Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beer of the Month - August

The beer of the month for August is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's 60 Minute IPA {6% abv}. A few months ago I was picking up some beverages at a local establishment when I decided to try something new. Fortunately when it comes to beer, you'll just about never run out of beer you haven't tried before. More often is the case that you run out of new beers that you want to drink, but that's more of a personal issue. Back to the story though, I looked past my Dogfish unicorn beer Midas Touch and grabbed a handful of some of that hoppy stuff.

I've already told of the legend that is Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, so no bio is necessary this time around, but I will say I finally found copies of the Brewmaster's 5-episode (US) television series online and I can't wait to check it out. Email me if you'd like a link. Unlike some other brews Dogfish Head sells, 60 Minute IPA is a regular on the shelves and is seemingly easy to come by. However, this by no means is an excuse to pass it up when you see it, like you would Corona or Bud Light. During the brewing process of 60 Minute IPA, there is a 60 minute boil where hops are continuously added. This results in a seriously hoppy brew and the name that appears on the label.

The first sip of 60 Minute IPA is warm and...wait for it...hoptastic. If you love hops and IPAs you've come to the right place. If not, steer clear. This beer is medium bodied (full bodied would be a stout) and has a controlled bitterness with a refined finish. As with most beers, after you're a couple bottles in, the flavors dull along with the rest of your senses. Prior to that happening, 60 Minute IPA is a bully on the pallet. For that reason alone I'd say pairings would be limited to food with strong flavor profiles; Indian/spicy food, red meat, etc. Ideally you'd eat first then drink this afterward in a social setting. 2 stars.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: So I walk into a Grocery Store in Sicily...

Parking in Messina is about the same as Rome.

After leaving Piazza del Duomo we made a b-line for the shopping district referred to us by our excursion specialist - in Taormina. Even though Messina and Taormina are separate cities, we were close to the boarder so walking distance was only a couple miles. Going off the map (which I wish I still had to show you), we were walking in the right direction...if the top of the map was actually north. During this walk down the wrong road we saw a church. I took pictures of the church without knowing exactly what it was, but thanks to my memory assisted by the wonders of google maps, I can show you where it was here.

If you look around the lower center on the map window you'll see Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale S. Maria Della Lettera, or Catholic Church of St. Mary's Letter. Once we looked around, the map we had showed an icon of a church dome which looked a lot like the one on top of this large church. Given false clues and the wrong representation of North, we ended up going down Via Maggio much further. After Beth twisted my arm we spoke to a local who gave us some directions which completely contradicted the map we had...or the way I was holding it. The fact that small street names didn't appear on this clown map didn't help either, but we ended up understanding the discrepancy at the next major intersection. The church on the map wasn't the same as what we saw, and we were two streets over from where we were supposed to be. Once that was figured out we began walking towards the shopping district.

Passed the University of Messina while wandering.
If you're still following along on google maps (it's completely unnecessary but if you are, awesome), we cut down Via Nicola Fabrizi and took a right into Piazza Cairoli. After walking a bit we found the Canoli place we were told about, Irrera 1910. Since we needed to go further to get to the Coin department store, we took note and kept on going. Arriving at Coin I noticed there was a grocery store nearby. I needed a couple things - a neosporin equivalent, some fruit and juice. So I walk into this grocery store and start eyeballing the fruit section. They had plenty of unique varieties of the same things we have, nectarines, pears, etc., and I had been eating so much starch and meat I bagged up a couple of everything. After making my way to the soda Isle to see if I could find some bottled water I saw their beer selection and other items. Once again, no face cloths or cut ointment, but they had some non-refrigerated juices which would be great in the morning. I started my checkout process, then the senior woman behind the counter started an uproar ha. I didn't quite understand everything she was yelling, but I figured out the prices were missing from my individually bagged fruit. I left the line and a nice old Sicilian man showed me how to apply the prices using a scale that wasn't in my view originally. After those were labelled I thanked him and checked out. While waiting on Beth to wrap up, I snapped a little bit in the street.

Loses a little bit in translation...or lack there of.
Sicily has some interesting traffic signals.

We headed back towards the ship and walked into the pasticceria (pastry shop) Irrera 1910 in Piazza Cairoli. Wow. There were delectables as far as the eye could see and any coffee, cappuccino or espresso variety you wanted local to the region. Through some rough translation, I ordered a double scoop of gelati (strawberry and lemon) and beth requested a canoli that they made fresh, upon order, behind the counter. We had a seat towards the back of the store and rested our legs. Soon afterwards we dug in. I'll tell you what, I don't really seek sweets out. I don't buy canolis when they're available at restaurants. If every canoli was as good as this one, I'd get them with every meal out. The ricotta was so silky smooth, the sweetness was pronounced without being overwhelming; truly outstanding. And the gelati was more flavorful than it appeared. I think that's why I enjoyed most about Italy's cuisine, the fact that real ingredients and their flavors jumped off the dish. The strawberry was STRAWBERRY and the lemon was LEMON; it's like someone figured out how to turn the volume up without annoying the neighbors. If I end up in Sicily again, I'll make it a point to go back. No doubt about it.

Completely redundant, but you need to see the freshly chopped peanuts and chocolate chips. Mhm.
We left with smiles then walked back towards the boat. Upon the check-in/frisking/metal detecting/security-ing, I was told I couldn't bring fruit on board. Sigh. I think my expression twisted my security officers arm (think the movie cover of Platoon with less arm dramatics), and she let me do it 'just this once'. I thanked her and we returned to our room. The view from the balcony was even better on departure, the sun was much friendlier. We relaxed in our room as the boat set off to Athens, Greece. Another nice day checked off, it was time to get ready for dinner.

'That's a huge ship.'
Heading back out to sea.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: Caio Messina

We woke up on this day to one of the most beautiful views of the entire trip. We were in the port of Messina, the weather was absolutely spectacular and the boat was in the process of circling around so that our direction for departing was from the way we came. The port was busy with activity as work on the water gets started well before sunrise. We got our things together and headed downstairs.

I didn't get into this last time around, but we had asked around about where to go in Messina the night before. Beth had heard of some medieval clock that's in Messina, and the biggest question was how close was it to the boat. Taking a taxi had been expensive so far, and we were looking to break out of that cycle if possible. We heard a few rumors, but were instructed to talk to the excursion pro that will be in the theater area on the boat, where all the excursions gather before leaving in the morning. We got down there a little before 10am and asked her what the deal was. She let us know everything was within very short walking distance and that there was a shopping district that would should make sure to check out, as there was a gelataria there with the best canolis in town. Even though it seems (from an American perspective) that canolis are an Italian dessert, it's really a uniquely Sicilian dessert which explained that we never saw one canoli in any of the thousand gelaterias we saw in Rome. In addition to this widely known dessert shop there was a place called Coin to get some ladies clothing and accessories. She graciously drew her instructions on a 'map' of Messina, that the ships excursion crew had provided one of the tours earlier, and we were off.

We get off the ship and there's a small sidewalk that lets us cross the major road (Via Vittorio Emanuele II) parallel to the peer. It was lined with locals selling their wares and I began to understand the business of cruises and destination countries a bit better. We found our way across the street and worked our way through the city on the way to Piazza del Duomo and the timepiece that Beth had heard so much about; the Orologio Astronomico or Astrological Clock. This clock/bell tower and adjacent church make up one of the biggest attractions in Messina for many reasons, but the main one is that the clock is a mechanical marvel that produces quite the show at mid-day. When this clock strikes twelve noon, everyday rain or shine, the medieval built machine sets off a series of events much like dominoes falling; a rooster crows, a lion roars and waves a flag, Jesus and his disciples are orbited by birds and for the grand finale a group of statues rotate to an instrumental playing of 'Ave Maria', projected through what seemed like a WWII era intercom/broadcast system (modern update I assume). The whole event is about 15 minutes long and if you're in town it's a must see.

While in Piazza del Duomo (center of map) there are sweeping flocks of locals trying to sell hats. Once you get in the habit of saying 'no thank you' and/or ignoring street peddlers it can make it hard to get valuable information from locals actually trying to share tradition and information with you. There are some interesting historical items here, including this fountain. What you see here is called the Fountain of Orion, and it was built by one of Michelangelo's subordinates (Giovanni Angelo) around 1550AD. This water feature celebrated the first aqueduct in Messina, in the 16th century. While we were Rome Beth and I drank some water from the a fountain across from the Pantheon, and I wasn't inclined to take a sip from this one.

Piazza del Duomo and the tourist buses arriving for the astrological clock show.
To be honest, I didn't know what I was shooting while I was there, we were wandering around hungry in the late morning ha. That brings us to the most important thing, the lunch we had before noon. As they say in the real estate biz, location location location, and the sole restaurant in Piazza del Duomo was Dolce Vita (which doesn't show up on google maps accurately). Dolce Vita was a complete restaurant with a great shaded seating outside and a tasty menu. We found ourselves eating a ton of traditional antipasti throughout our travels in Italy; this day would be no different. We also got ourselves a local pizza variety that escapes my mind currently; it had bacon, ham, potato, mozzarella and red sauce. Another lovely touch was the olive oil and balsamic vinegar condiment packets. A little olive oil, pepper and salt with the fresh baked rolls was a good way to get the party started. Calling the meal delicious would've been an understatement and it was a reminder why authentic is always better than imitation, no matter how flattering it may be. We paid our bill then joined the major crowd that had formed for the show.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Green Thumb Season 2 - Ep. 4

If you remember the plan from last time, while we were away from the Country we had my brother-in-law Chris come by the house to water our plants. After getting back from Europe into Philadelphia Int'l Airport, on Thursday, Chris picked us up. I asked him how long it had been since he'd been there to water the plants and he said Tuesday. I was worried. I asked how often he'd been going over and he said every couple of days. I was even more worried. We got home and I made a b-line for the deck with water in hand. Yeap, I had reason to be worried.

irregular growth

The cucumber plants were just about depleted. They require a bit of water due to the size of the fruit and since this had been a particularly hot and dry week, some of the major veins had dried up. There were a couple cucumbers that hadn't been picked yet, so we took those off and tended to the cucumber plants to see if they could make a recovery. Now this wasn't as bad as it seems, as the cucumbers didn't have much more fruit in the tank for the season. The pepper plants on the other hand had thrived; they didn't need as much watering attention, obviously, and all the plants had produced more peppers while we were gone.

Italian Sweet pepper.

Yummy pepper.

Post-trip bounty.

After a week or so passed I decided to ask Beth, who was off for the summer, to make her way to the local nursery's to see if should could find some other herbs or something that we could replace the cucumber plants with. No one in a radius of 10miles had anything; it's odd too because there's at least two months left of warmth with the way the seasons go these days. Anyways, the focus was now on the evolution of the peppers. We took a few jalapeños off and used them in different food dishes and we were pleased to find they had good kick. The Thai peppers weren't quite as strong. Their seeds packed a decent punch, but they were no where close to as hot as I hoped...and I like hot peppers.

Last weeks' chicken fajitas.

Not too much later the Thai and Yummy peppers began to mature. The Thai Hot peppers can be picked while green, but red is preferred. I'm not sure if red necessarily means the flavor and spice has matured, but why not. The Yummy peppers have a similar picking option, green or orange-yellow. We've been having the Yummy peppers in salads and the Italian sweets and jalepeño's have been included in peppers and onions sauteed up for dinner with chicken sausages, beef and chicken fajitas. Unfortunately I don't have many pics of the dishes due to how busy I've been lately, but here are some shots of the last few weeks of growth.

Week 15:

New Yummy's on the way.

Week 16:

Yummy's starting to turn.
The jalepeños have been the best performer this year.

This may be the end of this series as there's a ton of effort going into recapping Eurotrip 2011 through the Fall and editing about 10k images taken over the past month (and more coming up). Never fear, Season 3 will start when the next crop is planted!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: I'm on a boat!

We packed the night before and went to the lobby of our hotel to await contact by our shuttle to the port of Civitavecchia, Italy. Fortunately we had covered the confirmation with the shuttle company prior to the phone failing, so everything went smoothly. We lugged our stuff outside after receiving the call and made our way to port with two other couples on the way to a different cruise than ours. To recap, our cruise had four stops scheduled: Messina (Sicily), Athens (Greece), Kusadasi (Turkey) and finally Crete (Greece). We arrived at port, and were dropped off at the Royal Caribbean check in center for our boat, The Navigator of the Seas.

I was physically burnt. Sleep had been terrible, getting up early to walk over 5 miles each of the past two days didn't help, and I just needed a nice soft place to lay down. In the meantime, we stood in a snake-line with about a thousand people in order to check-in and turn over our passports...which was weird, but worked out fine. We made some preparations before going on the boat to ensure it was as good an experience as possible. I've been on plenty of small boats in my time, for as long as 3 days straight, but since this would be 8 days we made sure to pick up both Bonine and ginger root extract pills. The Bonine is for nausea due to the constant motion in the ocean, and the ginger root helps settle the stomach if the nausea does arrive. Throughout the trip I took half a days serving of Bonine (one tablet) and a ginger pill with lunch and had no problems outside of the unavoidable 'rocks'. Even the rocking isn't that bad when it doesn't lead to hugging a trashcan. We also stashed Bacardi that we bought in Rome, in our luggage within some portable pouches, to ensure we could keep costs down if we really needed to avoid expensive drinks.

We boarded the boat prior to our rooms being ready, so we were instructed to stay on the lounge levels of the boat until 3pm. We checked our luggage but I held onto my camera bag. We walked up 10 flights of stairs to arrive on the pool deck and found a pair of recliners to crash on. We went to the bar, ordered a beer and a water, then retreated to the covered area near some retractable windows. The view outside was pretty impressive. The water in the Mediterranean was amazingly blue and I did my best to try to capture it as days passed. Also, The Navigator of the Seas ship and it's crew were quite impressive. Bigger than the Titanic, with maps of the boat and all it's facilities in about 10 places on every floor, and loaded with just about everything imaginable to make you think you weren't on a ship. They had an all in one ID card/credit card/passport that you had to keep with you at all times and logged all the charges that would eventually be presented to you in a nice white envelope on the second to last day. And due to issues with people walking away from paying in different parts of the boat, they didn't let you start tabs in the local bars. This got pretty annoying by day three, but was a necessary evil.

US outlets were my life preserver

After getting an hour of sleep, the central broadcasting system sounded an alert announcing everyone could check into their rooms, as it was 3pm. We worked our way down to our our floor, towards the front of the ship on the 7th floor, and opened the door. Arguably the biggest room of the vacation and a balcony with a view of the ocean. I'm glad I didn't cheap out on the room. The bed was a queen, but was shaped in such a way that made my heels hang off (I'm 6'1"). I wasn't too concerned with that, I was just happy that we had more than 10 channels on the TV, we had US-spec plug outlets so I could charge my computer and camera batteries, and most importantly the bed was soft. I jumped into the soft sheets with a big smile on my face and heard something awful. I heard the public announcement system, which I thought I escaped already, and it was on in the room informing us of a mandatory life preserver/life boat briefing in 30 minutes. A minute later the announcement started again, but this time in Italian. Then in German. Then in French. Then someone was knocking on the door to remind us to go. Then I was outside with one eye half open being told how to put a life preserver on.

On our way.
This ain't the Atlantic Ocean.

I hobbled back upstairs and decided to take a couple pics. Beth went through the interactive program on the TV to figure out our excursion for Sicily and I then started backing up pictures off my memory cards, because I hadn't had the ability to do so previously. I got back into bed, turned on the TV and found myself one of the two German TV channels which was broadcasting the F1 Grand Prix race at Silverstone. I was happy. I nodded off. I woke up to our luggage being delivered, and our Bacardi made it. I was happy. I nodded off. I woke up a couple hours later to Beth doing her hair at the vanity, post-shower, imploring me to wake up because our scheduled dinner time was coming up fast. Ugh. Despite my ambivalence on attending the organized dinner (there was a buffet option as well which I was betting on), I got in the shower and threw on some clothes. We walked down to our assigned dining table, me with red eyes and on auto-pilot, then proceeded to sleepwalk through conversations with five nice couples from the (4) US and (1) Romania. I did more head nodding and smiling than talking and afterwards we made our way back to the room. After a drink or two I caught my second wind. I've been working evenings and going to bed around 4am for the past 3 years; like magic, regardless of my energy level, once midnight comes around I can always stay up til about 4am without fail. I didn't stay up that late on this night, but 1:30am was close enough. I closed my eyes and tried to catch up on sleep.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: Vatican Museum for two Pt.2

Sign after sign for the Sistine Chapel came and went and it was no where to be seen. Then, like magic, the stairwells got tighter and more rustic. We were almost there. A bathroom line appeared, followed by a small cafeteria and stairs to a smoking area. Last rest stop before going into the world famous meeting ground for Roman Catholic elite as well as arguably the most famous ceiling of artwork ever produced...but for now I was thirsty. We go into a bad excuse for a line and got some drinks. I chugged a bottle of water, strategized with Beth on next steps (it was already ~3pm) then made our way to the main event.

Unfortunately there are no images of this part of the journey; while plenty of people were going against the Vatican security presence, taking pictures and video of the ceiling, I respected the rules and took some time to listen to my digital tour guide. The audio player described the artists who provided material as well as the material and what it referenced. Raphael's ceiling piece and the process behind it was examined, as well as the large-scale refresh of the Sistine Chapel's artwork, which took place a decade or so ago. The atmosphere was cool and there was a constant low murmur of conversations about everything to be seen, broken up by security's firm requests for silence and "move along" to the endless waves of tourists entering the Chapel. The first thing I did on my way in was locate 'The Creation of Adam'. My eyes then wandered over all the other pieces I've only seen in textbooks. There were several hundred people present at the time and no real place to sit. It was an awesome experience. On our way out we saw that some people were walking through a shortcut door for tour groups only. We took a mental note and went through the regular exit. We ended up into a modern art exhibit pathway, then got to another hallway with books and other Vatican related items to buy. With no real exit revealing itself, Beth asked a cashier how to get out. The gentlemen chuckled and pointed us towards to exit.

Exit ahead...or so we thought.

We ended up in a large bookstore type area where the Vatican Post Office was housed. Beth and I bought postcards and shipped them home. She sent one to her very Catholic Grandma Joan and good friend Liz and I sent one to my parents. On the same floor there was a wooden scale model of Vatican City which was quite impressive. Somewhere around shooting that pic I lost my lens cap. We made it all the way down the steps of the Vatican Museum exit (see above) and I ran back up and looked everywhere. Resigned to it's loss I got my camera bag back and we made our way down the Vatican City wall to St. Peters Square. My take away from the Vatican Museum was that, regardless of arguments of how all the works were collected, there was more art there than anywhere else on earth. In a way this fact was both good and bad for the time we had to spend there. Of course it's great to be able to see so much of mans creations from the long history of humanity, but there was really too much to see for anyone even in a day's time. We were later told that if you spent one minute at every exhibit in the Vatican Museum it would take you 13 days to see it all.

After a short stroll we entered the place of legend. St. Peter's square was bigger than I expected. Looking around you could immediately tell that the previous Pope was quite the hard act to follow. The next thing we noticed was the line to get into St. Peter's Basilica. Earlier that morning we asked our substitute tour guide if we could use the tickets we received to get into the Basilica per our initial tour arrangement and she told us yes. However, we didn't know how the tour guides waved their magic wands for this one. Rather than getting in line, since it was already 5pm and our energy was low as ever, we walked to catch a cab back to the hotel. While looking for cabs we stumbled onto a rally for the Rome chapter of Harley Davidson enthusiasts. It was quite the spectacle.

Next time, St. Peter's Basilica. Next time.

We returned home to pop into one of the other cafes we hadn't frequented yet. They had liquor, which was the biggest draw, as we wanted some for the cruise. Bacardi and panini's in hand, we got to our room and had lunch. Later that evening, we ended up back at Il Capitello for our last meal in Rome. We dined and sipped vino outside while observing locals and visitors from multiple countries work their way around town, along with homeless sleeping on the street within a stones throw. The shop keepers made sure to keep randomly approaching vagrants from interrupting their customers experience (much appreciated), but it didn't happen to often that night. It was a reminder of the current economic state of the world, Italy specifically, but in my mind was oddly normal. Another great meal enjoyed, we headed back for a short night of springy sleep. In the morning, we'd be getting a shuttle to the Civitavecchia Port to start our Mediterranean Sea cruise.

Capturing Life's Fabric with Technology.