24 October 2011

On eating vegetarian in Germany

John Scalzi is back from Germany, and he says he's happy that I was not a vegetarian. In comments, someone agrees.

There's a pervasive myth that German food consists entirely of meat, notably in the form of sausage. I can assure you it doesn't. It's true that a lot of the traditional recipes are based on meat, and there are a lot of sausages, but there are a lot of other options. Yes, even in traditional restaurants.

I've been vegetarian since 1993. I spent my junior year of college (1996-97) living in Germany. I had, frankly, a much easier time eating vegetarian there than I did in my college's dining hall in Pennsylvania, or than I do eating here in North Carolina -- where even the vegetables have meat in them (often in the form of a hambone thrown in, or bits of bacon), at least in traditional Southern restaurants. Germans caught on to the organic food thing much earlier than Americans. I had probably the best soy sausage in my life while I was living in Marburg, picked up at a Bioladen (organic food shop) and grilled for Canada Day (one of my neighbors was Canadian).

When in Germany, if I'm staying in a pension (akin to a B&B), I eat the traditional breakfast: rolls, cheese, butter, jam, Nutella, quark, muesli, soft-boiled eggs. Everything except the cold cuts. If I'm in a hotel, I'll pop over to a bakery or cafe and get a pastry or two: nut-nougat croissant, pretzel roll, cheese roll. Left to my own devices (with a kitchen and grocery store), I eat the same thing I do here: cereal and milk.

For lunch, there's always falafel or vegetarian döner, pizza, sandwiches from the bakery (or your own kitchen), or whatever sounds interesting. For dinner, you can sit down anywhere. I've had really good Indian food in Munich, a nice Mission-style burrito in Berlin, vegetarian Maultaschen (also in Berlin), spinach strudel, baked pasta casserole, South Asian fusion (also in Berlin), amazing brown butter tortellini (in Berlin), delicious cheese spaetzle in Vienna...

I think you get the point by now, and I'm not the only one who's had a relatively easy time eating as a vegetarian in Germany. The folks at Happy Cow have a section for Germany to help you out, and I've found that Lonely Planet guides are good at pointing out places that have veg*n options as well as listing some straight-up veg*n places. (They're my favorite guide books, and they've never steered me wrong.)

17 October 2011

Book review: Master and Commander

Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian. 1970.

Since I enjoy space opera, I've been told many times I need to read this series, since, really, space opera is a riff on the Age of Sail (in space!). After giving David Drake's futuristic take on this source a go, I thought I'd give this a try.

Captain Jack Aubrey, British Navy, meets Stephen Maturin, a doctor and naturalist, and persuades him to join his ship as its surgeon. They sail through the Mediterranean a lot and fight the French (and maybe also the Spanish? I was never very clear on that, and the whole Napoleonic Era is largely skipped in US high school curricula). There's also a subplot about the Irish Catholic rebellion.

I'd been warned about the quantity of ship-talk, but, man, that was more than I expected. There were entire pages I had no idea what was going on, except they were talking about topsails, mainsails, gallants, topgallants, royals, studdingsails, staysails, masts, yards, xebecs, snows, sloops, frigates, and cannons. "Oh, they're doing something with the ship again," was basically my take-away from it. That was fine when all they were doing was setting the rigging, but when it was important to what was going on, like during the naval battles, the result is just confusion. The only time I understood what was going on was when Jack was explaining in normal-people language to Stephen.

It's meticulously researched and written in meticulous 1810-era British navy slang and jargon. If you can handle that sort of thing, have at it. I find that it's too hard to wade through, honestly. Needs more spaceships.

10 October 2011

World Beer Festival, Durham, 2011

These are my notes from this year. I didn't take very detailed notes, because I, in a fit of talent and rushing out the door, forgot both my pen and my carefully-planned list of booths I wanted to hit. I managed to recreate it on my phone, at least. A bit of a pain in the ass, but what can you do?

