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A chronicle of all things fun - eating, drinking, traveling... plus the occasional ranting

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  • 05/31/13--08:45: Falling asleep at dinner
  • I ran into a couple of ladies at Catalunya a few weeks ago, and during our brief conversation one of them mentioned that she had never been to On Lot 10.  Now for some reason I am seen by some of my friends as an unofficial ambassador for On Lot 10… so it seemed natural when it was suggested that I arrange a dinner for us to introduce Chef David Lai's cuisine.

    As usual, I asked David to decide what he wanted to serve us.  He chose from his new menu, and thankfully kept it to a reasonable number of dishes…

    Steamed gooseneck barnacle 'en papillote', samphire, sea kelp and lemon - this wasn't the first time I've had barnacles here, but it was the least enjoyable experience… This batch was just wrong… way too difficult to get to the flesh inside.  We gave up halfway.

    Chilled summer vegetables 'barigoule' - I preferred the crudités from my last visit much more… Tonight these were slow-cooked and marinated, so they were acidic and mushy while served cold.  Somehow reminds me of bad pickles from Europe in the old days…

    Jumbo asparagus, spring garlic, frog legs, escargot - pretty yummy.  Somehow everything just came together… the wonderful cloves of garlic, the frog legs, herbs like parsley, the leek… and of course the escargots.  This embodies the essence of David's cuisine.

    Marrow bone, Italian sturgeon caviar - interesting to have caviar on top of marrow, which made it a difficult choice in terms of wine pairing… in the end I went with the white.  The marrow was yummy, and left a huge pool of oil on my plate.  I wasn't gonna have any bread, but in the end I needed something to soak up all that yummy goodness and not let it go to waste!

    Australian wagyu hanger steak 'carpaccio', baby artichoke, hazelnut and niçoise olive - this was simply introduced as "carpaccio" when it was laid down in front of us.  No shit, Sherlock!  We can see that…  Finding out what else was on our plate was like pulling teeth, until we were given a copy of the menu.  Nice beef, and the flavor combinations were pretty good.

    Sauté gourmand 'Alain Ducasse': lobster, foie gras, sweetbread, rooster comb, kidney and morel mushroom and pasta - wow!  Thankfully this was our only main course, because it was all we needed!  This was a bit of everything thrown in… "gourmand" indeed!  Lots of things here that would take a true gourmand to appreciate, and I certainly can't make that claim.  It's easy to love things like summer truffle, lobster, foie, sweetbread… and for the second time this month I'm having rooster comb.  But one thing I still don't eat is chicken kidney testicles… or pretty much any male genitalia / sexual organs.  Call me narrow-minded, but it just doesn't  excite me…

    But other than that, the dish was truly delicious.  The sauce was full of yummy lobster and shellfish flavors, and I didn't mind that the pasta was a little chewy.  We weren't able to finish this, and I decided to take the leftovers home with all the sauce, so that I can toss a bowl of instant noodles with it at home!

    The pear tart was as yummy as usual…

    …and the new chocolate fudge cake was pretty good, too.  With my first bite, I thought this might be a little too dry… but the layer of fudge quickly made up for it.

    Wine is an integral part of many meals, especially here.  I was told that we should have three bottles since it was a Friday night, but alas, one of us really wasn't much of a drinker… or maybe I should include myself in that count?  In the end we had to call for reinforcements, and David joined us at the end of the evening to help us finish it all…

    2005 Petaluma Chardonnay Tiers - pretty big nose with lots of toast, corn, mineral and flint.  Ripe and acidic on the palate, with plenty of citrus.  Much better than the last bottle I had from the same case.

    1991 Opus One - double-decanted for 1½ hours prior to drinking.  Smoky, fruity, mineral, minty with pencil lead.  First pour was much more lively, and mellowed out as the evening went on.  Tannins were rounded, soft and silky.  Such a great value.

    1990 Les Forts de Latour - much softer and more elegant than I had expected, perhaps a result of sitting in a decanter for about 1½ hours.  A little smoky, with surprisingly prominent sweet grassy notes.  Always a treat to drink this wine.

    This was a little too much wine on a Friday night, after about 3 weeks of not getting enough sleep… is it any wonder that I fell asleep at the table?

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  • 06/04/13--08:36: Singing in the rain
  • Four years ago, I went to Victoria Park on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre to commemorate the event at the annual vigil.  I've missed the annual gathering since then, but finally managed to return to the park tonight with a couple of friends.

    I woke up to slightly wet weather, and the Hong Kong Observatory was forecasting showers for the rest of the week.  Sure enough, not long before the scheduled 8pm start to the vigil, the skies opened up and down came tears of heaven.

    The traffic jam started inside the Causeway Bay station, but it wasn't too bad when I arrived.  As I exited the station towards the park, the streets were closed and filled with lots of people from all different political parties and organizations, each of their own agenda and message.  I couldn't hear anything because so many people were shouting through megaphones at the same time.  Lots of people were peddling T-shirts and soliciting donations.  Lots of banners everywhere… and I even saw someone holding a Republic of China flag.

    The troops were gathering indoors, and Mr. Meow managed to come up with an umbrella for each of us so we wouldn't get drenched.  We managed to hit the park not too long after 8pm, led by the intrepid Mr. Meow as we went past the cops and organizers at the entrance, ensuring that we would be accounted for by the bean counters on both sides.  We also zigzagged past the crowd to make our way to about midway up the series of pitches.

    It wasn't pissing rain, but if you were outdoors for a reasonable amount of time - like we were - it was enough to get you wet.  We were among tens of thousands of people who gathered, umbrella in one hand and likely a candle in the other, to make a statement.

    Contrary to what they may have been teaching kids in China for the last 24 years - which, by the way, is kinda the same thing that the Chinese have been accusing the Japanese of doing in their education system regarding World War II - the Tiananmen massacre DID happen.  Hundreds - if not thousands - of lives were lost on that fateful day, while the lives of many others were irrevocably changed - most likely for the worse.

    Thanks to the rain, the audio system wasn't really working well.  Most of the speakers were silent, and we relied on a few speakers that actually did work.  The screens were also dark thanks to the rain, so the broadcast of pre-recorded messages from various figures linked to 1989 were unable to be shown.  But all this did not faze the people in Hong Kong.  Besides chanting slogans like "平反六四,永不放棄!" - which loosely translates as "Vindicate June 4th, Never give up!" - people in the park were singing different songs.  Of course I didn't recognize any of those songs so wasn't able to sing along, but it was a moment of solidarity.

    Towards the end of the gathering, as the organizers on stage were addressing the spirits of those who lost their lives in the massacre, we were asked to take down our umbrellas so that the world could see the sea of candle light.  We didn't mind getting wet anymore.  We wanted the world to know our resolve - to never forget about what happened that day.

    Ever conscious of our environment, I decided not to light up one of the candle provided by the organizers.  Instead I had playfully downloaded a "candle app" for my iPhone, and I kept it "lit" under my umbrella...

    Thanks to equipment failure as a result of the rain, the organizers decided to cut the event short at around 9pm.  We made our way out of the park so that my friends could grab dinner nearby.  It wasn't the best outcome for the evening, but I'm glad we were there.  I was also especially glad that Legolas Jr came, as he was only 2 when it happened.  We are spreading the word to the younger generation, and hope that they, too, will spread the word.

    I will be back next year for the 25th anniversary.  Rain or (moon)shine.

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  • 06/05/13--08:10: The summer dragon
  • I'm back at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟) tonight with the Tiggers, putting more delicious yet unnecessary calories into my system.  My third visit to this establishment was also the first time I sat out in the main dining room instead of in a private room, and everything I had heard about other people's dining experiences here would be proven correct tonight...

    It's summer and the restaurant has changed its menu since our last visit.  Since they cycle through 2 menus for each season, I would expect that their next change to perhaps include pike eel (鱧) - something that was on just about every menu on my last trip to Japan.

    Cold "somen" topped with "white shrimp" and "premium caviar", scent of "sudachi" - a pretty nice way to start a summer meal.  The  sweetness of the glass shrimps (白海老), the salty flavors of the caviar and the acidity of sudachi lime (酢橘) all worked pretty well together.  The cucumber strips provided a little more crunchy texture among all the other softer ingredients.

    Deep fried "Premium sea urchin" from Hokkaido wrapped with seaweed - I have to say that I'm not a fan...

    While it was definitely interesting to eat something akin to a Japanese samosa, I just don't like having my sea urchin cooked, as it brings out the stronger "fishy" flavors.

    On the side we had eggplant from Hokkaido with ginger mash and a little sudachi lime.

    Japanese sweet corn tofu - this is basically pudding-like, with the obvious sweet taste of corn, and came folded in corn husk.

    Traditional kaiseki summer soup: seasoned "ichiban dashi" broth with a delicate shrimp dumpling - the 一番出汁 from bonito was delicate and delicious.  The dumpling was made with glass shrimp and several different types of white fish (白身魚).  While the flavor was fine, the texture was too gooey and fell apart easily.  Winter melon help cool the body down, and watershield (蒓菜) adds an interesting element via its slippery texture.

    Sashimi of "yokowa" baby tuna, spring onions with fragrance of shiso leaf and lime - OK, so once again I gave in and ate bluefin tuna... but this baby was just too tender to resist...

