Friday, May 27, 2016

Asian fare is colorful, tasty, healthy, and reflective of each culture, country

Pick out your glass of fruit and vegetables, and it will be blended with juices or coconut milk for a smoothie in Thailand.

A buffet in any Asian country will always include
plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, here in Singapore.
Fried insects are a crunchy snack
in several Asian countries, here
on the colorful streets of Bangkok.

Bite into kiritanpo, taste the dim sum, then maybe try a curry or tempura


Hong Kong's famed Langham Hotel's formal banquet room,
features a beautifully set table waiting for the owner's party.
DINING IN Asia is like going to an
edible museum. Even the "eat and run" street stalls have a sense of color, texture and style.
A bowl of noodles can look enticing, with a bit of garnish and chopsticks nicely crossed.
Grasshoppers, anyone?
But an elaborate feast in Asia, well, that is a treat.
Cookie and Keller toast between
courses on a river cruise in Vietnam.
MOST ASIAN cultures -- particularly Japan -- love to take time to enjoy a meal -- whether sampling only a bowl of delectable rice dumplings, known as kiritanpo, or partaking of a leisurely meal of fresh sushi.
Serve up a side of sansai, or mountain vegetables, and the country's exceptional quality rice.
We ate our way through eight satisfying days in Tokyo and another month of healthy dining in Vietnam, Thailand
and Singapore, with a few tasty days in Hong Kong. Easy on the meat, because it's mostly a flavoring or accent. Fine with us!
This fish section in Japan offered at least two dozen varieties.

WE VISITED villages on our bikes, celebrating the rich cultures known for their savvy use of seasonal farm-fresh offerings and nature's bountiful gifts from the sea.
Each country has a little dumpling like treat.  We tried the kiritanpo-nabe, a delicious hot pot and staple of the diet in several parts of Japan. Stars of the dish are those tasty rice dumplings, kneaded then toasted.
In a Vietnam restaurant, salads and soups are individually
prepared and garnished with additional bits of veggies. 
WE SAMPLED several delicious bento, or box lunches, artfully prepared and a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. This lovely meal is a single-portion "food bouquet" in Japan.
Asian cuisine refers to many major regional cuisines, including East Asian, Southeast Asian, South and even Middle-Eastern.
A bento box often contains soup, salad or pickles, sushi and tempura. 
A cuisine earns its stripes with a characteristic style of cooking practices and traditions, associated with the specific culture.  In Hong Kong, you'll find noodles and dumplings.  In Thailand and Vietnam, lots of veggies and small-bites to sample, with more emphasis on spice -- particularly hot pepper.
Asia, as our largest and most populous continent, is home to many cultures, each with its own characteristic cuisine. 
A friend has visited all 23 of China's provinces and swears each has a different, if subtle, method of cooking and serving its fare.
WE FOUND some similar staple ingredients throughout our Asia visit. Rice, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, chilies, dried onions, soy, and tofu cross borders and cultural lines. Stir frying and steaming are
Fragrant green tea often accompanies
a tasty, colorful Asian meal.
also found throughout the Continent.
While rice is common to most Asian cuisines, we noticed more varieties than we'd ever thought possible. The range hops from basmati on the subcontinent, to Jasmine, and many kinds of long-grain and short-grain varieties.
I'VE A fondness for curry, and found that in each of the countries we visited. We also discovered dozens of noodles, beans and seafood throughout, and as many kinds of cabbage as we westerners have lettuce.
Tea accompanies most meals, since Asian cultures have long known its detoxification and purification qualities. “Chī hǎo hē hǎo” which in Mandarin, means "eat and drink well."

Stunning red rocks remind of Sedona, but, no, they're less than
an hour from the famous Las Vegas Strip. Find out where next time.

COMING UP: We're savoring the fabulous red rocks of  Nevada next time. Come with us to a beautiful, unspoiled part of the West, just a half hour from the famous Las Vegas Strip. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend.

Friday, May 20, 2016

South Lake Tahoe takes one back in time: delightful inn, fun dinner cruise, friendly folk, gorgeous scenery

On a half-dozen visits since 2010, we've found Lake Tahoe's scenery some of the most beautiful in the western United States.

Dixie II offers a fun night on the lake,
even on a recent rainy evening.
"It is a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords.” -- Mark Twain, describing Lake Tahoe in 1871


Inn by the Lake offers location and friendly hospitality.


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE has an authentic feel.
Despite being "discovered" by trendy businesses and shops, and hosting seasonal residents from large American cities, it has a laid-back, country feel.
We like that.  Visiting Keller's daughter and her partner enhanced the notion that we were "at home" in this lovely corner of the world.
Cookie and Keller kicked
up their heels on Dixie II.
Dixie II was our choice for an evening out with the kids.  The four of us
enjoyed the scenery around Lake Tahoe, a tasty meal and dancing.
South Lake Tahoe natives claim the sun shines on them more than 300 days a year.  Our visit hit on a rainy weekend (which natives welcome because of the fire danger.) Still, we had a sunny-side-up time.
THE KIDS picked us up at our comfy Inn by the Lake base. The Inn personifies the welcoming feel of the town.  We enjoyed a driving tour past a range of accommodations, eateries, entertainment, museums and galleries.  Since they're outdoorsy types, they love the skiing and snowboarding for which South Lake Tahoe is famous.

On deck of Dixie II, from left: Cookie, Keller, Kristen and Zack.
WE'D BOOKED A dinner cruise on M.S. Dixie II, a pleasant drive from our Inn by the Lake. We wound through the town and over to the lake to Zephyr Cover and the boat. The food was nicely presented and we danced to a fun three-piece band. The award-winning Lake Tahoe cruiser is the largest cruising vessel in South Lake Tahoe and a local favorite. All her cruises depart from Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina, including daytime cruises and charters for up to 300.  Friends hosted their daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner there last fall and raved about it!
Lake Tahoe's scenery is still pristine in most places.
INN BY the Lake is known for its hospitality, tucked in the picturesque mountains with a view of the lake.  We chose the inn because it is pet friend, ideal for families and fun for visiting couples, with flowers and proximity to the lake.
Our Tahoe visit combined the pleasures of this pleasant, dog-friendly motel with the lake trip and experience of Dixie II. We also enjoyed Bear Beach Cafe, near our Inn by the Lake base.  One of its specialties is the hamburger.  We can recommend the "black n' bleu" with cajun spices and blue cheese. The quesadilla appetizer was pleasantly spicy and we give thumbs up to the Beach Bear's satisfying, old-fashioned breakfast.

Jonquils were blooming during our visit.
Inn by the Lake is beautifully landscaped.
LONG BEFORE Zephyr Cove and South Lake Tahoe became favorite play time destinations of tourists and locals, the Native American Washoe people lived on the lake's tranquil shores. In 1844, American explorers Kit Carson and John Fremont "discovered" the area. Soon after, in the 1860s, silver was discovered in the Sierra Nevada.  That changed everything, as prospectors flocked in to seek their fortunes.
BUT FOR A TIME on the boat, or strolling the flower-bedecked grounds of Inn by the Lake, one feels the peace and beauty Mark Twain and the native people cherished so long ago.

COMING UP: We're savoring the fabulous red rocks of  Nevada. Come with us to a beautiful, unspoiled part of the West, just a half hour from the famous Las Vegas Strip. Then, a preview of a wonderfully directed production, "Hollywood"
Terrific actors play the parts, here Mary
 Miles Minter, portrayed by Talene Monahon.
"Hollywood" runs through June 12 at the

 internationally known La Jolla Playhouse.
on the boards at San Diego's renowned La Jolla Playhouse. Based on a real-life unsolved murder, this imaginative, superbly acted work is an homage to the noir thriller films of Hollywood's golden era. It's accompanied by a brilliant on-stage pianist.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays when we post for the weekend.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Elephant seals bring larger than life charm to California coast

Hundreds of elephant seals -- once nearly extinct -- swim in a few weeks each year to breed on central California's coast.



From a walkway far above their habitat, tourists from all
over the globe observe the elephant seal habitat below.
Volunteers have helped save the 
elephant seal and create a lovely
display with informative posters.
NEARLY EXTINCT at one time, the elephant seal is making a whale of a comeback.
These female elephant seals far outnumber the more elusive males.
As the seals surrender to dusk, a lovely sunset caps the day near San Simeon.
There's something wonderfully joyous about gazing down at the beach to behold them stretched out on the sand.
YOU'RE WATCHING a  rare sight: a veritable bounty of elephant seals at rest and play.  They groom themselves, snuggle and snooze.  You hear their calls, watch them romp and tend their young, and revel in the miracle of their existence.
These beautiful creatures were nearly destroyed by man, but they're making an elephantine (pardon the pun) comeback.  By the way, they take their name not from their gigantic size but from their trunk-like inflatable snouts.
We'd driven many times past the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, but didn't stop until a couple weeks ago while staying at our favorite Cavalier Motel overnight stop in San Simeon.
 SUE, THE FRIENDLY hotel check-in clerk, told us the elephant seals were "in" -- big news, because they spend between eight and 10 months of the year in the waters.  We drove north from the motel about 10 or so miles, enjoying California's lovely central coast. When we came upon a couple dozen cars, we knew we'd arrived at the viewing area, which spreads several miles 90 miles south of Monterey.
IF YOU'RE planning to visit Hearst Castle State Historical Monument in San Simeon, this is just a stone's throw, worth staying another half-day.  It's just over a mile south of Point Piedras Blancas. Viewing is open daily, wheelchair accessible, and free. We watched these beautiful creatures with families, campers and city folk -- an international crowd enjoying the seals at close range. The place is above sea and fenced off, to keep the insensitive from wandering too close. Spectacular way to spend a couple hours. Check to make sure they're "in" at California State Parks, or Friends of the Elephant Seal:
Inn by the Lake offers warm hospitality,pleasant views, nearby attractions.

 UP NEXT: Lake Tahoe beckons, with a pet-friendly motel that offers a great cup of coffee and old-fashioned service. Then a cruise on the lake offers dancing, romancing, spectacular scenery and fine fare. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday when we post for the weekend.

Jenn Paredes, Paige Lindsey White and Susan Denaker
play three very different women in "Rapture, Blister, Burn."
BEST BET: San Diego Repertory Theater has made its reputation on cutting edge, thought provoking drama. The latest production is no exception. Catch "Rapture, Blister, Burn" before it closes May 15. The thought provoking play by Gina Gionfriddo (House of Cards") is the finale of the Rep's bang-up 40th season. Smart, funny, insightful study of feminism its ripples, circles and adjustments over the last half century.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Reagan Library lures, charms longtime liberal

Flowers are left at the foot of Reagan's bronze each day, a docent told us.  During the weeks
after Nancy Reagan's recent death and burial on the site, the number of bouquets grew.



The approach to the Reagan Presidential Library is typically "southern
California" with a lovely fountain, mosaic tiles and nicely kept gardens.
HIGH ATOP a Simi Valley hill, with a view stretching to the Pacific he loved to admire, our 40th President's final resting place lures millions of tourists.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is a popular diversion for locals and, as we recently saw, for visitors from all over the world.
WE WERE among a recent full house to pay our respects to the colorful and charismatic world leader, spending a pleasant and informative afternoon perusing his 100,000-square foot memorial.
Its 24 wide- ranging galleries include a full-sized replica of the Oval Office as he and Nancy decorated it, and the actual Air Force One aircraft used by Reagan and six other presidents as their "Flying White House."
Keller prepares to board Air Force One, 
the actual plane which carried Reagan 
and other presidents around the world.
WE ARE far from die-hard Republicans, but then Reagan himself dabbled a bit in the "pick your party" game.   Raised in a Republican neighborhood in Illinois, by liberal Democrat parents, he was a Democrat himself until age 50.
So his politics was not an issue in our decision to visit this lovely and historic site. (We've visited others of the 13 Presidential libraries, which began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is by far the most impressive.)
You can join Reagan for a horseback ride, as Cookie did, in one exhibit.
Our favorite sentimental parts of the eclectic and well curated display had to do with the relationship between Ronnie and Nancy.  Everyone knows that she was instrumental in grooming his political career, and in influencing decisions -- large and small -- that
shaped his career both as governor and as president.
The Berlin Wall's history is documented.
Visitors number in the millions, but the museum does not feel crowded.
Here people cue up to step inside the actual Air Force One Reagan used.
SOME OF THE NOTES he wrote to her are displayed, and many photos of the two together -- dancing at the inaugurals, riding horseback, visiting world figures, including the Pope, and simply spending time together.  Their constant and abiding love and affection is one of the enduring legacies the couple left.  Their amazing partnership is a touching part of the library, which they both helped create and which she refined and enhanced after his death in 2004.  Mrs. Reagan's candor in her long, devoted care of her husband through his 10-year decline is also noted.  And among the famous photos and newsreels are several of the Reagans after the attempt on his life.  
Here, a dummy sits in the Air Force
One office, where Reagan worked.
Our favorite "history" parts of the museum had to do with Reagan's international role in forging a path of peace.  His impassioned appeal to "tear down that wall" echo in the display about Berlin.
The Reagan Museum also features lectures and changing exhibits.
Currently on show is "Vatican Splendors," a splendid collection of Vatican art.

BEST BETS:  If you are anywhere near Old Town, San Diego, and Cygnet Theatre, don't miss "The Rocky Horror Show," which ends its nearly sold-out run extended to Saturday, May 7. Fabulous, energetic production of this cult favorite. And at Northcoast Repertory Theatre in Solano Beach, Calif., "Way Downriver," is a thoughtful, entertaining adaptation of a provocative William Faulkner story. David Ellenstein directs the cutting edge work, held over through May 15. Both of these unique productions prove that great art has staying power. Next up, we visit a unique elephant seal preserve on the gorgeous central California coast. 

Sean Murray, left, plays a delightful Frank 'N' Furter, in Cygnet's "Rocky Horror
Show," closing soon. Above, Geno Carr, Richard Baird and Sara Fetgatter
star in Northcoast Repertory Theatre's "Way Downriver." Both terrific.   
MOVIE BUFFS, too, we enjoyed the segments and "pick a movie" displays, where one can cue up clips from his films -- from "Santa Fe Trail" to "Bedtime for Bonzo" to "Knute Rockne, All American," in which Reagan's character explains to his coach that he is not afraid to die, asking that the team "win one for the Gipper." Appropriately, "Gipper's Grove" features 43 meticulously groomed crepe myrtle trees.