Unibroue, Quebec, Canada: Don de Dieu (tripel) I tried this toward the end of the night, and I remember it being good. Fruity and sweet, like most tripels.

Legend Brewing, Richmond, VA: Tripel: nice, drinkable. Quad: fucking amazing. I passed this one around, and everyone liked it (even Ben, who isn't into quads), then I had to get more, because I didn't have any left.

Kind Beers, Charlotte, NC: Belgian Style red ale: Mo got this, and I had a sip. It was awful. Very bitter and unpleasant.

North Coast Brewing Co, Fort Bragg, CA: La Merle (Belgian specialty ale): It was fruity and pleasant, and it had a thick mouthfeel. I had a sip of Enne's Brother Thelonious (Belgian dark strong ale), and it was as good as I remembered it.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co, Warren, MI: I wanted to try their White Devil (imperial white), but they didn't have it. The imperial creme brulee java stout was really good, though it had a strong coffee bitterness (unlike the Southern Tier creme brulee stout). So I tried the Simcoe Silly (Belgian/American hybrid) and strongly disliked it.

Timmermans Brouwerij, Dilbeer-Itterbeek, Belgium: Bourgougne des Flanders (Flanders brown ale). When I got the sample, the pourer said, "It's sour, just warning you." I told him I drink straight Berliner Weisse, which is really damn sour, so bring it on. This was easily my favorite beer of the night, with Legend's quad in a very close second. It wasn't very sour; I'd argue that it's not sour at all, but someone who doesn't enjoy sour beers might disagree. [Interestingly, Belgian whites/wit beers are also technically sour beers, though I don't find them sour at all. I can kind of taste it if I think about it while drinking one. Lambics are another popular sour style.] It had a fruity note to it, and a heavy, thick mouthfeel. Very, very nice.

Mystery Brewing, Hillsborough, NC. I sponsored their Kickstarter project last year or the year before, so I had to go try their beer. I tried the Langhorne (rye wit), and it was odd. It tasted like a wit, but it had an unfamiliar note to it, which was the rye. I'd try it again to see if I liked it. Sadly, the beer we all wanted to try, the Six Impossible Things chocolate breakfast stout, had fallen victim to a catastrophic beersplosion. Ben got the Queen Anne's Revenge (black IPA), and I think he said he hated it less than other black IPAs he'd tried. (Neither of us is a fan of IPAs in general; they're victim to the American craft brewers' belief that MOAR HOPS is better. Yuck.)

Bull City Burger and Brewery, Durham, NC. Pro Bono Publico (porter): All I have written down is "bitter."

Aviator Brewing Company, Fuquay Varina, NC. Devil's Tramping Ground (tripel). I don't know if the batch was off or if it had gotten skunked (or if they gave me the wrong one), but this was very unpleasant. It wasn't like a tripel at all.

Roth Brewing, Raleigh, NC. Forgotten Hollow cinnamon porter: I still love this beer. I first tried it when I went to the Flying Saucer one time when my dad was in town and they had it on draft. It's kind of like drinking autumn. Their Dark Construct stout was nice, though it's not going to be my new favorite stout. Ben really enjoyed it.

Palm Brouwerij, Steenhuffel, Belgium. Palm (Belgian amber ale). Dear readers, I poured this one out.

Boulevard Brewing Co, Kansas City, MO. The Sixth Glass (quadrupel): Not as nice as the Legend quad, but it still had a good flavor and modest sweetness to it.

Holy Mackerel Beers, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Panic Attack (Belgian Strong): very sweet, thick mouthfeel. Special Golden Ale: good, but not as sweet.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA. Winter Solstice (seasonal ale): tasted like Christmas spiced cider. It was really good. This would probably be my third favorite new beer.

Number of beers sampled: 18 (plus refills on two of them, one of them twice...)
Top three samples: Timmerman's Bourgogne des Flanders; Legend's quad; Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice.