Today

Remember yesterday, when I re-capped the week in a colourful hey-i’m-finally-learning-to-play-with-photoshop post?

Here we are today and already a whole new post is required to catch-up on what’s happened since the last one. Today has been a day of, shall we say, Events and Contrasts.

It has included, so far, in only partly particular order:

  • needing to get up quite early (even allowing for extra hour’s sleep afforded by the end of daylight saving) because of errands and stuff
  • emptying in the fridge
  • doing a pleasing and thorough grocery shop
  • putting a big dent into the front bumper of my car by driving into my front gate instead of, you know, the driveway I drive into every day
  • thankfully only denting the plastic bumper and not breaking any lights or panel work
  • seeing my cousin off at the airport
  • my cousin, miraculously, not leaving anything behind (this is completely unheard of)
  • my football team blowing a gigantic lead and losing heartbreakingly
  • a nap
  • cleaning the house top to bottom including mopping the floors (this last point being relevant because it’s a miracle equal to my cousin not leaving anything behind, but also because of other events that will be revealed in a moment)
  • going out a second time for the groceries I forgot
  • managing to drive safely into the actual driveway
  • several loads of washing
  • discovering that having not washed clothes for more than two weeks I still had not made a dent in the ‘good’ underwear supply, but had run out of hoodies
  • getting all the towels dry before the rain started
  • putting the char siu pork in to marinate
  • undertaking the semi-regular roasting of the almost dead tomatoes and chilies ritual (later to be pulverised and turned into sauce)
  • making a variation on this recipe from Lucy of the Design Files (such variation being, of course, almondless)
  • the house being subject to a sudden (though expected) storm with rain so heavy that it leaked through the exhaust fan in the toilet which it only does when the rain is very heavy at a certain angle
  • such leaking ruining, of course, the only recently and miraculously mopped toilet floor (bastard!)
  • going out in the pouring rain, getting out the ladder, and cleaning out the gutters because it’s the easiest way to see I’ve done them properly but also because they were rapidly overflowing despite being recently cleared, for which I blame the lack of recent rain which has resulted in a lot of dry leaves dropping from the nearby trees
  • adding ‘get the quote to replace the gutters’ on to the list of things I absolutely must do this week no matter how busy I am, together with ‘book the bloody car in for a service and perhaps now some panel work’ and ‘get a quote to replace the security doors’, noting all these things have been on The List for weeks, but The List is now written in red

…And t now it is 5pm.

And I’m going to have a tumbler full of wine.

 

 

 

Things that are good…

…include stopping by the seafood shop* for some prawns, and noticing that they have some delicate butterflied sardines. Rapidly thereafter we have lunch:

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*Going with that as the description. Fishmonger seems wanky-pretentious if accurate, fish shop seems cheap and inaccurate, and I wasn’t at the market.

** Fresh butterflied sardines, grilled, on toast rubbed with garlic, with tomato, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.

A Food Tour of New York (With Bonus Snow)

One of my favourite columns to read is Grub Street’s New York Diet, notwithstanding that I don’t actually live in New York. It’s the combination of hilarious odd diets, jealousy-generating lifestyles, and celebrities-are-just-like-us-or-worse bad habit affirmation. And, of course, restaurant suggestions for New York visits.

My trip to New York last week allowed me to do the actual New York Diet and even though I was there on business, that didn’t actually influence my eating. Well, not beyond the possibility of “awful conference chicken”, but obviously the idea was to avoid that. And instead to indulge everything New York, high, low, late, early and in between. Not to mention put on a few (happy) kilos.

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So here we go with an expanded version of the New York Diet: my most recent week in New York City, following the food around.

Friday 1 Feb

I started in the Qantas Club at LAX at breakfast time in LA, with no idea what time it was at home and a vague sense it was lunchtime in New York. Breakfast on this very short stop-over was a diet coke and Sudafed: breakfast of (traveling) champions.  On the plane to NYC I had a very mediocre chicken salad thing, and a Bloody Mary.  It used to be my travelling drink, but became my regular drink, and in this case I really just felt like one, time zones be damned. The chicken did the job as I was starving, but I later learned that a number of my colleagues who were on the same plane got awfully sick. Thankfully I did not, especially as I had some significant dining plans over the weekend.

