Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

12/22 Magical Mystery Tour

25 December 2011

For Thursday, I’d booked a tour: the Magical Mystery Tour. I walked over early enough that I could do something else: I decided to take a ride on the ferris wheel. It’s 60 meters high, and I do believe I could actually see to Wales.
Unlike the last few days, the sky is only mostly cloudy, and it gets clearer (and warmer) as the day progresses.
There’s something weird about me and industrial cities like Liverpool and Glasgow (and Pittsburgh): I love them. I can’t explain it. They just seem more real than some of the more glitzy places I’ve been.
The Magical Mystery Tour picked us up at the Albert Dock and took us around the various Beatles sites, including Strawberry Field and Penny Lane and all the various places where The Beatles grew up.
Sadly, the house where Ringo was born is scheduled, along with the other council houses for several blocks, to be demolished.
I should step back for a moment: three of the four Beatles grew up in public housing. Mendips, the house where John lived with his Aunt Mimi, was the exception; it’s not a huge house, but it’s 2-3 times larger than any of the others and has a significant side yard. Instead of a row house, it’s part of a duplex.
Because Mimi forbade John from playing in the house, John went over to Paul’s to write music. Thus, in 1965, the National Trust bought the McCartney home, the first 20th century building to be added, because of the history where the songs were written. When Mendips came up for sale in the 60s, the National Trust wasn’t interested because it wasn’t historic enough. Within the last decade, Yoko bought Mendips when it came on the market and donated it to the National Trust. I suppose that’s one way to accomplish it.
The other two Beatles, though, their homes were not deemed historically significant enough for the National Trust, either, so there’s no effort to preserve them even though Ringo and George were both actually born in those buildings. So Ringo’s childhood home is slated for demolition, and many fans have scrawled Ringo-love phrases all over the façade.
The house where George grew up, his family moved out when he could afford to help them do so. For the last 40 years, the same woman’s lived there, and our tour guide called her “the most patient woman in all of England.” It’s probably true.
Driving around Liverpool gave me a real sense of the place, and I loved the competing Anglican and Catholic cathedrals at either end of the appropriately-named Hope Street.
The bus tour ends near the Cavern Club somewhere, but that area’s now a part of a pedestrian center of Liverpool, so they can’t actually take us right to it. So we’re off.
Catch is, I actually have no idea where I am. I have the souvenir map from the tour. I’ve forgotten about the map in my pocket. I wander aimlessly down the streets full of people. There are wonderful-smelling food stalls with lots on offer, but the ones that seem are gluten-free aren’t quite ready yet.
For the first time, I duck into McD’s. I need a place to sit, it’s cheap, and I can use Amex. Mostly, I need something to take with my pills, so I get a coke, which makes the ibuprofen go faster.
I walk back to the house and sleep fitfully. At 5:30, I happen to wake up and look at my phone, and you know the rest: my mother-in-law passed away. I talk to Rick on the phone for a while, and don’t sleep well at all, understandably.

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12/21 Downtime

25 December 2011

The weather today was utterly miserable, and that did not encourage me to go out.
I was tired from the day before, still jet lagged, and I just wasn’t feeling all that great, so I spent a lot of the day resting up. I did finally get out, but it turned out to be too late to get to the Maritime Museum or the International Slavery museum, so I just went to the Pumphouse and had dinner.
Everyone needs a down day, this one was mine.

