Hooray for White Rice

There was a time when my husband and I were trotting around the globe, portable water-well drilling rig in tow, putting in wells in very remote locations.

We were in Indonesia for about three months, drilling wells in numerous places, and in our off-hours, exploring local haunts and sampling local foods. We were in the frontier province of Indonesia, not in a developed center of trade and commerce like Jakarta.

Jayapura was the name of the small town about a half an hour’s ride from where we were based. We’d go there and sample foods in the outdoor bazaar. Often the fare was fried. I’m not sure if this was the historic Dutch influence or the Indian influence, or the influence of some other country entirely.

Whatever, it was good, and generally safe to eat, even if we did see a cockroach or two scuttle past the booth. The wildlife added to the adventure.

One week we were really out in the boonies, putting in a well for a clinic run by a husband-and-wife Indian team of volunteer doctors. We ate our meals with them because they were hosting us and because there was literally no other place to eat. There was no community nearby; these people were just out in the middle of nowhere. (Why the clinic there? I couldn’t tell you. Apparently someone decided it was centrally located to someone!)

The wife doctor did the cooking. Every meal was the same: rice and beef in an Indian curry. Now let me tell you, that curry was hotter than anything you have ever experienced. I had flames coming out the base of my skull after eating that stuff. Not really, but you get the idea. It was super super hot. I did manage to eat the first meal, but after that, I truly couldn’t eat it.

I grew up the minority in another culture, and I am hyper-aware of the importance of honoring other people’s ways and customs. I didn’t want to offend the doctor by not eating her food, but I actually just couldn’t manage it. I put a couple of small chunks on top of the rice on my plate, cut them into tiny pieces, and ate them with the rice. This reduced the heat somewhat, and I survived like that the whole week.
And that is my lasting memory of the Week With the Doctors. I do not remember anything else at all.

Hurray for white rice!

Crème Brulee

There’s no doubt about it, my favorite dessert of all is Crème Brulee.

You know what it is, right? It’s super-creamy custard covered with a thin layer of carmelized sugar. The layer is brittle, and you have to crack it to get to the goodness underneath. The thickness of that layer varies, as well as the thickness of the custard.

Crème Brulee is generally offered in nicer dining establishments. Not at Denny’s or Perkins, for example. So my memories of Crème Brulee are all special ones, because when I’ve had it, I’ve been in special places with special people.

Last year, three friends and I went on a weekend cruise to the Bahamas in celebration of my birthday. The evening meals on the ship were dress-up affairs, and the menu at that hour was finer than for the daytime meals.

I spotted Crème Brulee on the dessert list, and I ordered that for dessert after both evening meals. I remember enjoying it at a cloth-covered table, with happy friends, coffee with cream, and an attentive waiter. That weekend was an escape into relaxation and indulgence, and the Crème Brulee suited the occasion perfectly.

At a different time, a friend came out to my city to attend a ballroom dancing gala. It was held at a luxury hotel, and this friend invited me to join her for dinner there before the gala.

We met at the restaurant that overlooked a golf course and the resort-style pool and deck area below. Our table was right by the window. We sat there and caught up, enjoying an exquisite appetizer followed by a very nice main course.

The dessert menu arrived, we spotted the Crème Brule, and both ordered it, of course. The presentation was different than I’d seen before, but the flavor of the custard and carmelized sugar was just as delicious. I don’t see that friend often because she lives on the other side of the country, so that was a special time enjoyed with special food and dessert.

My husband is also a fan of Crème Brulee. Unlike me, he enjoys creating things in the kitchen and trying his hand at complex recipes. He began to mumble about trying to make Crème Brulee, so I bought him a small kitchen torch. I had read that that was part of the process of carmelizing the sugar.

My husband cooked the custard and then set about torching the carmelized sugar, and was actually fairly successful. It wasn’t quite at Ritz Carlton standards, but not too far off.
I would love to sample Crème Brulee in its country of origin.

I assumed this to be France, but when I researched it, I found that its birthplace is unknown. Britain claims to be the birthplace, but there are early French versions and Spanish versions. So I guess the sampling in the origin country won’t happen. Still, it would be fun to try it in other countries to compare it to the US versions.
Or forget the comparing. And just savor it.

Real Estate Investing, Kuchen and Raw Fish

I was reading an interesting blog post the other day talking about Dolf de Roos and his real estate investing info. Truth be told, I was considering a little real estate investing myself, but I kinda gave up on the idea after I realized how much money I’d probably need to get started.

Even more so is that I have always dreamed of owning places all over the world. I mean seriously, can you imagine honey pots in Paris, Costa Rica, Bora Bora, Vienna and Berlin?

