Good taste

I read about a website and a book called Stuff White People Like in the Sunday Times. It both fascinated and irritated me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I believe that I have a fairly good eye for things that’ll trend, except in the world of fashion. When looking through this weeks Style Magazine in Sunday Times, I just cannot believe that anyone likes that stuff. Anyway, what I have an eye for is probably more What White People Like, or, as I’m not overly fond of the term and find it too American for us Europeans, The Aspiring Classes.

While I’m definitely not blind to the many foibles that mar us who belong to the Aspiring Classes, I’m also uncomfortable with Mr. Lander’s generalisations. For instance I don’t like his attitude towards charity – charity here means anything we do for other people in a charitable fashion. I think – and hope – that it’s not only the Aspiring Classes who feel inclined to be charitable. Actually, I find that it’s a thing that defines a, luckily large, subset of the Working Class, that they take time and money they don’t have out to help others. Just think of some of the incredible people we’ve seen on the TV-programme The Secret Millionaire. But he’s right when he says that some charities appeal a lot more to the Aspiring Classes than others. A few years ago, the ones that came with a plastic armband were top of the pops. I had one too…

The phenomenon of Good Taste is not exactly new. Neither is it new that it’s a term with special significance to the aspiring and upper classes. We’re brought up to believe that the Upper Classes (no no, not in money terms, obviously) are born with Good Taste, whereas the rest of us must strive to achieve it and some of us get it wrong. Big Time.

According to a lovely programme I heard on Radio 4, Taste, as in Good Taste, was an invention of the 18th Century, and, as it was so beautifully put in the programme, a marriage of wealth and virtue. Chew on that for a bit, will you? The reason why it’s a bit complicated and fraught with traps and pit-holes is that we’re protestants. So we can’t just lean back and enjoy all the opulence money can buy, we have to always justify the things we purchase – everything is tinged with guilt. “Residual anxiety about material things” as historian Amanda Vickery puts it.

I decided not to read through the full list of Things White People Like, because I thought It would disturb my own feeling of what the Aspiring Classes like. So I’ve wandered around my own home and taken random pictures of things that I believe belong in this category. It is very, very far from exhaustive – I’m hoping to make this into a series with pictures of my own stuff, pictures of other people’s stuff, stuff in shops and in the street and even lots of stuff that isn’t stuff at all, but more concepts and ideas. I’ll post them as I think of them. And I certainly hope you’ll find inspiration to post your own additions. I have a friend in Denmark who has a truly exceptional eye for this (you know who you are M-L!) and I really hope she’ll contribute.

We have a thermos cum cafetière. That is now old-school. The thing to have is a Nespresso machine. I try hard not to covet it. I have and love my Kitchen Aid mixer. It matches my other red kitchen thingies, but where I beg to differ from the description of Kitchen Aid owners in the Sunday Times, I actually use mine at least once a week. We use Maldon sea salt and whole spices where possible. Maybe we’re just posh, but we actually believe we can taste the difference – especially with spices like cardamom. We have two pepper mills, both with a Peugeot grinder. That should guarantee that it lasts for life. Electric pepper grinders are NOT good taste. Wasting a battery on a pepper mill?!?

We have a Philippe Starck dining table. That’s not quite good taste – it borders too much on show-off. Candles on the table however, is good taste. But one must be very careful not to go overboard and become shabby chic, which is sooo 90’s. Antique silver candlesticks with white candles on the other hand – that’s a classic :-) As are paintings, new and old, which are NOT purchased to match the curtains. The Aspiring Classes know that that’s not done. That’s something the nouveau riche do. The thought makes us shudder.

We own Apple stuff. Lots of it. Nuff said. There are quite a few magazines to read for the Aspiring, in fact Vanity Fair might be considered a tad too American and eh, aspiring. For an almost 50-year old woman, reading Wired is probably not quite the right thing either – something literary perhaps? Intelligent Life, which is not in the picture, fits the mould. And I read that too…

We believe in healthy good food and we want to cook it ourselves. Not always successful, we can always resort to M&S, where the food department caters almost exclusively to us. So nice with a shop that understands our needs!

