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Travel | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 2
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Nuts! It’s what’s for Christmas!

That's Nuts

That's Nuts

Would you put that thing in your mouth? Well, I hardly think so: the nutmeg (and the red, lacy mace) is truly one of the least attractive foods of all time, and that’s before you know how it used to be harvested.

Nutmegs are native to one small archipelago, the Bandas in eastern Indonesia, and having been there myself I can say that getting anyone or anything off the Bandas and onto your dinner plate back home is one of the labours of Hercules, although Mercury would have come in a good deal handier.

But I can also tell you that when you are approaching these islands, you smell them before you see them, and the scent is nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. And when your boat brings you in over the reef to land on Run, the small island that the English traded to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan, you step out and it’s as if the island exists on its own plane, halfway between 1600 and the 21st Century. There’s a generator powering a ghetto blaster with music that sounds a bit like Kanye, only in Bahasa Indonesia instead of English. But there is also, outside of every tiny house, a blanket spread, on which are drying freshly-picked spices; cloves, mostly, but also cinnamon, nutmeg, and a couple of things I couldn’t quite identify.

Run is where I learned how nutmeg was harvested for centuries. The Bandas are not only home to the nutmeg fruit, something about the size and shape of a small, malformed apple or possibly a large quince with a skin problem. They are also the home of the nutmeg dove, which looks exactly like a regular dove, only an awful lot closer to the size of a bald eagle.

Nutmeg dove

Nutmeg dove

Perhaps I exaggerate. A large cat. Yes, this is a dove the size of a very large cat, which can unhinge its lower jaw like a snake’s, in order to swallow the nutmeg fruit whole. The pit, including the mace covering, is indigestible to the dove, and passes through.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Well, it’s a lot easier than climbing trees.

Speaking of admissions, I must admit that having possessed myself of this kernel of knowledge, I had suddenly lost all desire to find out how they harvested it nowadays, because if my stay in Indonesia taught me anything, it’s that they will do things the cheap and easy way because why wouldn’t you do it that way? And nutmeg doves are free.

The Guardian, incidentally, has done a fine writeup on the sociopolitical history of the nutmeg, and you should go read it. There may be a quiz later.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the hunt for nutmeg helped build the modern commercial world. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (modern Istanbul), embargoing trade across the sole sliver of land through which a few merchants had evaded the Arab-Venetian spice monopoly and forcing Europeans to find new eastern trade routes. Columbus sailed the blue Atlantic looking for a passage to India; and Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, his men charging on to the shores of Kerala crying, “For Christ and spices!” The Portuguese military genius Afonso de Albuquerque annexed the Indonesian Molucca islands, of which the Bandas form part, in 1511. The fortresses he built there established and then consolidated a Portuguese monopoly over the world’s nutmeg that lasted almost a whole cushy century.

I have been in the fortresses he built there, and have snorkled through the ruins of Fort Elizabeth, which the English built to guard Run from the Dutch. The Dutch and Portugese, one island over, built a fort they called Revenge, of which little remains, but what little does remain is more than enough to chill your flesh on a day when even the trees are sweating.

Fort Revenge on Pulau Ai

Fort Revenge on Pulau Ai by wildstylz

I assure you, my skin starts crawling just to look at the image, even if the place has apparently been turned into a cassava farm. But where was I? Yes, going to talk about breakfast next, now that we’ve covered death, war, politics, third world poverty, and the digestive tracts of grossly swollen pigeons.

Indonesia is that kind of a place.

Oh, and the nutmeg will get you high, apparently. That explains a great deal of the local government.

One thing they do right there, having been conquered by the Dutch every few years for a couple of centuries, is pancakes. And one of the things they do with them is put a little spice in them, pretty much always nutmeg, because their tastes are subtle there and the sharper snap of cinnamon is not so much to their taste in the morning. Nutmeg is a spice that rewards cooking, richens and deepens, becoming much more interesting if it’s actually baked into something rather than sprinkled on top by a smiling barista. And one of the things it’s best in is pancakes, although it also adds a great deal to a savory stew, particularly if beer is one of the liquids in it.

Try it, you’ll like it. Trust me, I’ve spent several decades telling everyone I don’t like nutmeg, when really I just didn’t like nutmeg sitting on top of things. Nutmeg should be in things. Like pancakes.

Musical interlude via the DailyDot:

But am I going to let you settle for powdered nutmeg? No, I am not. I wouldn’t do that to you. Once you’ve had the real thing freshly ground, the stuff that comes in packages reveals itself as bearing the same relationship to the original that Nosferatu did to Ryan Reynolds after the sun came up.

Great.

Exactly.

You need a grater, and you can waste your time and money and skin off your knuckles playing around with several fancy items that look like they belong in a dominatrix’s toolkit, but we here at the ol’ Manolofood blog will take better care of you, and we will recommend only what we’d use ourselves, if we hadn’t spent all our money on martini olives this week.

