The rambling recipes & travels of a home baker


FaceTime and my mom
December 4, 2014, 5:51 pm
Filed under: General Life, Uncategorized | Tags:

My mom loves to video chat with my brother (currently living in China). He has lived out of the country for five years so weekly calls are a lifeline for our family.

We weaned our parents off Skype and on to FaceTime with the iPad but lately my parents haven’t quite figured out how to frame themselves in the camera. They used to, but it’s gotten ridiculous. Ridiculously FUNNY that is!

All photos courtesy of my brother. You’re seeing what he’s seeing.

See? It starts out ok

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She can even get the objects in the frame!

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Then it starts getting wonky

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And then the camera is clearly reversed

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And aimed at the ceiling

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Until it becomes a total fail

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Ah Mom, I love you. Never change.

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Farewell Argentina
March 2, 2014, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags:

Last thoughts

Well, this trip is the most completely I’ve blogged about a trip. Some final thoughts.

I have really only seen a fraction of Argentina. Just the way New York and Paris don’t define their countries, Buenos Aires doesn’t define Argentina. I mainly spent my time in Patagonia and it was stunning. My goal was not an urban travel experience but one to be inspired by nature, challenging myself to do something physical and to take time to enjoy the view and journey. I think I succeeded.

I’m so grateful to Kyong for inviting me to join her on this half of her trip. There are people in this world who just draw others to them and together and shed one of them. It made the trip that much more special.

I had one last day to explore BA yesterday and just wandered through the Palermo district looking at the furniture market and window shopping. BA is a distinctly unique looking city. It had the grandeur of Paris, the brutal banality of concrete and masonry of Asia, the color and street art of Mexico, the uneven tile sidewalks of Taipei, the rolled up security windows of Italy and the sidewalk culture of Greece.

We ended last night with a fabulous dinner at I Latina

Things work in Argentina despite the bumbles of the government. People are warm and curious and it was a great vacation.

Now for the long trip home.

EZE-MEX-LAX-SEA

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Ushuaia and back to BA
March 1, 2014, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags:

In our last week in Argentina, K and I flew down to the last city before Antarctica. Though in all honesty, there’s one more town (Port Williams in Chile) but Argentinians seem to omit that.

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Anyhow, I had been skeptical of going to Ushuaia but Kyong asked ‘when are you going to be here again?!’ And ‘Penguins!!’ So I was in.

Ushuaia is a city of 70,000 which surprised me but even though the tourism is the primary driver, it turns out that the government gives companies many tax breaks to locate here. Kind of like Alaska. But wages here are twice or three times as high as other parts of Argentina.

In any case we were in town for three days four nights so on the first night we wandered late over to a recommended crab restaurant calked Chikos. It was delicious but service was spotty and we were too tired it was a little hard to enjoy the good crab. K ordered a warm dish that was like a stew but more king crab than tomato sauce. And lots of spices. It was delicious. I had thought I’d ordered like a crab cocktail but it was more like crab salad with mayo but it was still delicious. There was so much crab that we were stuffing ourselves knowing that our parents would never let that much crab go to waste. We were being good Asian girls.

The next morning we took a cab up to the Glacier Martial where you get a nice view of the Beagle Channel (the body of water that links the Atlantic and pacific oceans). At the top of the hill there’s a ski lift that takes you halfway up then you have to hike up a steep climb for forty five minutes and you reach the glacier. Not as impressive as Perito Moreno but still a nice place for a view. It felt good to move our legs again after two days of transit.

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At the base we had our lunch with more swiped mustard packets from the Chilean border. Sometimes you just really need flavor.

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We then headed to the big museum housed in the old penitentiary. Ushuaia used to be a penal colony like Australia or New Caledonia. It was primarily built by prisoners. The immigrant population is largely Spanish and oddly Croatian.

So the prison is home to five museums each with its own wing. The most interesting being the prison museum. Hilarious dioramas.

The next day we headed out on an organized excursion. It involved canoeing, lunch, penguins and hiking.

