Haute Saison Catering and Cooking Classes – Elegant and Relaxed

Egg custard tarts

Portuguese egg custard tarts

As I am no longer in Bangladesh, I cannot afford a personal chef, so I took a cooking class, which is the next best thing. There is nothing like cooking with a world class chef to remind you of how superb food should taste. Jan Van Haute of Haute Saison Catering is Belgian, but this particular cooking class was in Portuguese food. The cooking class was at a private residence of an expat/international type in DC which was fitting as Jan has a fancy curriculum vitae (he was the Belgium Ambassador’s chef, he cooked for the Belgium royal family, won prizes, worked in Michelin starred restaurants… Despite this, he’s extremely laid back and down to earth — and no, he did not pay me to endorse him!).

Salt cod and chickpea salad.

Salt cod, egg, and chickpea salad.

Our cooking class was a small group of five and it cost $60 per person. For that we got a lovely setting, three course menu, wine, and food to take home. The cooking class was not a regimented class with chopping exercises, and for those of us (ehem, me) who wanted to take photos and drink wine, no chopping was expected of us. Just my sort of class!

Hot, cheesy, chewy, bread balls.

Hot, cheesy, chewy, bread balls.

Here’s what we made:

“Pão de queijo” or Portuguese Brazilian cheese bread
“Salada de Bacalhau a Grao-de-bico” or salt cod, chickpea, and egg salad
Octopus rice stew
“Pastal de nata” or Portuguese egg custard tart
Jan gave us recipes to take home.

Jan gave us recipes to take home.

First we made cheese bread (actually, first we had a glass of wine), which reminded me of the Colombian “pandebono.” While these were in the oven, we made the salt cod chick pea salad. Then we sat down to eat these while the octopus cooked. Then we returned to the kitchen for to make the next two courses. Finally, we returned to the elegant table and chatted. It was much like a dinner party. The owner of the house had been to Bangladesh which I should have guessed as she had a “nakshi kantha,” or Bangladeshi embroidery, on her wall.

Notice the nakshi kantha hanging on the wall.

Notice the nakshi kantha hanging on the wall.

A few words about octopus: The octopus looks quite scary to many people. It is slimy. It is rubbery. But, not that night when cooked properly. The flesh was soft like conch meat. Seriously surprisingly tender and sublime.

This is what the octopus looked like after cooking in the pot for an hour.

This is what the octopus looked like after cooking in the pot for an hour.

The evening and the cooking class ended with us packing leftovers to eat the next day. As part of his philosophy of sharing good food, Jan offers these private cooking lessons. But, as they say in the bread business, “get it while it’s hot!” As his business grows (it just started a few months ago), he may not have time for these small classes. I really hope so because experiences like this are what life can be… plus, it was just so much fun. By the end of the class, I felt more like I was in the company of friends.

The food was revelatory and Jan made us feel totally capable, and at ease, which made for a stellar evening. Wonder what’s on the menu next time?

The octopus stew, creamy and sublime.

The octopus stew, creamy and sublime.

New Look to M’s Adventures – madventures.me

Wearing red for Bengali New Year.

Wearing red and white for Bengali New Year. Mini-tiara is a bonus.

Now that M’s Adventures, the blog, is almost three years old, I decided to try a different design. I’ve also added a few new pages, currently under construction, on food, travel, and bucket-less lists. Please take a look. I am trying to better organize the information I’ve written (more than 180 blog postings so far!), so I hope that this new layout helps. Yes?

Also, happy Bengali New Year!

Buy A Rickshaw to Go for Less Than $3,000!

For some expats, the biggest souvenir they buy in Bangladesh is a rickshaw. I decided to buy one for the blogging experience. There are many places where you can get them. Apparently the folks at River Tours will arrange a sale for you. If you want a used one, it is unlikely that the local rickshaw puller owns his own and so he may not be able to sell it to you. A colleague bought two rickshaws so I got the shop information from him.

The rickshaw shop.

The rickshaw shop.

Then I enlisted the help of two Bangladeshis. One arranged for us to go out to the rickshaw “shop” and made an appointment with the rickshaw maker for us. The shop we went to was back in the rabbit warren of streets to the north of Baridhara (it ended up being somewhere near the train tracks, for those of you who know your way around Baridhara). Without my Bangla-speaking Bangladeshi, I would never have found this shop. The shop was more of a “parts” shop and there were no shiny ready-made rickshaws for sale. That said, looking at the photo, now I see the tires on the roof.

Rickshaw Maker: Hasan

Phone: 0174059294

Address: Maria Cycle store, 97/1 Joar Shahara Bazar Road, Dhaka.

The rickshaw took one week to build, it weighs 250 pounds, and cost 20,000 taka (about $250). I paid 5,000 taka in down payment and rest on delivery as you can see from the receipt but you can pay all of it at once if you prefer. If I had bought two or more, I would have received a bulk discount (and remember that everything can be negotiated so I could have perhaps haggled to a lower price. Frankly, I was distracted by the gentleman on the right in the photo who was performing depilation in his nostrils — I could not take my eyes off his fingers!).

Hasan's number is on the receipt.

Hasan’s number is on the receipt.

I left the decoration of the rickshaw completely up to the craftsmen making it. At one point, the shop owner called to find out which name I wanted painted on the back and my friend told him to put my name on the back! I will most likely paint over it at some point. The rickshaw also has the maker’s telephone number and name painted on it. I like how my rickshaw is decorated although I would have chosen to not have guns painted on it, despite this being the tradition.

Freshly painted rickshaw.

Freshly painted rickshaw. Sells for $3,000 in World Market!

