23. Have your Viber and WhatsApp accounts already created

If you’re a solo traveler on a short trip like me, or going on a longer adventure, you should sign up for Viber and WhatsApp before you leave.

A lot of the people you meet, both locals and travelers, are going to be using one or the other for communication. Remember, you switched your SIM cards at the airport and there’s no more texting from your US phone number, for the duration of your trip.

(Unless you use Google Voice: I was still able to text people from my phone, and computer, with my normal phone number. That’s because I use Google Voice instead of my phone on-board number. Because Google Voice is an application that sends text over the internet, I could still send and receive texts like normal. However, that is a choice I made many years ago, when I changed numbers.)

That’s where Viber and WhatsApp come in, especially when you want to text your new-found friend what time you’re going to catch the bus, or if they want to go to dinner, or anything else.

You can always email, but that’s so much clunkier.

I personally learned the lesson the hard way (in 2016) when I had to sign up for both types of accounts with my Vietnam phone number, and then try to switch everything back over to my US number.

See all the travel lessons here.

22. Be prepared to haggle

For the most part, in Southeast Asia, you’re going to have to haggle.

Not so in restaurants (fixed prices) or convenience stores (the same) but for the most part, be prepared to haggle.

It often helps to either know what other people are charging for similar goods or what the price should be in general.

See a nice backpack? Ask one of the travelers you’ve met what they paid. Use that to gauge what you should be paying.

One of the main markets in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 5, 2016. When going to a market, be prepared to haggle!

In addition, you should be prepared to walk away.

A lot of the time, vendors will quote you prices that might as well be the full retail when you walk into any store in the United States. Totally unacceptable. That’s when you walk away.

The vendor should came back with a better price and begin negotiations again. If not, it’s time to move on.

Other things to consider when haggling is buying multiple items to bring the price down.

Since I’m a big fan of bringing back really nice scarfs, when I find a vendor who has the wares I want, I ask how much. We go through the haggling rigmarole. When I’ve finally got the price down, I’ll say, what if I buy five, or 10? That should bring the price down even more.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Be prepared to have your calculator out (presumably your phone) and I also suggest having a currency converter app on your phone.

(When communication breaks down, use your calculator to quote prices.)

Other ways to politely talk a vendor out of an extreme price: I’m a student, I’m poor or, my favorite, I’m a poor journalist.

Sometimes, in especially tourist-filled areas, the vendor just doesn’t care, especially if you’re only buying something because you need it right now. In that case, just walk away.

It’s raining and you want to buy an umbrella, or a poncho? Sky high prices. It’s not raining? Reasonable price.

If you think it’s going to rain, or if it’s been rainy, then make sure to buy the umbrella when it’s nice out.

Did I mention an umbrella? If you’re in a rainy season, or area, or there’s a storm coming in, buy a nice umbrella. Spend a few extra dollars because, trust me, it’s worth it.

Just remember: you’re not made of money.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

If you’re a journalist like me, you have a lot of records requests pending at any one time.

If you’re not already keeping track of them in a spreadsheet or similar fashion, this article is to show you how it can be easily done, offer up a template, examples, and some organizational tips.

When I first started out, I didn’t know much about record requests.

That all changed when I started working at the Rio Grande SUN. Now, filing record requests is second nature.

A spreadsheet for open records requests makes it so much easier to keep track of everything.

Since I’m in New Mexico, it’s a lot easier than most states. New Mexico has a very requester-friendly open records law that allows for free inspections of records and offers few exemptions for public officials to withhold records.

That does not preclude me from filing FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests with public agencies, although those requests compose just a fraction of my work. (My FOIA spreadsheet is just a copy of my IPRA spreadsheet that I modified.)

Keeping track of all of those requests, their statuses, when they were filed and all of the other important information can be somewhat easy, but it takes a little bit of organization, a spreadsheet and the determination to keep the spreadsheet updated.

As an example, I currently have 148 (as of June 4, 2017) open records requests. Keeping track of all of those demands some sort of organization.

I’ve only come to the helpfulness of spreadsheets in the past two or three years. Before, I always thought spreadsheets were for things that dealt with numbers. For everything else, I would use a normal text document.

For records requests, I used to just not do anything, other than a search through my email. Oh, how wrong I was!