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On the Run: The Tour

25 December 2011

Tuesday’s the big day. I tuck my concert ticket into my passport in my neck travel wallet and head down to breakfast.
I’m starving, and I woke up at 4 a.m., which my iPad insisted (it still thinking it was on continental Europe time) was 5 a.m. I waited until 6:30, headed downstairs, then went for my free Hampton Inn breakfast: sausages (probably not gluten free, so alas I skipped them), cereal (not a single gluten-free one), ham (yay), eggs (never my favorite dish), orange juice, coffee (I pressed “cappuccino” on the dial that morning), and a gluten-free English muffin I brought with me from the US.
That’s right, I brought — frozen — a half-dozen English muffins. I rolled the container up in my clothing to help keep them frozen. Customs didn’t seem concerned about them, and I apologized for carrying gluten-free coals to Newcastle, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t starve, yada yada.
Sadly, my hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, so it looks like they will spoil before I run out.
They have jam and Nutella packets at breakfast, so I grab an extra one of each in case I need it later that night (for stomachs that aren’t exactly with the program timezone-wise).
I mentioned that I’m not that wild about eggs. For a number of years, I wasn’t able to eat them at all, and it’s been difficult over the last few years because I tend to be nauseated (from pain) in the morning and sulfur smells do not help. However, now that I’ve been feeling better and seeing a nutritionist, I’m trying to work more eggs into my schedule.
I still don’t like them, though, and that means that I eat them with jam, because jam makes everything better. This morning, I idly wonder what eggs taste like with both Nutella and jam. You know, it’s an interesting experiment, but I’m not going to waste any more Nutella on it. Instead, I put more Nutella on my English muffin after warming it up in the microwave and cutting it apart. It was still partly frozen.
Now, I did travel with something to put on my English muffins: specifically, I traveled with packets of Justin’s nut butters in the following flavors: maple almond butter, honey almond butter, and chocolate hazelnut butter. I like them because they have less sugar than Nutella and there are different varieties. I also have one packet of Artisina Raw Macadamia butter, but I have a feeling I’ll vastly prefer the roasted kind I got in Hilo. These went into my checked luggage, but I only had a half dozen nut butter packets. Because of that, I’m conserving some and using the hotel’s Nutella instead.
Before I leave the UK, I’m going to head to a local health-food store and see what they’ve got that might help me in Venice, where I expect I’ll have fewer options that are complicated by holiday schedules and vaporettos, not to mention the sheer joy of finding random things in Venice. Suffice to say that I’ve no intention of starving, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up some Gouda or Edam when I pass back through Schiphol on Saturday. I should be able to find some rice cakes or crackers or something. I see there are two places within walkable distance I can go. But that’s for later, let’s get back to Tuesday.
It is very cold and very windy, but part of that is lack of acclimation and part of it is the hotel being kept too warm. I walk to the Albert Dock, which seems to be the
Because Paul’s concert’s tonight, I head to The Beatles Story, which is at the south end of the Albert Dock area facing the Echo Arena where the concert will be later. I had pre-booked the museum for £15.95, and the clerk was new, so someone had to show him how to handle an online transaction.
In the front, even before you get to the register, there are photos of Liverpool from World War II. We hear about London’s bombings, but because of Liverpool’s strategic importance as a port, it was extremely heavily bombed, second only to London. The Beatles, all born between 1940 and 1943, had this (not to mention the post-war rationing) as their early life.
I’ve recently read Cynthia Lennon’s book, John, and she gave some context to who John was (as well as others), but a better book for context (despite typos) is Tony Bramwell’s Magical Mystery Tours. So I go through the Beatles Story museum, and it’s got lots of great stuff: John’s first guitar, Paul’s contract for “Live and Let Die” (four pages, typed), and lots of details about The Beatles organized chronologically. I was unaware that “My Sweet Lord” remains the best-selling post-Beatles song.
Each of the four Beatles has a little seating area with film clips of that Beatle and key moments in their lives. Paul’s included clips of the “Live and Let Die” music video they did with OMG-those-are-70s pants.
One of the John clips is an interview with him where he says that he didn’t want to still be singing “Please Please Me” when he was thirty. And there he was, thirty, and he pointed out that he wasn’t singing the song any more.
That bothered me deeply on so many levels — and yet, I understood it perfectly. That’s probably what bothered me so much about it.
You see, I wanted to be a musician, but I was always afraid I’d have to do the same stuff over and over and over, and that seemed really truly dreary to me. It felt like it would be a chore, and I’m pretty sure John saw it somewhat similarly — that, and he’d moved on.
And yet, if you’re not willing to do that kind of work, doesn’t it seem like it’s maybe not the right career? That was my ultimate decision about being a musician and why it wasn’t right for me: because the essential aspects of the work didn’t seem fun to me. Yet, it was his best option, and yet he was still able to give it up for years at a time (1975 – 1980, for example).
I came out of the museum with all these kinds of things fluttering through my mind. It was 4:30 and I was hungry, so I set off to see who might take American Express nearby. The first place I came across that advertised such was Spice Lounge, an Indian restaurant.
I have had the greatest difficulty finding Indian food that works for my body. I’m celiac, I had a long-undiagnosed coconut sensitivity, and I’m likely sensitive to other spices. Of course, soy is also out, as are a whole bunch of other vegetables, so that limits my options too. Without exception, dining in Indian, Thai, and Korean restaurants has ended in days of gastrointestinal unhappiness.
I looked at their menu and found a chicken dish that was mild in flavor, dairy-based, and sounded like I could tolerate it well. I started to ask about ingredients and the waiter said it was gluten-free before I got very far into the process. Win! It was really yummy, but a bit sweet, so it’s not something I’d order regularly, but ghee, cream, spices, and chicken are generally okay for me now and again. Sadly, I can’t look up the name of the dish at the moment (stupid flash web site they have).
After dinner, I begin to head over to the arena, then realize I’d forgotten my lens adapter for my longer lens. Waffling for a few minutes, I bite the bullet then decide to walk the three blocks back, get the adapter, then come back to the Arena. In doing so, I ditch my purse, which turns out to be a wise move as they are doing a purse check and my camera is out of spec (they don’t permit cameras over 5 megapixels, but even my iPhone has more than that). I’ve got one lens stuffed in my left pocket and my camera awkwardly stuffed into my right. But, because I don’t have a purse, I’m waved through. There’s so many people on the concourse, they don’t let us in, so we’re standing in a light, very cold rain waiting. Waiting. More waiting. Finally, we get in and I get settled into my seat. Frankly, it’s further back than I’d hoped, but it’s okay.
What can I say about Paul McCartney? He’s got decades of skill of working an audience, he clearly loves performing, and if you can see him, by all means do so. He doesn’t do that many tours (and who would at age 69, really?). Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of most of his solo work, though there are pieces I love. I didn’t much care for the Wings era at all. There’s still enough in there for me to have had a great time.
Some great moments: there were songs he’d never performed before in Liverpool, including Mull of Kintyre (with a local drum and pipe corps), Wonderful Christmastime (with a local women’s choir from the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts that Paul helped found), and “The Night Before” from Help (one of my all-time favorites) and “The Word” from Rubber Soul (which was mostly written by John) in a medley with “All You Need Is Love.”
I’d never realized that “Live and Let Die” would be the big set piece. I’ve always really liked the song, even more so with pyrotechnics. It was awesome, and I hope to find a good video clip of it when I get home. (I did take video of part of the song, but camera operator error prevented me getting more of it).
Also, still thinking about Lennon’s comment, I realized that I don’t mind writing for loops after all these years, even though they’re a scale of some sort. I simply don’t do them as practice per se. It made me think differently about the music thing.
Finally, during the second encore, Paul told the audience “No” (we couldn’t stay and listen to him all night), and he ended the concert.
Unlike a lot of other concerts where there’s an extended drum solo so everyone else gets break time during the concert, Paul was on stage very nearly every moment. He gave the band a break during one song, but that was it. The concert lasted about 2:40, which is a long time to perform after a concert the night before and with no warm-up band.
I walked home and I was totally wired from all the energy. Great show, totally worth having gone all that way.