The rickshaw was ready a day early and the rickshaw maker wanted to deliver it as soon as possible. I asked why the urgency… they did not want it to get dirty. It was delivered to me fully assembled and driven by a professional rickshaw driver. Since then, it has only been driven by two people. I will mostly keep it in my future home, as a piece of installation art. Some people have suggested I take it out and give rides on it…

Yesterday, a friend recently sent me the link to World Market’s site advertising Bangladeshi rickshaws on demand for $3,000! But, theirs are not meant for actual use (it says so in the ad). Therefore it is better to buy one while in Bangladesh.

Normally, I try to post a new blog every sixth day, but because of yesterday’s rickshaw email, I decided to publish this now.

The answer to my previous post’s trivia game of “M’s Adventures moves to ______?” is: It is a country with a river famous for being the most _colorful_ in the world. Thanks to the random person on the Internet who decided to play along.

M’s Adventures Moves from Inshallah to Ojala – And Top Search Subjects

Boys of an SOS Village in Bangladesh.

Boys from an SOS Village in Bangladesh.

Very soon, I will stop blogging about Bangladesh and begin blogging with a Spanish accent. I hope. ¡Ojalá! (Which is “hopefully!” in Spanish — it rhymes with, and is used a similar way as, “inshallah” or “god willing” — and I’m guessing, comes from the 700 years of Arab influence in Spain). In Bangladesh, people often end a thought with “inshallah” and I like the segue for my blog.

I have tried to make my blog easy to find on the World Wide Web. The world of online searching, or googling, is like falling down the rabbit’s hole. You can get lost for a long long time… but never wake up wearing Tim Burton makeup. For the past few years, I have blogged primarily about Bangladesh (and yet, there are still so many things I did not blog about — like the SOS Village I visited).

The kiosk where one can buy top off Grameen cash cards closed on an Eid day.

The kiosk where one can buy SIM and phone cash cards, closed on an Eid day.

So, as I plan to switch my focus, here’s a re-cap of the most popular search terms which have lead readers to madventures.me (thank you).

Top search terms of the past 18 months.

Top search terms of the past 18 months.

Because I like random international blending, I was pleased when someone searched for, “where to eat kimchi in dhaka.”

As far as I can tell from reading Google, it will take the searchbots on Google take about six months to register my blog’s new topics and tags so perhaps I should begin to blog about the place I am moving to?

Just for fun, I’ll make it a sort of guessing game… ¿por qué no?

Clue number one of “M’s Adventures moves to ______?” is: It is a country with a river famous for being the most ______ in the world.

100 Percent Linen

In a place as hot as Bangladesh, most expats want to wear natural fabric like linen (or silk, but silk easily disintegrates). Trying to find 100 percent linen in Bangladesh is much harder than one would imagine. If you ask for “linen” in Bangladesh, the cloth merchants will bring you a linen/polyester blend. What I eventually discovered was that I needed to ask for is “reh-mee-cotton” or possibly “nip-cotton” as that is what they call linen(the “remi-cotton” is “remixed cotton”). Working with my tailor, I finally managed to communicate that I wanted something cotton that felt a certain way (by giving him a sample of other linen pants I had). He successfully brought me a four samples of material and they were indeed 100 percent linen.

Samples of 100 percent linen on the table.

Samples of 100 percent linen on the table.

A friend had the men’s tailor shop, Ferdous, make linen pants for her. I was looking for lightweight linen and Tailor Johnny found it. Unfortunately, it was only in a few colors. In the photo, you can see that the four colors on the table: dark green (it looks blackish in the photo but is green), pink, orange, and gray. These are not the usual colors that I would wear. But, I was happy to know that it was possible to find 100 percent linen.

Diverse Food Cultures in DC – H Street

Three kinds of fancy ham and a stuffed artichoke.

Three kinds of fancy ham and a stuffed artichoke.

As I’ve mentioned before, Washington, DC, is filled with food adventures. Newly gentrified H Street in northeast DC is the newest “hot” area of international food eclecticism. It has quirky pubs, rice dives, and even the chain pizza restaurant has fancy pants “jamon iberico” on the menu. Plus, this being DC, you can even get pizza with sweet potato. And, of course, they bake the pizza in a wood burning oven.

The orange pieces are the sweet potato/yam.

The orange pieces are the sweet potato/yam.

At the Lebanese restaurant, they sell “ayran,” a salty yogurt drink, “mamoul,” a Fig Newton-like treat, plus the usual middle eastern treats like baklava. An extra experience we had was getting good  tips on Iraqi music from the guy behind the counter (there’s an app for that!).

Not as sweet as a Fig Newton.

Not as sweet as a Fig Newton.

Yearning for Bhutan

For the past six months, memories of a small kingdom, high on the roof of the world, keeps slipping into my mind. Oh, Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, how my imagination is painting you in colors of the sun! One of the wonders of a selective memory is the rose colored tint on everything. This is not completely the case with Bhutan. There were things I loved about Bhutan and things that I found less delightful (my apologies to my Bhutanese friends although they are too polite to object). I imagine that Bhutan is a bit like Tibet of yore (or Hollywood’s Tibet). Despite it being the land of Gross National Happiness (the king tells you that you are happy so you will be), it’s not all happiness and light (okay, there is is a lot of light).

Stones at the entrance to the museum.

Stones at the entrance to the museum.

With April just around the corner,  when I think back to the gho-clad men, strong women, crisp air, and quiet spiritualism, my thoughts turn to the spring festival, or “tsechu,” in Paro. The tsechu is a multi-day religious festival and a dream for a photographer (and for those of us who like to take photos). More about the tsechu in a later blog post.

My framed Bhutanese boy's gho.

My framed Bhutanese boy’s gho.

I had so many things from Bhutan framed that my framer asked me if I was Bhutanese. No, but thanks for the compliment.