Tag Archives: beer

I Thought I Was Made to Wander Up to Forty Days and Forty Nights…

7 Aug

I’m at the end of my travels.  I only just arrived in Budapest for the last three days of my journey through Europe, but you always know when a trip is over, last day or not.  How?  Some of you are thinking: “you know it’s over when you’re ready to go home.”  Others are waiting for me to say: “you know it’s over when your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow from jaundice because you’ve been drinking too much.”  Still, some of you out there are thinking: “it’s over when you’ve completed your traveling goals, be it lessons learned or wisdom gained.  No!  It’s over when your goddamn bank account has nothing in it anymore!  That is when it’s over.  Therefore, as I mentioned, I am nearing the end of my trip.

This, I guess, is the part where I pass on unsolicited wisdom.  It’s not because I think I have become one with the world through my five weeks of mobile seclusion; not because I think this will enrich your life—it’s because, as I said, I have very little money, and it’s free to camp out in my hostel and entertain myself writing on this godforsaken blog of mine.  So here it comes.

Over the past four or five weeks, I have traveled through six different countries in the UK and Europe.  I have spent time sightseeing alone, meeting people along the way, and trying many different beers and regional dishes.  I walked a lot.  Not just a lot—like…Old Testament a lot—enough to wear out a pair of Toms to the nubbins and imbue them with the smell of rotting feet enough that washing them or whatever wouldn’t even be worth it.  I kept one for posterity, but the other fell out of my bag somewhere along the way.  And now that it’s all flip flops all the time, the front halves of my feet are like an American ass on a Brazilian vacation: tanned from pasty white to bronze with a thong line.  And in the foot of life…no…don’t worry.

So, anyway, back to didacticism: during my sojourning, I’ve gotten stuck with a couple takeaways I’m not a fan of.  One is that people are an important variable in experience, and the other is that America ain’t so bad after all.  For most of you, these might be ideas you’ve accepted a while now or never even rejected at all.  Some people appreciate both other people and the United States on purpose.  For me, though—a self proclaimed misanthrope and hopeful future ex-pat, these epiphanies come as quite a shock to the system.

First, the people.  This is sort of in two major categories: a) people are actually quite entertaining (easy to grasp) and b) if a tree falls and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?  (I’ll explain in a bit).  So first, quite a bit of my trip has involved me running out of patience for my own stupid mind.  It gets old, walking around touristy places thinking about such inappropriately timed ideas as “does any of this really exist?” or “is Europe magical, in fact, because failing to understand foreign languages protects me from passing derisive judgment on overheard conversations?”

If life is a schnitzel...what does this lemon wedge mean???

If life is a schnitzel…what does this lemon wedge mean???

Sometimes, it would really pay to walk around with a friend who could distract you by making a lewd comment about the abundant number of sausages sold in Eastern Europe or forcing you to take his or her picture with one of those creepy guys painted completely gold/silver.  Therefore, I conclude that over a month of exile has caused me to go soft and has permanently damaged my misanthropy, forever dooming me to a fate of appreciating the people in my life.  Mom, you’re welcome.

So now for the more wonky, metaphorical tree explanation.  It may seem odd, but I feel like a lot of the activities I did didn’t actually occur, because I did them alone.  Have you ever been dragged out to do something kind of pointless on a family vacation?  Can’t think of one?  Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon with family or friends?  Have you ever been there alone?

If you go with family, you feel like you must appreciate the great abyss that is the Grand Canyon/gaping hole in the ground.  Never have you been so pressured to appreciate a lack of something (here, land).  However, you feel you must like it (sort of like in The Emperor’s New Clothes, when everyone pretends they can see his beautiful new robes, but the Emperor is actually naked).  So you take a picture with your family, and you make it your fucking Christmas card, so all the other (Insert Your Town’s Name Here) families can say: “Wow!  The (Insert Last Name Here)s went to the Grand Canyon!  What a great picture!

So, yeah.  I had a couple experiences that may as well have not happened because I was there on my own.  In Brussels, I went to the famed statue of the Pissing Boy.  That, I kind of don’t mind, because I stumbled upon it and didn’t go out of my way, but it would have been a waste, otherwise.  It was very small, and I think the only right way to do it would be to go with a friend late at night and take rudely posed pictures with it.  In Munich, I went to the Chinese Tower at the English Gardens by myself, which was pretty weird.  It was just another beer garden, and there was this Chinese tower randomly in the middle of it…no real point there…In Copenhagen, I went to the Museum of Copenhagen and took funny pictures of all the captions of the pieces on display…I did sort of entertain myself, but I could think of a few people I would have wanted there to have a near-peeing experience.

