Saturday, June 29, 2013

Into the Hills: The Adirondacks

Instead of wandering all over the world the world we could be equally happy breathing in the sights and air of the Adirondacks – roadways with views of lakes, streams, mountains, and valleys; small towns each with its own character; a system of hiking trails - more than enough to cover in a lifetime. We ended our US trip with a family gathering at Inlet, New York – less than 3 hours from Albany and Rochester. Originally planned as a weekend to visit and explore we also celebrated a birthday and a wedding.

Inlet's year round population is 390 with a nearly equal number of cottages, b & bs, other accommodations. We arrived in early June - black fly season. Tourist season starts in July. The biggest challenge was finding a wedding cake. A birthday pie was on its way. The Inlet bakery was only open on weekends and a cake would have to be pre-ordered. We drove to the next town, Old Forge (population 756) - no bakery, but a grocery store where we could buy a frozen cake or cake mix. We chose the later.We also spent an hour in Old Forge Hardware; we bought a reciprocating saw (birthday gift) and spent an inordinate amount of time looking at kitchen gadgets. If you ever feel a need to make an egg square check out their on-line offerings. And on a rainy day, or any day, the hardware store is worth a visit.

At Arrowhead Park in downtown Inlet  we found a playground designed for very young children.

Arrowhead Park - "First Born" 
In Inlet as elsewhere in the Adirondacks we can always find a hiking trail - with so many trails we were almost guaranteed to be the only one on the trail  We chose the trail to Cascade Lake and walked along for about an hour until the rain clouds and mosquitoes motivated us to turn around.

The Adirondacks Museum, located on the site of former hotel, has exhibits and explanations that easily interest adults and children. Since I was reading Catherine the Great I was captivated by the sleighs and descriptions of getting around over snowy or thawing roads.

Snow roller - compresses the snow instead of removing it
The information on logging showed a time when human labor was primary. Of course, humans are innovative especially when it makes their work easier. Here is a treadmill that was powered by goats, sheep and large dogs.

Animal powered treadmill

The recreated hotel reception and rooms weren't that different from pleasant budget hotels that we have stayed in South and Southeast Asia. Although we haven't seen one with a coal burning stove or an oil lamp.


The big even was the wedding, Part 1.. Brendan and Frank got a wedding license in Dunkirk, New York during Memorial Day weekend. Finding a justice of the peace in the Adirondacks wasn't as easy as we expected. In Inlet and other small towns their hours are Tuesday evening. So Brendan did on-line searching to find some one authorized to perform a civil ceremony. She drove up from Syracuse and we all gathered in the town house living room. Part II is  the church wedding to be held in Indianapolis in October.

Doing the paperwork - making the marriage legal
Saying their vows

Birthday boy contemplating birthday pie

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Disappearing KL: The haze

Remember this picture?

It was taken March 4. .

Here is the same view on June 24.

The buildings and hills in the background have disappeared. It is the annual haze. Who is at fault and what can be done is a matter of cross-national politics, debate and blaming. Winds carry smoke and debris from fires in Indonesia (and some open air burning in Malaysia). The Indonesian fires are partially caused by the traditional slash-and-burn agriculture. Note that, after the land is burned farmers can sell it  for development as an oil palm plantation. Malaysian corporations that own plantations, claim say the burning isn't happening on their land. Rumors suggest this isn't totally true, for example, subcontractors may set fires to clear the land quickly.

On Monday we rec'd the 2nd notice from the US Embassy. Parts of it are below

According to the Malaysian Department of Environment, the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur and nearby state of Negeri Sembilan are suffering from air pollutants (haze) at "unhealthy" levels. The state of Melaka and parts of the state of Johor are suffering from haze at "hazardous" levels. Updated information on air quality levels in Malaysia may be obtained from the Malaysian Department of Environment's website (in English) at: Note, the levels reflect the average of readings over the previous 24 hours.
The air quality in Malaysia is characterized according to the Air Pollutant Index (API), which measures many of the same pollutants in the Pollution Standard Index (PSI) developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Mitigation of the Negative Effects of Air Pollution
The best protection against exposure to outdoor pollutants is to remain indoors as much as possible, with doors and windows closed and air conditioning on, and to refrain from strenuous activity when outdoors. Respirators, such as N95s and other filtering face piece respirators, may provide additional protection. Paper masks or surgical masks provide little protection.