I was staying on the Lower East Side for the first few days in NYC, and after I got to my hotel – around 6.30pm – I decided to go for a walk and find some food before showering and crashing. I ended up wandering into the Bowery Diner and ordered exactly what I was craving: burger and fries. Burger was great, fries were a bit overdone. I had a couple of Red Stripe beers, and then crashed at the hotel.

Saturday 2 Feb

I woke up at 5am which, all things jet-laggy considered, I thought was pretty good. I had a massage booked at 10am and my original intention had been not to eat before, but I woke up too early and was starving. Thankfully there were plenty of 24 hour places around the hotel, so I bundled up and walked half a block to get a latte – not bad considering how bad the coffee is in New York – and a bagel with cream cheese. I was quickly reminded that half a bagel is my limit.

After the best massage ever – 2 hours of a perfect balance between therapeutic and relaxing, costing approximately the same as one night’s hotel accommodation and worth every cent – I left the hotel about 12.30 and headed straight to one of my favourite places, Fanelli’s in Soho. I always go there for a Bloody Mary when I’m in New York because I’m nostalgic about an accidental visit there on my first business trip to the city over 10 years ago, but also because it’s a cool place. I had a Bloody Mary and a pesto chicken sandwich with a salad (yes, I felt very virtuous not ordering the fries).

During the day I’m sure I also had a couple of diet cokes. Because I always do. Just take that as read for the rest of this.

After an afternoon of aimless wandering around Soho and appreciating that at this time of the year it is not hideously overrun with slow-moving tourists, even on a Saturday, I had an early booking at one of my other favourite New York places, Torrisi Italian Specialties. Their fixed menu – bot not as and more fixed than it used to be – is just great, and sitting in the window watching the people wander past on Mulberry St is quite entertaining. The current menu has the antipasti made up of their usual hand-pulled mozzarella with olive oil, grilled arancini with fermented broccoli rabe, surf and turf carpaccio and a boar’s head sandwich with pickles. That was followed by the special,  squid ink pasta with lobster, a main of veal, and a lemon cake.

I also had a couple of glasses of local Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling, which was really good and also turned me all wine-knowledgeable later in the week.

Sunday 3 Feb

Again with the 5am wake-up.  Bugger.  I went around the corner to Katz’s Deli for a bagel with lox and cream cheese and a coffee. I forgot my half-bagel rule was going to be significantly exacerbated by the Katz’s standard gigantic portion size and ate the whole thing. And regretted it for hours later.

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In between wandering all over lower Manhattan in the light covering of snow, and, I confess, a nap or two, I went to Mission Chinese for lunch. I’d heard great things about it, and great it was. Usually I go for the spicy, but I was still feeling a little overdone by too much bagel – and the ribs and beef tenderloins were both off the menu – so I went with the crushed cucumber with sesame and chilli, and the salt cod fried rice. And a Brooklyn Lager.

This was Super Bowl Sunday, and I watched the game with a colleague at the Old Castle on 54th Street. Burger, fries, many beers. The cab back to my hotel turned down 7th towards Times Square and I was about to yell at him for being crazy when I discovered that Times Square on the night of Superbowl Sunday is as close to deserted as you’ll ever see Times Square.

Monday 4 Feb

Breakfast was a small, bad latte. Because lunch was Eleven Madison Park, 17 courses, matched wines (including more of the Wiemer Riesling which allowed me to have a relatively informed conversation with the sommelier having had it over the weekend), a visit to the kitchen which was exceeding calm and well organised. Lunch was fabulous, but they could do without the attempts at whimsy, which don’t match the food or the room, and just are unnecessary. The rib eye entrée was amazing. And for 17 courses it was close to perfectly balanced in terms of amount. Only the last course was too much for me.

There was a cocktail party in the evening to commence the conference I was attending, but I stuck with mineral water and, obviously, did not eat dinner. I bailed early because I needed to do some work, and had a beer in my hotel room later.

Tuesday 5 Feb

I then moved into Conference World, shifting hotels to Midtown, and starting, appropriately, with a bad coffee. Cool Downtown boutique hotel to gigantic Midtown Conference Hotel – seriously it took 8 minutes one morning for a lift to arrive on my floor there are so many people staying there – was enough of a shock without the caffeine immediately deteriorating so badly.

