April 28, 2012
If You Are A Runner, Reblog THIS.

(Source: ra-ramuri, via openrun)

March 14, 2012
Ben's Top Ten Beers

When I drink some new and exciting beer I regularly say, “Oh yeah, this is in my top ten for sure!” I have kept a vague list trapped in some dark cerebral dimension, but I’ve decided I need to make it official - I do love some beers more than others. Now, when I say something belongs in my top ten, what I am saying is that the beer has managed to knock one of these mystically near perfect beautiful delicious beers out of my absolute favorite top ten beers.

March 5, 2012
A new Taste review on Carnal Fare

Vancouver, BC - The District - Spent an evening here for a bachelor party. Wow, the beer list is excellent. This is where I first tried my desert island beer… If I were trapped on a desert island and I could only have one beer to drink… Saxo Blonde Ale, from Brasserie Caracole - Falmignoul, Belgium. The steak et frites were fantastic too. If you are looking for a place to hang out for a night in the greater Vancouver area, this is the perfect place to talk, eat, and drink.

August 31, 2011
A Circuitous Love Letter to Service: Ric’s Grill – Kamloops, BC

Tonight at Ric’s Grill, a forty-dollar per steak steakhouse in Kamloops, my wife and I browsed a wine list and chatted with friends. Our friends ordered a bottle of California zin that we were not sold on; we had tried a previous vintage and found it overly punchy and poorly integrated. The conversation shifted a little when, after browsing for fifteen or twenty minutes, my wife and I couldn’t find a wine we wanted to order.

            One of our friends at the table, a wine enthusiast from Kelowna, began talking about the greatness of BC wine. We nodded in agreement keen to talk about some of our favorite wineries in the Okanagan – Painted Rock, Foxtrot, Cedar Creek, Sandhill’s Small Lots… “Wouldn’t it be great to see a few more great local wines in local restaurants?” we proposed. Everyone at the table agreed. It’s a matter of local pride. It’s a matter of supporting local economies and businesses that we care about. It’s not a hard sentiment to agree with if the wines are enjoyable.

            After debating over the wine list, and deciding we weren’t going to order wine, since the only two things on the list we were interested in tasting ended up being out of stock (Note to restaurants: update your wine lists or keep things in stock), we decided to drink beer instead. Luckily, there were a few locally brewed ales on tap.

            With our healthy and hedonistic appetites, by the time we got around to ordering our meals we were quite hungry and eager for the food to arrive. We had heard good things from some people at our table who had eaten at Ric’s before, and our server praised the food quality at the restaurant and recommended two dishes to us. We each ordered one of the two and our soon food arrived. The lobster and crab may well have been made out of actual rubber. I could barely chew through it, and when I did I was left with a slimy dirty tasteless gum deposited throughout the flesh of my mouth and in my teeth.

            Both my wife and I ordered surf and turf type meals, forgetting for a minute that just because a restaurant charges more, it doesn’t mean that the fish is ordered fresh daily, or even bi-weekly as seemed to be the case at this restaurant. The steak was chewy and flavorless. I ordered mine rare, and my wife ordered hers medium rare. They both came somewhere between medium-well and well done. My stuffed baked potato tasted as though it was cooked over burning asparagus. My shrimp and crab in cognac sauce had zero seafood taste. My wife could hardly even stand the smell of her plate. I know that wrinkled up nose look well. When I asked her what she thought she said, “Well, the rice is okay.”

            For the sake of the argument I will over simplify my thoughts on the evening. I’ll say that there are two schools of thought in restaurant management. The first is all about having an eye for detail. Portions are smaller and the food prices are higher. This is because the customers understand that they are paying for the freshest ingredients and the most talented chefs, while the restaurateurs pay more for those ingredients and those talented chefs while still doing their best to cover rent for a prime location, the best china, often seating fewer people over the course of a dinner rush, and making diners feel like royalty at ever turn. This means that there has to be sufficient markup on the exquisite food to ensure the profitability of the enterprise.

            Having worked in the restaurant industry, spoken to a number of owners and employees about this dynamic, and having crunched a few numbers myself, I’ll just say trust me, those prices which many people don’t trust, barely make having a restaurant like this profitable. The market and consumers will only bear certain costs. If you want to make easy money, a high-end restaurant is probably the last business you want to open. This attention to detail oriented restaurant was not the kind of restaurant that we were in.