    Charcoal grilled "alfonsino" covered with "roasted rice" - I actually found this really interesting, and delicious, too!  The layer of rice crispies on top reminded me of Shanghainese guoba (鍋巴) and was really yummy.  Needless to say the alfonsino (金目鯛) itself was very tasty and succulent, perhaps with a hint of miso (味噌).

    The acidity of the green apple slices was refreshing, helped by the plum wine (梅酒) marinade and ginger mash.

    The Japanese watercress was rather bitter but tasty nonetheless, with the additional flavors of seaweed (海苔).

    RyuGin interpretation of "katsudon": "wagyu beef cutlet" with "onsen tamago" and red onions - OMG this was damn good!  Ever since we moved to Tokyo when I was growing up, katsudon (カツ丼) has been my favorite Japanese dish.  It is something I get regularly as my comfort food, above anything else normally found in Japanese restaurants.  This was obviously the premium version - with A3 Saga (佐賀) beef substituting for the normal pork loin or cutlet.  The mix of onions, beef deep-fried in batter and egg with the all-too-familiar sukiyaki (すき焼) sauce at the bottom was totally awesome.  Where's the bowl of rice that I can pour this over?!

    Simmered whole "ezo" abalone with abalone reduction over shiitake mushroom rice - of course the rice course was coming next… The Ezo abalone (蝦夷鮑) from Hokkaido was incredibly soft and tender… Very yummy.  Mixing the seaweed and mushroom with the rice made everything extra delicious.

    On the side was the abalone's liver, as well as cucumber and myoga (茗荷) slices.

    With the savory courses behind us, we were served a little cup of tea at this time.  I asked the waiter to tell me what type of tea we were having, and he replied "green tea".  No shit, Sherlock!  I could see that it's green tea, but there are different types of green tea.  I was unhappy with his answer and asked for clarification.  Eventually I was told that this was sencha (煎茶).  To be honest I am still suspicious of this answer, because some time earlier I had heard our Japanese waitress talking to a table with Japanese customers and mentioning hojicha (焙じ茶)...

    RyuGin specialty: -196ºC "candy strawberry" and +99ºC "strawberry jam" - I had the apple version when I visited the Tokyo honten, and I finally got to taste this on my third visit here.  First came the "strawberry"…

    …then we were asked to break the candy shell, revealing the flash frozen contents inside…

    …finally the "jam" was added to create the sensation of eating something both hot and cold.

    Meringue of cherry blossom, almond flavored ice cream with fresh cherry - we had something nearly identical on our last visit, although this version had cherries instead of strawberries.  Dunno why, but I thought the almond ice cream tasted almost a little savory...

    Finally there was a cup of matcha (抹茶) to finish off…

    Thanks to the steep corkage charge for sake, we decided to order something off the list tonight.  Kamoshibito Kuheiji Betsuatsurae 35% Eau du Desire (醸人 九平次 別誂 35% Eau du Desire) is something I've had before in Tokyo.  Soft and smooth on the front palate but dry later.  Sweet and dry at the same time, with a long finish.  Nose of rich fermented rice.

    Some final words on the clientele…  I'd heard several reports about this establishment attracting diners who were boisterous, which some people felt detracted from a fine dining experience.  Tonight I was a little worried as I entered the restaurant and passed by a table of Big Sixers.  Sure enough, they were pretty loud throughout the entire meal, thinking that they were dining in the privacy of their own home.  Finally we have had enough, and decided to ask the waitstaff to get them to quiet down.

    Apparently the people from the Strong Country had a little something to drink, so they were loud because of the alcohol.  WTF?!  Lots of people drink at dinner, including ourselves.  Did you hear us talk at high decibels?  And just because you can afford dinner at a restaurant with Michelin stars and order expensive sake like Kokuryu Nizaemon (黒龍 ニ左衛門), doesn't mean you have class.

    I think my future visits are gonna have to be in private rooms...

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  • 06/06/13--08:54: Hello Kitty birthday
  • A friend very generously invited me to her belated birthday dinner tonight.  It was always going to be a huge feast, and I had been looking forward to this gathering for some weeks now.  It was also interesting because I hadn't revisited Chiu Tang (潮廳) since my first visit last year, and looked forward to trying out the cuisine again.

    I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I found this invitation upon arrival…

    We started with a trio of Chiuchow appetizers (潮式三彩盆), which included deep-fried Puning tofu (酥炸普寧荳腐), country-style chicken roll (家鄉野雞卷) and deep-fried Bombay duck (椒鹽九肚魚).

    Soy-marinated platter (鹵水拼盤) - sans goose liver this time, but the dish was still very delicious.  Plenty of yummy sliced goose, pig's ears, pork belly and pig trotters.  I could just eat this all night...

    I didn't want to have shark's fin, so I changed to double-boiled soup with fish maw and conch (花膠螺頭老火湯).  This was really delicious with the addition of chunks of lean pork and chicken feet.

    Pan-fried oyster omelet (香煎蠔仔酪) - pretty decent, but I would have preferred something a little drier.

    Salt baked virgin mud crab (鹽燒奄仔蟹) - these young female crabs had a decent amount of roe.  Reasonably tasty.

    I didn't think I'd be able to appreciate the sliced conch (螺片) so I gave it a pass… Given how much the damn thing costs, I think I made the right decision…

    Braised large-scale grunter (紅炆海臘魚) - the large-scale grunter (鯻魚) was incredibly soft and tender, and if it were any softer I would have described it as "mushy".

    I love this style of cooking fish, as the shiitake mushrooms, tofu skin (腐皮), roast garlic, pork belly and vintage tangerine peel (陳皮) all lend their flavors to the dish

    Stir-fried kale with beef in shacha sauce (沙茶牛肉蘭遠) - the kale was crunchy and sweet, and the beef was fatty.  Love the spiciness from the shacha sauce (沙茶醬).

    Fish balls and bladder with loofah (魚鰾魚蛋煮水瓜) - an interesting mix of ingredients…  Pretty "fishy", this one…

    Pan-fried e-fu noodles with vinegar and sugar (糖醋乾燒伊麵) - you can't have a birthday dinner without noodles, and you can't have Chiuchow cuisine without this classic dish.  Fried in a pan like a pizza until one side if browned and crispy, then simply sprinkle some sugar and add a few drops of black vinegar on top.  Delicious.

    Ginkgo and mung bean soup (福果綠豆爽) - it's been a while since I last had this Chiuchow dessert.  The mung bean is first split in halves and the husks removed.  Instead of being mushy after hours of boiling, the beans are still crunchy.  The ginkgo nuts also have plenty of bite.  Great for the summer.

    Of course there was a cake, and it was very, very yummy.  But the memorable thing about the cake was not how good it tasted, but this decorative item on top… Hello Kitty is holding a Hermès Birkin with one paw, and a bottle of Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux with the other…  Looks like the mouthless cat's got expensive taste!

    But the main event tonight was the selection of wines, and we were asked to blind taste and guess their identities.

    1969 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque (disgorged 2006) - really heavy toast in the nose, with grilled corn.  My first sips were surprising in that the wine had almost no palate to me, but later I was able to taste the acidity, although I found the finish a little short.  Given that there were no bubbles left yet the wine showed no sign of oxidation, I guessed it was an old one but recently disgorged.

    1997 Leflaive Montrachet - nose of lemon, a little straw, lean and not fatty, mineral, full-bodied, a little sweet on the edges with some white flowers.  An elegant wine.

    1982 Biondi-Santi Riserva - sweet, grassy, star anise, black olive.  Acidity slightly high on the palate.  After some time both the nose and the palate fell off the cliff.

    1982 Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva - earthy nose, slightly ripe on the palate with soft tannins.  Lovely.

    1990 Méo-Camuzet Corton Clos Rognet - cloudy.  Sweet grass and nice, lovely fruit, with floral notes like osmanthus.

    1990 Rouget Échezeaux - corked bottle, and even a little cellophane couldn't save it.  Nose of wet cardboard covered up an otherwise straight and clean wine underneath.  Nice body.

    1991 DRC Richebourg - sweet grass nose.  Lovely.  I guessed it was a Vosne-Romanée from DRC, but was asked to narrow it down to a specific appellation.  My first instant was to guess Richebourg but I ended up picking La Tâche as my official guess…

    1991 Le Pin - very ripe and sweet, jammy nose.  A little chalky and green pepper, along with some coffee later.  One whiff and I pegged it as Le Pin, since all the bottles I've drunk have a distinctive nose.

    1991 Chave Cuvée Cathelin - an awesome wine from start to finish.  Floral notes hit first, along with sweet fruit.  Later on the animal and leather notes came out.  I guessed it was La Mouline based on the floral notes.

    1997 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel from half-bottle - huge nose of petrol, grapey, muscat.  Not too sweet on the palate and there was enough acidity to balance it all.

    Finally, there was a bottle of blended whisky which was bottled by Berry Brothers and Rudd in the 1920s.  Showed medicinal and peaty notes, but was sweetish on the palate.

    Many thanks to 娜姐 for a wonderful evening.

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  • 06/07/13--08:53: Friday night French
  • So this is the third evening in a row that I'm out for dinner, and the second evening I'm attending a birthday celebration.  The Specialist decided to invite a few of us over to her place for dinner, and the food was catered by Chef Eddy from Chefstudio.

    We had some canapés to start, including mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes, and salmon with caviar.

    Poached French white asparagus, Hollandaise, Hokkaido uni - not bad, and I was glad the sea urchin wasn't cooked.  Interesting that the  Hollandaise was a little spicy.

    Homemade scallop wonton, golden caviar, thyme flower creme - the cream sauce was yummy, and the wontons were decent.

    But I was left puzzled by the server and the utensils he placed on the table.  With no spoon at my side, how was I supposed to pick up the caviar and the cream sauce with just my knife and fork?!  I the end I did what I thought ILoveLubutin would do… I picked up the bowl and drank the contents.  Given that we were not in public, I just assumed that the Specialist wouldn't mind…

    Wood smoked pigeon breast, truffle risotto, natural jus - interesting that the pigeon leg was done differently and un-smoked, resulting in more delicate flavors.  The breast was smoked and pretty tasty.

    The risotto, however, was a completely different story.  I was left with one thought in my mind: W-T-F…  Many people fail with risotto for various reasons, and this one was probably the most over-seasoned risotto I can remember… Did the chef not taste it before serving?  Or is that the level of seasoning we should expect from him?

    12-hour braised wagyu cheek with creamy mashed potato - the chef redeemed himself with this, as the beef cheek was really tender and yummy.  Love the haricots verts, too… and stayed clear of the mash.

    Bloody orange sabayon with berries - hmmm… I think it should be "blood orange"?  Anyway, this was pretty yummy, as the sabayon definitely tasted of orange, or was it orange blossom?

    Dinner with the Specialist is never without good wines, and a few big guns came out tonight for the celebration…

    1999 Cristal - smooth on the palate but a little light.  Toasty nose.  Full-bodied but the finish was a little short.

    1990 Cristal - salty plum, savory, with nice acidity on the palate.  A lovely wine.

    1992 Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet - nose of marmalade and sweet grass.

    1997 DRC Richebourg - sharp and alcoholic on the nose at first.  A little smoky, and slightly green and vegetal.

    1998 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze - smoky with leather notes.  Unfortunately no longer lively and fruity.

    1986 Lafleur - smoky, sweet grass, mineral, earthy.  A little sweet fruit came out, with slight hint of exotic coconut.  After this faded there was some burnt rubber…  Smooth on the palate but a little muted.

    1988 Lafite-Rothschild - smoke, pencil lead, a little mineral, black tea and a little soy sauce.  Classic Pauillac and beautiful.  Definitely the wine of the evening.

    Jacques Selosse Exquise - really big toasty nose, lots of citrus, a little marmalade.  Certainly sweeter on the palate than most other Champagnes.

    Many thanks to the Specialist for a wonderful evening.

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  • 06/10/13--07:40: Six knives
  • OK, so maybe I AM David Lai's biggest fan… Why else would I be back at On Lot 10 just 10 days after my last dinner here?  Truth be told, this dinner was just like the last one - I was here to introduce the restaurant to more members of Tigger's extended family.  What Grandma Bear wants, Grandma Bear gets.

    I was trying to keep the dinner light, but maybe I was overdoing it a little… The kitchen had a few ideas of their own…

    Bellota iberico ham '36 month' - upon arrival I was told that the organic vegetables 'crudités' were unavailable because of the recent rain, so the kitchen sent this out instead… Not exactly the same thing, but I'd never complain about having jamón!

    Whole steamed extra large artichoke, truffle vinaigrette - Mrs. Tigger announced firmly that she could finish one all by herself, and therefore we needed two of these for the table.  Yes, ma'am!

    Tête de veau, chilled and thinly sliced, ravigote sauce - David knows I love this, but I wasn't gonna order it for this crowd… Absolutely delicious… soft and tender ox tongue, browned collagen, crunchy garnish with wonderful acidity.  Very yum.

    Red prawn capellini, summer truffle, prawn coral reduction - it's no secret that I loooove carabineros, so David suggested that we order this.  The prawn was really delicious, and but for the very first time I didn't get to suck out the head!  The head had been cleaned out to help make the sauce for the pasta, which was tomato-based.  Sweet basil and summer truffle lent their fragrances to the dish.  A single portion is pretty light.  I could probably just come here and have about 4 of these…

    We love the fresh catch that David brings to the restaurant on a daily basis, and always look forward to whatever he decides to throw at us.  Tonight the plate came bearing two spottedtail morwongs (三刀魚), along with some clams and potatoes.  These morwongs are quite a delicacy, although I've never had them before myself.  With my first mouthful, I closed my eyes and started to moan in ecstasy… The flesh was soooo soft and tender… as if I were eating something fluffy like marshmallow… The flavors were very delicate, and it was clear as day that these were very fresh… possibly still swimming in the ocean this very morning.

    I have to say that the liquid at the bottom of the plate was pure gold.  I think if we were at home, Mrs. Tigger would have picked up the plate and drank from it.  Come to think of it, I probably would have, too!  But we were content to use some delicious bread to soak it all up, all the while defending the plate from those pesky waiters who kept wanting to take it away from us…

    I was pretty happy with the amount of food tonight, as I was satiated but nowhere near being stuffed.  However I know the others still had room for more, and they've been staring at other tables getting their food.  We inquired about the amount of time it would take to prepare the extra course we wanted, and we were told that it would take half an hour.

    We waited just under an hour for the dish to arrive.  An hour during which there were 5 people at the table without much to do… Not many happy campers tonight as a result of this episode.  After being on cloud nine with the carabineros and the morwongs, we fell back down to earth and landed with a loud "THUD!"

    Roe crab paella, chorizo sausage - the crabs sure had plenty of roe… especially inside the top shell. But this was pretty hard roe, made even harder and drier with the extended cooking time.  The crab meat was pretty decent, but the real star was the rice at the bottom of the pan.  Plenty of chopped tomato and chorizo here, with lots of goodness from the crab.  Nice smoky flavors.

    I brought two bottles of wine tonight, was for some reason was initially worried that we would have difficulty finishing them.  Little did I know…

    2007 Jos. Joh. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - nose of petrol and minerals.  Pretty sweet on the palate, and showed some carbonation.  I must have drunk about half a case of this wine with this family...

    1985 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - sweet and ripe fruit, leather, floral and lovely, violet, smoked meats, plum and black olives.  Medium-light body now, with noticeable acidity.

    It was getting a little past bed time for the Tiggers, and we were pretty full by now, so we skipped dessert and decided to call it a night.

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  • 06/14/13--01:54:
  • The last time I had lunch at Caprice, I missed out on having an interesting dish.  My friend ordered this shellfish paella, but instead of rice it was made with these little coquillettes.  We joked about her having the kiddie menu, but deep down I wanted to have some.  I needed to have some.  So I rounded up a couple of friends and booked for another lunch.  The restaurant couldn't fit me in last Friday, so we made do with a table today.

    Jeremy spotted us and came over to greet us.  I told him that I was "on a diet" and needed to cut down on food intake.  Like ILoveLubutin, he pooh-poohed the idea and suggested that I start dieting tomorrow.  Morever, he suggested that I go on a diet of only cheese and wine, as he had just received a new shipment from France...

    After we had all arrived, menus were passed out and I flipped open the front cover.  My heart sank.  Where are my coquillettes?!  I had made the reservation specifically to come and have this dish, but it was nowhere to be found on the menu!

    As it turns out, Caprice changes their set lunch menu monthly, and the new menu just started today.   So I missed the dish by  I suppose I could have asked the kitchen to make it anyway, but I actually spotted something else I wanted to have…

    We started with a trio of amuse bouches:

    Tomato ravioli with anchovy - a little molecular version.  Pretty yummy.

    Mackerel and tuna mousse with olive, on squid ink toast - pretty good, too.  Flavors all worked well together.

    Watercress mousse with smoked herring emulsion - not bad at all… loved the smoky flavors with the herring.

    The second round of amuse was what I had last time - a cube of deep-fried pork knuckle with sea urchin and lentils, sitting on a bed of lentil mousse and topped with fresh sea urchin.  Not as tasty as last time… The smoky flavors seemed to be missing from the lentil mousse.

    Chilled tomato consommé, Mozzarella and tomato cocktail - Jeremy suggested this as it's "light", and it was!

    The consommé came with a bunch of tiny little baby tomatoes, and a couple of baby basil sprouts.  Soooo refreshing and light on a summer day!

    The mozzarella and tomato "cocktail" was kinda interesting, featuring tiny cubes of mozzarella, tomato and I think crunchy celery.  The little basil grissini didn't give off a strong basil taste, I must say…

    Pot au feu of beef shoulder, ox tongue and veal shank - this was the one item on the menu that caught my eye.  Finding a homey dish such as pot au feu at a 3-macaron restaurant is pretty cool, and I was eager to try it.  This was beautiful.  The cubes of beef were very tender and yielded easily to the knife.  The tongue was… exactly what I had wanted.  The accompanying veggies like carrots, radish and fennel were classic, and provided great balance to all the meat.

    I found the stock slightly on the salty side for me to drink as "soup", but someone had no trouble lapping it up.  Perhaps she was - following her compatriots' footsteps 2 years ago - trying to take in enough salt in the hope that the idione contained within would prevent radiation sickness.  Or perhaps she was turning herself into one of those hundreds of salted fish found hanging around the village of Tai O (大澳)?

    We were also served with fresh strips of veggies on the side.  Very refreshing.  Many thanks to Jeremy for thinking of my well-being.

    We had informed the staff that we didn't want any dessert and would be ready for our coffee order.  However Jeremy still very kindly insisted on serving us a pre-dessert…

    Tarragon sorbet with cherries and cherry purée - not bad… at least it is deceivingly light.

    I skipped the mignardises today, as they were exactly the same as what I had last time, and I don't need the extra calories.

    This was a delicious lunch, but I'm still bummed about missing the coquillettes by one day… Pout.

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  • 06/18/13--08:59: The contrarian
  • So it was finally my turn to host a dinner for the boys of MNSC, more than a month after our last official gathering.  I'd been racking my brain about what wines to serve, as I wanted to make things interesting and enjoyable - but without making things incredibly tough.  After the disastrous showing last year, I now have the distinction of having hosted the dinner with the lowest average score, ever.

    It's been a while since I was last at Island Tang (港島廳), and I wanted to serve up some Cantonese food alongside the wines.  The sensible corkage policy of the restaurant also helped, as the staff here were very professional when it came to wine service.  So I asked the restaurant to put together a pre-set menu, dropped the wines off a day early with service instructions, and waited for the evening to unfold...

    After waiting around for half an hour, I decided not to wait for our late-comer and served up the Island Tang Appetizer Delights (港島廳四小碟):

    Roast pork belly (化皮燒腩仔) - this was pretty good.

    Preserved duck eggs accompanied with pickled ginger (松花皮蛋酸薑) - sure to screw up your palate for wine...

    Deep-fried scallop with taro crust (荔茸炸帶子) - actually pretty decent.  Love deep-fried taro.

    Honey glazed barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - the char siu here is really one of the best in town, as I've said before.

    Wok-fried hairy crab coral on a bed of steamed egg white (蟹粉扒蒸乳酪) - pretty decent and tasty, but again something that doesn't quite work with red wine...

    Wok-fried crystal king prawn with lobster bisque (琥珀水晶蝦球) - gotta say I found this interesting.  The prawn was alright but it was the use of lobster bisque as the "sauce" that stood out.

    Wok-fried de-boned pig trotters with mashed ginger, chili and crispy garlic (避風塘無骨豬手) - I was lambasted for having this dish on the menu... as it totally destroyed any palate for wine.  To be fair, though, I wasn't exactly the first to serve up something with lots of deep-fried garlic and chili... although I do have a history of serving dishes at MNSC dinners that don't work with red wines... In any case, I found this dish to be totally delicious!  In spite of Pineapple's refusal to eat this and the Ox choking on the chilis, the wonderfully soft texture and the yummy flavors from frying everything was to die for.

    Simmered Tien-Jin cabbage in rice porridge broth (農家粥水煲津膽) - actually a very simple and delicious dish.  The cabbage was sweet, the wolfberries sweeter and the broth was flavorful without being heavy.

    Classic Peking Duck (馳名片皮鴨) - FAIL.  I was expecting to get a whole duck, but apparently that wasn't the case.  Pineapple complained about not getting any skin, and asked out loud whether we were getting the "second serving" instead of "first serving".  I have the same question myself.  The duck was also slightly on the dry side.  Not gonna get this again.

    Fried rice braised with diced chicken, black truffle and wild mushroom (黑松露野菌雞粒燴飯) - hands down the best dish of the evening, by far.  OMG the black truffle and mushroom flavors... worked perfectly with a pair of big, heavy Cabs!

    Chilled sago cream with pomelo and mango (楊枝甘露) - always yummy.

    Chinese petit fours (美點薈萃):
    Mini egg tart


    And now for zee wines... It is meant to be a "birthday" dinner so naturally something had to be from the birth vintage...

    1970 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - white flowers, a little plastic, a little pear, petrol, flinty, sweet like marshmallow or marzipan.  Good acidity here to balance out the sweetness on palate.

    First flight:
    1988 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - decanted 2 hours prior to drinking.  Very farmy, leather, manure, also floral, sweet with plum.  Beautiful nose.  Pretty smooth on the palate but acidity slightly high.  95 points.

    1998 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - decanted 2½ hours prior to drinking.  Jammy, ripe, more concentrated, more alcoholic, dried herbs.  Later on huge sweet nose with sugar cane and crème brûlée notes.  Totally different style to the '88.  96 points.

    Second flight: (decanted 2½ hours prior to drinking)
    1983 Guigal La Landonne - stinky, farmy, acidity evident on the nose, plum, cherry, some sweetness in the nose.  Beefy, grilled meats.  Second pour was much better, with more sweet fruit in the nose.  94 points.

    1983 Penfolds Grange - exotic with tons of coconut butter and sweetness, along with coffee.  3 hours after decanting the nose dived and turned rubbery.  95 points.

    Third flight: (decanted 1½ hours prior to drinking)
    1996 Armand Rousseau Chambertin - sweet and exotic, cough syrup, bubble gum, Asian spices, Chinese licorice.  Also a little toasty.  93 points.

    1996 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin - muted nose, green like it was fermented with stems.  88 points.  The other bottle purchased at the same time was also disappointing.

    Fourth flight: (decanted 2½ hours prior to drinking)
    1996 Harlan Estate - minty, smoky, a little brett, savory, black tea, earthy, mineral, a little sharp.  Tannins are still here.  94 points.

    1996 Bryant Family - exotic, tropical, coconut butter, sweet fruit, dried herbs and pine needle.  95 points.

    Most of the wines I served tonight are run-of-the-mill for this gang... with a many usual suspects.  The end result?  With the exception of the Burgundy flight, many of the boys got their guesses right, or at least not far off the mark - producing a pretty high-scoring evening.  Egged on by Dr. Poon, Pineapple decided to take a contrarian strategy - with the unfortunate result of getting left farther behind.  No doubt he will attribute it to the fact that he just stepped off the plane right before dinner, although surely jet-lag has yet to settle in?!

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  • 06/20/13--17:12: The punishment
  • Earlier this year I was hanging out with the Tiggers when I accidentally committed a "crime".  We were on our way to lunch and I was opening the passenger side door to Mrs. Tigger's Mercedez AMG C63 Black Series.  This being a two-door sports car, it's understandable that the doors are slightly elongated and therefore swing out farther when they open.  Well, I got a little distracted as I was deep in conversation while opening the door, and... managed to put the tiniest of dents in the door.  To be honest, given the car is white in color, you can't even notice the dent unless you got up real close and looked for it...

    Tigger, of course, made a big deal out of this.  Posts with pictures went up on Facebook pages immediately, and Tigger went about soliciting ideas for a suitable "punishment".  Within 10 minutes, Tigger's old college roommate Vitz - living halfway around the world - came up with an idea out of the blue: make me eat MREs for a week.

    Actually, I thought that was a fantastic idea.

    For the uninitiated, "MRE" stands for "Meal, Ready-to-Eat".  They are basically field rations for the US military - something that you can consume in the battlefield while you are miles away from a kitchen.  They come in plastic pouches and include a main course, snacks and a drink.  Food contained inside the plastic pouch is heated by a chemical heater pack, where the pack reacts with water to give off heat that "cooks" the food in the pouch.

    This stuff is designed to deliver lots of energy, as soldiers in the battlefield are meant to burn off a lot.  Each meal contains about 1,200 calories.  What I don't think they are designed to be is tasty, even though MREs have come a long way over the years, and there are now some 24 "menus" offering a good variety.  It's meant to be edible sustenance and not much more.  How "gourmet" can you get when it comes in plastic pouches, has a shelf life of 3 years, and among its prerequisites are the ability to withstand being air-dropped via parachute?

    Tigger put in a call to Vitz immediately, and Vitz promised to get some MREs and ship them over.  Weeks passed and no MREs showed up at Tigger's door.  When I got tired of waiting, I decided to get in touch with my college roommate Eric who, coincidentally, works in the Supply Corps of the US Navy.  Eric very kindly promised to send some over, but these would be the "civilian" versions instead of what the US military gets, since it is illegal for military personnel to resell MREs - even though he would be giving them to me as a gift.  Apparently they come from the same supplier, and the difference is that civilian versions contain fewer snacks for in-between meals, resulting in about 400 less calories.

    So I was pretty ecstatic when I found a box of MREs showing up at my door a couple of weeks ago.  I've scheduled a week of dinners to try one meal a day, starting next Monday.  I'll be snapping some pictures and posting my tasting notes here.

    Meanwhile it was also suggested that I pair the MREs with wine.  Given the non-gourmet nature of the meals, I decided that it wouldn't make sense to pair them with Grand Crus from France or that sort of thing.  No, they would be more along the lines of Two Buck Chuck, although I didn't think I could find any here in Hong Kong.  I went to my local supermarket and found 7 different wines to go with my 7 meals - all costing USD 10 or less a bottle.  Needless to say, this ain't my usual stuff...

    So let's see how this turns out...

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  • 06/22/13--08:23: Keeping it simple
  • Another year older but none the wiser.  A day when I felt blessed and loved, thanks to the flood of messages coming in from friends, family and acquaintances.  Many had asked how I was going to celebrate, and what wines I would open.  My reply was "keeping it simple"…

    And I did.  This year I chose to be back in Taipei and spend my birthday with family.  Instead of going to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchonlike I would do with the parental units, I chose to revisit STAY - where I spent my birthday last year.  My two visits there last year showed me that the food is straightforward, well-executed and delicious, despite the messy staffing situation in the kitchen.

    Once again I chose to forgo any of the set menus and ordered à la carte.  Besides keeping a lid on the quantity of food, it also would allow me to focus on dessert, traditionally a strength of this establishment.  Mom did the same, while others including Uncle Last Minute and Foodie Wannabe went for the sets.

    As usual there was a trio of amuse bouche:

    Diced chicken in a chicken mousse - the coating was made from chicken stock.

    Watercress mousse with smoked salmon

    Tomato mousse encased in red pepper gelée

    Fregola sarda pasta: organic vegetables and Parmesan - ordering fregola here has been tradition, and I don't see any reason to stop tonight.  Pretty yummy as usual, and I didn't mind having the "vegetarian" version…  Light in flavors, even accounting for the Parmigiano.

    Dinners like this for mom are rare occasions for her to enjoy some foie gras - although she prefers them pan-fried.  Only terrine was available on the à la carte menu, so she took it and removed the layer of red wine jelly on top.  She had brought a little jar of her homemade lychee confit, and wanted to see how it would pair with the foie.  While she thought it worked perfectly, I thought that the foie gras terrine was a little fat and needed a little acidity.  The sweetness from the lychees actually enhanced the fatty richness of the foie instead of balancing it out.

    Organic Taiwanese black pork cheek "a la Provençale": potato confit, tomato and black olive - delicious as it is, I didn't want to order the grilled chicken a third time, so I got myself some of this, thinking that the flavors would match pretty well with my Côte-Rôtie.  I was right.  The pork cheek was reasonably tender, but didn't have as much collagen as wagyu beef cheek.  Flavors were reasonably heavy, with acidity from the tomatoes and a little something from the olives.

    Mom took the lamb chops "a la française", and gave me half so that I could do what dogs do best - gnaw on the bone.  Absolutely lovely.  There was just enough fat to provide an amazing amount of flavor… I could actually smell the lamb fat while it was on her plate!  She had it done medium, although I could have had it a little bit less done...

    As soon as I sat down tonight, I noticed the conspicuous absence of Chef Loïc - who manned the dessert station on my first visit.  I inquired whether it was his day off today, and was greeted with the sad news that he had left Taipei last month.  My heart sank.  My last visit without Loïc just didn't feel the same, and tonight it would be worse.  The usually impressive "dessert ribbon" looked downright pathetic… They were no longer serving any deserts of decent size - what I saw looked more like mignardises instead of proper desserts. I asked whether they were still serving millefeuille.  Yes, they were, but I no longer had any desire to have dessert here.

    The mignardises we got tonight were a little raspberry opéra and a chocolate tart - the latter was noticeably better.

    Mint chocolate marshmallow lollipop - surprisingly a little sour.

    Birthdays are never without wine, and I fished out a couple of bottles from my meagre collection in Taipei…

    Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru (dégorgée Septembre 2008) - a full-bodied Champagne.  Clearly matured with a deep, golden color.  Bubbles not so vibrant now.  Ripe and sweet on the nose, with caramelized sugar and almost sugar cane.  Later on big, toasty notes came out, along with honey and marmalade.  Ripe and sweet on the palate, too.

    1970 Jaboulet Côte-Rôtie Les Jumelles - started drinking an hour after opening without decanting.  Nose of bacon fat, floral notes, lovely, plummy, sweet, a hint of green pepper and smoke.  Peak around 1 hour and started going into decline about 1½ hours.  Acidity became obvious later.

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    A couple of friends very kindly invited me to lunch today to help celebrate my birthday, and knowing my love of wine, decided to take me to La Grande Vinotheque.  The place bills itself as being "Southeast Asia's largest cellar".  I always roll my eyes whenever I hear people making superlative claims like that, but it's not important.  What matters is the food and, most of all, the company I'm with.

    This was a set menu, and we made ourselves comfortable and waited for the onslaught of multiple courses…

    We nibbled on some scallion and truffle "bread" to start.  This is like a cross between a croissant and scallion pancake (蔥油餅), and was pretty tasty.  Apparently for dinner, they make the bread table-side.  The dough rises in front of you, then it's put in a hot stone bowl to "cook".  Hmmm… sounds like what they do at Les Créations de Narisawa...

    Caviar with crab meat, charcoal Pescadores oyster - the oyster from the Pescadores Islands (澎湖) are coated in a batter mixed with "edible" bamboo charcoal powder (竹炭粉), then deep-fried.  Pretty tasty, actually.  Black charcoal/ash mixed into batter/dough?  Sounds like something else I had at Narisawa...

    The caviar tin is a familiar dish.  The smoky flavors seemed to have come from the crab meat, and the layer of lemon gelée at the bottom provided the acidity to whet one's appetite.  But what's with that stupid gold foil?!

    Foie gras terrine with orange gelée - this was supposed to be part of our lunch but wasn't printed on our menus.  Served with a toasted brioche on the side.

    The foie was pretty good, and I even saw the bits of yellow duck fat.  The gelée was made from orange juice concentrate, and I thought the acidity worked pretty well with the foie.

    White asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - this was the course that was mistaken printed on our menu instead of the foie, and we got it with compliments of the house.  Dutch white asparagus served with anchovies, beetroot and half a quail egg with runny yolk.  Not bad.

    Hualien Mountain chicken consommé with porcini - this was absolutely delicious.  There was no hint of salt or MSG, just the flavors of chicken, shroom and a little bit of radish that's been cooked in chicken stock.  The sweetness definitely came through.

    Pesto risotto with escargots - for the life of me I cannot remember ever having had pesto risotto before, but I guess there's a first time for everything!  This came with slices of jamón ibérico and strips of crispy burdock.

    Pu'er tea was served as a palate cleanser in place of sorbet.

    Pan fried lamb filet with wild berry sauce - I would always choose lamb over some hunk of US beef…

    I asked for medium rare, but I don't think what I got was medium rare.  It was slightly on the chewier side, and when the waitstaff said that their lamb isn't so lamby… my heart sank a little.  Oh well.

    Dessert came in the form of these spherical chocolate concoctions.  There was a small little chocolate truffle.  The smaller of the two spheres contained passion fruit sauce in addition to a ganache.  The larger sphere contained a nutty mousse along with chunks of nuts.

    As we're dining at a wine cellar, there's gotta be some wine involved!  After getting a quick tour of the underground cellar with the Mandarin-speaking French sommelier, I ended up choosing a bottle from their collection.

    1985 Nicolas Potel Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes - initially some hint of wet cardboard and fungus, and I thought it might have been corked.  Despite her cold, sommelier said the wine wasn't corked.  This went away after a few minutes.  Toasty nose, ripe, lemon citrus.  Not bad but a little disappointing.  My contribution.

    2005 Les Vins de Vienne Sotanum - nose of pine needle, potpourri, big and alcoholic, sweet on the nose.  Still pretty concentrated.  A little too young. 100% Syrah.

    Many thanks to my friends for this wonderful treat.

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    So it begins.  A week of punishment.  7 MRE meals, with the first one just a few hours after I landed back in Hong Kong.  As I've never "prepared" an MRE before, I had to punch up another video on YouTube for a refresher...

    I finally got to take out one of the packages and break open the tough plastic pouch to get to the contents...

    After laying out the individual packages on the table, we can see that there are the following contents:

    A main dish: garlic and herb chicken breast

    A side dish: au gratin potatoes

    Snack #1:  crackers

    Apple jelly for the crackers

    Snack #2: Cran-apple Ranger Bar

    Beverage powder for orange-flavored drink

    A flame-less heater pack, as well as seasoning and a plastic spoon.  No exactly environmentally-friendly with all the packaging...

    I immediately saw an issue: the instructions on the flame-less heater says to make sure the heater is placed below the food pouch while heating, but I've actually got two pouches to heat for this meal... and would need to sandwich the heater between them.  Is that gonna be a problem?  Will it cause overheating?!

    Fortunately, one of the guys who did a similar menu in the video didn't seem to have problems with two pouches, so I breathed a sigh of relief and went about heating my dinner.  After sandwiching the heating pack between the two pouches inside the plastic bag, I added the requisite amount of water, made sure there was contact between the water and the heater, then stuffed the plastic bag inside the paper carton.  As instructed, I placed it in an incline position against a "rock or something"...  I could hear the chemical reaction taking place, and the package getting a little warmer.

    After about 15 minutes, I took the pouches out and opened them.  My mistake was not realizing that there was liquid inside the pouch for chicken breast, so half the juices got onto the plate.  After squeezing most of the contents out of the other pouch, dinner was ready!

    Garlic herb chicken breast with au gratin potatoes - it's been a while since I ate canned food, and after the initial shock I guess it was as expected.  The texture chicken was a funny mix of chewy and mushy, and actually a small piece had fallen apart as I was removing it from the pouch.

    The muscle fibers of the chicken were clearly defined...  Taste-wise I guess it was OK.  Edible but not enjoyable.  The potato fared a little better, but the cheese tasted completely artificial... my first thought was Kraft Velveeta.

    Mais, bien sûr, we have to have wine with each meal!  I picked a different wine to pair with each main course, and for tonight we have a wine whose name literally means chicken - to go with our chicken breast.

    2010 La Poule Blanche - 60% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon, 20% Viognier.  Initially a little pungent, showing pipi de chat from the Sauvignon Blanc.  Alcoholic. Lemon citrus, oaky, a hint of floral coming from the Viognier.  A little sweet on the nose.  Not bad for HKD 69... Well at least it was made by/for Sacha Lichine - Alexis Lichine's son - so I'm buying something of a brand...

    After finishing the main course, it was time for a snack!  First up was the crackers with apple jelly.  Gotta say that while the crackers weren't bad, I got a feeling that they were designed to deliver energy rather than taste.  There was something about the density of this thing...

    ...and we wash this down with our orange carbohydrate electrolyte beverage powder.  It's been years since I last drank any Tang, but I'm guessing this is similar?  It did taste a little salty, thanks to the electrolytes.

    Finally we have the Cran-apple Ranger Bar.  This was actually very yummy, with plenty of crunch and tasty morsels of dried fruits inside.

    As I wrote in the introduction to this week, I've got the civilian versions of the meals, so they don't have as many snacks (and calories) as the full military versions.  Well, my hunger's satiated and I don't feel too full.  At the end of the day, I've consumed 930 calories, with 235 calories coming from fat.  Not bad!  One down, six more to go...

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    After the inaugural meal yesterday, I was looking for something a little different, so something with beef would do very nicely.

    In a previous conversation with Eric (or did I read it somewhere else?) the topic of the side effects/secondary purpose of MREs had come up.  It should come as no surprise that when a soldier is out in the field of battle, the task of going to the toilet is a real pain in the ass, and definitely gets in the way of the soldier performing his/her duties.  Therefore MREs are designed to minimize the need (or at least the frequency) of such bodily functions.  With that in mind, I promptly went out and got myself a salad for lunch...

    Today's package contained the following items:

    Main dish: Jalapeno pepper jack flavored grilled beef patty

    Side dish: Apple sauce

    Snack #1: Multigrain snack bread

    Snack #2: Chocolate chip cookie

    Strawberry jam

    Beverage powder for orange-flavored drink

    Of course the flame-less heater, spoon and seasoning are all included.

    With only one pouch to heat up, the flame-less heater did its job much quicker today, getting things nice and warm in 10 minutes or so.  I was more careful with the brine inside the pouch today, so no liquids got out.

    Jalapeno pepper jack flavored grilled beef patty, served on multigrain snack bread - I dunno why, but the minute I read "beef patty" I immediately thought "burger", and it just seemed like a no-brainer that the patty was always gonna go on top of the bread.  I was even cursing the fact that there was only one piece of bread, and I couldn't grab this like a proper burger!

    Taste-wise this was actually pretty yummy!  Sooo much better than the chicken breast last night!  Texture was reasonably firm, with a little bounce to it, too.  Pretty spicy and not bland at all.  If I were a soldier out in the middle of nowhere, I'd be pretty happy with this in my sack.  The multi-grain bread was also reasonably tasty.

    Tonight's wine pairing was a bottle of Californian red, because I figured "beef burger" would go well with a big red.  Well, yes and no…

    Everyday Red - yes, that IS the name of the wine.  There's no vintage on here… and there's also no grape varietal indicated.  On the back label it says "…soft and fruity blend of red varietals…"  We used to joke about eating "mystery meat" at school.  Now I find myself drinking "mystery wine".  The label credits "Wine for Life Cellars" but it's actually made by Delicato Family Vineyards.

    So how did it taste?!  Well, the label wasn't lying!  It was surprisingly soft, and definitely fruity.  This was very ripe and sweet on the palate, while the jammy nose showed notes of blueberries, oak, dried herbs, cinnamon, nutmeg and plum.  With the jalapeños, the alcohol was like adding fuel to the fire, and my tongue burned a little more.  Fortunately the sugar level was high and that helped a little…  For HKD 34 a bottle, this drank surprisingly well.  But I'd drink it quickly after cracking open the screwcap, though… as the palate took a real dive after I left the wine in glass for about 20 minutes.

    Done with my main course and one snack, I moved on to the side dish of apple sauce.  I could have very well just squeezed the pouch and let the sauce come through the spout and land directly in my mouth, but we're not exactly in the field here…  Here's where I realized the first mistake I made tonight - I should have had this with the beef patty.  The sugar in the apple sauce would have helped neutralize the jalapeños and doused out the fires that is was dancing on my tongue.  There was a valid reason for this pairing!

    I was now left with the chocolate cookie and a pack of strawberry jam.  Mistake #2: the beef patty wasn't meant to be made into a "sandwich" along with the multigrain bread.  The bread was meant to be eaten as a snack, along with the jam.  So what was I to do?  Well, squeeze the strawberry jam on top of the chocolate cookie, of course!  BTW this was one BIG cookie!  I felt pretty full after this… and it came with a whopping 300 calories (140 of which from fat) - the combined total of both the beef patty and the multigrain snack bread!

    Finally, we've got the orange-flavored drink.  The package today didn't say "electrolytes", and maybe that's why I thought it lacked the slight salty taste of the drink I had yesterday…

    I actually felt a little stuffed tonight - more so than last night.  The final tally tonight was 930 calories, with 250 calories coming from fat.  Well, at least the main course tonight was pretty tasty!

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    Since early 2007, I have been wanting to gear my future travels towards visiting more locations which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are so many amazing places around the world to see!

    Here is the list that I have already visited so far. Click on the links to see pictures from my Picasa albums.

    Total count: 55 sites in 18 countries

    Greater Blue Mountains Area - 1976
    Sydney Opera House - 1976

    Angkor - 2001

    The Great Wall - 1997, 1999
    The Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang - 1997, 1999 (Beijing only)
    Mogao Caves - 1999
    Temple of Heaven - 1997, 1999
    Summer Palace - 1997
    Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties - 1997
    Historic Centre of Macao - 1990, 1995, 2005, 2010
    South China Karst - 2000
    Xinjiang Tianshan - 1998
    Westlake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou - 1998

    Paris, Banks of the Seine - 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2011
    Cathedral of Notre Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau, Reims - 2002, 2009
    Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion - 2009
    Bordeaux, Port of the Moon - 2009
    Palace and Park of Versailles - 2009
    Historic Center of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge - 2011
    Roman Theater and its Surroundings and the "Triumphal Arch" of Orange - 2011
    Historic Center of Lyons - 2011

    Agra Fort - 2007
    Taj Mahal - 2007
    Fatehpur Sikri - 2007
    Humayun's Tomb, Dehli - 2007
    Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Dehli - 2007

    Borobudur Temple Compounds - 2005
    Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy - 1997
    Prambanan Temple Compounds - 2005

    Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration - 1983, 1985, 2002, 2004,
    Himeji-jo - 1998
    Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) - 1998, 2006
    Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara - 2006
    Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range - 2003
    Shrines and Temples of Nikko - 2007

    Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi - 2008
    Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly - 2008

    Changdeokgung Palace Complex - 2008

    Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straights of Malacca - 2003

    Bahla Fort - 2007
    Falaj System of Irrigation - 2007

    Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belen in Lisbon - 2006
    Historic Centre of Oporto - 2006
    Alto Douro Wine Region - 2006

    Works of Antonio Gaudi - 2006

    Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces - 2008, 2011

    Historic City of Ayutthaya - 2008
    Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns - 2008

    United Kingdom
    Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church - 1976
    Tower of London - 1976, 2005

    United States
    Statue of Liberty - 1994, 2006

    Itchan Kala - 2008
    Historic Center of Bukhara - 2008
    Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz - 2008
    Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures - 2008

    This list will be continuously updated as my travels take me to more sites.

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    It's day 3 and I'm switching back to chicken just to keep it a little more interesting.  Today's package contained the following:

    Main dish: Southwest style chicken stew

    Side dish: Apple sauce

    Snack #1: Crackers

    Snack #2: Cran-apple ranger bar

    Apple jelly

    Beverage powder for orange-flavored drink

    Flame-less heater, spoon and seasoning are all included.

    Apart from the main dish, all the side dish/snacks/drinks are the same as the last two days.  It looks like it will start getting boring...

    Today's pouch was mostly liquid, so after heating I ended up grabbing my lovely green plastic salad bowl instead of the normal plate...

    Southwest style chicken stew - actually this is just cajun chicken gumbo.  Consistency isn't very thick, and I was left to wonder if I'll be full for dinner.  The chunks of chicken were very dry, which wasn't surprising.  The corn had been "fire roasted" and it showed.  Onions, chili peppers and celery (not listed on the package but I swore I ate some) were the other solids in my bowl.  There was a good amount of chili powder to give that good ol' cajun flavor.  As I got to the bottom of the bowl where the sediment was, it started to get a little bitter...  Meh...

    The wine pairing tonight?  An American classic.  Gallo Family White Zinfandel in quarter-bottle.  Reminds me of my days of drinking wine in college...  Sweet nose like Manuka or orange blossom honey, jammy, strawberry, almost like cough syrup.  Pretty sweet on palate, too!  Thankfully both the sweetness as well as the low alcohol (8%) helped sooth the burning tongue.  At HKD 12 for the quarter-bottle, I guess I haven't earned the right to complain too loudly...

    Apple sauce - same as yesterday, but tonight I had the apple sauce with my main dish, so that the sugar would neutralize the spiciness of the chili powder.  Of course it worked, as it was meant to...

    Crackers with apple jelly - pretty much the same as day 1.

    Orange carbohydrate electrolyte beverage - same as day 1, with that slight hint of saltiness.

    Cran-apple Ranger Bar - just as yummy as the one from day 1.  Now why is it that every time this shows up in the package, it ends up beating the pants off of every other item on the menu?!

    My tummy was surprisingly full after this meal, but I suspect it has something to do with all the liquids... after all there's liquid from the 8-ounce gumbo, 4½ ounces of apple sauce, and 12 ounces of the orange drink!  Final tally?  840 calories, with 165 calories coming from fat.  Looks like I might get hungrier a little earlier...

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    In some respects, day 4 was doomed from the start.  I had a HUGE salad at lunch, and couldn't even finish the damn thing.  What's worse was that I had loaded it up with broccoli, cauliflower, corn and mushrooms... and some of those things are hard to digest!  I also had a very late cup of latte about an hour and a half before dinner, so I wasn't feeling the least bit hungry when I started to open the package for tonight...

    The package today contained the following items:

    Main dish: Chili and macaroni

    Side dish: Fried rice

    Snack #1: Vegetable crackers

    Snack #2: Cran-apple Ranger bar

    Apple jelly

    Beverage powder for orange-flavored drink

    Man... the snacks are getting real repetitive... and isn't there anything else to drink other than that orange flavored stuff?!

    I'm heating two big pouches tonight, which means that it took a while for the heater to do its job.  I also realized that with two pouches, I shouldn't leave the package at an incline.  I need the heater to work overtime and it's best to leave it flat, so that more water comes into contact with the flame-less heater.  Anyway, I finally got the pouches to be somewhat warm after about 20 minutes...

    I think I made another mistake tonight in terms of serving...  MREs are meant to be eaten in the field, straight from the pouches since they don't have plates.  So the pouches are meant to be consumed individually, not necessary together as a "main" and a "side".  Not having thought of that, I decided to break open the fried rice and lay it on the plate first...  What came out was more like a rice "cake"... as the sauce had solidified and the damn thing hasn't been heated well-enough...

    Next I opened up the chili and macaroni, and put it kinda half on top of the rice and half on the side.  For some reason this reminded me of my first year in college in the States, when I first came into contact with American Chinese food.  I was flabbergasted at my first encounter with "chicken chow mein"... where you have these short strands of noodles in chicken gravy being served over plain rice.  WTF?!  In Asia we either have noodles or we have rice... we don't have both of them together at the same time!

    So... verdict?  Well, I first tasted the "fried rice" on its own.  Kinda bland, to be honest.  Yes, I could taste some mushroom and soy sauce flavor, along with a hint of carrot, perhaps.  But the texture was all wrong, as the pouch wasn't heated evenly.  One the end where the heating worked a little better, the rice was actually a little softer and the sauce had liquefied somewhat.  On the other end, unfortunately the rice grains were still hard...

    The chili and macaroni, however, tasted just fine.  It was pretty much what I expected, like it came out of a can from Chef Boyardee... Sure, the macaroni was a little mushy, but all in all it wasn't bad!

    I stuck with a rosé tonight for the wine pairing, as chili was bound to be a little spicy. 2011 Le Poussin Rose was 100% Grenache, although the back labels also said: "a new world style of blended varietals"...  Oaky, pipi de chat, some red fruits in the nose.  Dry on the attack but ripe mid-palate, with a slightly bitter finish.  However, at 12.5% it's a little stronger than the White Zinfandel from last night, and also vinified dry instead of being sweeter on the palate.  That meant my tongue burned just a little bit more...  I thought I could do a lot worse than picking a rosé from Sacha Lichine, the man behind what some people are claiming to be the best rosé in the world... At HKD 69 a bottle, I guess it's not bad...

    Vegetable crackers with apple jelly - finally there was a different cracker!  These were actually tastier than the "regular" crackers, since I could definitely taste the "granulated" carrots, tomato and celery...  As I didn't want to eat the apple jelly on its own, I ended up putting it on top of these savory crackers, which was slightly odd...

    Orange carbohydrate electrolyte beverage - same as before.

    Cran-apple Ranger Bar - same as before.

    This was definitely the most filling of all the meals so far, notwithstanding the fact that I was never hungry to begin with.  Final tally of the night?  A whopping 1,030 calories, with 235 calories coming from fat.  A total of 171 grams of carbohydrates, with 54 grams being sugar.


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  • 06/28/13--00:13: Artsy nibbles
  • Many of my friends know that I am loathe to try out any new restaurants, simply because most (if not all) restaurants never have everything down pat when they open.  I also generally do not accept invitations from restaurant PRs for those "media/blogger" meals, because of the reason I just mentioned, and also because I'm pretty picky about where I wanna eat.  Yes, you're inviting me for a free meal, but if I don't think the food is any good... there's no point in taking in calories from crappy food - especially when I'm supposed to be cutting down intake.  OK, so I'm a food snob.  I didn't get the moniker of Arrogant Prick for nothing, ya know...

    Having said all that, I ended up dining at the invitation of a club today.  Duddell's, to be exact.  This place opened up with some fanfare a while ago, and apparently was quite the place to be during Art Basel Hong Kong.  A fellow foodie friend had been asked to invite a few people to try the place at lunch, and since Paulo's a friend I asked him if he thought their food was good enough at this stage.  When he replied in the positive, I figured it would be safe to give it a try.

    We ended up being seated indoors on the upper level, as the rain had just suddenly come down while I was en route to lunch, killing the original plans to seat us on the outdoor terrace.  While the seating was comfortable, there was a distinct deficiency in terms of lighting.  It probably didn't bothered anyone else, though...

    The menu was all pre-arranged so we just sat back and waited for the food to arrive... although it did take some time for the first nibbles to appear in front of us...

    We were presented with what must have been the 5-piece dim sum combination.  Today we had:

    Steamed chicken and pork bun with coriander (香茜雞鮑仔) - the Restaurant Manager introduced this as steamed barbecued pork bun (叉燒包), so I kinda did a double-take when I split the bun open with my hands and saw the filling.  Well, taste-wise this was decent, but clearly the front-of-house wasn't talking to the back-of-house... or didn't know his menu well enough.

    Steamed lobster dumpling with shrimp and scallop (龍皇帶子餃) - we were told that this was a "scallop dumpling", but what I was chewing on didn't have the texture of scallop... and it wasn't plain old shrimp, either... so could it have been the dumpling with lobster, shrimp and scallop?  Wasn't expecting to be blind-tasting "mystery dumpling" today!  Perhaps just a tad over-steamed?  Otherwise filling tasted pretty good.

    Steamed yam dumpling with chive and peanut (潮式蒸粉果) - if I recall correctly, we were told that this was a "shrimp dumpling (蝦餃)"...  Well, I think we would know what a Chiuchow-style steamed dumpling tastes like... the chives and peanuts inside are dead giveaways... although I was surprised at the amount of crunchy cubes of veggies inside - bamboo shoots, I think...

    The spring roll (春卷) was decent, although I'm not sure if this was the spring rolls with shrimp and cheese (芝士蝦春卷) listed on the menu.  I hope not, because I certainly didn't taste any cheese flavor from this...

    Baked glutinous cake with diced chicken and chive (韭菜雞粒烤軟餅) - pretty tasty.

    Done with dim sum, we moved on to a couple of simple dishes...

    Barbecued pork with honey (蜜汁燒叉燒) - nice red food coloring here...  My first piece was the one in the picture, at the end of the plate.  It was ever so slightly on the dry side, although still reasonably tender.  My next piece came from the middle of the plate, with a nice chunk of caramelized fat.  Yumminess.  Good balance in terms of flavors, textures...

    Stir-fried kale (炒芥蘭) - these are young and crunchy, but I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't like the taste.  For me the best kale has a sweet aftertaste along with the slight bitterness, but this was just a bitter without the sweetness...

    Fried noodles with shredded squid (龍鬚豉油皇炒麵) - we were told this was fried noodles with shredded chicken...  Loved the dried and fragrant squid tentacles.  The noodles themselves could have used a tad more soy sauce, and it was clear they weren't stir-fried at high heat as they lacked that fragrance the Cantonese call wok hei (鑊氣).  I definitely shouldn't stuffed myself with these noodles...

    We were pretty stuffed so we turned down dessert.

    Overall I thought the food we had was decent, although I was rather hoping for a little bit more considering the pedigree of the chef.  But I think the front of house definitely needs improvement... we were told the wrong dish name 3 or 4 times!

    Many thanks to Duddell's for their kind invitation.

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  • 06/28/13--06:18: MRE Week day 5: sloppy joe
  • TGIF!!!!  Back in my school days, the cafeteria used to serve up something special on Fridays... and sloppy joes were definitely a crowd favorite.  So it only seems appropriate that this is the menu I chose for tonight.

    Opening up the package reveals the following items:

    Main dish: Sloppy joe filling, barbecue sauce with beef

    Side dish: Santa Fe style rice and beans

    Snack #1: Wheat snack bread

    Snack #2: Chocolate chip cookie

    Strawberry jam

    Beverage powder for lemon-lime flavored drink

    Of course the flame-less heater, spoon and seasoning are all included.

    After complaining about the repetitive snacks - and especially having drunk orange-flavored drink four days in a row... I finally got a break!  A different colored drink!! Yay!!!

    Having learned from the last few days' experience, with two big pouches to heat up today, I decided to fill water to a level over the lines in the plastic bag - pouring in between the two pouches so that the water would come into direct contact with the heater.  Then I laid the whole package flat, instead of having it at an incline.  This sped up the chemical reaction and smoke was billowing out of the bag in no time.  After 15 minutes or so, I took the pouches out and found both of them to be nice and warm.  So that's what it takes to heat two pouches properly...

    Sloppy joe with Santa Fe style rice and beans - I love the way the suppliers would do anything to avoid the word "Mexican", which was what these dishes used to be described as.  Nowadays it's "Southwestern style", "Santa Fe style"...  but I digress.  The rice and beans was pretty good!  Obviously there was a noticeable amount of flavor coming from spices like cayenne pepper, but the beans, corn, cheese and what not all came together.  Unlike the "fried rice" yesterday, I would happily eat this on its own.

    The sloppy joe itself was no slouch, either!  Very tasty with lots of tomato and some vinegar to provide lots of flavor to the beef.  Spooning the sloppy joe and rice and beans together into my waiting mouth turned out to be pretty enjoyable.

    But we mustn't forget about the wine pairing!  All the tomato and beef in sloppy joe calls for a full-bodied wine, and it had to be Vin Rouge.  The minute I saw the label I was sold.  Calling your wine "Vin Rouge" is basically the French equivalent of calling it "Everyday Red"...  It advertised itself as "soft and full bodied" while the back labels described it as "a soft, fruity, easy to drink red wine made from selected grapes".  "Selected" grapes, eh?  So I'm drinking ANOTHER "mystery wine"...  And this came with a composite cork... maybe because the Frenchies can't bring themselves to use a synthetic closure.  For wines at this price range, I'd much rather they used screwcaps...

    The wine was kinda soft on the palate.  Ripe nose of stewed prunes, caramel, sweet, definitely oxidized, smelling like the bottle's been stoppered and left overnight after opening.  For HKD 39 a bottle I'll take the Everyday Red instead.

    Wheat snack bread with strawberry jam - I guess it's similar to the multigrain snack bread from the other night, but this was slightly fluffier/mushier.

    The chocolate chip cookie was the same as the other night.  Huge.

    Hey!  Let's not forget my new lime green-colored lemon-lime drink!

    I gotta say... After 5 meals, this has got to be the best one so far!  Both the main and the side dish were pretty yummy!  And super filling.  Final tally?  1,140 calories, with 380 calories from fat.  Whoa!  This was the biggest meal so far, too!  So what was that saying about what tastes good must be bad for you (fattening)?

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    Day 6.  Almost done.  Lunch today was relatively heavy, as I regretted taking a desert which turned out to be gigantic.  Thankfully the Pu'er tea (普洱茶) my friend shared with me after lunch helped the digestion a little.

    The package today contained the following items:

    Main dish: Southwest style beef and black beans with sauce

    Side dish: Apple sauce

    Snack #1: Multigrain snack bread

    Snack #2: Chocolate chip cookie

    Strawberry jam

    Powder for orange-flavored drink

    Plus flame-less heater, spoon and seasoning.

    Southwest style beef and black beans - it's hard to top the sloppy joe last night, and this was a little disappointing.  No surprise that the beef is overcooked and tough, and I'm getting a little bored of all this "southwest style"/Tex-Mex flavors…  Isn't there anything that doesn't come with chili powder?!  Well, at least this dish has a little more weight to it… compared to the very watery chicken gumbo on Wednesday.

    The wine I chose to pair with this dish tonight was the 2010 Le Coq Rouge - made with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Grenache, 10% Merlot, 10% Syrah.  Minty, farmy, pungent, ever so slightly savory, black fruits.  Reasonably concentrated with some tannins, yet medium-soft on the palate.  The back label said that this would go with piri piri chicken or penne arabiata… so it's meant to go with spicy food.  Actually it wasn't so bad, as the wine was reasonably soft and my tongue didn't burn too badly.  OK for HKD 69 I guess…  The last of the trio from Sacha Lichine.

    Apple sauce - third time having the same apple sauce this week…

    Multigrain snack bread with strawberry jam - definitely can feel the bits of grain between my teeth.  Drier and tougher.  Need lots of liquid to be able to swallow it down.

    Chocolate chip cookie - third time having this huge cookie this week…

    …aaaaand we're back to this damn orange drink…  Gettin' real tired of the lack of variety here…

    I gotta say I was feelin' mighty full from this here dinner… and I ain't no soldier out in the battlefield!  Final tally?  1,030 calories, with 240 calories from fat.  I think for a "civilian version", my last 3 meals were pretty damn heavy!

    I'm glad I only got one more of these meals left...

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    So here we are on the last night of MRE Week, and I've saved the best for last.  My final dinner is the "official" military version, which came in different packaging with the Seal of the Department of Defense.  The wording on the package also prompted a friend of mine to make fun of me by calling me a "warfighter"...

    What made tonight even more special was that I was joined by Tigger, the person responsible for my punishment this week.  He happened to be close by and I thought it would be only fitting that he witnessed the last meal.

    Tonight's package contained the following:

    I knew this was the good stuff!  While some of the items look similar to the "civilian" version, there were definitely some things that I felt were upgraded for the military package...

    Main dish: Chicken pesto pasta

    Side dish: Mango peach applesauce

    Snack #1: Wheat snack bread

    Snack #2: dessert powder for vanilla pudding

    Cheese spread with bacon

    Drink powder for orange-flavored drink

    Flameless ration heater

    Of course there were also seasonings as well as the MRE spoon.

    So I indulged Tigger a little, letting him take a video while I used the flameless heater to heat up my main course... Sigh...

    Chicken pesto pasta - well, the second I tore open the pouch I could smell the pesto.  At least it ain't false advertising.  Taste-wise... about what I expected.  The chunks of chicken were overcooked and tough.  The pesto tasted alright, but it was a far cry from anything fresh like Harlan's version at Gold...  Lots of olive oil sitting at the bottom of my plate...

    Sauvignon Blanc is meant to work well with pesto, although I was tempted to get a bottle of Pinot Grigio just because it's eye-talian...  The 2012 Terra Vega Sauvignon Blanc Reserva was flinty, a little oaky, surprisingly no pipi de chat, lemon.  Slightly ripe on the palate, and a little bitter on the finish.  OK for HKD 59 a bottle.

    Mango peach applesauce - YES!!! This was soooo much better than just plain old apple sauce!  I could definitely taste both the mango and the peach.  Yum.

    Wheat snack bread, served with cheese spread with bacon - finally, a savory spread for the bread!  Tigger was joking that anything that came out of a packet would be sub-Velveeta... Well, this has got some smoky bacon flavor on top!  I happily chomped away at my new treat, but somewhere along the line it all got to be a little too much.

    First of all, this was just too damn salty.  I needed to drink either the wine or my Tang to be able to take the next bite.  They also gave us too much of the spread.  Whereas there was only 1 ounce of jam or jelly earlier in the week, there was a whole 1½ ounces of this cheese spread.  That means the spread/bread ratio was all wrong, and I ended up having too much spread on top of my bread.  Believe me, when someone like me - whose motto is "I'd like some bread with my butter, please" - says there's too much cheese spread, you know these guys went overboard.

    Vanilla pudding - this was made by pouring 4 ounces of water into the packet, then shaking it for about a minute.  I knew that by not having beaten the mixture with a fork or a whisk, there were bound to be clumps of powder in the pudding, and sure enough...  I gotta say it's been about 20 years since I last tasted the artificial vanilla flavors from a "vanilla pudding mix"... and I wouldn't mind if my next tasting is in another 20 years...

    I was totally stuffed.  They weren't kidding when they said that the full military versions had more calories!  Finally talley?  1,330 calories, with 410 calories coming from fat.  That cheese spread alone had 180 calories with 150 of them from fat...

    Well, I'm glad it's all over and I don't have to eat any more of these.  Some final thoughts:

    - definitely don't get any chicken
    - if you wanna get beef, get something you know that comes with ground beef or it's made into a patty.  Beef chunks can be just as tough as chicken chunks
    - those snacks and drink get repetitive

    Best meal of the week: I think the chili macaroni, served with Santa Fe style rice and beans would edge out the jalapeno jack beef patty for top honors.  Gotta say I was happy to eat both of those meals.  The chicken pesto pasta tonight was alright.  The others... probably never wanna see them again.

    Thanks to Tigger for hanging out with me for this last meal, and sorry about the dent in Mrs. Tigger's car door...

    Thanks to Vitz for coming up with the idea for this project, even though he didn't follow through with the execution.

    Finally, thanks to my roommate Eric for sending this great package over from the States.  A very generous gift.  I'm sure you've eaten more than a few of these in your 20 years in the military...

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