Follow by Email

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Intriguing Stockholm

Stockholm fascinates without even trying. Vibrant city.  Modern as glass and steel, and old as cobblestones and weathered brick.   Men picture tall, blond women.  Women picture tall, blond men.  Walking the streets, you see a brunette and suddenly think, Mutant!

Brunettes are more common than you’d think.  Lots of immigrants, which make up about a quarter of the population. The Vikings are long gone.  Peace reins, except for the occasional riot.  You may have read the recent Stockholm riots by, dare I say it…let’s put it this way, immigrants from arid areas around the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea who are not Jewish.

“First, tell me something about Sweden!”  Ok. Ok. Don’t panic…

Politically, where does Sweden stand?  I know that’s a burning question.  After centuries of conquest, Sweden embraced neutrality in the early 19th Century.  Blame Napoleon.  It’s a twisted, knotted rope, but most things military and political are.  Russia wanted help against France.  As part of the plan, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia and then pressured Denmark to cede Norway to Sweden. Strange way of doing business, if you ask me, which nobody has.

More recent news about Sweden’s neutrality.  Long story.  Happy ending.  Sweden is not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but works in close cooperation.  Sweden is a member of the European Union, which kinda slaps neutrality in its pallid, fence-sitting face.  But, like England, Iceland, and all the Scandinavian countries, Sweden kept its own currency.  England’s is the Pound Sterling and the rest are called Crown, but with the country’s name in front, hence Swedish Kronor.

Did you know Sweden has a king?  Carl XVI Gustaf has reined since 1973 and his wife, Queen Silvia is German, from Heidelberg.  But when you get out of the Middle East and into Europe, it’s always the same with the monarchies, figureheads in a parliamentary system.

Ok, enough dallying.  What about Stockholm?  By the way, the ex-Vikings pronounce it Stock-kolm.  And what’s the Swedish language sound like?  Sounds sorta like a soft German, but without the heel clicking and drinking songs.

Stockholm is doubtlessly one of the cleanest cities you’ll visit.  Everything is picture perfect, from the narrow cobblestone streets, dotted with stores and pastry shops, to the colorfully painted buildings, grand museums, palace, and churches.

Here’s something you may not know, Stockholm rests on 14 islands, at the end of Lake Mälaren.  Info good for a bar bet.  Wanta double down?  Mälaren is a fresh water lake.

What’s there to see and do?  Start with Stadshuset, City Hall, dating from 1923.  Can’t miss it, with its tower and red brick.  It’s here that the city government meets and also where the annual Nobel Prize Dinner is held for 1300 lucky guests.  Don’t miss the breathtaking Gold Room, decorated with over a million gold tiles, including one wall set with an image of The Queen of Lake Mälaren, representing Stockholm being honored from all sides.

The fabulous Gold Room

Blue Room, home of the Nobel Dinner

Chamber of Deputies

The Ceiling patterned after Viking ships' timbers

Classic Swedish style.  Simple, yet elegant.

Don’t miss the Vasamuseet (Vasa museum), dedicated to a single ship and a failed one at that.  In 1628, just 20 minutes into it’s maiden voyage the huge warship,Vesa, sank.  Stayed on the bottom until 1961 and got it’s own museum in 2000. Somehow the Swedes seem fixated on this ship and apparently so is the rest of the world, to the tune of over 29 million visitors.  The ship is stunning, I’ll concede that, but also the personal items recovered are interesting and remarkably intact.

To judge the size of the ship, look at the people below and to the right.
Sit down for a Fika, which is Swedish for coffee, cake and, hey lookie at those cupcakes.  Indoors, outdoors, take your pick.

A couple of museums you don’t want to sidestep.  First off is the National Museum, featuring art through the ages.  One of the biggies is Gustav Vasa's Entry into Stockholm. That’s King Gustav, not the ship, which never made it out of port.

Moderna Museet.  It’s Stockholm’s modern art museum and the place where the world met names like Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle.  Of course all your old favorites, such as Picasso, Pollock, and Dali are also represented.

Most of all, find a place to look down on the city.  Watch the boats and water taxis plow through the water, marvel at the skyline, listen the beating heart of the largest of all Scandinavian cities.

Then go grab an expensive beer, or a semi-expensive coffee and hey, check out those blonds!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Small Potatoes That Ain't

"Small Potatoes."  How often have you heard that?  You're standing naked in the kitchen and suddenly your wife blurts out,"Small potatoes." Fortunately, she's not staring at you.  She's looking in the pantry.

Relief and anxiety.  Anxiety turns to erotic, small potato possibilities.

“I have a luncheon today and need to bring something.  What can ‘we’ make with small potatoes?”

It’s the royal ‘we.’  Hot stove and hotter grease await you and you alone.  Erotic images melt like cotton candy in a rainstorm. Thoughts morph to the vision of hot grease on a man’s jolly jingles.  Apron!  No, wait!  Socks, shoes, trousers, shirt, then an apron.  Oven mitts. A morning of ‘safe cooking.’

Remember those days when she would have forgotten about those potatoes?  Remember those days when you had no idea whose kitchen you were in?

Small Potatoes That Ain’t

The necessities:

4.5 pounds (2.2 kilos) of small potatoes

An inch depth of cooking oil in a medium sized saucepan

2.5 Cups homemade bread crumbs (see very helpful suggestion below)

1 stick butter

Salt and pepper to taste

2 heaping Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 heaping Tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Doin’ the small potato shuffle:

Heat the oven to 400ºF or 200ºC. 

Put the oil in the saucepan and heat it on the stovetop to 350ºF or 175ºC.

Wash the potatoes and partially peel them.  I leave stripes of peeling on the potatoes.

Dry the potatoes and put the first batch in the hot grease.  Continue until all potatoes are ready for the oven.  The point of the fry is to get a nice roasted look on the outside.  They don’t have to cook completely.  You’re going to finish them in the oven.  As the potatoes fry to a nice brown, set them in the baking dish.

When all are nicely browned, put the baking dish in the pre-heated, 400ºF oven.  30 minutes should be enough to finish the cooking job.

As the potatoes bake, make the buttered breadcrumbs.


I make my own and here’s how.  Crumble enough stale baguette pieces in your food processor to make 2.5 cups.  If you don’t have a stale baguette, use any stale bread, or use fresh bread slices and either bake them, or leave them out overnight.  I detest the prepared breadcrumbs that come in a can, part of a long list of things I detest!

Put the butter in a skillet, let it melt and add the breadcrumbs.  Mix well.  Doesn’t matter if the breadcrumbs brown or not, but you want them all buttery.

Putting it all together:

Pull the baked potatoes from the oven, sprinkle over-generously with the buttered breadcrumbs.  Salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the Parmesan cheese and put the baking dish back in the oven.  Bake until the breadcrumbs are a toasty brown, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Watch that oven like a hungry hawk!

Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle on the chopped cilantro.

Voilá!  Small potatoes have just become a big, scrumptious, crowd-pleasing part of your fantastic culinary repertoire!

Now, go ambush the wife.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cruisin' On Tha Briney

Ocean Princess

Emerald Princess on the right

 The Last time we cruised was years ago, in the Caribbean.  Very family friendly and incidentally there were things for the grownups to do.  Didn't set my hair on fire to throw time and money at it again.

This summer was entirely different.  Two cruises.  Happy faces!  High fives!  Mostly adult activities. “What do you mean by activities?” he leered.  Dance classes:  Salsa, ballroom, line.  Photography classes taught by pros.  Art history class.  Wine tasting.  Cooking.  Exercise classes.  Comedians.  Floor shows.  Magicians.   Six luxurious bars, to linger over a martini and ogle the pony-tailed serving staff. Much more.  You really have to pace yourself!  I’m referring, of course, to the 40 different styles of martinis.
Pouring 9 Martinis at once

Fruit carving demo

Scottish Dancers

Both cruises were with Princess Line, a Carnival Corporation property.  Carnival owns a good portion of the name-brand cruise lines.

Which brings us to the whys and wherefores. 

What’s the best way to pick a cruise?  First, a few questions and the first one is not about the cruise line.  Where do you want to go and for how long?  Thirdly, when you nailed down those first two, which ship is the newest?  That tells you a lot about luxury and service and whether the paint will be peeling.  I’m drawing an unreasonably stark picture.  Cruising competition is keen and most ships are well kept.  Still, after a few days, if you’re a cruise veteran, as yours truly now is, your practiced eye will notice a difference.

The Emerald Princess, launched in 2007, was close to top of the line.  We sailed on E.P. for 12 days around the Baltic.  Wonderful ship.  Emerald is large, with almost 4000 passengers.  I figured that might be a little crowded, a drag on the limited facilities.  Big surprise.  No trouble at all.  With so many customers, the onboard agenda was packed with things to do.  Never saw an unreasonably large crowd.  Never saw a tour cancelled due to lack of participation.  Never saw a pool or a hot tub overcrowded or closed for repairs.  Service was superb.  Anytime I wanted a libation, on deck, in my room, or in one of the exquisite lounges, a smiling staff member obliged.

Our second cruise was on the Ocean Princess, launched in 1999 and refurbished in 2009.  Ocean Princess took us around the British Isles and Ireland for 8 days.  At 680 passengers, it’s a much smaller ship, with fewer onboard activities and some tours cancelled due to fewer people signing up.  The ship was very comfortable, but showed its age.  Hot tubs frequently closed for maintenance. Automatically opening doors didn’t.  Just a few things that were rougher than the Emerald Princess.  The common rooms were just as elegant…. meaning damn elegant, but of course were smaller.  Service was still wonderful.

Emerald Princess Showroom

In the Wheelhouse Bar

Much to my surprise and prejudice, the larger, newer ship suited my taste.

I’m slicing the apple thinly.  Both vessels met high standards and I would gladly take a cruise on either one again, however, if I had a choice…

What’s good about a cruise?  Can’t I just pick out some cities, fly there, stay in a hotel and have a better time?  Depends.  Many of the cities we thoroughly enjoyed, I’d either never heard of, or would never have gone to on my own. 

Baltic Cruise:  Tallin, Estonia.  St Petersburg, Russia.  Helsinki, Finland.  Stockholm, Sweden. Copenhagen, Denmark.  Oslo, Norway.  Aarhus, Denmark.

Great Britain-Ireland:  Dover, England.  St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey, U.K.  Dartmouth, England.  Waterford, Ireland.  Dublin, Ireland. Edinburgh, Scotland.

Ever hear of Tallin?  We hadn’t either.  Now it’s one of our favorite places:

Think you’d pick Dartmouth off a map of England? 

Think you’d have much luck touring all of Scandinavia in 12 days?

The question boils down to survey versus depth.  I don’t suggest a cruise if your heartfelt desire is to learn Swedish, or herd reindeer in northern Norway.

How about the cost?  Aren’t cruises super expensive?  Can be.  Don’t have to be.  A little planning goes well with any excursion, whether you’re shopping for airfare, hotels, or cruises.  Cruise lines are known for their deep discounts and here’s where to find them:

Both sites are loaded with info, from cost to details about the ships.  On Princess Line, all meals are included and the meals are always interesting and very high quality.  Feel like sunning by the pool, downing a cool one and noshing a pizza?  Feel like a lavish, multi-course meal?  You can do either one, or both, or anything in between.  All included.

Alcoholic drinks are extra, as are specialty coffees.  No matter.  You can spend a bunch on drinks and still come in well under the high prices for all-inclusive cruises. Pretty much like the airlines, right?  Economy versus First Class.  The big difference being that going cheap on a cruise does not mean the food is less than wonderful and having to sleep with your knees tucked under your chin.

Looking down on the balconies

Pool deck on the Ocean Princess

Cruise suites, of course, are luxurious and huge, but lesser accommodations ain’t bad.  On our Baltic cruise we opt for a room with a balcony and paid a couple of hundred more.  On our Britain-Ireland tour, the balconies were sold out, but we got a room with a picture-window ocean view that was almost as good.  Both rooms were spacious and delightfully appointed.  Definitely not what you’d call economy rooms.

What’s the bottom price line?  You can find deals that cost $100 a day or less, per person, first class meals included.  Stack that up against the cost of meals and luxury hotel rooms!  On a cruise you also get sea views, entertainment, sunsets, and a bed that gently rocks and lulls you to sleep.

I’m a convert.  Cruises are fun, cheap, and a wonderful way to relax, while cooks, bartenders, and maids bust their hinnies to keep you comfortable and happy.  In the end, travel always boils down to time, money, interest, and style.  For my money, time, interests and style, I’m looking forward to our 
next cruise.

Famous White Cliffs of Dover

Try and get a view like this from your hotel room!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Dublin's Fair City

Ireland's Old Parliament, Now The Bank of Ireland
Sweet Molly!

In Dublins fair city, where the girls are so pretty,
I once met a girl called sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow, through the streets broad and narrow,
Cryng cockles and mussels` Alive alive o

Hey, don’t just go breezing off to a pub the moment you hit town.  Stop by and pay your respects to Molly, or as she is known by the locals, “The tart with the cart.”  She hangs out on Grafton Street.  Her statue, with its eternally rotund features is not as old as you’d think.  1988.  At the same time, city fathers proclaimed 13 June Molly Malone Day.  What does that mean, exactly?  Far as I know, there was no Molly Malone, or at least not just one.  Lots of fishmongers, many of them women.  And, the song, written by James Yorkston, a Scotsman, wasn’t published until the early 1880s, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England.  See, those sneaky Irish are at it again.  A Scot mentions Dublin in a song published in America and England and the Irish claim it as their own and make it Dublin’s ‘unofficial anthem.’

But, a country that brews Guinness and distills Jameson can be forgiven any number of transgressions.  Amen! And we’ll all drink to that!  The secret is safe. I won’t tell a soul.

Entry to the old Jameson Distillery 

View of Dublin from the top floor of Guinness Brewery

Besides gazing longingly at Molly’s assets, what else is there to do?

How much time do you have?  I’ve already written about Guinness Stout and Jameson Whiskey.  Between tours and drinking, those two alone will use up the best part of a day.

Yep, you can see castles and churches.  Figure those out for yourself.  But, the first thing I’d do is grab a hop-on-hop-off bus and take a whirlwind tour of the city, which will take you right past Molly Malone.  Don’t worry; the bus supplies earphones and commentary. Dublin ain’t New York.  Won’t take any time at all to spot a bus and buy your ticket right outside the train station.  A complete circle of the ville takes about an hour.  Gives you a great overview of Ireland’s largest city, with a population of over half a million souls.  Hop-on-hop off is not just an expression.  When you find something interesting and decide to hop off, another bus will come along ten minutes later.  A ticket lasts all day.

Another thing to consider that combines two of my favorite interests:  a literary pub tour.  The hours for the tour change with the seasons, so you’re on your own for scheduling.  However, if you’re not familiar with Irish writers, I’ll carelessly drop a few names:  James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, George Bernard Shaw, to mention only a few.  This is not to say they lived their entire lives in Dublin, but there is a connection to the city. But as James Joyce famously remarked, “Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.”  A pub tour is a good compromise between literature and sobriety.  A good many writers felt the same.  My favorite quote about Dublin comes from J.P.  Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man, and other novels:  “When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.”

Always time for a pub and a Stout!

And of course a pub lunch

I’ve given Joyce’s Ullyses a good shot, both sober and otherwise.  No dice.  Couldn’t gulp down the prose under any conditions.  The pundits call it the greatest novel.  I found it a disconnected ramble.  But, if you want a taste of Joyce, Dubliners is a wonderful collection of sketches of Dublin life.  Many of the sentences in that short book are cogent.

A bit about the Irish Republic’s government:  parliamentary system, much like other European parliaments. The original parliament building was closed with the Act of Union (with England) in 1800.  Since then, the old parliament building has been The Bank of Ireland.  It sits right next to Trinity College.  Ireland is a part of the European Union and the currency is the Euro.

Best of all, Dublin is a city for strolling, soaking in the atmosphere and chatting with people you didn’t know five minutes ago.  The first thing you notice is the charm of Dublin’s historic shabbiness.  That’s just another way of saying “a comfortable pair of well-worn shoes.”  Easy to fit in here.  Do a bit of shopping.  Stop in a pub.  Make a hundred friends.  Sketch out the plot for your first novel.  You can always marvel at the crusty vellum (calfskin) text of The Book of Kells (800 A.D.) at Trinity College later, or read about the long hard road to Irish independence and visit those sites where Irish statehood was written in blood and tears.  See Dublin Castle and The Garden of Remembrance.  Don't neglect those. But, first, let’s rub elbows down tha pub, have a pint of your favorite, and breathe some air in Dublin’s fair city.

Butler's also offers tours of the factory

From the Book of Kells

Monday, September 16, 2013

Jameson Whiskey: It's Irish, really!

Entrance to the old Bow Street Distillery

Courtyard of the Bow Street Distillery.  Note the old copper 'pot' still.

Before you’re admitted to the exclusive Irish Whiskey club, you have to answer a few invasive questions.  What is Celtic and what is Gaelic?  How do you say ‘Cheers’ in Irish?  How do you pronounce Celtic?  What time do you go to work and is your wife alone?

Careful! The eternal salvation of your slushy, spirit-drinking soul depends on your answers.

Because I am of a generous Spirit, so to speak, I’ll sneak you my copy of the Cliff Notes:

In Ireland, Gaelic is the language, Celtic is the race.  But you can also say Celtic languages, which encompasses Scotch, Welch, and several others.  So how do you say ‘cheers’ in Gaelic? Sláinte!  That’s pronounced ‘slant-cha’ and it means health.

Only kidding about your wife.  Monogamy was meant to save Men from hell-on-earth.

How do you pronounce Celtic?  Damn this is getting tough.  American basketball fans always say ‘Sell-tic.’  The Irish and everyone else in the known world says ‘Kelt-tic.’  So, ya gotta decide, Punk.  Do ya wanna be a man of the world, drive fast cars, drink good whiskey, and be very close friends with gorgeous women, or do you wanna grow up to be a basketball fan? …hurry up, Punk, the clock’s ticking…

Next, let’s get some nasty little secrets out in the open.  Jameson is no longer owned by an Irish Company.  A foppish, Frenchy firm, Pernod-Ricard owns the paperwork.  Besides Jameson (Irish Distillers), you’d recognize a bunch of other names P-R scarped up in their unscrupulous efforts to dominate the spiritual world and look down their Gallic noses from a great distance.  Should you want to further arm yourself against this conspiracy, check this link and scroll down:

As a public service, I ask that you help us kick those effete wine-swillers out of Ireland!  Send generous donations to  I faithfully swear that all money will go directly to the Irish Whiskey Rebellion and that I will fight to the last drop.

Some would say that because of international corporate wheeling and dealing, Jameson is no longer truly an Irish whiskey.  I say to that:  Kiss my Blarney Stone.  The French may own it, but the Irish still make it.

Jameson has some other not so closely guarded secrets.  John Jameson started making Jameson whiskey in 1780, at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin.  No longer.  In 1966 a bunch of Irish distillers joined forces and built the Midleton Distillery in Cork, where all of Jameson is now distilled.  The old Bow Street distillery has been turned into a visitor’s center, where they give tours and tell the Jameson story while you drink yourself silly.  They also offer ‘whiskey-tasting,’ which is a game of finding your preference before your taste buds and the rest of your body goes numb.

One of the biggest non-secrets is that John Jameson was not Irish.  He was a Scotsman!

Into the old Bow Street Distillery.  Get there early for the tours.  They fill up fast, unlike the Guinness tours which are continuous.  Just walking inside the old place is a treat. While you wait, there's a bar and a gift shop.  Yep, they do sell their whiskey right here!

Another use for whiskey bottles.

Which brings us to the question of how Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whiskey differ?  All whiskey starts out pretty much the same.  Barley.  Water.  Yeast.  Jameson also uses corn (maize). The barley is malted, meaning drenched with water and allowed to sprout.  Then it’s dried.  And here’s the main difference:  Scotch malted barley is dried using a peat fire, which imparts a smoky flavor, with some variations in smokiness.  Irish malted barley is dried in kilns, using pure hot air.  No smoky flavor. It’s then distilled to increase the alcoholic content.  With Jameson, it’s distilled three times.

The maturing process is essentially the same.  Jameson uses oak and oloroso sherry, and port casks or barrels.  Before it’s bottled, the whiskeys are ‘vatted’ together to allow the flavors to blend. Vatting still takes place in Dublin.

What’s the difference between a cask and a barrel?  None.  But there are differences between barrels.  A Brit beer barrel holds 36 Imperial gallons, or a little over 43 US gallons.  Cognac barrel = 79 usgal.  Bordeaux wine barrel = 59 usgal

Although Jameson does make a single malt variety, most of their whiskey is a combination of malted mash combined with un-malted mash and distilled in a pot still.  Lots of purists out there are going to call me on this and say there are a lot more differences.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  And, in whiskey making, every little change makes a difference in the final flavor, etc.  I say, dry up and pour!

At the distillery, you can do a tasting or op for one of those phuu-phuu drinks with fruity things and mounds of sugar that ruins good whiskey.  I'm keeping it a secret which way I lean.

The real stuff!

Citrus and stuff

Cherry and stuff

Fast Facts:  Jameson is the 3rd largest single-distillery whiskey in the world.  Each year about 4 million cases (48 million bottles) are sold world-wide, making it the best selling Irish Whiskey!

Great, but what does it taste like?  Just purchased a bottle of Jameson 12 year old.  In a word, fabulous.  Smooth.  Soft hints of the sweetness of sherry, and the woodiness of oak.  Notes of cinnamon. The finish is smooth as glass, with full flavor and no burn.  Taste, like perversion, is such a personal matter that I hate to take a stand.  Scotch?  Irish?  I would never denigrate the Scots and their superb whiskies.  The breadth of flavors is extraordinary.  But, for now, I’m sticking with Jameson 12 Year Old.  Sláinte!

Smooth sippin'!!