Sunday, September 22, 2013

Homebody Travels - Montana


My flatmate and I are off on an actual (non-Homebody) trip to Montana this coming weekend, so we decided to get into the Montana-state-of-mind by doing a Homebody travel there first.

Montana was first explored by the French in the 1740s and water later acquired by the US with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  During Montana's early history, it's land was sought after for zinc, lead, copper, coal and oil...winning it the nickname "Treasure State."  Sheep, cattle, potatoes, barely, wheat, flax seed, rye, oats, and sugar beets rank among it's other significant economic resources.  Glacier National Park ( has 200 lakes and 26 glaciers.  Of Montana's 56 counties, 46 are considered "frontier counties" (having a population of 6 or fewer people per square mile), but it has the largest grizzly bear population of the lower 48 states.  It's name is derived from the Latin word montaanus, which means (unsurprisingly) "mountainous."

We learned that the lead singer for "The Decembrists" hails from Montana originally, so we gave them a listen this was either this or ska (which is apparently quite popular in Montana),'re welcome.

From the pictures we've seen, and from reports we've heard of this naturally beautiful, mountains-abounding, state via my flatmate's parents who are currently in and hiking about Montana, we have come to think of it fondly as A-Hint-of-Hobbiton-In-the-US.  As such, for this week's Culinary Adventure of Cave Girl & Koala Bear, we found a recipe on a Lord of the Rings fan site: "Mushrooms ala Gandalf" (although not entirely Koala Bear friendly since Worcestershire in the world do you say that word correctly? not vegetarian friendly...but I sucked it up for Gandalf's sake).

This recipe was chosen because we are both mycophiles (a devotee of mushrooms)...and this makes us kindred spirits of Hobbits:

"Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of Big People. A fact which partly explains young Frodo's long expeditions to the renowned fields of the Marish, and the wrath of the injured Maggot. On this occasion there was plenty for all, even according to hobbit standards."
-The Fellowship of the Ring

1. Purchase every variety of fresh mushroom your local grocer has in stock

2. Fill a pan with the cut up mushrooms and poor in enough wine to deglaze the mushrooms (by covering the bottom of the pan with the stuff so the mushrooms don't stick)
3. Add pepper to taste.  Add in a few shakes of nutmeg.  Add in a few teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce.

4. Cover & cook on medium.  Reduce heat to warm when mushrooms have absorbed most of the liquid in the pan.

5. Serve warm and enjoy!
Now...if you are wise as a wizard you will check the ingredients on the Worcestershire Sauce to see what kind of spices it includes.  We did not.  And thus we got a mouthful of Smaug flames instead of mouth-watering mushrooms.  Our Worcestershire Sauce had chili powder and we doused our delicious dish in it, rendering it unpalatable for us.  Lesson learned.

While much of The Shining was shot elsewhere, the impressive aerial shots during the opening scene were shot in Glacier National Park.  And the woodsy, isolated atmosphere of The Overlook Hotel just fits our imaginings of what the atmosphere of Montana is like. 

 I had trouble finding a well-known Montanan author or poet, but I did find this noteworthy passage about Montana from John Steinbeck's nearly-last-novel Travels with Charlie:
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it... It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda…. It seemed to me that the frantic bustle of America was not in Montana...The calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Homebody Travels - Scotland


Ok...not exactly a 'country' anymore as it is part of the "United Kingdom"...but Scotland remains separatist in many regards, at least national-identity speaking, and has a well rooted and still vibrantly living cultural history. So we're treating it as a independent country just the same.

Scotland's history has been riddled with battles to win back or maintain their national independence, which is arguably why their culture is so distinct that it gives a perception that it is still a separate country of it's own.  It first gained independence in 1314 but lost it by 1707.  Scotland is made of up of nearly 800 islands, 130 of which are inhabited.  It has 600 square miles of fresh water lakes, including the famous Loch Ness, and it's highest point is only 4,406 ft.  It has 3 official languages (English, Gaelic, and Scots) and has the highest percentage of redheads in the world (13%).

Bagpipes (first came into use in Scotland in 1400) is the easy audial "in" to Scottish culture, but to elaborate a bit on that...I'd say look into Scottish reeling a bit.   Reeling is folk dance that involves couples of dancers tracing progressive patterns of pre-choreographed dances.  Speaking from personal experience and taking a stab at this Scottish cultural tradition, it is not an easy thing to catch on to on the first attempt. But it is a small thrill if you even get one move of one reel done correctly just once (which was the most success I achieved).

In this week's Culinary Adventure of Cave Girl & Koala Bear, we happily discovered a paleo-friendly sticky toffee pudding recipe...and it turned out rather delicious.  As a warming, we were slightly put off by the coloring of our culinary creation throughout the process.  However, RESIST THE URGE TO ABANDON THE PROJECT.  It is a tasty reward if you stick it out.

1. Pre-heat your over to 350

2. Soak 4 tsps of chia seed in 4 Tbls of water.

3. Put 1 cup of (pitted) dates, 1 cup of water, and 1 tsp of baking soda in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil.

4. Let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in 1/2 cup of chopped butter. Stir until butter melts.  Set aside to cool.

5.  Whisk 3 large eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in soaked chia seeds.  Stir in 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp of vanilla.

6. Mix in date and butter sauce.

7. Stir in 1tsp mixed spices and 1/3 cup of coconut flower.  Stir until most of the lumps are gone.

8. Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes. 

9. Enjoy while wearing a kilt or some item of tartan fabric.


Every man dies, not every man really lives.

Neither of us need any excuse to watch Braveheart, we've each watched it an uncountable number of times.  While most of the film was shot in Ireland (a pointed which we find a frustrating disappointment) portions were shot in Scotland and the film itself is a beautifully done illustration of pivotal point in Scottish history: the First War of Scottish Independence.  William Wallace (played my Mel Gibson) was a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots against the English.  Besides the scenery, which warrants many sighs-of-longing, many lines from the film transport you into a Scottish mindset: poetic, fierce, and determined.  
Perhaps it our mutual adoration of the Scottish highlands, and our day dreamed life of Scottish life is very much tied to being out in nature, we found Sir Walter Scots poetry to be a verbal gateway into Scottish life.  "On Ettrick Forest Mountains Dun (Life in the Forest)" to be particularly appealing. A snipped from that poem is included below:

'Tis blithe along the midnight tide
With stalwart arm the boat to guide;
On high the dazzling blaze to rear,
And heedful plunge the barbed spear:
Rock, wood, and scaur, emerging bright,
Fling on the stream their ruddy light,
And from the bank our band appears
Like Genii, arm'd with fiery spears.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homebody Travels - Japan

Some interesting facts about this island nation:
  • Japan is an archipelago made of 6,852 islands.
  • Japan historically experienced long periods of isolation from other nations which helped keep it's traditional culture alive.
  • Samurai were the dominant ruling class in Japan during the feudal era (1100s - 1800s)
  • Around 70% of Japan consists of mountains
  • There are 4 different writing systems in Japan

The two music recommendations for a Japanese journey are (arguably) Americanizations of

First is the theme from Shogun Assassins (runner-up for the Japan "WATCH" section...and highly recommended all the same).  Somehow the 80s vibe of it (and arguably the music-inspired memory I get of the film when I hear it), futuristic leaning, and sci-fi feeling, transports to Japan.

You can also listen to almost any anime (film or series) theme song.  This is the most direct route to an taste of the nerd-side of Japanese culture, a side I know and adore.

Symphonically, the soundtrack from any of Hayao Miyazaki's films are quite transporting. Composed by Joe Hisaishi (Japanese), performed by the New Tokyo Philharmonic, and intended to give a sonic illustration to Japanese is about as Japanese as one can get, audially speaking.

This section will from here-on be called "the culinary adventures of cave girl & koala bear"...because my flatmate is doing paleo (caveman fair) and I'm a vegetarian (eucalyptus leaves and twigs) our recipes will be rather interesting twists on the traditional.

But I digress.

Fortunately, finding a hunter-gather/herbivore-approved recipes from Japanese cuisine was rather easy: nori wraps.

1. Using a mandolin (or thin cuts from a knife) shred 1/2 red cabbage, 1 large carrot, 1 zucchini, and 1 cucumber. Slice up one avocado and 1 cup of spinach or kale leaves.

2. Lay out a nori sheet on a plate.

3. lay your desired fillings (scallops added in for the cave girl) on one side of the nori sheet.  On the opposite side, moisten with water using your finger tips

 4. wrap like a burrito (I know, I know...culture clash), cut in half, dip in soy sauce and enjoy!


I was perhaps a tiny bit too excited (understatement) to introduce my flatmate to this week's "watch" selection: Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.  She has never seen any of his films before, which I considered a tragedy warranting immediate remedy, and was very much looking forward to being present at her first introduction.

Anyways, the film is animated, but the illustrations are as captivating as actual footage of Japan is, in many if not most ways.  Miyazaki's films are characterized by subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) themes of environmentalism, pacifism, and consumerism, but always in a manner that makes you feel pensive not preached at.  What sweeps viewers up into the film, into Japan itself, is the stunning illustrations and whimsical storyline that is somehow both innocently childlike and complexly somber simultaneously.  Beyond that, his characters and creatures are wildly creative. 

I won't go into plot points, but just don't miss this film. It takes a bit of removing yourself ethnocentrism, and yes it is animated, but give it a won't regret it.

 And you'll certainly adore the soot sprites as much as I. That much is certain.

For me, the most "Japanese" reading experience one can have is either manga or I'll share a snippet of both.

Manga are (to put it in a general nut shell for those unacquainted) Japanese comics.  I have not read many yet, but those I have, I've enjoyed.

The haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry, most commonly recognized by its 3 line (5-7-5 syllable) structure.  The one below is by famous Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (born 1644)*

A Weathered Skeleton
A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory,
piercing like a knife

*note the syllable structure is not as defined above...but I'm assuming some things are lost in translation?


Saturday, September 7, 2013

local flavor

In an attempt to practice some forced slowness, I'm took small photo expedition through some details I typically pass right on by. A local 'travel'... if you will.