19 December 2014

The Muppet Christmas Carol and Aztec Hot Chocolate

Today I'm watching what is, surprisingly, one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Why is that surprising? Because puppets are fracking scary and Muppets most of all. Full body Kermit gives me nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, someone on the Harry Potter team has to have seen this movie. The Muppet Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is clearly a Dementor precursor.Equally scary is a singing, dancing Michael Caine.

Let's talk about today's hot chocolate. I imagine it was very startling and probably even off putting the first time someone was served chocolate that had chili in it but it's not an uncommon thing anymore. There's something really special to me about it because I think when you get other flavored chocolates, caramel, mint, what have you, that second flavor shares as much space on your tongue as the chocolate. Chili is different though simply through its nature. I mean the amount of chili you're going to put in chocolate is a heck of a lot less than the amount of caramel you'd use. Chili brings chocolate to the next level and then kind of kicks you in the face during the finish. It's like a bonus.

You do have to be careful with it. I especially did since my bottle of cayenne pepper didn't have one of those perforated tops that helps you sprinkle spices. This could have gone full on disaster for me. I suggest sprinkling a little bit at a time then taste an mull. Did the chili kick you in the face? No? Add a little more. And so on.

The very timely Lauren sent me this link to an article about the history of hot chocolate. It's fascinating.Authors Brett & Kate McKay talk about how chocolate came to Europe, the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa, and how many a drink hot chocolate is. Even though we didn't write it, it's totally worth a read! The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa

And speaking of a kick in the face; does anyone else ever want to punch Tiny Tim?

  • 1 C milk
  • 1/4 C heavy cream
  • 50 gr chopped dark chocolate
  • 3 TSP sugar
  • 1 heaping TSP cocoa powder
  • 1/2 TSP cinnamon
  • few pinches (to taste) cayenne pepper
  1. Heat milk and cream until just barely bubbling around the edges.
  2. Whisk in milk and dry ingredients.
  3.  Enjoy getting kicked in the face :)

17 December 2014

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel in Roslin, just outside of Edinburgh, is one of the finest examples of carved stonework in the United Kingdom. However I have no pictures of it because the rather greedy Sinclair family charges an 11 GBP entrance fee but doesn't allow pictures inside so that you buy their picture DVDs in the gift shop.

It's still absolutely worth the visit though. L and I went on a day tour our of Edinburgh visiting Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey (up next!) and a Scotch distillery. I also have no pictures of the distillery because apparently picture taking could cause an explosion. *crickets* I still wonder if that's true or if it's like 'your battery powered electronics will interfere with airplane instruments; which even airlines now admit was a bunch of hokum.

Anyway, Rosslyn Chapel has a pretty interesting history. Built in the 15th Century as, of course a Catholic church, it was supposed to be much larger than it is now. However the Sinclair patriarch who commissioned the church died mid construction and his sin, not so gung-ho about the project, halted construction where it was and fairly literally just slapped a wall on the open end.

The stonework inside is done, I think our guide said, in limestone which is very soft and easy to carve but it also means that the centuries have done their best to eradicate the finer details of many of the carvings. Those that remain though are beautiful. Pillars are topped with angels playing instruments, including one playing bagpipes, and there are over 110 'green men', faces with vines and leaves growing out of the mouth and around the head, all around the chapel.

The chapel was closed in 1560 during the Scottish Reformation though the Sinclair family remained Catholic until they caved in 1861, converted to Church of Scotland, and reopened the chapel for worship. Since then rumor and fame of all sorts have touched the church. The Holy Grail, among other relics, is rumored to be in the crypt below the church which hasn't been opened since the 19th century. The chapel is also featured in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code which is really what made tourists come in droves. Historian Louise Yeoman apparently criticized the Sinclairs for cashing in on the popularity of the book/movie and I gotta agree with her as, prior to the movie's release and popularity, video and photography were not forbidden.

The church also has a giant cat which is friendly as can be; which they have also commercialized. You can buy all sorts of things in the gift shop made with his image.

Nearby are the remains of the Roslin Castle. We didn't have a lot of time before our bus departed so we hurried there, snapped a few pictures, then scurried back to the bus. While it didn't look overly impressive from our view on the bridge by which one accesses the castle; I believe the ruins actually go down several stories and part of the remains have been refurbished into a guest house.  Originally built sometime in the late 14th Century, the castle was a working castle meant to hold off the British. And that's worked out really well.

Roslin Castle

We left Roslin for Melrose which gets its own post soon, and on the way to the explodable distillery we stopped to take in the view at an area called Scott's View. Evidently this was a favorite viewpoint of one of Scotland's favorite sons; Sir Walter Scott. It is a rather lovely view.

Scott's View

15 December 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Kutman Ipsala 2005

This week we're diverting from Suvla. Largely because I saw a bottle of wine at Carrefour last week that I don't recall having seen before. A Kutman Varietal Gamay - Cabernet from 2005.

Gamay is about the only wine for which I will forgive the French. In fact I was fairly well set on making France a parking lot for Europe or giving it to Germany after I take over the world; but my friend L pleaded for it. She gets France and Ireland and my interference in her rule will be minimal. Ish. But I digress.

At 38TL the Ipsala is right around the price point I have come to grudgingly accept as the minimal amount for quality wine here. *Sob* I miss Trader Joe's.

I think what caught my attention was the label which, I think, has a very European look to it. I decided that between that and the fact that I haven't seen a Gamay here before as a positive sign; which it really rather was. From the gorgeous purply red color to the smooth finish, this Gamay Cabernet blend is a winner.

The nose is what I would expect from a Cabernet; pepper/spice and red fruits. The spice is also the first thing you get on the palate; almost overwhelmingly so. Then, after you sit for a bit mulling through the tannins the fruit flavors make themselves known: raspberry, grape*, maybe a little plum. The label does not specify what the blend percentages are; but the very dry, acidic, and medium tannins make me want to say that, whatever the percentages, the Cabernet is the dominant grape.

This paired nicely with both Parmesan and cheddar. Despite the French origin of the grapes I feel tempted to treat this more like an Italian wine. It's got all the bigness I associate with a lot of Italian reds and I I don't think you'd go wrong pairing it with the same foods as you would an Italian.

I love cheese. Almost all of them really but cheddar remains my favorite. Specifically proper white, sharp cheddar. Which I could buy here if I wanted to sell my kidney or something to pay for it. So when L and I found a cheese booth at a Christmas craft fair in Inverness I was, needless to say, excited. Possibly a little too excited. L said you could see the vendor's demeanor change from 'friendly salesman' to 'oh dear this person could be dangerous; no sudden moves now'. I must admit my excitement over hand crafted cheddar likely seems disproportionate when you don't know that I live in a cheddarless desert. My Montgomery Burns plotting glee combined with my back injury and consequently odd posture and semi permanent grimace of pain did probably send the wrong message. After sampling several marvelous cheddars L and I both bought three (at 3 of 10 GBP). I got: sharp, caramelized onion, and garlic chive. I now regret not getting the chili as well.

I heartily recommend Damn Fine Cheese if you're in an area where it's sold or can be shipped to you.

*I know it seems odd to cite grape here. Wine is (usually) made out of grapes. But how often do you hear or read a wine description that actually mentions the flavor? Not often at all. Gamay is known to be a little grapey though.

14 December 2014

Home Alone and Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate

With almost two years in Turkey under my belt now I have learned that Istanbul is not as completely devoid of everything Christmas as I thought it was. There are actually quite a few places that sell Christmas trees, ornaments, and various other decorations. However I have decided to remain decorationless. Sherlock loves too much climbing the hanging closet organizers, wood support beams, my leg...I am not about to tempt fate with a shiny, sparkly, potentially fragile decorated tower of climbing wonder.

