Thursday, August 31, 2006

English Domination

The French are nortoriously sensitive to corruption of their language. They have even gone as far as banning the use of the term e-mail in official correspondence, insisting on the "proper" French term courrier electronique. So you can imagine how ironic it to see this sticker on a car in France.

The French Culture Ministry's General Commission on Terminology and Neology needs to have a talk with Nissan!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blackberry Grappa

While we were visiting our friends in Baselga di Pine I found a nice little book of flavored grappa recipes published by the local Pro Loco (Tourism Board). There are a few blackberries left on the bush, so it's time to try it out!

Grappa alle More (Blackberry Grappa)
1 handful over-ripe berries
zest of half a lemon
1 teaspoon (7 grams) of honey
1 cup (250 mL) of 80-proof grappa

Place the berries and lemon zest in a jar.

Add the honey.

Pour in the grappa, but do not shake or mix.

Place on a windowsill in the sun for 2 months, then filter and bottle.

Maybe I'll finish it for Halloween!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Strange Marketing

I'm always struck by the difference in European and American marketing. For one thing, the American style seems more polished and manipulative, while the European style seems often cruder and simpler, although I must admit the difference has changed a lot in the last 10 years and is virtually absent in Northern Europe.

The strangest marketing I have seen has been models of vehicles, specifically Volkswagens. Rather than using a Pink Floyd song to market a VW Golf, there have been Pink Floyd models, with their own special badge. I have also seen Bic model Golfs, as in the cigarette lighter. Here's an even better marketing trick, as it doesn't involve any payment of royalties.

Monday, August 28, 2006

News from the trip

The trip to Germany for PRK was enjoyable, and Marie and I were able to spend some time with her family while I recovered. I'll post some photos of that part later.

On the return trip we stopped in Baselga di Pine, outside of Trento, to visit Pierre and Margherita, our good friends from Venice. They were there for the summer holidays, along with Margherita's parents, and took us mushroom hunting one day.

This was only the second time in my life I've picked mushrooms, and the first in Europe. Margherita's dad was nice about showing me where to look and how to tell edible from toxic. Here he is trimming the mushrooms we gathered.

I was lucky enough to stumble acrosss the largest find of the day, a beautiful porcini. On top of the sheer size of the thing, it was a rare Boletus aereus, rather than the more common Boletus Edulis. Look at that monster!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I'm BACK!!!

Just got in from Trento, where we spent 2 days with some great friends. Unpacked the car and we're heading to eat pizza and see some friends.

While checking the mail for any unforeseen events, I found this great advertisement. Most everything in Europe is closed during August for summer vacation, so what could be more enticing than an open hardware store?

One that serves free beer! Disgustingly irresponsible, surely open to litigation, and good to make fun of.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hitting the road

I'm off to Germany for the next 2 weeks for PRK. Time to get rid of these glasses! I'll try to get on the internet a few times to post.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Digestivi 2

The basil - lemon mix has been soaking for a week now, it's time to finish the liquor.

First strain the mixture (photo didn't come out well), then add 300 grams of sugar to a 5-liter demijohn .

Filter the basil - lemon juice through a coffee filter into the demijohn.

Add 3 liters of dry white wine and shake until the sugar is completely disolved. Filter through a coffee filter into another demijohn.

Bottle and cork!

Dinner with Friends

Last night we went to dinner with Marianne, Bryant, Anne, and Mark. We all rode our bikes to the center of town and had a great meal, with good vino. Let's do it again, guys.

Mark and I spoke a little about renewable energy. Here's a great website for that - OtherPower - It's amazing what these guys are doing and shows how far a little ingenuity will get you. Afterwards the discussion turned to topics I'd rather not discuss here.

Marie entertained everyone with her LOUD bike horn. You can find it here

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wine and Vespas

Yesterday we went to the vineyard to pick up some wine for Marie's dad. He loves Italian white wine, and at $1.25 to $1.35 a liter, filling a demijohn is dirt cheap considering the quality. It's been a year since we headed up to France, so I'm sure all his bottles are dry. I picked up 40 liters for him - 20 of chardonnay and 20 of tocai, plus 5 liters of chardonnay for my basil-lemon liquor. I'll have a fun day in France bottling and corking this batch! One of the demijohns is slightly overfilled, so I expect we'll get 54 or 55 bottles total.

It's strange the first time to see wine being pumped as if it's gasoline. It's even stranger to realize it costs less than gas!

On the way home we stopped by the piazza to have a drink with some friends. Frederico, who runs with me on the local team (and is much faster), was there on his restored 1969 Vespa Grand Turismo.

Cherry! The mint green paint is the original color.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Last night I made some apple-blackberry jam. I have a blackberry bush at the house that was pretty filled, so...

1 pound blackberries
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 12oz can of apple juice concentrate
2 sprigs of mint

Bring juice concentrate and apple to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover for 10 minutes
Add blackberries, return to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover for 5 minutes
Uncover, turn heat to high, cook stirring until a spoon scrapped across the bottom of the pan hisses.
Turn off the heat, stir in mint, and let sit for 5 minutes
Remove mint and can. Makes 3 cups

The reason the apple is to keep from adding sugar. Had I made blackberry jam, it would have taken about 2 pounds of sugar! I like the all-fruit approach better.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ride Home

Most of my commuting to and from work is done by bike. It's only 7.5 miles each way, uphill headed home. I ride in on the roads, since they're pretty much empty at 6 in the morning. The trip home is a different story. Two-thirds of the way home there is a decent hill. Nothing difficult, but it was rated CAT 3 during the women's Giro d'Italia several years ago. Traffic in the afternoon can get pretty heavy and the road is curvy and narrow. Recently a bike path has been built on the old farm roads through the fields. It covers about half of my commute and makes for a quiet, enjoyable ride without the possibility of becoming roadkill.

You can't tell from the pictures, but there is a fair amount of debris on the path from tractors. This puts the road bike out of the question, so my main ride lately has been my touring bike.

Look at that beast! It's probably twice the weight of my roadbike, so at least it makes a good workout for the legs!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sweet & Natural #2

In an attempt to save pride, I tried a new recipe for mint syrup. It yielded satisfactory results and I believe is the final one.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 cups loosely packed chopped mint

Prepare the same as the last recipe, but allow to sit for 2 hours.

Unfortunately, the syrup still is not perfect and is light in mint flavor compared to commercial versions. As noted before, I only used spearmint, which compared to peppermint has a much lower menthol content. I believe I need a mix of the two mints. The good news is the overly sweet taste from before is gone.

I'll try again next year. This week I'll try to find and plant some peppermint.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sweet & Natural

A nice mix of sparkling water mixed with mint syrup is particularly refreshing on hot summer days, especially when the temperature nears 100 degrees and you don't have air conditioning! Unfortunately, as Marie pointed out, commercial mint syrups contain synthetic food coloring. Normally I may debate whether or not these substances are bad for you, but in this case I defer to Marie. For one thing, it is unnecessary. The syrup does not have to be fluorescent green to taste good. More importantly, I was allergic to food coloring as a child. I remember breaking out in hives, and occasionally being brought to the hospital, from straying too close to the Kool-aid. Given this experience, why not use some of the large amounts of mint I have in the herb garden?

Mint Syrup Recipe:

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped mint, packed

Bring the water and sugar to a simmer over low heat
Wash and chop the mint
Once the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from the fire and add the mint
Cover and let sit for 1 hour
Strain into a bottle
Refrigerate, it will keep for several weeks

Mint & syrup before covering

Never place the mixture over a fire after adding the mint. The essential oils of mint are quite volatile and will evaporate rapidly.

The highly technical filtering process

How did it turn out? Not that good. Too sweet, not enough flavor. Maybe I need to use more mint, or add some peppermint. I only have spearmint in the garden, and a mixture may add some nuances to the flavor. You can clearly taste the mint, but possibly not enough. I can also try letting it sit a little longer before filtering the leaves.

Homemade on left, commercial on right.

Or maybe I really do miss the bright green color!

Saturday, August 05, 2006


One Italian tradition - make that a European tradition - is making digestivi. This are after dinner liquors, often bitter, used to aid digestion.

My brother-in-law and his family came down from France on vacation a few weeks ago. While he was here we made walnut liquor (noccino) together. Here it is in the demijohns. It will be ready for bottling on the 1st of September.

Here's the recipe:

20 immature walnuts
7 liters white wine
600 - 800 mL grain alcohol
600 - 800 grams sugar

Take the immature walnuts, before the nutshells have formed, and quarter them
Divide the wine into 2 5-liter demijohns
Add the walnut quarters to the wine (10 each)
Add alcohol
Add sugar (600 grams if you used a sweet wine, 700 - 800 if you used a dry wine)
Cap the demijohns and store in a cool, dark place
Shake daily, cracking the caps for the first week to allow gas to escape
After 40 days, strain to remove the walnuts
Filter twice through a coffee filter
Bottle and allow to settle for 3 to 4 months before drinking

After he left I made a batch of basil - lemon liquor. Considering it came out well and I have lots of basil in the garden, I decided to make another batch.

Look at that forest!

Here's the recipe:

100 grams basil, chopped
1 lemon
150 grams alcohol
3 liters white wine
300 grams sugar

Grate the lemon peel, then cut 4 or 5 thin slices
Place basil, lemon peel and lemon slices in a mason jar
Pour in the alcohol, cap, and let sit for 6 days, shaking daily

Here's today's work. Next weeend I'll finish.

Friday, August 04, 2006

New Beginnings

Let’s see if I can keep this going.