Friday, July 29, 2011

In a Sun Burned Country / Dark Star Safari

I've been spending more time at the office than I would like this summer. (Some summers are like that.) So, to while away what little free time I have, I've been catching up on my reading. At the moment I'm rereading In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson and Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. You'll find both on World Hum's '100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of all Time,' which is a good list, as lists go, and worth checking out. Theroux and Bryson are both masterful writers and storytellers albeit with decidedly different temperaments. Both find themselves traveling the length and breadth of vast, southern continents, through countries with histories of colonialism but with decidedly different presents. 

It's hard to look at modern, bustling Sydney and think of the former penal colony  it once was, or the seemingly endless list of life threatening flora and fauna native to the bush. In a Sun Burned Country is entertaining and funny like all Bill Bryson books. It's erudite, informative, and full of humor like the man himself. Bryson presents Australia as it was on the cusp of the 2000 Summer Olympics, a proud, successful, active and ambitious country in an unlikely place that rose to the challenges placed upon it.

As you might expect Dark Star Safari, also from the early 00's, is a little more of a serious and complex affair, like the place itself, and its author. Paul Theroux was a Peace Corp volunteer in the early 1960's, teaching English in Malawi. In Dark Star Safari he returns to Africa, now a celebrated novelist and travel writer of 60, to reflect upon what has changed and what hasn't in the 40 years since his departure.

Theroux turns his keen and notoriously irascible eye on what he sees at ground level en route from Cairo to Capetown. His novelistic writing style is amazing as always. He provides great descriptions of the places he travels through and the people he meets in what he calls the 'anti-Europe' or 'Dark Star' that is modern Africa.

Rick Steves spoke with Theroux about his memoir on Travel with Rick Steves.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Kitchiri is a classic Indian dish. Easy to make and good for you too. It's popular with those practicing Ayurvedic medicine for it's ability to purify the digestive tract and cleanse the body of toxins. The recipe below is taken from 'The Inspired Vegetarian,' by Christine Ingram. Add some paneer if you have some handy, or cubed potatoes. I've always been amazed that every time I make it, it always turns out a little differently.

1 cup green lentils or Indian masoor dal
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup vegetarian ghee or butter
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 1/4 cup basmati rice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 or 3 cloves
3 cardamon pods
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley to garnish

Cover the dal or lentils with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and boil in fresh water for 10 minutes. Drain once more and set aside

Fry the onion and garlic in the ghee or butter and oil in a large saucepan for about 5 minutes

Add the rice, stir well to coat the grains in the ghee or butter and oil, then stir in the spices. Cook gently for a minute or so.

Add the lentils, stock, tomato paste and seasoning. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the stock is absorbed and the lentils and rice are just soft. Stir in the cilantro or parsley and check the seasoning. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Arctic Monkeys on Later with Jools Holland

Tal Ronnen - The Conscious Cook

Jenni went vegan in January of this year and hasn't looked back. Though I'm our primary cook, I keep bumping into her in the kitchen as she whips up seitan and imitation sausage rolls.

I still place myself firmly in the vegetarian camp. But that doesn't mean I'm not above expanding my repertoire. Veganism continues to become more prevalent in America and around the world, and new chefs are beginning to show how you can create out of this world vegan cuisine that tastes just as good as the alternative.

The seemingly tireless, Chef Tal is one of those chefs. In this beautiful and informative cookbook Tal shares wonderful, and at times challenging, vegan recipes with the at home chef. Throughout are his recommendations on what ingredients to use and interviews with chefs and others who are creating great, vegan food. As a pitchman for Gardein , you'll find entrees that incorporate Gardein 'chicken' into the recipes, like the one below.

Flash Sales - Luxury Link - FamilyGetaway - Vacationist

We used SniqueAway to get a great deal on our room at the Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona, Florida at the beginning of June. Like Seize the Deal and Groupon with their popular deals of the day, numerous sites have popped up offering short term/flash sales for travel. These 'member's only/private sales' typically run for about a week and offer 20-60% off of regular prices at luxury hotels and resorts around the world. It could just be a flash in the pan like the deep airfare discount sites of the early 00's. (Oh, how I miss them.) But still, they're worth looking into as you do your travel planning. It doesn't cost a thing to become a member, and you get a nominal credit for recommending the sites to friends (should they also book.) Keep in mind many do not offer a refund for cancellations so be sure to read the fine print in the terms of service. Also keep in mind, that if you sign up you'll find yourself with a lot of tempting spam in your email inbox.

Today I was looking at Vacationist, part of the Luxury Link travel group. One of the travelers that I follow recommended it during a recent podcast. Launched last year as a partnership between Travel + Leisure and Luxury Link, Vacationist offers 3-7 day sales with 25-40% off of regular prices. They have a virtually identical business model to SniqueAway, but their locations are more varied and international. Nothing fancy, just quick sales in beautiful places. 
Luxury Link, itself offers both live auctions and fixed price rooms with up to 65% off the room price. They have an enormous selection of properties as well as vacation packages and tours worldwide. Luxury Link is impressive just for the shear scale and diversity of their offerings. Their site is broken out to include destinations, interests, and property types. I actually ended up lost in their site for a couple hours poring over what they had to offer. I can honestly say that this was the first time I've found myself browsing for accommodations by 'Villas, Estates and Castles.'

Within this same group of companies, takes the same model and applies a 'family-friendly luxury' spin; big discounts, buy now and auction offerings but at family focused destinations. FamilyGetaway includes theme parks and portal for hotels with 'cool pools.' How cool is that?

I know there are more of these sites competing for our every shrinking travel dollars, if you have a favorite or you'd like to recommend one to us, please let me know.