Seafood aftermath on my face

After three straight days of very indulgent seafood eating, I woke up this morning in my bed in New York wondering why my face felt so rough. My cheeks felt flaky, rough, and borderline scale-like, and I noticed a few zits my my cheeks, chin, and forehead. I was wondering if the high level of iodine in the lobster, mussels, and clams were getting to me… and by getting to me, I mean showing up as little mean presents on my face.

I suppose this is what I get for getting completely engrossed in the incredibly fresh and local seafood of New Brunswick and PEI. My face will have to suffer for the next few days as I exfoliate and mask it and allow it to recover from the seafood I probably ate way too much of, but it was all worth it.

It’s a good thing that makeup exists; no one at work will notice this.

Canadian Potato Museum

One of the quirkiest places that we visited on this trip was the Canadian Potato Museum in Prince Edward Island on Friday. Although Canada is not the largest producer of potatoes in the world (that goes to China, then to Russia, which collectively both produce 110 million tonnes. Canada harvests about five million tonnes, which makes it the 12th or 13th largest producer in the world of potatoes. According to the museum information, Prince Edward Island produces about one-third of Canada’s potatoes, which means that if PEI were a country and not a province, it would rank in the top 30 potato producers in the world. In per capita potato production terms, Belarus leads the world with 900 kilograms of potatoes per person. China harvests 55. Canada ranks 6th with about 150, while PEI, with a population of about 150,000 people with a harvest of about 1.5 million tons, stands at 10,000 kilograms per person, which leads us to why the potato museum is located here.

It’s funny to see how the perception of potatoes has changed over time. Once upon a time, potatoes were seen as potentially poisonous, so people avoided them at all costs, especially those with money. But over time, they started seeing how nutritious they were, basically being able to provide quite a large profile of vitamins and nutrients to those on a budget. They were even marketed as the “complete food” and at a small cost, too, even a “health food” by some advertisements. The sad thing about this is that in today’s day and age when carbs are being villainized, so too are potatoes given that they are seen as an “empty” carb or starch, providing only a fraction of the nutrients that say, a sweet potato or yam can provide. ¬†Most diets that advise to maximize amount of nutrients and vitamins per calorie suggest avoiding potatoes altogether. So much for the “health food” spin of the humble potato.

We left the potato museum with some freshly fried French fries made from one of 77 locally grown potato varieties of P.E.I. They were fresh and delicious, sweet and savory, with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. These could easily have been some of the most enjoyable French fries we’ve eaten.

 

Haskap berries

I was thinking more about the haskap berries that we learned about while at the honey wine farm on Thursday and thinking about their similarities to huckleberries, which we were able to try in dessert forms while in the Montana/Idaho/Wyoming area last summer. Haskap’s flavor profile has been likened to a cross between a raspberry, blueberry, and a black currant. Huckleberries are likened to a slightly tarter version of a blueberry.

While both berry types are high in antioxidants, haskap berries can be cultivated (though it does seem to be difficult), whereas huckleberries refuse to be cultivated and must grow in the wild. Both are very delicate berries, with the haskap being oblong and the huckleberry being round, and given how soft they are, they are nearly impossible to ship and sell in markets, resulting in the majority of their uses being in the frozen/blended/jam/wine/syrup form. Even when in season in the Montana area, it is rare to see huckleberries in the produce aisles of grocery stores, and instead, they are sold by weight in the frozen aisles. Both are quite expensive to purchase even frozen; I believe that Charles from the honey wine farm said they would go for about $16-18 CAD/pound, which means they’re more expensive than buying lobster, shellfish, or steak in many instances!

Charles said that even if haskap berries were able to sustain long transport and be sold in local markets and grocery stores that he doesn’t think they would sell well because it’s a little known fruit, which means most people would not want to buy them. People tend to buy what they know. The funny thing is that when I’m at the market and I see a fruit I do not recognize, I am quite the opposite: I immediately want to know what it is and what it tastes like, and so I’ll usually buy it. But unfortunately because I live in New York, that occasion happens quite rarely. It happens more when I am traveling to other countries and see things I may not recognize. If it’s fruit, how bad could it possibly be?

Lobster catching in P.E.I.

One of the reasons we’ve been looking forward to visiting New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island was that this region of the world is famous for its seafood, particularly P.E.I. mussels, steamer clams, and of course, the much coveted lobster. When envisioning this trip, I imagined eating lobster and mussels every day while here. While that’s indulgent, it can’t get any fresher than it is here, and since it’s local, it’ll be far, far cheaper than eating it back in New York, where frankly, it never tastes as good, and it’s always so expensive for so little. It also helps that the U.S. dollar is currently quite strong against the Canadian dollar.

Originally, I’d signed us up for a lobster catching tour on Thursday evening, but because of the torrential rains, the boat trip got cancelled. We were lucky to be able to reschedule to the afternoon tour today, and somehow, the skies remained blue for us to board the boat. The tour guide and boat owner actually conducts the tour on his own fiberglass lobster-catching work boat, and while he educates us on the boat excursion about the lobster catching industry (which is the top fishing industry in PEI), he also talks about conservation, the laws around fishing, and the life of lobsters. I had no idea how expensive lobster catching licenses in the PEI area were (as of now, they range anywhere from $900,000 to over $1 million!). Mark said that today, his license is probably worth about $900K, and it will likely only grow in value. And there’s a government regulated set number of licenses that exist that cannot change; that means that once a lobster fisherman decides to retire, that’s the only time a new person can get a lobster catching license in this province.

Lobster season happens twice a year in PEI, from May to June, then again from August through November. And of the many thousands of eggs a female lobster lays, only about 10 percent of them end up surviving to adulthood; that means that even less than 10 percent make it to full adulthood so that they’ll be ready for my belly.

The funniest thing about knowing how expensive and coveted lobsters are today is that once, they were considered food for the low-class; people used to take lobster meat, grind it up, and spread it on their lawns as plant fertilizer. The world has evolved quite a bit since then. There’s certainly no shortage of lobster in this region of the world now.

I’ll be honest: I always imagined doing a lobster catching tour so that we could actually catch the lobsters to then cook on the boat, but it doesn’t look like this region offers opportunities like that.. It’s even possible no place is like that anymore given how heavily regulated the lobster fishing industry is. I knew that going into this. Here, we were educated on the general process, taken out to see the crab and lobster traps out on the water, and then served prepared lobsters for us.

The lobster lunch is served PEI-style, which means it’s served cold, cooked in salt water, then chilled in an ice bath. I’d never eaten lobster cold, but this lobster was probably one of the tastiest lobsters I’ve ever eaten in my life. I usually think the claw meat is the inferior meat to the tail (since everyone wants the tail meat), but for these PEI lobsters… I wouldn’t say that at all. I actually enjoyed the claw meat just as much as the tail meat. It had amazing texture, not rubbery at all – succulent is the best word to describe it. And the meat was savory yet sweet at the same time. Every bite was like a little song in my mouth. Chris raved about the claw meat and just how delicious this lobster was, even as he struggled to suck all the meat out of the little tentacle-like legs.

There’s certainly a glory in globalization in that we can eat things like lobster, grapes, mangoes, and other exotic delicacies year round, even when they are out of season and not grown in our local cities and towns. But there’s a purer glory in experiencing local foods in local areas the local way. Today’s magic and delight was about the latter.

 

Honey wine tasting in PEI

We really didn’t fare well with the weather this trip. We were told that in the weeks leading up to the last two days, it has been hot and humid, reaching record high temperatures and giving this part of Canada endless sunny skies, yet today, it was mostly stormy and rainy weather; the sun could not be seen even a bit. The gorgeous green I was greatly anticipating in Prince Edward Island was an unfortunate blur today.

Luckily for us, a number of things on our to-do list included indoor activities, such as a visit to Island Honey Wine, a husband-and-wife owned self-sustaining farm, which makes use of everything they farm, from plants, animals, to honey. They just opened in 2017 and already have quite the local following. They make mead, which is a type of wine made from fermented honey, they grow lavender, they farm sheep, they use the wool from the sheep to make yarn and knit scarves and clothing; they really do everything here.

I think this was the very first time I tried mead, and I loved it immediately. We tried five types: wildflower, haskap (a “super berry” from Hokkaido with five times the amount of antioxidants as a wild blueberry), lavender, apple cider, and nectar sweet mead. They were all sweet, but not to the same level of ice wine, which Canada is also famous for. They all have just the right amount of sweetness where it’s somewhere between having a sip of something delightful, but not quite at the level of “dessert” that would make me think of ice wine.

We had a really fun chat with the husband of the duo, Charles. We talked about haskap berries, running a farm and making wine, food and flavors, what flavors and scents pair well with one another, travel, among other topics. He seemed to enjoy the questions we were asking him and a couple times, commented on our levels of curiosity and asked if we worked in marketing (which, we actually do) to raise questions such as, potential use cases for these fermented wines – in cocktails, in cooking, in what other applications? “I just love talking to the two of you! I could go on all day — you’re so curious!” he exclaimed.

We laughed, and Chris said, “It’s good to be curious; shows you want to learn more about the world. There’s always new things out there to learn that you don’t know about.”

