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A Salute to Peet
This is a bit of old news, but I just thought that people might like to read up a bit on Alfred Peet who passed away just over a year ago. You may not recognize his name immediately, but he was the founder of Peet's Coffee and Tea. However, his real legacy is not opening that one company. Most people don't know it but Alfred Peet is one of the most influential coffee pioneers in America, if not the world.
Posted 11/14/2008 09:13 PM in Drinks, News, Ramblings
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Tuesday 9/30 - Athens
Jump to the pictures.

Shortly after falling asleep, my sister finally arrived around 3:30am. We talked for a bit and then she got settled in while I spent at least an hour attempting to fall asleep again. At 7:30 my alarm went off and I got up for a free continental breakfast on the Executive Level of the Marriott (yay for Gold status). The breakfast included a large cereal/muesli bar, a selection of cold cuts, cheeses and fruit as well as your standard continental bakery items. Pretty darn good for free.

I then ventured out to meet up with my parents and their friends at their hotel while my sister slept in. It's funny how much faster it is to get to the train station when you're not lost and lugging around crappy luggage. On the Metro I made my way to the Omonia (pronounced like Ammonia) and walked a couple blocks to the Best Western Zinon. It's an older hotel and it shows. The elevators have swing open doors and only hold four people and that's only if they're feeling very friendly. The inner doors are hinged like closet doors and open inward forcing the fourth passenger to squeeze against the other passengers to allow them to open and close. Also, the elevators don't differentiate between up and down when stopping at floors, you just have to ride it until it stops at the floor you actually want. The rooms are also tiny and the showers barely have enough space to turn around. I'm glad I stayed at the Marriott.

At 9:00 our private tour guide and bus showed up and we headed to Corinth. The tour guide provided some historical background as we visited the Corinth canal which is 4km long and 250 meters almost straight down to water level. We then continued on to Corinth to see the temple of Apollo as well as the Corinth Agora. Agora was the name of the public market which was so busy and crowded that the word agora became synonymous with crowds, hence the term agoraphobia, the fear of people and crowds. The Agora was also where the apostle Paul would have sold the tents he made to support himself while in Corinth. Next to the Agora were the ruins of an ancient church, believed to be the one that Paul started in Corinth and addressed in his two letters to the Corinthians, as well as the spot in the market that Paul is believed to have publicly preached.

We also learned that Corinth was destroyed by barbarians that killed all the men and enslaved all the women and children, leaving no one behind to rebuild the city. Today, the region is as famous for it's oil production as it's sun-dried raisins, pistachios and olives. Also at the peak of a mountain stands a strategic fortress that overlooked both the Aegean Sea and the Sardonic Gulf.

After our tour, we went to the Plaka market area surrounding the Acropolis. We found a restaurant to have lunch for decent prices, about 10 euros per person after the 10% discount the restauranteurs offered us as we walked by. I ordered a pork gyro since lamb wasn't offered. My pork was a bit under seasoned though the thick and flavorful authentic tzatziki sauce was delicious. Overall the food was good, but not great but at least prices were reasonable, though not cheap. I wasn't particularly surprised by this since the menu was available in 6 different languages which is a tourist trap warning sign.

Apparently pork is a traditional gyro meat in Greece, though chicken is quite common as well. I have yet to see the same lamb meat loaf cylinders that are common in America. I suppose that lamb loaf may be the American version that is purported to have originated in Chicago but I'll see what other regions in the Mediterranean have before I make my conclusions. Note that the pork and chicken cylinders are made by stacking slices of meat together on a spit and roasting them, unlike the American lamb loaf that is finely ground and formed into a cylinder around the spit.

After lunch the group walked up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and Athena's temple. It was a bit of a trek up the hill but there were some very nice views along the way. On our way down we split up and unfortunately our group took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the Acropolis. It took about 40 minutes to find our way back to the entrance we started at and about 20 more minutes to find the rest of our group. By that time I was completely pooped from walking up and down hills searching. I also missed my opportunity to go to the Athens central market, which might be closed on Wednesday, and some of the specialty shops I had hoped to visit.

