Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spirits in Alameda

Alameda is an island in the San Francisco Bay, accessible from Oakland via a couple of small bridges and a tunnel, the "tube".
Alameda is a conflicted island. On one side, the city of Alameda with picturesc Victorian houses, on the other side a decommissioned Navy base, that is in the process of being turned over to the city of Alameda.

We heart about a vodka distillery in the former Navy yard some time ago. It was time to check it out, when we realized that there is a winery next door.
On our way to the hangar area, where the spirits are located, the conflicted nature of the former base became apparent. On one side of the road an upscale development with beautiful landscaping. On the other side military housing behind barbwire. Abandoned warehouses, laboratories, factories. Streets so wide that it was unclear where the middle divider was. And at the end, a row of old hangars and a beautiful view of San Francisco.

Our first stop was at the Rock Wall Wine Company, an urban winery that houses Rock Wall Wines, and a number of additional boutique wineries that don't have their own wine making facilities.

The tasting room isn't actually a room. It is a table on the side of a huge hangar, surrounded by wine barrels. We were lucky that the "door" was open, and we could enjoy the view of the city.

The wines were also not to be missed. We especially liked the Rock Wall Zinfandels, and the 2007 JRE Napa Valley Cab (and no, that's not Java Runtime Environment!).

Right next door is St. George Spirits. Having never been to a vodka tasting, I had no idea what to expect.

St. George fortunately had quite an array of spirits, from the famed Hangar One vodka via Rasberry and peach spirits to Absinthe.

Some of the infused vodkas were quite delicious, especially the mandarin flowers, and the winter mix (orange with spices). I'll definitely try to make the Buddha's hand infused vodka, like limoncello without the peelingo of the lemons, and without the sugar.

Never having had Absinthe, I was curious what to expect. To my surprise, it just tastes like a high class pastis. The defining ingredient for Absinthe is wormwood, which grows in St. George's front yard.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sylvia Maultash Warsh: To Die in Spring

To Die in Spring
Dr. Rebecca Temple, a physician in Toronto, gets an unexpected office visit from a patient she is treating for paranoia and psychoses. Thinking that she has her worst episode, yet, she calms her down, assures her that nobody is trying to kill her, only to find out next day, that she indeed had been killed that night.
An intriguing story that starts in Nazi-occupied Poland, and continues in Argentina during the military regime, finds its conclusion in Toronto.

This is the first in the Rebecca Temple series of Sylvia Maultash Warsh. I read the second one first, and I shouldn't have. It liked this one as well, but got a bit bored with the recounting of her history, that I was already familiar with from "Find me again".

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Sentences Tuesday

The rain was blowing hard from the ocean, coyotes started hauling in the distance; leaning against a rock, with the cliff descending steeply towards the water, Kate wondered whether she'd get out of this place in one piece. Dragging her injured ankle, she tried crawling through uphill through the mud towards the trail, hoping to avoid the fate of her companion, who lay motionless at the shore. 

The Women of Mystery encourage blogging two sentences on Tuesdays. Those are my first two sentences. Maybe, the story leads to something? I cheated a little by using a semicolon.

Monday, April 5, 2010


And here is the last variation on the Easter theme: Easter bread.
I baked three breads for Easter: one regular yeasted wheat bread, which I baked using my favorite "easy" recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey as featured in the New York Times): The secret ingredient is a huge cast-iron pot, high temperatures and time. Otherwise: easy peasy!

The other two breads are twins, two traditional German Easter braids.
On the left, you see a picture of the risen, unbaked product, freshly braided and equipped with egg-shells, so that the final eggs have a place to go. The bread is made of flour, milk, butter, apricots, raisins, vanilla, ginger, sugar and salt. This year, I used fresh yeast, which gave a significantly better result than last year's dry yeast.

I cheated with "coloring" the eggs: A Russian store around the corner sells cellophane egg-coloring wraps. Slide the egg in, put in hot water for three seconds, the wrapper will shrink-wrap itself around the egg. 

Friday, April 2, 2010


Yrsa Sigurdardottir's book, and the season, made me think of a pagan tradition that I grew up with. The Osterfeuer is the German name for a traditional Easter Bonfire, a probably saxon tradition that is still practiced widely in Northern Germany (as well as in the surrounding countries). In the region where I grew up, each village would have an Osterfeuer, mostly comprised of small trees, branches, everything that accumulates at spring cleanup. On either Easter Saturday or Sunday night, depending on village tradition, the fire would be lit on a field, and everybody would come to get some warmth from the fire, mulled wine or beer and Korn (a German version of vodka). Sausages and pea and lentil stews are very popular as well.

My family would drive to the area where my mother grew up, the Ottensteiner Hochebene, a high plane between Pyrmont and Bodenwerder in Lower Saxony (Bodenwerder is famous for one of its former citizens, Münchhausen).

The area is not very populated, and the lack if ambient light also makes it a wonderful area for star gazing. We would sample several fires and enjoy the night.

Another town close to Pyrmont, Lügde, practices a variant of the Easter fire. Large oak wheels are stuffed with straw, lit, and rolled down a hill. It is used as a oracle for next year's harvest: When the burning wheels roll all the way down the hill, the harvest will be great. This Easter wheel tradition can be traced to the 8th century, when Charlemagne was visiting the area, but is probably even older. The Easter wheel celebration is much more spectacular than the regular Easter fires, however, it also attracts a lot of visitors. I prefer the intimacy of visiting a village fire.