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About astrid

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    Northern Virginia
  1. Instant Pot v. Sous Vide

    I used liquid smoke in sous vide preps and jerky, I didn't notice any unpleasant smells. They are supposed to be just naturally made smoke and water, so it just smelled pleasantly smoky. I am not the best judge though because I seem to have a higher tolerance for smoky than most people. But no reason to do smoky if you don't particularly enjoy it.
  2. Instant Pot v. Sous Vide

    Kenji recommend using liquid smoke in such situations. Instant Pot is easier and probably produce a more traditional BBQ like product and better flavor development Sous vide could be very tender after a long cook, though cook times longer than 12-18 hours have some extra challenges. Apologies to Weber but kamado cookers are the way to go for BBQ. Moist, smoky meats every time with minimal fussing.
  3. Gettysburg, PA

    Thanks for the recommend, we will have to try that! Hope everyone has recovered from the germies!
  4. Gifts for Chinese Hosts in China

    Nevermind what I said about shopping! China (especially the tourist spots) is the ultimate for tacky themed souvenirs :-) It makes the world's supply of tacky themed souvenirs. You will see miles of souvenir booths at every travel destination. If you do bring wine, I'd recommend a moderately priced wine (red or fizzy) that you enjoy. Or something sweet and easy to drink like a mead, moscato, blackberry wine, or ice wine (though ice wines are never cheap...). I'd say go with your instinct about chocolate and bring a couple boxes mid-range chocolates. Maybe Lindt or Godiva or if you can find them, a Ferrero Rocher variety pack. Early to mid May isn't too hot and the chocolates intended for Kunming will be in a home most of the time, so melting shouldn't be a problem. Macadamian nuts and pistachio and pecans (as well as their candied derivatives) are also popular.
  5. Gifts for Chinese Hosts in China

    Also - being even more annoying (and Chinese?#@!), I also recommend dialing back shopping to mainly window shopping and buying a few inexpensive souvenirs, or maybe buying some snacks/fruit/flowers for your hosts. I find things on offer in Mainland China to be mainly poor quality and rather expensive - there's a reason why Chinese tourists infamously descend on western shops for clothing/luxury goods/electronics like swarms of locusts! The quality and prices in the US are usually much better than what they can get in China. Definitely do not buy anything from a shop that caters to tourists, those are infamous for price gouging and dodgy claims. Sorry to be a downer, but nowadays, the only things I bring out China are tea (gifted by family/friends who "know a guy from decades back") and xiangfei nuts from the local Carrefour supermarket.
  6. Gifts for Chinese Hosts in China

    Sorry to be that person, but you might want to re-consider bringing honey as a gift. Speaking from experience, Honey has similar density/property as some explosives, so it can be tricky to get through airport security scans. Also, it might make sense to check with your friends about the best kind of booze to bring. What I had said are general guidelines, it's always possible that your friends' families are the exception and would prefer a nice bottle of Virginia wine over a bottle of Remy Martin. From your description, I guess Lijiang/Dali/Stone Forest/Xishangbanna for the Yunnan leg and mainly staying within the Chengdu basin. If it's possible, definitely see if you can fit in the big Buddha and Mt. Omei, even as a long day trip from Chengdu. If you have a little more time in the Chengdu basin, an overnight trip to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong is worth it - it's crowded and overexposed now, but the waterfalls and serpentine pools are really beautiful. Personally, I was really underwhelmed by Xishangbanna, 15 years ago it was cut-rate northern Thailand with sub-par food with border access to a really sketchy part of Burma. Yunnan has a lot of nicer tourist options, at least in my opinion. Just want to mention this because Xishangbanna takes quite a bit of travel from Kunming so it's a biggish commitment. https://www.terragalleria.com/asia/china/china.all.html offers a nice sense of a lot of what you might see.
  7. Gifts for Chinese Hosts in China