At my first meeting neither of us had eaten so we decided to conduct the meet-up over the last of the hotel breakfast buffet. While the food itself was serviceable, the $77 price tag for a bagel, some scrambled eggs and a few sides, a tea and a coffee became somewhat legendary over the rest of the conference: “oh, you were at the $77 breakfast!”

It was then meetings all morning and into lunch. In the end I ducked across the road to a deli/supermarket and grabbed a lemon chicken and salad sandwich, which was actually pretty good and not at all over-the-top.

As tends to happen at these things, a random group gathered for dinner and we headed to the Redeye Grill for a seafood feast. There were nine of us and we shared a seafood platter for appetizers; crab claws, salmon tartar, clams, oysters, prawns, lobster. Amazing. For main I then had the jumbo crab cake with grilled prawns and it was so, so good. Add to that a glass of Veuve to celebrate a colleague’s engagement, and a couple of glasses of a decent cab sav.

From there we went to Bowlmor at Union Square for bowling with a group from the conference, and I had a couple of Brooklyn Lagers. The evening (morning) finished in the hotel bar with a final beer.

Wednesday 6 Feb

I gave up on coffee and switched to tea.

After a morning of meetings I met a colleague for a working lunch and we escaped the hotel to a deli/lunch place on 7th that did a whole lot of food made to order, we both got chicken teriyaki, made fresh in front of us with a whole lot of vegetables, and rice. It was great, but we both spent the rest of the day smelling like stir fry.

I had a couple of Bloody Marys in the hotel bar at post-meeting drinks with colleagues old and new. The first one came, as they often do in the US, with giant olives which I really do not like and do not understand. The bartender earned his tips though, as having picked up on me ditching the olives with the first drink, he served the second without them.

I decided to skip the gathering dinner that night, still a bit tired from the previous night. After doing a little shopping for my niece and nephew at the giant Toys R Us in Times Square – again, mercifully easy to get around in February as compared to the rest of the year – I realised it was almost 9.30 and I hadn’t eaten dinner. I wasn’t that hungry, so I just grabbed a couple of steak tacos at Chipotle. I know.

Thursday 7 Feb

Toasted bagel with scallion cream cheese from the deli next to the hotel for breakfast. I love scallion cream cheese.

‘Lunch’ was a Pret-a-Manger chicken sandwich purchased at around 2.30 and consumed over about 45 minutes by grabbing bites between meetings.

For dinner I met some friends visiting town at the same time and we went Ammos, a Greek seafood place near Grand Central. I had the bass with potato in a  tomato sauce broth/sauce thing. Happily warming in the lead-up to storm Nemo. I also had a beer.

I then walked the several blocks back to the hotel in the wind, on the way returning the work phone calls I’d missed during dinner.

Friday 8 Feb

Again, a bagel from the deli next to the hotel. They were out of scallion cream cheese, unfortunately, so I had to have plain. Not the same.

This was the day the snowstorm started, so my shopping adventures in NYC were somewhat colder, snowier and more curtailed than would otherwise have been the case. After a couple of hours braving the wind and sleet, I ducked into what has now accidentally become one of my go-to wet weather lunch places, Bill’s Bar and Burger on 51st street at Rockefeller Center. They have free wifi and decent burgers which are, importantly, a manageable size so you don’t feel like you need to roll out of there. I had a Classic with Cheese, fries (which were really wedges) and a Heineken. I have now ducked in there to get out of the rain on successive trips to the city.

I was having dinner with a friend on Friday night which was originally intended to be at Morimoto in the Meatpacking district, but with the storm hitting we didn’t feel confident about being able to get back, so we changed our plans and met at The Living Room at the W Times Square for a couple of Raspberry Martinis. My friend is Ukrainian via Australia so she decided we should go to the Russian Samovar on 52nd St for dinner. They have a band and the super kitsch entertainment, including the participating guests, was well worth it. The food was great too. I let my friend order – in Russian – and we had pomegranate and then apple and cinnamon vodka, potato salad three ways, great little dumplings, a classic beef stroganoff and then split a honey cake for dessert. It was great fun and we stayed late.

When we came out of the restaurant the snow was thick on the ground and still coming down. It was very cool. (And cold).

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(Note the boots paying for themselves.)

Back in the hotel bar we met up with a couple of colleagues and I had a couple of Bloody Marys before going to bed way too late.

Saturday 9 Feb

Woke up to a winter wonderland and sunny skies in New York. I walked up to Central Park to experience the park in the snow, which was glorious, and then met a friend at Rockefeller Center for an early lunch sitting along the windows at the Rock Center Café watching them shovel snow off the ice rink, with snow piled up against the windows of the restaurant. I had a coffee – my first in days – and roast cauliflower soup with bacon bits and croutons, which was great and just the right amount.

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Then time to head to the airport, with the roads cleared enough for a not too much delayed flight home.

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner

Can I recommend smoked trout on toast with steamed asparagus as the perfect easy breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Trout

Grill some bread, rub a little garlic on it, flake on some smoked trout. Steamed asparagus on the side with a little shaved parmesan. Pepper.

If you have the inclination and skill, I imagine that adding a poached egg would work. (I have the inclination but not the skill.)

Whole thing takes maybe a few minutes and is really light and satisfying. And yes, what I just had for dinner.

Spanish Lamb Meatballs

I’m bad at following recipes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before. I fine at making up recipes, but what that leads to is me cooking variations on the same thing over and over because I know, in general terms, what goes with what.

I am, however, determined to broaden that. I have all these great recipe books I never look at, not to mention all those recipes in the paper and magazines and online. So I’m trying to make one new thing a week. And in doing so I’m trying to resist the urge to play with the recipe.

This week I succeeded and failed.

I came across these two recipes on the new Good Food site from The Age. I love Frank Camorra’s MoVida and have been known to semi-regularly stop by MoVida Aqui on my way home from work for Calamari Rolls, Anchovies and gin & tonics, and the recipes were quite appealing.

I started with the lamb, as I had minced lamb to hand, but being the beginning of the new year and being in a state of previous overindulgence and rapidly approaching visiting New York, I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry. So I was already looking to tinker with the recipe. But it seemed to me that the filling for the sausage rolls would work just as well as meatballs.

And so it was.

I took the exact recipe and made meatballs. Go over there are check it out, it’s easy and tasty:

Meatballs - Raw

Meatballs - Seared

I knew, however, that in the absence of pastry, they’d need something else. So I made the most basic of tomato sauces. A little olive oil, onion, garlic, tomato, pepper and salt; cooked for a while:

Tomato sauce

I then put the two together, being very careful not to overcook the lamb:

Together

Then I served with some couscous:

Coucous

And, of course, gin & tonic(s):

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It was delicious. And I learned a new recipe that I’ll try with the pastry at some time later when I’m not trying to shed a couple of extra holiday kilos.

(The lamb recipe makes enough for 4. I ate 1 serve, kept 1 as leftovers, and froze the balance of the uncooked meatballs for later = single person food.)

 

Great Bad Service

Despite being made of approximately 64% Lazy, I’m actually not very good at doing nothing for long stretches of time. I get restless easily. Sometimes all it takes is a walk around the block, but pure sloth doesn’t really work for me.

Thus, a beach or poolside holiday is not all that appealing to me unless there are also other things to do. I think that’s why I love Hawaii so much, I can spend one day sipping cocktails by the pool and the next day hiking across an active volcano, one day by the pool, the next day wandering through the rainforest.

Something similar was the plan for Goa, but in the end I confess that I spent 4 days by the pool/beach/on the massage table and only 1 day doing other things. Certainly by the last day I was quite restless, but not enough to actually be bothered getting organised and doing something else. I devoted my energy on that day to trying to appreciate that I actually had another day where I could just lie by the pool reading and that this would be the last of them for some time.

The day I did actually get genuinely out and about – as opposed to just to the beach and the many cafes and restaurants in the general environs of the hotel – I went into Panaji, the capital of Goa, and Old Goa, the former capital.

Panaji is a small bustling city on the river with lots of brightly coloured colonial buildings – from what I saw there are brightly coloured buildings and houses all over Goa, blue, yellow, purple, green – and motorbikes everywhere.

I wandered around for a couple of hours, and then went to a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend for lunch. It was one of the most deliciously frustrating eating experiences I’ve had in a long time. First, elected to drink my beer direct from the wiped down bottle as I wasn’t really convinced by the cleanliness of the glass. Second, although I was fairly early in the lunch service, the service itself was awful. I never got the second beer I ordered, and I had to order the bread three times. Of course, I was on holidays and in no hurry, and happy to sit in the shade under a fan and drink my beer without rushing. But still, annoying.

Then, however, the food came. Masala prawns and mushroom chili fry, and it was just so, so good. So good. And the triple ordered bread (Goan bread comes generally in roll form, not naan), was definitely required for the thick, fabulous sauce.

And the whole thing, including beer, cost $6. So who can then complain about the service? Delicious and frustrating.

In the afternoon I went over to Old Goa which gives a hint of what a Portuguese seat of power it used to be. All that remains now are the chapels and Cathedrals, and ruins of others, both active and turned into an Archaeological Museum with artaefacts going back to the 11th Century and a parade of portraits of centuries of Portuguese governors.

It was interesting to wander around for a couple of hours and get a real feel for the history of the place. And now I have to find some books that speak more to the history of India as a whole, and Goa in particular, because on this trip I realised how little of it I actually knew. Some general ideas, certainly, but no idea of any of the specifics.

The second to last day I then spent mainly at the beach, where I had another example of perfectly bad service. Arriving at early lunch at one of the beach shacks I was served my (large) beer, and provided a menu, and settled in to read my book. The staff were watching a soap or something on a tiny portable TV and did not return to take my food order. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t hungry yet, and it was just so peaceful drinking my beer and reading my book and enjoying the breeze and not being hassled or hurried along or disturbed.

When the beer was eventually done, I was able to attract their attention – a few more people were eating at this point – and get another beer and order some food. My order came with recommendations from the waiter that turned out to be valuable, and I could then eat in peace. I was there, in the end, for probably 3+ hours. The food was, again, fantastic.

I discovered that there was actually no way to get sick of prawns masala and bread because every version of the masala was so, so different, and generally the bread was different too. Of course masala is a term that refers to almost infinite possible combinations, but I still didn’t quite expect so many variations of flavour and texture within one type of dish in one very small local area.

And a word about the naan: extremely good and really quite different to what we get here. We all noticed it from the first meal we had at the hotel in Mumbai and it remained as such even in the beach shacks of Goa. Where the naan I’ve experienced in Australia tends to be quite soft and often oily, in India it was never oily and frequently quite crisp. And much lighter than here. Really, really good.

While I was trying not to eat at the same place twice, I did go back to that beach shack on the last evening, hoping to catch the sunset over the water. Unfortunately it got to hazy for the sunset, but when I sat down at the café the waiter bought me a beer without me even asking.

Great bad service turned out to be one of the most relaxing parts of the trip.

Traffic! Oh, the Traffic!

India 2012 – Days 3-5 and 9

Before heading to India I heard the same comments repeatedly: you’ll find it confronting; oh, the smell; that will be “interesting”.

As it turned out, however: I didn’t; it doesn’t; and it is, but without the air quotes.

This was a conversation I had many times last week with my companions on the work part of my trip – about 16 of us, all up – and we all came away with the same feeling. Perhaps it was simply that we had been so over-prepared for culture shock that nothing could possibly shock as much as we had been built up to expect.

It’s not to say that things aren’t very different here. They certainly are.

There is widespread poverty of a practically incomprehensible level. The contrast between the vibrant commercial city that is part of Mumbai and the reality of the slums and then the truly poor, like those living openly under the freeways, is made all the more stark by the close proximity of each to the other. The poor are not hidden here, their homes, such as they are, are everywhere, and unavoidable. Everyone, rich, poor, or in between is right on top of each other.

Witness the view from the Executive Lounge on the top floor of my hotel in the outer suburbs. Modern buildings, slums, fading buildings, next the 5 star compound on the lake.

Leaving that aside, the two most obvious differences in Mumbai are the traffic and the dust. The whole of India – I assume, it’s certainly the same in Goa where I am at the time of writing this – gets very dusty in the dry season which lasts 9 months of the year, and then is washed clean in the monsoon. Very, very dusty. Everything in Mumbai is caked in dust including, most noticeably, the leaves on the trees. It makes everything look more dirty and decayed than it actually is. Though it’s certainly also dirty and decaying in a lot of places.

