.

We arrived at our super friendly, cute, and highly-recommended hostel, Niras Bankoc... after getting scammed by the taxicab driver (FYI: always pay the tolls yourself when the cab arrives at the toll booth, because you pay them in the end anyway, and if you wait to the end of the trip then the taxi driver might lie and try to confuse you about the total cab fare and cause a scene).
Anyway, Niras Bankoc hostel: Highly recommended, once again. Only a 20 minute walk from the "lively" Khao San Road (read: full of foreigners, street vendors trying to distract you with green laser beams and sell you something and random noisy chaos), and 20 minutes walk in another direction from all the main Wats (Buddhist temples), it was perfect. At one point, no less than 9 Americans teaching English in Japan were in the hostel lobby, which is hilarious considering the hotel only has 7 rooms (some of which are dorms).

DAY 1: Shopping Day
The first full day we spent shopping, since Bangkok is the place to do it. On advice from our hotel and our guide book, we went to MBK, a 7-floor mall with approximately a bazillion independent shops selling everything from electronics to clothes to food to decor (many of them selling the exact same thing at different prices). And all prices are highly negotiable.

MBK and traffic.

A light dinner that night was at the infamous Chote Chitr. While not as hard to find as everyone says, the prices appear to have tripled since it acquired fame from a New Yorker article. It was empty when we arrived at 8pm, but that may have been due to our late night eating habits (or other foreigners' later night drinking habits. We had the banana flower salad (amazing) and some stir fried veggies. We decided that more filling things could be eaten at other, cheaper places.

We spent that evening wandering Khao San Road, eating in the street stalls, people-watching the other foreigners, and doing some more shopping. In the process, we discovered that you could buy many of the same things that were available at MBK but the starting and final (after negotiation) prices would be significantly lower on Khao San Road. We also got a 1 hour, full-body (naked!) oil massage for only 200 baht a person, which is a little less than $6. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this and got massages all three nights in Bangkok, twice at the fabulous Joe's House, located on a smaller street parallel to Khao San Rd. Truly, truly... Heaven.

DAY 2: Sightseeing Day (plus Christmas Eve)
The second full day was crazy hectic, but fun. We managed to visit the major Wats in Bangkok: Wat Sraket, Golden Mount, Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Kaew- home of the 'Emerald' Buddha, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Phra Chetuphon - home of the 46m Reclining Buddha.

At Wat Pho/Grand Palace

Mia and the Emerald (but really Jade) Buddha

With the 46m Reclining Buddha.

Incredible Christmas Eve dinner view at Deck restaurant.

We ended our stay in Bangkok by going to a lady-boy cabaret show at Calypso Cabaret.

Calypso Cabaret

Next: Khao Sok National Park, and our Thailand
jungle adventuring.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Photos from Thailand

We've uploaded photos from our Thailand trip on Facebook.
More details to come... Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

and Merry Christmas too!

Santa and me at our company's Christmas party.

Pictures of Thailand to come soon!