            The second kind of restaurant – and again this is an over simplification – has a go big or go home philosophy. A few people ordered ribs at our table. The ribs came on a foot long plate that could barely hold them – think Fred Flintstone. Dry, boney, fluorescent red, tasteless ribs styled with the fallacy of bigger = better. I see a couple of problems here. To make this kind of dining profitable for the restaurant there is a cost cutting formula that is commonly employed. Big shipments of less fresh products are stored for longer periods of time, slathered in cheap sauces to disguise the taste and are cooked by inexperienced chefs who defaulted into the career rather than being led by passion for, or sometimes even interest in, food. Less attention is paid to the details.             Corporate headquarters often set these restaurant’s themes, menus and the shipping dates without attention to much of anything but cost. There is also significant variation between managers’ approach to cleanliness in such enterprises. An example of what I mean – my brother in-law once worked at a pizza kitchen chain that had flooding sewage on the floor in the kitchen while they served big cheesy pizzas. His manager, apparently thought that although the sewage was a temporary annoyance, this was just fine. The formula amounts to something like, who cares what we serve so long as we have a steep return on investment.

            The dining public is not totally uninformed. Diners with only pocket change left in the world still have taste. Hunger often facilitates specific tastes, and definitely makes decent or great food taste better. Remember that roommate who found six day old takeout and powered through it exclaiming, “This is amazing, what do you think they put in this?” Some corporate headquarters do better at enforcing standards, planning menus and putting fresh ingredients on the plate. Some beginning chefs have great talent. My wife and I however, were not dining in that kind of place.

            The rest of our table ordered a couple of bottles of wine, while my wife and I opted out of wine for the entire evening. With a few less than ideal (some non-VQA) BC wines on the list I began to worry that I had offended our friends who are enthusiastic supporters of BC wine. I do like to support BC wineries, but there are a few who produce quite a large variety of wines of significantly varied quality, and the BC wines on this list were wines I had tasted recently on tasting tours. I happened to know that these wines were bottom of the barrel wines, and I wasn’t excited to pay 200% markup for them.

            To illustrate how I felt about the wine list, let me return to my over simplified dichotomy. Many of the best vineyards world-wide are not producing heaps and heaps of wine. In fact, there is a direct relationship between crop yield and the intentions of a winemaker – selecting only the best grapes improves the wine, lowers the total yield of a vintage, and increases the value of the wine. The amount of time spent on each vine goes up since crop thinning requires regular delicate maintenance and crop thinning in a climate like BC ensures that grapes ripen fully. The attention given to pruning leaves, dropping fruit, and growing vines is a meticulous endeavor, especially when you are creating masterful wine. The planning, planting and growing of vines takes a minimum of three years to produce wine in itself.

            Even cork is a consideration – cork is expensive, but a longer cork means less oxygen sits in the bottle with the wine – this means that each bottle of wine has a better chance of improving slowly as it waits in the vineyards cellar or restaurant cellar. Cellar time also means a great deal in terms of cost. Not every grape is meant to mature over a decade, but several are much better when they do.

            The tannins in a big Cabernet Sauvignon focused blend, or wine of another similar varietal, require at least a few years in barrel and bottle before they soften into peak form. That means that either the vineyard or the restaurant must pay for the storage of these superior and aging wines. In relation to the cellaring time, the wine’s tannins must also to be considered. A wine maker must decide whether to purchase state of the art destemming machinery, employ someone with the know how to make a great wine that includes stems, or pay for the labour required to carefully destem. They must also decide to pay for the labour and technology to either press down the must (solids that sit at the top of fermenting juice which give wine its colour and tannins among other things, which allow for longer aging) or cycle the fermenting juice through an expensive, extremely low oxygen system to sink the must without crushing seeds and other solids that produce a different tasting tannin. I will assume that you are with me on the ‘time and attention equals cost’ equation now.

            Again, the market and the consumer will only bear a certain cost. The markup of expensive wines in restaurants is almost always significantly lower than the markup of less expensive wines. That means that a vineyard which produces wine of a higher caliber, no matter how much attention they pay to detail, has to keep prices reasonable so that the people selling the wine have a chance to make a profit.

            On the other side of the attention/cost equation, there are wines produced with the go big or go home philosophy. In this case a lot of under-ripe berries are left on the vines to maximize yield, which is usually measured in a ratio that indicates the size of the vineyard in relation to the number of tons of berries and therefore liters of wine. Less attention is afforded to fermentation and bottling. Lower costs and a higher volume of wine mean a bigger budget for branding and marketing while also allowing for a pervasive presence in the market – which does its own bit in terms of advertising. Take a look at the amount of Yellowtail or Wolf Blass in a giant purveyor of alcohol like Ontario’s LCBO for example. I have seen LCBO stores with full isles devoted to either brand – they are hard to miss.

            This kind of market presence makes buying wine easy. Consumers often feel comfortable buying something that they are familiar with. As a case study in this dynamic lets look outside of the wine world to beer. Anhieser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser claims over 49 % of the American beer market, spends over $800,000,000 a year in advertising, and lines the shelves of virtually every beer store with Bud, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime (they now also line the shelves with Stella Artois and Becks among others) – go big or go home – the thoroughly reinforced ‘easy choice’ can make a brand very successful.

            So as long as Canadian consumers can pay less and choose those brands they are comfortable with, the go big or go home philosophy will dominate the market and quality differences will be tolerated. Let me contradict myself for a second. As a recent graduate I am not entirely against this market trend. On a tight budget this trend allows me to pick from a number of inexpensive wines, beers, and restaurants. The dichotomy I have set up is far too simple to form the basis for complex consumer decisions. I love variety, and I love hunting for products that exceed my expectations for the price I pay for them. Also, there are certainly products I splurge on that don’t live up to my expectations. There is more to it than my simple dichotomy. There is nothing wrong with spending less to get a product you want, but I am careful about the products I choose, review and endorse, and as my familiarity with a variety of products and experiences accrues, I become more discerning when it comes to my interests. It’s simple, I know more about what I want, as does anyone who takes the time, energy and when buying stuff, a percentage of their income, to learn what they like.

            The spending habits of individual consumers change and thereby change the marketplace. Macleans Magazine reported that Canadians consumed 22.5 per cent more wine between 2005 and 2009, and that wine consumption in Canada is expected to grow another 19 per cent by 2014. As Canadians drink more wine, individual consumers will become familiar with more brands, more varietals, and different qualities of wine. One night of subtle splurging, one bottle brought to a dinner party, or one trip to a little vineyard that produces elegant small lot wines can change a wine consumer forever. If you can’t afford to spend forty or fifty dollars a bottle, but you know there is something out there that is better than the twelve dollar bottle you usually buy, maybe you will look for a different ten or twelve dollar bottle, or maybe you’ll plan to afford the occasional more pricey bottle.

            So here I am sitting in the restaurant which unfortunately falls into neither side of my over simplified dichotomy. It isn’t cheap, and it isn’t good. The wine list actually frustrates me and I am growing steadily aware that our choice to skip wine, when there are BC options on the list, is a little frustrating to our friends. I contemplate explaining the things that are going on in my mind. I love BC wine, especially wine from those places that are producing award winning vintages along side old world wines that have been cherished for generations – who are doing so through attention to detail – who demonstrate their passion for making a great product – who have goals other than turning a big profit. However, I am making somewhere between $40,000 and $999,000 less per year than my dinner companions, and I am feeling disinclined to appear to be lecturing on taste, however pro-BC-wine my intentions might actually be, and however happy I am that they are enjoying their meals.

            I simply get up to find the washroom, and in my oh so Canadian way, apologize to the waitress for pulling her aside, apologize for my wife and I not liking any of the food on either of our plates, apologize for covertly talking with her so as to not disturb our friends enjoyment, and silently hold my breath to see if she is pissed off or (hopefully) concerned that the restaurant is serving what is quite possibly toxic seafood. Thankfully, she offers to get us something else and sincerely apologizes, and when she sees that my wife and I have lost our appetites, she doesn’t hesitate to take our dinners off of the final bill. If nothing else on this occasion, Ric’s Grill has got one thing right, keep your serving staff happy enough that they are sincerely concerned about the food and the restaurant’s reputation and offer genuine customer service, even if their food is missing the mark.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Spain - Day 6

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

MB and I have compiled a list of our top five tapas so far in Spain:

5. Our homemade tapenade at the Villa Mimosa

4. Fried baby cuttlefish at mystery café on the beach at Calpe

3. Anduluzan Gazpacho with aioli at Tartuga in Moraira

2. Stuffed eggplant from a street vendor in Valencia

1. Stewed cow tongue at El Molinion in Valencia.

Valencia is a very welcoming place, but I must admit that it has taken a while to get used to the rhythms of Spanish life. Everyone warned us about the siestas and the late nights, but it doesn’t really make sense until you get here and experience it. It’s so strange to be in a place where seemingly everything is closed at 2PM, but open at 2AM. What’s also strange is seeing the amount of beer, wine and sherry consumed at 9 in the morning. Almost everyone has an alcoholic beverage at breakfast! Having said that, drunken people are few and far between.

Tomorrow we go upscale at a restaurant called Seu Xerea. This afternoon - back at the market.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Spain - Steak - Day 5

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

We spent the following morning – I think it was Sunday - lazing about our pool. It was very hot, but by noon we tore ourselves away from our aquatic oasis to find some BEEF!  I’ve been reading a book called Steak written by a Canadian journalist named Mark Schatzker. His goal in this excellently written piece of non-fiction is to find the holy grail of beefdom: the perfect steak. Though Schatzker does not visit Spain on his carnivorous pilgrimage, he does, in his chapter on Italian beef, make reference to the fact that American food writer/critic Jeffery Steingarten’s favourite steak ever was consumed in no other land than Espania. If that wasn’t enough to get me fired up, it turned out that the source of Steingarten’s “steak of all steaks” was an ox, known locally as buey. Buey is a castrated ox that is over four years of age. The following is a series of excerpts from Steingarten’s article in Vogue.

“Three years ago, my wife and I were driving around Basque country in northern Spain, and we stopped at an asador, a restaurant specializing in grilling and roasting meat over aromatic wood and charcoal fires. When we had polished off a beautiful chuleta (a chop, which is what the Spanish call a bone-in rib steak), the owner-chef boasted that his meat had come from an eight-year-old buey from the region of Galicia in northwest Spain; the animal had worked all its life and had been fed both grass and grain throughout. As the chef was speaking in Basque and his sous chef was translating into French, I was sure I had misunderstood. And so I spent the next 10 minutes cross-examining him until I became convinced at last that, yes, I had stumbled upon a seriously major and novel gastronomic phenomenon, both revolutionary and earthshaking, and probably outmoded at the same time…
I read everything I could find, which was nothing, and questioned everyone I could think of. My curiosity mounted into a preoccupation, and then into an obsession. Relief finally arrived a year later in the form of Lydia Itoi, a Japanese-American friend who writes about food and travel for the European edition of Time. Lydia introduced me to two of her Spanish friends who had been to a remarkable rural restaurant named Bodega El Capricho (“The Whim”), which specializes in serving the meat of aged bueyes and even cows. One of them, Pedro Espinosa, is an IT executive who also writes a weekly restaurant review for El Mundo, Spain’s second-most-popular newspaper; his friend, Rogelio Enríquez, had blogged about the same restaurant on his own gastronomy site, pistoynopisto.com. Over the following six months we formulated a plan. I would fly from New York to Bilbao, where I would meet up with Pedro. After three days of dining at several of Spain’s leading asadores, we would drive most of the way across northern Spain and eat a buey at El Capricho…
There was a chuleta from a 12-year-old Rubia Gallega ox, then a smaller chop from a 14-year-old Mirandesa, a more diminutive breed. The very apogee was a vast chuletón (a gigantic chuleta) that draped across the platter and onto the table, taken from a massive 16-year-old Rubia Gallega. This was the animal we had been promised weeks before, and it was probably the greatest steak I’ve ever eaten.”

Okay, so it’s important at this point to explain the way my disturbingly small mind works. 
I read something like that and there’s no holding me back - I’m hell-bent on sourcing that food. Today would be the day… 

The search for perfect steak continues…

So today MB and I set out to find my long lost buey. I expected a drawn out affair involving numerous phone calls and back-street deals, but on our first stop at Pepe Las Sal I found it. When I asked the butcher for a culetta of buey, he looked at me with a healthy mix of admiration and envy. I mean this stuff was going for 36 Euros a kilo! It was great to see the way he handled the meat – like he was serving me his first born child. (Hmm, I didn’t really mean that, Abi.) I then spotted a gorgeous T-bone roast off of which I ordered a 1 and ½ inch thick steak. Again, he looked at me with a kind of respect that I’ll not soon forget. When I pointed at the steak and asked “Al a Espania?” he replied with an incomprehensible missive of such passion and directness that I could only assume that the steak was indeed of Spanish descent and for me to think otherwise surely cast me into the lot of Hungarian businessmen and thieving gypsies.

I cooked the steaks on our trusty charcoal BBQ at an intense heat. Essentially there were three cuts: the buey strip loin, the tenderloin of the T-bone and the wing of the T-bone. I was amazed at the diversity of taste and texture the three offered. The buey was very lean, and when raw smelled more pungently of beef than anything I’ve experienced. That beefyness certainly carried over to its flavour – it wasn’t gamey by any means, but it had a much more intense flavour than what I’m used to in strip loin. Unfortunately, the buey – cooked to just beyond rare – was not particularly tender. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t the Eureka moment Steingarten experienced. Perhaps in the hands of a more serious Asidor (BBQ) chef, the cut would have become “The Buey in the Bright White Sports Car”. By contrast, the loin of the T-bone was remarkably tender – a plastic knife would have been ample for carving. Beyond the melting tenderness, however, the steak proved rather bland.  Certainly, compared to the buey, the loin was like sipping on a glass of hay-soaked water. The wing of the T-bone turned out to be the star of the evening – tender, juicy and tasting of something real. I oooed and ahhhed as I savoured each morsel. We paired the beef with a bottle of tempranillo from Rioja – intense and smoky.

If there was a second star to the meal it was the heap of broad beans we cooked as a side. It was our second feed of these buttery green gems that are seemingly in season right now (I only assume that because they are available in great abundance everywhere). My goodness, they are tasty! It sort of reminds me of PEI where you think you’re going for the lobster, but you soon realize that it’s all about the potatoes. I know it sounds pathetic, but so far the broad beans have stolen the show when it comes to Spanish cuisine (and we’ve eaten some wonderful food!)

Beyond the food (as if…), things are going very well. Driving has gotten much easier. I’m comfortable with the narrow, windy roads and I’ve even mastered the roundabouts (just watch out for the locals, they don’t believe in the concept of lanes). The only thing I’m not used to is the tendency for Spanish traffic engineers to paint large white arrows on the road pointing TOWARD you as you drive! There have been numerous instances where I’ve come out of a chaotic roundabout and find myself confronted by a big white arrow pointing directly at me. Inevitably, MB and I have a momentary flip out where we’re certain that we’ve somehow managed to get into the opposite lane and are about to be crushed by an oncoming delivery truck. It passes when we remember that we’re in Spain, but it makes for a near bowel-cleansing rush!

It’s very hot here – yesterday was sweltering. However, our villa is on a hill facing the Mediterranean so we get a nice breeze off the sea. This also makes for great sleeping. I know we didn’t come all the way to Spain to sleep, but when I hit those sheets it’s like I’m shedding angst (lesson plans, practices, meetings etc.) that took root last November. It’s a nice feeling to finally just relax and let go.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Spain - Calpe - Day 4

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

Yesterday MB and I decided to brave the windy roads and head down the coast to the city of Calpe. If you could look at all the pics we’ve sent from Moraira, Calpe is the city filled with high-rises in the background. Though I was feeling some trepidation about the drive, it turned out be a very easy trip. The beaches in Calpe were beautiful. Lovely white sand and huge waves - I almost lost my shorts! We stopped for some tapas at a beachside café called Restaurante El Paseo - croquettes, deep fried calamari and some Andalusian Gazpacho. All were very tasty, but not otherworldly. On the way home we stopped at a market called La Fustera (which, for all I know, could mean “the place where we rip off gringos”) and bought some questo campanello cheese (local & very creamy) and some Iberico ham.

Now, a little background about how cured ham works in Spain… Serrano ham is made from normal commercial white pigs and is salted then cured/aged from 6 to 18 months. The longer the cure the more pronounced and complex the flavours. Iberico ham is cured ham made from the native Iberico pigs of Spain. These pigs are descendents of wild boars common to Iberia. There are three grades of Iberico ham: The finest is called Imberico de Bellota which is finished on a diet of only wild acorns and is aged for up to 3 years; the next is jambon iberico de recibo which is ham finished on a combination of acorns and grain and is aged from 1 to 3 years; finally there’s jambon iberico de cebo which is raised and finished on grains alone and is again aged for 1 to 3 years.

 Ours was of the de cebo ilk and cost about 55 Euros a kilo so I had to settle for only 100 grams. It was well worth the cost! It was very interesting to note the difference between the taste of the fat which still had hints of green meaty mould on its rind - almost like an earthy blue cheese – “hints of Stilton”, suggests MB - and the meat - sort of like meltingly soft bacon-flavoured candy. For dinner we supplemented the ham and cheese with some pickle-stuffed olives (I think the inventor of this cocktail was feeling a bit randy), some coarse & hearty store-made pate and some baby potatoes fried with whole garlic and spinach. We washed this down with a local red made of 100% tempranillo grapes which was delicious and cost less than 2 Euros!

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Valencia - Day 3

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

 Day three in Spain was dotted with dips in the pool, a trip to the beach and a foray into Moraira to visit a more upscale market called Pepe La Sal. My goal today was to get more of that tuna and to check out the range of shrimp available to those fickle about fish. As you can see by the picture, we weren’t disappointed. We got some gambol (large whole shrimp), some king prawns and a dozen “things” that sort of looked like shrimp, but reminded me of something purchased in District 9. To be honest, I couldn’t tell which end was the head. Regardless, I tossed them all in olive oil and garlic then cued ‘em up in the fish basket. When they were done, I tossed them in garlic butter and we ate hard! All three offered unique flavour, but had a certain sweetness in common. The alien larva was particularly sweet (I must admit that as I’m writing this, the thought of more seafood has me a bit queasy). The tuna – same thickness, but cooked for only a minute per side was stunning. We had the cava with this meal and its sweet crispness was a nice compliment to the buttery quality of the shrimp.

This morning we went to the weekly market – more like a bazaar - in Moraira that features all sorts of touristy stuff as well as local produce. We’d planned on eating light so I grabbed a few tomatoes, baby potatoes and avocados (plus more beer at Mas y Mas).  Tonight I made a frittata of the potatoes, Serrano ham, sweet pickled peppers, onions and eggs. As a side I cooked up a big batch of broad beans I grabbed at the market. Both were delicious paired with a salad of lovely big tomatoes and avocado and a bottle of Libertario from the region of La Mancha made with 100% Tempranillo grapes.  Yummy.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Valencia - Day 2

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

The day after our arrival, we slept in until noon. When we finally did get up, we had several dips in our pool and made plans to get some provisions in Moraira. The owner of our villa suggested we check out Mas y Mas which is the Spanish equivalent of Loblaws or Safeway. Amongst other things we grabbed our first haul of Serrano ham, a chunk of locally made Manchego cheese, a 1.5 inch slab of fresh tuna, a whole monkfish and two bottles of wine at frighteningly low prices: a 2006 Gran Feudo Crianza which features Spain’s famed Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes and a Rondell Cava, Spain’s version of champagne.

When we got home and unpacked our groceries, we made our first trek to our local beach. It took only ten minutes on foot, but my calf muscles were still screaming from the hills we had to conquer to get there. Moraira is famous for the beauty of its big beaches, but ours is a tiny alcove frequented mostly by people from the surrounding neighbourhoods. We spent enough time for MB to cool off and for me to get very pink.

By the time we got home we were tired, hungry and thirsty. The Serrano was oinking to me from the fridge: “Eat me you big pink Gringo!” So I did. And it was sooooo good. Hints of smoke, almonds and honey mingled in the salty meat and the thick ribbons of fat melted on my tongue like a pork rind flavoured popsicle – hey, that’s a good idea! The cheese was lovely – sort of like a very milky tasting cheddar. For our main dinner I cooked the fish on our charcoal BBQ. I prepped them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lots of fresh garlic. The monkfish was nice (cooked in a fish basket), but the tuna was spectacular. I gave it 2 minutes per side (a bit too long) and it came off the grill tasting like beef tenderloin. We drank the Gran Feudo which sort of fought against the monkfish, but paired nicely with the tuna.

MB and I were so tired that we basically passed out after the meal and awoke the next morning with dribs of butter and fish bits all over us.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

August 31, 2011
Letters from Valencia - Day 1 (Sort of…)

Fellow foodie Sam Miller writes home from Spain — food, drink, and travel stories.

It’s 2:30 AM on July 13th and we’ve just arrived at our villa in Moraira which is located on the Costa Blanca equidistant between Valencia and Alicante. My wife, Maribeth, and I are  dog-tired as what was originally booked as a 10 hour, one-connection trip became a 29 hour ordeal thanks to Air Canada’s  unfailing ability to fail.

It started off with a 4 hour delay at Pearson due to “mechanical difficulties”. This meant we missed our noon Zurich connection to Valencia. So, because there were no other flights to Valencia, we were given a Zurich-Madrid-Valencia combo special. Unfortunately, our flight out of Madrid was delayed by 2 hours so we made it to the car rental outlet at 11:58PM (they close at midnight!). By this time, I was so jangled and travel drunk that Sergio talked me into upgrading to a BMW. What the hell I say. Having found the vehicle, we then spent the next  30 minutes trying to get the car out of the Hertz car park. I hadn’t slept a single minute in my Air Canada pygmy seat (I’m 6’6” and about 235 lbs.) so I was deliriously tired. Seriously, I was driving down what we thought were lanes that aren`t even lanes at all – in retrospect I should have known because  they were  narrow, lined with concrete berms and when I drove near them a skinny man in a coveralls screamed “NO, NO, NO, you loco Gamba!“. And as I was doing so, the Beamer`s “You`re gonna hit something” beeper kept going off cause I was like inches from destroying this perfect car before I even got it on the road (it has fewer than 1000 km on it). When we finally emerged from el obstaclaco course and got on the highway, we missed our exit and, because THERE ARE SO FEW EXITS!!!,  headed straight for downtown Valencia… which is where I encounter my first Indy-level hell-fire traffic  circle. I freaked so bad I thought I was going to barf. We ended up getting lucky and - despite what seemed like a thousand near misses - got back on the highway we came in on. So we drove the 20 km back to the airport to get a second chance to get the right exit to go down the coast. BUT WE MISSED IT AGAIN!!!! So we ended up in a desolate industrial park filled with old buildings, dead bodies (probably) and hundreds of rabbits - seriously, they were everywhere. After going through about ten desolate traffic cicles in the middle of nowhere, we finally took one that got us back onto the main highway going to… yes, Valencia! “OHMYGAWD,” I blurt “we`re going to end up back on the Indy traffic circle!” And we did! Just think, we were so sleep deprived that we thought it was a good, rational idea to drive 20 km back into Valencia to go on a killer traffic circle just so we could turn around and get the right exit which was another 20 km up the road. And guess what? It worked! We finally got the right highway down the coast. So there we were in our Beamer, doing 80 kph (that’s reallllllly slow) because I`m close to hallucinating with lack of sleep and stress. The next 95 K was fairly uneventful, but seemed like driving from Kingston to Winnipeg.

Then came the drive from the highway to our villa. Hmm… how do I describe this road… this road makes a hair pin look like a finishing nail. It got so absurd that Maribeth and I started to alternate between bouts of terror-filled panic and laughing fits. Alas we finally made it to our villa and our host had left us a bottle of local red and three cold Heineken (consumed in record time).

Now this may come  across as sounding a bit negative, but I have to say that we encountered enough gracious, kind, curious and forgiving people in this single, absurd day that it sort of made it all worthwhile. Travelling is weird that way, isn’t it?  And when we finally did step out onto the balcony of our villa a hot Mediterranean breeze infused with scents of ginger and peppercorn (can you tell I like to eat?) greeted us and made us instantly forget the trials of that arduous and excessively eventful journey. Tonight we’ll sleep well.

(Source: carnalfare.weebly.com)

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