So, let’s dive straight into the spreadsheet.

(Personally, I use Sheets in Google Docs, mostly because it is available wherever I log into my Google account. Attached at the end of this post is also an Excel version of my template as well as the example spreadsheet.)

Rows upon rows

Before I go any further, please remember, spreadsheets are a somewhat personal thing. I suggest you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your requests, but you should format the spreadsheet’s rows or columns to match what information you want to access.

The first row I use to sort requests is agency. This could be replaced with date, depending on your personal preferences.

Next is the date the request was sent. This is very important because it dictates deadlines and how late a request is in being fufilled. Plus, it’s a great row to sort by.

Everyone needs the first four rows (date, agency, documents requested and status) for a records request spreadsheet. Everything after that is what data you need to help keep track of your requests.

As an aside, when I send requests, I put the date I’m sending the request at the end of the email subject line. I use this as a sort of master reference point when trying to find the string of emails attached to the request.

I also make sure to put a very brief summary of the content of the request in my subject line. This, just like a date, adds another reference point.

An example of a subject line, which I condense for the spreadsheet:

IPRA – May 8 incident reports, supplemental reports, investigative reports, audio/video from incident & communications from — 5-28-2015

The next row is the request’s status, along with the last date  of the last status, if it exists. If an agency sent the three-day letter (mandated in New Mexico law) on May 1, 2017, then I write: “3-day letter 5-1-2017.”

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, quickly coming up, I’m reposting an Irish soda bread blog post, and recipe, from Sept. 1, 2009 when I was living in Germany as an au pair. Here’s the original.

I realize that it’s a little bit disjointed at the end. So it goes.

You should be pairing that soda bread with some slow cooker corned beef, potatoes and cabbage made with beer, cider and mustard. Trust me. It’s really good.

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

I could make excuses or give reasons for not having written about vacation yet, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to share a recipe for Irish Soda Bread that I made last week. Before I give the recipe or subsequent notes on it, I’ll rap about it because I personally love recipes with a story behind them — a recipe with no notes, no story, no nothin’ is not only less appealing to me but also dry. I should say, the whole reason I made the soda bread was a beef stew which I’ll hopefully make soon again, takes pictures of and write up. A glut from two grills the last two nights engendered the beef stew, which spawned the soda bread.

Out of the oven, on a baking sheet.

I think sourdough bread goes better with beef stew, or lamb stew, or pork stew rather than soda bread, but this may just be nostalgia speaking. The soda bread goes well with the beef stew, is semi-authentic and as a plus the bread is great – it merits repeating – with a little butter and good honey.

I picked up the recipe from allrecipes.com (credit to “MP Welty”) and changed it for my tastes. My tastes at the moment are for whole wheat goodness wherever and whenever possible. So far this has been an apple crisp, the soda bread and pancakes.

Below the recipe will be given in both metric and imperial, but small measurements will be given exclusively in imperial. I personally use metric because I’m in Germany and actually I found measuring by grams to be a bit easier than the normal packing and sifting ways. However, I’ve found with American recipes, this difference can be a bit of a problem.

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It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.

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In New Mexico, Chile is king. No questions. No debate. Red, or green? Christmas? (Christmas is both red and green.)

(If you want just the recipe, see it here.)

Zhug, after the cilantro and jalapenos and citrus and salt have been blended together. Ready for some fiery consumption.

Cilantro certainly plays a second fiddle, in salsa, as do tomatoes, but still: chile, cilantro, these are the building blocks of many New Mexican meals. So, what does that have to do with zhug? Well, combine those two things into one dish. Blew your mind, didn’t it?

Chile and cilantro are not the sole property of New Mexican cuisine and lots of other cultures do complimentary things with them that I think we should all copy, or at least, pay attention to.

That New Mexico can learn a lot from other parts of the world, including from the middle-east, where zhug originated.

What is zhug, anyway?

It can either be described as a cilantro-based hot sauce (and, depending on how you make it, I mean Hot) or as chile and cilantro pesto. Take your pick. I prefer the former, partially because I make mine scalding.

It’s a very simple sauce. Put cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice and, important here, peppers, into a blender. Blend. Blend, blend, blend.

