Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beers of Germany, Belgium, and Amsterdam - part one

The region I was traveling in (Germany, Belgium, Amsterdam) offered beer, a LOT of beer. Every beer comes in unique glassware, so you can tell at a glance what everyone is drinking. Observe:

Krombacher, in a schnitzelhaus in Hannover, Germany. We got the same brand of beer but different styles - if you look closely you can see our glassware is different.

The beer menu at this pub in Bruges was literally at least 20 pages long. I ordered an Ezel completely at random and was disappointed to get a bottle of beer (I am probably wrong to be snobbish like this but my perception is that draft beer is better) - but it also came with its own distinct glass!

Also in Bruges - this is Kasteel brand beer.

In case there's any doubt that Kasteel = castle, check out the base of the glass:

I enjoyed poking around Ghent, and I wandered pretty aimlessly after my sister took off to return to Germany and her homework (responsibility is so boring!). I wound up stepping into a pub, where I incredibly awkwardly ordered a beer from the bartender. His English was probably fine but I find that MINE fails me when I get embarrassed about language barriers. I wanted to convey that I like dubbels (one of two main styles of Belgian beer) but he thought I said I wanted a Duvel. That worked, too.

I was traveling solo in Amsterdam and only went to a couple of pubs. I forgot to get a picture of the Jupiler I tried. Well, I probably thought of it but it was awkward since I was sitting at the bar. Anyway, at the second pub I visited (on another day!) I had some privacy to get this shot of the Texels - the bartender recommended it as a local special beer.

Back in Germany, my sister and I traveled to follow the good weather. Here is her Franziskaner, I think the only beer we had in more than one place. She orders the dunkelweizen - it's a weissbier/wheat beer, as the glass indicates, but dunkelweizen means dark wheat, and it's a little more robust than a regular weiss. We both liked that style a lot.

In Lubeck we both ordered pretty randomly, I think. I can't remember whose is whose, but the Duckstein on the right looks like a dunkelweizen, so it's probable that was Mary's since she knows that's what she likes. I probably had the Erdinger weissbrau on the left. I'm certain I drank it all!

To be continued, with more on the German beer front.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer salad

Early-summer produce has hit the markets big-time here in the Bay Area, and I was inspired to try a strawberry-basil salad dressing.

I got the strawberries at the market, and the basil and lemons from my building's garden:
My life changed for the better when I realized my immersion blender works PERFECTLY in a mason jar:
Does this look like summer, or what?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fresh strawberry scones

It's late spring and/or early summer, and the produce is amazing! I have already purchased two batches of strawberries (bigger than a pint, smaller than a flat.. what IS that size?), without a plan for either of them. For some reason I decided I needed to make some of them into scones.

I searched the interwebs for strawberry scone recipes, and wound up going with Orangette's recipe for strawberry Scottish Scones. I liked this recipe the best of the ones I found because it had the least amount of sugar. Let the strawberries shine!

As is my way, I didn't measure the berries and probably had way more than a cup in there. The dough was mega-sticky and I had to add nearly a quarter-cup of flour to get them manageable.

But manage I did, and stuck them in the oven with anticipation.

I had to cook them almost twice as long as the recipe dictated. Perhaps I should have separated the wedges when I put them in the oven: near the end of the baking cycle I pulled them apart to help the centers cook.

They were really amazing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Calendar: May

It was never high on my list of Places To Go, but last summer I wound up going to Greece - hey, if your older brother is invited to be in the International Special Olympics, you GO. So I got to spend a couple of weeks traveling with my parents and two other siblings in Greece.

We started in Athens (and just barely missed some of the riots they were having to protest some of the austerity measures their government was implementing), in a hotel with a rooftop bar with a view of the buildings on the Acropolis. Then we rented a car and drove to Nafplio, where I'd found us an apartment. From there we did day trips and an overnighter.

One of our day trips was to Mycenae, which was the home of an ancient civilization from more than 3500 years ago. Not much is known about the civilization, which collapsed in 1200 BC. (!!!).

We also went to Epidavros, home to an ancient healing site, and a 15,000-seat theater, built in the 4th century BC, still famed for its amazing acoustics.

No Greek trip is complete without an island visit (we decided) so we did an overnight on Hydra. It was fortunate we chose an island so close to the mainland, as there was a strike and the ferry was cancelled. Fortunately we were able to drive to a tiny outpost that ran water taxis to the island, and we still got our adventure.

After our explorations in and around Nafplio, we drove on to Delphi. By showing up at the ruins around 5pm, we were able to explore them with very little company.

Finally we returned to Athens and got rid of our car. We had an epic subway/walk/bus/walk/cab/walk adventure in order to get to see my brother sail near Marathon, and returned to Athens for a few more days of exploring.

Lessons learned: Greece is full of friendly people ready to help you out if you pull out a map and look lost. Driving isn't nearly as bad as I feared (though we avoided city driving), once you understand that what looks like a one-lane-each-direction highway actually has TWO lanes each direction: everyone drives on the shoulder, so others can pass at their leisure.
Greek food is pretty much the same from restaurant to restaurant, and after a solid-plus week of it, it was a joy to find Asian and Indian restaurants in Athens.
You should not wander into a rug store unless you are prepared to purchase a rather expensive (but lovely) souvenir.
The traditional coffee is really strong but really delicious. You do NOT get to ask to have it with milk, but if you do, they'll teasingly oblige.
Street food gyros are really really delicious.

It's a bit odd to recap my GREEK trip from a year ago when I'm freshly back from another, but such is the magic of the calendar photo post - it gives me a reason to revisit my copious pictures from the past year!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What I did on my spring vacation...

Well friends I'm back from my break!

Where I went: 

My home base was Hanover, Germany. I took a day trip to Berlin, a 2-day trip with my sister to Bruges & Ghent (in Belgium) and I went on my own to Amsterdam for 3 days. The rest of the trips were in Germany, and selected in hopes of finding good weather. My sister and I went to Goslar (gorgeous day!) and Lubeck (not so much) and I did a trip on my own to Schwerin.

Traveling by train:
I used all 8 days on my Eurail pass and loved the convenience of just showing up and hopping on a train. It's possible to pay a bit extra to book a reserved seat, but not at all required. Once my train was so full I had to sit on the floor for a couple of hours, and once a kind woman let me have her seat while she visited friends elsewhere on the train, but the vast majority of the time there was no trouble with seating at all. Those trains are crazy punctual, and as my sister said, you just have to trust the timetable. If you are expecting a train to Brussels on platform 5 at 11:03, don't get on the one that is there at 10:50 or you might wind up going someplace unexpected! And don't wait around for an invitation to board when your train shows up - they often stay in the station for under 5 minutes. 

Clothes and Gear: 
I made some last-minute packing list changes (I ditched one cool-weather shirt and added two warmer-weather shirts) and my packing was nearly perfect. I could have skipped one of the short-sleeve shirts and the 3/4 sleeve sweater, but only because I got to do laundry twice. After all the agonizing I did over whether to bring my rain jacket, I guess I should be happy the first half of my trip *fully* justified its inclusion!

I managed to try several local specialties.
In Germany: In Hanover I had schnitzel, and in Berlin I got currywurst. In Lubeck (since it's near the Baltic sea) I tried fried herring - big mistake, crazy bony - and my sister got smoked herring, which was quite nice. Lubeck is also the home of a famed marzipan company, so I bought a little marzipan from them. We also tried salted licorice from a vending machine at the train station - YUK.
In Belgium: I had the famed waffles twice, but sadly concluded they're too sweet for me. In Ghent we found a local candy called "Noses of Ghent" that were cone-shaped things about the size of a nose. They're purple and a bit jellied inside and were kind of good but kind of gross. I also had some Belgian chocolate, of course! We had mussels for dinner, including fries with mayo. For breakfast our hotel included speculoos, a sweet spread made from cookies that is pretty yummy (Trader Joe now sells it labeled as Cookie Butter).
In Amsterdam: Fresh springtime asparagus is a big deal in that part of the world, and I had perhaps one of the best salads of my life at a randomly-selected cafe. It was made of mixed greens, walnuts, mushrooms, aged Dutch cheese, and asparagus. YUM. Speaking of cheese, I stumbled on a place that buys high-quality fresh cheese, ages it carefully, and wins awards for the results. I attended a wine/cheese seminar there and had a delicious time. The next morning I got to try a traditional breakfast offering in the Netherlands: chocolate sprinkles for your bread. They were quite good!

Beer, beer and more beer. I took pictures and will post about that separately, but: Germany does some weird but tasty things to their beer! I had beer with lemonade in it while sitting in the sun in Goslar. In Lubeck I got to try "Berliner Weiss mit Schuss" which is a specific brand of wheat beer, with a shot of colorful sweet syrup poured in - that's the Schuss. You have to indicate if you want red or green syrup; red is raspberry and I really liked it. Green... is called woodruff flavor, but I don't know what that is. Suffice to say I wasn't a big fan, but it wasn't terrible. Finally, I tried banana juice in my beer - also delicious!

Oh yeah, the TOURING thing. My sister and I usually found a Tall Thing (belfry) in whatever town we were in and paid to go up inside it. I did two free walking tours, one in Berlin, the other in Amsterdam (you tip the guide according to how well you liked it) - both tours lasted at least 3 hours! I took two canal boat rides, one in Amsterdam, the other in Lubeck. In Amsterdam I also went to the Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank house (highly recommend it if you're headed that way), and caught the World Press photo exhibit.

And I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked. It was great.

...pictures to follow!