I can. :-)

That’s what got me looking into the whole thing in the first place. Since Dold de Roos considers himself a “citizen of the world” I thought I might learn a thing or two from him. He apparently has invested in real estate all over the world and made a fortune doing so…..ah the idea of making a fortune.


Whenever I travel, I like to try out local foods. Food is such a part of culture, and how can one really experience another culture without diving into its culinary realm?

When I was in college, I live for three months in Germany. I was there with a group of American students, so it wasn’t a total-immersion experience, unfortunately, but I did find some in my group that wanted to get as close to that as possible, so we worked on developing friendships with some of the locals in the town. We met them through an English conversation program that we helped with.

We were super excited when these new friends would invite us to their homes for cake and coffee.  Germans are known for their Kuchen—especially the layered variety—and our friends always made the best of these. We would go to their homes for a couple of hours, make conversation in our stumbling second-year German, and try not to inhale their desserts too quickly.

The place where we were based was a youth hostel at the top of a hill, accessed by a steep cobblestone street. Herr Muller, who ran the hostel, was himself a Master Baker. Every morning we had cheese and crusty white rolls for breakfast. And maybe once a week, he’d make us his most excellent layered Kuchen. We were very lucky to have a Master Baker providing our meals!

When we went on excursions and were let loose for lunch and dinner, I and my friends always searched for out-of-the-way cafes and restaurants where we’d be least likely to run into obnoxious American tourists (!!).  They made us cringe. Plus, we wanted as genuine a German dining experience as possible.

We usually found these experiences in Ratskellers—pub-like restaurants that were below ground level, underneath what were formerly city hall buildings. I remember them typically with stone floors, heavy-beamed ceilings and somewhat dim lighting.

We tried all different kinds of foods in the Ratskellers, including raw fish. I never acquired a ravenous taste for this, but I did order it several times, and felt like I’d done my best to experience that sector of German cuisine.

It always helped to finish off the meal with a large slice of Kuchen and a cup of coffee.

Raclette, the Swiss Meal Experience

I lived in Switzerland for about 18 months, and while there, I was introduced to a meal experience called Raclette.

(Here is a list of Swiss recipes in case you are interested.) Swiss Recipes

I say it was an experience because the dish wasn’t something that one person labored over for 3 hours, presented on the table and then observed being inhaled in ten minutes. No, eating Raclette took time and was a customized affair that lasted the entire dinner time.

If you added wine to the mix, Raclette could last for hours.

Think Fondue, and you’ll get closer to the Raclette experience.

To have this meal, you need a Raclette grill, which can be square or circular, and sits in the middle of the table where all guests can reach it. There are usually two levels to the grill. Every guest has their own small pan, and by small, I mean like 4 x 5 inches.
These little pans fit onto the grill, and that’s where the food gets cooked. You load up your little pan, put it on the grill, let it cook, eat the contents, and repeat the process. You see why a meal can take a while. The average person will load and reload their pan at least three times, if not four.  And then wait while each pan-load cooks.
Swiss Raclette involves boiled new potatoes, Raclette cheese, and toppings. The potatoes get boiled ahead of time and are set out on the table. The Raclette cheese is sliced and set on a platter. The toppings can be corn, olives, peas, mushrooms, onions, pickles, sausage, kielbasa, etc.
Some toppings are better prepared ahead of time. For example, if the onions, sausage, and kielbasa are cooked prior to being put on the table, then the function of the grill becomes simply heating the panfuls through instead of actually cooking everything.

The small pans always get loaded with Raclette cheese. Usually it’s the first item to be laid down. Then the other toppings get piled on top of the cheese. I’ve known some eaters to put toppings in their pans first and add the cheese on top.

As I said earlier, Raclette is a highly customizable meal, and it doesn’t matter if you put your cheese first on the pan or last or in the middle. Any no one would care if you ate the cheese slice by slice without cooking it at all and just dumped raw toppings on to your boiled potatoes. There is no manual or code for how to do Raclette. The entire goal is to experience it with friends and family and just enjoy.

When I moved back from Switzerland, I had to search high and low for a Raclette grill. Finally found one made by Tefal—a two-level round grill that came with eight triangular pans with little bamboo paddles for scraping melted cheese and toppings from the pan onto the potatoes. I’ve had it for years now.

My kids were small when I lived in Switzerland, and they are grown now, but to this day, when they are home and can pick a special meal, they choose Raclette.
I have found Raclette cheese at Whole Foods for a price you’d expect to pay for moon rocks, so instead I usually buy Gruyere and mozzarella. The kids don’t like cheese much stronger than mozz, so I get the Gruyere for myself.

So there you have it: Raclette from Switzerland. It’s a simple meal to prepare. It brings people together for a dining experience that can be supplemented with salad (eat it while the first panful cooks) and wine (drink it throughout!). Honestly, it’s a winner.