You’ve Got to Be Kidney Me: 5 British Foods We Ate in London

I’m about to say something highly controversial: I love British food.

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Poezilla eat all the mini-foods. (Tea at Sketch)

And I’m not talking about “crisps,” because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a little salty sliver of fried potato goodness? Although, the British do tend to test that love with some rather unique flavoring options. Beef and onion? Roast ox? Prawn cocktail? Don’t even get me started on repeat offender/intrepid flavor alchemist, Tyrell’s.

But crisps are easy to love. What I’m talking about is heavy, stodgy British fare with funny names and a heavy reliance on the aforementioned potatoes or other mysterious carbs (what starchy root vegetable is a Yorkshire and why is it made into a pudding?)

I like the stuff that, in a pinch, could be used as a building material. You know, to stucco something perhaps, or be a passable substitute for mortar. We’re talking bubble and squeak. Bangers and mash. Jacket potatoes with baked beans and cheese. Toad in the hole. Welsh rarebit.

I didn’t even scratch the surface of my love of British food during our recent trip to London. I had forgotten all about my love of a good Ploughman’s lunch until we were almost departing. I never did seek out a Lancashire hot pot or a Cornish pasty. No stottie cakes doused in gravy (to be fair, stottie cakes are generally hard to find anyways). We’ll have to save all those delicacies for next time.

Here are a few British things I ate and loved this trip:

Full English breakfast – Since our hotel, the W Leicester Square, included a breakfast buffet every morning, we really only went out for breakfast once – our first morning in London. We were jet lagged and tired from sitting on the plane but we couldn’t check in yet (we’d been upgraded to a suite, which is all very nice, until you find out that the previous suite occupant has asked for a late checkout).

We went to a place recommended by our friend Amy, the Grazing Goat. It’s a small, bright gastropub that’s part of a boutique hotel on one of those posh, Georgian townhouse-lined streets near Marble Arch.

Since it was a Sunday, there were quite a few families with small, needy, yelling children smearing dippy eggs and soldiers all over their pink British cherub cheeks. If I liked children and their hippy parents, I’m sure I would have found it adorable. As it was, it was a lot for my jet-lagged self to handle.

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The tables were (of course) wobbly and the service was a bit spotty, but the English breakfast made it (mostly) worthwhile. Eggs, streaky bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, beans, toast and hold the black pudding, please.

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I skipped the tea and went for something a bit more caffeinated, but I cannot for the life of me imagine why I didn’t get a Bloody Mary or mimosa to soothe my nerves and pre-game for the Tottenham soccer match we went to later that day. Did I mention we had literally just flown in?  I think I was worried I’d fall asleep if I started drinking.

Fish and chips with mushy peas – My default British meal (and everyone else’s). I think I had these at least four time over the eight days we were there. Maybe five. Each place had their pros and cons: one place had better chips, another had better fish, yet another had a better batter. My favorite was the place we went on our first night: The Brewmaster Pub in Leicester Square. The haddock was great, the chips were triple fried, the homemade tartar sauce was wonderful and the mint in the mushy peas really cinched it for me.

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These are not the fish and chips at the Brewmaster. I forgot to get a photo of those. These are the fish and chips I had approximately 18 hours later at Villiers in Embankment. Very cute, nice place. Not as yummy as the Brewmaster. And much more expensive. 

Steak and kidney pie – I’m generally not a fan of offal, something that is very hard to avoid in jolly olde England. They’ll eat just about any organ over there. But, when your black cab tour guide suggests you try the steak and kidney pie at the oldest restaurant in London – Rules in Covent Garden — you just do it. Plus, it was the only pie option on the menu and it looked very, very good.

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I even ate a few of the kidney bits, all mixed in with the steak and awesome gravy and pastry, and washed down with lots of red wine. It was actually very good. Well, at least I didn’t die or anything.

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The old clubby atmosphere at Rules and plethora of animal trophy heads (there must be hundreds) can’t be beat, either. Just be sure to take your coat with you to the bathroom…those back stairs are drafty.

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(I did have a steak and ale pie at another pub later in the trip, but it was pretty meh.)

Sticky toffee pudding – After so bravely swallowing many small bits of gamey kidney, I figured I deserved a dessert. And my favorite dessert in the whole wide world is sticky toffee pudding. Rules does it up right, serving the (yes, sticky) toffee syrup-soaked cake with a dollop of just slightly tart crème fraiche. It was not my only sticky toffee pudding this trip, but it was by far the best. Maybe it was because of all the animal heads placidly watching me devour something not derived from them.