That’s it. Maybe add some salt, to taste. And you’re done. It’s a pesto-like hot sauce or a hot pesto. Either way, zhug goes well with pita bread and tabbouleh, with some hummus. Maybe you’re going to make zucchini fritters. Add some on the side, along with tzatziki.

I should add, this sauce is very dear to my heart. Being such a fan of cilantro, even naming my blog after a proclivity for it, I gotta say. We all should love zhug.

 

Zhug

Ingredients
• Between 10-20 hot peppers, rinsed and chopped (de-seed if heat is an issue)
• 1-3 bunches of cilantro, washed and chopped
• 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed
• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 lime juice, more to taste
• ¼ to ½ cup lemon juice, more or less to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste
• Optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions

1. Chop the cilantro, peppers and garlic.
2. Put all the ingredients, sans salt, in a food processor or blender.
3. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.
4. Add a small amount of salt, to taste.

 

If you want the full gallery of full-quality photos, they are licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-only license. See them here.

Jalapenos in a blender, before being blended, to make Zhug. Add liquid (lemon/lime juice) to aid in the blending process.

Cilantro, being being chopped up and put in a blender to make Zhug.

I’ve been a fan of curry pastes for a long time, as well as a fan of buying ingredients in bulk for cost savings.

I don’t just buy curry pastes in bulk. Potatoes, too, as well as chicken thighs when there’s a big sale.

Somehow, and I don’t know how, I alighted on the idea to combine all three of these things. It may have started with pan-fried potatoes, or maybe with oven baked chicken thighs (skin on, bone in). It may have its genesis in yellow curry fried rice, where I first learned that the (Thai) curry paste works incredibly well as a seasoning.

Before I go any further, I need to mention that this dish goes really well with at least tzatziki, and probably zhug as well.

Yellow curry paste!

Irregardless of how it happened, I then used yellow curry paste (the mildest of the pastes) as a seasoning for pan fried potatoes. All of this is being done in a cast-iron skillet, of course.

Finally, I decided that the best of all worlds is to put the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes, and maybe a few other vegetables and then bake to allow the juices and fat to seep into the potatoes, mingling the flavors.

The problem with chicken thighs is they take a long time to cook at a high temperature. It’s not so much a problem as something you need to be aware of going into the cooking process.

(Continued after the jump)

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Having made rice bowls the night before, I had lots of leftover rice. (Part and parcel of making rice bowls is leftover rice, to either be used in future bowls or in other dishes).

Finished spam, rice and (scrambled) eggs. Furikake is on the top of the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

That meant, this morning, it was time to fry up some spam, cook some eggs in the spam fat and heat up that leftover rice to make a (modern) Hawaiian classic, spam, eggs and rice.

Now, a close relative of this is the spam musubi. I wrote about it for the Rio Grande SUN (no link since the columns don’t make it to the website) but I did post the recipe here.

Many people, including the people I work with, cast aspersions on the very idea of spam, or scoff, or express their pure disgust at the idea. Then again, lots of people are scared of lots of things, and if you weren’t put off by the article title, I hope you will keep reading.

Spam, rice and eggs is so ubiquitous in Hawaii that it’s even sold at McDonald’s, part of their breakfast menu. That also indicates what kind of a breakfast it’s going to be. But, never fear. Much like the rice bowl, you can easily add veggies to the top of your rice to make it a more balanced meal.

Spam, rice and eggs is so simple, almost dead simple. Simply cut a couple of pieces off of the spam log, fry them up in a pan, heat up some leftover sushi or vinegared rice (you can also use normal steamed rice, fresh or leftover) and cook a couple of eggs in that same pan, either fried or scrambled. Put some furikake (Japanese seasoning made with seaweed, among other things) on the rice, maybe cut up a few veggies to put over the rice and there, you have it.

Spam, rice and eggs. Simple, wasn’t it?

Next up, according to my thinking? Spam, (sushi) rice and eggs in a burrito. New Mexican and Hawaiian fusion, all the way.

See the full set of photos (see below) on Flickr.

All the photos are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Only (2.0) license.

Spam, Rice and Eggs

Ingredients

1 can of spam

2-5 eggs

Vegetables as desired

Rice, either leftover or fresh

Milk, if making scrambled eggs

1 tablespoon oil

Optional: Butter

Directions

If using fresh rice, make it now. I suggest making sushi/vinegared rice, either fresh or left over.

1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat.

2. Take the spam out of its package and slice into 1/4 inch slices.

3. Fry the spam until lightly brown on each side

4. Cut up any vegetables desired to be used on the rice

4. Prepare eggs for scrambling, if cooking that way, including mixing and adding milk.

5. Cook the eggs as desired.

6. Serve the spam with the rice and eggs.

 

Spam cut into slices before it goes into the skillet for some light browning.

The spam has pan fried up nicely. Just a little brown. I cook on the grill because it doesn’t make the house smell.

Flippin’ the spam slices.

One-handed egg crackin’.

Pouring milk into the eggs before everything is mixed. Scrambled eggs, this time.

Finished spam, rice and (scrambled) eggs. Furikake is on the top of the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

So, what’s for dinner?

That’s always a problem, right? Pasta, or . . . What else is in the kitchen? Refrigerator? And the time factor? Do I need to go to the store?

In my house, there are a few things always on hand: vegetables, maybe some meat (leftover, marinated or unprepared), always uncooked rice (and often times, leftover sushi/vinegared rice, plain recipe).

For me, the easiest meal is often times the humble rice bowl. I cook up some rice in my rice cooker, I turn it into sushi/vinegared rice (blog post). Then, do I want to make sushi? Or a rice bowl? Or maybe onigiri? Or maybe, a few sushi rolls now and rice bowls for lunch tomorrow, and some onigiri (rice balls) for later? The options are endless.

Peppers, grilled chicken, cucumbers and seaweed, at the very bottom, sit on top of rice in this rice bowl.

So, what is the rice bowl?

Well, it’s simple. You make some vinegared/sushi rice, put it in a bowl, cut up some veggies into bite-sized pieces, maybe cook up some meat and cut it up too, then throw it all on the rice.

Which veggies? Well, cucumbers are always nice, as are avocadoes. If you thinly slice, then deseed lemons, they are delicious. Being in New Mexico, I always add green chile peppers (unroasted) as well as jalepenos. Nori (seaweed) adds much needed taste. Green onions are also a good addition.

What else do you have? Throw it in there! Leftover steak? Cut it up, throw it in. Same goes for chicken, pork, or other meats.

Add some soy sauce, maybe some spicy/Sriracha mayonnaise, maybe some eel sauce, (Link to Amazon; once I make my own, I will post the recipe and update the link. Your local Asian store should have it for cheap.)

Bam! You’ve got a simple, relatively healthy dinner. Veggies, a little meat. Sure, the rice isn’t particularly healthy, but it’s frugal. Very, very frugal.

Avocados! Taste delicious in rice bowls, as do lemons. Seaweed is also a must.

(I buy sushi rice, Kokuho Rose variety, in 40 pound bags to be as frugal as possible. I store them in five-gallon buckets with lids, a carry over from my days as a homebrewer.)

There you go. Rice bowls. Simple. Delicious. Easy.

Seaweed (nori) is the first thing to go on top of the rice.

See all the photos on Flickr, in high quality.

Realized you don’t know how to make sushi rice? Here’s the recipe.

Want just the rice bowls recipe? Right here.

Simple rice bowls

Makes: as many as you have rice for

Ingredients

Sushi/vinegared rice
1/2 to 1/4 cucumber
1-3 green peppers
1 jalapeno (if you like it spicy)
1 piece of cooked meat (heated up if desired)
1/2 sheet of nori (seaweed sheets)
1 avocado
1 lemon, thinly sliced
All other vegetables, cooked or raw, as you see fit
Other ingredients as you see fit, or have seen in a sushi roll
Condiments such as eel sauce, Sriracha mayonnaise and eel sauce or cream cheese

Directions

1. Cut up the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Cut the lemon slices into quarters.
2. Put enough rice into the bottom of a bowl.
3. Tear up the nori and place on top of the rice.
4. Put the cut up vegetables and meat, if using, on top of the nori, which is on top of the rice.
5. Heat up in the microwave for 30 second to 1 minute if working with leftovers or desire it hotter
6. Add condiments over the top and enjoy.