So what has been some reactions other than calls for regional meetings to come up with a long run solution? In Malaysia, the government has prohibited open air burning in affected areas (except for cremations, barbecues, religious ceremonies). Government agencies and other organizations have been making face masks widely available. Alas, they may not be the effective N95s, which are in short supply. Groupon for Singapore listed specials on N95 masks. Groupon for Malaysia listed promotions to go to the Cameron Highlands, which are cooler and haze free. Recommendations to stay hydrated motivated at least one beverage company to advertise the benefits of its sports drink. The potential to turn risks into opportunities seem endless.

Today is Tuesday. A bit better - we haven't turned on the ac, but we have kept windows and doors closed. The major question will be once the crisis blows over we will wait until next year for the issue to come up again and calls for action to be repeated.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Into the Hills: Shenandoah National Park

To get from DC and Gettysburg to Roanoke we took Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. At the entrance to Skyline Drive, the only public road through the park, we paid $15 for a 7 day pass. Later we learned about the America Beautiful Senior Pass, a $10  lifetime pass for citizens and permanent residents age 62 or older; it is good for all national parks. We will buy one our next trip to the US. Our drive was pleasant, but the rain clouds obscured the views.
The speed limit on the drive is 35 miles per hour, so we constantly under estimated the time to get from place to place. The low speed limit is protect cars and wildlife from each other. We knew about car-deer collisions; in Shenandoah there are bear- motorcycle collisions.

Wide vistas & small flowers
We stayed at Skyline Lodge; it was more isolating than we anticipated - no wifi and no cell service. Anyone who expected to hear from us didn't. We ate at the lodge restaurant. We had a tomato and goat cheese soup. We ordered a cup, which was hard to finish, because it was unbelievably rich. We also shared plate of cheese, pears, and flatbread - a good choice. As we eyed other diners plates, we reminded ourselves that in US restaurants we should order carefully - otherwise we risk being stuffed or wasting food. The highlight of the lodge was the fresh air - cool and crisp.

We went to a  ranger talk on the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC)  a Roosevelt New Deal program for unemployed, single young men. (The men earned $1 a day - $30 of which $25 was sent to their families). In Shenandoah the CCC did the bulk of the physical work involved in building the park. The ranger gave a chatty, informal and informative presentation. I was surprised that not one picture included African Americans. When I asked about African Americans in the CCC I was told that the original units were integrated, but starting in 1935 the CCC camps were segregated. I was disappointed that this was not included in the presentation, and puzzled that Native Americans (who were probably not a major presence in Shenandoah) were mentioned. After the presentation we drove back to the lodge carefully to avoid any deer (gathered at the side of the road) that might stray into the road.

Ranger Joe Bruce with a picture of picnickers dressed in  their Sunday best 
In the morning as we headed out we stopped to take a ranger led hike to Black Rock Summit. We had an intimate hike, the two of us and Ranger Joe Bruce. As I read blogs about the hike I realized that I was meant to be a social scientist not a natural scientist. Ranger Bruce was friendly and informative. What I remember most was information about him. He is a seasonal employee - last winter he worked in the Everglades and then in early May he started work in Shenandoah. I asked about on-the-job training, b/c one of our guides in India was given courses on India's flora and fauna. Apparently in the US rangers rely on their own knowledge and curiosity with some input from colleagues.

See the bare spots on the mountain slopes? If we were at those spots we would be standing on a rock formation similar to that in the picture's foreground.