Obviously, there are hundreds more items and it’s possible to go into nitty gritty detail. For instance, reading books is not enough. It must be the right books at the right time. And THOU MAY NOT LIKE DAN BROWN (but it’s OK to have read one, like yours truly).

I think I will come back to this…

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Twitterism & loads of links

I’ve now been twittering for a couple of weeks and am beginning to understand the workings of Twitter. For me it’s a place to harvest (more) interesting info than I’d otherwise find. Sometimes a bit on the much side I’m afraid. Below you’ll find a scattering of info that’s been twittered from my followees throughout the weekend. Particularly the tech-ones have been inanely active, since they are all gathered at SXSW.

Tech stuff:

A review of the app Dropbox, which I’m a very contended user of. For instance, it’s a great way of sharing documents between me and my writing partner at uni (he’s in DK). And thanks to him for recommending Dropbox.

Blogger apps for the Iphone. Sounds veeeery interesting, haven’t looked at all of them yet.

Twitter personalities the Myers-Briggs way. Which one am I, I wonder. Hope I’ll be considered as the Messenger type…

A Youtube add-on that makes it safe for little children. Quite good if you like your kids to browse away but preferably not to stumble over some of the more horrid videos that are in ample supply on Youtube. I think this will work up till the age of 8-9. After that they’ll have learnt to circumvent it and it’ll be up to you to teach them how to navigate not only Youtube, but all of the web.

Now to brain stuff:

We learn more from the unexpected than from the expected. Our brains respond just like the traders on the stock exchange floor. That’s bloody disappointing! From Science Daily.

Want to know what dialectical bootstrapping is? Read this. Also from Science Daily. Hint: It’s about applying the wisdom of crowds to your mind…

Also from Science Daily is this article about brain training as a preventative method against Alzheimers. I like the scientist’s down-to-earth advice:

In her opinion, the best way to keep one’s cerebral functions is to do intellectual activities, eat well, control vascular factors, particularly in the case of diabetes and hypertension, and remain physically active.

Brain activity reveals memories. Science Daily.

Health stuff:

This article (Science Daily again) reveals why I’ve never been able to make serious money. I was not particularly popular as a child. Or what?

My mother is dead, unfortunately, so I can’t share this information with her. I would’ve liked to, because I think she might secretly have blamed herself for my cleft palate/lip. But it’s in the genes! Luckily then, I haven’t passed it on to my sons.

Here’s another story to do with genes. It supports every smoker’s favourite story about the Grandmother who Smoked 20 Cigarettes a Day and Lives Happily to be a 100 Years Old.

I don’t usually quote the Telegraph, since it’s rarely worth quoting, but that’s the point really. To equal a school, which actually does something actively to improve the pupils’ health with Gestapo is just so out of this world!!!! My son tells me that, although his school has strict policies about sweets and crisps NOT belonging in the lunch pack, lots of children still have it every day! It’s just sad, sad, sad that parents understand so little about nutrition that they give their kids a packet of crisps and a white cardboard sandwich with square ham every day! It certainly supports the study about how IQ and education are directly linked to life expectancy, which I wrote about previously.

On feminism (watch out for the flak!):

Why women opt out of certain careers.

Miscellaneous:

The Health and Safety Executive has a myth-buster page, which is a comforting read. Clearly, what we’re seeing at schools and other places are over-zealous interpretations of the health and safety rules. So if we just stuck to the rules themselves, we’d be fine. Here’s a great example.

About coffee. Why the crap coffee in canteens and at railway kiosks gives a much higher boost of caffeine-induced energy than the luxury coffee we brew at home.

That’s all folks.

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The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!

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Life goes on and food is a recurring theme…

For a long time I’ve been promising myself to go on the look-out for some British blogs to follow. Now that I’m here and all. For reasons I can’t fathom I’ve just never serendipitously come across one I liked – except the Alphamummy one on The Times. So today I went searching on Google blog search and put “uk” at the end of a list of subjects I like to read about. And dear me – there’s not enough time in the world. I’ll just have to jump around for a while and figure out which ones hold water in the long run.

Very quickly I stumbled over one which had a food meme. As my readers will know – I’m quite keen om memes (agree with one of the bloggers – memes are just right for us professional procrastinators) and even more keen on the subject of FOOD. So below find a revealing list of foodstuffs, which I’ve tasted and not tasted, liked and not liked. A remarkable number of the 100 items I had to look up. I do have the excuse of not having grown up in this country (or in the US), but I’m still surprised and somewhat embarrassed about the number of foodstuffs out there that I still haven’t tasted or even knew about.

Anyway, here goes:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

1. Venison – yes, certainly.
2. Nettle tea – in eternal search for the perfect tea. Nettle wasn’t it.
3. Huevos rancheros – yes, several times in Texas. I couldn’t remember the name though. And I don’t like refried beans.
4. Steak tartare – oh yes, staple luxury lunch item in Denmark in my childhood and youth. Has gone completely out of fashion, probably because of the salmonella problems, we’ve had in Denmark. Nobody ever touches a raw egg any more.
5. Crocodile – I expected to come across it on a menu in Australia, but don’t recall doing so.
6. Black pudding – Another staple dish from my childhood. I hated it as a child and haven’t touched it since.
7. Cheese fondue – Why?
8. Carp – Don’t like freshwater fish.
9. Borscht – yes. A bit heavy for my taste.
10. Baba ghanoush – yummy. (It’s a warm and spicy eggplant dish)
11. Calamari – yes. The small ones. And not pickled.
12. Pho – yes, in lovely Vietnamese restaurant somewhere in Greater Sydney. Nice.
13. PB&J sandwich – no never. But my mother always made me PB&H sandwiches. H for Honey. Lovely. Haven’t got my kids to eat it though – they don’t like peanut butter!!???
14. Aloo gobi – YEP – I even make it myself occasionally. (Indian spicy potatoes)
15. Hot dog from a street cart – in New York because you just have to. And in Copenhagen when very late, very drunk, very hungry, very young…
16. Epoisses – yes. It only really goes at those very special occasions where the wine, the company, the bisquits etc. all come together…
17. Black truffle – yes. And I was not impressed.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes – I think most Danes have in their youth. Cherry wine was really big (and cheap). Most Danes have also said: “Never again!”
19. Steamed pork buns – only once. Didn’t do anything for me.
20. Pistachio ice cream – Don’t like it.
21. Heirloom tomatoes – as other bloggers, I didn’t know what that meant. But I think I must have tasted them, since my husband and I had a tomato craze a couple of years back. We went to tomato tastings, had 10 different sorts in our greenhouse and drove for miles to buy special tomatoes… It’s over now, the craze ;-)
22. Fresh wild berries – well, yes. I pity those who haven’t. We had raspberry bushes and blueberry bushes in our garden and I went out and picked every morning in the season for our breakfast. And one of the loveliest memories I have of my late mother is us picking blueberries together in Dalarna in the middle of Sweden on a crisp morning in early autumn. It was a real blueberry year, so I had berries in the freezer a long time after. Blueberry muffins, ahh.
23. Foie gras – yes. And shamelessly I absolutely love it.
24. Rice and beans – oh yeah, we’ve been to Costa Rica. They eat very little else there.
25. Brawn or Head Cheese – no, and I hope I never will!
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper – yes. Went to a chili tasting once. A gentleman at our table freaked out completely. I believe he’d thought all chillies were like the tame ones you get in most supermarkets.
27. Dulce de leche – yes. Brings back lovely memories of Mediterranean holidays.
28. Oysters – yes. And I really like them. Particularly grilled and spiced up like in New Orleans.
29. Baklava – yes. Veeeery sweet…
30. Bagna cauda – had to look that one up. Will try and go for one of those next time we’re in Italy! Looks really nice, even if I’m not much of a fondue person.
31. Wasabi peas – oh yes. Love them. The family hates them.
32. Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowl – No. But would like to.
33. Salted Lassi – don’t like lassi. Salted or not.
34. Sauerkraut – horrible. Honestly.
35. Root beer float – what’s that again?
36. Cognac – yep. Lots.
37. Clotted Cream Tea – Oh, yes. The original kind down in Cornwall. Yummy.
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O – oh no. And it will never happen.
39. Gumbo – yes. Home made in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
40. Oxtail – yes yes yes. It’s a lovely wintry dish, which I used to make once a year. But I’ve run out of people who’ll eat it. Why can’t you eat the tail, when you can eat practically everything else?
41. Curried goat – yes. Goat is so totally underestimated.
42. Whole insects – probably. Happens frequently when you bicycle.
43. Phaal – never tried anything hotter than the Vindaloo. But I’m game! (had to look it up)

44. Goat’s milk – yes. Prefer it as cheese.

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more – yes – my husband used to have a thing about malt whisky. It has now developed into a thing about red wine.

46. Fugu (aka pufferfish) – no. Good arguments for why I should?
47. Chicken tikka masala – who hasn’t except vegans?
48. Eel – yes. Another staple dish from my youth in Denmark. Smoked or fried is good but enormously rich. Used to be able to stomach it, but no more. Eel in jelly is disgusting.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed donut – no. I thoroughly dislike both the name and the logo of Krispy Kreme, so would never venture in there or buy a product with their ugly logo on it. And besides I’m not much for donuts.
50. Sea urchin – yes. Not horrible. But not a delicacy to my palate.
51. Prickly pear – yes.
52. Umeboshi – apparently a salty Japanese fruit. No, haven’t tasted that.
53. Abalone – not knowingly :-/   but wouldn’t mind trying. I like most seafood.
54. Paneer – don’t think I have (it’s a kind of cheese)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal – yes, I admit it. My oldest son used to love McD, but no more. And the young one dislikes it with a vengeance.
56. Spaetzle – Yes. Don’t particularly like them.
57. Dirty gin martini – Uhm. Is there any other way?
58. Beer above 8% ABV – yukkk! My first husband drank these. Besides becoming unpleasantly dizzy after drinking just one, I dislike the pungent sweetness they often have.
59. Poutine – if you, like me, don’t know what it is, click on the link and be disgusted!
60. Carob chips – yes, they were quite fashionable at some point in time in my youth.
61. S’mores – Oh, Americans…
62. Sweetbreads – yes. Not my favourite thing. Probably an acquired taste.
63. kaolin – anti-diahrrea mixture…
64. Currywurst – not as bad as it sounds…
65. Durian – I would probably have remembered if I had…
66. Frogs’ legs – yes. Prefer chicken any time.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake – yes. Prefer the smaller crunchy ones to the large fatty ones.
68. Haggis – Unless a trusted person recommends it, I’ll probably try to stay away from this dish.
69. Fried plantain – On every menu in Costa Rica. Not bad, but dryish…
70. Chitterlings – nah, thanks, but no thanks.
71. Gazpacho – Make it myself every summer. And Waitrose has a nice one.
72. Caviar and blini – Is proud owner of blinis pan. Love blinis. Find caviar overrated. Prefer lumpfish roe.
73. Louche absinthe – There used to be a naughty, naughty bar in Copenhagen, which served this. So yes.

74. Gjetost or brunost – yes. But not again.

75. Roadkill – not that I know of.
76. Baijiu – no.
77. Hostess fruit pie – looks and sounds horrible!


78. Snails – yes.
79. Lapsang Souchong – have it in my cupboard.
80. Bellini – yes.
81. Tom Yum – yes.
82. Eggs Benedict – yes, but don’t like.
83. Pocky – Japanese chocolate coated biscuit. No. Never been to Japan.
84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu – only 1 star  :-(

