This is seal potato

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Looks can be deceiving. Take this guy. Is he a potato? Is he a clay sculpture? Is he an itsy bitsy seal that lacks eyes, a nose, a mouth and a tale?

He’s seal potato. And you know what, he ain’t mad about it.

Market moments in Vietnam

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I like this photo perhaps a little more than I should.

To me, that chicken is more than today’s lunch, destined for a last swim in some rich, bubbling broth. Its outstretched feet seem to punctuate the whole scene, shouting, “Hey! Wait! A little help here?!”

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Listen, eat, read, run: Four things I’m feeling right now

ZazIs there anything better than bright-eyed discovery? Than waking up in the morning knowing a certain number of things are true and exist, and going to sleep with one, two, three more added to the list? Pretty much the best. And since I’m a good sharer, I figured I’d spread the discovery around a little with a few favorite additions to my mental catalogue that you can listen to, eat, read, or wear running. Enjoy.

Listen: “Eblouie Par la Nuit” by Zaz

This pained, passionate tune played behind the credits of Dead Man Down, a highly skippable film about revenge and murder that at least introduced me to badass French singer-songwriter Zaz. The title translates to “Dazzled by the night,” and the lyrics are more poetic than anything I’ve heard sung in English in a while.

Eat: Soy butter

Call it an umami bomb. Call it a butter upgrade (who knew such a thing was possible?). Call it East meets West meets awesome. Honestly, just call it soy butter—a simple mixture of soy sauce and butter, perhaps rounded out with a bit of cream and olive oil, that adds a deep, flavorful jolt to just about any savory thing. The New York Times heralded this basic sauce recently, inspiring me to mix up a batch and drizzle it over some simple baked sweet potatoes. The result: sweet, earthy, salty and rich. A delicious new discovery.

Read: Out of Eden Walk

Once you start reading Paul Salopek’s chronicles of his 21,000-mile walk tracing the path of human migration, it’s  hard to stop. His dispatches read like digital postcards, glimpses into the places, people and historical clues he encounters as he treks out of Africa, through the Middle East and onward toward South America, following  in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors. With photos and blog posts—and occasional print stories in National Geographic—Salopek is documenting his journey as he goes, a project that is expected to stretch over seven years. Right now, he’s in the West Bank, a fitting place to pick up the story—though you’ll probably want to go back to the beginning once you get started.

Hello, new Saucony trail shoes.

Hello, new Saucony trail shoes.

Run: Mizuno Wave Rider 17 and Saucony Peregrine 3

As I’ve shared on this blog before, I’m putting in a little extra mileage these days, and I recently came to the sad realization that my beloved Mizuno Wave Rider 15s are no longer really up to the task. And so I found myself at Red Rock Running Company after work one evening, trying on pairs of Mizunos, Salomons and Sauconys, dropping way too much money and taking home the latest upgrade of my trusty Wave Riders and my first-ever pair of trail shoes: the Saucony Peregrine 3s. I took them for a seven-mile spin on McCullough Hills Trail today, and the quick takeaways include traction so good it’s disconcerting, a nice snug fit through the mid-foot and plenty of undersole protection from all the rocks and pebbles and occasional cactus needles that pepper this desert trail. And here I never knew I was a Saucony fan. Guess you discover something new every day.

A five-second fall photo tour

Ah, the blog. We had a good run there, all those posts, all that writing. And then, as per usual, I fell off the wagon.

It was tragic, of course. People kept commenting and emailing, begging for the blog to return. Oh wait, no one did that.

Regardless, I’m back for another crack at this self-indulgent little exercise—starting with a five-second photo tour of the fall you missed:

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This “mural” by Portuguese street artist Vhils was part of the Life Is Beautiful art program, and I’m fully obsessed with it. Rather than painting his walls, Vhils chips paint away to create his pieces, which are simply beautiful and incredibly expressive.

