Sunday, December 29, 2013

2014

I can't wait for 2014 to arrive. If my plans / wishes / procrastinated daydreaming come true, this is going to be a big year for me...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

US Trip 2013 Part 2: The Sightseeings

The first timers to Northern Colorado would head to the Rocky Mountains National Park via Estes Park. They would go to downtown Fort Collins and snap a lot of photos. If they are more inclined towards big cities they would head down to Denver and shoot more than 1000 photos.

I am not that. So I am not doing those stuff. Anyway because of the bad floods that destroyed the road leading towards Estes Park, you can't get there even if you had wanted to.

On weekdays there is nothing much to do. It is winter, and when you get off work at 5PM, this is what the sky looks like:


Forget sightseeings, you don't even feel like going to a restaurant for dinner!

Weekends I try to stay in the hotel, spending quality time with apple ale and Netflix and the hotel gym, but I did get some road trips packed in partly thanks to Avis who forced me to drive down to Denver Airport every Saturday.

Loveland Pass:

Well it is a mountain pass that goes parallel with the big long tunnel of the I-70 if you drive from Denver heading towards Vail/Grand Junction. Don't ask me to explain geography, go do your own read up on Wikipedia and whatnot.

The great thing about this pass is, there are 2 ski resorts that is located along this pass, and the Continental Divide cuts across right here.

What sucks was, the day I decided to hit this pass, it had been snowing. While the temperature warmed up enough to clear up the road, it did not clear up the ice on the side paths and parking spots. So I wasn't able to stop where the Continental Divide is. The only places safe enough to stop is when I got to the end of the pass and reached Dillon,


and somewhere that oversees part of the Arapahoe Ski Basin.


Well the story behind this photo, it was the one time I tried to stop at a snow covered side strip, and that was all it took to convince me that I should not be doing that ever again. You see I saw a spot where there were some car tire tracks, so I thought that place was safe to stop. So in I went,


took the photo, got back into my car, put the gear to D, turned the steering wheel left and tried to get out of that place. But what happened was the car turned towards the right instead. So I stopped, shifted down to L, depressed the accelerator fully and tried again. And the car turned right again. I spent 1 minute panicking, and then remembered, I could go out the way I came in. So I put the gear in reverse and re-traced my entry path. Thank god that worked.

It was the same at the Continental Divide area. Basically no cars dared to stop, so what we all did was slow down, capture the scenery with our eyes, and got on with life. I don't have a photo of myself to show for this place, but basically this is how it normally looks:


Colorado Springs:

This is another trip that I made while going to Avis to have my rental car issues sorted. I basically have 0 semi decent photos to show for this trip, because I spent 100% of the time in my car.

You see I had 2 places that I wanted to hit in this town. The first was a restaurant called The Airplane Restaurant. As the name suggested, it is an airplane converted into a restaurant. My GPS found the restaurant, so off I went, spent one and a half hours stuck in I-25 traffic jam (it gets as terrible as the ones on Penang Bridge, mind you). Upon arriving at the location highlighted by the GPS, I found myself staring at an empty field beside the airport! Spent another half an hour driving around nearby area to see if I can find the restaurant, and failed.

So I head off to the 2nd place in mind, the Garden of the Gods. Well this place I found all right, what I did not expect was the scarcity of parking spaces. I first tried the visitor center, no luck there. Then I drove into the rock garden itself, found no empty parking spots along the way, and discovered that when we got out of the garden, it was the other side of town and had to drive 3 miles back to the entrance. Superb! So back I went, for another 2 times, then I got so fed up that I left. So this is the only picture I got of the Garden of the Gods, taken from my car...


It was frustrating and disappointing, but the horrible jams on the I-25 (I've been told that it is normal) meant that no, if up to me, I would not be going to Colorado Springs for sightseeing ever again.

Benson Sculpture Park/Lake Loveland:

Loveland is famous for sculptures. I did not know that on my previous trips. This time I was suitably enlightened, so I went to the nearby sculpture park on 1 of the weekends. Basically it is a park next to Lake Loveland, and is covered with many lovely sculptures. It is free of charge and not crowded, so it is a good place to go for a walk. I walked all the way to Lake Loveland and back. It was about 3 or 4 miles of walk, good exercise.









Boyd Lake:

Another good exercise I had. This place is just like 5 minutes drive from where I was staying, trying to keep it close. The Boyd Lake State Park is actually surrounded by seven lakes, Boyd Lake being the largest. I parked at a small car park in a housing area overseeing one of these smaller lakes. It was another 3 or 4 miles worth of good walk.






So well, that's about as much as I have to show for my US Trip #4 sightseeing, and pretty much as much as I want to talk about of my trip this time.

Of course there are a few moments of "What happens in Colorado, stays in Colorado" that I shall only keep locked in my heart =P.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

US Trip 2013 Part 1: The Life

Last September - October, I was in the States again. Going to the same place, Loveland again. Difference was this time, I was there for 7 weeks.

Being there before, and then being there for semi-long term, life was... not as colorful as my first 2 trips. This time around I did not spend the jet lag period in San Francisco or Los Angeles, I shot straight to Loveland to get settled down.

I'm not going to make 15 or 20 posts of my trip this time, just a couple for my personal record and maybe for you to waste your time going through.

FOOD:

Nothing special about the food, it's not like American food has changed. I still had burgers, omelettes, and some Asian food.





I also did a bit of cooking myself because 1) Almost 2 months of meat and eggs and semi decent Asian food is kind of depressing and 2) my suite in Residence Inn has a built in kitchen so it was a waste not to utilize it.

I mostly made soup (the Asian ones which Americans would probably call broth) and boiled vegetables, with a couple of half ass-ed attempt at DIY western platter.




Oh I also discovered a new cafe in downtown Denver. That place is called "Makan". You get the idea what kind of cafe that is =P. It's kind of bloody expensive though, if you ask me. I mean, it is actually quite normal for a plate of food to cost $10 in the US of A, but for that price you usually get an overflowing plate of food with lots of meat/chicken/shrimps that you can usually eat half and pack half to go. Well I had a Malaysian portioned basic Nasi Lemak with no rendang or curry chicken for $10 also. The taste is up there though, so if any Malaysians in Colorado who is desperate for a taste of home, you can give this place a try: Makan Malaysia Cafe, Denver.


Oh and I also discovered liar product packaging DO happen over here too. See I bought this pack of Lay's one day from the office's vending machine because of the product name and picture.


But the inside:


Same old bloody potato chips!

RIDES:

Avis was pretty frustrating this time. They made mistake after mistake after mistake, stuff like mis-charged credit card, wrong car information in the contract, gave me a car that leaks gas, gave me a car that was overdue for service, and so on. I had to drive back and forth between Loveland and Denver Airport (45 minutes drive one way) almost every weekend. And I had to drive 3 different cars.

First up was a Chevrolet Impala. I don't think they sell this in Malaysia. Malaysia has the Cruze and Optra. Honestly I don't know why they bother with so many models. Cruze, Optra, Impala, Malibu (and who knows if there is more) are 4 models of the same segment and look more or less the same. Why won't they just focus on 1 specific model? Beats me.

I had this car for 3 weeks. It is actually a good car, make no mistake. It has decent power and corners fairly well. At first I was really pleased with this car, but belatedly, after 2 weeks, when I switched the front panel display to Fuel Range, I discovered that whenever I leave the car some place for more than a few hours, I lost 20 to 30 miles of range. Bloody hell. I once had those big 5.6L V8 Mercury, and it does 450 miles on a tank. This car gave me 220 miles tops. So off I went back to get a car change.


My second car, a Dodge Avenger. This is actually also a decent car. It doesn't come with fancy stuff like seat heating, the interior is pretty basic, but it goes like a rocket when you want it to. I pushed it to 110 mph at the I-25 (highway) once. Problem: Avis called me 1 week later telling me that this car was supposed to be sent for service and somehow was mistakenly given to me. Wonderful...


