Thanksgiving in Lima, Gringo-style

Diplomonkey’s first Thanksgiving Day in Lima sees the return of Pandora’s box. No foolish mortals, we are not discussing mythology today but rather talking about grilling Gringo-style.

Old Diplomonkey is giddy as a schoolboy; having received for his birthday, and just in time for Thanksgiving, a brand new, shiny black Weber kettle grill. You can almost see him jumping up and down for joy.

Weber Grill: Bits and Pieces

Weber Black Kettle Grill: The Parts

Inspired by the grill’s arrival, Diplomonkey volunteers to cook a full turkey just like in Virginia. The arrival of the Weber spares Diplomonkey however the need to jury-rig his Hibachi for the festive task. Wifie is, let’s say, so very happy.

The Samster, the helpful little dude that he is, gets into the spirit of the holiday, assisting Diplomonkey assemble the instrument of American culinary might. Weber proudly made in Palatine, Illinois without a doubt produces one of the best charcoal grills out there. Diplomonkey has used one to make whole leg of lamb and lamb kabobs, steak, beef ribs, and even beer-can chicken. Heck, even paella in a cast iron pan was cooked to the wonder and delight of friends and neighbors.

Weber Grill Technitian

Weber Grill Assembly Technician

Turkey 5

The Weber Kettle Grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s cut to the chase. Into the Weber go two bags of Kingsford’s finest mesquite charcoal. Once fully lit, Diplomonkey arranges coals his coals in a circle of fire. Tomasito (i.e., Tommy), our Peruvian gobbler makes his appearance and on the grill he goes – sorry, no presidential pardon for our 20-pounder Tomasito.

Tomasito, before...

Tomasito, before…

Tomasito, after!

…and Tomasito after!

After three hours of crackling and sizzling, the Weber’s lid comes off followed by the sweet smell of grilled, succulent turkey. Enjoying a turkey drumstick on your behalf,

Cheers from Peru.

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Diplomonkey’s Quito Adventures

Just back from stateside travel, Diplomonkey is required once again to travel, this time north to Ecuador. Yippee! The adage goes that there is no rest for the wicked; and old Diplomonkey is such a wicked little monkey – no bananas for you today, buddy boy.

So despite being home for less than a week, and that after nearly three weeks on the road, Diplomonkey heads out to Lima’s airport at dawn on a fine Sunday morning to catch a flight to white country map-land as eldest son Samtser refers to Peru’s northern neighbor. Why does Carmina Burana: O Fortuna roll around Diplomonkey’s noggin?

An unexpectedly quick, but still hour-long drive to the airport is followed by an hour-long wait to check in his bag. It seems that the traffic absent on Lima’s streets decided that Sunday morning to congregate in the Lima airport terminal. Oh well.

Fortunately there’s just enough time left before boarding to make a quick stop at Starbucks; ah the siren song of mocha coffee tempts Diplomonkey.

Starbucks Mocha Coffee

Starbucks Mocha Coffee and Alfajor

Fortified however by great coffee and an alfajor, Diplomonkey like an elephant in a china shop bursts through the ranks of massed well-wishers anxiously waving kinsfolk, friends, and significant others off to clear the security picket. At immigrations he is greeted by a somber official and given the de rigueur bureaucratic stare down. Not deterred, Diplomonkey pleasantly smiles and bids the straight-laced Ms. Bureaucrat a fond Starbucks mocha coffee-laden farewell. Ah the joys of another travel day.

Airborne, Diplomonkey sees Lima quickly fade away as his plane heads out over the Pacific and then northwards along the coast.

Peru's Northern Coast

Peru’s Northern Coast

He stares out his window and beholds a tawny-colored arid coastal plain sandwiched between a deep blue-colored ocean and the white snow-capped peaks of the Andes in the distance.

The rarefied air at 35,000 feet always makes Diplomonkey wonder at how fortunate he is to have such a great career.

By late afternoon Diplomonkey makes it out to Quito and his home-away-from-home favorite hotel with its view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Quito City in the Shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano

Picking up a city map at the front desk and grabbing his trusty iPhone and well-traveled Nikon D-70, Diplomonkey heads out in search of Quito’s famed native handicrafts market – a leisurely twenty-minute walk down the road.

Quito Craft Market Seller 1

Quito Craft Market Woman

Quito Craft Market 2

Quito Craft Market Women 

Quito Craft Market 3

Quito Craft Market – Buyers and Sellers

Quito craft Market 4

Quito Craft Market – Pan Flute Player and Wares

At the market, on Calle Jorge Washington (i.e., George Washington street), Diplomonkey sees cool handicrafts. Limited funds, and even less free bag space, will limit purchases on this trip.  Diplomonkey realizes that retail therapy must be kept at a bare minimum, with photographinating compensating for the purchasing shortfall. Ah the joys of Chimping in one of Diplomonkey’s favorite Andean cities!

Quito Craft Market - Local Cloth

Quito Craft Market – Local Cloth

EQT 4

Quito Craft Market – Cotopaxi Volcano Painting

Masks

Quito Craft Market – Local Animal Spirit Masks

Cheers!

Robotic T-Rex – Terror of Lima’s La Molina District!

Diplomonkey, in a moment of fatherly magnanimity, acquires for Sam-the-man-Sam a build-it-yourself solar-powered T-Rex robot while awaiting his Houston-to-Lima flight. The senior chimp could not pass up the opportunity to get the Samster a robot that we could build as father-and-son project, combining little big man’s fascination of dinosaurs with automatons.

Solar Robot T-Rex - Terror of Lima's La Molina

Solar Robot T-Rex – Terror of Lima’s La Molina District!

So with much fanfare out comes the robot kit, and of course the “toolbox,” itself a hodgepodge of bits-and-pieces that escaped going into storage in Virginia and tools purchased in Egypt and afterwards while on evacuation in Washington. All-in-all assembly progress quickly until the Diplomonkey father-and-son team encounters a technical setback. Oh no!

Robot4

Super Secret Robot Assembly Tools

Robot T-Rex Parts & Instructions

Robot T-Rex Parts & Instructions

In Virginia a missing screw and washer would mean a trip back to the store for an exchange or a refund. In our case, the store being a few thousand miles away kind of rules out that option. So the father-and-son team does the next best thing; improvising by channeling the skills of its tool building hominid forebears, fashioning a new washer out of cardboard and repurposing a second-hand screw from an old laptop. Heck, we didn’t need to cannibalize parts from other toys – certainly the Toy Story characters are proud of us.

With assembly complete, followed of course by a congratulatory high-five, the Diplomonkey team proceeds to charge up its robotic T-Rex on a sunny Lima Sunday afternoon. Although the robot is not as fast as we would have hoped for, it works and beats the bolts off another robot.

Robotic T-Rex Running

Robotic T-Rex Running – Plastic Forks Optional

With the sun driving the robot, the Samster discovers that his shadow will fossilize the terrifying robotic T-Rex dead in its tracks. Lessons in robotics and solar energy make for a great a father-and-son project. Not too bad for a lazy Sunday afternoon in Lima.

Cheers!

Exploring Lima’s Craft Market with the Dudes

Just back in time from stateside travel to enjoy the Columbus Day holiday, Diplomonkey is off with the family to Lima’s mercado artesanal (i.e., native crafts market) in Miraflores.  In the Foreign Service there is nothing better than a U.S. holiday overseas with the family; it feels…just like playing hooky from school, but in this case it’s federally sanctioned.  Yippee, Uncle Sam really must love me!

Lima Craft Market Sculpture

Lima Craft Market Sculpture – A Mounted Picador

So the Diplos pile into the Jeep.  Up over the mountain and across Lima’s concrete and asphalted coastal plain we are off towards the coast eight miles and an hour away on a good day.  The dudes of course fall asleep, which gives wifie and Diplomonkey a chance for some adult conversation time.  Should have stopped for Starbucks, darn it.

GPS-less, but with a Google map on the iPhone we arrive in the general vicinity and find covered, secure parking in a wonky department store lot for 5 Soles per hour – not a bad deal.

So the intrepid Diplo explorers begin their search for handicrafts and especially for Chullos, the classic Peruvian wool hat with ear flaps – Diplomonkey is getting flashbacks of Nirvana and the age of grunge.

Okay, I guess I’m once again digressing.  The handicrafts are Christmas presents for family stateside, the Chullos for the dudes’ Christmas photos.  Little cousin Sophie scores a Chullo and an Alpaca wool dress – very fashionable I dare say so for an eight month-old.

Peruvian Good Luck Bulls

Peruvian Good Luck Bulls

Okay so it’s not Cairo’s Khan el Khalili, but cool nonetheless.  Need to go back for chess sets, local rugs, silver, and maybe some mounted creepy crawlies for the guys.

Lima Craft Market

Lima Craft Market

Lima Craft Market - Creepy Crawlies

Craft Market – Creepy Crawlies

Peruvian Country Scene

Lima Craft Market – Peruvian Country Scene

Mission accomplished, partly, but now running on empty we search out local eateries for sustenance.  The Diplos by happens chance come across a hole in the wall café, a true “Rincón de los Famosos” that brings back teary eye memories of a somewhat similar one from a Miami now a lifetime away.  Get some spectacular mocha coffee, sorry Starbucks for my transgression, some alfajores, and exquisite little cheese sandwiches, crepes, and freshly made lemonade.

Craft Market Mocha Coffee

Craft Market Mocha Coffee

Ah life is good in Lima’s Miraflores, even the sun appears.

Cheers from a Chullo wearing, mocha coffee drinking Diplomonkey.

Of Bulls, Heifers and Cold Beer

With negotiations and consultations now behind him, Diplomonkey hits the road to Florida by dawn’s early light.  Thanks to United Airline’s really nice counter person at Reagan (DCA), who went out of her way to help, Diplomonkey catches his Orlando via Newark flight.  The logistics of going north to go south are just astounding.

Dry Aged Beef

USDA Prime Beef Slab

In Newark, Diplomonkey gets to double dip; he gets both his Starbucks fix and salivates over Gallaghers’ meaty, 21-day old dry aged USDA prime beef slabs on display.  Although torturous, this is nothing less than a favorable omen for such a nomadic, unrepentant carnivore.

Cheerfully boarding his southbound flight, Diplomonkey catches up on Top Gear episodes, orders a Tapas box and red wine; ah life is good.  But Diplomonkey knows all to well that the respite at 35,000 feet is short-lived, for it marks the start of ten straight days of twelve-hour plus workdays.

Reaching Mickey Mouse country, Orlando for the uninitiated in all things Disney, Diplomonkey heads off to one of Florida’s largest cattle ranches.  Here he meets astoundingly gentle giants which act more like pampered farm dogs than thousand pound plus medium-frame young bulls.  They also crap prolifically, much like their extinct Aurochs forebears, so mind your step, and theirs when around them.

Little Big Bulls

Little Big Bulls – Florida Brahmans

Avoiding being crushed by these beasties, as well as not stepping in their poop, is no small matter.  It builds up a hearty appetite for, do I dare say…beef.  But lo and behold, there is no beef for Diplomonkey that night since he dillydallies at the ranch immersed in the talk of cattle.

 

Florida Cattle at Sunset

Florida Cattle at Sunset

Red Brangus at Sunset

Red Brangus at Sunset

So poor Diplomonkey eases his hunger that evening with something other than beef.  He ambles à la John Wayne into the first late night open eatery available and orders the special – all you can eat pork ribs, as well as quench his thirst with well-chilled Yuengling beer (from America’s oldest brewery, of course).

 

Diplomonkey volunteers to his traveling companions that he is courageously taking one for the team; to prove that there is no trichinae in the U.S. pork.  The sacrifices we make. Thank you, please I will have some more Porky Pig.

 

Service Animal/ Pet Relief Area

Service Animal/ Pet Relief Area

Travel to Madison, Wisconsin via Detroit (DTW), the latter of which has a great, animal friendly airport, follow visits to Orlando and Gainesville.  For those that have served in the Middle East and traveled with four-legged hairy buddies, this sort of attention is always a big deal.  But old Diplomonkey, who misses family and dog, digresses.

 

Holsteins

Holstein Cows

Early morning meetings follow a midnight arrival in Madison, as well a visit to the Wisconsin World Dairy Expo.  Again Diplomonkey sees spectacular animals and meets wonderful people.  But the hunger for beef grows by the minute; bananas are just not quite doing it for him any longer.

 

So with his erstwhile companions in tow, Diplomonkey heads out that evening in search of animal protein matter, preferably bovine.  Across from the state capitol, at Madison’s Old Fashion restaurant, Diplomonkey comes across one of the best burgers and fries that he has ever had and to top it off great local IPA.

 

Capitol Building - Madison, Wisconsin

Capitol Building – Madison, Wisconsin

In the course of the evening not only does Diplomonkey convert his South American pilsner drinking traveling companions to the wonders of American IPA, but also exposes them to that great American spirit known as bourbon – yes, culinary diplomacy at its finest.

 

Departing Madison for Texas fortified by beef, excellent IPA, and outfitted in a new green John Deere cap, as well as with some great hometown Landjäger sausage in his pack, Diplomonkey is oh so happy.