My parents and I separated from the group to meet up with my sister and then we wandered around the Plaka looking at shops. As we were all tired and it was starting to get late, we chose a quick restaurant to eat at which had essentially the same menu as the lunch restaurant. Once again I had the pork gyros. This time the pork was well seasoned which was a dramatic improvement on the previous restaurant, except that the pitas, which came off a big stack in a plastic bag, were dry and tough. I also ordered a Cappuccino Fredo (iced, but unfortunately not frozen).

After dinner my sister and I sent my parents to their hotel in a taxi while we did some last minute exploring. We got some gelato for dessert (Hazelnut or her, Pistachio for me) and checked out a few other stores. I was interesting in buying some Ouzo, an anise flavored liquor and I also discovered that Absinthe liquors are easily obtainable (they are still outlawed in America even though the warning on the bottles indicate that the dangerous side affects of Absinthe no longer exist). If I can find a liquor store that ships to America, I'll buy a bit of both.

After that my sister and I hopped on the Metro and went back to our hotel to clean up and get a good night's rest. One last thing observation was the large numbers of stray animals. I knew about this from my research on Athens but seeing the actual problem up close was another thing entirely. Some of the dogs have survived pretty well and managed to stay pretty clean, but others are a little rough around the edges or even injured. In the highly trafficed tour areas (e.g. Corinth and the Plaka) the large numbers of humans mean that the dogs are quite tame and socialized and are not aggressive. In fact, if you feed them or offer to pet them, they seem pretty happy to sit down and soak it all in while they can. In the evening, they seemed to appear all over the place in the plaka and they'd simply lie in the middle of heavily trafficed walkways. There are also many stray cats and I even fed some leftover lamb from one of the other parent's dish to a skinny little cat, though they tend to stay in doorways and on the side of the road instead of lying in the middle. It's really kind of sad and every other dog I see I wish I could take home. I decided to take pictures of several of the animals and will share those tomorrow.

9/30 pictures are here.
Posted 10/02/2008 06:48 AM in Drinks, Food, Greece, Ramblings, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel
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Grand Flights
I had a bottle of regular Grand Marnier at home that I've used mostly for cooking for the last few years. With just a little bit left and inspired by the Grand Marnier Centennaire I had at L2O, I decided I should finish it off. For the last month I've been sipping little glasses of it while doing various chores around the house. I think I've become quite a fan of it...

Now, I found a restaurant in Hartford called Peppercorn's Grill that has a Grand Marnier flight. You get three round bottom Grand Marnier shot-glasses with about 1.5oz each of classic Grand Marnier, Grand Marnier Centennaire (100th anniversary) and Centcinquantennaire (150th anniversary) in a Grand Marnier holder and a dessert of your choice for a very decent $25. If I had that Canon DSLR I could take a picture...

So I tried all three of them in different combinations to compare them. I started with the classic Grand Marnier which was basically the same as what I had at home. It has a nice light orange flowery bouquet and generates nice warming sensation as it coats your tongue. It finishes with a slightly rough spicy sensation.

The Centennaire is slightly darker and has a deeper bouquet reminiscent of dried apricots. The taste is smoother and deeper with more complexity.

The Centcinquantennaire is in between the two, not as floral as the regular and not as dark as the 100. I actually prefer the flavor of the 100, but the great thing about the 150 is how smooth and soft it is, it's very pleasant to drink. Even more shocking is how different the regular tastes after trying the 150. After the 100 or 150, the regular tasted rough and dry with a much sharper spiciness and a hint of chemical harshness. 100 or 150 is definitely the way to go.

Then there was the after taste. I'm not sure which one it came from since I tried them all but even 10 minutes after I left the restaurant I could still taste some Grand Marnier on the back of my tongue. It reminded me of the fruitiness of Haw Flakes and Chinese Gyem-seung-dee (salty-sour-sweet) preserved plums. Now I want some more...

Oh, yeah their homemade gnocchi of the day and the free Italian sundae were pretty tasty too.
Posted 08/26/2008 08:14 PM in Drinks, Hartford, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel
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