Showing posts with label beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beer. Show all posts

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yes, the Czech Republic is really like this

Imagine, being able to find beauty like this and world class beer for under $1 a glass all in one country.  Yes, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are really like this. The girls *are* this beautiful. The guys, unfortunately, not so much. Click on my title to see the Czech and Slovakian ladies nominated for Miss Universe via Tanya at Czechmate Diary.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Prague Pub Celebrates Czech Beers

 What's on tap at the Prague Beer Museum?

Here's a story that could prompt every reader to think, "Gee, I wish I'd thought of that."  It's so deceptively, brilliantly simple an idea that there is no way it could not possibly succeed.  Someone has started a Prague Beer Museum with the idea of collecting some of the nation's' best brews in one place for beer aficionados to sample. Brilliant! Click on my title to read the whole article.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eating My Way Through Sofia

Some friends of mine in Iowa, the Hamiltons, had told me years ago about how much they had enjoyed Bulgarian food when they had visited. I wanted to make sure that in my short two days in Sofia, I too made a point of experiencing great Bulgarian food.

A local hotel recommended a wonderful restaurant with authentic Bulgarian cuisine. It was but a short walk away (everything in Sofia seems very easy to find and get to on foot).  I loved the family story on the menu which I've linked to here. It kind of let me know "you're not in Kansas, anymore!" figuratively speaking.

Here's the restaurant name in
our alphabet.

And then again in Cyrillic.
The inside of the restaurant
had a wonderful rustic feel.
Very comfortable.
Bulgarian gypsies
  played for each table.
They could instantly come up
with a song
for any nationality
dining there
no matter where people were from.

I would love to load my video
of their music
but I'm writing this from Turkey
where YouTube is censored.

As a feminist, I have no problem
dining alone anywhere in the world.
I like my company!

But I struggle when tipping the musicians.
I do it, but it just seems like it's 
"a man's job."
Hopelessly out-of-date thinking, isn't that?

I noticed that I tipped, but the
table of six businessmen
from various nations
next to me didn't.
They sure made a point
of complaining loudly about gypsies
after the musicians had left the room.

 Yet, these artists were doing a lot
to enhance the cultural reputation of
Bulgaria while earning an honest living to boot.
They deserve to be honored for it,
don't you think?

This gorgeous plate of food
is called Chicken Shashlik.
It's a marinated grilled chicken kebab
with grilled lemons.
It would bring out the inner carnivore in anyone!
I paired it with Bulgarian wine
called Logodoj.

For desert, I had this
extraordinary concotion
Grandmother's Cream
with Carmalized Pineapple.
To die for!

My waiter Konstantin
was very funny.
When I told him
I was from America
he said,
"America, that's a small country
close to Canada, right?"
He teases his British customers
the same way:
"England, that's a small island
near Ireland, right?"

I finished my evening at
Pri Yafata
with Black Sea Gold,
a regionally-produced cognac.
What a great time and
what a great meal!
Shopska salad on the left (fabulous),
A stuffed pepper and stuffed cabbage roll
on the middle plate, and
does anyone know what that
mystery salad is on the right?

I also wanted to make sure I tried a stuffed green pepper while I was in Bulgaria.  I had made stuffed green peppers as a young cook, but I had given them up, because they always seemed a bit bland to me.  I wondered if Bulgarian stuffed peppers would be any spicer?  They weren't.  I was glad to know it wasn't me.  They're good, just without a kick. This represented my first taste of a stuffed cabbage roll too because I would never have had the guts to try wilted green leaves as a kid.  My thought back then would have been "eeew."  Cabbage rolls were also tasty, but standing tall rather than kicking hard.  The chef threw in the salad on the right.  I don't know what it is, I only know it had some sort of Balkan cheese in it.  Anybody out there know? This meal was from the Bulgarian Kitchen Cafe, inside one of the local mall food courts.

My last great meal in Sophia
was at a restaurant called 43,
named after the street it was on.

At my sidewalk table,
I enjoyed a Bulgarian brew
called Zagorka.

This delicious stew of chicken meat and other good stuff
was called pileshka kavarma.
Wow, was it tasty comfort food.

I especially enjoyed the chance to savor it
in this traditional Bulgarian pottery.
After this meal,
it was time to catch my night bus
to Turkey.
I loved doing that on a full, satisfied stomach.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Easter Weekend in Plsen

One of the most beautiful times I had in the Czech Republic last year was when I went to Plsen on Easter weekend to visit Hana, my longtime pen pal of twenty years.  We had started writing letters back and forth years ago, when an organization called World Contact Network was looking for Americans to correspond with newly-freed Czechs adjusting to the West.

I had fallen in love with the Czech Republic watching the Velvet Revolution on TV and was deeply fascinated by any nation so cultured as to elect a playwright for President.  I had to know more about Czechs!  Hana and I began writing and eventually Hana's daughter, Lenka, came to live with my family for a time in America.

I took over 250 pictures of my weekend trip to Plsen! I had looked forward to this day so much. Hana and I had raised kids at the same time. We both divorced about the same time.  We taught each other so much about each other's countries.

Unfortunately, on the train back to Prague, a train employee asked everyone in my compartment to switch to a new compartment. In that move I lost my camera. I don't know if I left it on the ledge, the seat, or someone took it out of my bag.  I was sooooooo disappointed because I had such a wonderful weekend there.

Hana and her family went to great lengths to show me a fabulous time in their city. It's taken me over a year just to accept that I wouldn't have those pictures to share with this blog post because I felt the loss so deeply.

Hana and her son picked me up at the train station.  I went first to meet Hana's parents and to see her son's village home which he was renovating.  Jiri took me out to the backyard to see the animals he raised for food.

Have you ever heard of the animal Nutrea?  I hadn't.  Hana's son, Jiri, said their meat was very tender to eat.  There were four or five pens with 2-3 animals in each. I thought "wow, I'm really in a European village now.  Hana's family is actually raising their own livestock in the backyard!"  Later, I laughed about how exotic and foreign I thought this was at the time, because it turns out that a very hip, very growing trend in Madison, Wisconsin where I would subsequently move, is to grow chickens in the backyard.  Madison has a whole web site for chicken farming aficionados called "Mad City Chickens."

On Saturday, we started with a tour of the Brewery Museum.  It was fun to see how beer has been created throughout the centuries.  After a tour of the museum, everyone gets a free beer.  We had ours on the back porch of the museum and put all of our new knowledge to work tasting a rich Czech beer.

Later, we went downtown to walk around lovely Plsen.  There was a wedding outside the fascinating, centuries-old Main Hall and I tried not to take pictures but it was hard!  Everything was sunny and blue, the bride was beautiful, and I was in the middle of a picturesque town square in the middle of Europe!  Eventually, they dragged me over to the beautiful church,  St. Bartholomew Cathedral, that's right in the Main Square.  We went inside to see the baroque interior and to climb the steps to the top of the tower.  I have no idea how roofs in the Czech Republic ever get done because the steep angle would terrify me if I was a roofer (thank you to those of you who are; I appreciate how dangerous it is and am grateful that someone else takes it on).  It was fun to see all of Plsen from every side and to look down and see the Plsner beer tent and all of the other kiosks set up to celebrate Easter.  We climbed down and had a Plsner beer in the Plsen beer tent in the middle of Plsen.  Gosh darn it, I want a picture of that!

That evening, Hana and her sweetie, took me to the Plsen Opera House for an evening of opera.  It's cozier than the Prague National Theatre (I haven't been to the Prague Opera) and it's just as beautiful. Again, it kills me that I can't show you the pictures because Europeans create the most breathtakingly beautiful performance spaces. Wait, have I been in other nation's performance spaces?  No.  Let me revise that to what I have personally witnessed.  Czechs make the most gorgeous performing spaces!  Everyone was dressed up too. We looked great! It was nice.

The next day we ventured out into the countyside to see Kozel Castle.  If I could have teleported my mother from Colorado to that chateau for their tour, I would have.  It was divine! My mother would have gone absolutely nuts seeing that place.  It was a hunting chateau in the middle of an idyllic lakefront setting.  The home was beautiful, yes, but it was the lightness of the decorating that I would have loved for my mother to see.

Every room in that hunting chateau suggested "play."  The ceramics and the dishes were exquisite! In each room, there were fresh flowers in manor-sized containers.  It was worth it to go on that tour just to see a gorgeous, resplendent arrangement of flowers in each room on that elegant scale over and over again. With most tours, the tour operators wouldn't go to the trouble of giving you the feeling of being in the room as it was meant to be at the time using fresh flowers.  But the people who run this castle did.  Fantastic! The final room was the best of all.  We walked into a magical family-sized theatre.  I could just imagine the people putting on a play for each other's amusement in the 1830's.  Oh, it was painful not to have my mother by my side for that tour! She would have just appreciated it so much. And I can't even show her the pictures!

After that fabulous experience, we went into town to a new brewery and restaurant that had started in Plsen.  I would share the name of it with you but where would I get that guessed pictures.

I went home on Sunday night.  If I had been more educated about Czech Easters, I would have known I would be expected to stay through Monday.  Monday is also part of the Czech Easter holiday.  I did not know that though until Prague friends asked me why I came home early.  Now I know.