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I spotted this religious sculpture at the Broadacres flea market in North Las Vegas while Tovin was on assignment. The market is a vast, overwhelming consumer landscape, where you can buy everything from roast peanuts to cable TV packages to luchador masks and underwear.

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A co-worker’s desk cactus. I thought it looked like some freaky insect ready to spread its tentacles and attack.

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My bib number from the 2013 Las Vegas Ragnar Relay. This was my third year running, first year captaining, and my team ran like banshees from Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort to Lake Las Vegas, devouring miles at a far faster pace than we expected. We crossed the finish line (only mostly dead) about an hour and a half early and placed 38th in our division. But mostly we just had a crazy blast, which is really the whole point.

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Afterward, Tovin and I returned the vans and finally tried Lulu’s Bread & Breakfast, where I ate this fantastic creation, which was basically an open-faced caprese egg sandwich. I wish I could put it in my mouth every weekend.

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Speaking of food, check out this snapshot from the Friendsgiving 2013 spread. I’m talking two turkeys, 25 people, 32 biscuits, a couple of parents and a ridiculous amount of leftovers. (Not pictured: my first-ever lemon meringue pie, which mostly worked)

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And finally, a for-personal-use-only photo from our Neon Museum visit with Tovin’s parents. I always find something new to photograph and obsess over, like this gorgeous purple sign, which is currently the wallpaper on my phone.

5 things I want to learn to learn in the next year

Hello, future. You look nice. Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Hello, future. You look nice. Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Seven years out of college, I don’t miss the homework or reading every book my professors published. I do miss browsing course catalogs and imagining myself speaking fluent Italian or scaling cliffs. Which is not to say I’ve given up on my education. Just last week Tovin learned to escape having his wrists duct taped together (demo, anyone?) and is promising to teach me soon, and this Sunday, we’ll both suit up for our second scuba diving class.
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Are the chefs lying to me?

Biscuits: the homemade variety. Photo by Tovin Lapan

This is a blog about biscuits. Incredible biscuits. But it’s also about the truth.

It all started last year when I picked up a copy of Saveur in the Denver Airport and opened it to find a picture of Island Creek Oyster Bar chef Jeremy Sewall with his famous biscuits. Giant, fluffy, golden monsters draped in honey rosemary butter that sell for $4 a piece at the Kenmore Square restaurant in Boston, these biscuits had become a minor obsession for Tovin and me since we tried them a few summers ago. I’d tried to get the recipe through a half-hearted Twitter campaign. But the ICOB social media team stayed tough. Damn them.

But thanks to Saveur, the recipe was mine. There was much rejoicing and texting.

Tovin and I whipped up a batch not too long after landing back in Vegas. We followed the recipe step by step, but the dough was dry and crumbly. So, we tried again, shaping bigger biscuits this time, hoping to approximate Island Creek’s pillowy carbo goodness. More crumbs. Finally, I asked a pastry chef for her professional diagnosis. More buttermilk, she said.

Our third attempt was the best one yet—dough that kept its shape, large, hot biscuits with soft, fluffy centers and lots of that honey butter. But something was still off. We were still eating amateur hour.

I mentioned my plight to a friend whose work involves the restaurant industry, and she laughed. Chefs never give out their real recipes, she said. What we’d gotten were general guidelines, a rough sketch that with the proper technique and generous tweaking could come close to the real deal. The recipe wasn’t a blue print, it was paint by numbers directions.

Which brings me (finally) to the question I’ve really been wanting to ask: Are the chefs lying? Are they keeping the secrets of their signature dishes even as they claim to reveal all? Is it all a big farce?

Either way, I’m determined that Tovin and I will conquer the Island Creek Oyster Bar biscuits. (On a recent trip to Boston, a friend with some inside information mentioned layers.) With some experimentation, a few more batches and maybe a tasting session or two at the source, we’ll get closer. And when we want the real thing, well, we’ll know where to go.

