Monday, April 23, 2012

Escape to Praha

Believe it or not, I haven’t forgotten about you! A wave of assignments had knocked me under in the fall term and I finally have managed to fight my way back to the surface. To breathe again and float over to the warmth of a deadline-free shore. Okay, there still are deadlines but let me sun myself in denial for a bit….

Within hours of handing in my final assignment I was on a plane bound for Prague. It was necessary. It was freeing. Finding a flight on Saturday, I scooted over to the airport on Monday afternoon without a plan, armed only with the knowledge that Prague had an important clock that I had to see.

Oh and yes, two of my dearest friends from Warwick were back in the Czech Republic for Easter vacation. Tereza and Barbora indulged my travel whims, kindly fitting in last-minute visits to the city to show me around. Many of these shots are from the first day of my trip when the three of us covered a lot of ground, including hiking up a hill that showcased the city better than any postcard I’d ever seen.

My jaunt to Prague was the first time I’d ever set foot on the European continent. Yep, it was definitely a good initial taste what Europe has to offer. And yes, the wanderlust is stirring inside me once again. Hopefully my dissertation will behave itself and I’ll be able to dash off and share more with you soon. Prague coffee and food posts to come!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Transitioning to Tea

Okay, call me a pessimist, but when I wrote this post almost two weeks ago, I feared I'd be spending the next year in coffee hell, with sipping stuff at Costa being my only form of entertainment. Since then, things have started to look up (a little) and there have been a couple of nummy beverages and a good bit of exploration going on. I've been dying to update you but this postgrad thing's been kicking me around a bit.... Written on October 2.

From t-shirts to long sleeves and a jacket, my clothes have taken a turn for the warmer over the past couple of days. Yep, I finally made it to England last week but at that point the weather was oddly almost tropical. Seriously, end of September tanning in the UK? Thanks, Indian summer! But that was last week. This week we’re doing autumn all the way.

Sorry for keeping silent about my last month of food and drink escapades in Hawaii. It was a blur of final sips and nibbles, some of long-time favorites, others of crave-worthy new things. Giant bags of fresh sweet potato/taro chips and steaming pots of nabe leap instantly into my head. Alas, leaping into my stomach will have to wait at least a year….

As for warm bevvies here in England, tea may be the way to go until decent coffee starts to emerge. Strong, milky and a bit sweet. I enjoyed this pot over the weekend before battling the back-to-uni crowds at the Tesco near campus.

I love bacon rolls. They’ve got to be one of the world’s perfect foods.

The coffee scene here in the West Midlands may not be indie coffee heaven but I have a couple of leads on some really great-sounding spots. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to flee the campus this weekend.

As for in and around the University of Warwick, the Café Bar at the Warwick Arts Centre might have some potential as might Curiositea at the Student Union. Leading the race for my most decent cup is the flat white I had at Costa the other day. It beat out this morning’s push-button latte by a mile. Even the “cappuccino” from the instant coffee machine in the library was better than that cup of scariness….

And yes, if there turns out to be a bit of a coffee drought out here, there are still tons of yummy shots from Hawaii weighing down my camera. We can dream about Hawaii together as I get my posts up to date….  Until then, drink something nice for me, will ya?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Cup of Celebration

I’ve returned to Glazer’s, a great little café I told you about here, to share some news. It’s finally time to dust off those old suitcases and shift this site’s spotlight toward the “wanderlust” part of its name.

This blog (and its writer) will be crossing a couple of oceans and relocating to a new set of isles. The British Isles, to be exact. For the next year, our home base will be Coventry, England; a jumping-off point for a whole new series of adventures.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been spending the last several months preparing for grad school. It’s been my dream to continue working with people from other countries and to encourage cultural exchange, so it only makes sense to pursue my master’s degree abroad. I’ll be studying Intercultural Communication for Business and the Professions at the University of Warwick.

Sure, a whole lot of studying will be going on but I plan to make regular escapes from the university bubble to explore (and will report back, of course). There will be countless cups of coffee (and tea) to contemplate over, tasty things to munch on around every corner and an endless supply of side streets to discover. Besides weekend jaunts around the UK, I hope to exercise my passport with a bit of meandering around Europe and beyond. I’m already wishing for more time….

Speaking of which, time has flown by at such a crazy pace, leaving me with exactly one month until I hop on that plane headed toward Heathrow. As I scramble with last minute preparations, I’ll try to post about a couple more of my favorite cafés out here and stop by a few essential local spots. Tara’s also arriving here today for a little R&R before starting her next chapter, so hopefully we’ll have some time to soak up the island together. Care to come along?

So now you’re up to speed. Please join me on this new journey! We’ll wander around cities without a map, smile through culture shock and seek out the greatest coffeehouses ever. It’ll be grand.

Glazer’s Coffee
2700 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 391-6548

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Monday in Manoa

I'm taking a breather today in Manoa. It’s a brutally hot August day but life is a lot breezier out here in the valley. I enjoyed a mug of Ethiopia Mordecofe at Morning Glass Coffee + Café which is a very airy spot indeed. Delicate window shades hang instead of walls on two sides of the café, allowing the air to circulate and the mind to wander. 

This new spot features beans from Stumptown as well as Rusty’s Hawaiian, the Ka’u estate that has generated quite a bit of buzz over the last while. Everything is ground fresh and brewed by the cup, as it should be with such great beans. There were three coffees to choose from but my mind zoned out once I saw "Ethiopia." Mmm, fruity and wonderful.

I enjoyed my coffee while noshing on a large frittata wedge packed with Hamakua mushrooms, spinach, “melted” leeks and Muenster. So good!! They had a bunch of other tempting things on the menu and spread across the counter (which I don't remember specifics about except that they all seemed to be equally stuffed with great-sounding ingredients) and the staff kept mentioning to customers that they serve a full breakfast menu on the weekends. Seems like I need to get out to Manoa more often!

Sorry, I would have taken more shots but my camera's battery died before my coffee arrived at the table. I took this one with my not-so-smart phone. For some reason, I really fell in love with that orange mug. It just felt good in my hand.

Morning Glass Coffee + Café
2955 East Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822 (808) 673-0065

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adventures in Eating

Here's another post that I wrote for the WorknPlay website in Korea. This time the topic is sundae but we're not talkin' ice cream. It's pronounced more like "soon-day" and tastes more like... um... oh, just read on!

All right, perhaps I'm a food wuss. And yes, I need to be more open minded. Like the time that plate of fiery-hot chicken feet was placed in front of me at the employee dinner and I made the excuse that it was too hot for me. Well, maybe it was, but actually it was just too... "feety." Today I knew lunch was going to be a tough one when my co-worker IMed me that we were going to a sundae guk restaurant.

Ah sundae, Korea's version of the blood sausage. I had it a couple of times before with tteokbokki. A couple of pieces here, a whole lot of deliciously spicy tubes of rice cake there. They actually were kind of good together. But having sundae, front and center, boiled in a soup? Oh, I didn't know if I could handle that.

Our large group made its way over to the sundae eatery a bit after noon. Wow, the place was packed! Oh, too bad, I guess we'll have to…. Then a table for four magically appeared. I considered joining the other half of our lunch bunch that were going down the street for donkas (tonkatsu) but instead pulled off my boots and settled onto the cushion that the ajumma (older woman) had placed for me. She seemed friendly and rather amused by my presence.

The banchan (side dishes) were quickly set out in front of us, followed by boiling caldrons of soup. I searched through my serving with a spoon, finding various pork parts ("mainly stomach"), leeks and green onions. The star of our meal had settled to the bottom of the bowl. Rin scooped out a couple of hers and allowed them to cool on her metal rice bowl lid. I watched her dip the pieces into her serving of pickled baby shrimp before eating them.

Okay, maybe I'll try that. I dipped a piece after letting it rest for a bit and then took a bite. The casing was considerably tougher than in my past sundae experiences. I then chose to bite out the filling, leaving a pile of empty casings next to the bowl. Yep, lovely.

Spooning through my lunch, I ate select pieces of pork, realizing all the while how ridiculously picky I was being. Earlier in the meal, my coworkers had noted how Koreans eat every part of the pig: the feet, the ears, the head. And here I was, acting so ungrateful for what was set in front of me. I ate as much soup as I could, submerging spoonfuls of rice into the broth and scooping up vegetables.

At the end of the meal, my leftovers were considerably chunkier than my dining companions, although I did manage to get the soup's level down. The ajumma was actually impressed at my effort and mentioned to my coworkers that she had a couple of American customers that really liked the dish. I pictured a table full of enthusiastic, "extreme food" loving men....

No, I'm grateful to be included in these real Korean culinary experiences. I've discovered so many food gems that I hope to track down when I return to my country. While I'm here, though, I think I'll free up my cushion at the sundae guk restaurant for one of its true fans.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

커피! (Keopi!)

This was the first blog post I wrote for the WorknPlay website in South Korea. Yes, I spent a year and a half of my life drinking instant coffee, mainly at work and when offered a free cup after a restaurant meal. When in Seoul.... One packet is poured into a Dixie-sized cup with roughly 3 ounces of hot water, making for a really sweet shot of coffee. I'd usually add three times that amount of water when mixing it myself. 

It started out like any other day. I entered the office, put my stuff down at my desk and strolled over to the snack area. Then I noticed it: Only two tubes of coffee left!

Suddenly my morning mind spun into a mild panic. What if no one else noticed (except for the lucky soul taking the final packet) and we were left with an empty Maxim bag sitting on the table? It was 8:30 am and I needed some caffeine to kick my brain out of this irrational spiral.

I picked up one of the yellow tubes, poured its precious mixture of coffee crystals, sugar and milk powder into my mug, added steaming water and hoped for the best.

Later that afternoon, the Maxim bag was replaced with a similarly-colored bag of Maxwell House packets. Um, what is this??!

For those of you unfamiliar with this staple of Korean modern culture,, an LA-based retailer of Korean (and other Asian) goodies, provides the following description for Maxim Coffee Mix: Mocha Gold Mild:
Invigorate your day with a great tasting cup of MAXIM instant coffee. The rich roast flavor and aroma will give you the immediate confidence you need to take charge of the day. Made with a select blend of the best beans which are masterfully blended and freshly ground to perfection. The result, a quick cup of coffee that's brimming with the rich, full-bodied flavor of MAXIM.
Um, okay, you're talking about sugary instant coffee here!

Honestly, Taster's Choice scared me back in America. Coffee in a jar. The go-to brand for middle-aged Americans who want their morning joe cheap and in a hurry. Here in Korea, parent-company Nestlé has somehow elevated its instant brews in status, with Taster's Choice espresso bars and Nescafé sit-down establishments opening around the country.

And while instant brands have made their way into cafés in the East, the Western world is taking a step in the other direction. Starbucks is aiming to bring quality and class to the just-add-water coffee market with VIA, its single-serve coffee packets. Taster's Choice has responded by marketing their own packets as an alternative to the "pricey" coffee shop chain. But unlike their Korean coffee tubes, milk and sugar is not included.*

But we're not talking high-end instant coffee here; this is the basic stuff. Maxim has just become a part of my morning routine over the past year in Korea, and now they replace it with THIS? Inferior Maxwell House American crap!** Yeah, I think I've been here a bit too long….

The proper replacement (It says "Maxim" in Korean)

* I poked around the Internet last night and found out that Nescafé in the West does have an instant coffee mix that sounds similar to the coffee tubes in Korea. According to the webpage for Nescafé 3 in 1, "(e)ach single-serve sachet has the right balance of coffee, whitener and sugar...." Whitener?? Okay, that would be non-dairy creamer, but it sounds scary....

** I also discovered that Maxim was actually the original freeze-dried coffee in America and, from this blog post, that it was created by Maxwell House. Hmm.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Coffee Break with Eun Jung

Part of my heart will always be in Seoul, Korea. That city is stuffed full of memories for me, made with great friends from both Korea and the US.  Beyond that, it’s an intense, vibrant place filled with people in motion, wonderful food and countless side streets loaded with things to discover. Oh, and yes, some of the best cafés ever!

I had to share this shot with you that my friend and former coworker Eun Jung took in our old office's neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Nambu Bus Terminal area didn’t have any cool hand drip coffee shops when we worked there. She promised to keep this place for me until we can once again have a coffee break together.

Speaking of Korea, I’ve been meaning to share a few of the blog posts that I wrote while in Seoul. Some chronicle Eun Jung and my adventures while others are just random observations of a waegook (foreigner). I’ll post some over the next several weeks and save a few for the next time I start really missing the city.