I had a WONDERFUL time at Hana's.  It was so meaningful to connect in person after all those years of letters.  It's my pen pals who really continued and built on my initial fascination with all things Czech.  If you can't see a picture of Hana and her family, I hope what you can feel is their hearts: open.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Will Be the Czech "Jamie Oliver?"

There are two spheres of life in the Czech Republic that are wide open for the right talent to walk into and call their own - giant gaping voids that just scream "opportunity!"  The first sphere would be politics which I've written about in other posts.  The second sphere of life in the Czech Republic that is in need of new voices, new talent, & new thought is cuisine.

British Chef
Jamie Oliver
Where is the Czech "Jamie Oliver?" He's the British chef who said "we could make our national food and cuisine and what we serve our kids healthier." The Czech Republic is in bad need of this kind of culinary cultural leadership.
Food author
Michael Pollan

It's interesting to compare what needs to be fixed in American diets and what needs to be fixed in Czech diets.  My hero, author Michael Pollan, writes extensively and entertainingly that Americans eat a lot of "edible food-like substances" rather than real, actual food. He has said Americans are unconscious when they eat processed food.  It's not really "real food." It's an "edible, highly-processed food-like substance" that has been created because processed food adds more profit to ag companies than commodities.

Americans are so guilty as charged! Pollan says it would be hard to create an eating culture that resulted in more heart disease, obesity, and chronic disease than our own, but we Americans have managed to do it.  Most likely, because each one of those health problems is a profit opportunity for someone. So ag companies can make profit on creating unhealthy food and drug companies can make profit on fixing all the health problems created.  You are not a person - you are a profit delivery system for large companies in the American food landscape!

So Michael Pollan asked all of his readers ("The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" were each chosen as among the top ten titles in the year they were written - both of them are fantastic) to send him their family "food rules" so Americans could begin to develop an eating culture that would not poison them. It has resulted in his new book "Food Rules," a collection of the rules people sent in.

The most well-known food rule people sent is this: Don't eat any food your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize.
Pork knuckle.

What a conundrum. Everything Czech people eat is food their great-grandmother would recognize! If we were doing manual labor on a farm it would be the perfect cuisine: bread and potato dumplings, deep-fried cheese, piles and piles of potatoes, loads of beer (and not light beer either), and inexpensive cuts of beef and pork (did you know pork had knuckles? Pork knuckle is a famous Czech dish). So far, the Czech people look pretty skinny.  But I was seeing the pedestrian Czechs for the most part - not the driving Czechs.  Now that Czechs are beginning to buy cars, I wonder how long they'll stay skinny.

I say the opportunity is right for an inventive Czech chef to update Czechs to the beautiful, wondrous, variety of vegetables out there beyond cabbage and potatoes.  Communism is dead! Czech people, you don't have to eat like a communist or a member of the A/H Empire anymore.  You deserve vegetables in every possible color, not just white. You deserve high-quality meat! There are more exotic things for you to discover beyond bananas!

This mythical chef could possible update gender roles a bit too.  In America, every man I know proudly kicks ass in the kitchen.  Czech men have no idea how fun it is to cook!
Travel Channel host and chef
Anthony Bourdain

Tonight, Anthony Bourdain's American travel show "No Reservations" travels to Prague to see how cuisine has evolved post-communism.  I'm so excited to see what he has to say.

Related posts:
Armchair Traveling With Tony
What Flavor Do You Associate With the Czech Republic?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Prague, One Pint at a Time

One of the easiest things to do in the Czech Republic is become a beer snob. It even happened to me - somebody who previously had a beer every couple of years. The New York Times' Evan Rail celebrates the variety of craft beer available throughout Prague in this article readable by clicking on my title. My only question for Evan is shouldn't it read "Prague, one half-liter at a time?"

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wonderful English Language Theatre in Prague

One of the nice things about having a large English-speaking population in Prague is that expats have started to create and grow their own institutions. We are like the population of a smaller town within a larger city. We can keep the doors open to special gathering spots like bars, restaurants, and theaters on our own.

This weekend a friend and I went to see Glengarry Glen Ross, the Pulitzer-prize winning play by American David Mamet. It was presented by the Prague Playhouse under the direction of Brian Caspe. The play was held in a cozy theater called Divadlo Inspirace. The theater holds about 70 people in the gothic basement of Malostranske namesti 13, a stunningly beautiful part of town. The whole place, including the foyer where beer was sold, had the feeling of a secret clubhouse. Who else should be there but Blogging Gelle and a whole row of his pals, which was a fun surprise.

When I saw this play as a movie with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon, I found the language so brutal it was hard to get passed it. But as Mamet said when he wrote his play set in a real estate sales office in Florida, "this is how real estate guys really do talk to each other." This time I was prepared for the language and was able to see the humor and the humanity of the characters.

There is a masterful opening monologue by actor Curtis Mathew, who played Shelly Levene, "the Machine" who tried to persuade his boss that he had just hit a selling dry spell and only needed the best leads to turn it all around. Throughout the play, Curtis did a great job showcasing the ego dejection of his dry spell and the ego inflation of turning it around.

If you've every been around a sales team, or managed a sales team, you will thoroughly enjoy the point-by-point account of how he closed a sale. Who hasn't heard a business war story retold in detail like that in real life? Heck, who hasn't told one!

There is another monologue I love in this play where one man accuses another of "being like a child" but I won't tell you anymore about it. I have to leave some surprises, right?

As usual, the Prague price for this professionally-acted theater is fantastic: 200 kc or $10 a seat. Brian predicts the show will sell out. Click on my title if you are interested in seeing the play on the remaining three dates that have seats available.

I would like to ask Czechs learning English if hearing and seeing an English language play is easier to understand than hearing an English-language movie? What do you think, my dear Czech friends?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Celebrating My New President

The President of the United States of America and the First Lady

I tried not to say to random people on the tram yesterday "I have a new President!" but it was hard. I felt lonely for my own kind yesterday. I needed to be around Americans. Usually every inauguration day I watch the entire coverage from beginning to end because I love politics and history.

My classes went until 6 p.m. which is exactly when President Obama was taking the oath of office. It about killed me to be on the streets going home and not parked in front of a TV when that was taking place. I went to an Obama Inauguration Party at Jama, an expat bar off of Wenceslas Square, but truly I got there so late I kind of missed the speech and main celebration.

Expats present told me the largest cheer came when the helicopter lifted off the White House Grounds with our outgoing president. It was fun to meet Americans who had come into Prague for the party, and American veterans (thanks for your service!), and Czechs who wanted to share the celebration.

Later I drank a $7 beer at the Hotel Imperial bar so I could watch the inauguration on CNN for awhile without interruption.

About 20% of the Europeans yesterday understood just how very much we believe. One student said, "This is a very important day for America, the whole world even." It made me cry. The other 80% of Europeans, especially Czechs, are deeply, deeply skeptical about any politician. "Well at least he won't be worse." No, you don't understand. This guy is better than that.

If I have a wish for you, my dear Czech friends, it is that someday you get a politician that brings out the best in you, who honors the best of your country, and that makes you so damn proud to be Czech. I wish for you the pride, depth of belief, and lack of cynicism that I feel right now.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Welcome to Prague!

Friday we had our first meeting as a class and got to know each other. There are nine of us. It's a fun group. Some people are really into language with degrees in linguistics. About half the class has a Master's degree. Some are here for fun or an adventure before they start teaching in a regular school system in the States. Some people just like this side of the world. We are American, Canadian, Czech, and Russian. The ages range from 22 to me!

We received a pile of books and our course syllabus and homework assignments. Later our guide told us, "you are going to be overwhelmed by how much work this is - don't waste time whining - just do it." He warned against past behavior he had seen in the course where some students get behind because they are our partying and just quit coming to class. They just end up living in their apartment until it's time to leave.

So I've decided "no fun allowed" for my first month here. I will really focus on the course and explore Prague afterwards. It's just one month.

After our course orientation, we were scheduled to have an orientation tour of Prague. I thought it would be like a sightseeing bus tour. It wasn't. It was an incredibly useful orientation to practicialities: this is where you get a mobile phone, this is where you can get help with your computer, here's a mall, and here's how the metro and tram work.

Our guide suggested we get to know one Metro station in particular, Meztek (sp?), because it's so huge and such a labyrinth. It's a transfer point between the yellow line (which I live on) and the red line. He said you want to know this station completely before you have to teach at 6:30 a.m. in the morning at some business you've never been to, when you're still half asleep, and you have no idea which of the 20 exits from the station you need to take to get to your class and you're running late.

He said the most common ways teachers get pick-pocketed on the metro was not due to someone bothering them during the day. Rather young teachers go out partying and fall asleep on the metro on the way home. Then the driver is waking them up at the end of the line only for the teacher to discover that his wallet and phone are gone.

I appreciated our guide because he made it clear he had our backs if we ever needed him. He was referring to young men who drink too much but it's the idea that counts. He gave everyone his phone number.

Our group then went out for our first dinner together at a pub across from our school. I don't have internet access in my apartment or I'd post the pics. We all had the famous Czech beer Pilsner Urquell. It tasted great but I'm not a beer expert. The subtleties of it's awesomeness might be wasted on me. Who knows, maybe living in the Czech Republic will turn me into a beer snob.
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