Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Forum Vini 2012 – Around the World

The variety of wines, spirits, delicacies, and snacks at Forum Vini is truly amazing. Every year there is something new! Here’s what I found at Forum Vini 2012 to write home about.

First: we all know that certain foods go perfectly when paired with the right wine (or beer, or liquor). Well, at Winz Feines zum Wein they’ve simplified the selection process by explaining which snacks (“Knabberei” auf Deutsch) go best with which variety of wine. Great for those who, like me, haven’t yet memorized what mix of salty, sour, dry, sweet, etc goes with which wine.

Snacks for Wine

Next up is a second wine (besides the Grappa in the last post) that I just *had* to buy. Wayne Dutschke makes some tasty Australian wines, and was one of the few wine sellers who had traveled from outside Germany/Austria for Forum Vini (rather than just have a distributor do the selling).

I have to tell you: when I tasted Dutschke’s (average of) 22-year-old Tawny, I turned to my colleague and said “Holy &#%$, this is amazing. I’m going to have to buy some.” Really, it was so good it blew my mind, and that’s coming from a spirits expert who is currently brewing his own Christmas Brown Ale. Tawny is basically a fortified aged wine, which if made in a certain region of Portugal would be called port. That makes Dutschke’s wine even more amazing, because it means the best port I’ve ever had is from Australia!

Wayne Dutschke

The spirits at Zeiss are always delicious, I’ve occasionally bought them as Christmas gifts. The bottles are at least as much fun to look at as the liquor is to drink!

Zeiss Bottles

These delicious French Bordeaux wines from Chateau Perayne are for my Aunt who loves butterflies:

Butterflies

And finally, let me close with something that’s not even related to wine. It’s BEER! Those who know me personally know that I am a beer guy. And not because I drink a lot of it; because I try every single various beer, of every style, from every country that I can get my hands on. For some reason I just remember great beers and brands, where with wines I usually don’t.

This is why I was really psyched to see Braufactum, a German craft brewery, represented at Forum Vini. These are Germans who are not prejudiced against beers outside the Rheinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law). This no-longer-mandatory archaic convention is now just used as marketing to persuade the narrow-minded not to buy any beer that isn’t made in Germany because “all non-German beers are filled with toxic chemicals and unnatural things” (yeah right – what is toxic or unnatural about fruits, coffee, or chocolate?).

But Braufactum is one of the brands that is starting to slowly open Germany up to new flavors of beer! Here is their Märzen bier; in the past this variety was traditionally brewed in March and then stored until Oktoberfest (if I got the story right). They sell various craft beers from all around the world (USA and Belgium among others), and brew several tasty beers of their own including a STRONG India Pale Ale that is delicious and super hoppy.

Braufactum

Overall it was the best Forum Vini yet, and I look forward to Forum Vini 2013 already!

Posted 3 years, 5 months ago at 9:36 pm.

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Pulled Pork BBQ Recipe

Picture this: three people at your door Sunday morning in their pajamas, asking “is your living room on fire?”

That’s what happened when I made pulled pork BBQ on my balcony. Too many wood chips in the smoker bowl, and the smoke was ferocious for about an hour. Luckily it slowed, and I was able to finish the smoke without any further complaints.

The first thing in making BBQ is to find the right cut of meat – ideally a Boston Butt with enough fat to keep the meat moist during cooking. Boston Butt in German: I bought Halssteak (though Nackensteak should also do), a 2.5kg hunk of meat. Here it is after brining and a nice rub (details later),

Brined and seasoned Boston Butt (Halssteak / Nackensteak)

Next throw that baby on the smoker for about 6-12 hours (depending on the size of the meat). Target smoker temp is anywhere from 100C-110C / 210F-230F. Of course the hotter you cook the shorter the cooking time will be (thank you, physics).

Boston Butt on the Terracotta Smoker

My 2.5kg / 5.5 lb chunk took 9 1/2 hours to cook, but was only up to 80C / 175F inside. Better would have been 85C / between 180 and 190F. I turned it once, about 2/3 of the way through that time.

Almost-done Boston Butt

After the internal temp is to your target, pull it off! If it’s too low, it will be difficult to pull. Let it rest for about an hour so you don’t burn yourself during the pulling. Here’s the fully roasted meat:

The final BBQ product: Boston Butt

To pull pork, get two forks and just go at it, tearing off shreds and hunks. I left aside lots of fat bits and some super-hard outer portions that didn’t look very edible. If you have dogs, they will be going crazy right about now. Here’s the interior of the Boston Butt:

Pulling the pork BBQ

It took about 30-40 minutes to pull the whole thing, and my arms were definitely worked over. Probably I could have let the internal temp go a bit higher, to make pulling easier. And I guess I lack a bit of technique too. But the final product looks (and tastes) great:

Beautiful pulled pork

For the final step I slapped  my pork on a bun and doused it with some Hot Texas BBQ sauce from a high-rated recipe on a website (details below). MMM-MMMMHHH!

Pulled pork BBQ sandwich with Texas Style hot BBQ sauce

Definitely every bit as good as restaurant BBQ at big smokehouses in the States. And I’ve never seen BBQ anywhere in Germany before, so it’s a first for me to have a real pulled pork sandwich over here. Delicious!

Dave’s Top 10 Pulled Pork BBQ Tips (no, I’m not Famous Dave…)

1) Watch Alton Brown’s pulled pork bbq episode on YouTube.
2) Print out Alton’s recipe here with details on the brine and the rub.
3) Find a nice Texas Hot BBQ recipe like this one from Epicurious
4) Choose some nice chunks or chips of wood like apple, hickory, olive, etc. Some have a stronger flavor than others, you can read all about wood here.
5) If you are a hot-food wimp, skip the cayenne (and maybe even the chipotle). On the other hand, if (like me) you love the heat, add something more… I went with half a smoked habanero to bring the sauce up to my level.
6) Smoke your pork as described above, low n’ slow. Smoker target temp is 100C-110C / 210F-230F.
7) I’d recommend a meat internal temp of around 85C / between 180 and 190F. Too low and you will have trouble pulling it.
8\) Pull your pork – it’s easier if you have a few people to help.
9) Slap the pulled pork on a toasted bun, don’t be shy.
10) Douse with BBQ sauce to taste and enjoy!

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 7:04 pm.

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Terracotta Smoker

Having a bit of time on my hands, I decided to take up smoking. No, Mom, not cigarettes… food! I’m using a terracotta smoker, which (hopefully) will not make my picky German neighbors insane at the first whiff of charred mesquite.

I got the idea from Good Eats (Alton Brown), though now you can find dozens of pages explaining how to make a terracotta smoker, so I won’t go too much into detail. The basics: buy 2 flower pots, an electric burner, a heavy duty pie pan, and a round grill grate. Slap a thermometer on there and fill it with hardwood, and you’re smokin’! Here it is:

Terracotta smoker

Smoking MUST be done outside. Preferably far from anyone’s house windows! If you do try this on an apartment balcony like me (disclaimer: I’m not responsible, blah blah blah, not recommended), read these

6 Tips for Balcony Smokers / Grills

  • Tell your neighbors first so they don’t think someone’s places is on fire
  • Promise your neighbors some of the finished product as payment for putting up with your smoke
  • Don’t use too many wood chips, or any sawdust – they make massive amounts of smoke FAST
  • Try chunks of wood and longer cooking times to minimize smoke output
  • Keep your windows/door closed, otherwise your own apartment will smell like smoke
  • Use a meat thermometer to measure the smoke temperature, as it’s more accurate in the narrow range where you want to be smoking (up to about 230F / 110C)

Fueled-up Smoker

Below is my first attempt: smoked jalapeños and habaneros. Note the former are not chipotles, because I used green jalapeños; to make chipotles you need to find ripe red jal’s. Weighing in at 308 grams before smoking…

Peppers pre-smoking

Here are the peppers mid-smoke. I smoked ’em for about 12 hours on low heat (70-80C).

Peppers smoking

And the final product: note they only weigh in at 28 grams! >90% weight loss…

Peppers post-smoking

I’ve made salsa and Texas-style BBQ sauce with these babies and they are deliciously smoky. Just one pepper adds huge flavor to a bowl of fresh salsa!

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 11:26 pm.

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Saigon – Cute and Crazy

Saigon, renamed to Ho Chi Minh City by the communist North after they won the Vietnam War, is a city of anomalies. Beautiful French buildings are interspersed with communist concrete. Here’s Reunification hall, which used to be the palace of the President of the south part of Vietnam (before the communists took it back). The glorious 60’s live again…

Reunification Hall in Ho Chi Minh City

Amazing high-class eateries (like classy French patisseries) share space with sidewalk restaurants where patrons sit on plastic footstools. And there’s this… the rich Saigon Zoo, an oasis of calm compared to the bustle and buzz of motorbike traffic just outside its gates. (Admission: only 8000 dong, or about 40 US cents).

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Granted, the zoo is not as nice as others I’ve seen in Asia (Taipei for example). It also has its contradictions: some of the pens are beautiful and spacious, while others (like the elephant pen) are pretty depressing. Don’t let your kids wander alone in the reptile area, or they’ll happen upon dead rabbits floating in the pools near the bored (and over-full) pythons.

Friendly lizards at Saigon Zoo

They’ve taken the odd step of putting glass in front of many of the cages instead of wire: ostensibly so you can see the animals with less obstruction. But it’s sunny when you go to the zoo, so between the reflections and the dirty glass, you can barely see some of the animals (much less take photos of them). At least in a few cases where the reflections aren’t bad you can get amazing photos, like this white tiger, shot from less than a meter away:

White Tiger with blue eyes at Saigon Zoo

Even though I wasn’t in Saigon long, I got a good feel for what it must have been like in the glory days of old. It makes me wonder what things would be like there if south Vietnam had remained independent from communism. Government styles aside, it’s a beautiful place with a rich culture and heritage that definitely warrants a visit!

Posted 3 years, 11 months ago at 7:52 pm.

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Hue Imperial City

Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took control of Vietnam in 1802 and named himself Emperor. Of course, like every great man with great ambitions and hundreds of concubines, he needed a palace in his capital city! Within the Imperial City was the Purple Forbidden City, where only the Emperor’s family was allowed.

Unfortunately it was mostly destroyed during the American bombing that followed the Communists’ takeover of Hue in 1968. What can you do?

Imperial City, Hue

Here’s a short video showing a few areas of the Imperial City. Gardens with locusts/loud insects, koi ponds with hungry fish, restored (and some not-yet-restored) buildings. Oh, and I threw in a night timelapse of Hue from the top of the Romantic Hotel – you can see the city lights coming on as the clouds tower high.

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The imposing Citadel guarding one entrance to the Imperial City:

Hue Imperial City Citadel Gates

The walls themselves are guarded by a dragon. Vietnamese do love their dragons, I’d say more than any other Asian culture I’ve visited!

Hue Imperial City Dragon

I’ll leave you with one final (gold plated?) dragon guarding what look to be some Imperial living areas. Don’t mess with the Emperor!

Hue Imperial City perspective

Posted 3 years, 12 months ago at 5:30 pm.

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Da Nang Music Festival

When walking around Da Nang looking for a restaurant, we happened upon a music festival. With a restaurant across the street. Which had a free table on the upstairs balcony overlooking the festival+river. Nikon D7000 timelapse awesomeness!

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I used a mini-tripod with the Nikon D7000 and (if I remember) around a 4 second exposure, taking a photo every 5 seconds. Between the motion of the lights, the people, and the cars, it makes for a cool scene.

Da Nang, Vietnam Music Festival

Anyone have some cool crowd timelapses to share? Link ’em in the comments section!

Posted 4 years ago at 4:19 pm.

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Vietnamese Spring Rolls

I took a cooking course at the Sapa Boutique Hotel in Sapa, Vietnam – here was the result of one dish!

Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls

These tasty fried spring rolls were made with a chicken & vegetables filling, wrapped in rice paper, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, and then deep fried. One of the best spring rolls we had on the trip!

For those making your own deep-fried Vietnamese spring rolls, here’s a short how-to video showing you how to roll the filling in the rice paper:

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Posted 4 years ago at 2:50 pm.

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Phu Quoc, Vietnam

I’m just back from a 3w trip to Vietnam. Let me tell you, Vietnam is the country of adventure! It seems relatively safe, if you manage to avoid the touts, cheats, and duplicitous taxis/motorbikes.

The final stop on my journey was Phu Quoc island in the ocean off the southwest tip of Vietnam. As it had been a long and stressful trip (avoid night trains!!), this last stop was just for relaxing on the beach. The choice was Bo Resort with their long private beach.