So I got my 3rd car. I did not take a photo of it, it is a car that you can see easily in Malaysian streets. Here's what happened when I asked for a car selection though:

Me: Can you give me something with AWD? It's been snowing on and off and the road is slippery now. Maybe something like a Japanese or Korean SUV?
Avis: Oh I'm so sorry, we don't have Japanese or Korean makes here. It's all American. We do have some lovely SUVs though.
Me: Ok. What have you got?
Avis: I have with me right now, a Mitsubishi Outlander, a Hyundai Santa Fe, and a Kia Sportage.
Me: ...... (3 seconds)
Me: I'd take the Kia.

Amazing right?

SNOWING:

Seriously, mates, it is NOT FUN AT ALL! When it snows means it is damn cold and the road is very slippery and dangerous to drive on. That is after you painstakingly clear the snow and ice away from the car.


Although in hindsight, I guess I am lucky I came back at the right time. As I am writing this, Colorado is hit by Siberian freeze. From what I read in the weather alerts that is still being e-mailed to me, the temperature this time will hit a 20 years record low. It is expected to go down to -25 degrees Celsius. And they expect to see more than 1 foot of snow. Take care, all the Coloradoans.

SHOPPING:

Didn't do much shopping, and especially didn't frequent the outlet stores much this time. In fact, I did most of my shopping online this time. I find it much more convenient as most of the stores (like Macy's) have their own websites, and the choices on the web is more extensive and almost zero risk of out of stock. And the prices is the same as the store. The discounts you get from the store, you get online too.

Not gonna talk about the clothes, shoes or Levi's that I bought. I did buy an interesting pair of shoes though. Ladies and gentlemen, say hi to my pair of Vibram FiveFingers.


I also bought some awesome Barney Stinson inspired merchandise from the TV series How I Met Your Mother. It's an awesome series by the way.


 OTHERS:
 
Other than that, life was pretty routine for me on weekdays. Go to work, come back from work, buy/cook dinner, eat dinner while continue to do Penang side works, watch How I Met Your Mother (8 seasons of awesomeness) or the circus show called the News on the Government Shutdown.


 Accompanied by cheap booze. I'm officially in love with Apple Ale by the way.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Fusilli Aglio Olio

It's been awhile since I last blogged, and it's been longer since I cook properly, I figured I should do both today. Which means the return of 良师父 Chef Leong's Recipes...

What I cooked today is an unorthodox version of Pasta Aglio Olio...

Ingredients:

1. One handful of fusilli - usually people will use spaghetti for this dish, but I spontaneously crave for fusilli, I even got myself the colorful version, the orange and green colors are supposed to come from tomato and spinach.


2. Three cloves of garlic - this is crucial, this is the Aglio part, because aglio means garlic in Italian. I forgot to take photo of my garlic, so will have to make do with something from the internet =P .


3. A spray of extra virgin olive oil - this is the Olio part, olio means oil in Italian. Olive oil obviously because it is healthy and because the Italians use this. Extra virgin is the best grade of olive oil, most nutrients in it.


4. Three white mushrooms - you can use any mushrooms, usually the restaurants use button mushrooms, but I was feeling nostalgic of my time in the UK, we had a lot of these white mushrooms back then.


5. Some minced chicken - just to fulfil the meat quota, you can use pork or beef, and not necessarily minced, can be sliced or chunked or whatever f**k you wanna do with them, it is basically up to you.


6. Generous portion of romaine lettuce - the original plan was to use asparagus, but when I was grocery shopping, the asparagus available looked totally unappetizing and utterly undesirable, so this is my alternative. With the vege, more is good, we want to be healthy, right?


7. Pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning.

Procedure:

 I don't have those so-called assistant cameraman, and when I am preparing/cooking, my hand becomes greasy, not exactly great to grab my phone and snap photos, so the procedure will be purely words.

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, season with a pinch of salt, and dump the fusilli in. The salt serves to prevent the pasta from sticking to the pot, and to slightly season the pasta.
2. Leave the fusilli cooking, it takes 10 to 12 minutes to cook.
3. Marinate minced chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper, give it a proper mixing up.
4. Wash the mushroom and romaine.
5. Peel off the garlic's skin and slice them up.
6. Slice up the mushroom.
7. Chop the romaine into smaller, bite sized pieces.
8. By now your fusilli should be almost cooked. Drain them into a bowl.
9. Put a good old spray of extra virgin olive oil into a pan.
(Remember to use low heat, extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoking point, approx 200 deg C, if the temperature of the oil exceeds that point, the nutrients will go up the smoke and the harmful substance kicks in. If you use an induction cooker like me, it is even better, just use the 150 or 120 deg C setting)
9. No need to wait for the oil to heat up, dump the garlic into the pan, saute for a while, until the slightest frangrant and colors appear.
10. dump in the mushroom slices and minced chicken. Saute for about 2 minutes.
11. Dump in the romaine, continue stirring for about 1 minute.
12. Dump in the cooked and drained fusilli, continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
13. At this juncture, you can add in another pinch of salt and pepper for flavors. Jamie Oliver likes to use stuff like basil and parsley at this point, I'm having none of them. Why? Because I don't like those stuff.


14. Ready to serve. Job done. Dig in.

The main reason why this is unorthodox is because the end product seems to have more vege than pasta, but then, heck cares, it just means I'm eating more healthily, right?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

AES = Accident Encouraging System?

Was driving back from KL to Penang today, and noticed a few spots along the PLUS Highway with this shit:


Yes, the f**king AES (Automated Enforcement System)...

Rumors has it that the government intalled these stuff to reduce accident rate on the highway... but... let me give you a run down on what I observed when I neared these spots today...

The first one I spotted was somewhere near Bidor or Tapah, couldn't remember. I was doing 110km/h, the exact speed limit of the highway. From what I see, most of the cars around me are doing the same, because we were not overtaking each other. Suddenly, a car at the next lane gradually abruptly slow down to I guess 60 or 70km/h when the camera can be seen at a distance. A car behind had to brake rapidly at this sudden slow down, and almost crashed into the car in front. I heard some tires screeching noise too. It was actually quite nerve wrecking for me at that moment, I had to be on alert in case there are any cars not able to brake on time and veer into my lane.

The second one I spotted was somewhere near Taiping. I did not miss this because I was going at 15km/h speed. There was a big pile up (aka traffic jam) of about 3 kilometers right before this camera. Actually I did not know it was due to the camera, I thought there was an accident up ahead, because this area is notorious for it due to the continuous uphill and downhill sections. Once we passed the camera however, traffic began to be smooth flowing again and all the cars picked up speed rapidly again.

I guess I would not be surprised if in the near future, accidents occur near these camera spots. Actually, I am not sure if it has already happened. I know if we are driving within the speed limit, we should not need to worry about the camera snapping our car's picture, but there just are quite a number of overcautious idiots on the roads in Malaysia that panic for no good reason and make stupid decisions.

You know, a car that slows down abruptly at high speeds is a bigger threat to road fatalities than a speeding car, especially in Malaysia, where our locally assembled cars has the best (sarcasm) brakes in the world, so to speak. At 110km/h, if something in front of us slows down without notice, it is quite difficult to brake on time, unless we keep a really really safe distance.

----------

Anyway, here's a tip. If you are driving along the PLUS Highway, there is a way to identify where the AES cameras are located. There are 2 types of ZON OPERASI HAD LAJU road signs that you will see, one is green and one is yellow.

The green ones are just a sign that an ambush might be lying ahead, meaning there might be polices armed with speed cameras hiding under some bridges up ahead. Most of the times these signs are meaningless though, they just serve to confuse you and the police might be hiding nowhere near these signs.

The yellow ones are the ones you need to beware of. There will be 3 or 4 consecutive signs withing a few hundred meters apart, and then you will see the AES camera. If you want to be extra careful, you might want to start slowing down to 100km/h gradually at the first sign, nothing more, and move over to the left lane, then you should be pretty safe.

Last but not least, please drive safe, remember your loved ones =)