After leaving the park we went to Roanoke to visit friends. We made an excursion to the Butterfly Garden in the Western Virginia Science Museum. It was a peculiar and disappointing experience. The entry fee was $11 (senior discount - $9 for the museum and $2 for the butterfly garden). We were given a voucher for a return visit - not much use when we were en route to our home in KL. After we paid our admission we were given a sticker and a ticket. We entered an enclosed area an official checked our ticket and explained the rules. Their major worry, a legitimate one, was that butterflies would hitchhike their way to freedom on a visitor. With just four in the exhibit of us the process seemed officious and humorless. The garden had many beautiful tropical plants, none were identified. We were told two species of butterflies were there, but there were no signs to tell which was which or any information about butterflies. There was a young man in a corner reading; he made no attempt to interact with us or tell us about the exhibit. When we left he took our tickets and eyeballed us to make sure that we weren't liberating butterflies. The precautions were necessary, but they didn't make us feel like welcome guests.

Find the butterfly - a bit like Where's Waldo

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Taste of Home at Tamarind

Returning to the US we reconnected with foods we had missed. Of course, we didn't realize we missed them until we bit into a bagel with cream cheese, spread hummus on crackers, and enjoyed the refreshing taste of cottage cheese. We can get bagels, cream cheese, hummus, and cottage cheese in KL, but the bagels aren't that good and everything else i expensive. After 6 weeks in the US we were craving the spicy tastes of Malaysia.

We have a few favorite Indian restaurants in Manhattan, but after reviewing their lunch menus we decided that Tamarind's Executive Lunch was an amazing bargain: appetizer; two entries accompanied by naan,vegetables,and rice; dessert. Tamarind has two locations. They serve similar, but not identical menus or executive lunches.

From the first bite we were ecstatic. After a few bites of the Goan Avocado Salad we carefully dissected the salad to figure out what was in it. (I have found some recipes on the web, so we may give one of them a try this week.) Not only were the plates beautifully composed, but we were able to enjoy the unique flavors of each dish. Here is what we ate except for dessert.
Chicken Carfial

Avocado Salad

Goan Masala Gosht

Fish Temperada

Why risk disappointment? We decided that we would eat the Executive Lunch at the Tamarind in Tribeca the next day

Different menu and one which made sharing choices easier. We each chose an appetizer, a desert, and all the entrees except the lamb. Once again the food delighted, although it was not possible to replicate our amazement and pleasure of the day before.
Tofu - not pretty, but tasty

Prawn & Potato Croquettes

Five days later we returned for dinner. The week before we had an inedible Chinese meal in Long Island City and a mediocre Pan-Asian meals.So why risk a bad meal when we could be assured an excellent meal at Tamarind. Our challenge was match our order with our appetite. I wished that we were ravenous, but we weren't. Doug had the vegetarian thali. If it hadn't seemed guache we would have shared it. Every component was exceptional - the dal was a dal we serve at Christmas, named "killer dal" because of the amount of ghee. I had lemon rice - I was hoping for something more pungent - and a dish consisting of green plantain, yam, radish, white pumpkin, carrots and okra with buttermilk, mustard seeds and curry leaves It was excellent, but too much for one person. Bottom line the food was good and the portions were more than ample. Not sure how we will tackle the menu the next time but it will be fun trying.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Robotic Ice Creme Sunday

Walking through a mall in Singapore several months ago, I heard a very annoying jingle playing. Looking around, I found it was coming from a Robotic Ice Cream Sunday distribution machine.  Not only did the music draw me in, but the actions of the robot was fascinating.  A disclosure is necessary here.  I am uniquely drawn to fair and street vendors selling cheap Japanese knives.  One of my prized possessions is a Ginzo serrated blade knife which will saw through frozen blocks of spinach, bread, and still slice a tomato or cut strips of paper.

I had to purchase an Ice Cream Sunday (all five layers).  I invited a small child to chose the topping for me, but only had one choice for the frozen desert flavors.  All in all it was fun to watch, but the eating enjoyment lacked flavor and the texture of good soft ice cream.

The Pitch

The following is a demo from the distributors web site.

Enjoy watching!!!