85. Kobe beef – never had the luck
86. Hare – yes. It’s quite good.
87. Goulash – yes. Can be fantastic, but usually isn’t.
88. Flowers – yes. Stuffed or deepfried squash flowers are lovely. And there are others.
89. Horse – yes. Not bad, but makes me cringe a little, even when I know I shouldn’t.
90. Criollo chocolate – probably not. But will look out for it – maybe on a visit in Harrods’ food dept?
91. Spam – no no no. Never have, never will. (actually, if you’ve ever bought a cheep pizza with “ham”, you probably have tasted spam.)
92. Soft shell crab – yes. In a seafood restaurant in Galveston, Texas. So many we just couldn’t eat them all!
93. Rose Harissa – harissa yes, but not the rose version. Sounds lovely!
94. Catfish – yes. don’t like.
95. Mole Poblano – Also in Texas. Yummy!
96. Bagel and Lox – In New York they are practically unavoidable. And why should one avoid them?
97. Lobster Thermidor – Very nice. Actually, could I have one right now?
98. Polenta – obviously.
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee – no, I’m probably too cheap.
100. Snake – no.

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Copenhagen in spring

is just absolutely lovely!

With one friend I went for a walk here:

Kastellet

With another here:

Landbohøjskolens Have, Frederiksberg

and I visited more cafés and restaurants in one week than ever before in my home town.

I’d like to tell you about my wonderful friends, but they are generally not as exhibitionistic as I am and would probably rather stay off-camera, so to speak. So I’ll just tell you that I’ve probably got the best friends in the world and that it was a marvellous experience to spend intense time with them all, in the span of little more than a week.

The cafés and restaurants I can talk about, and I will:

Brunch at Dan Turèll in St. Regnegade. You can always count on café Dan Turèll! Actually, when Uncle Danny was alive you could count on him too. He might have seemed rather flippant, but he always kept an appointment and was well prepared and on time. At least when I dealt with him (in the prehistoric times when I was in the music biz).

Dinner with Emil at Sticks’n’Sushi, Gl. Kongevej. The decor was some of the most original and beautiful I’ve seen in a restaurant.

Sticks’n’Sushi back room. Picture taken from their homepage.

The food was excellent and matched the price.

Brunch at Emmery’s in Hellerup. The food is top quality, but the service isn’t. When I pay more than 40 dkr for a cup of coffee, I expect the service to be friendly and impeccable, which it wasn’t. And I expect the toilets to be spotlessly clean and have both hand towels and toilet paper. I was there three times in one week and each time one or more of the toilets lacked one or two of these things.

Dinner at Wagamama. The food was good as it generally is at Wagamama (tried one in London, one in Brisbane, one in Sydney and one in Sydney airport), but the service rather helter skelter. Generally, it’s problematic when several waiters serve the same table. The same problem seemed to occur at above mentioned Emmery’s.

Morning coffee at Kafferiet on Esplanaden. Has been one of my all time favourite coffee shops since Dane was a baby and I walked the pram on Kastellet every day. Still lovely and very recommendable.

Picture borrowed from Kafferiet’s homepage. Check that out by the way. Very original!

Tea & cake at Tante T in Victoriagade on Vesterbro. Very nice but very crowded place. Would like to come there when there are fewer people. Wonder when that is?

Lunch on the noisy but wonderfully sunny sidewalk outside Björg’s on Vester Voldgade. Not all that interesting, but fair enough at the price.

Breakfast at Dag H on Østerbro. Nice coffee…

Lunch at Sommersko. Rather like Dan Turèll, dependable. The potatoe wedges were great.

Coffee at another Emmery’s. Jægersborg Allé, Gentofte. Nicer atmosphere, smaller place.

While waiting for David and Dane to arrive from England, I went to the Grand cinema and saw an absolutely wonderful Swedish film by Simon Staho: Himlens Hjärta. If you’re in a relationship or if you ever intend to commit yourself to one, go see this film. It’s like a lighter, updated version of Ingmar Bergmann’s Scener fra et Ægteskab. Since I first saw him in a film, I’ve been a fan of Mikael Persbrandt. He’s one of those actors who always burns through the screen. Although he denies it, he seems to have had some sort of problems (very likely involving alcohol) for a period of time, because now he looks slim and fit and a good deal better than last time I saw him in a film. I snatched the picture at salongk.se.

Breakfast at Kenya Kaffesalon on Strandvejen in Hellerup. Nice little place with free wi-fi. We always appreciate that!

Family lunch at Brede Gamle Spisehus. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, so we couldn’t go for a walk in the beautiful surroundings. Brede Gamle Spisehus was always nice, but seems to be living a little too much off their reputation. Neither this time nor the last time we were there, did the food quite live up to former standards. At first we had a very nice and  very attentive waiter, but then he was replaced by two women of which the eldest apparently was the owner’s wife. She wasn’t very nice and they both kept forgetting our orders. Rather irritating!

Coffee at Hacienda in Ørstedsparken. When the sun is shining, this is the ultimate place for advanced people watching. We spent hours there and among many characters met this charming fellow, who promoted himself and Save the Children at the same time.

Dinner at Don Don’s. OK – but no more than that. I strongly disapprove of having my dinner served on plastic when I’m actually eating in a restaurant. I would guess that all that plastic leaves more of a carbon footprint than the washing up of plates does?

Now we’re back in England and Dane has started school. So far, he likes it!

PS: Just discovered that somebody has immortalized me by making an entry about me on Wikipedia. Beat that! Wouldn’t it be nice though, if it weren’t for past achievements but for something I’d done/written lately? Anyway, it’s funny and not entirely correct! 

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The Quetzal and Costa Rican hospitality

We had heard and read about the rare resplendent Quetzal before we took our tour of the cloud forest. And as they estimate that only 50 pairs are breeding in Monte Verde’s cloud forest, we hadn’t imagined seing more than a fleeting glimpse of this incredibly beautiful bird. But again we were so lucky – our guide spotted a beautiful male perched on a branch no more than 20 meters away, maybe less (I’m no good at estimating weight and lenght and that sort of thing). Anyway, we could see it clearly with the naked eye and close up with our binoculars and with the guide’s telescope, through which the above photograph was taken.

On the three hour trip we also saw a number of different colourful hummingbirds (very noisy birds! I’d never have imagined), a rather large tarantula (asleep in its hole, luckily) and a number of other birds and dozens of different orchids and other exotic greenery.

In the afternoon it was time for our visit with the Monte Verde fair trade spokesperson Guillermo and his family. His beautiful, charming 14-year old oldest daughter Maria showed us the way – in 100% perfect English, since Guillermo and his wife Ana have their children in the Quaker school, where they are taught a number of classes in English. We share many values with the Quakers, catholic Guillermo and Ana told us. Well, we do too!

Ana is a gifted artist, who paints, does ceramics and mosaics and has left no part of their intriguingly beautiful home untouched by her magic. There are no pictures – you must imagine it. We were treated to home baked bread and – of course – coffee. We had a lovely time and probably overstayed our welcome…

The next day we followed the bumpy road down to the Guanacaste peninsula towards our next destination: Tamarindo. The town of Tamarindo, sitting on the most beautiful stretch of beach, a surfer’s dream, is on the brink of over-development. It’s brimming with American tourists and surfer bums and on every street corner, somebody is trying to sell you a time share apartment.

The hotel our travel agent had provided turned out to be quite awful, which was a surprise, since the other two hotels had been so nice and we hadn’t been warned that this one was below standard. Not only was it practically ON the extremely dusty and noisy road, the rooms were tiny, had no space for clothes, let alone empty suitcases. There were around 10 worn-out plastic chairs scattered around the minuscule swimming pool and the so-called children’s pool was the size of a large bathtub. But that was the least of it – the room was filthy and it was full of very large ants. They were everywhere, litterally. So we checked out. And are now at the lovely Capitan Suizo where we were lucky to get their smallest room (considerably larger than the other one, though) at a very good price. And that includes impeccable service, a beautiful garden full of exotic animals, a huge swimming pool and breakfast. And very, very friendly and competent staff.

As Tamarindo isn’t really our kind of place, we spend the most of our time by the pool or walking along the beach in the surf. Which isn’t at all bad… Both Dane and we enjoy the fantastic wildlife in the hotel’s garden.

