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Archive for the ‘Travel food and drink’ Category

They say to travel with your eyes wide open, in order to completely capture the wonderful world as it unfolds like a road map in front of you.

 

I would add to that: You should travel with your mouth wide open, so you get a taste of the area you are adventuring through.

 

scooter on street

Unless, of course, you happen to be motoring on a Motorino at the time, searching for the perfect pizza pie.

 

Those bugs stuck in your teeth tend to make a lousy pizza topping.

 

My journey of culinary contentment began on Main Street of the tiny town of Mt. Shasta, way up in northern California, some 15-years ago. It was there that I discovered a small bakery, with shelves brimming with beautifully baked loaves of bread. The proprietor explained that the secret of his creations was the wood-fired oven smack in the middle of his establishment.

 

I had never seen such a thing, but, as a wildland fire fighter with a possibly worrisome worship of the open flame, I knew at once that I must build such a structure.

 

But, probably not in the middle of the wife-person’s cherished 1906 farm house kitchen.

 

The owner of the Oven Bakery suggested I purchase a book entitled The Bread Builders, for a guide to constructing an oven and building the perfect loaf. All I would need were a “few bricks and a bit of mortar.”

 

That was some 15-years ago.

 

In the interim, wood-fired pizza purveyors have become as ubiquitous as craft beer brewpubs and farm-to-table restaurants. There are probably a dozen or so in the Sacramento area, alone. Apparently, I am not the only one fascinated by fire and the resultant amazing flavors it imparts on almost any kind of cooking.

 

And, in the last few years, it is not at all uncommon for individuals to place one of these ovens on their backyard patio, or inside as the centerpiece of their kitchen. So much so, that in certain crowded  San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods, they are being smoked out by them (but, probably more so from backyard smokers than efficient ovens with a good chimney).

 

Except, at our place, the only evidence of my interest has been a frayed, 15-year old book and a big fat pile of the best of intentions.  When the wife-person would ask me to explain my lack of execution, I would say,

“Sorry, dear, I’ll get to it.”

 

But, as, Felix Unger once said, "Sorry doesn’t feed the Admiral’s cat." 

 

Nor, does it feed the hunger for a hand-kneaded, delicious delicacy with the perfect cornicione crust, topped with a chunky sauce from San Marzano Italian tomatoes,  a moderate amount of the quintessential Mozzarella di Bufala cheese, and a few leaves of fresh basil.

 

The cornicione crust refers to the sought-after puffy finish along the pizza margin, while the di Bufala cheese is the classic cheese made from the Italian water buffalo.

 

But, thanks to either the generosity of heart or the lack of patience for another 15-years of waiting, the wife-person gently suggested I go get the “guts” for a quality wood-fired oven, get off my foundation, and begin building.

 

It was about that period of time that Number Two Daughter introduced us to Mac Duff’s Public House, in South Lake Tahoe, where we thoroughly enjoyed what came out of their indoor, wood-fired oven; from the thoroughly tasty pizza crust, to an amazing truffle oil mac & cheese, to a fantastically flavored bread pudding for dessert, it was all good.

 

Their bar ain’t bad, either, assuming you like great beer and a good selection of whiskies.

Mugnaini logo

 

I noticed a distinctive, stylistic letter “M” at the oven opening, and was told that the oven was from a company called Mugnaini.

 

 

 

After virtual minutes of language lessons on Italian, garnered primarily by watching vintage Sofia Loren movies while she was in her prime (and oh, what a beautiful, scantily clad Italian pin-up she was in her prime),

“…no dear, I’m watching masonry lessons on YouTube.”

I learned that Mugnaini is pronounced “Moog-and-innie,” or possibly, “Mug-a-yinie,” no wait, it’s “Moon-ya-ini,”…I think.

 

I guess it’s back to watching old Sofia Loren movies.

 

Long story even longer, after I over-researched the world of wood-fired ovens, as I am wont to do, I eventually purchased the belly of the beast, so to speak, in kit form from Mugnaini, and got to building.

 

For some portions of the project I proved to be highly qualified.

 

the big dig begins

 

With impressive shovel manipulation—including the commensurate blisters—I was able to dig out a footing and deftly drive and dump the wheelbarrow around the corner (I don’t think my neighbor has noticed the newly formed, small mountain on his place yet. Or, maybe he has.

“No Mr. Reynolds, I don’t know where that ponderous pile of dirt might have come from.

Yes, I do, if fact, have a big hole in the ground over at our place.”

 

pile of dirt

 

Then, thanks to the kindness of another neighbor, and those YouTube videos, I learned how to pile a bunch of cinderblocks, and then fill them with concrete.

 

          masonary intern

 

Laying out the pieces of the pizza oven puzzle I began to wonder what in the hell I got myself into.

 

dome ready to set

 

Finally, after countless hours of impassioned phone calls to the inexplicably patient staff at Mugnaini (namely, Reese) from a hapless do-it-yourself-er, wannabe builder…namely, me…I finally—almost—finished the construction.

 

(It’s only minus a few pieces of trim and a plaster finish.)

 

forms off

 

But, at least it was time to kick the tires (or, in this case, the massive monolith of cinderblocks, rebar, and concrete) and LIGHT THE FIRE!

 

first fire

 

After a prescribed burn schedule, just like the old days when I got to light hundreds of acres of brush and grass on fire (to benefit wildlife habitat)—and get paid for it—with the wife-person’s skilled preparation techniques, I got the first pie slid into the breach.

 

All 700 degrees of it.

 

first home pizza pic

 

After a mere 90-seconds at that blazing temperature, I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labor with a slice of my favorite fresh mushrooms, black olives, and Italian (what else) sausage pizza.

 

O.K., I ate the whole damn thing by myself, accompanied with a wonderful bottle of locally sourced, farm-to-my mouth red wine.

 

fruits of the labor

 

I wonder if my neighbor would mind if I parked an Italian water buffalo on his property.

 

Italian water buffalo wikipedia

               "WildWaterBuffalo(Bubalus bubalis arnee)" by Djambalawa

 

 

I just have to find a YouTube video on how to milk one of these things.

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crowd on streetWe stood out there in the mass of humanity, with our stomachs growling and our thirst building, as we watched the stream of cars caked with the desert dust departing for points west.

 

 

They had ventured out onto the playa of the Black Rock for the big burn, while we just wanted our fill of the delectable bones of fat and gristle, which served primarily as a grossly overpriced, barbeque sauce delivery system.

 

     just starting

 

Such is the annual Best of the West Nugget Rib Cook-off, held in Sparks, Nevada. While the infamous Burning Man event, over the hill to the north, garners a crowd that is over 300 times the 200 residents in near-by Gerlach, the rib cook-off sucks in a reported half-a-million hungry souls ready to suckle on those juicy pork parts.

 

     crowd want the best

 

The cookers come from far and wide, bouncing from rib cook-off to rib cook-off, collecting kudos that they display in huge banners in an attempt to lure willing suckers to their wares.

By suckers, I mean both for the highly regarded secret sauces, and people willing to spend $25 for a styrofoam container with a slab of bones, coated in sauce.

 

     a good start

 

Yes, I am guilty of both. Four take-away boxes will set you back $100 in cash, but let the gooey getting get going. Hmmm hmmm good ©.

 

While the purveyors of pork pleasure certainly rake in plenty from the ravenous crowds, those doing the cooking do have certain job-related hazards…like breathing in thick clouds of charcoalized carcinogenic smoke.

(Check out the stained bucket of industrial strength-looking liquid. Looks clean enough for me!)

 

     eating smoke

 

While the people watching is always worthwhile, albeit with a lot less naked people caked in mud, as you might see at that other event, you can count on many interesting sights, such as on a banner on the above pictured rib pusher, which read,

“Johnson’s Thermo Nuclear Sauce will improve your cardiovascular system, sinuses, colon, and pancreas simultaneously. 

We’re talking hot. No guts, no glory.”

 

Luckily, the Renown Regional Medical Center in nearby Reno has an excellently staffed ICU trauma facility for any OD’s that might occur.

