September 30, 2016

Top Things to do in Phnom Penh


Although Angkor Wat is the predominant attraction in Cambodia, Phnom Penh offers some worthwhile sites. If Angkor Wat represents the awe-inspiring Khmer golden ages, Phnom Penh has sobering memorials to its darkest periods. 

If you only have one day in Phnom Penh, the following itinerary should be doable, if a bit packed.
Killing Fields
1. Get up early in the morning and hire a tuktuk to take you to the first three sites, the most important of which is the "killing fields" or the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. Although, there are various "killing fields" in Cambodia, the one in Phnom Penh is the most visited. There is a fee to enter and modest dress should be worn out of respect. The audio guide is included with your ticket. 

Warning: This is a harrowing and devastating experience - as it should be for the horrors that happened during the reign of Pol Pot are unspeakable. Cambodians turned against other Cambodians in a genocide that wiped out almost two million of the population.  
Tuol Sleng
2. After the killing fields go to the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, which used to be a high school until it became a torture and interrogation center for the Khmer Rouge. There is a fee to enter, and an audio guide is provided. Again, this is a very bleak and soul-wrenching experience. There are blood stains still in the empty rooms.

I recommend visiting Tuol Sleng after the Killing Fields (even though technically, those who were imprisoned visited Tuol Sleng first and then were brought to the Killing Fields) because if you're like me there's only so much horror one can stomach. I thought the Killing Fields deserved more of my morning. Once I got to Tuol Sleng, I spent about an hour before I decided I had had enough for the day and needed something more uplifting.

Russian Market
3. After the sadness of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, grab a cheap but satisfying lunch at the Russian Market, where life is bustling and noisy and somewhat restore your spirit.  Do some light shopping too - everything from scarves to household items are for sale.

Royal Palace
4. Get dropped off at the Royal Palace and you can dismiss your tuktuk driver for the day if you like, as the next two sites are within walking distance. There is a fee to enter and modest dress (arms and shoulders covered and no shorts) is required.



5. After exiting the Royal Palace turn left and walk down the riverfront, where there are many restaurants and clubs. After about 5-6 blocks, you will come upon a series of docks with cheap one-hour cruises ($5-$10). Time your cruise to catch the sun setting on the Mekong River. You can bring your own food and drink on board.

Mekong River

6. After the cruise, take some time strolling among the riverside pubs and neighborhoods. Drinks can be had for $1.50 and up. Relax and take in the view, do some people-watching and enjoy modern Cambodian life.

September 28, 2016

Garlic Confit Toast


As soon as I saw this recipe from Epicurious, I knew I had to make it - garlic lover that I am. Basically, it's a fancy name for garlic bread on crack. Cheesy, buttery, melty, garlicky. Decadent and addictive. It's a side dish that will overshadow the main course - it's that good.

I modified the original recipe by instead using roasted garlic, (recipe below) which results in a paste-like consistency that lends itself well to spreading. 

GARLIC CONFIT TOAST
from Epicurious

Ingredients:

1 whole head roasted garlic (see below)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp chopped oregano
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 baguette sliced in half lengthwise, then crosswise
sea salt

1. Grill the baguette slices in a panini press for a few minutes.
2. In a small bowl, squeeze out the roasted garlic through the cut end. It should squeeze out like paste easily. Combine with the butter, cheese, oregano, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and some salt.
3. Spread on each baguette slice generously and place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbly.

Roasted Garlic 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice the top of a whole head of garlic and place in the center of a square piece of tinfoil. Drizzle with some olive oil then wrap the the tinfoil tightly around the garlic.
3. Place tenfold garlic head on rack directly and roast for at least 15 minutes.  Let cool.

September 26, 2016

Book Review: The Girls by Lisa Jewell


Publication Date: June 2016

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Confession: I had heard some buzz about “The Girls” as a hot novel of the summer so when I was in the Edinburgh airport and had about 14 pounds to burn, I grabbed this book. Only after I had read it and went back to the review I had bookmarked did I realize that I had grabbed the wrong book. (FYI: it was referring to Emma Cline’s novel.) This book was published as “The Girls” in the UK and “The Girls in the Garden” here in the States. Confusion sorted out.