I suppose that’s the way you gauge if someone is really interested; if they ask you questions to demonstrate their curiosity about a given topic. If someone asks questions, it probably means they’re actively thinking about it and want to know more and more.

And if someone doesn’t ask any questions, they’re probably not curious at all and are probably boring… or just bored of you, both of which would be a problem. This applies to far more than just honey wine tasting.¬†

We ended up buying three bottles, plus a jar of haskap jam. Clearly, we were impressed. And now we have to deal with checking a bag. But it will all be worth it in the end.

Travel delays

After hearing that a fellow colleague’s flight from New York City to Montreal was cancelled due to weather conditions this morning, I was a bit concerned about our flight to Toronto, from which we would connect to continue onward to Moncton, New Brunswick, today. Our Toronto flight was only delayed by about 15 minutes, but in the end, our Toronto to Moncton flight ended up being delayed over five hours. Toronto airport was on ‘red alert,’ likely due to the on-and-off torrential rain they were experiencing, and we were just sad in the airport, doing work with the free Wi-Fi in the lounge, wondering if we’d even make it to New Brunswick tonight.

It’s always funny when you plan a trip envisioning things to go a certain way, and then your plans completely get derailed. I’d originally planned for us to have dinner at this Malaysian restaurant just two minutes away from our hotel, but that was completely smashed, as they close at 8:30pm. Oh, and the torrential rain this entire region is experiencing could easily mean that the frolicking amongst the green pastures of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island could end up never happening, and instead we’ll be stuck only doing indoor activities even though we’re at the peak of summer in Canada, which is supposed to be the best time to come here.

At least there will still be local mussels, clams, and lobster to eat indoors. That will be our saving grace.

Where I am when I wake up

It’s been two days since I’ve been back at work, and I actually feel quite comfortable and fine. I was wondering how much jet lag I would feel given that there’s a 9.5-hour time difference between New York and India, but I somehow managed to still wake up in time for my morning workout, shower, and get ready for work at the usual times I do this during the work week during the last two mornings. The worst thing that has happened was that this morning, I woke up at 3am and wasn’t able to fall back into a fully deep sleep, then woke up at 6:45am to go to the gym, but that was really it. I even made cold brew coffee and had it this morning just in case I’d get sleepy at work, but the sleepiness never seemed to come.

One funny thing that has repeatedly happened during the last four years of summer Asia travel is that at some point during the return week in New York, I will wake up in the middle of the night and think we are still in the destination we were in, whether it was Japan in 2015, Korea in 2016, Taiwan in 2017, or now India this year, and then be a little bewildered when I blink my eyes a few times and realize that I’m in my own bed, back in my own room, in our own apartment here in New York. I’m not sure if it is a good feeling or a neutral one.

Conversations that will never happen

In the summer of 2006, when I came back from a month in Shanghai, China, which was my very first time ever being out of the country, I returned home with lots of pictures and random souvenirs to share with my parents and Ed. Ed had endless questions about the way life was like there, what people were like, what the food was like. In his nearly 34 years, Ed had never held a passport, nor did he ever leave the country, though he did thikn about it in his last six months and asked me how he could apply. Sometimes, in our chats about China, he was so child-like that he’d just ask constantly variations of the same question and not even really realize it. Throughout the last week in India, I thought about things that Ed would have liked and responded positively or negatively to. Indian food was always one of his favorite cuisines, so every time we ate something new during this trip, I thought about how he would have enjoyed it.

I thought about the conversations we’d have about the dals, the pooris, the mostly vegetarian meals that we had. I imagined him asking me about the lack of beef due to the sacredness of cows, asking if idlis, dosas, or vada were really filling and satisfying enough, as I don’t believe he’d ever had any of those things before other than dosa. I imagined him asking if the gulab jamun was as gross and greasy as at India Clay Oven, the Indian spot we used to have lunch buffet at in the Richmond District back home. I’d tell him about the endless varieties of Indian sweets, the milky ones to the semolina-based ones, and how I would think he’d enjoy trying all of them. I thought about telling him about the traffic, especially in Agra, where we walked among cars, “autos,” cows, goats, and even chicken, and how freaked out he would be by all that madness. I’d tell him about how persistent the beggars and the auto drivers were to get our business, and he’d shift and get uncomfortable, wondering if he could handle all that himself if he were to travel to India.

But as I sat on the return flight yesterday, eating my meal, thinking about these potential conversations, it hit me that none of these conversations were potential; they were all just in my head. They could never have the potential to happen because Ed is no longer with us. I could have these fictionalized conversations with him in my head or in my dreams, but they’d never be able to happen ever. There’s no possibility that these conversations would happen because he’s been gone nearly five years now. These are futile thoughts — to think about conversations that will never happen, chats that a brother and a sister will not be able to have because they are separated by life and death.