The Chinese Tower...why?

The Chinese Tower…why?

"Did the child fall through the ice?"  Really, credible, quotable source?

“Did the child fall through the ice?” Really, credible, quotable source?

Enough of this, though.  Bottom line, travel three weeks alone at most, and if you want to travel with someone, take a friend who a) doesn’t suck b) isn’t related to you unless you fill out extensive paperwork beforehand citing acceptable behavior in case of disputes c) will more often than not almost make you piss yourself out of laughter d) is not the kind of person who will wander off or make you babysit them during a night out, and, most importantly, e) IS the kind of person who will find you and babysit you during an ill-fated night out.  You will appreciate the travel buddy for more purposes than just holding your hair after too much palinka and helping you find the cheapest Kinder Eggs and Happy Hippos in town.

So now for this whole patriotism thing.  It’s not that I miss the USA.  It’s not.  It’s just that I miss drinking in the USA and also having my groceries bagged.  For starters, we know how to make a drink (depending on where you are, of course), and because of our short man complex, we tend to brew a danker beer.  Secondly but no less importantly, we bag our damn groceries for the customer!  Right now, these are the two redeeming US qualities I miss the most.

At the bar: in much of Europe, you go into a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic and find yourself with a shot of gin in a glass, maybe with a lemon slice of sketchy provenance and a small bottle of barely cold tonic on the side.  In the USA: you go to a mediocre bar and order a gin and tonic, and you get gin and tonic water on ice with a damn lime wedge, so help you god.  I’m not kidding.  Ice is a question around here, and it’s about a hundred degrees out.  I got out of the shower today and immediately started sweating; I do not want to have to ask for ice in my damn cocktail.  As for beer, the beer in Europe has been pretty great.  Cask ale in London, strong ales in Belgium, Munich Helles and Dunkel, various indie-brand Danish offerings, Czech Pils—it’s all good.  But the only thing that’s come close to the microbrews I miss from home has been those cool, indie, Danish beers.

It’s not fair, really, because a lot of the Euro styles are appreciable for their traditional roots.  And we learn a lot about brewing from European base styles.  But…I miss the feeling of hop resin on my teeth…I miss the lifting of a day’s stress you enjoy when you finish a 12-oz American Double IPA…I miss getting some convivial spirit out of a couple beers before getting full of carbs and carbonation.  It’s the hardcoreness of it all…the USA takes the cake in the hardcoreness.

And then the grocery bags.  I keep forgetting that not bringing a bag to the local supermarket in Europe means I’ll be walking down Googlymooglystrasse dropping loaves of bread, bottles of conditioner, Happy Hippos, and tampons all over the place.  It’s a shame, really.  Aside from “would you like another beer?” the only words I want to hear right now are “paper or plastic?”


I Don’t Knowpenhagen

5 Aug

This is supposed to be a food blog, but I’m trying to document some travels, here, so this one particularly unfortunate post is mostly N/A with regards to categories–food, especially.  Before coming to Prague, I spent a week in Copenhagen, and having left, I realize that aside from a few key activities, I have no idea what I really did there.  I’ll attempt to explain and forewarn that the moral of this story is that four days is probably the max you want to spend in Copenhagen if you aren’t working there (mostly just because it’s not budget-friendly)…

Nothing is ever just as it seems.  Take this hostel in Prague, for instance.  It makes my Copenhagen hostel look like Alcatraz.  But had I gone from actual prison to the hostel in Copenhagen, then maybe the City Public Hostel would have seemed like the Taj Mahal.  I don’t know.  What it comes down to is that I have no real convictions about Copenhagen.  So comparisons help define the experience.

For instance:


a)     Copenhagen’s City Public Hostel was more expensive than Prague’s Arpacay Backpacker’s Hostel

b)    City Public Hostel also charged me sums of money for a pillow and sheets, while Arpacay provides these commodities for everyone without charge.

c)     City Public Hostel gave me a bunk in close quarters with smelly, travel-y dudes, while Arpacay gave me a bunk in a spacious room with circulating oxygen.

d)    At City Public Hostel, you have to stand on your head while reciting Hail Mary’s to get wifi reception, while at Arpacay, it just works on its own.

e)     City Public Hostel has black mold in its showers, while Arpacay has no mold to be found anywhere.

f)     City Public Hostel has 0 hostel bars, while Munich’s Euro Youth Hostel had 1 full service bar.

g)     Drinks sold at City Public Hostel all contain 0% alcohol, while drinks sold at Arpacay include beer


a)     Finding decent beers for $3-$4 is common in Belgium, Prague, and Germany, while in Copenhagen, you will pay around $6 minimum.  Glass wine?  Ask me where all my money went.

b)    In Copenhagen, signs advertise burgers for a mere 100 dk.  That could easily make you think…oh…maybe that’s $10.  It’s $17.  Meanwhile, in Prague, I get potato soup, duck, and dumplings for 160 kc, which is about $8. 


a)     I didn’t go to Copenhagen for the beer, but overall, the beer scene there is weak outside of the Mikkeller brand and a few others.  Most cafes serve a lot of Carlsberg and Tuborg, which are OK but not too exciting.


a)     Copenhagen has fewer amputees than Munich, resulting in more total legs per capita.

b)    People ride more bikes in Copenhagen than anywhere else I’ve been.

c)     People speak great English everywhere in Copenhagen, especially compared to…everywhere…

d)    Danish men have good hairstyles (including the buzz-cut/top knot combo that’s been gaining popularity recently).

That’s pretty much all I can really tell you.  Copenhagen is just a relaxed little city and a good place to take a boat ride or camp out in Mikkeller Bar.  I’m not hating…I’m just saying.

Brussels: Food, Lack Thereof…

18 Jul

Last time I posted, I had just gotten into Brussels from London.  I was exhausted and penned my English sagas on a comfy leather couch in the lobby of my hostel/hotel.  I am once again exhausted on that same couch, mulling over the last week.  You see, I feel you have to go kind of hard at least one night in each city, and last night was kind of it.  So I’m sitting here with a fat bottle of sparkling water and a (hopefully) safe “sandwich Americain”—steak tartare on a baguette.  Tales of last night come later.

To preface this post, I will mostly be discussing activities rather than food, because I barely ate here.  What?  No Belgian food?  I know.  Well, I ate a little, but I can basically count the items on one hand, because I drank so much beer that I was basically running on straight abbey ale the whole time.  Sorry.  For a detailed run-down of the beers I tried here, check out my post on Getinmegullet.  I know it seems sacrilegious not to consume all these great beers alongside classic Belgian dishes, but to be honest, I have a budget and little interest returning to the US the size of a sumo wrestler.

I arrived in Belgium Friday and had a kind of relaxed evening.  I got settled in the hostel, which is really actually a very inexpensive awesome hotel (Hotel Meininger).  The only reason it’s cheap is that it’s six to a room, but there’s housekeeping daily, a full bar, a roomy lounge, a kitchen, a pool table, outdoor tables for sunny weather drinking—pretty much everything you could think of short of a full restaurant.

full bar at the hostel--holla!

full bar at the hostel–holla!

Anyway, I met this Aussie girl in my room when I got in (these Aussies are everywhere; I guess there was a prison break down under).  We decided to go to the bar and drink, since it was kind of late to start exploring.  We got talking with another Aussie (told ya) and a “lad” from Scotland.  It was then I found out that no one stays in Brussels very long.  Each of these travelers was only staying the night, and I was staying six days.  Cool!  Well, it was for the best, since fitting in all my beer and food into one day might hurt a lot.

The next day, I walked around Brussels for a while and went to A La Becasse, a beer bar recommended to me by a friend.  I got a flight of sour ales, which was delicious and a good start to the trip.  Afterwards, I went to Delirium Café, the destination beer bar with a record number of beers in stock.  I had a few beers and then joined some random British dudes for a round of framboise lambic.  They were pretty entertaining, and because of my high level of beer consumption, they were enthused about becoming fast friends.  Even if I couldn’t even really understand one of the dudes due to some awkward other-English accent he was rocking.  I left them to their English devices after the bar and went to grab some dinner.

At one of the cafés near the center of the city, I got a behemoth order of moules frites.  It was pretty good.  The mussels were a little small, but it was a whole pot of mussels, so I found it worth the price (over $20).  To be honest, I couldn’t stop eating the fries with mayo, which was really the saving grace of the meal.  I think I just went back to the hostel and passed out after that, because all the beer followed by a big meal sort of snuffs a person out.

moules frites

moules frites

The next day, I got up at a decent hour to go to the international market a couple miles from the hotel.  It was pretty cool but very crowded.  For the first time since I’d gotten to Europe, fresh fruit and veggies abounded, so I got some apricots, a giant fig, and some tomatoes for breakfast.  And then I grabbed a demi baguette.  And then I couldn’t resist trying this bread that looked like a twelve-inch English muffin, so I got that too.  But it lasted for days, so I didn’t have to buy food until about Wednesday.

After the market, I went back to the hostel and chilled.  One of the girls that arrived the day before was down to go out for beers, so we walked to a Delirium Café offshoot.  She was stressed about her adapter getting stolen, so I insisted she drink it off.  Just one Delirium Nocturnum later, she was telling stories of her boyfriend who enjoys listening to Taylor Swift.  Since I was on a comfortable drip of Tremens, I was OK with it, though.  And T-Swift doesn’t kill me too bad.  When we got back to the hostel, I grabbed an Orval downstairs, because sometimes enough is never enough, and beer for dinner is usually OK with me.

Delirium Tremens, AKA my appetizer

Delirium Tremens, AKA my appetizer

Monday, I mostly subsisted on some remnants of bread and tomato and sort of vagabonded about, drinking beers at various cafés and bars along the way.  I believe Monday is the day I went to see a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit in a museum.  What that basically entails is that the museum was showing constructed machines/inventions from da Vinci’s notebooks.  It was a little depressing, because most of them seemed really funny and apparently would never have worked.  But actually, da Vinci’s shit really paved the way for much of our modern engineering, so yay for da Vinci.  I am bad at museums.  They make me really tired, and I always feel like I should be more excited while walking through them.  Maybe they should have Red Bull check points along the way.

Da Vinci designed this scuba suit...

Da Vinci designed this scuba suit…

Most of my entertainment Monday and Tuesday came from these two new Australian girls in my hostel room.  They were really chatty and kind of just sat in bed all day eating Belgian chocolate and watching British and Japanese game shows.  I don’t really know what they were doing.  But they probably didn’t really know what I was doing either, because a lot of my days involved taking beer naps around three in the afternoon.

As an aside, I am really digging this steak tartare sandwich.  It’s doing wonders for my head.

So Tuesday, I again ate a little bread and a tomato.  Sorry.  Mostly, I walked all over Brussels to find out how much there was outside the center of the city where all the tourists hang out.  I found a couple of churches, the financial district (yawn), some cool little streets with cafés and boutiques, and that’s pretty much it.  I scored a fairly inexpensive Van Halen record, which is always nice.  During my sojourning, I happened upon a beer bar I meant to go to—Moeder Lambic.  The bartender was really friendly, and he guided me to some cool beers that really hit the spot after all that walking.  I meant to go back there, but it’s a little depressing, because they have a cool bottle selection that is mostly 750 ml bottles and therefore out of my loner price range.  It’s cool, though.  After that, I went back to the hostel to hang and drank double gin and tonics for dinner.  Always a good choice.

A church.  Everywhere's got em.

A church. Everywhere’s got em.

Yesterday was Wednesday, and if you already haven’t stopped reading this fairly mundane post, you will find out that I finally ate some Belgian food.  I got a waffle for breakfast, which had to happen at some point.  It was good, but nothing beyond my expectations.  For lunch, I got sausage stoemp, one of the quintessential Belgian dishes I’d been hearing about.  Yep, it was just mashed potatoes and sausage.  But it was good, and it went well with my Kwak beer.  It was also really filling, so I kind of rolled home after it.  Later yesterday evening, I kind of craved some sort of nightlife.  Or something.  Maybe a social environment.  So I went to Celtica, a bar that serves decent beers for two euro a pop.  And I drank three strong beers in rapid sequence.  I was talking to a dude at the bar who was fairly impressed with my beer-consuming abilities, but he didn’t offer to pay for any of them.  It’s really a shame, but I read somewhere that the Belgians think of it as feminism.  I think feminism is when girls never have to pay for alcohol.  So that’s the one downfall of Belgian culture.

Sausage stoemp.  Had I eaten more than half of it, I might've had a chance later that night...

Sausage stoemp. Had I eaten more than half of it, I might’ve had a chance later that night…

Anyway, after beer 3 and no solid food, I realized I was full on beer but also tanked.  I decided to leave but got a little lost, which is pretty hilarious considering I’ve made that walk many times since getting here.  I stopped somewhere on my way home and got a drink, but then I must’ve gone back the way I came, because it took my about an hour to get home when it should’ve taken about twenty minutes tops.  But I have to admit, some of that beer needed to be walked off anyway.  And I might’ve gotten some frites with mayo somewhere in there.

Anyway, it’s time to leave Brussels.  I don’t know if I would have liked it so much if the first map/guide I read hadn’t started with something like, “Brussels is ugly, but you have to either love it or accept it.”  It really kind of is in a lot of ways.  When I got here, I was like, ‘da fuckk?’  But because of the self-deprecating honesty of the guide writers, I became psyched about it.  I would say Brussels wins the beer category, gets a decent mark in the food category, and loses in the feminism category.  In addition to the non-purchasery of drinks for girls, there is a high incidence of street harassment happening here.  And I’m like, if I lived here, I’d want to wear a burqa every day too (fairly present Muslim population here).

Tomorrow, I’m going to Munich.  The moral of this story is: you can successfully replace food with beer as long as you drink water.

Goodbye, America, for a While

7 Jul

So I up and left the USA.  Some of you know I’ve been planning my escape for a couple years; for others, this may be news.  I’m not leaving for good, unfortunately.  I am just taking a solid 5 weeks to explore the wonderful world of European beers.  A study, if you will.  If you won’t, 5 weeks of drinking with a side of debauchery.  That’s just semantics.

I’m sitting in this generic internet café off Piccadilly Circus right now; mostly, I just don’t feel like finding my hostel.  It’s apparently just a subway ride and a short walk away, but I’ll go in a bit.  Sometimes it’s just good to procrastinate by writing to a world of blog readers that may or may not really exist.  Anyway, I’m glad I made it to this cafe, because I kept passing out in the tube and thought I’d miss my stop.  I didn’t really know if Piccadilly Circus was the ideal stop anyway; I didn’t map out my hostel in relation to London at large.  But hey, Piccadilly Circus is kind of in the middle of shit, and it’s one of the few stops I recognized.  And now that I’m online, it seems the hostel isn’t that far.  And so my freestyle adventuring works out.

I flew here on Kuwait Airlines with just a backpack.  I didn’t really plan to backpack through Europe after college like one of those damn cliché college graduates that backpacks through Europe after college…but taking a big bag seemed like a big commitment.  I’ve done that before, and I promise you: the wheel always breaks.  Every time.  And then you’re walking down goddamn Calle San-whatever in the pouring rain, cursing this 45-pound dead weight bag and wondering why you had to bring a hair dryer, a bathroom scale, and your pet boulder collection in your stupid luggage.  I digress, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I’m in London this week.  Other destinations include Munich, Brussels, Copenhagen, Prague, and Budapest.  The main reason I’m here, as I said, is to get the full-blown beer experience in these various nations.  Sure, I’ve had the imported stuff in the US, but there are quite a few beers that stay in their homelands.  So I came to them.  Here in London, I’m looking at cask ale.  I’ve had cask ale interpretations in ‘merica, but you gotta try the original stuff.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s just watery crap.  Just kidding.  We shall see.

I’m really kind of bummed, because Kuwait Airlines gave us all this damn food–two hot meals–I mean, what is this?  And now I’m not hungry enough to eat for a while.  American Airline companies make some hot millions taking one olive off every sad, little salad they serve their customers (if they serve food anymore–who even knows), and Kuwait is serving up braised lamb and cake and chickpea curry and pakoras and like a whole continental breakfast over there.  I really don’t understand flight disparity.  I really don’t pretend the airline industry as a whole is a logical, ethical operation, but I’m harsh and overly tired so I’ll shut up about it for now.  I guess the downfall of Kuwait Airlines is that most of the announcements on the TV were in Arabic, and I really couldn’t read it, to be honest.  I definitely know zero Arabic.  It’s very cool looking, though.  They also play this very meditative music as you descend, which is half cool and half reminiscent of an overpriced yoga studio.  I stopped asking questions when I was assigned seat 36H.  I don’t know.  It was a big ass plane.  I just gave up and went to sleep and ate braised lamb whenever the flight attendant woke me up.

More later.

The Adventures of Shaina and Chase in a Fatty Place Called Montreal

29 Jul

Leave me here to die in a bloodbath of gravy, pork gelatin, and half pichet’s of kamikazes.  That is how I felt leaving Montreal two Sundays ago.  I was coming down from my poutine trip from the day before, and I was unprepared to cross the Canadian-US border back into the Empire State.  I reached into a brown bag of cookies my boyfriend, Chase, and I bought to bring back to the states.  I sought stability in food form, although neither of us knew what those delicious “biscotti” really were.  Was that flavor coconut?  White chocolate?  I didn’t give a shit, as I munched and waited behind a man and his wife on their Harley and a very large dragonfly in the border control line-up.  All I wanted was one more bite of my Montreal experience.

Why Montreal?  Everyone in the US constantly jokes about Canadians and their shenanigans, although I’ve never understood why that was remotely funny.  “Dude, it’s CANADA.” Nope, I still don’t get it.  I have always longed to visit our North of the border compadres and take part in their sketchy-cum-brilliant cuisine.  I’ll tell you why Montreal:

Maple syrup


A fondness for foie



Drinking for “minors”

That’s most, folks.

I love all those things.  I know sweaters in July are not a great idea, so forget those until I re-visit Montreal in the cooler months.  But I needed to get out of the US of A and could really see myself downing a few Unibroue beers with a dish of narsty/beautiful poutine.  And it happened.

Chase and I arrived on a Thursday evening to Hostel La Maison du Patriote on Rue St. Paul.  Turn onto Rue Paul! Rue Paul! RuPaul???  Is this a drag hostel?  Whatever works.  Finally, after seven or eight hours of driving, I would’ve crashed almost anywhere.  We got into the building and promptly found our room.  At $50 each per night, we were pretty stoked to have a clean, fairly large room with two large windows looking onto the main street, a stone wall with an electric fireplace (small detail: it didn’t work), and two fat beanbag chairs all to ourselves.  Oh, and a decent, clean kitchen to cook in if the opportunity presented itself.

We went to dinner at a small corner bistro with al fresco dining that night.  Game terrine, smoked salmon, French onion soup, a braised lamb shank, and some solid red wine all graced our presences over the course of the meal, and we were both happy campers calling it a night after that.Image

Friday, we walked around and looked in stores in the morning.  We got coffee at a small café, and that is when we found those crazy cookies: Heavenly Taste Biscotti.  Weird, overly sweet, overly lumpy cookie bricks, studded with white and milk chocolate and almonds is an under-description.  Just go get some.  They are just fucked up at the very least.

After enjoying our weird cookie, we went window shopping and wondered why there were so many native American stores.   Those and gift shops that sold aprons depicting a naked dude boning an animal from behind…maybe these quirks explain the Canadian jokes…At any rate, all the Inuit- and bestial-inspired art confusion got us thinking we might understand Canada more if we sat down and got some lunch.

OK, so we got pizza.  At least it was pizza Quebecois—with bacon, mushrooms, onions, and peppers.  That and some wine and beer.  Even though pizza is not inherently Canadian, it is not inherently New Jerseyan either, but I get it there all the time.  The Quebecois was yummy and hit the spot.  We tried not to overdo it though…in light of our reservation at AU PIED DE COCHON that night.

When we got to APDC, we were very pumped.  A glass of champagne was the least we could order ourselves to say, “thank you, selves, for having the magnificent foresight to choose to spend all your money at this Mecca for pork lovers.”  We perused the menu long enough before ordering the PDC platter (from their seafood bar), the special app of softshell crab pancake fried in duck fat with bacon and maple syrup, and the pig’s head for two.  Glory, glory.  I was stoked. Image

When the PDC platter came, we were in awe.  Periwinkles; razor, cherrystone, and littleneck clams; mussels; oysters; calamari; and conch awaited their turns to be dumped into our gullets.  It was glorious.  Sauces, dressings, and garnishes made each piece of seafood sing in a new light: the razor clam, chopped up with red onion and herbs was refreshing; the raw oysters, unadorned, were briny, juicy, and delicious; the littlenecks, with a creamier dressing, were rich yet light.  Everything was just right, even when we were poking sticks into the periwinkles to extract the miniscule muscle, while simultaneously coating our fingers in their sticky, barbeque-like glaze and scoring about 5 for 10 in the “is there a periwinkle in there or is it an empty shell?” category.  It was all bueno.