 However there are some Christmas traditions that can be celebrated wherever you are and regardless of your demon cat situation. The easiest of these...movies. I have a pretty extensive collection of Christmas movies and no Christmas is complete without the classic Home Alone. Yes, Home Alone. Macaulay Caulkin's 1990 masterpiece. My first Christmas away from home was 2002 when I was living in Taiwan. At the time I didn't own the movie, nor did I have any Christmas movies with me. Our cable package included several English HBO channels and the day Home Alone was on was my holiday low point. Even though my awesome mom spent a fortune sending me gifts and candy I was so depressed to not be home and to not be inundated with Christmas everything everywhere. That scene at the end when Catherine O'Hara has finally made it to Chicago and walks into the house to see it all decorated and the tree, you know that part, I lost it. Burst into tears and sobbed my way through the rest of the movie. Thank goodness it was already near the end. Low point.*

I keeps your DVDs warm for you

Crying over movies that aren't sad at all isn't the only great way to celebrate Christmas though. While not really a Christmas tradition, winter + holiday calories (which we all know don't count) is the perfect time to enjoy hot chocolate!

My dwindling supply of pb
 I love that people are getting experimental with hot chocolate recipes; although I question the taste of the person who invented lavender lemongrass white hot chocolate. No. But to the genius who decided to put peanut butter in hot chocolate, I tip my hat to you ma'am.

 Recipe: (slightly adapted from The Messy Baker)
  • 1 cup milk*
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream*
  • 60 grams dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 TBLS cocoa powder (opt)
  • 1 TBLS sugar (opt)
  • 2 big TSPS creamy peanut butter
*vary  measurements depending on taste
  1. Heat the milk and cream over low until hot to the touch or bubbles form around the edges. Do NOT let boil.
  2. Whisk in the chocolate, cocoa, and sugar until everything is smooth.
  3. Whisk in peanut butter.
  4. Enter chocolate peanut butter Nirvana.

From now until the end of the Christmas season check in and see what other movies and hot chocolates with which we're celebrating!

*Remember the part when Kevin is walking down the street and his grocery bags break, spilling everything all over the sidewalk? His face is so perfect. We've all been there, Buddy.

11 December 2014

Edinburgh - St. Giles Cathedral

Saint Giles Cathedral is the seat of the Church of Scotland, or more appropriately the "high kirk", in Edinburgh.

Dedicated to Saint Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh (or the greatest Watcher ever!), the present church was built in the 14th century but the oldest sections are said to date to the 12th. Given its age it was likely a Roman Catholic church prior to the 16th century Reformation; we do make a mean church.

I love buildings like this; the combination of exposed stonework, light, and high ceilings make me feel like I'm somehow outside while still enjoying the protection of being inside. We saw several churches like this in Venice and they were my favorites there are well. From the class in Roman Architecture I did I know just enough to make knowing voices and say a word here and there that sounds architectural. One of the things I do remember clearly are groin vaults which Saint Giles has in spades so I was able to wax semi intelligently about them to L.

Luckily for me L was happy to wait on one of the benches at the entrance of the church and soak up its beauty while I scampered about taking pictures from every and any aspect I thought might be interesting. Including doing several back bends so I could get a shot of those very groin vaults. Which, now that I think about it, could possibly, maybe be what lead to my back problems. I really need to start doing yoga again.

While it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that, were it up to me, I'd turn Saint Giles (back) into a Roman Catholic church. However Catholic, COS, or anything in between, any service worshiped here could not do anything but glorify God. It's too beautiful and inspirational to do anything else.

This is a must see in Edinburgh. Unlike a lot of churches visited by tourists, Saint Giles does not charge an entrance fee, per say. They do ask for a voluntary donation which goes to the building's upkeep (I'm always willing to contribute to those things) but if you want to take pictures there is a fee of 2 GBP. Which is fascinating; I've never encountered something like that. You pay your 2 GBP, get a sticker to wear inside to show you've paid, and then you're free to take as many pictures as you like. I kind of think that's a great idea especially when you compare it to places like Rosslyn Chapel (coming soon!) and Saint Paul's in London that charge really high entrance fee and forbid photography completely.