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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dartmouth...Again!



I wrote of Dartmouth, England once before (http://stroudallover.blogspot.de/2013/09/dartmouth-pilgrims-castles-and-war.html), but there’s far more to say…and being loquacious, which, of course means dashingly handsome and charmingly conversant…I’m going to thrill you even more with things to do and places to see.

Dartmouth rests on the south coast of England and will forever be literally and historically connected to the adventures and perils of the sea.  Allow me to do some first class name dropping:  Second and Third Crusades. Henry Hudson. Drake.  Raleigh. The Pilgrim Fathers. Pirates. Privateers. Britannia Royal Naval College. D-Day.

I'll whet your appetite with a few more:

In 1853, Britannia Royal Naval College became the first formal schooling for Midshipmen. 

Looking down on the Castle, the church of St Petrox, and the River Dart


A castle guards the entrance to the Dart River and has since the 14th Century, although the Normans may have built fortifications after they won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

And, if you think Dartmouth’s history ends there, you’re wrong.  The American Army took over the Britannia Royal Naval College and did much of the planning for the D-Day Invasion there.  At one time nearly 500 American ships and landing craft sat anchored in Dartmouth Harbor.

Agatha Christie's home and flowing garden, Greenway, is nearby.  Take a ferry across the bay and a steam train to get there.

History permeates the air, but always the traveler’s eyes are almost hypnotically drawn to the magnificent bay, dotted with boats, ships, and ferries.  Dartmouth is still a working fishing village. The fish are fresh, and plentiful.  Youngsters kneel along the stone embankment, dropping their lines and laughingly pull out crab after crab.



The natives are friendly.  We stopped and asked some kids to see their catch.  Got an earful. Asked questions of neighboring tables in the restaurants and pubs.  Found out even more.

Speaking of restaurants, feel like fish and chips?  One of the best in all of England is Rockfish, only a short stroll to the riverfront.   Need a beer or six?  Historic pubs abound, the earliest dating from 1380.  Check The Cherub.



Then, there’s the Dartmouth Museum, where the town entertained Charles II in 1671, in what is now known as the King’s Room.



What about the town itself, the ins and outs, the streets and backways?  Cobblestone lanes, and narrow alleys, most dating from Elizabethan and even medieval times, tangle though this picturesque ville.


One of the many shopping streets...early morning.

Another cheery pub!


The Royal Castle Hotel dates from 1639 and where it sits marked the water’s edge prior to the 19th Century land reclamation.  Grab a pint in The Galleon Bar. 

On the Waterfront!


The waterfront now makes for a splendid walk that leads you down to Bayard’s Cove, the only cove at the time and the spot where the Speedwell and Mayflower anchored for repairs.  In short, Dartmouth stepped right out of your dreams about what England should look like.

Bayard's Cove


Rather than give away all of Dartmouth’s secrets in one gulp, in the weeks to come, I’ll blog more about a whole host of reasons why this very special (and semi-isolated) part of England should be a star on your trip-list.

How in the world do you get there?  I can tell you how we did it.  Airplane.  Underground. Train. Bus.  Sounds more difficult than it is.  First stop is a London airport.  Ours was Heathrow.  Next a short ride on the London tube to Paddington station.  Next a 3 ½ hour British Rail ride to Totnes, followed by a 45 minute bus trip to Dartmouth.

You have to hand it to the British.  Transportation connections are wonderful and very comfortable.  After all, Dartmouth is a tourist destination.  The first time we came was on a cruise ship.  It was summer and the streets bulged with visitors from the far corners. April was much more gentle.  Never did we suffer through long lines or the inconvenience of packed restaurants, and the weather was cool, but sunny.



In fact, our four days overflowed with dreamy strolls, interesting visits, chats with locals, and deep breaths of sea air.  Well, of course, there was also the occasional pub…but then what is England without a pub or two and what better place to down a pint than Dartmouth?



Before you go, visit the Dartmouth Information Center site.  Many of the tours are only one or two days a week.  These folks are extremely helpful with scheduling visits and tours.  http://www.discoverdartmouth.com.  For a real treat, have them set you up for a walking tour, hosted by John Putt, known by the locals as Putty.  It takes about an hour and a half and you won't want to miss a second!

Coming up:  I'll show you the best places to eat and drink and stay and visit in Dartmouth!!!