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Greetings from Paris

23 December 2011

No, I wasn’t supposed to visit France this trip, but sometimes one winds up in the wrong country by chance. Long story, which I shall tell later. I have done the CDG airport death march, and this is my third airport today. One left (one hopes).
I consider this my little Joyeux Nöel present from KLM/Air France. Well that, my fish lunch, and a voucher for a small amount off a future trip.
On the bright side, I now have chocolate as I had time to acquire some.
P.S.: Hello, Aliette! ::waves::

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Faye, RIP

22 December 2011

My mother-in-law, Faye Dalton, died Dec. 22 at the age of 87.
Here she is in 1966 with Art, Rick’s father.

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Above Us Only Sky

21 December 2011

Liverpool’s airport is John Lennon International, and it has a cool motto: “Above us only sky.” It’s not a huge airport, and KLM’s withdrawal will probably hurt a lot (though obviously if KLM were making money on the routes, they’d continue going there, so I now feel sad for my half-full plane).
Funny bit at immigration. The guy wanted to know if I was visiting friends or family or had been to Liverpool before. I answered no to each, and I could tell that this was beginning to set off alarms. Improvising, I said, “Paul McCartney’s in town.” He asks if he’s giving a concert, and I said that he was, at Echo Arena, and that’s why I was in Liverpool. At that point, he got visibly calmer.
“Well, you’ve got lots of friends here, then, you just haven’t met them yet. At the end of the day, you’ll all be singing the same songs.”
That’s the spirit!
Because I’d been more worried about other logistics and knew that the UK had working transit systems, I hadn’t even bothered to arrange transport: I was arriving around 5 pm on a weekday and trusted to the system. Worst case, I had cash for a cab.
The airport is south of the main part of Liverpool in a district called Speke, where George Harrison and Paul McCartney grew up. In fact, they often rode the # 81 bus together. George’s father was a bus driver on that line. Guess what the first bus I saw at the airport was? Yep, good old # 81. I’m not much of a trivia nut about these things, but I’d been reading up about the early Beatles history in Liverpool in preparation, so it just felt like that extra bit of welcoming context.
The right bus for me was # 500. While I was waiting for the bus, one of the staff asked where I was going, and I told him where. He gave me a tourist map, told me it was close to the Baltic Fleet pub (which it is), and that it’s the Campanile exit.
For £2.80, the bus took me and my luggage to that stop. I’m staying at the Hampton Inn, which is a couple of blocks south from the Albert Dock than the Hilton, but it’s half the money and includes free breakfast and free internet (and the Hilton does not). In fact, given the prices for breakfast and internet at UK hotels, it’s practically like getting the room for free.
The Campanile stop was a couple of blocks further south than the Hampton, so it looked like it wasn’t anywhere near the tourist sites like I was hoping, but it became obvious, once I walked toward the hotel, that I was closer than I’d thought.
Because I’m a Hilton Gold member, everything was ready when I got there, and my concert ticket had arrived and were in the hotel safe. After a moment of confusion when the clerk couldn’t find the envelope, he did and all was well. I was off to my room in no time, this time with a much more local map and a few restaurant suggestions. Sadly, the prime suggestion was Italian; a) I’m celiac so Italian’s rarely a good choice; b) I’m heading to Italy soon, so I’ll save my Italian dining for that part of the trip.
Hampton Inns tend to be fairly minimalist, but this one may be more minimalist than others. The room’s small, but not uncomfortably so, but there’s a complete dearth of drawers here. Still, there’s enough room for me, my luggage, and it has working internet. My only real complaint is that there’s very sheer sheers and venetian blinds, so there’s no way of getting a mix of privacy and the ability to see out. I like to be able to wake up to natural light and it’s just not possible in this room.
With the blinds open, my room has a view of Albert dock and the Echo Arena Big Wheel, a 60-meter Ferris wheel that can, on clear days, see to Wales. Thus far, there have been no clear days, but I’m hopeful that one of my remaining days turns out to be a good one for visibility. If so, I’ll go up on it during daylight hours.
First, though, it was time to forage for food. In this Merseyside area, there’s two main areas for dinner: the Albert Dock, which tends to have the trendier restaurants, and Liverpool One, which is a bus depot and shopping area. The first place I found where it looked like there was something reasonably affordable (given UK food prices) that I could eat was the Pump House Pub, which had the following advantages: 1) it’s a real pub! In England! 2) in a historic building; 3) food/price.
I put on my vest, coat, hat, gloves, jacket, and shawl and headed forth, and was miserable by the time I got there. It’s almost a kilometer of walking and, once you get to Albert Dock, it’s really rough stone road that’s just unlevel enough to be unkind to knees like mine. Plus, I was tired and sore from travel and wanted to go to bed, but I knew I’d be hungry at some impossible hour when I couldn’t get decent food at a price I’d be willing to pay. Besides, there’s no better way to train your body to a time zone than to feed it when it’s supposed to want to eat.
I had a burger, which was tasty but dry, and they had a gluten-free lemon flourless cake with a lemon and raspberry sauce. Topping the whole thing off was a gravy boat of double creme. Zomg, so good.
After that, I was pretty much done for that evening, so I went to bed. Sadly, I kept waking up every hour or two, my body completely confused by the time.
Coming up next: Tuesday, aka Concert Day