No matter. In between bouts of napping, I ripped through this book during the plane ride from Edinburgh to California. There’s something about the domestic thriller style that Jewell has mastered which reminds me a bit of Liane Moriarty – a seemingly bucolic neighborhood community that simmers with dark secrets.

“…she heard the garden whisper in their wake.  It talked to itself about the things it knew, the secrets it held close within its pathways and crannies, its bowers and corners. It whispered about the people who lived behind closed doors and the insular group of children on the bench, and of the days yet to come when the warmth of summer would bring it all back to life.”

The cracks in perfect marriages are exposed and even innocent children appear sinister. Jewell had me guessing who did what, jumping from suspect to suspect with each chapter’s revelations. An absorbing novel which will hold you captive until the end. I will definitely be seeking out other books by Jewell.

“’I’m talking about kids, Mrs. H.  Terrible, dreadful, blasted awful kids. They’ve all got a darkness inside them. They’ve all got the capacity for evil… You know, you think you’re keeping your girls all pure and unsullied in this gilded cage of yours. But what you don’t seem to realise is that you can protect children from the world, but you can’t protect children from themselves.’”

September 23, 2016

Auvers-sur-Oise


Auvers-sur-Oise is the little French village where Vincent Van Gogh spent the last 2 1/2 months of his life. He had come to Auvers-sur-Oise so that he could be treated by a physician he held in high esteem. For the short while that he lived in Auvers-sur-Oise  Van Gogh painted so many works that it has come to be known as his most productive period.  Walking around in modern times, it takes very little imagination to picture what it must have been like in Van Gogh's day. The village has maintained many of the features recognizable in Van Gogh's paintings. 
To get to Auvers-sur-Oise, take a transilien train from either Gare du Nord or Gare St. Lazare in Paris, with a change at Pontoise (one hour). There is a direct train on Saturdays (half an hour), one heading to Auvers-sur-Oise in the morning and one heading back to Paris in the afternoon.
All the sites are within walking distance from one another. One can easily spend a leisurely day walking in Van Gogh's footsteps and seeing what he saw when he was inspired to paint.
Upon exiting the train station, turn left and walk down the street to a little park which has a statue of Van Gogh. Beyond the statue is the tourist center, which provides free maps and helpful information. It also has very clean bathrooms. 
Behind the tourist center go up some steps to the street and turn right. Less than 10 minutes' walk away is the church depicted in a painting hanging in the Musee D'Orsay. The street takes you to the back. Go up some steps and you will come to the courtyard of the church. Go around to the front and you will see the viewpoint from which Van Gogh painted, probably now occupied by art students busily sketching. 
With your back to the church, turn left.  You will come to a fork with street signs. One of them should have an arrow pointing to the right for the graveyard.  This is beautiful 10-minute walk which takes you to the graveyard where Vincent and his brother, Theo, are buried, in the middle of wheat fields.  Their graves are up against the wall of the graveyard.
Exit the graveyard by the gate nearest their graves and turn left. A few minutes down the path is a small clearing, marked by a sign indicating where Van Gogh painted the wheat fields in the summer.
At that intersection, take the right path to go back to the village and the main road. Up that road, where there are restaurants and stores is the building where Van Gogh rented a room on the second floor, above a restaurant.  It is still a restaurant and the upstairs has been converted to a museum dedicated to Van Gogh's life. The small room he rented and where he died has been kept empty of any furnishings. It is as it was when Van Gogh lived there, down to the holes in the walls where he hung his paintings.
The day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise was an unexpected highlight of my last trip to France. Quiet and beautiful, and lacking the tourist throngs, Auvers-sur-Oise was a delight. I had chills walking the same fields and streets that Van Gogh walked and seeing everything that he saw. There was profound sadness too, realizing that although he walked in so much beauty, ultimately, his demons overcame him. He shot himself in the very fields he immortalized on canvas, never knowing the fame and acclaim that would follow his death.