Cuisipro Nutmeg/Cinnamon Grater (and yes, you will wash it with soap EVERY TIME if you use it for more than one kind of spice. Promise me, now.

This one is nice and practical; it knows if you only use it for nutmeg, you’re not going to wash it out every time, so it has a lid that keeps your leftovers fresh, and it’s easy to handle, so there will be very little knuckle skin mixed in with your pancakes. Yay!

My personal favorite, because it’s just so cute and the perfect size for a singleton, is the Gra-Mini mini grater. It’s also around five dollars, so it’s perfect for a stocking stuffer they’ll think is useless and end up using every single day. Major smug points for you.

I happened to pick one of these up at the hardware store while buying a box of rat poison (what can I say, it was a bad breakup) and the Italian man behind the counter nearly infarcted from laughter. With tears in his eyes he picked up the grater and mimed freshening a dish of rat poison with some parmesan. Oh god, that moment really lightened his life, I can tell you.

There are some words of power in the Productosphere, and “Peugeot” is one of those words. Therefor, we present the Peugeot PM19488 Amboine Nutmeg Grinder which is extravagant, tasteful, gloriously indestructable, and perfect for rich fussbudgets who don’t like to actually touch their food with anything but the inside of their digestive tract. You know the type. Excited about molecular gastronomy so they can eat steak foam and save on the calories. But they are generally important and must be placated with extravagant gifts, like ancient gods. So, here. It’ll probably be the most useful item in their kitchen and they will never touch it, because they eat out every night anyway.

But when I win the lottery, I’m buying one. And then renting a cleaner, to wash it out for me all the damn time (I’m two-timing nutmeg with cinnamon; yes, I am THAT GIRL).

This is the kind you don’t want. Seriously, 7.5 inches? Wasn’t that thing on an episode of Law and Order, Special Victims Unit?

Anyway, you’ll be a Special Victim if you try to use this with your bare hands.

I have a confession to make. I’m only including this one because of its name: The Nut Twister. Yes, I am twelve.

But at less than half the price, it’s not a bad riff on the Peugeot, even if that chrome case will not be as durable as the wooden one (trust me on this!).

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about 1437 words more than I ever thought I would write about nutmeg. Pay heed!

Oh, they do also make nutmeg jam, out of the fruit itself. You don’t want it; it’s like apple butter, only mealier.

Duck and Uncover: the Holy Hand Grenade cocktail

Victoria BC's got a problem. It's too cute: like being inside a snow globe only there's no snow, only falling cherry blossoms

Victoria BC's got a problem. It's too cute: like being inside a snow globe only there's no snow, only falling cherry blossoms

Victoria, British Columbia: home of the Newly Wed and the Nearly Dead. What comes to mind when you think of Victoria, British Columbia?

If anything…

No, it’s fine. I’m not in a hurry.

Rogers' Chocolates

Rogers' Chocolates in Victoria. No they do NOT have wasabi cream, you postmodernist asshole!

Well, the fact is you’re probably right: Victoria is as quiet as a city can be and still be a city, and quite a delightful exception to the usual urban bustlitude it is, too. The fiercest competition in town is rhododendron-and-herbaceous-border-based, and all the pedestrian crossing lights are extra-long, to accommodate the mobility-impaired and the just plain meandering, which often enough includes your faithful foodie and drinkie blogger right here.

And it did, just a couple of days ago. Accommodate me, that is, and that to a positively decadent degree; my suite at the Parkside had not one but two fireplaces, two big screen tv’s, and two bathrooms. For one person. I felt like inviting people over for a pee or something, not to mention enjoying the view from the bathtub, although that invitation might be limited to Viggo Mortensen and Julian Assange and while it might be a tight fit I’m more than willing to try it. It had to be said.

But where was I?

Parkside Victoria sweet suite!

Parkside Victoria sweet suite!

Parkside Victoria sweet suite view!

Parkside Victoria sweet suite has a suite view!

Now, I don’t know about you. I only know about me. And why? Because you hardly EVER use the comment box, not that I’ve taken it to heart. Oh, no. Not that the comments box and I stare at one another in the darkness, asking where we went wrong, where the silence comes from, is it me, is it you, is it the XML-PRC?

Not at all. But where was I?

Victoria. Oh yes, I was in Victoria. Well, let me tell you something about Victoria you don’t know (I won’t tell you everything you don’t know, because we’d be here for the next 45 minutes, easy, and I bet it’s feeling like that already). I’m going to tell you that when it comes to foodie culture, this pleasantly placid BC burg has your city beat.

NYC, Montreal, Chicago, pack your knives and go…

4 eg:

I went to a foodie/drinkie dinner in honour of Tom Bulleit of Bulleit’s Bourbon in Victoria and as everyone gathered around the table (some two dozen, unless I’ve forgotten how to count past ten without taking my socks off and that’s always a possibility, particularly at a bourbon dinner) it rapidly became evident I was the least foodie person present. One fellow pulled out five or six baggies full of white powder – Hoo boy, it’s party time, you’re thinking, and you’re not exactly wrong, but while the baggies were a cause of great excitement among the assembled partiers, they were filled with an unexpected substance: sea salt. It was sea salt he’d collected from different harbours all up and down Vancouver Island, as many shades of white as the Innu have words for snow. And my friend Janice pulled out her latest batch of House Made bitters (she makes everything from chai bitters to rhubarb bitters to celery bitters for your morning Bloody Mary), and so it went from the fellow who collects knives over 100 years old to the fellow who distills dandelion brandy until it got to me and I said, “I don’t actually make anything, but I consume exceptionally well” and that seemed to be enough. Hey, what’s a symphony without an audience, eh?

That dinner, which I should have written up at the time but will get to sooner or later, took place, like many of the best occasions, at Clive’s Classic Lounge in the Chateau Victoria, within stumbling distance of the Inner Harbour. I adore this place, but it’s not just me who loves Clive’s: Tales of the Cocktail, the internationally recognized cocktail snobbery and standards organization has just named Clive’s one of the four best hotel bars in the world, along with the Artesian and the Savoy in London and Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon.

And it was at Clive’s that I found myself the other night, for any night that I am in Victoria it’s a better than fair bet I’ll be at Clive’s. And what did I do there? I stole the menu, of course.

These menus, they’re like gold. Bartenders in Vancouver bid for them in cocktails. I got the last one up to three Negronis, and that from a bartender who hates to mix anything more complicated than scotch on the rocks. They do, of course, have “PLEASE FEEL FREE TO TAKE THIS MENU” on the back, but I like to pretend there’s evildoing in it: a splash of nefariousness makes the drinks taste better. Okay, Vancouver, what am I bid for this latest menu, which contains a spread of tiki drinks, both classic and “antiki”? Use your words, Vangroover: put them in the comments box!

Now, there are few things I love as much as a good tiki drink, and few things are as abused in this cruel world as the palate of the tiki drink fancier ( #firstworldproblems ). I remember a holiday in Oahu where I drank at a different bar every night just to see what they hell they’d put in their Mai Tai: anything from gin and pineapple juice to a flower that smelled like rotting liver and a grass leaf from the waitress’s skirt (that just can’t be sanitary, can it?). If you’re ever stuck in Oahu, play the Mai Tai lottery and you’ll never be bored (although you may be queasy).

But back to good tiki drinks, and one specifically, from the Antiki side of the menu at Clive’s: the Holy Hand Grenade.

Now, I defy anyone with an ounce of Nerd Pride to flip past a drink named after a Monty Python bit without ordering it, although the Dead Parrot might be a challenge, not to mention Spam. Naturally, a table full of bloggers fresh from the Social Media Conference had to sample such a geeky delight, and here it is: a world exclusive as far as I know, and believe me, I know better than to actually ask, because then someone might tell me it wasn’t, and if Almighty Google doesn’t tell me so then LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, so here it is, a world exclusive: the original Holy Hand Grenade by Nate Caudle of Clive’s Classic Lounge in Victoria. And yes, it’s in metric: nerds LOVE the metric system, duh!

The Holy Hand Grenade

The Holy Hand Grenade

The Holy Hand Grenade
Nate Caudle
Clive’s Classic

 

50ml Bulleit Bourbon

1oz Green Chartreuse (OUNCE? what is this, Nate? Are you going bilingual on me or something?)

20 ml Appelkorn

20ml Chestnut Syrup

20ml Lime Juice

 

Shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a cross made of palm leaf.

This is absolutely effective against vicious bunnies that are terrorizing the countryside, whether escaped from a Monty Python skit or from Hef’s mansion. After a couple of these, that bunny will be thumping you on the back and telling you what a fine, fine person you are and how did he not notice it in all these years?

How tasty is this thing? Well, as with all good cocktails that aren’t pousse cafes, it gives the impression of being one perfect thing, rather than an assemblage of ingredients. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any of the ingredients here, actually, and it comes across light enough that you could be excused for thinking it wasn’t a bourbon drink at all. Given the varied sweetnesses of which it is concocted, it’s surprisingly light and refreshing, with a mellowed citrus taste and a complex, warm and earthy aroma and aftertaste which is unusual in a drink this summery. It’s perfect for sitting on a patio or lanai, enjoying the scenery or maybe a paperback of something amusing by nerd god Terry Pratchett.

In fact, I have a strong feeling this would have turned Frank from Donnie Darko into Harvey of, uh, Harvey, in no time at all.

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