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A Brief Visit to Amsterdam

21 December 2011

I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but never to its airport, Schiphol, which is pronounced “skipple” (by the Dutch, anyway, and they’re the ones who matter in this context. Silly British pronunciations need not apply).
I’ve been through numerous airports on four continents, but this one’s a bit surreal.
I haven’t transited from country A to country B through country C frequently in my life, but I have done so in London (both Gatwick and Heathrow), Mumbai, and Toronto.
Just like for arrivals into a country, every other airport I know of has you land into a secure area, do a long march where you get your luggage, go through customs and possibly immigration, then drop your bags off again and go into the secure part of the airport along with everyone else waiting for connecting flights.
Not so with Amsterdam. I started following people exiting my flight only to realize they were dispersing into the airport — we might as well have stepped off a domestic flight. I had that momentary panic wondering if there was something I was missing, but then I realized we weren’t given landing cards. Not being an idiot, I did double-check with the info desk to make sure; an apparent lack of protocol isn’t an excuse for messing it up.
Once I cleared that up and asked where my hotel was located, I was able to enjoy the airport shopping experience. In addition to the usual international brands, there was a Rijksmuseum gift shop. There were also places to buy Delft wares, cheese, and tulips, as well as a cool cafe where the chairs were Delft-like teacups. In short, there was a lot of pride in what made them unique, something I see too little of in US airports. Hint: sports teams ain’t it.
I used the free airport wifi until it was time to check into my room. There are two “airside” hotels in Schiphol: the Mercure is very small, more expensive, and frequently sold out, while the Yotel is more budget, a bit larger in terms of number of rooms, but the rooms are quite small. They are rented as a minimum four-hour block, but you can book them for overnight if you like.
Airside, in this case, means on the secure side of the airport. In the US, that’d be after you go through the TSA checkpoint. So you can go to a hotel without having to schlep anything. Since my luggage was checked through to its final destination (yay, efficiency), that means that I had made sure that what I needed, including a change of underthings, was available in my carry-on.
Schiphol also has, I found out, public showers, but you need to bring your own towel and soap, so if you’re a hoopy frood, you’re in luck. I suddenly understand the large market in travel towels.
Speaking of, and completely off-topic otherwise, I also newly understand the market in another travel accessory: the travel vest with many pockets. It seems that many air carriers limit weight on carry on baggage, but not travel jackets and vests, so people put their heavier items in the vest/jacket. Lufthansa limits carry-on to 7kg. Air Tahiti (not Air Tahiti Nui, which is a different carrier) limits carry-on to 3kg.
Back to Yotel. There’s two kiosks to check in, but I don’t have my reservation number out. I’m fumbling for it, and the gentleman there says it’s faster to tell the lady at the desk, which I do. I’m given my room key and my access code.
Now, I knew these rooms are small. Twin bed, tiny corridor the length of the bed, and a combined very narrow toilet/sink/shower. They’re about 75 square feet. I worried it might feel a bit claustrophobic, but it didn’t. The bed was wider than I feared. It was firm but not uncomfortably so, and the comforter was cozy. Opposite the door was a mirror and a hangar (hanging my coat obstructed the mirror). Below that was a small ledge wide enough for iPhones and similar stuff, and there were plugs in a variety of configurations, including US. I plugged my power strip into it, then the CPAP, iPad, and iPhone into it.
The door had a window onto the corridor and a blind, which I let down.
There was no apparent light other than the weird ambient purplish light, which is pretty dim, but bright enough for what I needed.
The shower was the rainforest style, which meant that getting one’s head wet was pretty much a mandatory feature. I don’t always wash my hair in a shower, but this time I gave it a rinse as I was feeling sticky all over from the flight.
I have to say: the idea of showers at airports is an immensely civilized undertaking. Until I started reading trip reports and comments by long-haul travelers, I didn’t realize that these things existed. I should have known better; long-haul travel is a way of life for more people than you might think. Generally, showers are reserved for business class and up, which makes sense, really. They’re typically a function of an airline’s lounge, and many such lounges require a ticket in business or first class. (Or, if you’re flying on Emirates air in first class on an Airbus 380, you can have a shower on the plane itself, but that’s another story…and would not be me.)
I climbed into bed and noticed that there’s a TV at my feet, but I don’t switch it on. I set my alarm, and sleep until my appointed time (20 minutes before check-out), getting more sleep in the airport than I got on the plane. Better, because I’m behind a locked door, I don’t have to have that subconscious always watching my stuff. I actually get real sleep instead.
It’s time to shuffle off to Liverpool, so I head down to the gate, go through security screening, and sit in the appointed boarding area. A bus pulls up, and the gate agent scans all our documents, then we board the bus and get driven to a rather large field of KLM planes. This one’s a Fokker 70, which is a fairly small plane, but still large enough.
I’ll end this segment by saying: I booked this trip this way because KLM was the only airline that flew from the US to both Liverpool and Venice. Sadly, they’ve just announced that, as of March, they will no longer fly into Liverpool. I suspect a lot of people fly or take the train into Manchester instead, where there’s a two-hour express train from London. Pity the Eurostar doesn’t go to Amsterdam, but I’m sure there’s some way to get to either Paris or Brussels by train from Amsterdam that’s reasonably efficient.
Up next: Liverpool.

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Departing for Amsterdam

21 December 2011

For me, a trip always begins with the packing. I had a list, but I was still stressed I’d forget things. The list kept morphing. As I write this on the 20th, I don’t think I forgot anything critically important, but there certainly are some things that might have made the trip a bit nicer had I remembered them.
For example, I’d ordered some cashmere gloves from Gilt, but they sent the wrong gloves, so I had to send them back. I’d ordered a cashmere hat from Macy’s that matched some existing leather gloves I had, but then I couldn’t find those. Naturally, after I’d gone to Macy’s and bought the matching cashmere gloves (the last ones in that color in the store, matter of fact), I found them in the pockets of my down vest.
Liverpool’s known for being cold and rainy, so I packed (well, carried) my down vest and trench coat along with two cashmere shawls and the aforementioned gloves (both pairs) and hat. That way, I could cover a variety of warmth and wind requirements.
Beyond that, I opted for only silk shirts (because of the layering capabilities and warmth were better than cotton) and made sure I had sufficient socks and undies. For a long trip, I generally pack half as many pairs as days in the trip with a maximum of 7 and a minimum of 3.
I was completely wired all day Friday and Saturday, couldn’t sleep well at all. You know, if it weren’t for the fact that I typically start a trip sleep-deprived,I might actually enjoy the process more, but that angst never seems to fade, alas.
I was so wire I made breakfast (Brazilian cheese balls, mostly), but forgot to eat most of it.
It’s also heightened by international travel, which, even at the best of times, seems more complicated. In practical terms, more complicated mostly means packing your passport and ensuring your prescriptions are in their pharmacy-labeled bottles.
Oh, and then there’s the issue of power adapters. I knew I had at least two UK ones (which I never found), but forgot I had some for continental Europe (which I did find). I also have a universal adapter that turns out not to work in my hotel. Fortunately, I had bought another UK adapter. Combined with my dual-voltage electric power strip, I was all set.
Because I’m flying the much-loathed regional jets between European cities, I used my smaller new carry-on, hoping it would be small enough. It was just large enough for camera gear, CPAP, and vital necessities, though my 3-1-1 bag needed to go in my purse.
The CPAP always means I can’t fully pack the night before, so I set my alarm at 8-something so I can do all the stuff I need to before we leave around 11-ish for my 2:35 flight on KLM.
When I got there, the gate said that the flight time was 3:10, but I had checked and not gotten a schedule change notification. Unlike British Airways, which has split Rick and I up on long flights more than once, I got the seat I actually selected. Win!
However, I was stressed because I was getting hungry, and I knew I needed to make sure I was covered in case catering screwed things up, so I ran into one of the stores, grabbed a fistful of comestibles and some spare batteries for my headphones. When I put the batteries away, I finally found the ones I thought I’d forgotten because I hadn’t been able to find them. And yet, there they were in exactly the first place I intended to store them. Funny how brains work, isn’t it?
Shortly after take-off everyone was offered hot towel service, even those of us in E- (as regular economy is sometimes called in this day of Economy Plus seats for more money). Unlike some other carriers I’ve been on, the person ahead of me reclining didn’t jam the seat painfully into my knee, and I could still put the tray down properly.
My gluten-free dinner meal was correctly ordered, so that was great news. The fish was excellent.
Meanwhile, I still had a tangerine in my 3-1-1 bag from the other day, so I ate it early in the flight so I wouldn’t forget about it.