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Sunday roast – The event I had been planning and waiting for the whole trip and it did not disappoint. We had so many options to pick from, but I had read an article in Time Out about London chefs and what their favorite new restaurants were in 2015. Blacklock was mentioned time and again. It was my birthday and Mother’s Day (in Britain, at least) so I was extra glad we had made a reservation.

Blacklock signage

The restaurant is located in a Soho basement and has lots of communal tables full of folks sharing plates heaped with slabs of meat.

This was after our appetizer of bone marrow, because, well, England and weird meat byproducts. (Seriously, is there anything more invasive than eating the marrow of another animal? “Let’s see. I could gnaw at your tendons and tear your flesh into bite size pieces, but that just doesn’t seem to be sufficient. I know! Let’s crack open a bone and get at the gelatinous molecules inside there.”) I try to be a good sport and try everything, even if I have had it before and didn’t like it because you never know. But no. Still not a fan.

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We ordered what I’m affectionately calling the Gluttonous Americans Special, also known as the All In: roast lamb, pork and beef with duck fat potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots and some broccolini, and a large, delicious boat of salty brown gravy– all for 20 GBP a person.

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The waiters were wonderful, very chatty and friendly and they politely looked the other way when I ate all of my Yorkshire pudding, half of XFE’s and the entire third one that I think we were supposed to share. They humored us while we marveled at the fact that Sunday roasts with all the trimmings hadn’t taken off in the U.S. yet.

Sadly, Blacklock did not have sticky toffee pudding and I know this because I asked, even though I was uncomfortably full and sweating meat by that point. I’m pretty sure I would have found a way to get one last dessert in.

Flying Fancy: Review of Singapore Airlines Suites

I think I’m generally pretty spoiled. And I’ve had some pretty spectacular flying experiences.

But our trip in the Singapore Airlines Suites was so over-the-top, it almost made this girl (formerly from the trailer parks of West Texas) downright uncomfortable.

Singapore Suites check in
I’m ready to check in, dorky grin included

First of all…let me just stop you right there. I’m sure you know, or suspect, that a ticket on such a flight from New York to Frankfort to Singapore costs about the equivalent of a nice car–or even, a West Texas trailer. But we didn’t pay that. We paid about $375 per person all told, thanks to miles we got last year through a LifeLock deal (the deal’s no longer available, guys. Sorry.)

Ticket for Singapore Airlines

So, we cashed in those miles for a true first class adventure on an airline that consistently gets rave reviews for its customer service. And, since the total flight time was around 19 hours (7.35 from New York to Frankfurt, 11.25 from Frankfurt to Singapore) PLUS a two-hour layover in Frankfurt, it’s worth using the miles to have a truly relaxing and pampered experience.

We started at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK. It was my first time there and it was a freaking awesome lounge! So coolly designed, yet cozy at the same time. Amazing (and free!) food and drinks, and they even had a spa featuring Dr. Hauschka products. I got a $20 15-minute moisturizing facial and then settled into a giant lounging couch with a blackberry bramble and a flatbread pizza for a snack. I almost wanted to just stay in the lounge. (Still, it’s no Turkish Airlines Istanbul Departure Lounge, which has to be the most amazing lounge I’ve ever been to, hands down, bar none).

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior

Back to Singapore Airlines: Soon, it was time to board the gigantic A380 aircraft. We went down a separate, dedicated bridge to get to the front part of the plane, where our flight crew was waiting with champagne and newspapers to greet us (no trashy magazines, alas. I had to bring those myself.)

Singapore Airlines A380
The behmoth

Now on to the star of the show-–the much talked about suites: The whole set up reminded me of the old train berths.

Singapore Airlines Suites
Those stairs on the right go up to the Business Class section.

There are 12 suites, and on our first flight from New York to Frankfort, there were only two other people in the suites section.

Singapore Airlines Suites

We had picked the middle two seats, which can be folded down and combined into a double bed. Your seat is surrounded by private walls and your “pod” even includes a door. But the walls don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so a very curious tall person walking by could still crane their neck and look down into your “pod.” And there were a lot of people (flight crew, mostly) walking around throughout the flight. Nevertheless, you did feel completely private and blocked from the view of those sitting around you.

Singapore Airlines Suite 3D

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The tan leather seats were like recliners, huge and wide and with lots of leg and back settings. Across from me, in another tiny seating/footrest alcove was the entertainment system and the Givenchy bedding. Soon after boarding, we received our pajamas and a Salvatore Ferragamo amenities kit, including a full-sized perfume.

Givenchy bedding on Singapore Airlines Suites

Ferragamo amenities kit on Singapore Airline

Ferragamo perfume from amenities kit

The fold-down bed is just awesome. There’s no denying that the best amenity on any first class flight is the ability to change into some pajamas, get completely prone on nice comfy pillows and sheets, and get some sleep. That, and all the new movie releases they have on board, which can keep you from getting any sleep at all (on our Cathay Pacific flight home, I made this mistake, watching “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Horrible Bosses II,” and something called “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” I was very cranky by the time we landed in Chicago. And I still had a flight to DC to look forward to.)

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

The food on the Singapore flights was, of course, good. I’m not sure it measures up to my favorite – Lufthansa, and it certainly couldn’t compete with the meal we’d had the night before at Le Bernardin! XFE had pre-ordered his meals using their Book the Cook option online, including a delicious pork cooked in beer (!) for the flight from Frankfort to Singapore. I don’t remember much of what either of us ate–I think I had some beef brisket on the first flight and a duck confit on the second, both off the menu–but I’m sure it was better than whatever food box I might have had the option to purchase on a United flight.

Wonton soup on Singapore Airlines
My favorite meal of the flight was a wonton soup I had before we landed in Singapore.
Givenchy plates on Singapore Airlines
I was, however, very impressed with the Givenchy plateware.

What I do distinctly remember is how ridiculously nice everyone was on both legs of our flights. The Singapore Airlines flight crews were incredible and so attentive. They consistently address you by name, your champagne glass is never empty. They’re attentive without being annoying. They made a super big deal out of my birthday, offered up suggestions on things to do in Singapore and where to get the best chili crab, and just really made the whole trip special.

My second birthday cake
My second birthday cake

When I didn’t finish my duck at dinner on the Frankfurt-to-Singapore leg (hard to cut duck with nothing more than a butter knife), they were pretty upset and concerned that it wasn’t prepared properly (it was) or that I hadn’t gotten enough to eat. Which is crazy when you consider that we basically ate something every few hours, and my main course had been proceeded by an appetizer, a soup, and a salad.

Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.
Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and a great start to my birthday trip. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to use that option again, but I’m extremely grateful for having had the chance to roll around and relish all of it.

Cambodia Better Bring It

Ugh. I’ve been slacking on the blogging. I know. The thing is, I had to run all over town to find shorts. In February. In D.C. where the high temps this month have regularly hovered around “freezing your leg hairs off.”

(Also, I’ve had a lot of big deadlines to hit in the past couple of weeks. But let’s just blame the shorts, shall we?)

But we’re leaving this week for our annual Poe Super Birthday Extravaganza Trip to Far Flung Destinations–and this one is going to be a doozy.

This tradition began in 2008, when XFE was in Rome for work right before my birthday. We cashed in some miles and I met him and some of his co-workers over there, and had a merry old time eating lots of pasta, going to lots of museums and drinking lots of wine. And, of course, going to a soccer game (a tradition now whenever we travel to Europe).

The next year, XFE and his co-workers were in Japan, again, right around my birthday. In fact, I spent my actual birthday on the flight coming home. We did not see a soccer game but we did go to the opening day of a sumo wrestling match in Osaka. And ate lots of sushi, including sushi for breakfast after visiting the Tokyo Fish Market.

Tokyo Fish Market
That’s a lot of frozen sushi, which actually sounds quite gross.
Gambate
I don’t know, how do you sumo??

Every year, XFE has outdone himself, planning a bigger and better birthday trip. For my 40th, it was Australia. Two years ago, it was Peru. Last year, South Africa where I stroked a cheetah (YES, a cheetah!) and ate lamb’s brain at one of the world’s best restaurants.

South Africa Safari
Yep, just chilling with an elephant. No biggie.
South Africa cheetah preserve
That’s a cheetah, with my pudgy paw all up on it.

This year, it’s Cambodia (with stopovers in Singapore and Hong Kong). I know, right? I would not argue with anyone who says that I’m spoiled. I would lose that argument every damn time.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say, the Kingdom of Cambodia. That is, apparently, the official name. Pretty bitchin’.

I am beyond excited. But I will say, it’s hella hot and humid in those places right now. So, I needed a couple of pairs of shorts, particularly since we’ll be visiting the very dusty, very hot, Angkor Wat. I want to make sure I have as much exposed pasty-white skin as possible to attract all of the mosquitoes in the area, and keep them away from my beloved trip planner, XFE. Love = sweating + risking yellow fever.

I don’t really know what to expect from this trip. I always like to say that we actually get to take a trip three times: once during all the excitement and anticipation of the planning stage. The second when we’re actually there, soaking it all in. And the third when I get to come back and write about it all. In fact, those amazing birthday trips (along with the non-birthday timed trips we tend to take as well) is what led to the creation of this blog. I wanted to document and remember all the amazing places we’ve been together. Even Peru, where my intestines tried to escape my body repeatedly.

You can't tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.
You can’t tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

But because of the fluctuating nature of freelancing, I haven’t really gotten to take that first part of the trip. A lot of the planning has been carried out by XFE. He’s the one who found a spa for us to go get massages our first day in Siem Reap. He’s the one who found and arranged a fun-sounding food tour in Hong Kong called the Won-Ton-A-Thon.

We’ve actually put off a lot of the planning specifics, figuring we’ll use our 20-hour flight on this ridiculousness (YASSS to miles travel!) to figure out more details. Between stuffing our gobs with caviar and bossing our butler around, of course.

How on earth can they be gazing into each other’s eyes when there’s so many other things to see on this airplane??

Then I realized — when I was working in an office and not very happy with my work environment, I would spend a lot of my free time daydreaming and researching our upcoming trips. Now that I’m my own boss, I seem to be a bit more focused and productive. Hence, no daydreaming and a lack of blog posts, as well.

Which makes this trip kind of exciting. I haven’t ruminated it to death. I’ll be seeing everything with fresh eyes. Sure, we might miss some neighborhood or hot restaurant that we would have known about if I’d just spent more time on TripAdvisor, but I’m looking forward to just being blown away by the strangeness and the newness and the overall foreignness.

I haven’t even really thought out my packing list. Which is why, while the rest of the greater Washington D.C. area was out chipping ice off their sidewalks on Sunday, I was running around a mall trying to find sweltering-weather appropriate gear.

Why didn’t I pack some anti-malarial pills? (nice shorts, btw)

And, while I’m typing this, I’m supposed to be packing. XFE has been packed since Saturday.

Guess I better get to it.

Peru in 16 Pictures

You can't tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

In a complete departure from my usual blogging style, this post is going to be light on text and heavy on visuals. This is because I’m currently in the ongoing throws of a “food bourne illness” to put it delicately. Day seven of the ancient Incan stomach bacteria that I’m lovingly calling WuaynaKihlPhoe (sound it out).

So….yeah. I have an appointment tomorrow morning with le doctor.

BUT, even with all that, Peru was amazing. It’s beautiful, diverse and enigmatic. You’ll hear all about it in additional posts, I promise. In the meantime, here’s a taste:

The incoming customs form. We, of course, filled in the "other" bubble.

The marital status question on the incoming customs form. We, of course, filled in the “other” bubble.

guinea pig pottery

Guinea pig pottery at the Gastronomy Museum in Lima. They love their guinea pigs there. Especially around dinner time.

Brass band

A brass band serenades us at the Governor’s Palace.

Astrid & Gaston

17 course tasting menu at Astrid & Gaston in Lima. Including cuy. (I swear, I only had one tiny bite)

caught in a protest

While on our way down to Paracas on the Panamerican Sur highway, we got caught in a protest involving 200 fishermen. We were stuck for two hours and according to this story, the line of cars stretched back 5 miles. Listen, I’m all about civil unrest and all that jazz, but it seriously cut into my pool time and I was not amused.

tuk tuk

One of the most popular forms of transportation are these super flashy little three-wheeled cabs. I totally want one. I’m looking into it. I plan to decorate it pretty obnoxiously, of course. Lots of fringe and stickers.

Classy in Paracas

In Paracas, we stayed at this super fancy resort full of overpriced beer and snacks. So, we walked 5 minutes down the road to the small seaside town of El Chaco, where even with gringo prices, we paid a lot less for beer, sodas and snacks. Here’s me on the way back with my Cusquenos (Listen, it was hot and I was thirsty after watching all those protestors.)

Sand duning

Action shot: We went sand buggying in the deserts outside of Paracas. We even gave sandsurfing a shot. I sucked at it. XFE was actually pretty good.

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Back in Lima before we traveled to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, we swung by the Surgillo Food Market. Not pictured: the innocent looking and 0h-so-tasty coconut palleta that started all of my stomach problems.

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Last night in Lima. This was the sunset from our room at the JW Marriott in Miraflores. Pretty stunning. The calm before the stomach storm.

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Birthday cake number one (oh yes, there were two) from the wonderfully nice people at Tambo del Inka resort in Urubamba. Amazing, amazing resort. (the cake, ironically, was coconut, but no hard feelings. Can’t hate on a cake).

Peru rail

The slowest train in the whole damn world. That’s because everybody — people, cows, sheep, backpackers — use the railroad tracks as a road for walking on and blocking.

Llama

What’s that? Oh, yeah, no biggie, just a freaking LLAMA hanging out at Machu Picchu. There were like, 5 of them up there. CRAY-CRAY.

Poe picchu

Not to be outdone: Poe at Machu Picchu. I look like a giant looming over the ruins in this picture. Hilarious. Machu Picchu looks like a tiny little board game that I’m about to smash with my giant-ness.

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Cake TWO: this time, from the staff at the Sanctuary at Machu Picchu. And it was chocolate. And it was delicious.

procession

I’m not sure what this was. As we were driving back to Cusco for the start of our very long flight home (about 24 hours of travel, including a looooong layover in Lima), we came upon this procession. I thought it was some sort of parade for like, a saint’s day or something, but it actually might have been a funeral. Yikes. Awkward. I would never knowingly photograph a funeral. But all of these guys seemed so happy! I was confused.

Have a Shaq-a-Poe-licious Birthday!

A big Happy Birthday to my identical birthday twin, Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal! We were born on the exact day in the exact same year, which means we’re both 41 years old today. And one of us is wheezing her way around some ruins in Peru.

Since Shaq is my brother from another mother, I’ve compiled a handy chart highlighting the many, many similarities. You know, in case you see one of us walking down the street and your get confused about which of us it is.

(I would have made a Ven diagram, but honestly, it’s beyond my meager skills set. In fact, even making this table was a struggle. I’m quite sad that my pretty purple block formatting did not transfer over. Damn you, Microsoft Word! )

Shaq v. Poe

SHAQ VERSUS POE

 NAME First name means “little one” in Arabic; middle name (Rashaun) means “warrior.” Named after Cher (allegedly, if certain unreliable familial sources can be believed).

PHYSICAL PRESENCE
Standing 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall and weighing 325 pounds (147 kg), he was one of the heaviest players ever to play in the NBA. Throughout his 19-year career, O’Neal used his size and strength to overpower opponents for points and rebounds. Wears a U.S. shoe size 23 Standing at 5 ft 5 in tall and weighing, well, less than 325 pounds, she is one of the most average sized bloggers ever to play on WordPress. Throughout her almost 2-year blogging career, Poe has used her wit and sarcasm to underwhelm audiences for fame and glory. Wears a Texas boot size 7.
 EARLY FAMILY LIFE O’ Neal never really knew his biological father, and was raised by his mother and stepfather who was a career Army Reserve sergeant. Shaq even rapped about it on his 1994 album Shaq Fu: The Return where he dropped the line, “Biological Didn’t Bother, Phil is my Father”. Poe barely knew her biological father, and was sorta raised by her mother and various stepfathers of undistinguished careers. She has not yet rapped about it. Although she certainly whines about it a lot.
 PERSONAL LIFE He married Shaunie Nelson on December 26, 2002. The couple have four children (Shareef, Amirah, Shaqir, and Me’arah), and Nelson has one son from a previous relationship (Myles). O’Neal also has a daughter from a previous relationship (Taahirah). The couple divorced in 2009. Poe was married and divorced, all before the ripe old age of 25. So, like, a bazillion years ago. She’s been dating her long-suffering partner-for-life, XFE, since 2005. They are co-pet-parents to Petuniazaquirah.
 EDUCATION O’Neal has a bachelor of arts in general studies from LSU, an MBA from online University of Phoenix, and an Ed.D. in Human Resource Development from Barry University. Poe is not an online Phoenix, but received her bachelor of journalism from the actual physical structures of the University of Texas at Austin. For seven years. She also has an MPP from the actual physical structures of George Mason University.
 NICKNAMES  O’Neal has called himself “The Big Aristotle and “Hobo Master.” Other nicknames include “Shaq”, “The Diesel”, “Shaq Fu”, “The Big Daddy”, “Superman”, “The Big Agave”, “The Big Cactus”, “The Big Shaqtus”, “The Big Galactus”, “Wilt Chamberneezy”, “The Big Baryshnikov”, “The Real Deal”, “The Big Shamrock”, “The Big Leprechaun”, “Shaqovic”, and “The Big Conductor” When she was a child, she suffered under the family nickname of “Pookie.” She has also been called “Stumble-ina” by her so-called “friends.”  And, in a nod to her exotic white trash roots, Poesteromovich.
 WORKOUT REGIME O’Neal began training in mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2000. At Jonathan Burke’s Gracie Gym, he trained in boxing, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and wrestling. At the gym, he used the nickname Diesel. Poe began “training” in the Body Pump arts in late 2012. At Old Town Sport and Fitness, she trains in lifting 2 pound weights, pushing her own body from a prone position, and running 5 miles in under an hour. At the gym, she uses the nickname Ethanol: Unleaded.
 MOTION PICTURES Starting with Blue Chips and Kazaam, O’Neal appeared in movies that were panned by critics. Poe has turned down numerous movie offers, including, surprisingly, a revival of Kazaam.
 MUSICAL PROWESS Shaq has released four rap albums, with his first, Shaq Diesel, going platinum. Poe frequently rewrites the lyrics to popular songs, including Jason Derulo’s “Riding Solo” into the much more entertaining “Riding Cholo;” and Ben Benassi’s “Cinema” into the tasty “Cinnabon.” She hopes to drop some dope tracks in spring 2015.
 RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAW  Shaq has always had a love for law enforcement, and has been a reserve officer in some capacity in both Los Angeles and Miami. He was even given an honorary U.S. Deputy Marshal title in 2005.

Poe has long fought the injustices of today’s bureaucracy bloated criminal justice system. With varying success. She’s pretty much the Erin Brokovich of northern Virginia. She also watches a LOT of “Campus PD” on G4, which really should confer an honorary badge of some sort.

 ALTRUISM When Hall of Fame center George Mikan died in June 2005, O’Neal extended an offer to his family to pay all of the funeral expenses, which they accepted. Poe has been known to be generous to the homeless – human and animals, and donates to several organizations. She has not yet paid for a funeral, mostly because she thinks funerals are like weddings: a waste of money. But she would pay for one, I suppose, if she had too. A funeral, I mean. NOT a wedding. Definitely not a wedding. I mean, if she really, REALLY felt the whole funeral thing was necessary and people guilted her into it or something. But if the family accepted it, she’d probably try to talk them out of it. (You know what? She’s NOT very altruistic or nice after all.)
GIF from theClassical.org

My Birthday Down Under

NOTE: I’m heading to the wine country of Barossa for a few days and may not have internet access, so I’m doing a very quick and sloppy post from the airport in Adelaide. My apologies. Bear with me, I’ll post when I can!

We arrived in Cairns on my 40th birthday to enjoy a day in this beachside Queensland town before boarding our liveaboard for three days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is a really cute town, very navigable, and with a very vibrant young vibe. A total beach-bums paradise.

Our dive shop and boat operators, Deep Sea Divers' Den in Cairns. They were awesome.

As a testament to its youthfulness, it has lots of hostels and backpackers hotels, like the infamous Gilligan’s. This backpacker’s compound includes an $18 a night hostel, a travel agency to book different excursions, onsite laundry ($2 a load, according to a sign), a hopping pool area and a large bar and disco that seemed to be the happening spot.

Even our GBR tour operators were planning on going there the night we were returning to Cairns. Unfortunately, we’re too old to attend (well, one of us is too old) and we had to pick up our rental car, so we never made it to Gilligan’s. Wah-wah-wah.

Cairns was also the home to the Pole Idol pole dancing contest at one of their local bars, some Irish pub that looked EXACTLY like a Fado’s. I urged XFE to enter the contest, but he demurred.

We stayed at the Hilton Cairns, which was kinda old on the outside, but the rooms and the lobby had been recently renovated and were quite nice. Our room overlooked an area where some construction was going on to extend the pier, but it wasn’t disruptive or noisy. Then again, we were only there one night.

Speaking of the pier, there were a lot of great bars and restaurants all along the waterfront, including one where they deliver ice through a series of those air tubes like the ones used by banks back in the day.

We were in Cairns during the “wet season,” when there are a lot fewer tourists and visitors around, although there were a lot of Japanese tourists in town. I suppose for them, Queensland is basically like their Caribbean. Which also explains why there were a lot of high-end shops like Louis Vuitton.

We did the quintessential thing and went shopping for opals. Normally I think opals are really fussy and old fashioned, but we found a necklace with a really nice modern setting. Unfortunately, because we bought it duty free, I can’t wear it (or even open it) until we get to Bangkok and clear customs.

XFE had arranged a birthday dinner at Ochre, a place in Cairns specializing in “modern Australian cuisine.” We skipped the more adventurous “Taste of Australia” four course menu (kangaroo, crocodile, wallaby) and had the phenomenal six-course tasting menu with wine pairings instead.

It was all amazing, but the highlight might have been the crispy salt and pepper quail with watermelon rind and wild lime pickle. Divine.

They ended the meal with a wonderful crème brulee made with quandong (I have no idea what that is) and a special plate wishing me a happy birthday. Which it really, really was.

Do Wild Dogs Like Milkbones?

Apparently, if the negligent scuba buddy and the hybrid sharks don’t kill you in Australia, the dingoes are ready to finish the job.

I thought Meryl Streep already solved this mystery.

Nice Dorothy Hammel cut there, Meryl.

But apparently, the parents of the nine-week old baby that disappeared in the Australian outback 32 years ago are not happy that her death certificate lists the cause of death as “unknown,” and want the certificate to reflect that a dingo killed her.  And they say they have new evidence on just how dangerous these dingoes are.

According to Reuters:

The evidence concerns several dingo attacks on infants and young children since Azaria’s death. Her parents expect the court to declare officially that Azaria was killed by a dingo, rather than by her mother Lindy Chamberlain, a lawyer representing parents Lindy and Michael Chamberlain said.

Hmmm, I’m intrigued. What sort of evidence might there be in a 30 year old case?

The Scotsman reports:

Mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and her former husband Michael Chamberlain were reunited at the inquest to hear evidence of hundreds of dingo attacks across Australia over the past three decades.

Rex Wild QC, counsel assisting the Northern Territory coroner, gave evidence about three fatal attacks on children and 14 other incidents, most of them on Fraser Island in Queensland. They included that of ten-year-old schoolboy Clinton Gage, who was savaged to death by a pack of dingoes on the holiday island in May 2001.

The court heard from Anne Lade, a former police officer hired by the court to investigate the case. Ms Lade said there had been many attacks by dingoes, which had caused injuries and at least three deaths.

Holy wild dogs! Hundreds of attacks? Hundreds you say?

Good thing we won’t be sleeping in any tents out in the Australian outback.

Now that our departure for Australia is less than 72 hours away, I notice that number of shark-related occurrences in my everyday life is multiplying.

My diving buddy for life and I went to the hardware store yesterday morning. We realized that we had forgotten to order one nifty and useful device that Arnaud had with him during our dives in Vieques: an underwater rattle. It’s a metal tube with beads inside it that someone can shake to get the attention of the other diver. Very handy.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to find one around here or order one online in time, so we went to the hardware store to see if maybe we could jerry-rig something. While looking in the plumbing area for metal pipes and caps, we saw this little brochure.

It was advertising a line of pipe products called, oddly enough, Sharkbite. No idea why.

XFE found this incredibly amusing.

Later in the day, we checked the mail and this lovely birthday card was addressed to me.

Yes, that is a shark with a swimming lady in it’s teeth. No, it’s not another warning from those gangsta Old Town Crafting Mafia ladies. It’s a handmade card from XFE’s mom, along with a very generous check and instructions to not get eaten by the sharks.

Very funny. Dark humor runs deep in the XFE family.

The card now adorns our Australia planning binder, also known as “Put Another Page In the Barbie,” or “Barbie” for short.

We are binder people. I’ve made them for many of our longer trips, including our Ireland trip in 2009 and our Milan/Venice/Zurich trip in 2011.

What? Do you really think a girl who lusts for the perfect packing matrix wouldn’t have a tabbed binder with reservation info, attraction details, and specific maps from our hotel to whatever we happen to be doing that day? Puh-leeze.