 

Houston's Moonwalker

Houston’s Moonwalker

Greeted in the late evening by Houston’s Moonwaker, Diplomonkey’s travel through the great state of Texas is a blur; one day in Houston followed by another in Madisonville and then two nights in College Station before returning once again to Houston.

But the hunger for beef remains, one that cannot be satiated by salmon or pork chops no matter how delicious.  Where is my sirloin, my rib-eye steak, how about my Texas brisket?

Diplomonkey discovers that just outside of College Station, stands the town of Snook, home of Sodolak’s Original Country Inn and its Texas size steaks and burgers.  One of the companions, Andy, in all honestly went to Texas A&M and recommended that we stop here to partake of excellent, bountiful, and affordable steaks.  Coming off the farm from late evening meetings, we barely beat the closing time clock and place our orders.

 

19 Ounces Texas Lucy

From Andy’s build up, Diplomonkey realized that this would not be a ramen noodle sort of night, but rather an orgy of beef.  The small sirloin steak (let’s call her Texas Lucy, heifer flesh always taste better if it has a name) weighs in alone at nineteen ounces.  And for good measure, a can of ice-cold Lone Star beer makes Lucy’s taste all that better.

Steak, two sides, Texas toast and local beer plus tip, came out to less than twenty-five bucks.  Proof positive that life on per diem is possible if you know how to look. They advertise orders to go; dreamily Diplomonkey wonders if the delivery area could include Peru.

Brahman Bull Wash

At the Brahman Bull Wash

Texas A&M Summer Sausage

Texas A&M Summer Sausage

Texas A&M, like the state of Texas, is a huge but friendly place.  Diplomonkey sees state of the art teaching and processing facilities, meets wonderful, capable professionals and academics. The Rosenthal Meat Center’s beef, pork, and lamb offerings, especially the summer football sausage sorely tempts Diplomonkey with its fleshy bounty.  Unfortunately Diplomonkey has no way to transport any frozen or chilled meat back to Lima – next time he will come better prepared.

So pleased is Diplomonkey with his Texas A&M visit, that despite being a Hoya, he caves in and buys Aggies memorabilia for the little dudes.  Sorry wifie and other fellow Hoyas, just in case the kiddies one day decide to go study agricultural economics and eat beef out there.

In any, case, that evening Texas brisket Bambi follows her rib-eye steak little sister (that’s Ms. Betsy) devoured earlier by Diplomonkey at lunchtime.  A truly memorable occasion scouting out animals for export.

 

Cheers.

Diplomonkey, Naughty Monkey

Having received special dispensation from the powers that be to travel to Washington at the last moment for negotiations, Diplomonkey hit the road running on a fine Lima Saturday evening.

After a plus two-hour drive to Jorge Chavez International Airport, Diplomonkey finally arrives and proceeds to check in for his United Airlines flight to Washington via Newark. Thanks to his foresight he had checked in earlier that day, opting to use some of his hard-earned dollars to buy an Economy Plus upgrade.  Unfortunately, United does not currently accept bananas as form of payment.

Running short on time thanks to Lima’s ridiculously heavy traffic, Diplomonkey forewent his usual pre-flight Starbucks coffee mocha with whipped cream and alfajor fix – Diplomonkey sad, so sad.  However with security quickly cleared, on board United’s really nice Boeing 757-200, and settled into his plush Economy plus seat, Diplomonkey is enjoying life.

But it gets better. United’s in flight on demand video is great (got to watch 300: Rise of an Empire, Ancient Aliens, and even a Tom Cruise movie – which is always fun to ding) and had a spectacular meal.  The food, even in economy, was not just palatable but really awesome this time.  The wine was not too shabby either.

So Diplomonkey stays up late, watches movies, gets some work reading done, and gets to see the sun rise over the USA and is so happy.  Diplomonkey had until then not seen the sun in nearly two months.  Bright blue skies even make Newark look spectacular.

Turkish Folk Festival Dancers 1

Turkish Folk Festival Dancers

Okay, Diplomonkey clears immigration and customs, collects his bag and catches his connecting flight to Washington.

Upon arrival in our nation’s capital, Diplomonkey drops off his bag at the hotel and proceeds to go exploring.  Happens across the Turkish folk festival and gets great pictures with the now well-travelled Nikon D70.