At that point, we were already full, but we still shoveled the softie pancake sandwich, with its cucumber slaw and bacon filling, into our mouths.  It was yummy, even though I wondered if maybe its exoskeleton wasn’t a little overdeveloped to earn softshell status: maybe medium-softshell would have been more accurate…crunchy, no; chewy, yeah, probably. Image

The piece de resistance was yet to come.  We were full.  The man next to us was blotting his brow with a linen napkin; he had a severe case of the meat sweats.  But we had to soldier on.  That pig’s head for two was coming.  The wait staff armed us with Victorinox knives and such for the onslaught.  We relaxed our bellies with more wine.  And then the fat wooden board, carrying a large pig head, came to our table.  It was big.  Mashed potatoes were smeared on the board.  A whole damned lobster, for fuck’s sake, stuck out of the pig’s mouth.  I was touched to see a pot of pan drippings next to the head.  Damn…we were screwed…Image

We did the only thing anyone could do: we just dove right in.  We carved fatty, sticky cheek and jowl bits off.  We ripped off the snout and sucked down its jelly-ish porkiness.  We grazed the skin off the ears like a regular human eats steamed artichoke leaves.  Stopping meant pain, so we kept going until we started feeling faint…

We asked for the check and some more water.  Our waitress became elusive.  Where IS she, damn it?  She had abandoned our care in favor of waiting on the newly seated couples on either side of us.  As a chicly dressed hipster/foodie wannabe ordered a Hendrick’s martini and tried to impress his date, we breathed shallowly and willed ourselves to maintain composure.  We were as washed up as a pair of beached wales being force-fed funnel cake by Snooki on the beach of the Jersery shore.  Wa.ter. Please.  Finally, we got some water, paid, and peaced out quickly.

Driving home was rough.  With Chase in the passenger seat, bemoaning his pork overdose, I, too, was struggling to keep it together long enough to park in the overpriced lot next to our hostel.  We both fell into hard core food comas that night, and either I was too tired, or my ears were too stopped up with pork fat to hear the partiers on the Friday night pub crawl outside.

The next morning, we both slept in.  When we woke up, we were not really too much worse off for our previous night’s food exploits other than a probable five extra pounds on the scale—but who’s counting on vacation?  Once we got our brains back in the game, we headed over to the Jean-Talon market, apparently one of the biggest open-air markets in North America.

After painfully withdrawing some more money at the ATM, we began to check out the stalls.  Cured meats, cheeses, fresh meats, produce, and more abounded.  We bought a bunch of things for dinner that night, including blood sausage, goat cheese, berries, a dry cured sausage, and chanterelle mushrooms.  We also picked up some Canadian beers on our way out, after stopping to try some delicious, briny oysters at the oyster stall.

Back at the hostel, we turned our now hopelessly mushed bag of mixed berries into a jam to go with our cheese.  Meanwhile, we drank a wheat beer and enjoyed the cool shelter from the 95 degree day outside.  After sautéing our chanterelles and cooking off the blood sausage, we took our foods to our room and ate them while people watching from our window that opened onto Rue St. Paul below. Image

If that wasn’t enough, we decided to hit the streets later that night to see what we could get into on our last night.  A few doors down, a live band played in a nightclub, and we decided to check it out.  Once inside, we watched an energetic band play some songs in French and some randomly thrown in American songs, including “Footloose.”  Don’t ask.  Over our half-pitchers of not quite cold cocktails, we weren’t questioning the soundtrack.  It was fun!  A birthday girl was ushered on stage with her friends and mom for a song, and at one apparently choreographed point, all members of the group downed the contents of their glasses in one fell chug.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel at home.Image

Driving to the US border the next day brought a tear to my mind (I don’t cry actual tears often).  It was over.  We at least had a couple of those weird biscotti to keep the memories alive a bit longer, but no cookie could mend the fact that we were headed onto highways that only had speed limits; not speed minimums, as we so appreciated in the land of our Canadian brethren.Image


Oh, PS: we ate this really good poutine next door to our hostel in an amazing beer garden type place and drank some really nice beers:Image

Meat and Beer and Cupcakes, OH MY!

23 Mar

I’ve been home on Spring break for a few days now.  Am I starting to feel all partied out yet?  Not really, in my less than wild, less than tequila-soaked home town in New Jersey.  I think, however, that my kitchen is one feeling the effects of my Spring break.  Upon arriving home, I tried to relax, tried to spend a decent amount of time at the mawl, got my hai’ done, and did the Jersey thing for a while…but naturally, I soon found myself back at my post, to the right of our kitchen sink, at a large wooden cutting board, preparing meals and treats for the fam.

