and upon returning…

Hi everyone,

I know I’ve been remiss about “finalizing” everything here. A couple people have told me I should, but honestly I’m not sure it’s really possible. Or not in a short format that anyone would really want to read. So in lieu of summing-up, I’m just going to post a link to a little book I made (which is mostly pictures you’ve already seen). You’re welcome to have a look, at your leisure. Click here and it should take you to the google docs page, and you can download the file from there…hope you enjoy!

(PS: good news, everyone, there was kabocha squash at the farmer’s market today! that is something I have been looking forward to for a very long time now…)

All those questions bound to be asked…

…and difficult to answer directly.

Well, I originally had a long discussion prepared to talk about some questions that are of course bound to arise when looking at local food in Western developed countries nowadays. For one, I’ve found tha restaurants need a fair bit of problematizing (they rely on the standardization of food, to some extent, no matter how “local” they try to be). And then they very idea of “eating local”…is it not a luxury to even be able to spend time thinking about where your food comes from (unless you are thinking about your own farm work?)
In the end, the graffiti on the gate to the Princess Urban Garden in Berlin (in Kreuzberg, a mainly Turkish neighborhood) might sum up many of the feelings I’ve been having about these questions…

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(it does seem to be a very nice, working, and community-based urban vegetable garden, though, so I salute them)

Basically, like everything, it’s complicated. Good things can have negative sides, too, and I think the best answer is just to say that nothing with any ties to social life will ever really be straightforward. I also think that there are a lot of policy decisons that could be made to make “local” (or organic or healthy or whatever else you want) less elitist and just the norm.

Would not a ham by any other name taste as smokey?

First, my apologies for slacking on posting. My project is really winding down (or has finished doing so already, really). But here I will start on some final thoughts in my last destination…

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Greetings from Schwarzwald (“Black Forest”) – home of those fancy carved cuckoo clocks, layered cake, and yes, Black Forest ham. (Oh yes, I am in Germany now, by the way)
One of the first things I wanted to know when I got to the region, and that I was busy asking everyone about, was what, exactly, makes “Black Forest Ham” have that name? Everyone thought this was a very silly question. “It’s just prepared a special way,” is generally the answer I received, after a laugh. Well, turns out that the reason I found this to be such a mystery, while Germans do not, is perhaps that most Black Forest Ham that I’ve seen in the US actually has nothing to do with the real thing (except, one hopes, having come from a pig).
Here is what Black Forest Ham actually looks like:

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In a sense, it is German proscuitto (a lot of local restaurants even serve it with melon, Italian style). It turns out, though, that Black Forest Ham was awarded (in 1997) a “Protected Geographic Indication” seal, meaning that it is kind of Germany’s version of champagne.
Ok I’m kidding, but it is the same idea; only “Black forest ham” that is actually from the Black Forest region can be so labelled. Otherwise that is false advertising (even if it is technically made the exact same way).
Well, you may still be asking, what exactly is so special about this nice, thinly sliced, oh-so-smokey charcuterie? Well, I’ll tell you what I learned from the Association of Black Forest Ham Producers. First, you must have some high quality, bones removed ham. Supposedly boneless meat keeps longer, who knew? (a bit more on that high quality ham in a minute). Then, you need some fir trees. (Turns out they have quite a few of these in the Black Forest.) oh but first, make sure you give that ham a good rub with garlic, pepper, coriander and juniper berries, and maybe some other spices you like, by hand. After that…(and here I quote…)

“After the hams are salted and placed in special pickling containers, the meat takes on all the aroma of the spices. The salt takes all the water out of it, causing a brine to develop, in which the ham spends another two weeks or so.

After this the ham is brought into so-called dedicated curing rooms – cooled rooms where they “afterburn” another 14 days before going into the cold smoking chamber. There they hang in special smoking towers up to three weeks, developing their aroma, colour and taste. They are smoked at 25 degrees over natural fir and fir sawdust from the Black Forest.”

And now I, and you, know what makes Black Forest Ham special! It is true, then, that you could not have the real thing without the Black Forest itsself – one could arugue about the terroir of fir trees from various locations, but it’s likely true at least that a particular type of wood, with a particular moisture content, gives off a unique flavor in smoking.

BUT it seems that the ham itself need not come from the Black Forest. In fact I have not seen a single pig, just a lot of dairy cows. It sounds like the majority of the meat actually comes from France. So even the special protection on the Black Forest name may not be keeping the agriculture all that local. (to be fair, all of Europe could fit inside the US, so it depends on what your idea of “local” is) So while I am fascinated that a smoked ham is given a special designation by the EU as a product of particular geographical and cultural significance, it seems like turning that product in to a gourmet speciality may actually do some harm to the “localness”, of you will. The producers of Schwarzwälder Schinken seem to think that the ham alone is reason enough to come on vacation to the region, though, so perhaps it does its part to improve the image of this corner of Germany. (as if there was much improvement needed!…)

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Just over the border

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I had this really nice long post about my time in Albania, but due to technical difficulties it got deleted. So I’ll do my best o sum it up again…
Although I did not initially intend to include Albania in my compare/contrast of countries, it turned out to be a really interesting juxtaposition to Greece. In a lot of ways the two countries are culturally similar (although both Greeks and Albanians would probably protest that statement, it seems like – to my untrained eye, at least, who obviously is no expert in Balkan culture – the traditional costumes, music, dance, Turkish influence and the food products all point towards some commonality). If you go to a market in Albania, where there are actually farmers markets, you see many of the same things Greece is famed for – cow and sheep cheese, oil, fish, olives and homemade wine.

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Also, it’s a quarter of the price in Albania. It seems like if you placed a looking-glass of development over Albania (paved roads, trash collection, to name a few things), it would look remarkably similar to Greece, though of course with a differen dominant religion, which does make a difference. But what I’m getting at, long story short, is the link between Greece’s development and it’s number of large supermarkets. Albania has farmer’s markets because, well, what else are they going to do? It seems like what may have seemed so integral to Greece’s culture – it’s pride in it’s food and in making-your-own – may have been undercut by development (and maybe EU membership and cheaper imports?). So perhaps there is more necessity in the use of local foods than anything ingrained in a society. Or maybe “globalization” is succeeding at killing those parts of culture. But then what about places like France which are well known for their produce markets and cheese shops? What makes it possible to bring up the standard of living in a country, but still hold on to the good parts, if you will, of an “undeveloped” economy? Is it truly ‘cultural’, or is it historical developments or government policies or something international? Ah, that is indeed the question. Not sure I have the answer *just* yet. Though India could certainly use an answer to that question, too. So, those are my thoughts pertaining to the Balkan region of Southen Europe, in a small nutshell.

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And still going…

An extremely brief stop in Montenegro. Equally beautiful as Croatia but seems to not be taking advantage of the fact, so there are practically no tourists (flipside: the historic sites are not nearly as well cared for).

Near Kotor, a site smilar to Dubrovnik:

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Podgorica, possibly the quietest capitol city ever, but lots of nice pedestrian spaces…that are basicslly empty…:

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And below, Kosovo. Incredibly friendly place – for once a country in Europe where hardly anyone speaks English (everyone wanted to speak German to me), but we played charades and everyone was happy! The capitol is also full of very hip people and restaurants, even if it is 75% under construction and dusty.

The capitol, Prishtinë:

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(no one in Seattle should ever complain about our public library building again…)

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Gadimë, where there is a big cave to wander through – the guides point out formations that look like various things…

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(the bottom part is an eagle, and the hole in the middle is a “map of Kosovo”)

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(elephant head!)

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And finally, Pejë. I went here basically just to see the Saturday cheese market, where farmers bring their goat cheese every weekend as part of what is a larger produce/dried good/ clothing (nowhere will you see so many adidas sweatsuits for sale as in the Balkans, I swear)/ random stuff market. I’ll be honest, my guidebook said “follow your nose” to find it, but when that failed I just follwed the elderly ladies clutching purses and that served me pretty well. Once I got there it did smell very strongly of fresh goat cheese, though!

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(these guys insisted I take a picture of their flour…I couldn’t tell if they were making fun of me for taking pictures of food, or if they really wanted me to take a photo, but either way they are now immortalized on a blog…)

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The adventure continues

On to Budapest. Which is a fantastic city. Unfortunately a handful of my photos from a 6 hour walk got deleted somehow, so you’re saved from an even longer stream of photos than this would otherwise be…

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The Parliament building – I am a sucker for neo-gothic architecture, so this was worth waiting in line for 90 minutes to see…

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(above are numbered cigar holders. You know, in case the discussion in parliament suddenly gets interesting and you need to put your cigar down to go back in to the chambers to listen)

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A museum about the Nazi and Soviet history and abuses of power. The museum is in the building that was headquarters for both parties:

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More wandering…

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(outside the synagogue…really)

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Inside the big covered market. Happens to be the only place i have ever actually seen tripe.

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(that spongey stuff is tripe, by the way. This falls into the category of “things I learned from Julia Child.)

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And then continuing to Croatia (where I stayed in Zagreb with a friend I met in Iceland – the world is shrinking!) I cannot recommend Croatia highly enough, at least based on my not-so-lengthy stay.

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(this museum was fascinating)

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(the original Croatian writing system)

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Wanderlust squared

Turns out you (or at least I) can get wanderlust in the middle of travelling. Adventuring is then called for. Enjoy some snapshots of my European meandering:

Venice (after a 28 hour ferry journey):
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Austria…ok basically just Vienna (where is Julie Andrews when you need her?):

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(I don’t actually know what the name of this bakery means, but I approve. Also I approve of it beaing the organic whole-grain bakery)

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To be continued…