Archive for June, 2007

Norway or the Highway

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

The Scandinavian seige continues.  I brought back some goodies from my trip to Norway.  The always enjoyable Jen and Gabe came over, along with their lovely and charming friends Kat and Lara for a little dinner the other night.  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were here visiting too.  We served our soon-to-be-world-famous pizza-ettes and I put out some hummus and broccoli.  I brought back a bottle of Norwegian Linie Aquavit from the duty free shop in Denmark.  It’s a “white distilled potato spirit flavored with caraway and herbs.”  I was expecting it to taste like jet fuel, but it was actually quite nice (in small sips).  J&G brought a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc too. 

gut our bottle

Then, Cati downed the whole bottle in three gulps and flew into a violent rage, like a Berserker.   Ya shoulda seen it!

lovely gals

more lovelies

Gabe, all high licorice

Then we busted out some Norwegin licorice called Turkish Pepper.  This stuff is hard candy black licorice with an ammonium chloride center.  It tastes shockingly bitter and salty at the same time.  When I first tried the stuff about 8 years ago, I had to spit it out.  But now, I kinda like it.  It’s a pretty hardcore flavor for those of us who grew up on super-sweet American candy.  Here are some of the faces that were made when eating the Norwegian candy:

gagging

“Norwegian kids eat this crap?”

I redeemed myself for subjecting my poor guests to the licorice, by busting out some Kinder Surprise eggs. 

Also, I brought back some salt cured leg-of-lamb and smoked reindeer sausage.  The lamb looks like jamon serrano, but doesn’t taste like it.  You can definitely taste the stronger lamb flavor.  Luckily for us, Nacho doesn’t mind at all.  The reindeer sausage is smokey and salty with not too much “whang” from the normally gamey reindeer.  We probably won’t be adding either to our daily diets. 

Norwegian meats

Looks good, eh?

Here is the spekekjott in the deli case in Bergen:

she’s got legs…

Big fun was had by all.

I’m Bergen for you

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Norway 

So I spent a week with my good friend, and Norwegian native, LT (and his lovely lady, Adriana) in Bergen, Norway.  Bergen is a beautiful place.  The 20-22 hours of sunlight was pretty cool.  I am certainly glad I was not there in the winter when they get 20-22 hours of darkness.  Sleeping was tough with all the light, so I wore a sleeping mask to black it out.  We did some hiking and also went on a picturesque excursion called Norway in Nutshell.  Check out some photos below.  Mouse over the photos for a little description. 

Streets of Bergen

More streets of Bergen

The world-famous Norwegian “Farts Museum (and LT).”  Ok, not really.  LT’s head is blocking the “sjo.”  It means sea fairing museum.  Ain’t we clever?

Inside a pub at 10PM

Midnight, on our way to the bus station

Beautiful waterfall and two trolls

Photo taken on fjord excursion

pfft, American tourists

Another fjord-tastic view

~11PM at a party

1AM, still partying

The ride home at 3AM.  Pretty bright, eh?

After the funicular ride; overlooking Bergen.

Does the photo above look familiar

A view from our hike through Fløyen, just after the funicular ride.

Ever been to a Norwegian restaurant?  Well, there may be a reason.  ;)

The Norwegian diet largely comprises flat breads, cured meats, stockfish, and a lot of stuff in tubes (yeah, like toothpaste tubes). 

Some of the food is quite different from what we’re used to here in the U.S. of A.  Some of the things that I primarily sustained myself on were brunost, Knekkebrød, smoked salmon, eggs, cured mutton, and wheat bread.  Some of the more notable (and not necessarily in a good way) things I tried are:

  • Gamalost (putrid cheese; shudder)  To be fair, it is an acquired taste even among Norwegians.  Everyone I mentioned it to said they didn’t like it.  We only bought some to expand my horizons.  I would describe the flavor as a horse-stable with athlete’s foot. 
  • Caviar (in a tube) 
  • Reindeer meatballs (tasted a bit gamey; like venison, but good) (see below)
  • fiskekakes (a cousin of fiske pudding; a soft, spongey, fried, fish cake)
  • Rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge).  It was pretty good, actually.  Hearty; good for one of those cold, dark, winter nights. 

and although I saw whale meat for sale (see photo below), I passed on eating it.  Eating whale is common in Norway, but it’s a bit too hardcore for me.  Mouse over the photos below for little descriptions. 

Authentic Mex-Tex (ha ha)

By the way, 115 Norwegian Kroner = $19.42 USD.  What a great deal for tacos, eh?  We laughed and kept going. 

Typical sandwich in Norway

Smoked Salmon Sammich

dinner is served

Reindeer meatballs.  Not bad at all.

That’s right, fish pudding.

Fish cakes, not half bad.

Totally tubular fixin’s

That’s whale meat in the middle.  Uh, I’ll pass.

This is the cheese that you might want to avoid.  Pretty potent stuff.

Remember this name.  Fear it.

I had a great time, and seeing Bergen with a local is the way to go.  Not that you need one.  Pretty much everyone there speaks English.  I also spent a day in Oslo, and it was quite nice too.  One big problem though is that everything is VERY expensive.  A cold beer (0.6 l)  costs $12-15 dollars!  The Norwegian beer Hansa was much better than the Danish swill Tuborg.  I bought a half-liter bottle of Diet Coke (or Coke Light as it’s called elsewhere) for about $3.  It doesn’t help that the dollar is so weak either. 

So that’s the trip (abridged).  I owe Lars and his family a million thanks for their kindness and hospitality.  They gave us the royal treatment.  I had a great trip and made memories to last a lifetime.  I even acquired a fondness for Bergen’s local soccer club as a result of listening to all the soccer songs in the car.  Go BRANN!

Q: What comes before tasting part-b?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

We hosted a Sauvignon Blanc tasting party at our humble little abode (aka: The Cati Shack).  We had about 30 guests, in our backyard, eating good food trying good (and not-so-good) wines and having a grand ol’ time.  We stole the idea, and format, of the party from our beautiful and charming friends: Jen and Gabe.  They hosted a Pinot Noir tasting party at their place back in ’05 and it was great fun.  We couldn’t have had this party without their help, well maybe we could have, but it would have been lame.  Here’s the invitation that was sent out for our party:

you are invited

We asked each couple (or pair of friends) to bring two bottles of wine and some lawnchairs.  We didn’t even consider asking people to bring food as well because we feared that people would begin to leave their houses and realize, “I have chilled wine, food, and lawn chairs on a beautiful summer day.  Why the heck am I going to Alex and Cati’s anyway?”  So we took care of the food ;)

Two 750 mL bottles of wine is roughly 50 oz.  I found volumetric pourers, at a restaurant supply store in town, that would deliver 1.5 oz./pour.  This meant that 33 people could try a full pour of wine from every bottle that was brought, as long as each person brought two bottles.  We had dinner for the party catered by Cardona’s, and Cati and I (along with the invaluable help of Olivier & Estelle and Esti & Ryan) made the appetizers.  I made my soon-to-be-world-famous hummus (with and without roasted red-peppers), Cati made four tortillas espanolas, Esti made these terrific shrimp/cucumber/dill/mayo on wheat bread appetizers, and Olivier made four of his signature quiches.  Here’s a little cheat I use when I serve hummus; add a few tablespoons of toasted pine-nuts to the hummus.  It does for hummus what restraining orders do for break-ups; brings it to a whole new level, if you will, but in a good way.  Oh nevermind, just add the darn pine-nuts.  We arranged the plates at the four tasting stations in the backyard and went from there.  The food for this party was well-suited.  Esti’s shrimp treats were mildly flavored so as not to skew one’s palate, and the quiches were also just what we needed.  It also helped that the appetizers were  rather hearty (egg and shrimp based), this ensured that the alcohol didn’t slow anyone down too badly before dinner. 

As people arrived I recorded what they brought at my little check-in station (our dinner table).  The list of wines and attendees is shown below:

sign in

I then wrapped the wine in a paper bag, sealed the top with a zip-tie, scribbled a randomly selected number on the bag, and inserted a pourer into the spout.  I should have also taped the remaining exposed part at the top of the bottle as some of the more colorful labels were still recognizeable (ah well, live and learn).  After the guests checked in, they proceeded to the backyard and grabbed a glass and a name-tag for the stem of their wine glasses (thanks, Jen).  I bought all the glasses from Wal-Mart, and they cost $0.65/glass.  I always feel a little uneasy about shopping at Wal-Mart, but hey, it’s cheap (so naturally, I feel better), and the glasses were made in the USA to boot.  Yes, those are all justifications to make me feel better about patronizing that depressing establishment. 

So then we all spent the evening milling around the backyard sipping wines on a beautiful summer day while filling out the scorecard below:

score

After all the wines were sampled, our guests turned in their sheets and Olivier, Jenifer, and Elizabeth went to work entering the scores into the ranking sheet on our laptop.  We added a point to the wines that were marked as the taster’s favorite, and subtracted a point from the one marked as the least favorite.  Thankfully, none of data entry team were strangers to MS Excel.  Here is what the final scoring sheet looked like after it was all filled in:

rank as hell

We were able to tabulate the 1) over-all winner, 2) the lowest scoring wine, and 3) the best-value wine.  We also poked fun at the 4) hardest and 5) easiest graders of the evening.   Below is a list of those recognized:

  • Hardest Grader: Ayesha
  • Easiest Grader: Jami
  • Best Value award: Jenifer and Elizabeth
  • Lowest scoring wine: Matt and Michele
  • Highest scoring wine: Jason and Renee

Wine #21 took the cake!  It’s a wine called Monkey Bay from New Zealand. 

Here is what the various winners’ certificates looked like (click thumbnails for full view):

Hard Grader Easy Grader Best over-all Not so good Best Value

Also, we gave Matt and Michele (our booby prize winners of the night) an assortment of non-wine grape products (e.g.  grape juice, grape jelly, raisins, etc.)  and suggested they start there before tackling the world of wine.  (ain’t we stinkers?)  Esti and Ryan accepted their prize on their behalf since they had already left. 

Renee and Jason took home a bottle of Sebastiani Pinot Noir (one of our favorites) and a box of gourmet Baci European chocolates (which they were nice enough to share with everyone).  I imagine that the best prize of all is the right to brag, but I wouldn’t know, since Cati and I came in 5th place (mumble grumble). 

Gina and Victoria brought the second place wine of the night; they just barely lost to Renee and Jason.  Some interesting things to note:  New Zealand wines were preffered over California wines, the two best wines of the night were brought by people representing Troy, NY, and the least expensive wine ($8.99) came in last place (another $8.99 wine came in as “best value,” so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule).  Food for thought indeed. 

I should also point out, that although the wine with the highest average score won, we also factored standard deviation into the adjusted final score by adding (1/SD) to the mean.  This way, we were not just rewarding the highest score, but the consistently higher scoring wine.  We also did this for the three lowest-scoring wines by subtracting (1/SD) from the mean.  This way we further punished the low scoring wine for consistenly scoring low with tasters.  This may have been a moot point seeing as how the variance around all the means were pretty similar, but I didn’t want any controversy. 

The keen eye might also notice that the standard deviations around the mean for the top two wines are large, and doing a quick t-test on the two data sets show that there is no statistically significant difference in the data sets (P-value = 0.29 > 0.05 = alpha, accpet null hypothesis, no difference in means).  Here are the results from the t-test:

T-test result

Gina and Victoria should take comfort in that, even though they didn’t take home the trophy.  I guess I could have awarded a tie, but hey, this ain’t soccer.  The Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc was an excellent wine and a great choice by team Gina&Victoria. 

After all the wines had been tasted, we served the food.  We had three salads and three entrees from Cardona’s on Delware Ave.  We served gnocchi carbonara (excellent), fetuccini alfredo (really super-excellet), and pesto penne (meh, at best).  Two outta three ain’t bad.  The salads were greek salad, caesar, and a tossed salad. 

Anne baked a delicious chocolate cake, to which I could dedicate an entire blog entry.  It was not too sweet, the chocolate tasted like chocolate (a touch bitter), and it was perfectly moist.  Jen brought two incredible pies from The Bread Basket Bakery in Saratoga.  They were Dutch apple and blueberry and went perfectly with the coffee.  Big thanks to Bob and Nola for lending us their percolater which allowed us to end the night with some fresh brewed coffee. 

A great time was had by all, and I wound the evening down in front of the chimnea drinking wine #6; the Kim Crawford brought by Jen and Gabe.  It was delicious and I wondered why it wasn’t my favorite earlier in the night.  Maybe I should demand a recount, anyone interested?

Thanks to everyone who came and helped organize, let’s keep the summer party machine rolling. 

Here are a few select photos from my camera:

mm mmm

Tom and Alex process the wines

Nacho makes a friend

tasting station

weeee

tasting the night away

we likey

I love this picture

serious business

and the winner is…

The lovely and talented Renee, yes, that Renee, took some beautiful photos as well.  Her photos make my photos look like they were taken on a camera phone, wrapped in a plastic bag, by a blind guy with a hook for a hand.  Her shots of the food look delicious (try not to drool on your keyboard).  She pretty much captures everything I described above, but more clearly (thanks, Renee).   

Also, Gabe posted his photos from the day too.  See here for his, always entertaining, blog post. 

Also, here are the Excel sheets I used for the party.  Feel free to “steal with pride” for your party; I’d better get an invite though. 

The master sheet

There is a lot more we could have done with the data, like select the ladies’ favorite over the guys’ favorite, or run correlation analysis to find wine-palate twins (or look for negative correlation to find wine-palate evil twins, MWAHAHAHAA).  Oh well, I guess we’ll have to have more parties to fully utilize all the features.

A: tasting PART-A!

Ride

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

I upgraded the ol’ v-rod to a wider back tire.  I took the sage advice from the v-rod owner’s group and went with the Metzeler 200mm back tire upgrade.  The bike feels a little less nimble on a wider tire, but maybe I just need to get used to it.  One thing is for sure; I like the new look. 
Before:                                              After:
beforeafter

Thoughts?  I like the wider-tire look. Can anyone else see a difference, or am I spending too much time looking at this bike? 

(The really keen eye might also notice that I sealed my asphalt driveway while the bike was in the shop.  Yeah, uh, that was not fun.  Next time I’ll pay someone to do it instead of doing it myself.  Doing it myself may have even been more expensive.  But hey, at least now I’ll know what I’ll be paying them for when I have it done, eh?)

Maybe my next upgrade (years from now) will be to a REALLY fat tire.  Like this guy’s:
got much back

That would require quite a few mods to the back-end.  In going to the 200mm, I didn’t have to do anything but take off the lower belt guard (even I can do that). The tire directly above is a 260mm (180mm is stock).  That is, if they don’t hurry up and invent these things already.

Cati and I are enjoying riding season.  Cati rides a Buell Blast, just like this one.  Over Memorial Day weekend we visited Williamstown and North Adams, MA, on our bikes.  Of course, I didn’t bring the camera (we always forget that thing).  We like taking pictures, only in theory.  (Update: The charming and talented Gabe posted some pictures of the day on his blog.  Check out the comments of this post for the link.  Thanks G!)  We went with the always-enjoyable Jen and Gabe who wore hot-pants an leather vests and rode on the back of our bikes.  Kidding, they drove separately in their car and met us there. 

In Williamstown, we ate lunch at an Indian Buffet where I injured myself by eating too much (I’d do it again).  Then we strolled across campus to “River Fest” and, pretty much, just enjoyed the weather.  When we went to North Adams, we visited Mass MoCA.  There were some very cool pieces on display by Spencer Finch, and some stuff I just didn’t get.  For example, there were blank canvasas with very descriptive titles (pffft, artists).  We ended our idyllic Saturday with a backyard BBQ at our friends’ place in Saratoga.  Although our lovely hosts are vegetarian (they ate Quorn patties), they hooked us omnivores up with some tasty burgers (yesssss).  Ahhh, the good life.

Sunday, Cati and I continued our motorcycle weekend and went down to Hudson, NY.  What a great little town.  On our way down, we stopped at Olana; meh.  It was the home of the American painter; Frederic Edwin Church.  I am told we should have taken the guided tour of the inside, but we didn’t. 

In Hudson, we ate lunch at Mexican Radio on Warren St. (yep, just like the song), and then checked out all the cool shops and boutiques.  Apparently, Hudson is experiencing an upswing.  Mexican Radio was a bit pricey for what it was, but it had a cool vibe, and the food was good.  We paid $5/bottle for Negra Modelo (gimme a break).  I guess they get a lot of big-spenders up from NYC.  I liked how they had a massive selection of various hot-sauces at our disposal.  We ordered a plate of nachos (not that Nacho), and the fish tacos.   

We took 9J, up the river, on the ride home, and it was quite picturescque.  We did get caught in a terrential down-pour on the ride home, but that happens sometimes.  We were literally wringing out our socks when we got home. 

Our ride was pleasant, but check out this woman’s ride through Chernobyl; scary (and powerful) stuff. 

P.S.-  ‘Tis the season to watch for motorcycles.  Keep checkin’ those blindspots, folks.

Also, I found this post about Famous Lunch” in Troy:  word.  Yeah, that place is great.