A howler monkey. A flock of them are always around the hotel and have the kindness to wake up the guests around 6:30 in the morning with their unmistakable howling. But they are such fun to watch.

The iguanas are all over the garden and after a day or two you stop getting near heart attacks every time one of them comes hobbling down the path. They climb the trees but aren’t that good at it, so regularly you hear a big thump and it’s one of the iguanas, which has fallen out of a tree! A couple of raccoons can be seen every evening and they are practically tame, as are many of the birds here. It really is heaven for children!

A couple of howler monkeys silhouetted against the evening sky.

More pictures here – as usual.

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With our heads in the clouds

Monte Verde is so high up and so inaccessible that it’s a miracle anybody ever thought of bringing tourists up there. But luckily somebody did.

On the way there, we stopped at a tiny restaurant perched high up on a hill. The menu consisted of fried trout with yucca fries, pinto (the local mixture of beans and rice) and sugar cane juice. The owner had the trout in a dam behind the house and went out and caught a couple for our lunch. His wife cooked them and peeled and cut the fries while we watched. We also got to make our own sugar cane juice on his machine, which he’d inherited from his dad and granddad; he proudly announced (via dictionary) that it was more than a hundred years old. The restaurant is called Florida (Flo’rida) and we warmly recommend it, if you ever take the trip from Arenal to Monte Verde.

Monte Verde is famous world wide for its cloud forest. A cloud forest is a rainforest high up in the mountains, which is almost constantly covered by clouds. Because of its very special climate it is the place on the earth with the biggest bio-diversity. You’ll never have seen so many ornithologists (elderly men in safari outfits with huge binoculars, cameras and heavy bird books).

The road up there is beyond description. We’ve tried to document it, but you can’t really. Try to imagine the worst gravel road you’ve ever travelled. Then imagine that it’s filled with rocks of all sizes. Finally imagine 2-3 hours of driving like that…

Getting there, we were most pleasantly surprised by our hotel, which was quite lovely and where exotic birds and animals let themselves be seen and photographed in the garden.

On our first day we went on a so-called coffee tour. Dane and David weren’t overly exited, but most of you know what I’m like when it’s something with coffee, organic, fair trade… So I insisted. Our guide was a soft-spoken, quiet man with a mission. Guillermo is the spokes-person for the Monte Verde coffee Coop and has travelled as fair trade ambassador to UK, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. So obviously his English was excellent.

It was just us and Guillermo and we began by driving to an overlook, where we could see the entire area and all the way to the Nicoya peninsula (jutting out into the Pacific). Up here Guillermo told us about the history of Monte Verde, which was “colonised” in the 50ties by a couple of handfuls of American Quakers, fleeing the Korean war. Read the interesting story about the opening of this remote nature’s wonderland to people from outside here.

Then we drove to Juan’s organic coffee plantation. It was quite small and didn’t provide much of a livelihood for Juan, his Quaker wife and their two daughters, but with the eco-tourism on top, he could make a decent living. As you can see, Dane was an avid coffee picker. However, he was stunned to hear that a coffee picker only gets around 2$ per bushel coffee beans. It’s a bushel you see in the picture.

Everybody in Monte Verde has a “kitchen garden” with some banana palms, Papaya trees, pineapple, avocado, guava, watermelon etc. and we got to admire Juan’s. By the way, did you know that a banana palm, which can grow to around 4 meters, only lives one year? It shoots out of the earth, spouts around 100 bananas and then drops dead, within one year. My jaw dropped, hearing this while standing among Juan’s banana palms. After the tour Juan treated us to a cup of coffee and a home baked cake on his porch.

Then we drove on and saw the place where the coffee “cherries” as they are called, are transformed into lovely-smelling coffee beans. And finally we drove down to the co-op café and tasted the coffee, light roast, dark roast and natural.

1) Dane is turning the beans over. They dry for ten days in the sun and must be turned over 4-6 times a day. 2) The coffee cherries are poured in here with water from the river. 3) this machine sorts the beans in sizes. 4) Here’s where the coffee is roasted.

More pictures here.

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