Meat your maker

We eat very little meat these days. This shift has come about for a number of reasons, primarily concerns about our own health and that of the planet’s – truthfully, the best thing you can do for the world (besides avoiding disposable straws at all times) is to reduce or eliminate your meat consumption. We also went vegetarian for our round-the-world adventure last year, and when we returned home it was easy just to carry on eating plant-based.

What meat we do eat comes from sources we know and trust, primarily wild-hunted game and animals raised on friends’ farms and ranches. We know how these animals lived and also how they died, and that matters. A lot.

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Tools of the trade.

As we prepare to move from our first house, we’re not only downsizing books and furniture and knickknacks – we’re also downsizing a fairly impressive pantry. I’ve always kept a lot of food on hand; this habit stems from our time on the boats, where we traveled to some pretty remote places; often, we didn’t know when we’d be able to provision, or what would be available when we got there, so I tended to stockpile. I’m focused right now on cooking with what we have, and part of that plan involves using up the remainder of a bull elk hunted by a former client of ours.

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You can tell this is wild game by the almost total lack of fat in the meat.

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Ready for the grinder.

When you’re accustomed to cooking with standard American feedlot beef and pork, wild game – most commonly deer and elk in these parts – takes some getting used to. As a general rule, you either slice it thin and cook it super-fast and hot, such as for a stir-fry, or you cook it low and slow, as in a stew or braise, to tenderize the tough fibers. Because we’re not really eating meat as the centerpiece of our meals any longer, I think the highest and best use of lean game such as this elk is making it into jerky, and thankfully N agrees. Once it’s made into jerky we can keep it indefinitely, and it’s great to have along for road trips and other adventures.

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Essen und Trinken in Berlin

Oh, have we mentioned once or maybe twice that we love food tours? In every city we visit, if there’s a food tour on offer, we’re on it – and Berlin was no exception. Thanks to Margot at Secret Food Tours for introducing us to Berlin’s classic street food!

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Chicken shawarma in Turkish flatbread.

Our first stop was a classic shawarma joint; for those of you who didn’t grow up in Europe – or in a city with a strong Middle Eastern influence – shawarma is grilled meat on a spit, slowly roasted and shaved for serving in wraps and sandwiches. Shawarma can be chicken, goat, lamb or beef; ours was brightly seasoned chicken, thinly sliced and served in fresh Turkish flatbread with crunchy lettuce and a tangy, garlicky yogurt sauce. (Want to try your hand at home? Start here.)

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This is our kind of bar.

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It’s 10:00AM in Berlin. It’s freezing. Let’s have a beer. A dark beer.

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Flammkuchen is a great reason to come to Germany.

Our next stop was a cozy, dark neighborhood bar that specialized in flammkuchen, also known as tarte flambée or Alsatian pizza. This was truly one of the best things we ate in Berlin; it’s a crisp crust topped with crème fraîche, smoked bacon, thinly sliced onions and chives. It sounds just okay, but it’s actually spectacular. We ordered a second one.

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Comer y beber en Madrid

Dear friends, it should come as no surprise by now that eating (comer) and drinking (beber) are two of our favorite travel activities. We are quick to search out food and market tours wherever we go, and Madrid was no exception. Many thanks to Jorge at Secret Food Tours for taking us on a gastronomic adventure through his city!

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Madrid’s Plaza Major, a perfect example of Spain’s café culture.

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The Spanish verb tapear translates literally as “to eat small portions” – and of course from that we get tapas.  

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Chalkboard menus (and fresh baguettes) dot the city.

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Chorizo and sangria. What more do you need, really?

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The city of Madrid issues plaques like the one above to stores and restaurants of historical significance in the city; this one dates from 1837. Many of these places pay rent that is far below market rates to keep their businesses open, because Madrid’s government has decided that they don’t wish to have the center of town filled with Starbucks, McDonald’s and tacky tourist stores able to pay inflated prices. Smart decisions like this help cities maintain their cultural character instead of becoming homogenized corporate copies.

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Slicing jamón by hand.

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Legs are hung for months or years to cure properly.

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Spain is justifiably famous for its jamón, which comes in different grades. Jamón ibérico, or Iberian ham, can only be made in Spain and Portugal from pigs that are at least 50% Iberian. The very best is called jamón ibérico de bellota, which comes from pigs allowed to forage in the wild for acorns, giving the flesh a sweet taste and silky texture. Jamón ibérico de bellota is so valuable that individual pigs often have armed bodyguards, since the entire pig can be worth as much as $4,000. Traditionally, it’s always shaved very thinly by hand and served as tapas with tiny breadsticks, above.

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Notice how the leg is stamped? Since they’re so valuable, it’s important that they can be traced to prevent forgeries and theft.

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Calamari sandwiches are another classic snack in Madrid.

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Did you know that the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world is in Madrid? It’s famous for suckling pig, which you can see in the dishes on the left.

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One of the oldest pastry shops in Madrid…

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…and their famous ponche segoviano, a layered pastry made with marzipan.

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France gets all the press, but Spain makes its fair share of incredible pastries.

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Jorge demonstrating how to pour Spanish cidre, made from apples grown in the north of Spain.

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Classic tapas: a Spanish omelette, or tortilla, made of eggs, potatoes and onions, served on fresh bread. Simple, filling and delicious.

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A perfect pair: manchego and cidre.

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I’ll be in the cellar if anyone needs me.

 

Happy hour

Between filming Hobbit movies and grilling lamb chops, New Zealand also manages to make some pretty decent beverages. Wine represents a hugely important component of New Zealand’s agricultural exports; craft beer has always been second fiddle to wine here, but the microbrew industry is definitely on the rise. We obviously wanted to be as fair and open-minded as possible, so we made sure to taste just as much beer as we did wine during our time here.

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Hops are the flowers of the female hop plant (Humulus lupulus), and they’re used primarily as flavoring and stability agents in beer.

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All of New Zealand’s hops are grown in the Nelson region on the South Island. As the craft beer industry has exploded around the world, hops have become a much more lucrative crop.

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The tap line-up at Hop Federation, Riwaka.

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Rule No. 1: when photographing for your blog, find a friendly, amenable bartender.

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A beer tasting board at McCashin’s.

In the U.S., at least, New Zealand is most known for its sauvignon blanc, specifically from the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island. Walk into any American wine shop and you’re almost guaranteed to find a bottle of Cloudy Bay, the wine that basically introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand wine. Central Otago pinot noir, however, is also starting to make a name for itself, as are a number of other unique varietals.  Like other New World wine regions, New Zealand has more freedom to experiment with its grapes and winemaking styles than the Old World with its deeply entrenched rules.

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Brancott Estate, Marlborough.

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Harvest is about three weeks away for these merlot grapes.

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These fruit crates are seen everywhere in New Zealand; they’re used for apples, plums, pears and of course wine grapes too.

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The vines and the mountains in Marlborough.

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Cellar door at Forrest Wines, Marlborough.

Wine tasting in New Zealand is easy and accessible; cellar doors are signposted and tastings usually cost between $5-$15 per person. Many regions, such as Hawke’s Bay, have numerous cellar doors close enough to tour by bike, and of course there are dozens of tour companies happy to drive while you drink, too.

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Neudorf Winery, Nelson. The vines are covered in netting to protect the ripe fruit from hungry birds. Many of the wineries have lovely gardens where you can enjoy a glass of wine and a picnic.

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Wine moving from tank to barrel at Moana Park, Hawke’s Bay.

Surprisingly, most of the lower-end bottles ($8-15) you find in the grocery store here are actually from Australia or South Africa, because New Zealand makes more money exporting its wines – especially to China – than it does selling them at home.

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Old barrels put to good use as decor at Church Road Winery, Hawke’s Bay.

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Finishing our picnic at Moana Park with their 2004 Colheita Port.