Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorites, 2010 (Part 4, Friends)

What’s even better than getting to eat really well and see amazing sights? Getting to share all of that with your friends and family, of course. I was lucky enough to do just that this year …

Margery and I have traveled together twice—first to Israel in September 2009 and most recently to the Big Island, Maui and Oahu in March 2010. During our Hawaii trip I got to know Margery so much better and together we conquered a number of firsts, including our very first helicopter ride over the volcanoes on the Big Island. That, and also having to endure my crazy rental car driving skills on the Big Island—my apologies, Margery!

This year was also the second time that I got to travel with Daniel, one of my favorite PR reps ever. This year, he and Mariela (left) hosted me and a few other journalists in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, first in Cozumel and then in Playa del Carmen. Together, we shared many a margarita, rogue ocean waves and one very scary encounter with a wayward clown. This shot was taken right before we took a snorkeling excursion just off the coast of Cozumel.

Leslie is one of my dearest friends—we’ve known each other since high school. So, when I had an opportunity to cash in some vacation time and hoof it over to New York to see her, I didn’t let it pass me by.

Reuniting with my cousin Christina and her boyfriend Coco was one of the things I most looked forward to during my recent trip to Southeast Asia. Both of them, experienced world travelers that they are, are endlessly entertaining, funny, thoughtful and insightful. I especially loved this shot of the two of them, posing for a very regal portrait at Villa Sentosa in Melaka, Malaysia.

And finally, although I only traveled about 20 or so miles for this trip to the L.A. Times Food & Wine Festival, it’s a trip I’ll always remember for the company I kept with three of my closest friends—Justina, Tricia and Jennifer. I hope I’ll get to travel with them at a slightly further distance in 2011.

And while it’s been wonderful looking back on my travels this past year, I’m ready to start looking ahead to the next and I hope you’ll consider doing the same. So, here’s to a new year filled with unforgettable experiences no matter how near or far you go.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Favorites, 2010 (Part 3, Eats)

I already feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do two of the things I love most for a living: writing and traveling. And by far, the best added bonus of that would be eating—really good eating.

This year was no exception when it came to memorable meals that satisfied my insatiable hunger for new tastes or, in some cases, a yearning for the familiar. While narrowing down my list of favorite eats from 2010, I remembered all of those flavors and, even better, the friends—both and newfound and old—that I shared them with.

While traditional notions of afternoon tea often involve the following adjectives—stuffy, staid and proper—the two such afternoon teas that I had this past year were anything but.

The first took place at The Moana Surfrider in Waikiki. Afternoon tea has become a long-standing tradition at this historic hotel, which first opened in 1901. While I was there, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to savor its famous afternoon tea and I’m so glad I did. My favorite part? Topping off the freshly baked raisin scone with Devonshire clotted cream and silky lemon curd. And for dessert? A soothing scoop of lime-accented green tea sorbet.

The other afternoon tea that I had was truly gluttonous—but so worth it. After a winding stroll through Melaka, Malaysia, my cousin, her boyfriend and I paid a quick visit to the Majestic Malacca hotel, a boutique property that my cousin had previously reviewed for TravelAge West. While the hotel itself was every bit as beautiful as she’d described, I was even more intrigued by its afternoon tea menu. So, of course, we decided to give into our hunger pangs. What I loved most about this afternoon tea was its nod to both Eastern and Western traditions, from the crisp spring rolls to the buttery, flaky-crusted chicken-pot pies.

Wherever your travels may take you, you should make it a point to visit the local farmers’ market. And, if you’re on Oahu, you should definitely stop by the Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Favorite eats included kimchee sausage (on a stick, no less, for easy portability), fried green tomatoes and kalua pork sliders. Just be sure to come hungry.

I’ll admit: I’m not much of a biscotti fan. I usually enjoy my coffee completely unadulterated—black, or topped off with just a little bit of steamed soy milk at the very most. However, the homemade, dark-chocolate dipped biscotti that I had during a stop at the Waialua Estate headquarters on the North Shore of Oahu had me seriously rethinking that assessment.

Who doesn’t love eating a tamale, especially in the morning? My first breakfast during my trip to Costa Rica this May involved this satisfying tamale which, on the outside, seemed totally unassuming. But, once opened, it revealed slightly sweet roasted plantains, masa (corn), a fried egg and gallo pinto (rice and beans). With a side of Salsa Lizano and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, what could be better?

Visiting a farm gives you a greater appreciation for what you consume. After visiting a dairy farm just south of San Gerardo de Dota in Costa Rica, I definitely had a much greater appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into making cheese, especially when it’s as tasty as the ones I sampled there.

This giant tostada-like shell, floating on a bed of guacamole, contained some of the most delicious ceviche I’ve had in a really long time.

If I had to pick my single most-favorite meal from Costa Rica it would be this: chorreadas (corn pancakes) topped with a dollop of sweetened sour cream and gallos (tacos) filled with a hearty helping of fried potatoes.

My nominee for best use of bacon: Nickel Diner’s Maple Bacon Donut.