 

Fusion foods in India

During our short stay in India, we’ve been fortunate to try a number of different “fusion” Indian cuisines. As I’ve always loved Indian Chinese food since I discovered it at Tangra Masala, an Indian Chinese restaurant that was just a five-minute walk from my old Elmhurst apartment, I knew that Indian Chinese food would be high on the list of things to try while in India. Back in the 1700s, the Chinese had been visiting India in search of Buddhist teachings, and so many Chinese people settled in India and established businesses of their own. The Chinese assimilated the Indian ways of living and beliefs.They even embraced the Indian spices and masalas, and created their own version of the cuisine. This gave birth to things like chow mein with Indian spices, “Sichuan style” dosas, and vegetable Manchurian, which is usually some vegetable coated in corn flour, fried, then tossed in a reddish-brown sauce that has a base of onions, green chillies, garlic, vinegar, and soy. The rumored epicenter of what was the beginning of Indo-Chinese food was Kolkata.

In addition to Indian-Chinese food, we also enjoyed Goan-Portuguese food (an incredible Goan-Portuguese fish fry with a fish called rawas, which is considered Indian salmon – this is probably one of the biggest highlights in terms of individual bites I had on this entire trip); Muslim Indian food in the form of these delicious grilled mutton and lamb kebabs; and finally, the most surprising for me was the Burmese-Tamilian noodles and lentil soup. Before we arrived in Chennai, I had no idea that this type of fusion food had existed. But based on what I read, the Tamil-Indian population in what was Burma was quite large during the British rule in the 19th century, as Indians were considered the backbone of civil administration and were very influential in Burmese society. But during the civil unrest that occurred during the ’60s, many Indians were forced to leave the country. When the Tamilians came back to India, they came in droves to Chennai, and some of them brought back the foods that they made on the streets in Burma and set up shop here.

The dish that I read the most about was atho, which is a Burmese-style stir-fried noodle made with cabbage, tamarind-based gravy, fried onions, spices, and other vegetables. Just the sheer thought of Burmese-Indian cuisine had my mouth watering, so I insisted to Chris that we go to one of these places on Saturday night.

We arrived at what I thought would be a restaurant, but was actually a food stall off the street. A man was standing, stir-frying noodles to order, while another man was dishing out bowls of hot, spicy lentil soup to patrons. We ordered the large chicken atho, and although it didn’t look particularly impressive, after the first bite, it was pure love. It was spicy, salty, sweet, sour, tangy, and amazing. I was sad when the last forkful was done. It’s probably high on the list of favorite bites of this trip next to the Goan-Portuguese fish fry we enjoyed in Mumbai. It came with a bowl of the spicy lentil soup, which was also incredibly fragrant and flavorful.

These types of fusion foods are always so exciting to discover and eat. I wish we could have access to Burmese-Tamilian food back in New York.

 

Mehendi

Ever since we saw some signs for mehendi in Jaipur, I knew I wanted to have this done on my hands while we would be in India. Mehendi is a form of body art in India and the surrounding regions in Asia where decorative designs are created on the body using a paste that is made from powered, dried leaves of a plant called henna. Traditionally, as least from what I have seen and read, henna is done for special occasions such as weddings or major holidays on the hands, arms, and feet. Some women even get this done on their pregnant bellies. If done and maintained properly, the temporary paint on the skin should last anywhere from two to three weeks.

I’m honestly not sure where that ballpark estimate came from because everything seems to be the enemy of henna: sweat, lotion, sunscreen, washing of the hands. Those are all things that you have during the heat and humidity of summers in India! We found a henna artist in Chennai today, and he did my right hand/arm on the top and the bottom. Using his booklet of images, I pointed out the design I wanted, and he immediately shut the book, pulled out his henna cone, and started painting away, completely free hand, without looking at the images at all — all from memory. It was pretty amazing how skilled he was, and how swiftly he did each of the strokes. Watching him in action was like watching an artist paint, just on my body.

It took about twenty minutes for him to complete both the top and bottom of my right hand and arm, and he suggested another twenty minutes to dry. Well, I read that you should really keep the stain on as long as possible before scraping the dried paint off, and then afterwards, keep the area away from soap or water at least overnight. So I followed this general procedure and woke up to a much darker stain on both sides. I obsessed over how good the design looked, and then I immediately felt sad knowing that all the things that degrade henna would have to be a part of my everyday life for the next week, so there was no way my mehendi was going to last as long as the general guides say. But I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts.