The days are just packed!

February 25, 2015

The title of this post is from a Calvin&Hobbs cartoon book which was given to me by my friend Thomas Langenohl many many years ago. The cover shows Calvin and Hobbs lying on a branch of a tree and sleepily observing their surroundings, otherwise doing nothing.

This is how it feels right now. We have had three weeks on the farm in Glenburn, Victoria doing (almost) nothing.  We,  that is my wife Margit and our twin daughters Lucy and Charlotte, and of course me. It is about one year that our family is separated into two subunits: the girls going to university in Melbourne and we, the parents living in Sofia, Bulgaria, worlds apart, after moving for 19 years together in Asia from country to country. As for many close-knit families, we all suffer a little. A little much, I would add. The better for us now, we are hanging out together and just talking, listening, cooking, eating, singing, joking, laughing and pottering around the farm together, enjoying each other’s company, knowing how little time is left for such things in the current state of affairs.

We have all left home at one point or another, my wife Margit at 17 to get an education, me at 19 leaving for military service.  International gypsy life seems to have had a super-uniting effect on the four of us. Shared history and memory are very specific in that case, not inclusive and difficult to explain.

All good things are coming to an end. Soon we will part company for another year.

Life on the farm was and always will be bliss. And the days are just packed.


Winstub: S’Thomas Stuebel, Strasbourg, Alsace

January 19, 2015

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Canal in Strasbourg

Strasbourg in autumn is very picturesque, and a great place to visit. I was lucky that I had to attend a conference and therefore had the chance to be there for a few days last year in early November.

I love this city and the wine region surrounding it: Alsace is one of my favourite French wine region. I especially love their whites, among them Riesling, Gewuerztraminer and Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Noir.

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S’Thomas Stuebel

Since I was a day early for the event, I used the Sunday afternoon for a stroll to explore the town. I had visited before. Actually my first visit was when I attended high school (or as we call it Gymnasium). Since I was in the “French branch” of my school, we went quite frequently to various places in France. We stayed at a youth hostel. Our teacher made us try some of the local wines. It was here in Strasbourg that I tasted my first Gewuerztraminer.

I was eager to visit one of the famous wine bars. Unfortunately, the S’Thomas Stuebel was closed on Sundays. I promised to come back another day. Which I did.

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The name plate at the entrance promised a truly indigenous dining experience. Something earthy, something traditional, something authentic with special dishes from the region and local wines.

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The guest chamber of the wine bar

I was not to be disappointed when I cam back a few days later on the last day of my Strasbourg visit. Together with a colleague, we intended to explore the culinary delights of the Alsace wine region. We longed for simple, peasant type of food and nothing fancy.

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A white wine served in an earthen flagon

Since my friend does not drink alcohol, a bottle was out of the question. Therefore, I ordered a 1/2 ltr. which was served in an earthen flagon. I selected a local Pinot Blanc.

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The assorted Alsatian dishes

As you can see from the photo above, we went for very basic, nutritious and hearty local food. The potatoes with ham were wonderful. The cottage cheese with garlic and onions was creamy and rich. The salads contained all the garden greens typical for the season.

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Crème brûlé

I am not a big fan of deserts, but the crème brûlé on the menue I was not willing to miss out on. I did not regret my choice. A fruit schnaps was used to make the crème brûlé, make it burn.
When we left, the taproom was filled with local diners. If you should visit Strasbourg you should not miss the S’Thomas Stuebel. Have dinner there and enjoy the local cuisine and the excellent selection of Alsatian wines.


2014 in review

December 30, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 30,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Duas Quintas, Douro – White wine from Portugal

December 23, 2014

It was already late when we walked along the river on the lookout for some food in Lisbon the other day. We were a larger group of conference participants. We were hungry and not very picky. That’s the reason that I do not remember the name of the restaurant. However, it turned out to be a good choice. As so often, the group wanted me to select the wine. Not an easy undertaking when everybody is fancying different types of food.

Fortunately, the waiter was very helpful in the selection of wine. It is years that I have visited Portugal, and I am not on a sure footing regarding it’s wines.

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2013 Duas Quintas by Ramos Pinto, Douro

The white wine I choose was from the Douro, one of my favourite wine region in Portugal. I had visited with my family in 2008 and treasure the wonderful memories of the Douro valley.

Ramos Pinto is a well know producer of mainly port and red wines.
Casa Ramos Pinto produces since 1880. Since 1990 it is part of he Roederer Group.

João Nicolau de Almeida joined Casa Ramos Pinto in 1976 and is one of the main architects of its success in modern time. The American magazine Wine & Spirits chose him as “Man of the year 1998”. Since 2001 he is managing director.

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2013 Duas Quintas, back label

Also the whites of Casa Ramos Pinto are of great significance. Duas Quintas is a blend of traditional varieties (50% Rabigato, 40% Viosinho, 10% Arinto), has 13% alcohol, a ph level of 3.12. and an acidity of 5.8%.

Golden in colour, bright and clean, the aromas of citrus and ripe fruit are very pleasant on the palate. The wine is full bodied and has a good structure. 2013 was a ripper of a vintage which shows in the wine. It was the right choice.

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My appetizer

Even my at times spicy appetizer, grilled peppers with chips, was well suited to the wine. And the main dish, pieces of white fish, went also very will with the fine citrus aromas of the wine.

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The white fish

I wish we could have stayed longer. I have to find the restaurant again. It is near the congress centre, one crosses the main road and walks upriver. Easy.
Furthermore, I should visit again the Douro region. I have such fond memories. I know, there is never enough time to explore all the fabulous wines of a place.


White wine from Bulgaria

November 30, 2014

Rumor has it that Bulgaria’s red wines are much better than it’s whites. That might be true. However, this does not mean that Bulgaria does not produce good white wines.

In my search for excellence, I have come across a number of very good white wines, three of which I will present to you today.

The first wine is a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon by Terra Tangra. The wine is under a glass enclosure which signals to me: this wine was worth to be enclosed by the most expensive stopper.

Terra Tangra is located in the South Sakar mountains, a hot region. According to the DiVino Guide from 2014, the estate has about 400 ha under vines.

If the grapes for this blend come indeed from a rather warm wine region, the more I am amazed by this wine.

It has all the quality traits inherent in such a blend. The acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc is mitigated by the Semillon. It reminds me of similar blends from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia.

This is one of my favourite wines, very good with seafood but also just on its own, a great wine.

Terra Tangra

2013 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon by Terra Tangra

The second wine I want to present to you is another Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon blend, this time by Midalidare Estate located in Eastern Thrace, another wine region famous for its red wines.

The region has very fertile soils, and is famous for its orchards and vegetable production. Eastern Thrace has a long history of wine making.

In recent years also the white wines from the region have improved in quality. Midalidare Estate has about 160 ha under vines.

I don’t know what to make of the “single vineyard” (Mogilovo vineyard) indication on the bottle. However, I like the zesty taste and the exuberance of the wine.

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Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon, Mogilovo Single Vineyard by Midalidare

The third wine is something quite different. I would not have thought that I find a wine made from Traminer grapes so appealing.

This one is the big exception. The DiVino wine guide awards him 88 Parker points! It is clean and crisp, a wonderful sensation on the palate.

The top of the Traminer bottle is covered in “white wax”, again a sign for me that the producer thought the wine good enough for an expensive enclosure.

Angelus Estate is also located in Eastern Thrace. Their first vintage was in 2009. The flagship wine is a 92 point red, called “Stallion”.

Alexander Kanev, the wine maker impressed the wine fraternity with the outstanding quality of his wines. Also this winery is not small by German standards. It has about 110 ha under vines.

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Traminer by Angelus Estate

Stay tuned to more news from Bulagaria. I hope to visit some of the wineries (maybe in spring) and show you photos of their environment and the vineyards.


上朋 – my favourite Japanese restaurant in Taoyuan, Taiwan

October 31, 2014

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Shang Peng is the name of my favourite Japanese restaurant in Taoyuan, Taiwan

When I teach at the International Center for Land Policy Studies and Training (ICLPST) in Taoyuan, I try to have at least one meal in this restaurant.

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Japanese “nibblies”

Usually, I go with my friend Jim Riddell. Last time we had another fabulous meal. This time we did not drink beer but ordered a bottle of sake.
The charming waitress brought us a bottle of Black&Gold by the Gekkeikan Sake Company, a producer from Kyoto who is producing sake since 1637 in Fushimi.

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It came in a nice decorative bottle which Jim took home after the meal. We drank it cold not warm.
But boy I tell you this Sake was as smooth as silk, pure and balanced, in short an elegant wine.

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What a good choice this was. from here it was downhill all the way.

Below you will find photos of the various dishes we enjoyed with the Sake.

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Assorted raw fish

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To cleanse the palate

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Jim’s raw fish dish

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Jim’s soup

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Eel with rice

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The twisted fish

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Ingredients for the soup

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Ingredients for the soup

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The soup in parchment. It is amazing that the paper does not burn.

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Fruit at the end

What a wonderful evening this was. After paying I forgot my credit card at the counter.
The restaurant rang Jim a little later and informed him about this.
And the next day I picked it up at lunch time.

If in Taoyuan you should seek out this place and enjoy a Japanese meal. it’s definitely worth it.


Bulgaria – a paradise for wine lovers

September 19, 2014

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Vineyards in Trier

For someone like me, a native of Trier or Augusta Treverorum, as the city was called in Roman times, the move to another ancient Roman city, in this case Sofia, Bulgaria is not a big thing. Sofia was called Serdica (or Sardica) then, possibly named after the Celtic tribe Serdi.

Constantin the Great is supposed to have said “Serdica is my Rome”. And here we have the third city in which I lived and which belonged to the Roman empire. But he did not make Serdica the seat of his government. For this he choose Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople. By the way I lived in another Roman city: that was Vicus Bonnensis or Castra Bonnensis, the present day Bonn, my alma mater where I studied agriculture.

If I had lived two thousand years ago, a move from Trier to Sofia would have been a move from one province of a wast empire to another. Latin would have been the lingua franca. I would have had access to all the Roman infrastructure common in those days: a bath house, a circus, an amphitheater and so on.

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Constantine Basilica in Trier

Both my native Augusta Treverorum (the city of Augustus in the land of the Treverer) and my current home Sofia got their name from the native Celtic populations (the Treverer in my case). Both were major cities of the Roman Empire. Trier was located in the Roman province of Belgica, Sofia in the province of Thrace. Both places history is tied to the Roman emperor Constantin the Great.

There are also differences. Augusta Treverorum is famous for its wine cellars and its wine production, vineyards reaching deep into the city. Sofia does not have vineyards in its vicinity. However, the old province of Thrace was famous for its wines, and so is present day Bulgaria.

I admit that there is still a lot of room to improve its produces’ fame but more and more Bulgarian wines are available in wine shops in other parts of Europe, especially Germany and England.
Needless to say I use my spare time here in Sofia to explore the many wines of Bulgaria. My welcome present by my colleagues consisted of a wine guide, Di Vino 2014.

I would like to invite you to come along on this journey and explore the richness of the ancient land of Thrace, and it’s contemporary wines.

Le Voyage

Le Voyage by Katarzyna Estate


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