    Just curious Just curious - what's on your itinerary for Kunming and Chengdu? Are you going to Dali/Lijiang/Xianggelila? The Chengdu basin area is a beautiful and historic area and May is a nice time to visit Mt. Omei/Giant Buddha/Jiuzhaigou/Huanglong. The Chengdu area has an excellent food culture and not too spicy as Sichuanese food goes. Also - I assume your friends are smart enough to avoid any travel during the May "Golden Week" period and traveling after May 7. If not, you really need to google the topic. Though...I haven't been through the area in about 15 years, so everything I've seen has probably been bulldozed and rebuilt at least 3 times.
  8. If you like salumi at all, Sapori Solari.
  9. Gifts for Chinese Hosts in China

    Generally speaking, go with a global brand name and not something boutique/unique. Johnny Walker or Hennessy are safe bets. Designer purse/clutch/accessories/makeup/perfume kits/face cream are highly valued (they can be 4-10X their US price). Centrum vitamins or omega-3 oil are good. Maybe American ginseng if you know how to buy a good box. As long as the item is perceived as valuable, you're being a good guest and they can always re-gift anything they don't need/use themselves.
  10. Tom Sietsema's Online Chat

    I never understood the big deal with Rasika either. It's okay but nothing is memorable ( that includes the fried spinach dish, I prefer fried watercress salad at Thip Khao). That's how I feel about most of Sietsma's raves, they are mostly okay (except for Jaleo, my last two meals at Jaleo, admittedly from years ago, positively sucked), but not much to draw me back. The geography and range of restaurants covered are narrow and boring and based on my non-pro eater opinion, rarely the best of its type in the DC metro area. Then there's the handwaiving about being recognized by restaurants, allegedly okay because he makes reservations under a different credit card. Throw in the super predictable weekly carping about noise/lighting/line waiting/inadequate servile-ness from the wait staff, all straight from a parody of rich Bobos with first world problems, and I find it hard to take anything he says seriously. That's my 0 cents on the subject. Yes, I can be categorized as a non-poor Bobo with my own set of hangups, why do you ask?
  11. Charlottesville, VA

    We recently ate at four excellent Charlottesville restaurants. Lampo Pizza - my favorite of the four. Great pizzas. Great small plates. Great looking beverage program. Some of the best salumi we've eaten since our trip to Italy two years ago. Fleurie - classic French fine dining. No discernible flaw really and a couple dishes are as good as any we had in Paris. It's really really good. Alley Light - still worth seeking out. The menu actually reminds me of Osteria in Philly (we always hit Osteria when going to Philly). The execution and ingredients are good, and the preps are just enough off the beaten path to offer some enjoyable surprises. Public Fish and Oysters - they have decent Happy Hour deals. Pretty good oyster and clam selection. Good mussels and oyster preps. It's a nice airy space. I like it a lot more than Hank's.
  12. Dining at Airports

    PS - guide for ATL http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/best-food-atlanta-atl-hartsfield-jackson-airport.html#comments-248406
  13. Dining at Airports

    ATL - had a long-ish layover in Atlanta and tried Varasano's Pizzeria and One Flew South. One Flew South is kinda pricy but the food is indeed very good for airport food. Fresh ingredients and well prepared. Having said that, I did like Varasano's better. Good thin crust pizza and good salumi board, not cheap but priced at a level commensurate to the quality/quantity of food.
  14. Belize

    Just back from Belize after 3 nights in Caye Caulker, 2 nights in San Pedro, and 5 nights in San Ignacio (do not stay overnight in Belize City - think really rough parts of Detroit or Baltimore). Overall we had a really good trip. Did the Blue Hole flyover, full day and half day snorkeling on Caye Caulker, snorkeling around Mexico Rocks in San Pedro, Mayan sites (Caracol/Tikal/Cahal Pech/Xunantunich), ATM cave, cave tubing, and finished off with a pontoon ride to see 3 cool waterfalls. We were in the middle of conch and lobster season, so I ordered conch cevich at every opportunity. Fresh conch is delicious and totally different from the rubbery conch you might get in a Korean/Chinese supermarket. It's sweet with a slight chew and really addicting, maybe like the meaty part of a goeduck clam but sweeter. The lobsters are good grilled. Make sure to ask that the conch and lobster were caught the same day - there's a huge drop-off in flavor/texture if it's not fresh. In Caye Caulker we ate at: Chef Kareem's UnBelizeable Lunch - good atmospheric location and good inexpensive food, you will be waiting a long time for the food but that's just a chance to soak up the charms of this roadstand location. The Little Kitchen - it's in a slightly iffy portion of CC, so probably not for everyone. But we felt pretty safe in CC and it was fine. The food was very good but took a long time to get out of the kitchen. Cake Lady - I didn't notice her Tripadvisor reputation until after I took a chance and bought a rum cake and a coconut pie from her. They were good, not amazing as proclaimed by Tripadvisor, but really hits the spot when you want something sweet. La Cubana - My parents went there and got a big grilled lobster and raved about it. But you can get good grilled lobster anywhere in CC, just make sure it's freshly caught. Fantasy Dining Wine N'Dine - we ended up eating there twice because they were open during the awkward break between lunch and dinner and were close to the diving/snorkeling shops. I thought the food was quite good and they made a particularly good version of conch ceviche (we didn't have time to try the 2 purportedly best cevich places on CC). In San Pedro we ate at: Waruguma - blew the other out of the water for quality and value. The food was good and not explicitly catered to direct from North America tastes. We probably would have eaten all our meals here, if we realized how much better it was compared to everything else we tried on San Pedro. Red Ginger - overall pretty good and not too pricy, but a little generic. We ate here for lunch since it was the onsite restaurant for our hotel (The Phoenix, which was REALLY NICE). Elvi's Kitchen - very much catering to direct from North America tastes. Not bad per se and the fried chicken was very very good. It's okay, but Waruguma is just much better. Caramba! Restaurant - it was okay and close to our hotel. But it was expensive for what we got (about 2X the price of waruguma for seafood), our lobster was off (definitely wasn't caught that day and the meat was starting to get chaulky) and their conch ceviche was weird tasting (fresh but very poorly seasoned). In San Ignacio we ate at: Hode's - I liked the fried chicken here and soursop drink, my parents were less thrilled with their fried seafood. It's a bit of a mixed bag. It's relatively cheap Guava Limb - definite miss, go here if you want mediocre and way overpriced tourist food. Their conch cevich was the only one that used less than fresh conch. Their fried food had a hard greasy shell. Should have trusted our instincts and stayed away. Erva's - pretty good and authenic, I think the kitchen isn't as good as some of the others in terms of technique but the food tasted good and fresh. Random Chinese restaurant next to the Western HWY near Cahal Pech - we got chicken and fries takeouts and it was pretty good and cheap (6 BZD each). For tours - I liked French Angel in Caye Caulker a lot for snorkeling, their guides are very experienced. We took snorkeling tours with Stressless and Chuck & Robbie's as well, they were fine but French Angel's guides were much better. For ATM and Caracol, we went with Luis of KaWiil Tours (he usually just does ATM tours but luckily guided us for Caracol) and highly highly recommend him. He's very knowledgable, engaging, and thorough, and you'll spend a lot of time onsite with him. For both tours, we probably spent 1+ hours more time on site than the other groups. He didn't just point out items of interest, but told you the archeology and history behind the items, their symbolism, etc. Our guides for Xunantunich (Blue Morpho) and Tikal (Inland Xplorer) were okay, but seeing Caracol with Luis was a much more enjoyable experience. ATM is really cool and worthwhile - you have to be physically fit enough to walk in wet clothing for 5 hours, do short swims in cool (but not cold) water and climb unprotected sections, but it's worth it. We flew the Blue Hole with Javier's Flying Service and had a great experience - you need clear sunny weather to make the flying worthwhile. We got that and it's just beautiful. Jungle Splash pontoon ride was nice, especially if you could book for just your group. Robert takes you really close to 3 beautiful waterfalls and see the jungle and wildlife. Final note - don't rent a car - some of the roads are pretty rough and for most of the sites, you will want a good guide.
  15. Sun Noodles Ramen Pack

    Hana Market has them, so do most Korean supermarkets. I found them in my local Wegmans. Look for them in the frozen foods displays, next to Japanese dumplings and mentaiko.