You Don’t Like Uncle Chris?

Generally, I get along well with children and animals. Something about my disposition, personality, or perhaps my general vibe, helps us “click.” This was not the case, though, when I recently met the three-month old daughter of friends here in Bangkok.

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This little pumpkin was fussy from the get-go, giving me only a few tear-free minutes. I tried rocking, standing, sitting, cooing, singing… anything to soothe her. Eventually, giving her back to mom was the answer.

 

Floating Bicycle Infrastructure

The extent to which a population cycles depends on what infrastructure is available to them. Striped bike lanes? That will encourage some people to venture out on bicycles. Dedicated lanes that are physically separate from traffic? That move makes bicycling even more appealing, especially to new cyclists. The Netherlands takes the proverbial cake for bicycle friendly infrastructure, though, especially with the recent opening of a dedicated bicycle roundabout that “floats” above a busy vehicular intersection.

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The roundabout is located in Eindhoven, a suburban setting that would look familiar in many parts of the United States. Large streets carrying lots of fast moving vehicles meet at a traffic circle (okay, not so typical in the US!), something that could be tricky for cyclists to safely navigate.

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The original design of the roundabout already had bicycle paths that were physically separate from the road, although cyclists still had to cross the roads at traffic signals. This design vastly improves on standard practice in most countries, but for the Dutch, it was not safe enough.

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The new bicycle and pedestrian roundabout is suspended from cables as it floats above the motorized vehicles below. It creates a safe path as well as an aesthetically pleasing gateway announcing your entry into the community. Interestingly, you’ll notice that the roundabout for the motorized vehicles has been removed in favor of a typical right-angle intersection.

It seems to me that these type of infrastructure investments are very beneficial to society. They encourage more people to travel under their own power and increase transportation safety at the same time. This reduces traffic congestion and energy consumption, both worthy results. Plus, the roundabout’s design is elegant.

 

Breakfast or Dessert?

Recently had brunch at Gastro 1/6, a small cafe at the RMA Institute deep in Sukhumvit Soi 22. When I ordered the following, they asked if I wanted a scoop of ice cream with it.

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I guess I thought of French toast with fresh fruit as more of a breakfast dish than a dessert, but when the fruit is this sweet and it is drizzled with maple syrup, I guess it isn’t that far from a dessert, is it?

 

A Pair of Bridges at Night

Thought I would conclude the week with a pair of beautiful nighttime shots showing two different bridges here in Bangkok.

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This is the pedestrian bridge at the intersection of Narathiwat and Sathorn roads. The tall building is the Sathorn Square Office Tower, which opened just recently. The shorter building on the left is the soon-to-open W Hotel Bangkok.

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This is the Rama VIII Bridge across the Chao Phraya River. This single pylon, cable-stayed bridge is two and a half kilometers long and will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next month. It is a beautiful bridge.

 

Do you know what this is?

It was at a pretty nice riverside seafood restaurant here in Bangkok that I saw the following. It wasn’t until I read the sign that I knew what it was. What do you think it is for?

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That’s right, it is a special sink/toilet just for throwing up. Why they would need this at a nice restaurant is completely beyond me. Maybe at a bar it would make sense, but here?

In case you are curious, it is in the same area as the urinals – not partitioned off like the regular toilets.

 

Saturday Dinner Party

This past Saturday, Tawn and I had two couples over for dinner. All four of them are foodies, so I made a special effort to cook an elegant meal but something that wouldn’t require a great deal of last-minute attention. There are few things worse for a dinner party than having to be in the kitchen while your guests are sitting at the table.

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Amuse-bouche: To wake up the taste buds, I served a tomato water gelée topped with a tomato coulis. The tomato water, which is a bit cloudy because I rushed it along rather than waiting the twelve hours called for in the recipe, is made by blending fresh tomatoes and then straining them through cheesecloth. What happens is that the water in the tomato slowly drips out, full of tomato flavor but without any color. Of course, by squeezing the cheesecloth, I extracted a bit of the red coloring, clouding the water.

I added some gelatin to the tomato water and let it set in colorful shot glasses. I passed the remaining tomato pulp through a sieve to make coulis, flavoring it with some salt, sugar, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Not sure if it was the most exciting amuse-bouche ever, but I was pleased with it.

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I made two salads, both of which were based on dishes I had at Orris, a Los Angeles small plates restaurant that I’ve been to a few times. The first dish was thinly sliced roast beets topped with cheese and dressed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and dill. The original version of the dish is supposed to have manchego or another similar Spanish cheese. I ran out of time while shopping and had to settle for edam, which wasn’t nearly as good.

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Another Orris-inspired dish was an asparagus salad with a tarragon dressing, tomatoes, and pecans. I assembled it a bit differently than the original dish, but it came out very nicely. Visually, it is very appealing, and the taste was nice, too.

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To accompany the meal, I prepared a loaf of rosemary and black olive bread. This is one of my favorites and always turns out well.

The pasta course (which I didn’t get a picture of!) was a roasted vegetable lasagna with homemade pesto sauce. If I had had my way, I would have made individual servings of this. In the interest of minimizing time spent in the kitchen, I made a single batch and just served it at the table, family style. This dish was so tasty – the roasted veggies had lots of flavor – and I think I will make it my new standard lasagna recipe.

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For the main course, I prepared basil marinated snow fish en papillote. Steaming the fish and vegetables in their own individual parchment paper packets is easy, convenient, fancy, and produces excellent results. In this case, I marinated the snow fish in an olive oil, white wine vinegar, and basil mixture for 30 minutes, then steamed the fish with carrots, turnips, zucchini, and bell peppers. The fish was seasoned with a small bit of butter, a strip of lemon peel, and a kaffir lime leaf.

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I was able to cook the packets while we were eating the lasagna, so the fish was hot out of the oven when served. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it turned out very nicely. Snow fish has a high oil content, so it stays moist. Next time, I think I would cut the turnips a bit thicker and instead of including zucchini and peppers in the packet, I would serve them on the side.

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To celebrate the end of summer, I prepared a duo of cherry desserts. In the larger ramekin is a cherry clafoutis, which is a pancake like batter baked with a dish of fresh cherries. The smaller ramekin has cherries covered with a chilled sabayon, a frothy mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and amaretto liqueur. The sabayon is heated in a bowl placed over a steaming pot of water. It is whipped continuously, cooking the eggs and incorporating air. Once the mixture has cooled, I folded in some whipped cream. Finally, before serving the dessert I used a butane torch to brûlée the top. On the side is some more whipped cream and a cherry reduction sauce.

What I liked about these desserts is that I did not make them too sweet. Instead, they were satisfying without being sickeningly sweet. All in all, a meal well done.

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While cleaning the dishes afterwards, I was struck by the pattern the beets had left on the serving plate, so had to take a picture.

 

Back to the Future of Phones

Sometimes the universe throws things your way that can be attributed only to remarkable serendipity. As I had just exchanged of comments with another Xangan about how technology has rapidly changed in the past few decades (in this case, in the context of how to meet people – you remember when people placed personal ads in a newspaper and would receive responses to their post office box?), I came across this funny smartphone accessory:

Broconi Retro iPhone Handset

The Broconi Retro iPhone Handset. Using a form that will be familiar to anyone over the age of about 30 (or who has watched Mad Men), the handset plugs into the audio jack or 30-pin connector on your smart phone. Sure, it is wildly impractical, but with all the concern over smart phone radiation frying your brain each time you make a call, maybe it’s a forward-thinking idea to keep your phone away from your ear. I can’t think of a more stylish way to accomplish that.