Monday, October 16, 2017

How to help the NorCal Fire Victims

The last week has been horrific here in the Bay Area, with the news on non-stop reporting terrible stories of people losing their homes, and even their loved ones, to the fast and far-spreading fires that have ripped through the Santa Rosa, Napa, Sonoma and Northern California region.

I've personally been keen to help in some way, but keep hearing reports that the shelters are already full and don't need any more clothing or food donations. Thankfully, support efforts are super organized and there are some great resources here to figure out what you can personally do to help. Yes, some organizations are full of clothing and supplies but still need monetary donations, some still need supplies, and some prefer Gift Cards they can distribute to evacuees. There is also info here on how and where your volunteer help would be well appreciated.

Lots of info here: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/How-To-Help-North-Bay-Fire-Relief-Efforts-450142573.html

A very organized and kept-up-to-date Google Doc from the Petaluma Fire Dept here with info on which shelters need monetary donations, who needs gift cards instead of clothing, etc.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/14ZhXDNaL260p5OempaFbCrsYBe_5pvNvDqV7xcwn95s/preview


On there I learned some really cool stuff, like the well-known Food Truck event organizer "Off the Grid" has a GoFundMe page where they've already raised $30,000 and are feeding evacuees and first responders with Food Trucks already. Awesome idea.
https://www.gofundme.com/HelpOTGFeedNoCal

More here: https://socofirerelief.com/

To all the evacuees and victims of this horrible natural disaster: may the kindness and compassion of your neighbours and strangers -- your fellow human beings -- bring you hope and peace in this madness.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Honeymoon Day 16: Valle de Mai national park, Indian Ocean Rum and Indian Food

1/14/2017
Honeymoon Day 16: Valle de Mai national park, Indian Ocean Rum and Indian Food

It was quite a rainy day yesterday so it was still a bit damp this morning but finally not pouring! Wahoo. Hopefully our plane will be able to leave tomorrow... anyhow, on we went to start our last day in the glorious Seychelles. We had the last Breakfast Buffet, and of course got our favourite noodles again! I tried some of the Oatmeal with Calamansi marmalade this time. They had HUGE passion fruits (yes!) and I had a bunch of other fruit again, of course.



That was great and gave me some good energy to get out on the water and do one last snorkel. The weather was nuts yesterday so it was a bit calmer today at least. It was still cloudy and harder to snorkel, but I found a good spot between the rocks and a nice group of big white fish. That was great and I only slammed my knee on a rock twice! This was one of the best Snorkeling days -- tons of fish today!

Here are some photos and video of the last day of snorkeling in the Seychelles.













We had spent some time sitting at the main pool at the hotel but hadn't really spent much time in it, and it is a fancy infinity pool so we wanted to give it a shot. I did a "godzilla" impression in the pool, walking like a monster in the pool while carrying Michal... haha. Maybe more like King Kong?!

We weren't sure if maybe we should just chill on our last day or if we should schlep a ways into the island to see the famous Valle de Mai national park. We asked our buddy at the pool, "Should we go to Valle de Mai?" "Absolutely, it's perfect!" "Ok!" So that was that! We got a drive there from the hotel to make sure we'd have enough time there and would figure out our way back afterwards.

It is a famous park and was a very lovely walk! It was less humid today due to the crazy rain yesterday. We started off the hike seeing the famous Coco de Mer Palm Tree "double nuts" which was pretty funny.




As you can see from the Coco de Mer "double nut" Seychelles continues to live up to its reputation of being the "Garden of Eden". The nut is shaped like a women's legs and hips (ok, it looks like a crotch) and this nut is from the female Coco de Mer. The male Coco de Mer palm has a long stamen-like piece hanging off of it. Yep. Funny and kinda crazy!

The Valle de Mai is also known for the rare Black Parrot, we briefly saw some flying and also heard their call a lot which was cool. It said the long-version of the walk was 1.5 hrs, and we powered through it in something more like 50 min? Probably due to less humidity today, it was easier and more enjoyable of a walk than it would be on other days.







Giant trees!!!



The walk was awesome and quite relaxing with a light wind blowing the trees and the Black Parrots calling. Very cool. We were lucky to get to do this walk out of the rain, but the trees were so giant and had such a huge canopy, I suspect we would have still been reasonably dry even if it was raining. On our way back to the front gate area, we saw some of the really crazy "Socket" root systems -- the trees have a set of roots that plugs into this sort of socket thing on the ground. It was cool, and again, kinda nuts!





Crazy tree root socket


So that was totally amazing and we were super glad to check out the national park. Rather than calling a hotel taxi or something like that to get back, we walked down the road and waited for the bus for a bit with an 8 or 10 person group of Italian tourists. It was quite funny to watch them trying to decide whether they should wait for the bus or give up, we didn't understand their language but they were clearly having the same debate that we were. Eventually they gave up and took a group cab when some dude drove by in a large mini-bus and offered to take them back for a somewhat exorbitant price. It was a Saturday so the buses were on some sort of weekend schedule, though you got the feeling that the "schedule" in the Seychelles was just an estimate at best.

We were sitting for about 20 or 30 min and finally decided after much debate that we'd give up and start walking to the main street where we could go to a shop or two and then wait for the bus there instead. Michal said she figured the bus was going to show up the second we left. Sure enough, just as we gave up to start to walk towards the shops... not 1 minute later... it started raining AND the bus showed up!!! We were no longer in the bus stop but I waved him down and thankfully he stopped. I was excited to take the bus again and practice my "Devant!" yell when we wanted the driver to pull over at the next stop.

View from the bus

A corner store we drove by
Back we went to chill in the room for a while, write some postcards, and do some chillin'. We got a greek salad with passion fruit dressing! That was awesome. And one more jump into the plunge pool on the deck of our epic room, relaxing and enjoying our epic view for the last night there.


We got ready for dinner and first headed to the Danzil lounge again (the place that had the amazing Singapore Sling and Praslin Sling). Tonight I tried something new and very exciting on their menu, the "Vanilla Islands Rum Tasting"!!!!!! The bartender dude was SO psyched to show off all of their rums and to teach me all about them. It was so fun and such a great experience. He was really proud that they were offering this tasting now and took a good 30 minutes with us to explain in detail everything.

"Here is some things to smell, this is not for eating" -- Vanilla Bean, Brown Sugar, Orange Peel
3 tastings and truffles to go with them!
Exciting!
First he explained to me "Rum" vs. "Rhum" -- one is made with molasses and the other with sugar cane. I had no idea there was even a difference, I thought one was just a different spelling! He explained to me the rating system: Unaged, VS, VSOP, XO ("Extremely Old"). There are no age-statements, but Rum is labelled similarly to Cognac (you see Cognac "XO" frequently).

It was so fun to try these, and to smell all the "smelling items" he provided first: orange peel, cinnamon bark, vanilla bean, coffee and brown sugar. He said these represented the flavours I would be able to smell and taste in the rum itself. Apparently, rum is also always Oak Barrel-Aged. As with Whisky, older is smoother. I had 3 tastes to start.

#1 was from The Seychelles, Takamaka 8 year St. Andre. It is the fancy aged version of the standard Takamaka Rum you get everywhere in The Seychelles. It had strong vanilla and cinnamon notes and was delicious. This was my favourite of the three tastings.


Next up was Savanna 7 year from Réunion Island. This one had a much stronger taste, and definitely had strong notes of coffee grounds. This one was quite intense!


The third tasting was Chamarel from Mauritius. It had more of a brown sugar flavour, a broader taste, and was less sweet.


Here's my epic setup with the bottles to look at as well. What fun! And Michal's cocktail on the side there. :)


"Hmm... tasting notes of nuttiness..."
Amazingly, our dude was super epic and loved my enthusiasm for this, and I also think he hadn't had the chance to present the rum tasting to too many people quite yet, so amazingly he poured me a small taste of the Chamarel XO, the old version of the Mauritius one!! Amazing.


So this was all amazing. He was psyched about my interest and after I was done the tasting, he brought out and showed me the fancy bottles they have of other interesting Rums from around the world. I have to imagine it's quite hard to import things or ship things to The Seychelles so he was quite proud of his collection here at the bar. I gotta say I was blown away by the variation of all of these different rums and also that it was possible to try so many things from tiny islands like Réunion! Once in a lifetime opportunity, indeed. As we were wrapping up, he had a funny pineapple-flavoured rum that he thought was very interesting and he brought a little for me to taste. So good!!

An example of of of their other crazy fancy rums, Ron Zacapa XO from Guatemala
Our bartender buddy proud of his excellent rum selection!


That was insanely fun. What an experience!

After that super enjoyable time, we headed to dinner by the pool... for Raffles Praslin's Tandoori Night!!!!!!!!!!! YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! The setup was amazing, what an arrival, with the lanterns up and the tandoor cooking. It smelled like a friggin' dream.

The hospitality was again first-rate and a bit unbelievable in its epicness. We had just put our stuff down and were checking out the food and the pastry chef came up to us, "My friend told me you loved the Bananas Flambe at the Creole BBQ a few nights ago. I will make it for you when you like." OMG. It was definitely NOT on the menu or anywhere to be seen, he was definitely just going to whip it up specially for us. I was astounded. So, that's the vibe we're rollin' with! Amazing.

"I heard you guys loved the Bananas Flambe..."
But first, dinner! We headed over to the curry station and the selection was incredible. Salads, Pav bhaji, Tandoori fish and chicken, and made-for-you-on-the-spot Naan!!!!!! Oh man!! That was such a cool process, I've never seen it made so up-close. I knew it was made by sticking the dough to the side of a tandoor but SUPER cool to see it!! So fun to see how they "Garlic" a Naan to make it a "Garlic Naan" -- he asked me if I wanted Garlic and I said yes, and so he brushed it with butter and sprinkled some garlic on and then put it in the tandoor like the regular Naan. Voila, Garlic Naan!


Salads
Pav bhaji -- bun and veggie curry
Start off light, lots to eat tonight!

Preparing the Naan
Sticking the Naan to the side of the tandoor!
Ohhh man that was good!
For the 2nd round, I got their Butter Chicken (sortof like a sweet tomato sauce version of a Chicken Tikka Masala), as well as trying their Paneer curry. And more Garlic Naan, of course! This time I spoke with the chef at the Naan station more and I had lots of questions for this interesting process to create one of my favourite foods. "How does the Naan stick to the side?" He said a consistent temperature is needed to make the magic work. "Does it ever fall off?" Apparently, yes! And my most burning question, "How did you get these huge Copper Tandoor ovens to Praslin from India?!" The said they were able to ship it over, (I suppose Seychelles is in fact on the Indian Ocean...) and that the chef ordered it all specially from India to make sure he could create dishes in Seychelles the same way he made them at home in India. Totally epic.




That was super amazing. We ate like crazy and enjoyed it so, so much. The food was magnificent and truly perfect, but with all the Naan and curries we were starting to get FULL. But time for dessert! And we had to try some of the special things here. I tried these little doughnut things that you sometimes see in Indian restaurants... last time I tried them I recall they were too sweet but here they were way better than the previous ones I've ever tried! I asked the chef what the ingredients were in the stringy doughnut thing and, he said "Fried yeast, flour... and sugar", pausing after saying sugar, he said "Otherwise it has no taste". I also had a glorious Pistachio Saffron Profiterole.... seriously. This place is legendary. I also tried a bread pudding thing and a date "halva"?! Nice. There was also a melted ice cream-y drink thing with fruit in it! Whew! So I know we said we were full, but with small portions we managed to try a lot of the interesting desserts.



And finally, the piece-de-resistance...

The final touch....

The awesome pastry chef brought us our Banana Flambe dessert with vanilla ice cream. These local bananas are so sweet and so good, and the rum sauce is MAGIC. We were so full, satisfied beyond belief, and overwhelmed with joy at the kindness and dedication of the staff and chefs and everyone here. I couldn't believe they made us the dessert... and they made one for each of us, at that!!!!!!!! That was SO nice.

We headed back to our rooms, completely STUFFED and packed up our bags for our very early morning flight tomorrow. Amazed and astounded by the magic of Seychelles, we went off to bed and dreamed of garlic naan and fried bananas in rum sauce.