Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thailand Trip 2014: The Best Things We Ate

I mentioned in my last honeymoon post that Doug and I were a little bit lost in Thailand without Rick Steves, especially when it came to finding places to eat. However, Doug found our saving grace in Eating Thai Food, a blog that guided us to some very delicious spots in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Thank you, Mark and Dwight, for making our Thai food dreams come true!

Ok, let's get right to it.

The Best Things We Ate in Thailand:

Tom Yum Goong from an Isan street restaurant in Silom, Bangkok

This little street-side restaurant (which was apparently adjacent to a graveyard) was a recommendation from Eating Thai Food that we never would have found on our own. While all the dishes we had there were delicious (see below for the papaya salad), the Tom Yum soup stole the show. Tom Yum's primary characteristic is its sourness and Doug and I agreed that we had never tasted anything like this Tom Yum before. It was very sour, as it should be, but that sourness was also perfectly balanced with spice. The soup was also chalk full of prawns and my new favorite Thai veggie- straw mushrooms.

Khao Soi at Grandma's Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

Eating Thai Food helped us out with this one too. A Northern Thai soup made with coconut curry plus boiled and fried noodles, Khao Soi was on our must-try list and Grandma's did not disappoint. Rich and flavorful with a satisfying little crunch from the fried noodles, this Khao Soi had a comfort-food feel like nothing else we ate in Thailand. It was just so, so good.

Khao Kha Moo at Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak in Chiang Mai

Yep, another Eating Thai Food rec. Khao Kha Moo is pork leg served with rice and this particular stall is very popular in Chiang Mai if not just for the delicious food, but also for its purveyor's famous cowboy hat. The Khao Kha Moo was so good that the Americans next to us ordered a plate each... and then a second round. We might have done the same if we weren't saving room for some Suki at Suki Koka next door.

Kanom Beuang from a street stall in Bangkok

When we first bought a bag of these little guys, we had no idea what to expect. Would they be savory or sweet? What was that white stuff?? Turns out they were Kanom Beuang- crispy Thai pancakes topped with coconut cream and one of two different toppings. Thai Food and Travel says "the stringy bright yellow filling is extruded duck egg yolks cooked in syrup and the deep orange filling is a mixture of shredded coconut cooked with minced shrimp or ground dried shrimp." Definitely didn't know that's what we were eating when we tried them... but regardless, these little taco-like treats became a favorite of mine during our time in Bangkok. 

Papaya Salad at an Isan street restaurant in Silom, Bangkok

In college, Doug and I would go on Tuesday Friend Dates and one of our most memorable meals was a very unsuccessful trip to Pok Pok back when it first opened. Our server recommended that we order the papaya salad... but for some reason neglected to explain that it was very, very spicy and should be eaten with rice. Not a good first introduction to papaya salad but I think the dish has fully redeemed itself in our eyes thanks to this version. This salad was a balance of spicy with sweet- which made it much more enjoyable. We also liked that they didn't skimp on the peanuts.

Khao Man Gai at Kiat Ocha in Chiang Mai.

We are big fan's of Nong's Khao Man Gai here in Portland so we wanted to make sure we tried some chicken and rice in Thailand too. Like Nong's, the best thing about this dish was definitely the sauces. We also got an order of Moo Satay on the side and that was delicious too.

Calamari with Tamarind Sauce at Beachhouse Restaurant on Ko Lanta

The little beach-front restaurant where we had this calamari (along with some tasty Khao Soi) was super cute and the owner/cook was so, so sweet and unassuming. The calamari was very fresh and we loved how the tang of the tamarind sauce complimented the lightly-breaded calamari

Rotee at Paday Rotee in Chiang Mai

Rotee (or Roti) is a fried crepe-like flatbread that is filled with savory or sweet ingredients. We always got ours with bananas and Nutella (because Nutella, obvs) but bananas and egg was also a popular combination. 

Honorable Mentions:
These might not have been the most delicious things we ate, but they're still worth noting.

Fried Quail Egg Wontons from a street stall in Bangkok.

Like the Kanom Beuang, we had no idea what we would be getting when we bit into these little skewered wantons- which was part of the fun! Turned out those wantons were filled with quail eggs. Surprising but also tasty.

Pad Thai at Pad Thai Shop in Karon on Phuket

Isn't this the prettiest bowl of Pad Thai? Doug says it was also the most delicious Pad Thai he had in Thailand. I don't agree with him but I was also 1) grumpy from a long walk up-hill and 2) totally over fried noodles at that point in the trip.

Random Chips from 7-Eleven

Did you know that Thailand is 7-Eleven's third largest market after the US and Japan? I did because there was a 7-Eleven on almost every corner in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Doug and I did our best to eat Thai food for most of our meals, but sometimes you just need something quick and easy to take back to the hotel to snack on... and that's were chips came in. I tended to played it safe with Thai Cheetos but Doug took advantage of Lays diverse flavors including Nori Seaweed, Lobster, and Scallop.

Coming up: Our favorite places to drink in Bangkok!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Portland Bakery: Nuvrei's Mac Bar

What: Nuvrei's Mac Bar
Where: 404 NW 10th Avenue
When: 9-5pm Wed-Sun
Honeys Heart: Macarons and a surprise box of goodies! 

A few weeks back Katie and I had macaron overload (don't get me wrong, not a bad thing!) and attended Farina Bakery's opening one night and Nuvrei's new Mac Bar opening the next. Yes, we were lucky (and Katie was pretty much in heaven) with back-to-back nights of delicious macarons.

Nuvrei was celebrating the opening of their Mac Bar (more about that in a bit) but took the opportunity to also feature their other patisserie offerings. Upon arrival we were handed "passports" to get stamped at each station which included bagel sandwiches, croissants, a baked good, and of course macarons.

We started upstairs with the Pretzel Bagel Sandwiches.

Nuvrei offers 6 different kinds of bagel sandwiches in their cafe including salmon, avocado turkey, and fried egg. It's probably a good thing that neither of us work in the Pearl because these would be the most perfect quick lunch. 

Next up on our checklist were croissants and baked goods. 

As you can see, Nuvrei offers a ton of different croissants including chocolate croissants (so, so good), sesame thyme croissants, and walnut croissants. They also offer sandwiches with croissants, which I'm sure must be super tasty too. 

We also tried the Double Chocolate Brownie Cookie, which was essentially brownie batter in cookie form.Yum.

Last up was a trip downstairs to the Mac Bar for Nuvrei's famous macarons.

This new counter space will feature macarons, freshly-baked croissants, and drip coffee from 9am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday with fresh croissants baked until 2pm. The space is very small, so it's essentially just a cute, easy spot to duck into for a quick treat and coffee before heading back out into the Pearl.

Before taking off for the night, we could either select a pastry from Nuvrei's display case upstairs or get a surprise box. Of course curiosity got the better of us and we both went with a surprise box which included a couple croissants, a macaron, and Bacon Cheddar Biscuit

Katie and I have been to quite a few blogger events in the past couple of years but I have to say, this one was one of the more creative and fun events we've been to in a long time. The passport was super cute, gave everyone something to do instead of just hanging around, and was a great conversation starter too. Well done, Nuvrei! We'll definitely be back. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

2014 Holiday Ale Fest Top Picks

Guest Post by Doug (@douglasfranz/@firstedbrew)
It's that time of year again. The Christmas trees, office parties, homemade cookies, and... THE HOLIDAY ALE FEST! Nothing gets me in a more cheerful spirit than drinking some barrel-aged imperial stouts, peppermint-infused porters, or cranberry saisons under a giant tree with friends, family, and a few thousand festive strangers.

Due to our busy holiday schedules, Katie and I had to check out the festival on a Thursday this year. With a smaller crowd and shorter lines, we were able to try many of the 40+ beers that are being offered at the 2014 version of the festival. I think we both agree that the selection of beers is pretty great this year compared to years past, which is saying a lot. We only tried one beer last night that wasn't delicious (hint: the brewery rhymes with "Ex-Vovo") and while we liked the rest of what we had, there were 5 that stood out above the rest:

Lost Barrels of Mirror Mirror (2009) - Oak-Aged Barleywine from Deschutes
The story is that Deschutes lost some barrels of Mirror Mirror in their warehouse, only to rediscover them some years later. I'm not normally a barleywine fan but I went back to this one twice throughout the night. All the harsh, strong flavors have faded with time leaving just subtle hints of pinot noir and a sweet and sour finish that will linger long after your last sip.

Gargantua (2013) - Imperial Strong Ale Blend from Eel River Brewing Co.
Ok this is cheating because its the same wonderful beer as last year. But I don't care because its SO GOOD! Last year, some of us felt the vanilla was slightly overpowering but with a year of aging, the sweet flavors have mellowed some and the profile is a bit more balanced. This is still a beer that only works at the holiday ale fest because it's like drinking a delicious dessert. But what a delicious desert it is! (PS. Make sure to check out this year's version of the Gargantua as well for comparison's sake).

Gingersnaps - NW Style Sour Strong Ale from Cascade Brewing
Smells like gingerbread cookies, tastes like Christmas. Our group was divided on this beer but if you like sours, this was a special beer. Cascade always manages to challenge your tastebuds with new and unique beer flavors and with Gingersnaps, they don't disappoint. It's a strong red sour with lingering booziness and holiday spices.

Prestidigitation - White Chocolate Milk Stout from Oakshire Brewing
One of the challenges of being a brewer at the Holiday Ale Fest has got to be how to make a unique beer without being over the top. Oakshire finds that sweet spot with their blonde stout. It's different (it looks like a pale but tastes dark with coffee and chocolate hints) but it doesn't assault your senses with overpowering flavors.

The Incredible Abominable of the Enchanted Barrel Forest - Barrel-Aged Imperial Winter Ale from Hopworks
With big beers, it's all about balance. With their barrel-aged Abominable, Hopworks mixes vanilla and bourbon spice with slight hints of citrus and caramel creating a really tasty treat.
Note from Katie: 
The photo booth is back this year!! That means I have an excuse to post one of my all-time favorite photos, which was taken at the Holiday Ale Fest a few years ago:


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thailand Trip 2014

When Doug and I started planning our honeymoon, we knew for sure that we wanted to go somewhere that neither of us had been to before. That left a large swath of Europe out since we've both taken a few trips there separately with not much overlap in countries. Spanish-speaking South America seemed a little too similar somehow to my Guatemala trip to visit Doug a few years ago so that was a no-go too. But a place unlike anywhere either of us had been before? Asia seemed like the answer and after some quick research, we decided Thailand would be the perfect intro.

I have to give Doug major props for planning the majority of our honeymoon. While I spent the months before our wedding thinking about bridesmaid shoes and table rentals, Doug developed our whole itinerary and booked all our lodging. Doug, you're the best!

Similar to the post I did about our Spain trip, here's our itinerary, some general observations about Thailand, and our favorite activities/excursions from the trip. I'll follow that up (I promise!) with posts about what we ate and drank in Thailand and during our short pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok
Day 3: Bangkok
Day 4: Bangkok
Day 5: Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Day 6: Chiang Mai
Day 7: Chiang Mai
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Phuket (Karon)
Day 9: Phuket (Karon)
Day 10: Phuket (Karon)
Day 11: Phuket to Ko Lanta
Day 12: Ko Lanta
Day 13: Ko Lanta to Krabi
Day 14: Krabi to Kuala Lumpur
Day 15: Kuala Lumpur

What would we have changed? Our resort in Karon on Phuket was really nice, especially since they upgraded us to a poolside room. But while it was a good change of pace to have a few days of relaxation by the pool and I'm glad we got to experience Patong's nighttime craziness, Ko Lanta's laidback rural vibe was much more our speed than Karon's tacky Russian-filled seaside tourist paradise. Krabi was more of the same (minus the Russians), so looking back we would have swapped a night in Karon for another on Ko Lanta and nixed Krabi altogether for an extra night in Kuala Lumpur.

