Travel, Food, and Slices of Life

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Refreshing Old Ways: Sharing the Path

Those of us who remember our Beowolf readings from high school English class merrily purchased our first cup of mead at Renaissance Festivals and were rewarded with a sweet drink. Perhaps we were young and that was palatable. But  it was the last time I drank mead until I moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley about three and a half years ago.

Living in the middle of wine country is a joy in many ways. Not only does it offer a lot in terms of oenophile enjoyment, but the countryside is beautiful.  And twice a year (Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend) almost all the wineries open their doors, even if they normally do not have tasting rooms. It was our first Thanksgiving weekend here and avoiding a popular location with the Portland crowd, we headed up Highway 47 north of McMinnville. When we got to Yamhill we stopped, on a whim, at a meadery at Kookoolan Farms.
Yamhill Oregon Local Farm

Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor and her husband Koorosh met as engineers for Intel and purchased a  farm in Yamhill. Kookoolan Farms has evolved over time to work with other nearby farms to offer vegetables and meat to consumers throughout the region and its reputation for quality is well known. To find out more about the farm and all they do check out their website and their Facebook page.

Like me, Chrissie remembered her Beowolf and started making mead from local honey.  She perfected her craft, moving well beyond the sticky sweet stuff so many of us experienced at those Ren Fairs. In her quest, she started gathering mead from other places in the United States and from around the world. This is when I met her. We visited her mead tasting room and was amazed at the variety of tastes offered.

And why not, when you really think about it. Beer, which has the same basic components, has amazing variety. Wine, of course, varies not only by the type of grape but, as I have learned first hand, by the weather, the terroir, and the skill of the winemaker.  Why not discover the same breadth and depth with mead?

Mead has been enjoyed by people for thousands and thousands of years. It seemed to be found often in monasteries which produced honey for the beeswax to make candles. The mead was a fortunate byproduct of that task.  Today, home brewing shops throughout the country can attest to an upsurge in interest and currently there are over 400 commercially licensed meaderies in 46 states, up from 30 in 1997!  Mead is considered to be the fastest growing beverage business.

Many meaderies, like Kookoolan, are very small with only a limited and local distribution. However, there are many that have larger production and a number of bottle shops are expanding into offering a wider selection.

As interest grows, so do the number of books available on the subject. So far, however, most recent books about mead have been in the “how to” genre. Home brewing is highly popular and there are plenty of tips and lessons available to ease the learning curve.

However, as mead started becoming more popular, Chrissie realized there was something missing. Her clues came from the visitors to the tasting room. Not only “Where can I find mead besides your tasting room?” but “What would be a good dish to pair with this mead?”

She realized she had a definite advantage over just about everyone else in the field. When she went to make her lunch in her kitchen, it was fun to grab a small pour, or two or three in the adjacent tasting room and see what tasted good with the dish she had prepared for her meal. As she kept her notes, the light bulb started to burn brightly and the book concept was born.

The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing (ISBN 978-0-578-18895-9) took three years to produce.  It is a joy to read…and even better to work through by cooking and tasting. Chrissie has not only explained the various kinds of meads that are available, but offered well tested recipes to pair with the various kinds.  Imagine, if you will, you have a pretty terrific chicken pot pie you have made, either from your own recipe or the one in the book.  You might be tempted to pair it with a white wine for supper, but your enjoyment can be enhanced with the right kind of mead pairing.

From spicy (check out the shrimp gumbo!) to sweet there is something in here for every palate. 

The books is also divided into regions of the world, as mead is produced everywhere there is honey. One photograph really caught my eye; it showed an archaeological find at Tel Rehov, Israel with a multitude of preserved hives. This discovery proves that ancient civilizations, this one dating back to 900 CE, had a great appreciation for bees, honey and its byproducts.

The book explains mead history as part of the Paleo world, in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region, northern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and in Latin America. Recipes and pairing suggestions are offered to get your exploration rolling.

And through it all, gorgeous photography. Even a simple photo of the collection of meads Chrissie obtained from meaderies around the world in the research for this book is beautiful, even as it began to overtake the floor space in their dining room.

My hope is in your own life adventures you make room for new challenges.  Part of exploration may be of new places, but some new learning may take place in the known and safe nest of your own. Open your willingness to try not only new foods, but new  beverages too. Perhaps this concept of mead pairings will get you thinking and not only check out the book, but start checking out the shelves in a local bottle shop. At a recent visit to a local grocery store yesterday I found this.



and now I get to figure out what food will go well with it. Ahhhh, time to reread the book!
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148                                                                                                                                                                                                                             503-730-7535   kookoolan@gmail.com




That’s Some Spicy Meatball!

Guest Post by Graham Rankin

The title comes from an old Alka-Seltzer ad but could be applied to Sri Lankan cuisine. Since I returned from Sri Lanka I’ve been asked to write about the food, not only because I am a foodie but also because I posted a lot of pictures during the trip of what I was eating each day.

Sri Lanka cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine in that curries, dahl and rice dishes are common.  Someone told me that that Sri Lankans claim to have invented curry but that the Indians take issue with that.  I am not going to try to discover who invented it, I just enjoy them.  As an aside, “curry” means sauce so there are thousands of curry recipes found in a number of Southeast Asian countries.

Chicken curry (bowl of red in the center) with traditional accompaniments”  ( counter-clockwise from right: rice, dahl, some potato based dish I don’t remember the name, naan, chutney, and pickled onions)

Chicken curry (bowl of red in the center) with traditional accompaniments” ( counter-clockwise from right: rice, dahl, some potato based dish I don’t remember the name, naan, chutney, and pickled onions)

When you go to a typical Indian restaurant in America, you are often asked “mild, medium, hot or Indian hot”.  To that I could add Sri Lankan hot!  Actually it is not quite that bad if you stay away from the chili paste that often is an accompaniment to dishes.  The menus at some restaurants did include notice that some dishes were “very spicy”, “medium spicy” or “mild” as a guide for us westerners.

There are some dishes that seem to be uniquely Sri Lankan, two of which were often served on the breakfast buffet at my hotel.  The breakfast buffet included what we might call a “traditional English breakfast”: sausages, scrambled eggs, potatoes, grilled tomatoes, and grilled mushrooms.  It also included a curry, milk rice and egg hoppers.  The last two were new to me.  Milk rice (or rice and milk) I had growing up was a way of using up leftover rice served with milk and sugar.  In Sri Lanka, it is a firm, slightly salty dish, which reminded me of very firm grits or polenta.  The egg hopper is a very thin crepe like bowl made of rice flour batter with an egg cooked sunny side up in the bottom.  A special pan with steeply sloping sides is heated over a burner, the batter added and swirled around to coat the sides.  When it is set, an egg is dropped in the middle and cooking completed.  These were being made fresh at a cook station so I watched the process.  They had a spicy grilled onion mixture or chili sauce as accompaniment.

Egg hopper along with grilled chicken, yellow rice, curry, chutney and other goodies (dinner at Raja Bojun)

Egg hopper along with grilled chicken, yellow rice, curry, chutney and other goodies (dinner at Raja Bojun)

Breakfast also included an assortment of baked goods, fresh fruit and juice.  The waiter convinced me to forego the orange juice I usually ordered to be “Sri Lankan” and get the fresh pineapple or mango juice.  It was delicious.

During the week, my lunch was provided by the lab from a local takeout around the corner.  It was referred to as a “packet”, for the flat box it came in.  It was usually rice with some protein and vegetables and a thin egg omelet.  Noodles were the alternative starch component.  The servings were large, almost large enough for 2 and cost under $3.  Fruit yogurt, ice cream or fresh fruit for dessert.

Prawn curry with noodles, vegetables, tofu, and egg omelet.  The dark red dab in the upper right corner is chili paste which I was told by my Sri Lankan liaison to avoid as it was too hot for him!  I took his advice seriously. Prawns are what we would call shrimp here.

Prawn curry with noodles, vegetables, tofu, and egg omelet. The dark red dab in the upper right corner is chili paste which I was told by my Sri Lankan liaison to avoid as it was too hot for him! I took his advice seriously. Prawns are what we would call shrimp here.

As Sri Lanka is an island, seafood is frequently included on menus.  My first day, I had cuttlefish with rice for lunch.  Cuttlefish is a relative of squid and octopus and tastes similar but definitely chewier.chicken lampras

One day, Lucky (my liaison) suggested I try something different and he ordered Chicken Lamprasi which is grilled chicken, rice, a hard-boiled egg and a “cutlet” wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.  Unlike our ‘cutlet’ over here, it was a thickly breaded chopped meat filled item that reminded me of a tamale but seasoned differently.lunch

As an aside, Sri Lankans generally eat with their fingers (right hand only!) but provided me with a fork.

RajaAlthough I ate most of my dinners at the hotel because the construction on the main street made walking somewhat treacherous,  I did venture a couple of blocks down the street to Raja Bojun.  It had been recommended as having a buffet featuring dishes from all the regions of Sri Lanka.  I really needed a guide and an extra stomach to work my way through all the choices.Raja buffet

One half of the buffet (21 choices) were Sri Lankan dishes.  In addition, there was a station where chicken thighs were being grilled and another  making egg hoppers.

Raja dessertAbout one third of the choices for desserts including fresh fruit, cheese, cakes, puddings, ice cream and yogurts.

fish soupThe restaurant at the hotel featured mostly western dishes with some Sri Lankan touches.  A Sri Lankan fish soup and grilled watermelon and prawns salad were two interesting offerings.grilled watermelon and prawns

Three desserts at the hotel were particularly notable:  dessert shooteedrs“Watalappian  Jaggery coconut pudding with Karthakalabu mango and ginger shooter”, dessert shooteedrs2“trio of Kirulaga and coconut surprise, steamed coconut cake and upcountry nut roll” and “banana fritters with vanilla cinnamon ice cream and honey”.  I think I have spelled everything correctly as I am trying to read a bad photograph of the menu.dessert shooteedrs3

Wine and most distilled spirits are imported and relatively expensive.  However, a glass of Australian wine at the hotel cost about $7 which is in line with hotel prices for wine by the glass here.  I tried three different local beers and Lion Lager won out.  Good flavor and body; the others tasted like Coors Light.  Beers can be ordered in 1 liter bottles – one will do.  Lion also helped counteract the heat of the curries!

I did eat the first Friday night at the Bavarian restaurant across the street from the hotel sitting at the bar (no tables of one on Friday nights) when someone ordered the monster pictured below (not me!).  It holds 3 liters and was to be delivered to a table of 3 according to the bartender.beer

There is one local distilled spirit, Arrack, which is distilled from coconut flower sap, sugar cane and/or red rice.  It is aged in barrels and tastes like a cross between dark rum and bourbon.  I had it over ice, but was told that most Sri Lankans prefer it with soda and no ice (something they must have acquired from the British).  I was told there was a local rum and gin, but did not try those.arak

The full moon occurred Sunday, March 16th.  Each full moon Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrates the Pula festival.  No alcohol is sold on this day; bars and liquor stores are closed.  The Bavarian was closed as most of its business was due to the bar and less from the food.  At the hotel, one could order alcohol ONLY through room service and there was a minibar in each room.  I abstained and drank only bottled water with dinner.  I had fish curry and wished for my Lion to cut the heat!

One final note,  I never had any GI problems.  I had taken Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus shots before leaving as recommended by the CDC travel website.  I generally drank bottled water rather than tap water. The hotel and lab provided bottled water in abundance. There was an article in the local newspaper that the tap water in Colombo was declared safe.  As for fresh fruits I ate only peeled fruit outside of the hotel as recommended by the USAID instructions sent to me prior to my trip.



Hillbilly Hot Dogs

Hotdogs generally have not been included in my regular diet for a few years as I moved away from processed foods, but an errand one of the last days I was in West Virginia took me right past an icon of the region, Hillbilly Hot Dogs. photo 1

Presented on national television by Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri enjoyed the fried dogs with a multitude of toppings. http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/homewrecker-hot-dog/35982.html

gas stationHillbilly Hot Dog’s restaurant is over the top in terms of decor, poking fun with a high level of mirth and sarcasm at the way the outside world views the people in this region. photoa

WV dog and cheese fries

West Virginia Hot dog and cheese fries

huntstandWhile you could eat at the in-town Huntington version of the restaurant to enjoy all the flavors offered at the Lesage place, if you have the time, drive out to the first place. It only takes about 20 minutes from downtown Huntington and your enjoyment will extend from your taste buds to your funny bone.

Click for the full menu

Hillbilly Hot Dogs
6951 Ohio River Rd.
Lesage, WV 25537
(304) 762-2458