We were picked up and we headed east to Harberton Ranch which is the ranch of the first Anglo settler and still run by their descendants. They happen to own one if the few islands where there is a penguin colony so they make money from tourism.

We launched our canoe raft and headed out with two Indian guys who are living in BA doing IT work. Their Spanish is impeccable after only ten months. Also was a woman from Portland. Our guide was from BA. He explained that the tree line is at about 2000 feet and after that the trees can’t survive. The native population used to feed on the abundant mussels which are now tainted with red tide. The natives had adjusted to the climate by lighting fires on the shore and also in their canoes! That’s why when Magellan sailed through he named the area Land of Smoke which was then turned into Land of Fire (Tierra del Fuego).

Lunch, then we headed out by motorboat to see penguins! We were lucky to see all three kinds. The emperor penguins are the ones we most think of and there were two but most were magellenic with stripes and a third kind I can’t recall.

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Then we sailed to another island where we hiked for two hours learning about about the native flora.

At the end of our long day we got back and just chilled in the hotel.

Third day we headed to the national park where there were nice coastal walks. The bus takes you there and they pick up from three spots. You tell them what stop and what time to pick up and amazingly they show up. For all the craziness of Argentina, it kind of works.

So Kyong and I hiked for three hours along the coast in the mist and clouds. Over the course of three weeks we had accumulated a massive amount of snacks and stuff so we went to the cafeteria and asked for agua caliente and boom–instant cup of noodles!! It hit the spot. Oddly these are still manufactured in the USA.

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I had to go for one more empanada as this was filled with King Crab (centolla). empanada count should be nine or eight.

The end of the Pan American Highway ends in the park in Ushuaia. We were determined to walk there and here we are at the sign and also the end of the trail!

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We headed back into town and cleaned up for a crab dinner. K had natural steamed crab and I had a crab with a shrimp and mussel sauce. The crab was very plentiful.

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Next day we flew back to BA through Trelew. I don’t remember the last time I had a stopover where you don’t get off. I used my trusty Chen powers of napping and conked myself out for the flight.

We are now back in BA at a lovely B&B Cabrera Gardens which is ever so perfectly detailed and styled. It’s a lovely way to end things in Argentina.

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I’ll follow up with one last post about observations.



From Chile to el Fin del Mundo (the end of the world)
February 27, 2014, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags:

Sorry the last post was so image deficient. But I wanted to journal a bit to not forget some details.

This post has more pics.

We rose early to depart EcoCamp at 6 freaking thirty. Roberto and Nico cooked us breakfast and packed us the biggest bag of snacks.

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So Americans, Canadians and Australians have to pay a $160USD reciprocity fee online before entering and need to print out the tariff form. I was so clever I printed two….then I left them in Buenos Aires forgetting that I would be entering Chile to go to Torres del Paine. So I went online to try to reprint but no luck. So I printed the website and had Roberto write that I’d tried to print the form. Then I left it up to the folks higher up.

We took an EcoCamp shuttle to the border and then waited for a Charter bus to take us to El Calafate. The bus driver insisted on seeing our forms and thankfully, I had an extra form that Kyong had accidentally been given at the airport.

So once on the bus, I was still nervous as there are stories of busses leaving people at the border(it’s a public charter bus so they can’t hold fifty people up)

I explained my case to Carlos just in case I needed help explaining my case. Once exiting Chile, we drove find minutes to the Argentina building and I held my breath. I could have ended up having to all my family and my boss and explaining that I’d be staying in South America. Kyong saw a rainbow and it was my sign of good luck.

When I got to the counter, Carlos suggested I just hand the papers and passport to the officer without explanation. It worked! No words, he looked at me, my passport and my printout and and Roberto’s note and stamped my passport! I was so relieved!

Safely back on the bus, we crashed until we pulled into El Calafate.

In case you don’t know where El Calafate is, here’s a map I saw at the airport. Lower left corner of Argentina.

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We quickly shipped our laundry out, caught up on email (I even FaceTimed my parents) headed into town for a bite. We searched for a sunny spot and found a cafe where K had a caprese salad and I had a sandwich made with waffles! It was eggplant, tomato, lettuce and cheese. But it was a sandwich of waffles!!!

On our way back we saw a sushi restaurant and we devised a plan to get sushi takeout (the salmon was good but the tuna was oddly tuna fish salad but you can’t be choosy) so we made some spicy noodles and this was our dinner! Asian food!

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Next day we relaxed a bit before our flight and had a nice picnic in a local park- including a veggie empanada which means I should be at six or seven now.

We arrived in Ushuaia and found our hotel had overbooked us so we were placed in a hotel down the street which in fact was slightly better.

We wandered through town and headed to Chikos which served great crab dishes despite iffy service. Kyong had a stew that was more crab than broth. My crab dish was mixed with some celery and avocados and sauce. So much crab. We were a bit sad that we had to leave some of the crab. 😦

I’ll blog about Ushuaia tomorrow. I’m getting sleepy.

*reading this in the morning, I realize that this post was oddly all about food. Really it’s cause transit days are so dreadfully boring and with my Chen family gene ability to sleep everywhere, these days are pretty boring but relaxing.



Torres del Paine
February 27, 2014, 12:58 am
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags: ,

*this post is a few days old so keep reading for more uodates*

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K and I just finished trekking the popular W trek in Chile. Many folks go on their own and camp like Sal and Fede bravely did almost ten years ago but K and I thought we should go guided so she found a locally based company with a strong sustainable bent called Eco Camp. It’s got these geodesic domes, solar hot water, composting toilets (which are actually not as scary as you’d think). The facilities were great. The dome even had a view to the starry skies.

So there are no photos in this post because I didn’t use my phone because I’d forgotten my Chilean adapter in Argentina.

This was recurring on a serious note too as my over efficient packing tendencies had me leaving my reciprocity fee form back in BA thinking I wouldn’t need it anymore. Alas, Torres del Paine is in chile and we had to enter Chile and eventually re enter Argentina….. More on that later…

So quickly it’s a seven day trip but really days one and seven are transit.

Day One
K and I paid for the semiprivate transfer to Eco camp as the regular bus would take twelve hours instead of six and make an extra stop in Puerto Natales. That meant we got to Eco camp at one and had a nice lunch with a sweet Brazilian couple. He’s a dentist and she was a pharmacist. We all took a nice stretching class after a nap.

At seven, the rest of the group and our guide had arrived and we has drinks (pisco sours) and some snacks to outline the the next few days. Then dinner. Dinner at Eco camp is quite nice–three courses and wine! Changes every day.

Our group was guided by Nico, 27, and a man who can answer with the fewest amount of words but say plenty. We had in our group Kyong and myself, Chad and Shayna from Chicago and rob and Laurie from Toronto.

We were given medium ish sized dry sacs to put our belongings for the next two nights, three days which would be carried by our porters while we hiked with day packs. While we were all a little amused at the size of the bags, Kyong was clear all she needed were her underthings and clean socks.

Day Two
The morning began with a late breakfast at 8:30 where we were pleased to find that the coffee was very good and there was peanut butter!!!

Our group of six headed out for our first hike to Refugio los Cuernos (about 12 km/7.5 mi). It was a relatively mild first day but overcast, occasionally lightly raining and windy at times. Everything advertised. We were hugging the base of the mountain range with low brush. It’s a popular trail so you never get lost and you see quite a few hikers with larger packs. At this stage of my life, I’m happy not to be camping or carrying the gear!

The first Refugio was charming like a ski lodge but way crowded. I had to turn off my architect’s eye at the iffy blocked exit corridors and the fact that I was on the third level of a bunk beds out twelve feet in the air. Thankfully, the ceilings were high and the heat rose so our gear dried out really quickly. Getting back to our dry sacks, Kyong learned the only thing she had wanted (clean under garments and socks) was the only thing she’d forgotten. This became the ongoing joke but she was a great sport. Because of the way the Refugio rooms are split we were in a room with nine bunks so we ended up sleeping in the same room as the other Eco camp group and this was fortuitous as we ended up organically mixing the two groups. In the this other group were Carlos and Laura from Mexico City, David and Sharon from Cape Cod and Lukas and Petros from New York. The cramped conditions of the Refugio forced some fast friendships and we ended up playing spoons before dinner. Nico had warned us not to have high expectations of the Refugio food so we were all pleasantly surprised. Not surprisingly, Kyong and Lukas became fast friends with similar senses of humor and banter while Lukas’s partner Petros and I bonded over our more boisterous counterparts.

Day Three
This was supposedly our most difficult day up the French Valley for a 22km/12mi hike. This day was a bit more in the woods. With our bonding dinner, the two groups hiked together and lunched together in the middle if the French valley. From this trail you see the ‘horns’ or Los Cuernos which are large granite slabs with darker metamorphic rocks on top. Nico’s excellent analogy was that if you had a block of sugar and cut a hot knife through it horizontally, the knife would melt the sugar on top of the knife. In this case, the granite is the knife and the darker rock on top is the sugar. Alas, the horns were dubbed the chocolate nipples by our group and it’s not something you can unhear.

Half of the group chose to climb higher to the Britannica lookout with Roberto, the other guide, and the rest of us headed down with Nico. During our walk, I chatted with Carlos about the Mexican way of dating/courting, remembering stories that Sallie has told me. Carlos confirmed that the process did indeed really hinge upon the day that the man asks the woman to be his girlfriend. The best part was when after the entire story, his wife, Laura reminded him that she asked him out! I also had a nice chat with Sharon about her experiences adopting her and David’s three children. The walk is still quite long after you’ve climbed the valley but its generally flat without wind and low scrub so we finally landed at the Refugio Paine Grande which was just as crowded as the first Refugio but much larger. While waiting for the others, Sharon, Kyong, Carlos, Laura and I hung out in the bar and bought Nico beer. Laura showed us photos of her kids and Kyong and I thought Nico and her eldest daughter would be a great match if Nico didn’t have a girlfriend already!

When the others all arrived tired but happy, we had another group dinner and stayed up talking about the day.

The actual hike was undulating except for the climb in the valley but the main difference between the hiking in El Chalten and here is that you’re quite close to the mountain while in El Chalten, you are basically walking towards the mountain the whole time so the vegetation doesn’t seem to vary quite as much.

Day Four
This was our supposed active recovery day with an 11km/7mi hike to the Grey Glacier and then a boat ride around the glacier and then a van ride back to Eco camp.

The guides kept us on a quick pace as we needed to meet the boat. The terrain was lightly rolling but towards the end, the descent was rocky and hairpins. I saw many people with full packs coming up that hill and learned that the guides call that trail something that translates into ‘the trail that makes girlfriends cry’.

The glacier was lovely but less impressive after seeing Perito Moreno. I ended up getting a bit seasick but recovered in the van. The sky had dramatic clouds and occasional spots of sunshine.

That night it was fab to be back at EcoCamp if only for fresh clothes! Our combined groups, freshly bathed and refreshed stayed in the bar but not too late since we were going to have to climb up to the famed towers of Los Torres.

Day Five
We woke for an early breakfast and headed out in our trail at 8am. I will add a post with photos (remember no iPhone photos) when I return.

The climb was divided into three sections. Two hours uphill to the Refugio Chileno then one hour in the woods somewhat flat and then one hour steep uphill with some rock scrambling to get up to the lake at the base of the granite towers. We were lucky to get a clear sky and sunrise glowing the towers red.

We climbed up and Kyong and I kept Nico entertained with our chatter until the steep uphill when he chuckled at our silence as we tried to concentrate on going uphill.

The top was stunning like the tops of Fitzroy and Torre in El Chalten. It gets windy but we lucked out by having a sunny, mild day without much wind.

The long hike down, I hiked with Petros and Roberto. We climbed up and down and kept passing a river. I wanted to sit in a bucket and ride down in the river as it was going to end up in the same point. At about five thirty we walked back into camp. The long walk from the end of the trail felt like forever.

Dinner, bar and celebrations and a thankfully late morning call for breakfast.

Day Six
We were all grateful for the later start and ten am departure. We headed out to the eastern lakes of the park primarily to look for animals. We saw a flock of flamingoes — I had no idea they had black wing tips. We saw many llama like animals called guanacos and sadly we were unable to find any pumas.

Some of the group rode mountain bikes for a while back and we ended the day under cloudy skies. Our group had a joint dinner together and ended the night in the bar reflecting on what surprised us during this trip.

Kyong and I stayed a little longer to chat with Roberto and Nico. Roberto is from the area–Punta Arenas and will retire from guiding to start his own excursion business and start building his house. He’s ten years older than Nico but has the energy and attitude of someone much younger. Always smiling and fill of energy. Nico heads to the states for five months to get certified in sky diving.

Reflections:
I saw many young early twenty something’s hiking this trail and I hope if I ever have kids that they have the adventurous nature to do something like this. It seems more challenging and growing than just traveling around Europe. There is time in your youth to travel and meet people. I wish I had more of that nature in me even today.



Today I trekked on a glacier!
February 17, 2014, 12:00 am
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags:

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Today we went out to the Glaciar Perito Moreno. It’s 30km deep, 4km wide, 4m tall and 100m deep. Facts I learned: it’s 70 percent growing and 30 percent melting, so since it melts faster than it builds with those percentages, it’s one of the few glaciers in the world that us holding steady.

K and I took a trekking tour where they take you up and around the ice with crampons and such. It was beautiful. Deep blues and such fresh water. They ended it for us with a whiskey with glacier ice!

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Ok, here’s the obligatory shot of me on the glacier

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So catching up from the past few days when we had seriously spotty Internet access as El Chalten only has satellite access.

Yesterday we had a short hike to a waterfall to keep our feet acclimated to boots though here is our feet today and K was too embarrassed to show her feet– she’s only showing 20% of her bandaged feet. I’m holding steady with one big blister on my big toe and toenails that are going to fall off when I return home.

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So we went from the small town of El Chalten where you mainly hike the famous trails of Mount Torre and Mount Fitzroy to the much larger town of El Calafate where the main attraction is the glacier. We discovered that there is a huge national festival here (summertime and in celebration of the large lake nearby) and in the center of town there is a huge stage with nationally famous rock bands. There was a fun run and streets were closed. Here’s the concert of rock star, Patricia Sosa,

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We Had no idea who she was but she was like a cross between Gloria Estefan and Ann Wilson. There were craft stalls and such. It was bizarre but kind of sweet.

Ok so catching up on the hikes, I’ll spare the details but it was long (nine hours with a thirty minute break) and super difficult to get to the lake but well worth it. You climb to reach this lake.

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Then you turn around and climb down for an hour to cross the plains beyond those lakes (not the large one). All in all, hike for nine hours.

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So the next day we just relaxed by the river and read and napped. It was luxurious.

Lots of Spanish and French folks here and we crossed paths with the REI group. Kyong’s planning has been spotless and I am tremendously grateful to her foresight and planning.

Lastly, Argentinians drink a tea called mate and its usually sipped through a straw with a filter at the bottom. It’s not our taste but we figured out that we could have our coffee and use the mate straw to filter the grounds. The coffee in Argentina is surprisingly not very tasty so K had requested I bring some beans. It really is much better and the mate straw will help us achieve caffeinated mornings!

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Ok, I think I’ve caught you up. The next week will be silent as we go into the Chilean side into Torres del Paine and we likely won’t have Internet access. Until Sunday!



More sun in Patagonia and introducing the empanada count
February 13, 2014, 12:40 pm
Filed under: Travel: Argentina | Tags:

Today was our second day of hiking. We were blessed with sunshine, no clouds, a mild wind and weather in the sixties. We headed out around 10:30 to Laguna Torre which would take us towards a different peak,

It’s about 250 meters on elevation mostly at the beginning, then a long walk through the river valley and you rise and the lake opens up.

It’s perfect weather and if sitting and enjoying a great view is the point of this trip then I’ve succeeded. Tomorrow is the longest hike from El Chalten and up 750m so it will take 7 hours or so.

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