General Observations

1) Thailand is hot. Like really hot. Somehow when I looked up the weather report the week before we left and saw temps in the 90s, I was unconcerned. I packed 2 hoodies and a jacket plus black skinny jeans to wear on temple days. Wrong. So wrong. The only time I wore a jacket was on the plane and I ended up buying light-weight "genie pants" from a street vendor because the skinnys were not happening. We sweated a lot and drank a ton of bottled water and we made it work- but I think we were both looking forward to Portland's fall weather by the end of the trip.

2) Rick Steves needs to get to Asia ASAP because Lonely Planet sucks. Ok, maybe it doesn't completely suck (Kuala Lumpur's author seemed to have a way better handle on things than Thailand's) but we really missed Rick's walking tours, insights about tourist sights, and food recs. Luckily Doug came across a food blog that was super helpful with street food recommendations, but we did feel like we missed out on some of the significance of a lot of the wots (aka temples) and Buddhist sites that we visited with no Rick to tell us about them.

3) Prepare to be scammed. Doug and I like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy travelers but Thailand really put us to the test. From tuk tuk and shuttle drivers who dropped us off at suit designers and travel agencies before they would take us to our actual destination to what seemed like a city-wide conspiracy in Bangkok to get us to go to the "special one-day only sale" (we liked you, guy running the Leaning Buddha wot and you too, guy from Singapore who told us he used to work at HP), it seemed that no one's friendly or helpful advice or services were actually that. We probably took way too long to learn that anyone who deals with tourists is someone who should not be trusted, with the only exception being people working for excursions like our cooking class or elephant park visit. To be honest, it was a hard lesson to learn because we had been told that the Thai are such friendly people, but it was a lesson that was reinforced over and over again. A bummer for sure, but something that is super important for other travelers to know.

4) Bangkok is the best. A lot of the research we did suggested only spending a couple of days in the city, but Doug ignored that and planned 5 days- and we could have had more. Yes, all the wots and the grand palace did not take long to see, but Thailand's real draw for us was the street food and there was so much to be tasted! We also loved the city's varied public transportation options including the sky train and commuter boats which made it super easy to get around. All in all, we decided it was our second favorite foreign big city after Barcelona and hopefully we'll be back someday.

5) The food is amazing. You've probably already picked up on that, but I'll say it again. Portland has a surprising number of high-quality Thai spots (Pok Pok, Nong's, PaaDee) so we were expecting great things from the motherland and in Bangkok and Chiang Mai especially, she delivered. Stayed tuned for a post about all the most delicious things we ate.

Our Favorite Activities/Excursions:

1) Thai cooking class in Bangkok with Silom Cooking School:
We learned how to make tom yum soup, pad thai, fish cakes, and red curry. Our teacher was very nice and entertaining, the school was spotless, and the food was delicious. We loved it!

Happy Hour Honeys-  Tom Yum Soup from Silom Cooking School in Bangkok

2) Elephant encounter outside Chiang Mai with Elephant Nature Park:
Many places in Thailand focus on trekking aka letting tourist ride elephants through the jungle. While that may seem fun, most if not all of those places do not put the elephants' needs first. That's why we chose to visit Elephant Nature Park instead of going on a trek. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center that is currently home to 41 elephants. Most of those elephants have been saved from trekking camps, illegal logging, circuses, and forced breeding camps and many are blind or suffer from abuse-related injuries. At ENP, we helped to feed and bathe the elephants and got to hang out with them as they enjoyed their day roaming the park. So much fun.

3) Snorkeling around the islands:
There are a ton of companies that offer these 4-island snorkeling trips and they're all pretty much the same but we ended up choosing a long boat tour with Green Group. We had a great time snorkeling around Ko Chuek and Ko Maa , exploring the emerald cave on Ko Mook, and enjoying a Thai lunch on the beaches of Ko Ngai.