Then there’s the traffic. I will never complain about LA traffic again, and certainly not about Melbourne traffic. In Mumbai when you’re asked to a meeting or event the first question asked is ‘where is it?’ because it might, very easily, take 2 hours or more to drive there. You can certainly never do more than 3 meetings in a day, as you just can’t get to them. Weekends are slightly better, but still, basically insane.

And, of course, speed limits and especially lane markers are mere guides to be largely ignored. Occasionally traffic lights too. It’s all cars, trucks, taxis, motorbikes, rickshaws, bikes and people mixed up together all ignoring the rules. That being said, we only saw 1 accident the whole time we were there, and we spent a lot of time in cars and buses during the trip.

The grand irony of the traffic was that on Saturday afternoon, returning from a day doing tourist stuff in the city with 4 colleagues, we saw an actual elephant being ridden down the freeway. The problem was, however, that it was basically the only time ever that the traffic was moving fast enough that none of us could get a photo. Dammit. Elephant being ridden down the freeway in central Mumbai. I kid you not.

Mumbai’s also a hazy polluted city, on par with Hong Kong in my experience, but apparently it used to be a lot worse. Until a few years ago all the rickshaws ran on diesel and it was awful. Now they don’t and it’s still bad, but not horrific.

I made my first foray into South Bombay – our hotel was in the north, away from much – on the day after my last post. My work colleagues were arriving during the course of that day, and I decided to head out and get my bearings a bit. And I succeeded in that, and bought a few gifts, but the some of the main sites like the Gateway of India were closed off for some event or other.

It was nevertheless lovely to wander around and look at all the beautiful old colonial buildings and art deco apartment blocks along the seafront. Needless to say you cannot go in the water.

Then this past Saturday, with 4 of my business trip companions – 2 of whom I knew well before this trip and 2 who became friends during it – we hired a car and driver from the hotel and he took us on the wholly touristy one day trip around Mumbai we wanted given we only had one day.

We went to, and through, the massive central laundry where they do the washing from any number of hotels, restaurants, stores and individuals, in this quite intricate system, between the slums, the train line and the downtown buildings.

We wandered through Gandhi’s house, and bought scarves and resisted rugs (though only due to luggage limits, some were beautiful), and visited the Gateway of India. We then took a highly civilised lunch in the Middle Eastern restaurant on the top floor of the Taj Palace Hotel, drinking Bombay Sapphire and Tonic and wondering what it must have been like to be there during the early days of the hotel, or during the more recent terrorist attack.

Running out of time to visit Juhu beach and the surrounds, we spent a small about of time in a street market in Bandra, but it was really just like the clothing section of the Vic Market, only busier and on the actual street.

In addition, I’d spent 2 days at the beginning of the week going all over town in buses and cars on business, site visits, meetings, networking functions at which you had to chase down the waiter for a glass of wine, but they were offering scotch – ‘hard liquor’ – on trays every 3 minutes. That lead to a couple of controversial speeches, I must say.

We ate all variety of food. A massive Indian banquet in one of the hotel restaurants on the Sunday night that was wonderful but had everyone at the table groaning when the waiters cleared out plates to bring out new ones ‘for mains’. This was followed by lunch the next day at a pan-Asian restaurant in Bandra that would only be described as yum cha on steroids.

The restaurant had a sushi buffet, a steamed dumplings station, a fired dumplings station, a soup station, a fried other things station, a hot food buffet (above) and a dessert station. We were given the tour and told to help ourselves. Which we did. And it would have been fine except once we’d sat down and started to eat they then began bringing dish after dish after dish to the table. It was insane.

The next day, when I was with one other colleague at a lunch meeting, I held my breath when it came time for lunch to be served. A six inch vegetarian Subway sandwich appeared, and frankly, I could have kissed it for being so minimalist.

Days 4-8 were spent in the alternative universe known as Conference World. I did get out of the Compound for dinner one evening, taking a rickshaw around the lake to a small, relaxed Indian place with great food. And there were definitely a few adventures in Conference World, but they were all work-related in some form or another.

Oh, and yes, I have not had even a hint of illness. Touch wood. And hand sanitiser. But not water.

And then, off to Goa.