 

On the lighter side, slogan bearing t-shirts were commonplace, and one that got my eye read,

“PETA -  People for the Eating of Tasty Animals”

and on the other side,

“Vegetarian: ancient tribal slang for the village idiot who can’t hunt or fish.”

 

To maintain my street cred, I hung out with some real Bad Company out there on the street, but truth-be-known, it might be a stretch to call a group of AARP-eligible, white-haired, walker wielding old farts as in any way a threat to personal safety, other than their own, should they stumble on the stage and break a hip.

 

After we sucked as much sauce as possible and coated our hands and faces in the thick, sticky red stuff, we were able to share the remnants of our gluttony.

 

     please no more

 

As evidenced by our distended stomachs and the towering pile of spent napkins, as well as our moans of combined satiation and excessiveness, sometimes it is just not all that easy to curb the consumption.

 

     ok just one more

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Who needs a defense attorney? I’ll just bring in Exhibit “A,” my travel bible.

 

And by “travel bible,” I mean my beloved Rick Steves’ guidebook du country.

 

I will simply plead,

“Your Honour, Signor presidente della corte, Rick Steves made me do it.”

 

The crime being, if I get caught eating in the wrong public place.

 

     Old enough to know better?

 

I happened upon a New York Times article regarding a new law dealing with the heinous malfeasance of some people—and you know who you are—who enjoy picnicking in popular public places.

In other words, a kind of anti-torte tort.

“Members of Rome’s municipal police force were out on the Spanish Steps one warm autumn day, trolling for offenders, [and found] a baffled couple who had begun munching on an inoffensive-looking meal while sitting on the steps.”

“They were in violation — unwittingly, in all probability — of a municipal ordinance that went into force this month. The measure outlaws eating and drinking in areas of particular historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value.”

 

“Areas of particular historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value”…have you ever been to Europe?

Based on the many trips we have taken to multiple countries over there, the whole damn place reeks of historic, artistic, architectonic (whatever in the hell that is) and cultural value.

That’s why we go there in the first place!

 

        Doing the dirty on the Roman Steps

 

Ironically, arguably the guru of gallivanting around Europe, Rick Steves, has for years, been advocating picnicking in public places as a way of leveling out the Euro to U.S.D. exchange rate, in other words, eating on the cheap, while enjoying the ambience of the epitome of history, art, classic architecture and culture.

“One of my most memorable meals was actually a picnic munching my baguette with cheese and sipping [wine] in front of the cathedral; a life-is-good moment in front of the gorgeous Gothic church.”

“Picnics are a quintessential European experience. Though it’s still the cheapest way to eat in Europe, I don’t do it solely to save money, [but to] visit a favorite square, staircase, or fountain.”

 

See? Rick Steves did make me do it.

 

     Montmartre church

 

One memorable sandwich stop we enjoyed, was after we had taken the funicular up to the Basilica of Sacre-coeur in Montmartre, Paris, and found the charming Boulangerie Le Fournil du Village.

 

Since I don’t know what the statute of limitations is for this abhorrent violation, I won’t admit that we enjoyed our lunch while lounging on the steps of the famous church, let’s just say we weren’t alone in our crime spree.

 

     montmartre boulangerie

 

Interestingly, this issue is not limited to countries across the pond. Pending legislation in New York would attempt to curtail snacking while sightseeing via subway.

“A Democratic state senator has introduced legislation that would ban eating in the New York City subway system.”

Apparently, the idea of preventing noshing in New York outside the home has some historical baggage accompanying this proposed prevention.

“[It] harks back to racial and class stereotypes from the Victorian era. In those days, social reformers tried to crack down on working-class public eaters and food vendors by linking them to squalor, disease and shame.”

“The oyster stalls of downtown Manhattan were an assault on the family values of the dinner table. The “hot-corn girls” who sold their wares on the streets were no better than prostitutes. Public eating was a gateway sin that led to drinking and debauchery.”

 

An oyster is a gateway food? Who knew?

 

Given that Europe has history dating back before we were searching out those hot-corn girls on New York city streets, keep in mind that their attempts to control morality have lead to limited success.

“Rome has passed any number of bans against prostitutes, homeless people and men taking their shirts off in parks to sunbathe, [it was] noted, often to little effect.”

 

Frankly, if I was the Carabinieri Polizia I would be a lot more worried about me taking off my shirt in public than partaking of a panino in public.

 

Trust me, the former is far less an appetizing image.

 

     montmartre sandwiches

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Since my decidedly literary-lite high school and college days, I have often said that there was one particular book and one specific movie—seemingly with nothing in common—which made a lasting impression on my psyche; the book being Catch 22 and the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

 

The book, a satire based on real-life characters, was written by the Merry Prankster, Ken Kesey, and was a story based squarely in a mental ward, while the movie, staring Alan Arkin, took place in the European theater of World War II.

 

To me, there was an overriding theme in that what society thinks as insane may not be such, while what some think as an acceptable act, is quite insane.

 

In other words, the epiphany became that determination of saneness is subjective and open for personal interpretation.

 

To this day, I am not sure if that revelation made me feel better about myself and the world around me, or worse.

 

    This place was really radical.

 

How in the hell did I get to this point of sober introspection during a three-day visit to the beer capital of the Pacific Northwest—Portland, Oregon?

 

Well, it came to me in the night.

 

The wife-person and I tried out a bed & breakfast in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by the name of the Bluebird Guest House. As the wife-person made the reservation, I did not notice that each room was named, until I saw a copy of the aforementioned Ken Kesey’s iconic novel-cum-movie on the dresser, which lead to my discovery that we were in the room of the same name.

 

Then things really got weird, when I noticed an announcement in one of those free, weekly alternative street newspapers that we were in Portland during the weekend celebration of the 50th Anniversary of that book.  Given the literal life-changing impact it had on me during my impressionable youth, this made for a very strange coincidence.

 

(As an aside, many people think Kesey’s best-written novel was Sometimes a Great Notion, which was about the life of logging, a book that I read years ago while I was working in and around forestry and loggers.)

 

  Horse Brass pub

Having gotten past that short visit to the Twilight Zone, I was back on my goal to try out as many brewpubs that were pulling cask-conditioned ale, as humanly possibly in a three-day period.

 

The problem, this being Portland, there may be dozens (hundreds?) of this type of beer being poured, and I could only do so much for my mission.

 

Cask ales, for the uninitiated, is the typically British-style ale, which develops a natural carbonation in the beer cask, and is “pulled” by pumping the bar tap directly from the cask, without the need for added bubble-forming gas, hence a very smooth texture (kind of like a nitrogen-pumped Guinness, but even smoother). Contrary to the reputation of warm English beers, the cask ales are at, what is called, cellar temperature, which, yes, is not as cold as a refrigerated brew.

 

From what I can recall, I did make it to the Rose & Thistle, Rogue Ales, Horse Brass…and I cannot remember after that.

 

Among other obvious limitations to the gung ho guzzling deliberate sipping of these fine adult beverages, you can only take on more fluid as fast as you can…ah…eliminate the existing amount onboard.

 

Thankfully, I had also just read about a recent addition to the sophisticated culture of Portland: places to piss along the sidewalk.

          When you gotta go...

The Portland Loo is advertised as being, “family friendly and affordable.” I’m sorry, wife-person and daughters, but, personally…I’d just as soon be in there alone.

 

They are on Facebook and Twitter (would you expect less?) and they even post a map of their current locations.

 

I did not track them, but maybe they follow the food trucks as they drive around town. That would make sense.

 

And given all the brewpub fare I consumed while quaffing, I could have used a local loo between stops.

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I have been mulling over how to best prepare for a two-week, mostly walking tour of Ireland this fall.

 

With just a little mulling, I realized that the answer was as clear as my eyes after a night of overly exuberant imbibing.

 

Start drinking more beer and whiskey.

 

Oh yes, and a little physical conditioning might be in order. I wouldn’t want to end up with lateral epicondylitis (a.k.a. tennis elbow) from tipping all those pints along the path of the bucolic back roads of the storied emerald isle.

 

In a fortuitous convergence where I might benefit from a little exercise and simultaneously intensify my training regime for the consumption of copious quantities of fine Irish ales and whiskeys, I noticed an announcement for a fundraising event, which included a mere one-hour bike ride, but happened to start at one Irish pub and end at another Irish pub.

 

      The start looks a lot like the finish.

 

It sounded to me like a bicycling version of the Hash Hound Harriers, you know, it would be “drinkers with a bicycling problem.”

 

AND…given that this was to be a fundraising event, it should be a tax write-off, as well.

 

That’s what I would call a win – win – win situation (or as Charlie Sheen would just say “winning”).

 

So, as soon as I saw the event flyer, I got online and paid my entry fee, and then eagerly awaited my “Ireland trip training session.”

 

What I did not anticipate was that I would end up scheduling an elective medical procedure before the bike ride that required an inordinate amount of body depilation. (Read on and you’ll figure out what that word means.)

 

All I know is that I went to sleep on a hospital bed with my luxurious coat of resplendent body hair intact, but I awoke a few hours later with a distinct pattern of shearing, which exposed surprisingly smooth, lily-white skin not seen for the last 60 years.

 

I believe the description of the pattern of hair removal is otherwise known as a Brazilian.

 

While under the drunken-like stupor of the so-called conscious sedation medication, I seem to recall my male nurse, Gabriel, hovering over my hinter regions, shaver in hand. I can only hope and pray I do not see myself—or certain portions of myself—on YouTube anytime in the foreseeable future, with emphasis on the seeable.

 

While no one in a million years would ever confuse me with Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish (my hair is darker), I do go out on these bike rides replete in my body conforming spandex.

 

    I did not know they named a bike tire after me.

 

Having large swaths of certain areas covered by my spandex bike shorts, while I’m sporting two-week old stubble down there, does not make for an enjoyable level of comfort, while my bum skooches side-to-side on the bike saddle, mile-after-mile on a long road course.

 

I’m pretty sure there will be nothing in Ireland involving this type of uncomfortable activity, except maybe when I am skooching the bar stool a little closer to my glorious pint of Guinness and wee dram of Jameson 18 yr.

 

 

    I try to pack the ride load.

 

I can only hope my level of training will be up to the task of the glass in hand.

 

Sláinte!

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It was supposedly my call, so I chose water (for the kayaks) and beer (for me).

 

The fam let me decide where to spend Father’s Day weekend, so we loaded the kayaks on the roof racks and headed up to the Sierra’s…the Sierras?…the Sierra?…the Sierra Nevada’s?…whatever.

 

Our first stop was the Truckee River, west of Reno, where we encountered some strange creek-side critters. 

 

       riverside creature

 

We did not launch the boats on the Truckee, as the primary purpose of this stop was to ditch the dog—I mean, leave the beloved family pooch under the loving care of the kids—as the wife-person and I had a pressing lunch engagement at a brand new brewery, 80 miles to the north in downtown Susanville.

 

And, by “pressing” I mean that I was getting really thirsty for a nice cold beer.

 

Susanville is a smallish city where the Great Basin desert runs smack into the visually imposing eastside of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This Lassen County seat of government reveals too many boarded up businesses, which reflects more optimistic moments in time.

 

The main drag (other than the wicked winters, with temps well down in the minuses) is appropriately named “Main Street,” and is really the only main street in the entire town.

 

Back in the day, logging was the industry that provided the livelihood for many hardy souls, whether those willing to risk life and limb out in the woods, or those putting in long shifts working around the massive machines in the lumber mills, which converted huge trees to lumber, all to meet the demand for the once-prosperous housing market.

 

Nowadays, the primary industry of the county is the incarceration of felony offenders of the law, in not one, not two, but three so-called correctional institutions—two state prisons and one federal penitentiary. Supposedly, one third of the entire 35,000 county residents reside behind bars, who are supposedly not drinking beer.

 

This is not to be confused with the number of non-incarcerated individuals who might spend significant time in the bars, and can drink all the beer they want. (Well, at least until the wife-persons call and tell them to get their sorry asses home.)

    pioneer sign

Like many rural towns that had heydays of high employment, especially in those high-risk occupations, Susanville has had more than its share of watering holes offering whiskey, beer, and various other liquid, stress-relieving spirits.

