Thursday, August 28, 2008

Long overdue update

If you've been refreshing Viva Robusto for the past couple weeks in frustration, your patience is about to pay off. I have finally been able to upload the final pics from Mexico, as well as a whole bunch of delicious food pics from our return home.

Diving right in...

On our way to Mexico City from Puerto Escondido and the Oaxacan coast, we got to spend a few nights in our old apartment in Oaxaca City. And that meant another chance to enjoy tacos arabes from Salomon Tacos on Independencia. These are a little like al pastor tacos in that they only contain meat carved from a spit, but they're served in a fluffier, pita-like flour tortilla. Delicious.

Our last of many bus rides. Cause for celebration.

Mural by Diego Rivera in a government building near the centro historico.

One of the biggest "pinas" we ever saw. (Note: not actually a pina.)

More from the botanical garden at the same building.

More shirt-sightseeing coordination.

Mexico City is the biggest city we've ever visited; it's the 2nd largest in the world behind Tokyo. Look at how far ahead of us they are in walking-replacement technology!

This, unfortunately, is the last picture our sad little elph camera will ever take. It survived a drop in Florence, countless sandy beaches and took well over 10,000 photos (not even counting ones we deleted) before finally giving in. Liz was mad because this particular photo was just a poker-related in-joke.

So... that's it for photos from Mexico! It's a little anti-climactic, I know. But we did have a brand-new Canon Digital Rebel xTI waiting for us at home! We didn't know how to use it very well at first, but we could tell right away that it was capable of taking some amazing photos. Muffins at my parents' house.

We finally reunited with our dog! Poor Ash had gained about 10-15 pounds and was consequently pretty lethargic at first. But now that we've got him on Atkins and a strictly regimented workout plan he seems to have regained some of his youthful energy.

After riding scooters around in Asia and Italy, it was nice to come home to a real bike. Once I got the battery charged she ran like a dream despite sitting for over 10 months.

Speaking of dreams, American Dream pizza. This is the stuff I was obsessed with all year long. All that buildup and anticipation, and it was still even better than I could have hoped it would be. If you're ever in Portland or Corvallis, do yourself a favor and try it for yourself.

The sunsets in Portland rival the most beautiful we found anywhere else in the world.

Right away we had occasion to ditch the T-shirts and flip flops for a wedding.

We're still eating pretty dang well. The wedding was catered by Papa Hayden.

We may have left Mexico behind, but a little bit of the culture will remain with us always.

Too bad we didn't have this camera during our trip. Low-light photography is no longer impossible!

Just a heads-up: About 99% of the rest of our pics are of food. So if you don't care about that, check back in a few days for a final Viva Robusto wrap-up - Viva Robusto by the numbers.

After the wedding, we headed up to Crippen Creek to see Liz's family and continue indulging in amazing food. I'm usually not much for beets, but these were home grown and actually pretty tasty.

Don putting the final touches on dinner.

Which was homemade biscuits....

... fried chicken, mashed potatoes and beets.

A few of the veggies from the Speranzas' hoop house. First, basil.

Some kind of pepper.


And baby bok choy.

Okay, now the rest of the pics are really all just food. There's always a pile of fresh-baked focaccia around at Crippen Creek.

Kitty's award-winning sticky buns.

Did you know that you can make dulce de leche by boiling a can of sweet and condensed milk? Me either. Google it before you try anything; according to Don, explosions can be an unwanted side-effect if this isn't cooked properly. Anyway, this went into homemade dulce de leche ice cream.

Homemade cinnamon roll and scrambled eggs from their own hens. Doesn't get much better than that for breakfast. I take that back. It will be slightly better when their pigs are mature and we can have home-raised bacon too.

I made up an extra batch of dough so we decided to try focacetta as an appetizer. According to my grandmother, you just make your regular focaccia dough, cut it into small pieces and roll it flat. Let the dough sit for about 10 minutes, then deep-fry it in oil. That's it. The results are dozens of fluffy, airy dough pockets that you can rip in half and stuff with prosciutto, salami and/or cheese. Or for a dessert, you can dip them in a cinnamon/sugar mix.

Steak with homemade chimichurri sauce. Don was paying attention to the Argentina portion of our blog and wanted to try his hand at some chimichurri. I think this was the best one I had.

As if that weren't enough, we also had risotto that night. Incredible.

From one feast to another... back in Portland, our friend Aruna invited us to a dinner party where she would be preparing Indian food. She's a great cook; how could we say no?

Her homemade samosas next to an assortment of spices.

This is a store-bought sauce but it looked pretty and tasted even better, so what the hell?

Everything else was from scratch, including saffron rice, a couple curries and several other excellent dishes that I feel ashamed to not know by name.

Ok, at this point we'd been home from Mexico for a couple weeks and I was craving Mexican food again. Here's a quick black bean, rice, chicken and homemade salsa dinner I threw together.

Last but not least, one of the prettiest pizzas I've ever made. This will be important evidence when my book comes out because I rag pretty hard on certain countries for not being able to produce a decent pizza. I should at least know how to make one myself if I'm going to criticize others.

Here's how it turned out. Bellissima.

That's it for now! I have one more travel-related post to make, and then I think I'll just keep on updating this as a food blog. I'll also continue to post news about the book here, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We made it

We've been back in the states for a week and a half now, but since we don't really have a "home," it kind of still feels like we're traveling. We spent the first week or so with my parents, then we moved into a friend's condo -- which will be our home base for a while -- and then we promptly drove up to Crippen Creek for an extended weekend. So we're still on the same kind of pace we kept up during our trip... a new bed every three days or so.

And, surprise, we're still having problems with Picasa and the internet. I just spent half an hour selecting photos from our new camera only to discover that Picasa somehow froze while I was trying to upload them, erasing all my work. Argh.

When the rage passes, I will give it another shot.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hasta Luego, Mexico

I'm trying to think of a way to begin this post that isn't melodramatic, but failing miserably. So I guess I'll just go with this:

If then my fortunes can delight my friend,
A story fruitful of events, attend:
Another's sorrow may thy ear enjoy,
And wine the lengthened intervals employ.
Long nights the now declining year bestows,
A part we consecrate to soft repose,
A part in pleasing talk we entertain;
For too much rest itself becomes a pain.
Let those, whom sleep invites, the call obey,
Their cares resuming with the dawning days
Here let us feast, and to the feast be joined
Discourse, the sweetest banquet of the mind;
Review the series of our lives, and taste
The melancholy joy of evil past:
For he who much has suffered, much will know;
And pleased remembrance builds delight on woe.

That's from the Odyssey, an epic travel story to be sure, but one which clearly pales in comparison to the adventures had by yours truly at Viva Robusto.

Why all the drama? In case you didn't already know, tomorrow is our last day in Mexico City. After 10 long months of travel, we're finally flying back home to Portland, Oregon.

It's been wonderful and horrible, epic and boring, blah blah blah. I can't do any justice to our experience in this forum. All I can do is post some more pictures and make a few comments. Meanwhile I'm organizing and condensing my thoughts into a taut, hilarious 80,000 words that will hopefully become a book.

With both our friends (Jenny and Karyn) arriving in Oaxaca, we spent the last few days there in quiet reflection for our upcoming beach time.

After a particularly horrific night bus ride (that was supposed to be the less curvy of the two available routes), we arrived in San Augustinillo.

We didn't have a reservation, but by pure luck we managed to get two affordable rooms in a very nice beachfront location.

Liz was impressed by our color coordination.

Although the surf was pretty rough, it was a mellow, picturesque beach.

The 2nd best pizza we've found in Mexico, which, as a country, has the 2nd best pizza in the world. That we've found so far.

Our game of frisbee was cut short when I jumped onto some kind of rock or sharp piece of wood with my bare foot. The cut was surprisingly small, but my toe now has a sizeable lump on one side. I think I may have broken it or caused some kind of bone spur.

Liz and the girls took a boat tour out in the ocean early one morning to see dolphins, turtles and manta rays. It sounded cool, but I knew there would be puking involved so I decided to sleep in. I won't say who did and who didn't, but two of the three of them puked. On the plus side, they did get to see turtles having sex.

And a downed drug plane that for whatever reason has been left untouched for years. That's so "Lost."

Another day we headed to a calmer beach so Jenny and Karyn could surf and boogie board.

This is why I retired from such activities.

Afterward we made our way up to a beachside restaurant for ceviche and cacahuates (peanuts) with fresh lime and chili. So good, and so messy.

Another beachside dinner.

Another boat tour, this time to check out the turtle reserve in the neighboring town of Mazunte.

They also had a small pile of baby crocodiles.

Coconut meat with lime, salt and chili. I wasn't around for this snack but I am told it was excellent.

Next stop: Puerto Escondido and the "Mexican Pipeline," a popular surfing spot for more than half a century.

You can't swim there without a board, so we made sure to get a spot with a pool.

The dangerous waters.

Relaxing at the beach is actually pretty hard work. Sometimes you gotta take five.

Our last evening before Jenny and Karyn went their separate ways.

Puerto was kind of touristy, and the beach wasn't particularly nice for sitting on, but we did get some killer sunsets.

After Jenny and Karyn moved on, we spent another day or so in Puerto before heading out to our last beach destination. I'm not sure if I should name the beach we visited here on the internet or keep it a secret. It wasn't my favorite beach in the world, but apparently it's paradise for surfers. Kind of an unknown spot with great waves... a place where you can get two long sessions in every day without fighting any crowds for position in the water.

We enjoyed our time there, but it was a little bit rustic for my taste. We stayed in a sand-floor bungalow right on the beach and I didn't shower for 6 days.

Liz actually slept in a hammock right on the beach, which has been a dream of hers for a while. Every morning at dawn she woke up just long enough to take a photo of the sunrise.

At least there were several cute puppies around during the day to keep us occupied while most people were out surfing.

The food was a little bit of a weak point, unfortunately. It's pretty much all seafood, which sounds great, until you consider having it three times a day for a week. The "restaurant" at our cabanas was pretty reasonable and served decent pescado and filete; I just got tired of it after a few days.

The one time I sought out and found a taco stand that served beef ended in unspeakable tragedy, but I won't elaborate on that now. Instead, here's a picture of the tangy charred fish al ajo (with garlic) that we ate most of the time.

One of the wandering vendors, selling everything from toys to tamales.

If you want a beach to yourself, this is the spot to visit.

My finest hour. Nursing a Fresca the morning after drinking too much of the local mezcal.

Liz's bed.

One of the girls that "worked" at our cabana, pictured with one of the puppies.

Their baby, eating filthy sand.

Back in Puerto, one last magnificent sunset before our bus ride back to Oaxaca.

That's it for photos. We have a handful more that are still on the camera, but our camera finally died completely, so we haven't been able to take many in Mexico City.

Our next post will be made from within the borders of the United States! Until then...