One of the most exciting things about being home is having access to more proteins.  After a good shop at the grocery store, I came home with a whole red snapper, some pork belly, a rabbit, and a pork shoulder.  Our freezer is currently stocked with beef short ribs, oxtail, and chicken thighs.  So far, I have prepared the meats I picked up at the store, in dishes that are keeping us warm against the more wintry “Spring” we are…enjoying.

First, I made seared red snapper with a Thai fish broth and toasts with lardons.  After filleting the whole red snapper, I made a fumet with the body, a pork rib I cut from the belly I bought, green peppers, onion, carrots, some lime, parsley, and a puree of ancho peppers.  After I made the stock, I reduced it by about half and added some cream for richness.  After making lardons to go with the fish, I brushed some sliced baguette with the pork fat and toasted them to crispy goodness.  A perfect sear on the red snapper left it crisp on the outside and flaky-tender on the inside.  It was an aromatic, tasty, and balanced dish.

red snapper with Thai fish broth

The next night, I continued the cooking fest with a rabbit stew.  I was afraid my sometimes picky/sometimes surprisingly adventurous siblings would balk at the idea of eating a lil’ bunny, but no one really gave me any shit about it.  I braised the rabbit with chunks of pig foot (to provide body for the braise), onion, mushrooms, carrots, thyme, and cinnamon sticks.  The result was fragrant, sumptuous, and light enough to enjoy on a Spring day.  Served over homemade pasta with a side of sliced zuchini and spinach salad with anchovies, the rabbit was damn good!

Finally, yesterday, I made a slow roasted pork shoulder with polenta and dandelion greens.  After scoring the pork shoulder, I seasoned it and rubbed it with pureed ancho peppers.  After about five hours in the oven at 300 degrees F, the small pork shoulder was tender and delicious.  Over some stone ground polenta I picked up in Ithaca a while ago, how could anyone say “no?”  I stirred sauteed Chanterelles into the polenta, adding another layer of meatiness to the mix.

pork shoulder, in all its glory, exuding lovely marrow deliciousness

served over polenta and dandelion greens!

Last but not least, after a huge movie-watching fail (I tried hard  to sit through Public Enemies but really, really couldn’t), I wandered into my kitchen and dumped some stuff in a bowl and gave it a good whisking.  Remnants of a black IPA I recently tried and loved, eggs, Greek yogurt, melted butter, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt.  Twenty-two minutes later, I had some pretty badass looking (and smelling) cupcakes emerge from the oven.  What goes well with a yeasty, slightly hoppy cake???  I looked aroung my kitchen.  Orange?  why not?  Fruity, delicious.  After beating together some butter, cream cheese, and confectioners sugar, I squeezed in a half an orange and grated the zest of two blood oranges into the mix.  Result: yum.  Result on top of the beer cake?  Some would say I’m “winning.”


It’s Everywhere: Even My Pie Crusts Get a Boost from Beer!

12 Mar

Recently, my mom and I were tasting our way through some different styles of beer from my beer cave.  We started with Dogfish Head’s Raison d’Extra.  Wha..?  Yeah.  We started with that dark, super-intense, liqueur-rivaling-in-booze-content ale brewed with raisins.  After a few sips, we decided to move on–not because it was bad, but because finishing it may not have left us in any shape to taste our next beers.  I would use it in cooking.

Really? You ask.  Yeah. I saved it to incorporate into some dish the next day.  Later on, I started wondering how substituting beer for water in a pie crust might turn out.  Bakers often add a tablespoon of vodka to their pie crusts to relax the gluten and make for a more tender pie crust.  Why would a high-alcohol beer work any differently?

After a short while, I had a Raison d’Extra ale pie crust.  It could have been my imagination, but working the crust seemed much easier than working a regular crust made with water.  After rolling it out and filling it with an apple filling, I shaped the crust into a cute little turnover.  Into the oven!   And about thirty five minutes later…

super flaky!

The crust was not only flavorful but also it seemed very flaky and tender.  From now on, I think I’ll be experimenting with booze in my pie crusts more often.

Apple Turnover With Beer Crust

Mix 6 oz flour with 1/2 t salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Cut in 4 oz butter, then pour 2 oz flat beer into the bowl.  Mix until dough comes together.  Shape into a disc and chill until ready to roll out.  Then, mix one sliced apple with 3 T sugar, 1/2 t ground ginger, and 1 t flour in a bowl.  Roll out crust into a circle and cover one side with sliced apple mixture.  Fold the bare crust side over the apples and twist the edges together to seal.  Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut vents in the top and bake at 375 for 35 minutes.