¡Vivan las Vacaciones! Parte Dos

Mexico City

Feeling refreshed and unstressed after those two weeks in PV, we steeled our nerves and got on a plane to Mexico City for our very first visit there. Sarah had meticulously researched the area and decided on Coyoacán as our first dip into the most populous city in North America. She found a great place for us to stay five nights in Casa Tamayo in the heart of the borough.

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Our first night was basically just the arrival; we were exhausted by the airport and taxi activity (even though we started the day unstressed and refreshed!). Casa Tamayo recommended taking a taxi from the airport, which we did, but we waited in line over an hour for our turn to get a ride. The drive itself was less than half an hour with kind of dense traffic, but at least it kept moving. We had the opposite of that on some bus routes back towards our home base from the anthropology museum…an hour bus ride (due to traffic) for something that would have been 15 minutes at most under moving traffic conditions.

Mexico City is a big place. This is not a surprise. We tried various modes of transportation:

  1. Walking
  2. Uber
  3. Taxi
  4. MetroBus
  5. Subway

They each have their benefits and disadvantages.

  1. Walking is cheap and good for you…unless you wipe out on cobblestones, broken sidewalk, or (plenty of!) other hazards.
  2. Uber is variable in price, but not fast.
  3. We were warned by our hotel not to hail cabs from the street.
  4. The bus network is extensive and cost-effective, but you need to be prepared for traffic jams.
  5. The subway is fast (and frequent!), but you may have quite a walk to the station of your choice, and it is densely-packed with everyone who has learned lessons 1-4 already.

I am so glad we never even considered renting a car.

Coyoacán

There were plenty of places to get breakfast, have a snack, get dinner, go out for ice cream, etc. all within a few hundred meters of our hotel. A guy we “met” online about 20 years ago who lives in Mexico City came to Coyoacán for an afternoon with much of his family to meet us in person for the first time. And they were delightful people. We’re looking forward to visiting them again on a future trip — either to Mexico City again, or maybe to one of their other home bases, like San Miguel de Allende.

Museums

Anthropology Museum

You can spend so much time there. We went on Christmas Eve, and it was pretty much deserted. We reached our museum limit for the day and thought “oh great, let’s just do this again in a couple days to get the rest of the way through it.” When we came back on the Tuesday after Christmas, it was mobbed. The line to get in was several blocks long. But at least it moved rather quickly; I think our total wait in line was less than 45 minutes.

Also, lunch in the restaurant there on Christmas Eve was excellent.

Mucho Chocolate Museum

This was a little harder to find, but worth a visit none the less. It’s a small museum covering the historical and cultural influence of chocolate around the world, with a particular focus on early 20th century European consumption. Nothing in the gift shop really appealed to us, so we sat down outside for a delicious Sacher-like torte and cup of hot chocolate.

The Trip Back

Around the time we departed for Newark on the way to Puerto Vallarta, Europe was just waking up to the Omicron variant threat. While we were in Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City, reports came flooding in of flight cancellations to, from and in the USA. I guess were lucky in that our route back to Germany didn’t take us through the USA. We were as vaccinated as possible. We had all the documentation for that in electronic and old-school paper (signed in ink by pharmacists!) form. Stepping off the plane in Munich, there were border patrol agents waiting for us at the gate, who took a preliminary glance at our residence permits and then waved us through (and that didn’t excuse us from the normal border patrol and passport check at all). We were holding our breath the whole time that we wouldn’t get stranded somewhere, and … we didn’t. But we’re still pretty sure it’s going to be a while before undertake so much travel in the space of a few months again.

¡Vivan las Vacaciones! Parte Uno

After Corona largely reined our intercontinental travel plans over most of the last two years, we had kind of a glut there at the end of the 2021. We spent some time in November with Sarah’s family in KCMO (she longer than I, due to work BS), and then with my parents in Puerto Vallarta and some (kinda) new friends in Mexico City in December. So yeah, two trips to North America inside of two months. Under pandemic conditions. Couple of brain swabs. Plenty of document collection. Lots of umpteen-hour FFP2 mask sessions. It all went smoothly — it was just at the beginning of the Great Omicron Flight Cancellation Crisis of 2021-22.

Our theater of operations (neglecting the overnight stay in Newark on the way down to Puerto Vallarta, because hey, it’s just Newark):

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Puerto Vallarta

Corona precautions kind of limited us in our activities in Puerto Vallarta; we got a lot of much-needed poolside relaxation in. Nevertheless, we did try a few new things, and they were all great:

  • Sheraton Buganvilias Sunday Brunch (insider tip: the Mariachis arrive around 11; reserve your table for shortly beforehand)
  • Chartered day trip to San Blas, including mangrove wildlife observation (birds and crocodiles) and a trip up to the old colonial outpost
  • “Rhythms of the Night” show across the Bahía de Banderas from us

And, we returned to a few of our favorite activities:

  • shopping for neat stuff (especially glassware) at Mundo de Cristal
  • taco lunch at El Campanario
  • hitting various markets downtown after a stroll along the Malecón

San Blas Day Trip

The Usual Holiday Snaps

Next up: Parte Dos

PSA: Beware Raj Mahal in Regensburg

TL;DR: I am not impressed with Raj Mahal and it’s going to be a long time before I try ordering from them again. They smell good on the street, but their customer service stinks.

I placed a carry-out order for dinner through their website today around 14:00. It was slick; I (generally) like a restaurant that has ordering processing built into their own website instead of farming it out to an order processor and delivery service.

I ordered a couple main dishes, paid through PayPal (another plus) and made a note of the pick-up time.

4.5 hours later, I showed up, parked my bike, and walked in, cooler in tow, enjoying the smells from the street on my way in. The young man behind the counter seemed flabbergasted. “But we are closed the WHOLE DAY! You can order for another day, OK?”

“No, it’s NOT OK!” I responded. “I have a confirmation email from your website, and a confirmation of payment through PayPal and now you are telling me you don’t have the food I ordered. Why do you permit orders to come in on days you are not in business?” He said it’s automatic through the website and they have no power over that.

He called someone to talk to me in German (my skillz are stronger than his in that language, apparently) and we went another couple of rounds on the clerk’s phone. When I told him I was angry that his company took my money and didn’t honor the transaction, he told me to get my money back through PayPal. When I asked what I should do with my dinner plans, he said I could do whatever I want.

After I cancelled the payment through PayPal, this blogpost is what I want to do.

Part 2 of the LONG AWAITED TRAVEL

Perhaps you saw our exuberance on the first of this two-parter.

After finishing up Mittagessen in…um…Essen1, we got back in the car and drove for like seven hours across most of the country to Berlin. We’ve visited Berlin many times, but we always try to do a mix of new and old stuff. Here are the bullet points:

And, then on our way home to Regensburg, A BONUS VISIT with three Leipziger pals!

  1. More delicious Indian food (and OMG, they were not kidding about the spiciness levels on that Paneer Jalfrezi) at https://www.safran-leipzig.de.

  2. Scored some post-dinner drinks at a Späti to enjoy on a stroll and in a park (by the way, duck into the university library there in Leipzig — what a cool place!).

  3. Even snagged a couple night shots on our way back to the hotel.

After that, it was a completely uneventful drive back home. Just what you want!

  1. Forgive me. []
  2. It is embarrassing how long it took us to get the pun on the name. []
  3. Note to future me: don’t get more than a “medium” anything. []

OMG TRAVEL AGAIN FINALLY

It felt really good. So good, that I can’t cover it all in one post. Part II will follow.

Wiesbaden

It was just a stop-over point for us because we departed Friday after work and didn’t want to undertake a big ol’ drive after a full week of anticipation. Plus, our long-term pal and host Matt K. wouldn’t even be there until Saturday afternoon. So we got to Wiesbaden after work (traffic was not as bad as I’d feared) and expected to crash out at the hotel.

But it’s much a cooler town than I’d thought. And it has a Five Guys. Note to self: don’t get a large ANYTHING.

Brussels

  • We arrived on late Saturday morning, and met Matt G. at Place du Chatelain in the Ixelles neighborhood. He gave us a lovely impromptu tour and we got a delicious lunch on the street at Pizza Mamma Roma.

  • That afternoon we got back in the car, headed out to the Zaventem airport, picked up our ol’ pal Matt K. and the merriment continued.

  • He showed us his favorite parts of the city on foot, including a stop for a snack at the legendary Maison Dandoy for some Liège Waffles and espresso that blew our minds.

  • Sunday, we visited the Horta Museum. If you like Jugendstil design, this will be your joint. As opposed to the Mucha Museum in Prague, the Horta Museum is a less of a gallery and more of a snapshot in time from the turn of the (previous) century of an idealized socialist paradise domicile.

  • We walked around a bit more and then circled back to La Chatelaine Du Liban for a lovely dinner.

  • Monday morning, we dropped Matt K. off at work on our way to meet Pam M. at her home for coffee. She baked us a delicious surprise zucchini cake! The airliners passing overhead reminded me very much of the first ten years of my life near Selfridge ANG.

It was so cool to catch up with Matt K. again before geography makes that impractical again, and meet Matt G. and Pam M. in person after only having interacted with them online before.

Essen

After departing from Pam’s, we hit the road for Essen to meet up with Aileen and Justin for…Essen.1 It was almost directly on our way, and we have had a lot of fun with them online, so why not see if they are just as cool in person?2 That was a nice way to break up the seven-hour drive to Berlin. If you ever get a hankering for a BIG SLABBA TOAST, I vouch for Miamamia.

  1. I bet they’ve never heard that joke before. []
  2. Spoiler: they are! []

Aquafaba (vegan) Black Pepper Pasta

We broadened our pasta horizons this week. I’ve been reading about aquafaba for a while, and hoping to put it to good use. This weekend Sarah made a batch of channa masala and she started with dried chickpeas. I asked to to reserve the liquid from the cooking process this past weekend in our Instant Pot.

First, I strained the liquid into a medium saucepan. I didn’t want any discernible floaty bits.

Second, I simmered it in a medium saucepan about 8 minutes over medium heat, to reduce it by half. The result from Sarah’s bean batch and the strained and simmered reduction was just over 240 g (a little more than a cup) of aqufaba. I put that into the fridge for a couple days until ready to experiment with it.

Last night, I set to work following this recipe for the ingredients and using our experiences with homemade egg pasta as a guide for method and resulting dough texture.

It worked! I liked the black pepper flavor embedded in the pasta. The raw dough didn’t taste the same as egg noodles we’ve made in the past, but rather more like the usual dried pasta — just in soft form. I would definitely make these again when there is another batch of aquafaba to be used up. Like all fresh pasta varieties, these cook fast and are less sturdy than store-bought dried pasta — so I don’t expect they would hold up to the vigorous mixing required for a dish like cacio e pepe (for example). But I bet they would work great in all other typical pasta applications.

Aquafaba (vegan) Black Pepper Pasta

Adapted from Egg-Free, Vegan Homemade Black Pepper Pasta for use with our equipment. The original method calls for a food processor with a spinning blade to form a ball. That method worked great for us making dumpling dough back when we had such a machine. For this recipe, we used a stand mixer with a paddle, dough kneading hook, and pasta rolling and cutting attachments.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (250 g) all purpose flour -OR- 00 flour
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) reduced aquafaba
  • 1 tsp (3 g) sea salt
  • 1 tbsp (15 g) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp (2 g) freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients (Tipo 00 is what we used) with the paddle on a stand mixer.

  2. Dump in the wet ingredients and continue mixing a bit more until well combined.

  3. Switch to the dough hook and knead until the dough starts to climb the walls of the mixing bowl and fall back in on itself. Interrupt the kneading and help it if necessary. All of this took no more than a few minutes of kneading time. We did not have to adjust the flour or liquid at all to get the text we needed it. Squish the dough together into a ball shape.

  4. Let the dough rest in a ball, covered tightly, for 30 minutes. We put a silicone lid over the mixing bowl and let it rest inside that (rather than use plastic wrap).

  5. Cut the dough ball into three or four pieces. One at a time, flatten them and run them through the pasta roller, doing the usual lather/rinse/repeat of folding the ends in and re-rolling at the widest setting at least three times before rolling progressively thinner. Our tagliatelle came out great on the #5 setting.

  6. Cut the flat sheets into noodles, dust them with flour and let them rest in nests while you prepare to boil them. They will finish quickly.

Cacio e Pepe (without Za’atar)

I finally made a cacio e pepe I am proud of! I’d tried several times each with a different approach and it was always a failure (clumpy, oily, gummy, whatever). Then I found a WaPo recipe for a za’atar variation, tried it, had much better results, and stole the technique. It’s the best cacio e pepe method I have found so far, so I’m sticking to it for next time.

Pro tips from last-night-me to next-time-me:

  • you gotta microplane that cheese as finely as possible
  • pecorino grates more easily than grana padano (which I subbed for the parm
    this time) or parmigiano
  • our cheapo IKEA stainless steel skillet was fine for boiling the pasta, but with so little water (to encourage the starchiness) it really can stick if you’re not careful
  • our 12″ cast iron skillet was a champ for everything else
  • the proportions below are scaled down by 50% from the original; that was plenty for two adults as a primo along with some roasted brussels sprouts — steamed broccoli would be a good choice next time, too

adapted from this WaPo recipe

Ingredients

  • 3.5 cups (800 ml) water
  • 3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for finishing to taste
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) dried bucatini (or other long pasta, cooking time adjusted if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 g) unsalted butter
  • 1.5 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 ounces (60 g) Parmesan cheese, very finely grated
  • 1/2 ounce (15 g) pecorino Romano cheese, very finely grated

Directions

In a deep, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the salt. Cook the bucatini in that for 9 minutes (or per package instructions) until al dente, stirring every now and then so they don’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure they are submerged. Add hot water if necessary to keep the pasta just-barely covered. Drain, reserving all the cooking water. (You should have about 1 1/8 cups (265 ml) water; if not, add enough hot water until you do.)

In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan over high heat, cook the butter until bubbling, then stir the pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved cooking water (carefully, watch for steam bursts), bring to a rapid boil and cook until silky and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Toss in the pasta and stir vigorously into the sauce. Add the Parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go and waiting until the first half has melted before adding the next. Once all the Parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir, until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky.

Serve hot.

November Impressions

Back in June I had to define all my vacation plans for the rest of the year. Despite Corona foiling our plans at a road trip into various near-by countries, we managed to explore some parts of Germany new to us. But that was only about half of my vacation contingent; in November I had to take more. We stuck around Regensburg, watching the infection numbers rise to our dismay.

I took a few pictures: Continue reading November Impressions

PSA: “Siemens SIWAMAT xlm 147f family” beeping

I had a heckuva time getting this question answered on my own; here’s hoping this post is useful to future owners of the same product.

Our Siemens washing machine started beeping at the end of every cycle. As far as we know, it never did that before a few weeks ago (and we’ve had this machine for 16 years at this point). Continue reading PSA: “Siemens SIWAMAT xlm 147f family” beeping