Bo Resort Beach

It’s a bit more pricey than some other resorts, but in my opinion worth it (we paid $64/night with breakfast for a bungalow for 2). The grounds of Bo Resort are well kept, the beach is much cleaner than most areas of Vietnam (only some trash washes up from the ocean), and it’s a nearly deserted private beach belonging to the resort. There’s a limited number of guests allowed, around 40. During my timelapse videos (several hours), only 2 dogs and 4 people crossed the frame.

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(filmed with a Nikon D7000 and some filters like the Tiffen Variable ND and a circular polarizer to get 5s+ long shutter speeds in full sunlight)

One note about Bo Resort: the bungalows are open (think geckos and mosquito netting) and have no A/C. If this really bothers you, think twice. But if you’re there in a cooler season (temps *below* 30C at night), the lack of A/C wouldn’t be a big issue. When I was there it was HOT.

The Bo Resort restaurant is a bit pricey ($4-8 for most entrees which is a LOT for Vietnam), but it’s very high quality ingredients and beautifully prepared in a French-Vietnamese style. Way better than almost everything else I tasted in Vietnam. They clay pot caramelized shrimps were one of the culinary highlights of my 3 week trip.

Here’s a gratuitous distant thunderstorm with stars above the clouds… photography junkies may now start drooling…

Bo-Resort-Thunderstorm

Thanks to Bo Resort for helping to relax a bit at the end of a long adventure vacation!

Posted 4 years ago at 2:45 pm.

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Shuni-e Fire Ceremony

The yearly Shuni-e ceremony at Todai-ji temple in Nara, Japan must be one of the ancient pyrotechnic wonders of the world. Reportedly it’s been held every year since 752! And this temple complex is a world heritage site. Yes, the temple is made of wood.

According to Wikipedia, “Every night, ten select believers (eleven on March 12) shoulder large pine torches as long as 8 meters and weighing as much as 80 kilograms. Girded with swords and staves, the torch-bearers climb a flight of stairs and run along the balcony of the Nigatsu-dō, showering sparks on the public below. It is thought that these sacred sparks will protect the recipient from evil. The monks also chant, perform ritual circumambulation, and wave swords to ward off evil spirits.”

Here’s a short video of the ceremony on Mar. 11th, 2012.

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Taking photos of this is hard. You will want a VR- or IS- stabilized lens, a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider would be nice), and a big D-SLR sensor. Times of 1/15 to 1/3 second at wide aperture can yield nice shots without having to pump the ISO too high.

Shuni-e Torch 1

Here’s another shot, with the torch-bearing monk in motion! He is running along the walkway while twirling the torch on his shoulder.

Shuni-e Torch 2 in motion

For my final trick: tell me this isn’t the most amazing shape you’ve ever seen made of glowing sparks.

Shuni-e Torch 3 bird

If you ever plan to visit Nara, the first half of March is the time to do it!

The one tip to get a good place in front of the Nigatsu-do balcony: arrive early. If you are late you will be half a kilometer away in a parking lot with a crappy view obstructed by a big tree. (To get a decent photo from there you’ll need a tall tripod and a 400mm+ pro lens costing six thousand dollars).

On this (Sunday) night, I arrived at around 5 for the ~7pm ceremony start. I had my choice of viewing position, so got an awesome spot. After a short thunderstorm (which thankfully cleared) and a nice hot coffee from a vending machine, this amazing ceremony was the reward!

Posted 4 years, 1 month ago at 9:48 pm.

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Japan in Timelapse

These timelapse videos were made with a Nikon D7000 on Dotonbori Street in Osaka, in a Belgian bar in Kobe, and from the Granvia hotel overlooking Kyoto train station. You get a little flavor of the variety of city life in Japan!

Personally: I really love how fast you can eat peanuts and drink beer at one frame every 5 seconds. (Cheers, Alan!)

Try to spot a giant crab, a Belgian monk (?), a snow squall, a Shinkansen bullet train, and an elevator dancing to the beat of my background music.

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When you are shooting a timelapse indoors, do try not to set the camera on your food+drinks table. But sometimes you have no choice… hehe. Here’s Kyoto train station at dusk…

Kyoto Train Station at Night

Posted 4 years, 1 month ago at 8:41 pm.

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