 

The oldest established business in Susanville is said to be the Pioneer Bar, which was established back in 1862, and as of more recent times, is the location for an expansive brewpub, where the beer is well made, and welcomingly consumed.

 

The Lassen Ale Works at the Pioneer Saloon (which may be in the running for the longest brewery name anywhere, except maybe Germany, where I have seen words so long they run onto the next page) has at least a half dozen microbrews on tap, plus an imaginative pub menu that includes a few out-of-the-ordinary offerings, such as their lamb dip.

 

As this blog post has already exceeded the word limit attention span of the majority of my reading audience for this site (which I believe is often attained shortly past the blog post title) you will have to wait for me to get to the kayaking part of this story.

 

Oh well, I had to decide between physical exertion of paddling in the scorching sun, up in the high desert sky, or drinking beer.

 

The beer won.

 

But, I can promise wild life stories next time, which will include actual photographs of strange hairy animals.

 

      odd lady

 

      odd horse

 

No, not these. I’m talking Sasquatchish hairy.

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I once heard,

“You should only drink because you want a drink…not because you need a drink.”

 

I have always assumed that this was, somehow, to make sure you did not have a drinking problem.

 

(Of course, the definition of a “drinking problem” may be somewhat subjective, depending on your personal position on the consumption of alcohol, in general, and your particular level of sobriety, at the specific time this topic comes up.)

 

For me, there are times where I might wish to pack my own adult beverage, should the need arise where I might want a drink.

 

Often this need…I mean, want, might occur during recreational activities at certain remote locations, as on whitewater wilderness raft trips, ocean sailing adventures, or backcountry skiing treks.

 

      Drink this way.

 

Another application for ambulant alcohol might be to avoid those exorbitant prices they charge at sporting events, such as—hypothetically speaking—the professional major league baseball game I attended yesterday.

 

Only hypothetically speaking, of course.

 

The fact is that I have been known to carry a flask full of my spirits du jour. Depending how far out I’m going, or how long the particular sporting event might last, I have multiple flask sizes, as appropriate for the specific need.

 

Dammit, I mean, want.

 

  You can never have too many choices.

 

Yes, the small one is smaller than my iPod Nano.

 

And, yes, the big one is big—a half-gallon big—for when you really, really want a drink!

 

Obviously, some of those flasks are more concealable than others.

“Is that a half-gallon flask in your pants, or a 100-pound scrotum?”

 

Beyond the need vs. want a drink conundrum, I think I finally have the scientific support I have been seeking to explain to the wife-person why I often wish to BYOFFB (Bring Your Own Flask of Favorite Booze).

 

Medical experts from University of Illinois recently reported,

“Men who drink two pints of beer before tackling brain teasers perform better than those who attempt the riddles sober, scientists have found. The current research represents the first demonstration of alcohol’s effect on creative problem solving.”

 

Now that I have the medical and scientific support to justify maintaining a boozy buzz while navigating a black diamond ski run, or trying to figure out why the ump just called a terrible pitch to my favorite player as a strike, there are times where packing a rigid, metal flask is problematic, either logistically or regulatory.

 

Not to worry anymore. Alert reader Tom H. recently sent me a link to a website that has come up with the perfect solution for this dilemma.

 

Freedom Flask, LLC, has developed a soft, plastic pouch and holds 32-ounces of your favorite adult beverage.

 

The simple design ensures that this inconspicuous pouch only adds a little more girth to your existing tummy pooch.

 

The short, 45-second video below demonstrates the simplicity of this clever creation that has men everywhere scratching their heads, wondering why they did not come up with this idea years ago.

 

 

The only problem may be for those of us who are getting on in age and seem to have a need (and, I do mean a need) to make frequent trips to eliminate liquid from previous consumption of various beverages.

 

We just better make dang sure which “nozzle” we are pouring from before we fill our drinking glass, especially if we are suffering from a level of impaired judgment from the consumption of beverages which list percentage proof on the label.

 

An error here would result in a drink I certainly do not want and definitely do not need.

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