Blame it on Covid-Stir-Craziness, maybe. But back in…uh, March 2022 we drove across Germany to scope out some wines (some famous, some recommendations) and landscapes and stuff. It was a short trip — just a four day weekend — but we covered a fair amount of ground: from Regensburg to Zurich (just a pitstop to visit a pal), from there to Colmar (our home base), and back to Regensburg with a stop in Heidelberg (another pal to visit).
The first night at our B&B in Colmar (Villa Elyané), Florence, our innkeeper, recommended Le Fer Rouge, a restaurant at the main train station. There, our waiter recommended a Pinot Noir from Ginglinger-Fix. Long story, short:
Ginglinger is a fairly common name in the region, and there are lots of wineries named similarly.
You won’t find their wine in shops. Why? They don’t do retail. Their customers are restaurants and exporters, or — if you seek them out at home, like we did — individual consumers.
We never would have found them at all without Florence, who called them and told them we wanted to come out for a tasting.
We hit a few little towns in the region, like Ribeauvillé and Eguisheim and Zellenberg/Riquewihr, and tried to make sure the Flammkuchen and choucroute was equally good in every place. Good news: it was! We brought at least a little wine back from everywhere we stopped: mostly whites, but also a few reds we liked.
“Happy Cadaver” is how my host dad used to refer to Fronleichnam — the Corpus Christi holiday on the Catholic calendar — because literal translations are hysterical. We used it for a long-weekend escape to Northern Italy with some first-timers. Continue reading Happy Cadaver 2022, Italy!
Feeling refreshed and unstressed after those two weeks in PV, we steeled our nerves and got on a plane to Mexico City for our very first visit there. Sarah had meticulously researched the area and decided on Coyoacán as our first dip into the most populous city in North America. She found a great place for us to stay five nights in Casa Tamayo in the heart of the borough.
Our first night was basically just the arrival; we were exhausted by the airport and taxi activity (even though we started the day unstressed and refreshed!). Casa Tamayo recommended taking a taxi from the airport, which we did, but we waited in line over an hour for our turn to get a ride. The drive itself was less than half an hour with kind of dense traffic, but at least it kept moving. We had the opposite of that on some bus routes back towards our home base from the anthropology museum…an hour bus ride (due to traffic) for something that would have been 15 minutes at most under moving traffic conditions.
Mexico City is a big place. This is not a surprise. We tried various modes of transportation:
After Corona largely reined our intercontinental travel plans over most of the last two years, we had kind of a glut there at the end of the 2021. We spent some time in November with Sarah’s family in KCMO (she longer than I, due to work BS), and then with my parents in Puerto Vallarta and some (kinda) new friends in Mexico City in December. So yeah, two trips to North America inside of two months. Under pandemic conditions. Couple of brain swabs. Plenty of document collection. Lots of umpteen-hour FFP2 mask sessions. It all went smoothly — it was just at the beginning of the Great Omicron Flight Cancellation Crisis of 2021-22.
Our theater of operations (neglecting the overnight stay in Newark on the way down to Puerto Vallarta, because hey, it’s just Newark):
TL;DR: I am not impressed with Raj Mahal and it’s going to be a long time before I try ordering from them again. They smell good on the street, but their customer service stinks.
I placed a carry-out order for dinner through their website today around 14:00. It was slick; I (generally) like a restaurant that has ordering processing built into their own website instead of farming it out to an order processor and delivery service.
I ordered a couple main dishes, paid through PayPal (another plus) and made a note of the pick-up time.
4.5 hours later, I showed up, parked my bike, and walked in, cooler in tow, enjoying the smells from the street on my way in. The young man behind the counter seemed flabbergasted. “But we are closed the WHOLE DAY! You can order for another day, OK?”
“No, it’s NOT OK!” I responded. “I have a confirmation email from your website, and a confirmation of payment through PayPal and now you are telling me you don’t have the food I ordered. Why do you permit orders to come in on days you are not in business?” He said it’s automatic through the website and they have no power over that.
He called someone to talk to me in German (my skillz are stronger than his in that language, apparently) and we went another couple of rounds on the clerk’s phone. When I told him I was angry that his company took my money and didn’t honor the transaction, he told me to get my money back through PayPal. When I asked what I should do with my dinner plans, he said I could do whatever I want.
After I cancelled the payment through PayPal, this blogpost is what I want to do.
After finishing up Mittagessen in…um…Essen1, we got back in the car and drove for like seven hours across most of the country to Berlin. We’ve visited Berlin many times, but we always try to do a mix of new and old stuff. Here are the bullet points:
It felt really good. So good, that I can’t cover it all in one post. Part II will follow.
It was just a stop-over point for us because we departed Friday after work and didn’t want to undertake a big ol’ drive after a full week of anticipation. Plus, our long-term pal and host Matt K. wouldn’t even be there until Saturday afternoon. So we got to Wiesbaden after work (traffic was not as bad as I’d feared) and expected to crash out at the hotel.
But it’s much a cooler town than I’d thought. And it has a Five Guys. Note to self: don’t get a large ANYTHING.
We arrived on late Saturday morning, and met Matt G. at Place du Chatelain in the Ixelles neighborhood. He gave us a lovely impromptu tour and we got a delicious lunch on the street at Pizza Mamma Roma.
That afternoon we got back in the car, headed out to the Zaventem airport, picked up our ol’ pal Matt K. and the merriment continued.
He showed us his favorite parts of the city on foot, including a stop for a snack at the legendary Maison Dandoy for some Liège Waffles and espresso that blew our minds.
Sunday, we visited the Horta Museum. If you like Jugendstil design, this will be your joint. As opposed to the Mucha Museum in Prague, the Horta Museum is a less of a gallery and more of a snapshot in time from the turn of the (previous) century of an idealized socialist paradise domicile.
Monday morning, we dropped Matt K. off at work on our way to meet Pam M. at her home for coffee. She baked us a delicious surprise zucchini cake! The airliners passing overhead reminded me very much of the first ten years of my life near Selfridge ANG.
It was so cool to catch up with Matt K. again before geography makes that impractical again, and meet Matt G. and Pam M. in person after only having interacted with them online before.
After departing from Pam’s, we hit the road for Essen to meet up with Aileen and Justin for…Essen.1 It was almost directly on our way, and we have had a lot of fun with them online, so why not see if they are just as cool in person?2 That was a nice way to break up the seven-hour drive to Berlin. If you ever get a hankering for a BIG SLABBA TOAST, I vouch for Miamamia.
We broadened our pasta horizons this week. I’ve been reading about aquafaba for a while, and hoping to put it to good use. This weekend Sarah made a batch of channa masala and she started with dried chickpeas. I asked to to reserve the liquid from the cooking process this past weekend in our Instant Pot.
First, I strained the liquid into a medium saucepan. I didn’t want any discernible floaty bits.
Second, I simmered it in a medium saucepan about 8 minutes over medium heat, to reduce it by half. The result from Sarah’s bean batch and the strained and simmered reduction was just over 240 g (a little more than a cup) of aqufaba. I put that into the fridge for a couple days until ready to experiment with it.
Last night, I set to work following this recipe for the ingredients and using our experiences with homemade egg pasta as a guide for method and resulting dough texture.
It worked! I liked the black pepper flavor embedded in the pasta. The raw dough didn’t taste the same as egg noodles we’ve made in the past, but rather more like the usual dried pasta — just in soft form. I would definitely make these again when there is another batch of aquafaba to be used up. Like all fresh pasta varieties, these cook fast and are less sturdy than store-bought dried pasta — so I don’t expect they would hold up to the vigorous mixing required for a dish like cacio e pepe (for example). But I bet they would work great in all other typical pasta applications.
Aquafaba (vegan) Black Pepper Pasta
Adapted from Egg-Free, Vegan Homemade Black Pepper Pasta for use with our equipment. The original method calls for a food processor with a spinning blade to form a ball. That method worked great for us making dumpling dough back when we had such a machine. For this recipe, we used a stand mixer with a paddle, dough kneading hook, and pasta rolling and cutting attachments.
2 cups (250 g) all purpose flour -OR- 00 flour
1/2 cup (120 g) reduced aquafaba
1 tsp (3 g) sea salt
1 tbsp (15 g) extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp (2 g) freshly ground black pepper
Mix together the dry ingredients (Tipo 00 is what we used) with the paddle on a stand mixer.
Dump in the wet ingredients and continue mixing a bit more until well combined.
Switch to the dough hook and knead until the dough starts to climb the walls of the mixing bowl and fall back in on itself. Interrupt the kneading and help it if necessary. All of this took no more than a few minutes of kneading time. We did not have to adjust the flour or liquid at all to get the text we needed it. Squish the dough together into a ball shape.
Let the dough rest in a ball, covered tightly, for 30 minutes. We put a silicone lid over the mixing bowl and let it rest inside that (rather than use plastic wrap).
Cut the dough ball into three or four pieces. One at a time, flatten them and run them through the pasta roller, doing the usual lather/rinse/repeat of folding the ends in and re-rolling at the widest setting at least three times before rolling progressively thinner. Our tagliatelle came out great on the #5 setting.
Cut the flat sheets into noodles, dust them with flour and let them rest in nests while you prepare to boil them. They will finish quickly.
I finally made a cacio e pepe I am proud of! I’d tried several times each with a different approach and it was always a failure (clumpy, oily, gummy, whatever). Then I found a WaPo recipe for a za’atar variation, tried it, had much better results, and stole the technique. It’s the best cacio e pepe method I have found so far, so I’m sticking to it for next time.
Pro tips from last-night-me to next-time-me:
you gotta microplane that cheese as finely as possible
pecorino grates more easily than grana padano (which I subbed for the parm
this time) or parmigiano
our cheapo IKEA stainless steel skillet was fine for boiling the pasta, but with so little water (to encourage the starchiness) it really can stick if you’re not careful
our 12″ cast iron skillet was a champ for everything else
the proportions below are scaled down by 50% from the original; that was plenty for two adults as a primo along with some roasted brussels sprouts — steamed broccoli would be a good choice next time, too
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for finishing to taste
1/2 pound (225 g) dried bucatini (or other long pasta, cooking time adjusted if necessary)
2 tablespoons (25 g) unsalted butter
1.5 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
2 ounces (60 g) Parmesan cheese, very finely grated
1/2 ounce (15 g) pecorino Romano cheese, very finely grated
In a deep, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the salt. Cook the bucatini in that for 9 minutes (or per package instructions) until al dente, stirring every now and then so they don’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure they are submerged. Add hot water if necessary to keep the pasta just-barely covered. Drain, reserving all the cooking water. (You should have about 1 1/8 cups (265 ml) water; if not, add enough hot water until you do.)
In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan over high heat, cook the butter until bubbling, then stir the pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved cooking water (carefully, watch for steam bursts), bring to a rapid boil and cook until silky and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Toss in the pasta and stir vigorously into the sauce. Add the Parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go and waiting until the first half has melted before adding the next. Once all the Parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir, until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky.