Friday, November 30, 2012

Why yes, I AM a Beer Geek.

I live in Seattle where there is not exactly a shortage of excellent locally-made beer, but I consider Portland, Oregon the true Beer Mecca.  For a recent visit, my Aussie husband spent quite some time researching all the latest and greatest breweries in the greater metro area, and came up with a list of places we needed to check out.  The list was 2 pages long.   As soon as we mentioned we were passing through Portland suggestions came out of the woodwork for even more places to try.   I could see where this was headed, and I packed some extra aspirin. 
We have some perennial favorites; Hair of the Dog, Cascade, Amnesia, and every visit seems to add another name to that list.  Or two…  this visit yielded 2 outstanding entrants in Base Camp (a brand-new brewpub  that everyone everywhere else we went kept recommending) and Burnside Brewing Company which has actually been around a couple of years.   
Heading to Base Camp  we were expecting some small start-up with a couple of decent house brews on tap.  What we found was a full-throttle operation with canning facilities, a nice tasting room and some very tasty beer.  We went for the sampler, which included their S’more Stout – complete with toasted marshmallow.  It was amazing, and the rest of the offerings measured up.  I would recommend it to you – if all the other brewers/servers in the area haven’t already… 

Burnside Brewing   is a more established brewery, but by no means boring.  The beers tend toward the hoppy end of the spectrum which is fine by me, but my Aussie husband would have preferred to see some more malt.  They do have a truly unique beer called “Sweet Heat” that is hard for me to describe, so I will use their blurb – “a wheat ale with an addition of 200 pounds of Apricot puree, then dry hopped with imported Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers.”  Let me tell you it is addicting!  I am not a fan of chili beers, but this one was so well balanced you only got the heat at the back of your throat at the end.  Which makes you want to drink more.  These people are clever.   They also know how to cook with some imagination.  Exhibit A – their Cohiba Cigar appetizer;  essentially a duck confit eggroll wrapped in collard greens with a (this is my favorite part) ground hazelnut and freeze-dried duck fat “ash” to dip it in.  You need to go there and order this!  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Toilets – a very important consideration

I will admit that I am spoiled by living in the US, where even the skankiest public bathrooms have at least running water and a toilet you can (mostly) sit down on.   Other cultures I have found do not consider this a God-given right.  Let me tell you, one of the most disheartening situations ever is when you have to use a bathroom during that time of the month and all you can find is a squat toilet.  I have been known to cry at the sight.   
And that is why I like traveling in Japan.  Not only are Japanese toilets clean, but they feature every conceivable convenience all at the touch of a button.  A little chilly in the bathroom?  Select the button to heat the seat.  Don’t want the person in the next stall to hear what you are doing?  Press the button and play a pleasant running water sound while you go about your business.  Have a bit of traveler’s diarrhea?  Why, you can wash all your bits, from the front or the back at the touch of a button.  Yes, there are public restrooms that also have squat toilets, but the stalls have little pictures on the doors so you know what you are in for in toilet options.  Some restrooms even show you a layout when you walk in so you can map your way to your preferred throne. 

The food, culture, people and landscape all have a lot going for them, but my heart is with the Japanese toilet.   I can rhapsodize about traipsing around Kyoto during the height of the Fall Leaf Viewing, or eating the freshest sushi imaginable at a tiny place in the Tsukiji fish market  (for breakfast),  or surviving rush hour in the Shibuya train station, or searching for the best Takoyaki stand on Donburi  in Osaka, but the best thing is still, and always, the toilets.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wine Glass Tasting

We’ve all been wine tasting, and we all know the drill: pour, swish, smell, taste.  Did you know that also applies to wine GLASSES?  Neither did I.  I had the opportunity to attend an actual, official wine glass tasting, presided over by Mr. Georg Riedel of the Austrian family that makes the glassware.   I was pretty sure this was going to just be a situation where he would plug his product while trying to convince us that his glassware made everything taste better.   It was held at a pretty swanky place, and hosted by a local wine shop that also had much to gain by plugging their product.  Skeptical?  You bet!
We settled in our seats, with several shapes of glasses (and a plastic cup) lined up. As there was already wine in one of the glasses, I reached out to get started.  Not so fast!  Mr. Riedel was on me like a shark on chum, admonishing me to wait for his instruction.  It turns out that there is a system to all of this, and it has to be done in order.  I should not have been surprised.  Once I was brought into line and followed the method, I began to notice the subtle differences.  We tasted the same wine in all the different vessels, starting with the plastic cup and working our way through Riesling, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay glasses.  We tasted the 4 wines that were meant to be poured into each glass and at the end of it all I had to admit Mr. Riedel had something there.   I was surprised to find that the shape really DOES make a difference in how the wine smells, and ultimately how it tastes. 
I now consider myself not only a wine snob, but also a wine glass snob.  I have been known to comment to a server in a restaurant that they are not giving me the correct glass for the wine I ordered.  I'm guessing I will not be making any friends in the restaurant server world any time soon...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Learn the Language (part 1)

When I travel, I like to learn a few words of the local language mainly so I can order food, and not look like a stupid American tourist.  I also do it to show my Aussie husband (who understands several languages and can communicate in them well) that he is not the only one who can get us around and get us fed.  I was pretty proud of myself in Spain when I was able to enter the Ham Palace, (seriously – that is what it is called) step up to the counter, and order a massive plate of jamon iberico all on my own.  Feeling extremely confident, when mAh stepped away to the toilet I flagged the waiter down to ask for the check in Spanish.  Except I had the wrong word, and he went back to prepare a plate of cheese for us.  Really, anyone could confuse the words!  Cuenta, queso– I’m sure you can see how this would happen?  
I am now a little more careful and choose my opportunities to converse with the locals wisely.  Mostly when mAh is not around, so he can’t secretly laugh at my ineptitude.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Say Cheese

My Aussie husband has just pointed out that most of the things I want to post right now are about food, and not travel.  I told him he needs to take me on a trip so I can write about it.  In the meantime, let’s talk about Cheese!
I have a friend who is slowly but surely moving into what I call a “Green Acres” lifestyle.  She would probably call it “sustainable”.  Whatever.  She bought a house with some acreage and a barn and is currently raising chickens.  I’m convinced that chickens are pretty much the “gateway” animal;  get a couple of them and the next thing you know you are looking at acquiring a herd of goats.  I’m sure those will be in her future if for no other reason than she can use their milk to make cheese.    She is very good at making cheese, but hasn’t quit her day job (yet) to devote herself full time.  So she scheduled a day for me and a couple of other friends to come over and see for ourselves what it was all about.  The process was way (whey?) more complicated than I was ready for.  You have to be very precise which is not really my forte’…  exact temperatures, exact measurements, exact resting or draining or cooking times.   She tried to make it easy by only showing us “direct acidulated” fresh cheeses that we could finish that day and hopefully revel in our success as cheesemakers.  Plus she served us champagne.  I am sorry to say that we were not the best of students, and I will not be marketing my own homemade cheese any time soon.  Blame it on the champagne!