September 21, 2016

Breakfast Turkey Sausage


I loved the turkey sausage patties my dad used to cook for us on the weekends growing up. However, as a grownup looking at the turkey sausage packages, I was aghast at how much salt and ... other things went into those, such as nitrates, whatever that is. So I decided to make my own. Super easy, much better for you, and they taste better, naturally.

BREAKFAST TURKEY SAUSAGE

Ingredients

1 lb ground turkey
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh minced sage
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl until well mixed. Shape into patties. If you have time, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
2. Heat up 1 tbsp of oil on a skillet, medium heat. 
3. Brown each side of the patties for five minutes, taking care not to press on them so that the juices remain inside and the patties are moist.

September 19, 2016

Book Review: The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine



Source: Netgalley

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

At the famous Patisserie Clermont, a chance encounter with the owner's daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air. But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.

Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words “Forgive me.” Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.

The Confectioner's Tale opens with a scene in 1910 Paris where two, as yet unnamed young people, discover the bustling sights, sounds, and tastes of the busy Les Halles market. Their joy and wonder are infectious - and I was immediately smitten with this book.  I eagerly devoured all the Parisian chapters about Guillame and Jeanne, partly because they are sumptuous homages to food, especially the art and beauty of pastry-making, and partly because we see everything through Guillame's young eyes - arriving in Paris as a poor railyard worker, becoming enchanted with the Patisserie Clermont, and falling in love for the first time. It is a yearning, bittersweet narrative that captured my heart.

"The food was glorious; it was as if the essence of the world had been captured and infused into this one meal, for this one hour, in this one square of Paris.  The boy wondered why it had never tasted this good before."

However, the chapters in 1980s England did not make the same impression on me. Throughout the book I kept wondering what the nexus was between the Paris chapters and the modern ones. I was expecting a brilliant twist but the connection seemed tenuous and a bit of a reach.

Yet, the vividness of the Paris chapters more than made up for the ones set in England. One word of warning: keep something sweet on hand while reading because this book will make your mouth water!

"Mahogany shelves lined the counters, stacked with glass bottles and jars, like something from a fairy tale.  There where whole, plump roses steeping in honey; purple-stained sugar, thick with lavender, tiny jars of crimson threads, cherries and peaches suspended in syrup as if they had fallen there from the trees."

September 16, 2016

La Petite Robe Noir

La Petite Robe Noir (eau de toilette) -left; La Petite Robe Noir (eau de parfum) - right
When I scored a coveted bottle of L'Instant Magic by Guerlain this spring, the clever shopgirl at Galeries Lafayette also slipped in a sample of La Petite Robe Noir eau de toilette in my bag. She instinctively knew that if I loved L'Instant Magic then I would also love La Petite Robe Noir.  And she was spot on. La Petite Robe Noir eau de toilette has a light, girlish, slightly powdery and flowery scent that evokes springtime in Paris. I often wear it every day.

I loved it so much I got the eau de parfum version as well; however, this is a different scent, oddly enough. The eau de parfum is heavier, with blackberry notes. Both are my current favorite scents and I go back and forth depending on my mood. 
With their fun and delightful videos, no wonder Guerlain is fast becoming my favorite perfume house.

September 14, 2016

Green Papaya Salad


I used to go out with a guy with the most amazing Cambodian friends, who, it seemed, had out-of-this-world barbecues every weekend. One of my favorite dishes they would make to accompany the grilled meat was a green papaya salad. While the men gathered round the barbecue grill with their beers, the women would sit on a mat and make this salad from scratch. 


A couple would be chopping up the papaya with their meat cleavers and then another would be pounding the chilis on a mortar and pestle, all the while gossiping. 

