Return: Kitchen Confidential – Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is a chef with 30 plus years experience and notoriety, including books and television shows (ie. No Reservations).

The book is a collection of stories and perspectives he’s gained through his time in the restaurant industry, mostly in New York City. Certainly the man has had quite a lot of adventure during his career.  Often he’s been facilitated by liquor, drugs, the desire for money and questionable decision-making.  Through it all he does have a love for food that has provided him enough drive to make a living as a chef.

This book was suggested as a good traveling book from a buddy. It is an easy and entertaining read should you be interested in food/restaurants/chefs or not. If you picked it up on the run at an airport it would entertain you for a long flight. While interesting I found the order of stories unnecessarily scattered in time and place. The book (some of which was previously published) is simply a platform for him to document his perspective based on his experience.

The most useful part of the book was his opinion on necessary kitchen tools (Chapter: How to Cook Like the Pros), which include:

  1. ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable in your hand” – it doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy and should reflect the care you’re willing to give your knife at home in the kitchen. Suggested brand: Global (vanadium steel)
  2. offset serrated knife. It’s basically a serrated knife set into an ergonomic handle”
  3. Stockpot, saucepans and thick-bottomed saute pans – they don’t have to be new, consider buying from a restaurant shutting down

To refresh those of my book review scale, each is categorized as either:

  • ReRead  – a really great book. There are too many books out there to read, thus few warrant a second go.
  • Recommend – a good book that I’d suggest to friends
  • Return – a book that I’ll likely forget about
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Alice the Camel

Think of a hot desert animal and you’re likely to think of camels. Prior to coming to Morocco, we’d been told they’re cranky animals that spit and bite. Thankfully that wasn’t our experience. We appreciated the efforts of our Arabian Camels (aka dromedary) treking through the Sahara.

We started our trek from Mhamid with a 2 hour camel ride. That’s about all you need to understand what it’s like. Their awkward gait makes for a bumpy and swaying ride. The key is to be loose and go with it. The more your fight, the more uncomfortable it is. There is a saddle of sorts – it provides a u-shaped cushion around the hump to sit on and a metal structure to hang onto (and strap loads to). Want to know how comfortable the saddle is? Ride a bike for a few hours straight after you haven’t done it in years – the bike seat hits thus same tender spots on your butt. You definiately want the handle when getting on/off the camel. They bend front legs first, thus lean back and hold on or you’d noise dive over them!

Due to what may have been a communication error, day one was the only time we rode. The next three days we walked along with the wonderful beasts carrying our baggage, water, food and camp set up.  The camels are guided by a rope attached to either a nose ring (camel at the front of the line) or their mouth (rope located similar to the bit on a horse bridale). During that time we noticed:

  • all the work camels are male (aljamal). The ladies (naqa) are left to make more baby camels
  • they are trained to follow the instructions provided by the rope and camel dudes. One of the ropes came untied thus allowing a camel to be free from the set. He ended up stepping on the rope, and just patiently waited to be attended to.
  • nylon rope are the camel dudes best friend. They use it to tie the camels together, afix the saddle to the camel, tie their legs when at camp, etc.
  • to prevent the camels from wandering too far they tie their legs. Over night they tied their front legs together, about a foot apart. The camels can shuffle around. During our windy lunch break they tied the camels front feet to its upper leg. They could awkwardly get up and three-legged hop, however they tended to sit and stay put. Only one did the hop – to be able to eat from the tree
  • camels eat most anything, including any food leftovers and fruit rinds.

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S is for …. Sahara Desert

Drive off the end of the road in M’hamid Morocco and your into to the top of the Sahara Desert (the world’s largest hot desert). A simply amazing places to spend 4 nights/5 days taking in the natural beauty and Moroccan way of life (aka lots of tea).

Sky – the horizon in the desert is vast. I’ve never seen so clearly the multitude of stars in the night sky as in the desert. Certainly the stars would be essential to aiding travel over long distances with very few visible landmarks on the ground.  With almost 12 hour days and nights we’d see the moon high in the sky as the sun rose.

Scarfs – we all learned how to tie our scarfs on day one. Besides being a local fashion accessory their functionally is exceptional. They’re great for sun and sand protection. The locals use much longer scarfs that could double as rope for all sorts of practical applications: strapping goods on a camel, putting a bucket into a well for water, etc.