Turkish Folk Festival Dancers 2

Turkish Folk Festival Ladies

Turkish Festival Dude

Turkish Festival Dude

Food Dude at Festival

Food Dude

Turkish Folk Festival Dancer

Turkish Folk Festival Dancer

After an afternoon of photographinating, Diplomonkey in urgent need of sustenance hops on the subway and makes his way to his old haunt of Georgetown – yeah, go Hoyas – and hits Pizza Paradisso, mecca of great pizza and home to a spectacular collection of craft beers.

My other love, a Duchesse de Bourgogne

My other love, a Duchesse de Bourgogne

Diplomonkey, being the naughty monkey that he is, decides to get immediately re-acquainted with an old Belgian girlfriend of his, and none other than a Duchesse of Bourgogne that is.

With his Duchesse in hand, Diplomonkey compounds his naughtiness and orders wifie’s favorite pizza, an Atomica.

Pizza Atomica

Pizza Paradisso’s Atomica

Trappistes Rochefort #10

Trappistes Rochefort #10

Guilt ridden by his peccadillos, Diplomonkey tries to repent by hooking up with a Trappistes monk, ale that is, and orders himself a Trappistes Rochefort #10 (a quadruple ale).

Ah, life is good.

Three, Two, One, Blastoff – Rocket Science in Lima!

We had some truly spectacular weather this weekend in Lima, the first in a couple of months – yippee.  Birthday party and baby shower invites forced us however to stay near to home; so sorry, no wandering in the foothills of the Andes this weekend.  Instead we opted to do some science in our patio size backyard.  Yep, gone are the days of “oh Mr. Diplomat, your visa stamp is oh so sexy” – I have become a dad!

Trying to simultaneously teach a four- and a two-year old about planes and rockets is not without its challenges.  Fortunately, one of the things that made it to Lima House from Cairo House relatively intact was the science exploration box (with its science experiments, balsa planes, chemistry sets, baking soda and vinegar propelled rockets and the like, there is even a robot from the Smithsonian).

Our first order of business was to decide what type of rocket to design. Thanks to Google, research is a piece of cake. So the Diplomonkey design team of three highly trained and motivated engineers decided upon its own interpretation of von Braun’s Ferry Rocket (really cool concept, look it up). I am just amazed by the academic level of sophistication and preparation obtained at the pre-school level these days.

Okay, next we broke out the art supplies that we shipped from Virginia.  Armed with a ruler, some paper, and extra thick pencils in hand, the design team drew out our first dude-designed rocket ship.  The Samster finished off the schematics by drawing the exhaust blast.  I guess that Little Big Man seems to have gotten his inspiration from the YouTube videos we had seen the night before; he did comment, daddy, this is so awesome.  Why does David Bowie’s “Major Tom” come to mind? Mission to Mars next?

Rocket Design 101

Rocket Design 101

To test out the principles of aerodynamics, we snagged from the science box a couple of pre-cut balsa gliders that wifie, in her former life as a structured finance banker, had picked up as a give away at an energy conference.

Unfortunately transport of our household effects from Virginia to Cairo, followed by an evacuation that resulted in us not being there for the pack out, and subsequent shipment to Lima after ten months were not kind.  The construction and reconstruction engineer however broke out that wonder of repair tools.  Yes, the cyanoacrylate adhesive known to mankind as Super Glue!  And, of course, my fingers did get stuck together in the process – just part of the fun.

With the glider built and its broken wing and wing tip repaired, and now strengthened for all eternity, flight tests commenced. Three, two, one, blast-off. Our German short-haired pointer (call sign Bird Dog), who tried to eat our “bird” as it was reentering the atmosphere and attempting to land, played the role of the chase plane.

Trying alternative delta wing designs and materials, the team constructed other potential launch and re-entry vehicles from a processed wood pulp and cotton fiber product (yes, paper).  The design team had great success, and a good time.  In keeping with you know, the Nazca lines and the von Daniken thing, the rocket scientists celebrated with some Peruvian chicha morada.

Nasca Lines - Whale

Nazca Lines – Whale

For those curious enough to try, the simple recipe just takes two to three ears of purple corn, three cinnamon sticks, 12 cups of water, a diced whole pineapple (you can even chuck in the peel), a diced green apple, a tablespoon of whole cloves, a cup of white sugar, and half a cup of lime juice.  Allow the ingredients to reach a boil then simmer on medium-low for about 45 minutes.  Cool and then serve.

Purple Peruvian Corn

Purple Peruvian Corn

Have a glass of chicha, enjoy the pictures (taken with my Nikon and iPhone), and think creatively.  For some of us tomorrow have to go back to work and write briefing memos.

Cheers!