A solution for all the bathroom controversies: "WC"

They there wine nerds!

If you find yourselves stressed out by all this drama over bathrooms and need to fill a spot on your travel bucket list - have I got a place for you! (Confused yet?)

Now this blog does not claim to be political one way or another. But I do enjoy following politics and current events, and when North Carolina enacted the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (HB2), the uproar was immediate. I thought, how can we solve this rationally, and for me the solution has always been obvious. That same solution also reminded me of this lovely restaurant that's on my travel bucket list for the better part of a year. (Sure you're not confused?) 

Ok, I'll explain. I have a lot of family in Germany, and have been fortunate enough to go abroad to visit them a couple times. Before our first trip, my Dad told me, "if you are every looking for a restroom, look for 'WC' not men vs. women." When I looked up where this term came from, I discovered that translated loosely, the acronym stands for "water closet." In Germany, most water closet layouts are usually shared spaces between both genders. Meaning, each stall has a floor to ceiling sturdy door than can be completely locked, but everyone shares the sink and dryers. Admittedly, it was a little bit strange the first time I tried it to see men in the space, but looking back now, it just seems like a more efficient use of space. And who doesn't love that men now have to wait in line with the ladies?

All this potty-talk aside, the bathroom controversy reminded me of the German set up and this great wine bar that goes by the same nomenclature - WC. However, this time it directly translates to Wine & Charcuterie. According to their website, Wine & Charcuterie transformed a 100 year old former water closet located underneath Clapham Common tube station into a classic cocktail bar.

I love the concept! You get the "speakeasy" vibe that is currently popular in the U.S., but you get to experience this extra level history by experiencing a piece of the London underground! Definitely a place that is worth a visit the next time you are in London!

 

Cheers!

 

Restaurant Review: Osteria & Publican Restaurant Swap

Hey all, I know it's been a while since we talked, but much like old friends who haven't seen each other for a while, I know we can pick up right where we left off, inside jokes and all.

I had a couple photos lounging on my phone from October 2015, and they were too delicious, I couldn't keep them from the blog. So cast your memory back to days when the leaves were changing colors, the heat of summer was subsiding, and we all were counting down the hours until the Trump campaign would self-destruct (who knew - right?).

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Thank goodness for food bloggers. More often than not, they know about some truly awesome food events. It was almost buy chance that I heard about this awesome phenomenon, where the staff at Osteria would swap kitchens with the staff at the Chicago based Publican, for one night only.  I was lucky enough to grab a table for this event and taste a wonderful selection of dishes with a good looking guy to boot.

Check out the food we tasted below!

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Gotta start with a cocktail.

I'll be the first to admit that it's getting a bit intimidating with the alcohol selection out there. Every establishment is pulling together craft cocktails, craft beers, brewing their own spirits in house - it can be a bit intense. But I challenge you to you all dear wine-nerds, that if you choose to imbibe, choose something adventurous or from another country. 

And when I saw calvados as a main ingredient in the Healer's Choice, I knew I had a winner. Calvados may sound Spanish, but it's actually French! It is an apple brand distilled in the French region of Normandy. It's deep apple flavor is great for an apertif on its own, or is a great addition to mixed drinks!

Healer's Choice: Ternheim theater whiskey, calvados, mint honey syrup, lemon, and angostura bitters.

When it came to the food for the evening, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. (May seem like a cop out) But really! The food was seemingly simple but layered with interesting details. We opted to order a few (sturdy) small plates and share, and it all was delicious.

Check it out below!

Publican oysters + hama hama. 

Publican oysters + hama hama. 

Charcuterie plate with whole grain mustard perfection.

Charcuterie plate with whole grain mustard perfection.

Blood sausage, squid, green chili dressing served over veggies with parmesan and macron almonds.

Blood sausage, squid, green chili dressing served over veggies with parmesan and macron almonds.

Butterscotch pudding, vanilla ice cream and homemade oatmeal cookie.

Butterscotch pudding, vanilla ice cream and homemade oatmeal cookie.

The moral of the (photobook) story here is... if you have the opportunity to visit Publican while in Chicago, it is definitely worth it. While most of the plates weren't particularly veggie-friendly (and I can't speak for the full restaurant), it's a place your carnivore friends would love!

 

Cheers!

Cocktail Hour: Drambouie, Hibiscus, and Poppy - Oh My!

I am a big fan of happy hour. If you're reading this, I have a sneaking suspicion  that you may appreciate a sturdy drink or two as well. But, have you ever thought of the history behind "happy hour?" Sure, it may seem like happy hour is nothing more than a bar and restaurant scheme to get us in the door and stay for dinner - but it had to have more humble beginnings than that right?!

Of course it does - and naturally it dates back to prohibition.

When America went dry with Prohibition in 1920, everyone started to congregate in speakeasies and hidden bars. Including the ladies. Yes, it wasn't until Prohibition that women were even really allowed in bars. Adding ladies to the already curious blend of good drinks and conversation was bound to result in a good time worth repeating. Every night. At the same regular time.

During the 1950s and 1960s, thirsty speakeasy-goers began to move their good drinks and conversation into the suburbs. Suddenly, if you were interested in spending a night on the town with your friends, you were more likely to be found grilling out back than in a secluded, dimly-lit bar in the city. 

Finally, but the 1970s, cocktails were popular and grabbing drinks with your friends after work was a societal necessity. From this point on, how we referred to that perfectly refreshing time to grab drinks after work and before dinner depended on the marketing goal of the establishment. Happy hour is generally associated with drink specials and is about consuming a decent volume of drinks. While cocktail hour is about refined spirits and craft cocktails. 

Now that we have talked a little history, let's talk drinks! Specifically, I wanted to chat about a few interesting spirits that you may have not heard of before and will definitely add a little sparkle to your regular cocktail hour.

Drambuie.  

I recently discovered drambuie and it is a great addition to any scotch based drink! Drambuie is a golden colored liquor made from malt whiskey, honey and spices. The honey and spice flavors add a sweet and complex flavor to your cocktail. If you are interested in giving this honeyed whiskey a shot, check out some suggested recipes above.

Rusty Nail: Equal parts Drambuie and scotch over ice.

Rusty Mule: 1 part Drambuie, 3 parts Ginger Beer, squeeze two lime wedges and serve over ice.

Rusty Royale: Start with 1 measure of Drambuie in a champagne flute. Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling wine and garnish with a twist of orange.

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Greenbar Distillery Fruitlab Organic Liqueurs.  

My next two spirit-based suggestions are actually made in the same distillery - Greenbar Distillery. I first heard about Greenbar Distillery while listening to my favorite podcast The Dinner Party Download. The podcast discusses various topics in news, culture and food that would help any dinner party-goer be the life of the party.

Greenbar Distillery is so interesting because not only do they make organic spirits, but they are also pushing the envelope in terms of flavors. If you manage to find a bottle of their Hibiscus or Poppy Liquer, I urge you to check them out!

Hibiscus Liqueur. This liqueur adds bright red color and a delicious floral aroma to your cocktails. It would pair well with vodka, gin or sparkling wine.

Grand Poppy Bitters.  This liqueur is truly original. It is somewhat bitter sweet with flavors of flowers, herbs, and citrus. Similar to the European tradition of aperitifs, its great on its own or mixed into your favorite vodka based cocktail.

Happy mixing and Cheers!

Food and Wine Pairings: Pan Roasted Barbecue Chicken

Hey there friends! As promised, I am expanding the blog to include posts on more than just wine exclusively. Don't worry wine-nerds, I won't be skimping on the wine discussions! 

Today, I will be sharing one of my other passions with you -- cooking -- via a discussion on food and wine pairings. Before I share my tips on food and wine pairings via this delicious recipe, it is important to share my cooking philosophy. As a foodie, I definitely focus on flavor and aspire to recreate those delicious restaurant dishes at home. But as a realist, I know this is frequently impossible. So when cooking at home, I have three main goals: great flavor, fast clean-up and budget friendly. 

Food and Wine Matching Basics.

When it comes to food and wine pairings, I really live by only one rule - if it tastes good to you, then it is a spot on food and wine pairing! Seriously - I think too many wine writers over-complicate the process of pairing food with wine.

However, there are a few tips that can take a food and wine pairing from good to spectacular.  First, when you choose a glass of wine to drink, consider what type of food you may be ordering. Whether the main meal is light or heavy, made with a certain sauce or prepared in a particular way will impact what type of wine will match best.

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Pan Roasted Barbecue Chicken, Rice and Green Beans.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breast
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • Barbecue Sauce (I went with a sweet and tangy style)
  • Siracha Red Chile Sauce
  • Olive Oil
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Greek Yogurt (Plain)
  • Brown Rice & Side Vegetable of Your Choice (I went with Green Beans)

Pairing Key: Roasted chicken is a great place to start with food and wine pairings, the chicken acts as a "blank canvas" that pairs well with a variety of wines. However, the key element of this dish was the Siracha Yogurt Sauce (pictured above on top right side of plate). It is so simple - yet so delicious. Start with a few tablespoons of Greek Yogurt. Add Siracha to taste. I went with approximately 1 part Siracha to 2 parts Greek Yogurt (but I love spicy so beware). The sauce gives the dish some kick, so when looking for a wine to pairing with it - I wanted something with a touch of sweetness to balance the spice. I paired it with the 2012 Traminette from Penns Woods Winery.

Penns Woods Traminette 2012.

Yes - shameless plug for Penns Woods Winery (since I work in the tasting room there). Well, it would be shameless if the wines weren't so delicious. Traminette is a hybrid grape, part gewurtraminer, so it has a complex nose - smelling of honey and lemon. The taste has some sweetness but a clean, mineral finish. I chose it because I thought the crispness would pair will with the sweet spicy-ness of the Siracha and bbq sauces.

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And with that, I will wrap this first recipe post with a warning that every wine-loving home cook should appreciate.

 

Cheers!

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Food and Drink: What is Speculoos?

So - speculoos? Weird name right? Is it a technical culinary technique? A rare produce item? A Harry Potter spell? None of the above! Its actually spiced shortcrust biscuit that hails from the Netherlands. If that isn't enough to tempt you - they also make speculoos cookie butter. You heard right folks - cookie butter! I recently discovered this delicious spread (and sure, I'm probably late to the game), but I thought it was worth blogging about anyway!

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History

Speculoos is traditionally a Christmas cookie consumed around the St. Nicholas Feast in early December. 

Spices used in speculoos are 

cinnamon

nutmeg

cloves

ginger

,

cardamom

 and 

white pepper

.

The origin of the name has been traced back to the latin word

speculum,

 which means mirror, and refers to the mirrored designs traditionally stamped into the cookies.

While cookies are fun and all, where did the tradition of "cookie butter" come from? In Belgium, local workers used to make sandwiches with speculoos cookies and butter, which  turned into into a cookie paste by the time lunch rolled around. The corporations soon stepped in and speculoos butter was produced by several companies. Though, over time the competition was whittled down to two, 

Lotus and Biscuiterie Willems. For my legal nerds, the two companies claimed they had exclusive rights to the recipe and initiated a patent lawsuit. In the end, the disputed patent was nullified because it was discovered the recipe was online all along.

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How to use it?

When I first laid eyes on the speculoos cookie butter - one of my first thoughts was, what do you use this with?

Its the consistency of peanut butter, tastes like a cinnamon cookie, and literally has no nutritional value whatsoever... like not even frozen yogurt or natural peanut butter levels of nutrition where you can at least justify the calorie splurge. 

Some pairings you may consider (though feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments!):

  • On an english muffin, toast or really any baked good (except maybe apple pie, that may be too weird)
  • Speculoos and banana sandwich, or
  • Mixed in your favorite brownie receipe

Where to buy it?

I have seen speculoos cookie butter on sale at both Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Le Pain Quotidien. As per tradition (though I'm assuming because I haven't double checked the prices) the better value is likely at Trader Joe's. But beware - I heard Trader Joe's is running low on supply due to the item's growing popularity. When you are able to get your hands on some - be sure to share your recipes!

Cheers!

Spain: Bienvenidos a Madrid!

Third and final post from Spain - Madrid!

 We finally made it to our final destination - Madrid - after a crazy car ride from Barcelona and a lovely stop in Zaragoza. Today's topics include: history on Madrid, Museo del Prado, food and wine (of course!) and final thoughts on the Vis Competition for team Cardozo overall!

Starting with my usual favorite - history! One of the cutest pieces of history (and of course history can be

cute!

) was Madrid's coat of arms (pictured below). The shield is a bear sable supported on a strawberry tree. This coat of arms can trace its foundation back to the Battle of Law Navas de Tolosa in 1212, where the troops sent in support of the Christian King carried a flag with the statant bear on a silver field. For those who want to get really nerdy about coat of arms, statant refers to the

attitude 

(yes, attitude!), or position, of the animal on the shield. Specifically, statant means that the animal is standing (either on 2 or 4 feet).

A statute of the the coat of arms is located in the Puerta del Sol which is the famous center of Madrid. Interestingly, this busy city center is also the center of the radial network of Spanish roads (thus the literal center of Spain).

After walking through the Puerta del Sol, the group headed to Mercado de San Miguel. This place is a definite must see (or must eat-at rather) because everything, and I mean literally, everything in here looked delicious. Then, the group headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid and I was surprised to learn that this is still the resident of the Spanish Royal family. Yes, Spain still has a monarchy, similar to that of England. The current monarchy is led by King Juan Carlos I and his wife Queen Sofia. Preserving the monarchy is very popular in Spain, with approximately 75% of the population in support.

After we walk around the courtyards of the Palace (again we did not go in because the line was way too long) we headed to the Museo del Prado. This museum was established in 1819 and is the primary national art museum of Spain. While it houses a staggering amount of European art from the 12th-19th centuries, it is known for its Spanish art collection. 

The most famous collection of Spanish art features Fransisco de Goya. It was very exciting to see the masterpieces in person, including Goya's Saturn painting. However, (and without getting to political on art) Goya's Black Paintings are... well depressing. Other notable artists include: Rubens, Rembrandt, and Titian. After the museum, we headed across the street to relax with a bottle of wine. Service was relatively slow... I mean Spanish ... I mean slow. Though we didn't care because we were only interested in drinking wine. Eventually, the wait staff decided we were all so charming that they poured us shots on the house. These shots were more like digestifs, or digestive liquers served after the meal. They are usually taken straight (which they were) and typically include brandy, bitter liquers (which I received) or sweet liquers. I never had a chance to write down the brand names, but one was an apple liquer, the second taste like Jagermeister (bitter in taste, brown in color) and the third like chartruese (herbal in taste, yellow in color). I would definitely recommend the yellow disgetif. After our drinks, we took a quick stroll through Retiro Park and then headed back into the city center.

Most importantly, we stopped at the famous Chocolateria San Gines for hot chocolate and churros. This is the place for churros in Madrid. The hot chocolate is dark chocolate and served much thicker than anything available in the U.S. Similarly, the churros are different because they are not covered in cinnamon and sugar. This was the perfect snack after a day of touring. Though, I wouldn't have hated the addition of a little cinnamon to the hot chocolate or the churros.

That night we also headed to a great Paella restaurant, called La Barraca. There, we ordered some traditional paella and arroz negra (black rice). Both were excellent and this restaurant is worth visiting when in Madrid. 

And as usual, a discussion of food would not be complete without a discussion on wine. I wanted to briefly introduced the wine region that received the most attention during my visit to Spain - Rioja.

Rioja is one of Spain's major wine region. Specifically, it is the principal red-wine producing region. One of the most important grapes for rioja is tempranillo. Tempranillo is known for producing long-lived and complex wines. Another principle grape in rioja is garnacha. If you are looking for rioja, be sure to look the differences in the three major levels: (1) crianza - 2 years of aging, minimum 1 in oak barrels; (2) reserva - 3 years aging, minimum 1 in oak barrels; and (3) gran reserva - 5 to 7 years of aging, minimum 2 years in oral barrels. 

And those were some of the key highlights from our day in Madrid. It was a great trip full of awesome memories, wine and food. Until next time!

Cheers!

Spain: Bienvenidos a Barcelona

First post from Spain - Hello from Barcelona!

 We have a limited time in Spain, so this post is packed with information. 

Today's topics: La Rambla, Antoni Gaudi, Cathedral de Barcelona, Mercat de la Boqueria, 

Scammers in Spain, Sangria and Spanish food.

Placa del Portal de la Pau viewed from the waterfront 

The first night in Barcelona we took to the streets and headed for La Rambla. Technically, it is merely a tree-lined street, pedestrian mall and tourist trap in Barcelona. However, it is still worth a trip to witness the architecture, feel the history and experience the crowd (all while keeping a very close eye on your valuables). Historically, La Rambla was not so attractive and originated as a sewage filled stream bed.  However, it was converted into a paved street during the 18th century and has remained a sight to see ever since. Personally, it was refreshing to be outside and near the water.

Casa Batlló

Next, if there is only one name to remember in connection with Barcelona - it is Antoni Gaudi. The man seriously left an impression on this town. Gaudi was a Spanish Catalan architect who lived from 1852-1926.

Gaudi is known for his gothic-inspired modern style. His works embraced romantic catenary curves (an engineering term for a curve that, like a hanging chain or cable, supports its own weight when supported at both ends)

, ceramic mosaics and extensive details. In fact, his most famous work, the Sagrada Familia, is filled with dramatic intricacies that remain unfinished because he died before its completion. All the works we witnessed were inspiring, beautiful and definitely a must see for Barcelona.

Casa Milà

After we toured the famous Gaudi Houses, we ventured in search of something different. In the historic district of Barcelona is seems that there is a church around every corner. One of the most spectacular churches is the Catedral de Barcelona (featured on left). Warning: Do not confuse this gothic masterpiece with Gaudi's Sagrada Familia - because they are different! The Barcelona Cathedral is the home of Archbishop of Spain and was built in mostly during the 14th century.

A common theme to remember when visiting Barcelona (and the reason there are no pictures of the inside of these structures) there is a line to get into practically every. single. structure. So come prepared.

Next, we visited the Mercat de la Boqueria. Historically, this market (known as la Boqueria for short) was first mentioned in 1217. Overtime, the market survived as a general and unofficial market for over 500 years. Then, in 1826 the market was legally recognized and the official structure you can see today was completed by 1914. On our visit today, it was intensely crowded (as with most tourists spots). However, I was a bit thankful for the crowd because I noticed most people were drinking small juices. I eventually learned that most vendors who sold fruits and vegetables also sold fresh squeezed juices. I chose pineapple coconut - and it was awesome! I highly recommend! The remainder of our visit consisted mainly of checking out the vendors, such as: (1) If I had more time I would definitely come here for meat products, and (2) The dried pepper stand was so beautiful (see photo below).

Pepper stand in La Boqueria

Last, but not least, the topics concerning general life in Spain. First things first ... scammers. Now, I considered myself fairly well-traveled. I have been to three continents, do my research before head out, try to blend in, and haggle, haggle, haggle. But, Barcelona may be the exception to my preparation. Initially, the taxi driver from the airport warned us about pick-pockets in La Rambla. Ok - that is easy enough to avoid and thus far we have experienced no problems. But the driver also warned us about other taxi drivers overcharging - no problem we thought - we are from New York. Well, at the end of our first night, we took a taxi home, and were totally scammed. The initial walk took about 30-40 minutes, but took at least 20 via taxi with little traffic and cost almost 13 euro. All in all - I recommend you keep an eye on your taxi driver in Barcelona.

Similarly, we may or may not have had our conversation invaded by a former staff writer for

High Times Magazine

. (Yes, the cannibas afficionados magazine for all you straight edges out there). What do I mean?!? Well, when abroad as an American, I have found that other Americans will frequently join in on the conversation, especially when they have been abroad for some time. Basically, the miss speaking English and want to brush up on their skills. This past evening, we were chatting and minding our own business, then an older gentleman clearly of the flower power/make love not war generation completely crashed the conversation. Generally, he was nice enough until he started asking us not what we wanted to do with our lives, but "what do you want to

do??

" (If you are confused, you are on the right page, because this guy would not take any of our professional goals as an acceptable answer - thus we all were confused). Moral of the story - become fluent in Spanish or speak quietly to avoid conversation crashers. 

Finally, some comments on sangria and Spanish food. In a word - awesome! The tapas style mediterranean fare is a welcome change to the heavy Austrian style food we ate last week. Specifically, the picture below (featured left) is that of a typical Basque tapas restaurant. There, consumers grab a table then head to a buffet of tapas sized snacks. Each has a toothpick holding it together and at the end of the meal the waiter counts the toothpicks and charges you per tapa. Great experience to share with friends!

Long story short, Spain is welcome change from Austria (primarily weather wise) and the group has really seen a lot across one short day of touring. We especially loved the view from Park Guell (see above right) also heavily designed by Gaudi.

Cheers!