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Sand – yep, there’s a lot of sand in the desert!  It’s so soft and fine (like flour) compared to the nicest beaches I’ve been too!  When it blows it gets in every orifice you have and you just deal with it.  Our guides were superb at managing to avoid getting sand in our omelettes (full props to them!).

Sun – our days were reasonable, at par with very hot summer days back home in Canada (a dry plus 30-35 celsius). A light breeze and scarf helped keep the temperate comfortable during our 2-3 hour desert treks. We walked; the camels carried our gear.

Stones – the compliment to all the sand are the many stones of all shapes and sizes. Like most things in the desert they served a purpose; piles were used as markers. On the highways piles serve as pylons or warning signs for road issues. Stones include fossils from days gone by!

Silence – the most striking thing about the desert was how quiet it was. Laying out on a sand dune to watch the stars you heard nothing but the beating of your own heart. It was amazing in a way I can’t capture in words!  However, this also means that you hear every noise when it’s made.

 

Valencia <3

While visiting Spain in 2011 I had only a few hours to explore Valencia between trains. I was tickled pink to be able to plan a couple of nights stay and explore a place I fell for at first sight. Valencia did not disappoint!  In our 48 hours we had a chance to enjoy the warm coastal weather by:

  • wandering the sandy beach and taking a dip in the Mediterranean Sea
  • enjoying the photo worthy, Jetsons like structures of the City of Arts and Science,
  • catching a great deal at the Rufaza Mercado
  • appreciating the ornate historical buildings and plazas in the old town, and
  • walking through the extensive green space that surrounds the old town

It’s amazing that overtime the grand swath of green through the middle of the city has been maintained. Valencian’s are offered a number of different amenities: running and biking paths, outdoor workout equipment, sports fields, and gardens of all kinds.

Still on the list for my next visit: paella!

 

Barcelona Architecture

A quick search on the internet and you’ll be aware that Barcelona has a creative history of architecture, mostly notably Antoni Gaudi.  He’s an acquired taste that has left an impact and whose work dots the landscape.  Tourists flock to mainstays, such as:

  • Sagrada Familia – a church whose construction remains incomplete after starting in 1822 – yes, over 100 years! The building is visible from throughout the city with it’s many towers and accompanying tower cranes. 

  • Buildings in the central city including Casa Batillo, La Pedrera, Circulo Ecuestre street with 3 of his buildings
  • Park Guell – the park on property purchased by Eusebi Guell and entrusted to Gaudi to plan and develop for well off citizens in the early 1900’s. With changing times, the park ultimately went to Barcelona City and opened as a public park in 1926. You see innovation in the design and details of the park that no doubt have supported its maintenance and success over the many years. Much of the tile work was planned by Josep Maria Jujol.

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Beyond the show pieces, everyday Barcelona offers a lot to consider when contrasted against typical North American built form. It brings to light how perspectives on privacy and space are greatly influenced by the experience and opportunities we have at ‘home’.  The bulk of the streets are dominated by four+ storey development, with small restaurants and shops scattered throughout.  A rolling overhead door is much more than a garage door here – it’s shop security and a street art canvas. Parks are full of chairs and benches that people sit in throughout the day. Restaurants and cafes provide much of their seating on tables and chairs out front. You see that garbage and recycling is within people’s daily views, not tucked away to forget about. The life is out on the street to experience and see, not hiding away in one’s own home.


One of my favorite finds was an apartment building located within a few minutes walk of Camp Nou (where FC Barcelona plays). Each unit appears to include sliding rounded doors that can create a visible outdoor space or allow for a private space. This simple feature provides flexibility to the residents and serves them well with the weather in Barcelona.

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XXX <3 Fiets!

Amsterdam loves bikes! Heading over to the Netherlands I was eager to see their bike culture in action. In the far away suburbs of North America it’s hard to imagine a place where bikes are a main stay of transportation and part of a city’s identity.

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Look at all that bike parking! 1000’s of places to rack a bike mere steps from the main train station, trams and buses.

After a few days it’s easy to see the many reasons why it works here and poses a challenge in duplicating elsewhere. However, I think it can and should be pursued elsewhere, with every city finding the right mix to create its own successful bike culture.  Influences on Amsterdam’s love affair with bikes:

  1. Convenience – it’s easy to get around the city on a bike and meet your daily needs. The bike specific infrastructure exists lanes, traffic lights and parking/racks. Plus there’s the infrastructure of the city itself with functional and efficient mass transit, density and mixes of use that put your daily needs within a reasonable biking distance. Plus, Amsterdam is flat making biking an option for many fitness levels.  Bikes come in a milieu of shapes and sizes to meet the needs of a person(s).

  2. Cost – bikes cost less than cars, period. While this is true everywhere, in a place with greater limits on space (relative to most North American cities) I suspect the additional costs of car ownership (ie. parking, gas, insurance) are even more prohibitive.

  3. Culture – bikes appear to be part of daily life, the same way cars are in North American. I didn’t witness any stink eyes or oddness for people hoping on their bikes after coffee with a friend, or heading away from the market. Bikes are simply the way you get around.

Other observations about bike culture in Amsterdam, which likely support the success:

  • no one wears a helmet on bicycles or scooters and more motorcycles
  • scooters and wee mini cars are allowed to use the bike lanes
  • most bikes are basic one gear bikes that have you sitting up in a normal position, and have some form of rack (front or back) for carrying stuff
  • year round weather that would allow for biking

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Years in Review …

Just because the blog has been quiet doesn’t mean that life has!  Before heading off on another adventure it seemed appropriate to take stock of what’s happened since the last post in 2012.  Easier said than done!  Here’s the sample platter. Retroactively posting confirms to you the lense you saw places in and what imprinted on your memory. 

  • Prince Edward Island – Amazing summer bike ride from tip-to-tip on the former railway corridor, now recreational trail – Confederation Trail. Beautiful way to see the province while keeping healthy. Experiences the province’s wonderful bed & breakfasts’ and small town restaurants.
  • San Francisco – Lovely place to visit in the spring as the snow melts at home. I got a wicked sunburn to prove it. Yes, it is hilly. Golden Gate Park (not near the bridge) offered a great day with a diverse schedule: 420 celebration, Easter celebrations with Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (complete with a Jesus look alike contest), and outdoor roller skating.
  • Iceland – Odd choice for a Canadian winter getaway. But, totally worth it! Wonderful place for a novice traveller as they make it easy to explore. Reykjavik and area kept me busy and entertained.  Take full advantage of all the wonderful geothermal heated pools!
  • Las Vegas – A place of gluttony and excess, Vegas isn’t my top pick. However, Rollercon only happens in Vegas.The size of this roller derby convention makes the trip worthwhile! Well organized Rollercon offers amazing learning from top notch players and coaches that you simply could not get otherwise! Highlight was getting to play on a banked track.
  • Seattle – How on earth has this place not fallen into the ocean? It’s amazing how humans are so stubborn. Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum is totally underrated and worth a full afternoon’s visit.  The full fields of tulips north of the city were gorgeous.
  • Chicago & Area – Hiking in Starved Rock State Park in jeans in an exceptionally warm spring weekend.  Wonderful place known for its waterfalls, although disappointed at the random garbage people chose to leave lying around. Nobody likes picking up used waterlogged diapers along the path.
  • Vancouver Island – Canada’s west coast earns is reputation for beauty and won’t disappoint! Especially when blessed with sunny days. A paddle boarding adventure off of Gabriola Island was stellar as I was witness to seals and a bald eagle.

Thanks to all those friends who were a part of these adventures!

BOOKS
The past few years have seen a number of books being read too! I’m picking “one” to recommend:
Maddaddam Trilogy (Orxy & Crake, Year of the Flood and Maddaddam) by Margaret Atwood.  Atwood is a well known and very accomplished Canadian author that I’d never had the chance to read. At the recommendation of a friend I took on this trilogy. Not shockingly the post-apocalyptic world is less than ideal and thus the books aren’t a lighthearted read. Rather they’re thought provoking and offer us a reflection on the path we may be leading ourselves down. I’d encourage the trilogy as a worthy investment of time on a well crafted story