There were a number of movie choices, all of them subtitled in other languages, so I watched Water for Elephants. After that, I tried to sleep, maybe got 1-2 hours’ worth. I don’t normally have trouble sleeping on planes, but I have trouble getting enough sleep. Face it, coach seats aren’t designed for comfort.
After a surprising second hot towel service, breakfast arrives. More fish! This time, it’s rice cakes with salmon plus a hot tray with eggs and stuff. Yum.
Coming into Amsterdam is wonderful: there’s lots of modern windmills, some impossibly large three-bladed contraptions. Sometimes a farm will have just one, which probably supplies much of their power. Of course, the land is notably flat, but everything is neat and surprisingly green for this late in the year.

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Small Hawaii Businesses

11 December 2011

I thought I’d bring up some small Hawaii businesses I’ve run across on my two trips to the big island. The first two you can only enjoy from the island, but the rest you can enjoy almost anywhere.
First, two tour companies.

  1. Lava Ocean Adventures does ocean tours to the volcano (and other points out of Hilo). It was an awesome experience last year. (This year, lava wasn’t flowing when I was there, so I skipped it.)
  2. Vavoom Volcano Tours does the obvious volcano tours, but also can customize day tours. Lori’s great.

Food companies.

  1. Volcano Winery is Hawaii’s only full-grape wine producer. There are a couple of other companies on Maui that make pineapple wine, etc., but this company grows grapes. They do offer two blended wines, though. They are less than a mile from the entrance to Volcanoes National park, so the name is no exaggeration. I tried four of their wines, including two that aren’t on their site. I’m not a wine person, but they seemed decent. The Mac Nut Honey wine (which has a champagne yeast, iirc) is very light and delicate.
  2. Hilo Coffee Mill is one of the non-Kona coffee growing regions of Hawaii, and one of three on the big island (the other being Kona, which includes both North Kona and South Kona, and then there’s Ka’u, which is east of Kona and west of Kilauea). Because of the rainfall, it’s the mildest coffee, but it’s also significantly less expensive than the premium Kona coffees. (Example: Kona coffee at Peet’s, which is a very nice select grade, runs $50 per pound. Hilo Coffee Mills’s coffee runs $29.) I have had some truly awful roadside Kona coffee (that I needed to cut with TJ’s coffee to improve it), so I can say for sure that not all Kona coffee is created equal. In essence, Hilo coffee is shade-grown simply because of the frequent cloud cover. Because of the difficulty transporting and logistics surrounding manure and compost from other farms in a high-rainfall area, this is not an organically-grown coffee if that’s important to you, but they do not use pesticides in growing, just non-organic fertilizers. I am incredibly impressed with their pineapple coffee. Usually, flavored coffees are an excuse to use up the worst beans, but that’s not true in this case. It’s a subtler flavor than you’d expect, and a nice addition to the coffee. Really. None of their coffees are bitter, so if you like coffee but not bitter, you might give it a try. Our pound of the pineapple coffee is almost gone. Sniff.
  3. Aunt Phyllis’s Macadamia Nut Butter with Macadamia Nut Honey. Three ingredients: mac nuts, mac nut honey, and sea salt. This stuff is incredibly addictive and I am now out. I will be getting more in a few weeks. They do mail order (it’s $10 a jar plus shipping), but don’t have a web site set up. If you want contact info, let me know.
  4. Wao Kele honey (link is to a story and video about them, but they don’t have a web site) makes great honey. I do have a PO Box for them off their labels if anyone’s interested. The lehua honey is particularly nice.