Dartmouth by night



Friday, April 4, 2014

Coffee You'll Dream About: Reismühle Kaffemanufaktur







In the United States at least, we’ve come to expect coffee shops on every corner.  Mundane at best.  Nothing different but the prices.  Then one day, if you’re lucky, you stumble on the rarest of all cafés:  a place that does more than just  sling some whatever in your mug and take your  money.   Read on and you too will uncover a hidden coffee nirvana:  Reismühle Kaffemanufaktur.



Yeah.  Lots of places attach especially foreign monikers to their brews and the zizes of their cups, all a conspiracy to trap you into believing their coffee is something special.  You know what I mean:  I’ll have a Congolese Mountain Grown, dwarf picked, French-style, hand pressed, dark slope grown latté, with soft-shouldered virgin goat milk.

Will that be a Congolese Hungus?

No, I’ll just have the Very Roomy Pigmy.

In the U.S. you wait patiently for the recent high school graduate to finish loading the industrial grinder with beans that are only slightly younger than she is.  Your eyes wander to the posters on the wall of simple people in colorful, hand-woven cloaks, riding burros, smiling at the thought of making people happy the world over, with the finest brew extant. 

Just the word extant should give you the final clue.  This is only a dream. You’re going to get the same rough-edged, stomach churning, black tar you’ve always gotten, but this time you’re paying five bucks for the privilege.  However, now you’ll be able to brag to your over-achieving friends that you sampled a rare brew from the Congo.  PhD?  I’ll trump that with a little nonsensical name-dropping!


Then suddenly, in a world of wonder, one day you find yourself in the picturesque German countryside. You drop the top on the Bimmer, grab your wife or significant lover and browse the green hills and dales of springtime in Deutschland.  Suddenly you’ve found it!  In a very unlikely spot, begging for trail walks and rustic picnics, you spot an older, stone walled home, expanded to offer a covered patio, teak tables, flowers galore, wait-staff in black and white, thirty some very special coffees on the menu, and cakes and tarts that will make your tongue wag like a hound who’s just lapped a full bowl of water.


Reismühle Kaffemanufaktur is the name.   And so as not to be confused with other rice mills you’ve visited that serve their own special, house roasted coffees, here’s the web site:  http://www.reismuehle.info

The story of the Reismühle is all on the site, but permit me to summarize.

The Reismühle’s java is selected and roasted in very special ways, by very special people. 

Nadine and Wolfgang Lutz share a passion:  Coffee.  Took them seven years to restore the building and many years of training in traditional coffee roasting and preparation before they opened their own café and coffee factory.  Both are coffee sommeliers, trained in the Black Forest, Vienna, and Berlin.  Just like the baristas at Gimme-yer-Bucks, right?

One thing I’ve noticed about the Germans, often sadly lacking in our own country, is their dedication to passions, professions, and hobbies.




It’s not just with restaurants, and in this case the tradition of artisanal coffee, but in almost everything.  When it comes to even straightforward professions, they believe in a depth of education and training that is beyond anything you normally find in America.  Want to work as a waitress in a bakery?  Three to four months of training before you’re serving customers and ringing up sales on your own.  And it’s not just serving.  Waitresses know how the breads are made, which restaurants the bakery supplies, and how to get the flour delivered. Apprenticeship is alive and well in this country.

But, back to the Riesmühle.  The Lutzs place great emphasis on every step of the process, from searching the world for the best coffees, to the handling of the beans, the roasting and grinding, and finally the brewing and serving of a very luxurious beverage.

It all begins with attention to detail.



Big coffee makers roast tons of beans at a time, in a matter of five minutes or less.  Very cost efficient, but as we all know, when you increase the volume and decrease the time, a lot gets lost along the way.

At the Reismühle, they roast comparatively small batches, at lower temperatures, in traditional drum roasters.  What’s the difference?  Coffee is coffee, right? Oh yeah?  Stop reading right now and shuffle off to “Slow Jim’s Truck Stop and Pancake House!”

Quality beans are the first step.  Ripe and ready for picking.  At the Reismühle, you have a choice of some thirty varieties from around the globe.

They roast in small batches, for twenty minutes, at a temperature of 190ºC.  So what?  A lot!  Unpleasant acids, especially the chlorogenic acid (which is responsible for stomach pains and heartburn ), are largely eliminated . Since the temperature of 190 ° C is not exceeded, there is also no acrylamide, which is suspected to be a carcinogenic.

Bottom line:  No stomach problems and no bitter after-bite. 

My wife and I shared a small pot of Mexican coffee.  Absolutely smooth and delicious.

Then came another surprise.  Wonderful, freshly made cakes.  I opt for poppy seed, while my wife ordered a fruit custard tart.



It was one of those pleasant afternoons you dream of.  Outdoors in the full bloom of spring, a quaint, yet opulent setting, and a pot of delicious coffee and some nibbles.  How about prices?  Very understated.



Once was not enough.  We’re going back.  Seems the Reismühle has breakfast on the first Sunday of every month and on Saturdays, there’s a special breakfast, followed by a show-and-tell coffee roasting.  We’re signed up and you can too, but plan ahead.  I asked for a breakfast/roasting reservation and the next available opening was three weeks down the road.


Until then, I may not drink coffee again.  Ah, that soft, lingering memory of beans at their best!




Monday, March 31, 2014

The Flammkuchen Hütte: A little of Germany, a little of France

The Salad version of Flammkuchen

In Germany it’s called Flammkucken, or flame cake.  In France, Tarte Flambée, or pie baked in the flames.  Then there’s the Alsatian name, Flammekueche.  

The origins of this regional dish are lost in somebody’s nameless kitchen, in an area that’s bounced between Germany and France more times than a Chinese ping-pong ball.  If you can’t even decide what to call it, how can you tell where it came from?  But ours is not to worry our pretty little heads, but to find a good restaurant and stuff our bulging bellies.  Found just the place.  Flammkuchen Hütte, or Flame Cake Hut, in Mehlingen, Germany.  http://www.flammkuchen-huette.de




Easy to find.  Relaxed atmosphere.  Excellent food.  Gorgeous waitresses.  Wine, beer.  Good prices.   You need something more?  Are you out of your so-called mind?  Rather have milk and cookies before you say nighty-night? I thought not.

When you say Flammkucken, it’s almost like saying pie. Wild varieties, ranging from pizza-like toppings to fruit.  The big differences I’ve found between pizza and flammkuchen are the dough and the cheese.  The former has a relatively thick, yeasty dough and traditionally a very melty cheese, such as mozzarella.  Flammkuchen, on the other hand, has a paper thin, almost cracker-like crust, topped with a fresh, spreadable cheese, traditionally crème fraîche.
  
Which brings up the question:  What is crème fraîche ?  It’s a soured cream, but not as sour as the American version and with a thicker consistency.  Think of a white, spreadable, sour cream butter and you’ll almost have it.

I haven’t left you helplessly pondering.  In a former article, I even told you how to make your own flammkuchen:


One Friday evening, after a short drive, we joined some friends for a group gorge.  Great fun.  Hey, this is Germany, with beer and wine in great abundance.

Several other things about the Flammkuchen Hütte stand out.  The casually rustic décor and the varieties of the eponymous dishes.  I ordered the more traditional version, with chunks of bacon and a bit of onion.  My companions opt for everything from salmon to chili flecks, to salad, to current jelly.

Salmon

The salads alone are worth the trip!

Traditional bacon and onion.

Chili flecks

With red current jelly.

































The service is impeccable. Waitresses are full of smiles and flourishes that make you feel as if you’ve been here a dozen times.  Always nice to feel wanted.

The pies arrive on wooden platters, adding to the hunter’s cabin-like atmosphere.  This is definitely a place to drink beer or wine with a raucous crowd, intent on inebriation and gluttony.   In other words:  my usual friends.
But, the atmosphere, service, and company would all be superfluous if the food didn’t measure up.  No worries!  This is Flammkuchen as it should be:  Thin and crispy, bubbling toppings, straight from the flames.  You can cut it, or just break off bits and pieces.
















I noticed, once the pies arrived, the conversation dwindled, as emphasis shifted to the time honored ritual of hand to mouth.  You’d think from the size of the pies, one order would feed two people.  Not so.  Not here.  Not ever.

Bookmark the Flamkuchen Hütte!  For an impromptu gathering with a group of friends, this one should be at the top of your list.