I've ordered this salad at Thai restaurants but for some reason, it just never tasted as good as the ones I had those long ago barbecues. Perhaps it lacked the festive atmosphere, the sense of community and bonding.

Alas, when my ex and I broke up, he got to keep his Cambodian friends and I got relegated to not-as-good papaya salad.  I've since doubted the wisdom of breaking up ... (Relationships have been built on much shakier foundations than really good papaya salad.)

Until, I started leafing through Chrissy Teigen's awesome cookbook, Cravings, and came upon this gem of a recipe. The results are exactly what I remember and have been longing for: garlicky, spicy, and sooooo addictive.

GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
by Chrissy Teigen

Ingredients:

1 lime, halved
1 large JalapeƱo pepper or 3 fresh Thai chiles
1 dried red Thai chile
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp palm, raw, or light brown sugar
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 lb green papaya
3 tbsp chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts (optional)

1. Cut one-half of the lime into small wedges and place in a large mortar, along with fresh chiles (and dried chile, if using), garlic, and sugar.  Crush with the pestle until the chiles are mashed and bruised but not totally pulverized and the sugar is dissolved.
2. Add the tomatoes and pound a few times to bruise the tomatoes.
3. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime half (about 1 tbsp) into the mortar and stir in the fish sauce.
4. Peel and seed the papaya then shred with a food processor or mandolin.
5. Add the papaya to the mortar and mash and toss lightly.  Top with peanuts.

September 12, 2016

Book Review: The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman



Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

In The Magician’s Land, Quentin and Fillory come full circle. Quentin becomes not only a master magician in trying to save Fillory, but also comes to his own as a man. The book opens when he’s 30 – having come so far from the rather selfish prick of the first book.

There are new characters introduced, such as the Plum whose secret comes into play in a big way. What I love the best here – I can’t say – so what I love second best is more background on the five Chatwin children in the form a lost diary by Rupert Chatwin whose revelations differ markedly from the fiction Christopher Plover wrote.  

The final installment is a spectacular, bittersweet end to this series.

September 9, 2016

Opera Garnier in Paris

Opera Garnier (Palais Garnier)
8 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris, France
Unquestionably, the Opera Garnier is the most famous opera house in the world (and in my opinion, the most beautiful), primarily owing to the popularity of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  (There is a lagoon below the opera house but it looks quite dreadful.)

Finished in 1875, it was designed by Charles Garnier, who famously appeased the Empress Eugenie by stating that the style of the opera house was "Emperor Napoleon III", after her husband. 

Everything from grand marble entrance to the foyer reminiscent of Versailles's Hall of Mirrors to the wine and gold theater itself speaks of opulence and a grand, bygone era. If going, make sure to book a tour as it is the only way one can go inside the actual theater (other than see a ballet performance).  No visit is complete without it because among all of the Opera Garnier's countless wow features, the theater ceiling is the highlight, a stunning painting by Marc Chagall.  Be sure to inquire at the desk if there are rehearsals of performances going on, it will be blacked out and the beautiful ceiling will be darkened.

Such was the case during my first trip and alas, my second as well. I resigned myself to not ever seeing the famous painted ceiling and begrudgingly trudged in with my tour group into the darkened theater to see a ballet rehearsal. However, five minutes later, the ballet dancers decided to break for lunch and suddenly the lights came on. You never saw someone happier or faster with her camera than I that afternoon, drinking in all the colors of painting above me.

As a footnote, while I was preparing this blog post, I was also in the midst of re-reading Sunshine by Robin McKinley when something clicked and I looked closely at the jacket cover. After scrolling through my pictures, my sense of deja vu was explained. The book's cover was a photograph of a ceiling alcove of the opera house leading to its library.
One of the gold angels on the rooftop
The grand entrance
The grand foyer modeled after Versailles's Hall of Mirrors
Marc Chagall's splendid ceiling






Box No. 5 - reserved for the Phantom of the Opera
Cover of Sunshine by Robin McKinley and the ceiling alcove of the Opera