Other.
My favorite discovery by far is the funny and gregarious guy who runs Filthy Farmgirl Soap at the Hilo farmer’s market. He definitely has great marketing and labels. Product names range from the extremely tacky to the merely quirky, each with its own unique label and ingredients. He advertises “no yucky stuff” and means it. Most of the soaps are vegan; a few are not (e.g., the Goat’s Milk Chai soap we picked up for my mother-in-law). I picked up some of the Filthy Geek (aka Hyper Mocha Minx) soap (chocolate and fair trade coffee) for ourselves. Unlike most of the other small businesses listed in this post, he’s got a shopping cart and takes PayPal.

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Evolving Tastes: Chickpeas

09 December 2011

As a kid, the only chickpeas I ever saw came in a can and were labeled garbanzo beans. I loathed them with a passion I still reserve only for lima beans, brussel sprouts, and (most especially) asparagus and quinoa.
I have to admit: part of it was looking down on things I perceived as Hispanic foods. I grew up in SoCal and really didn’t take to Mexican food until I was an adult, and I was (unfortunately) prejudiced as a child. Now, it’s often the cuisine of last resort for me: it’s the safest and most reliable. My friend Joyce would always want to go out to Mexican food, and I’d always want to go out to Chinese, and she called it Vitamin M and usually won these rounds. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was celiac, and the foods I ate at Mexican restaurants were better for me than what I ate at Chinese places.
When I went on a gluten-free diet in 1997, I remember going to King Arthur Flour’s shop in Norwich, Vermont. I remember standing in front of the shelf of gluten-free flours with a list. Rice flour, check. Potato starch, check. Tapioca starch, check. But what were all the other options there? Sorghum, for example, and millet, and chickpea. SInce then, amaranth and quinoa have become more popular, too.
When I looked at the nutritional content of various gluten-substitute stock flours, I was horrified. They are all carbs, almost zero protein. I wanted more protein and a better carb/protein/fat mix, so I started looking into buckwheat and chickpea, which I now add to my standard gluten-free mix.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to like chickpeas. I learned to like hummus. I even have the occasional “hummus day” where I have hummus as my lunch. The other night, I had hummus, salmon, and gluten-free crackers for dinner. I kinda overdid it, but it was yummy.
Yet still, I’m not that fond of chickpeas as whole chickpeas. They’ve become something like avocados for me: I basically don’t like them, but I like some goopy thing they’re in (guacamole for avocados) and I eat them because they’re good for me, but it’s not something I actually love. I just like it enough to keep doing it.
I still don’t like the word “garbanzo” though. It sounded intimidating and scary when I was a kid. I think it’s the Z and all the hard consonants. (Though one can’t underestimate the issue of the can. I can’t stand canned vegetables.) Chickpea sounds cute and cuddly and worthy of nurture.
Shuemais said, “And now I shall play you the song of my people … ON MY GARBANZO.”
Yes, that. It’s a musical torture device like a cross between a banjo and an accordion.
I do wonder if I would have taken to these beans earlier in life if the can had said chickpeas, though.

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