Your new favorite biscuits (trust me)

The biscuit-lover in this family is definitely Tovin. The man has a Montgomery Biscuits baseball hat (their mascot is a biscuit with a pad of butter for a tongue), nicknamed our dog Biscuit and orders the delightful carb bombs pretty much everywhere we go. Two years ago at his birthday dinner, we discovered the best biscuits in the world. They’re made at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston.

Yes, Boston isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word biscuits, but these beauties are golden brown flaky treats drenched in butter and honey with a hint of rosemary. They run $4 a pop, and take up most of the plate they’re served on. I’ve been singing their praises ever since that dinner, and thanks to Saveur annual Saveur 100 issue, now I have chef Jeremy Sewell’s recipe. We haven’t quite been able to capture the lightness of his version yet. But I’m confident we’ll get there with a little more practice.

 

What I’ve been up to

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Cee Lo channels a big red Christmas ornament at his holiday special. Copyright: Erik Kabik/erikkabik.com

Remember in Clueless when Tai uses the word “sporadically” in a sentence for the first time and we’re all really proud and slightly embarrassed for her? Well, this blog has become a sporadic part of my life. Or maybe worse. Maybe it’s occasional.

Anyway, since it’s Friday and I’m stalling at the office before diving into a giant to-do-before-Denver list, figured I’d catch you up on what I’ve been up to lately. Here goes …

First, I tried to write a scary story with a little help from Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. Turns out, even when you have a haunted 100-year-old rectory, demonic possessions and a real-life exorcism, translating them into something actually frightening is really, really hard.

I also met some recent Vegas transplants working on a badass video game called Battle for Presidency where you can fight as a steroidal Obama or a supernatural Ron Paul. You do not want to mess with Teddy Roosevelt.

And I had a really cool chat with Gail Simmons from Top Chef and Food & Wine in advance of the mag’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. I refrained from getting all stalkerish and telling her how we both majored in Spanish and anthro and both studied abroad in Spain and isn’t that crazy?!

Finally, I went to a taping for Cee Lo’s upcoming Christmas Special concert with guest appearances by Rod Stewart, Eric Benet, a whole bunch of bright-faced Voice competitors and the Muppets (Coolest. Thing. Ever.). Note to Cee Lo and everyone else in the world: Vinyl suits with floor-length jackets are a very, very bad idea.

Oh yea, and I did Tough Mudder last weekend. That’s about it.

Five Vegas restaurants on my dining to-do list

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Braided nigiri at Kabuto. Photo by Beverly Poppe for Las Vegas Weekly

 

One of my favorite extracurricular activities is eating—in odd ethnic corners, from the windows of food trucks, at local classics or pretty much anywhere else that serves dishes prepared with care and skill. 

And in Vegas, there are always new places to explore. Here are five at the top of my dining to-do list:

1. Kabuto Widely deemed the new standard in local sushi, this Chinatown hole-in-the-wall is known for serving fresh fish imported twice weekly from Tokyo. It’s 18 seats, damn pricey and, from what I hear, worth every penny. Here’s what Jim Begley had to say about it in the Weekly.

2. Goto Pares Atbp This Filipino restaurants popped up recently on E. Charleston and claims to serve authentic street food. What do I know about it? Not much. But I’m damn curious to give it a try and see what they have going.

3. Naked City Pizza It’s way past time I get to this pizza/sandwich shop from Chris Palmeri, where Buffalo-style pizza is the name of the game. I don’t plan on waiting til the fall to get in there, but if the Pats beat the Bills during their first game of the season, dinner’s on Chris!

4. DW Bistro I’m a brunch junkie and I hear this off-Strip favorite does it right, with challah French toast, Mexican-style pork and eggs and breakfast sandwiches. Yes please. 

5. Chocolate & Spice Casino vet Megan Romano’s newish Westside bakery should really be towards the top of this list, but until Tovin’s done with his low saturated fat diet, I’m holding off on heading her way. Why visit a bakery if you can’t partake in all the buttery, chocolaty, flaky pastry goodness?