around the world

there’s been an air of far-flung travel in my world of late. we’ve had the opportunity to eat in several local ethnic eateries and most of them were excellent! i joined my family for lunch at the newly opened taza lebanese grill in woodmere. along with the traditional hummus and fattoush, there is a full bar and more substantial center-of-the-plate options. i tasted a delicious piece of sauteed salmon topped with a parsley and walnut pesto that struck just the right balance. the only downside to this extension of the aladdin’s chain is the presence of the same, less than stellar desserts.

we’ve also been to a couple of vietnamese spots in the last few weeks. the first, pho hoa, is about as nondescript as you can get. hidden inside of a largely unmarked building, you would drive past it a hundred times and not notice it. the menu is limited to a couple dozen favorites, with the largest portion given over to the large (and larger) bowls of soup after which this place is named. i was pleased to see the inclusion of one of my favorite vietnamese snacks of all time, the french colonial inspired banh mi. you start with a crusty baguette (in this case, a warm one), smear it with pate and a bit of mayonnaise, add some sort of sliced meat (such as ham or fromage de tete), pickled carrot and daikon strips, cilantro leaves and sliced hot peppers. the richness of the pate is offset by the cilantro and pickled vegetables. i used to stop for these regularly in chicago and have been missing them ever since. the last time i ate one was in toronto, almost two years ago now. i am so happy to find them locally!

last week tony and i joined another couple for dinner at phnom penh. the interior here made pho hoa’s décor look like a spread from architectural digest! the food was, once again, very very good. we started with crispy spring rolls and then i had another classic, a cambodian “crepe.” it’s actually more like a crispy edged omelette made with rice flour. the center was filled with bits of shrimp, juicy pork, cilantro and fresh bean sprouts. it was scrumptious and filling and i would order it again in a heartbeat. the menu here is more typical of the vietnamese restaurants i am familiar with, running on into the hundreds of dishes spread out over 10 pages. it can be overwhelming, so i was glad to find something I really love.

my home cooking has been much more mundane than all this. things like scalloped potatoes and ham, chili, pork stew with root vegetables and cornbread have been the norm. i think in winter i just crave comfort food. i have been trying to keep it on the lower calorie end of the spectrum (no mac and cheese or chicken ala king) and have had relatively few sweets around. today, though, i slipped up and made a pan of peanut butter brownies…ooops!

tony and i have made a plan for a vacation next month. we have booked ourselves for a week in the western caribbean on the norwegian sun. the ship is fairly new, having been christened in 2001. it handles 2000 passengers with a crew of about 800. it features 9 restaurants, 12 bars and cafes, an 8 story atrium with glass elevators, 2 swimming pools, 5 jacuzzis, a spa with saunas, steam rooms and oceanview massage rooms, a fitness center, a basketball court, a library, a casino, a shopping arcade, an internet center, and 24 hour room service. we’ll be stopping twice in mexico—at costa maya and cozumel—along with calls at belize city and santo tomas de castilla in guatemala. there are dozens of land excursions available, but i am more interested in the resort aspect of the ship itself. i want to have a massage, see a nightclub show, lie around the pool, take a nap and generally just relax. while doing the research for the trip, i ran across this photostream on flickr, which was posted by a guy in november after he and his partner cruised on this same ship. it’s fun to see the shots of the liner, even though they went to different destinations than our itinerary covers. check it out!

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