My nominee for best use of avocados: the stuffed avocado salad, also from Nickel Diner.

When I wasn’t sightseeing in Singapore, I was usually eating, and eating really well, as demonstrated by some of my previous blog posts. One of my favorite meals involved Singaporean chili crab and pepper crab.

Nonya, or Peranakan-style cuisine was also a highlight, from delicate kueh pie tee and spicy otak-otak to saucy giant prawns and savory beef rendang.

Speaking of beef rendang … here’s a snapshot of my cousin, a true beef rendang connoisseur, enjoying her first Burger King beef rendang burger. She opted for the double.

The Indonesian-style beef rendang at Rumah Makan Minang was also delicious—and filling.

A standard-bearer for all future hotel welcome gifts, from the Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore: I especially loved the kueh lapis (nine-layer cake), made with alternating layers of butter, eggs and sugar.

My nominee for best way to enjoy a beer: from the luxury of a rooftop infinity pool.

My nominee for best lamb chops ever: the ones I had at Pearl River Palace at the Suntec Singapore Convention Centre, glazed with a wine reduction sauce.

My nominee for best use of chicken: chicken rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore.

If I could alternate between eating kaya toast and roti canai/prata, or maybe even xialongbao, for breakfast every day, I’d be a really happy—and most likely overweight—travel writer.

My nominee for best noodle dish this year: the char kway teow from Tang Fong food court in Melaka.

Lots of laksa: Nonya-style laksa from Donald & Lily’s in Melaka and asam-style laksa from the Chinatown Night Market in Melaka.

And last, but not least, the roast duck rice from Mei Wua, also in Melaka, made an ideal last dinner during my stay.

I can only hope for more amazing meals in the year to come. Until then, it might be time for me to hit the gym, just to prepare.

Next up, my favorite photos with friends …

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Favorites, 2010 (Part 2, Scenes)

The more I pored over my photos from 2010, the more I realized that my most memorable scene photos often involve the following: animals (especially dogs), clothing and motor vehicles, strangely enough. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites form the past year …

"B19" is the name of the adorably cute—and lazy—Hawaiian monk seal that we encountered during a kayaking and snorkeling adventure on Hawaii’s Big Island, near the Captain Cook Monument.

I love the lava-rock beaches that you find on the Big Island. They might not be ideal for sunbathing but they’re certainly beautiful to admire.

Same goes for this fragrant gardenia bloom that I found on the Big Island.

Sunset at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

Just-caught mahimahi that I spotted during a stroll in Lahaina, Maui

Hanging ukuleles, also in Lahaina

Two of many motorbikes I’d photograph this year, first in Lahaina …

… Then in Melaka, Malaysia. I couldn’t get over the brightly colored walls.

The Royal Hawaiian is just one of those hotels that makes you feel instantly transported to another time and era. I especially loved this glossy hallway.

Jasmine from the North Shore Cattle Co.—so lovable

More scenic shots from the North Shore Cattle Co. I loved how red the dirt was.

Hanging work clothes from Twin Bridge Farms on Oahu’s North Shore

A chic dress from one of the numerous boutiques that line Haji Lane in Singapore.

Birds swooped right above our heads during a visit to the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, Calif.

This old-school typewriter reminded me of the one that my mom used to teach me how to type.

Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge & Gallery in Costa Rica was simply stunning for a lodge in the middle of the rainforest. Can you believe this is the gallery/lobby area?

During an early (very early) morning quetzal-spotting excursion, a group of horses unexpectedly ran past us on the same dirt road that we were standing on.

Also in Costa Rica, I got to see hummingbirds up close at Trogon Lodge …

… As well as meet the lodge’s resident canine.

Arenal Volcano was simply breathtaking to see, both at night …

… And in the morning.

The cat rescue center at The Springs Resort in Costa Rica was home to some ferocious …

… And playful cats.

The High Line in New York City’s Meatpacking District was a highlight.

I loved nothing more than to kick off my flip flops and lounge in my personal hammock during a press trip to Cozumel in Mexico.

Likewise, this cat felt the same way, albeit in the comfort of a wooden bench, along Singapore’s Haji Lane.

During a nighttime bum boat ride along the Singapore River, I snapped this shot of the brand-new Marina Bay Sands. Sort of resembles a spaceship, no?

Later, during my stay at the Marina Bay Sands, I took in its amazing Sands SkyPark with a view of the city.

No matter where I go, I always find that Chinatown is filled with colorful scenes, from crimson-red lanterns …

… to tchotchkes.

It was actually difficult to spot graffiti in Singapore (big surprise, huh?) so I loved finding this one in an alleyway near Haji Lane.

Singapore’s Boat Quay at night

I loved that this chandelier, from the lobby of Singapore’s Wanderlust hotel, was made with actual vintage Campari bottles.

Melaka is particularly known for its outlandish buggies—and their equally eccentric styles. This one was outfitted with Barbie dolls.

Melaka is also home to rundown, but still standing, fortresses, like this one.

And where else but at Changi International Airport can you waste time in the airport’s very own butterfly garden?

Next up, favorite foods from 2010 …