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Bring on the Good Beers

Andre Francisco and I could drone on for hours lamenting a common and serious problem with fine dining establishments: the beer list. It is all too common for restaurants to have extensive wine lists, and servers knowledgable about which wines will pair well with which dishes, but have only rancid, tasteless mass market brews like Heineken, Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft in bottles at ridiculous prices. Beer remains for many restaurants a cheaper, less sophisticated drink, when there are many beers crafted with just as much care and sophistication as a vinter puts into an expensive wine.

To illustrate, Danielle and I lunched at Ristorante Piccolo in Georgetown as part of DC’s Restaurant Week. The food was delicious, and all the beverages expensive. House Wine was $8, and while there were several pages of reds, whites, rosés and champagnes, there were eleven beers on the entire menu. Among them were two Italian lagers, Miller Lite, and a healthy offering from InBev and SABMiller, all between $6-8 for a bottle. This is absurd. It’s like selling boxed wine for $6 a glass, and Three Buck Chuck for $8; no wine drinker would tolerate that. At Piccolo they even misspell the name of their best beer, Sam Adams as “Sam Adam,” it may seem like a small detail, but it’s but one in a collection of double standards and gourmet oversights.

More than the selection of beer, the presentation at these restaurants is also upsetting. While wines at these restaurants are typically delivered in the correct glass, beers are delivered in a pint glass, the same one they serve in college bars and greasy spoons. Here again, a double standard. For wine it is important for the glass to facilitate the wine’s flavor, a glass acceptable for wine drinkers; for beer, just some glass.

That tweet from Andre above pretty much sums up this whole post. Imagine a server dumping wine from the bottle into a glass, aerating it all over the place, maybe even dribbling a little on the table cloth, and in the wrong glass to boot. They would be gone faster than you could say, “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” Yet beer gets treated like Coca-Cola: something people drink when they don’t like, or can’t drink wine.

A tripel should be served in a goblet. They look fancy because they are fancy. As BeerAdvocate’s Alström Bros say, the Tripel is “a pretty damn fascinating style of beer to say the least. If crafted and served correctly, it is a beverage of great awe.” They are brewed in a specific kind of monastery in Belgium called a “Trappist,” and by law only Trappists may brew it. Typically are extraordinarily alcoholic—think 10%—because they are brewed with three times (get it, triple?) the amount of malt normally used in an ale.

For all the same reasons why its important to serve wine properly it is also important to serve beer properly. The average drinker might not tell the difference between an India Pale Ale and an Extra Pale Ale, but an informed palate will be able to distinguish not just between the different types, but what makes one brewery’s IPA better than others. Every part of the brew process influences the flavor of the beer, and not just the ingredients, but also how they are used. The shape of the glass, and the temperature it is served at can sometimes greatly alter a beer’s flavor, just like wine.

This is not to say there are not places to get a good brew. There are, in many cities around the world, excellent restaurants with gourmet food and beers to match. For DC Beer Week (the same week as Restaurant Week) Andre, Danielle and I ventured out to Big Hunt in Dupont Circle and enjoyed half price bombers. We also went to Churchkey where we all shared a pint of Heavy Seas’s Siren Noire, a stout that tastes like the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had and the best bourbon I’ve yet to have, folded gently into an amazingly heavy and smooth stout. A must try for anyone jumping into the specialty beer foray.

No, this is just to say, that with the explosion of craft brewing across this country there are more and more people going to restaurants these days who know the difference between good and bad beers. Given the price difference, there may actually be more of us than people who can tell from wines, and it’s time restaurants gave the beer drinkers a decent option. Brewers know this, beer drinkers know it, it’s time the chefs started to pay attention. So, bring on the good beer.

Classroom 2.0: The Wiki Experiment

A few weeks ago I created a wiki for the CETP program in hopes that CETP participants would share experiences and words of wisdom about their homes and schools in Hungary. So far few have taken up the cause, and I suspect it has something to do with time. Updating a wiki about the place you’ve lived for nearly a year, not to mention working with an unfamiliar interface takes a certain amount of energy. In fact, I haven’t even had time to make one about Kaposvár or my school and it was my idea! To solve this problem, I endeavored to pass along the burden of typing up all the important information about my school, town, and Hungary to my students, a task that was recently partially completed. Continue reading “Classroom 2.0: The Wiki Experiment”

Munkácsy Times

A quick update for everyone out there. We at Munkácsy Mihály Gimnázium started an English language newspaper at our school last December. We published one issue in print and now it will continue, mostly, online. Check it out at http://munkacsytimes.wordpress.com. All the articles from our first issue are already available there, and new articles will be published all this week.

A Legfinomabb Magyar Étel

disznóvágás
After a long disznóvágás day, the blood sausage is ready.

On a Friday in late autumn, I walked into my ninth grade bilingual classroom to find an interesting query scrawled across the blackboard. “What is disznóvágás in English?” My command of basic Hungarian pronunciation was still rough around the edges, and as I read the sentence aloud, I mangled the word. I waited for the students to have a good laugh at my expense before I could get a chance to ask, “What exactly is a disznóvágás?” As they explained it to me the first time, I gathered that it was a pig slaughter, but little more.
Continue reading “A Legfinomabb Magyar Étel”

State Fair Food Pitched by Munkácsy Students

This past weekend, Kaposvár celebrated the Hungarian tradition of Farsang (far-shaang). The festival featured creatures known as Busó (pronounced boo-show) roaming around Kossuth square, mostly scaring children and dogs, but some also got a bit aggressive with the ladies, which was a little strange. The story of the Buso goes something like this: Continue reading “State Fair Food Pitched by Munkácsy Students”

Swept Away in Vienna

State Hall

There are thousands of century old books in the State Hall of Vienna's National Library.

As an English teacher living in South Korea last year, I developed a tired habit. Week after repetitive week, I mentally promised myself that I would really, truly contact local Wisconsin newspapers in search of one that might grant me the space for a column. I managed to deftly avoid 52 self-imposed deadlines, but I have finally broken the cycle of procrastination. It just took moving to Kaposvár, Hungary to finally get my act together.

Each month I write a column entitled New Beginnings: At Home and Abroad, for Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s local newspaper, The Sun Prairie Star. This month I wrote a piece about that priceless moment in every good trip where you get swept away in a moment, and how I found that instant of genuine awe is Vienna’s National Library. You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website.

After a week of exploring Vienna, the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived. I was utterly swept away. The woody scent of books found its way through the chilled air to my nose as the soaring crescendos of Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier played in homage to its debut a century ago. Overhead stately figures in Grecian robes leaned over a balcony in a warmly painted fresco, and old globes with sea creatures poking out of seas begged to be spun.

Yet all of this decadent beauty was only a secondary compliment to this room’s main attraction: books. Lining shelf upon shelf stretching two stories up were the crinkled pages of books dating back hundreds of years. I was in the State Room of Austria’s National Library, one of Europe’s best, and among the books filling the shelves were pages churned out by the press over 500 years ago.

You can read the rest of the article here, at the Sun Prairie Star’s website. If you’re interested in reading more, rest assured, more articles wait just a click away. Like my October piece about the contrasts between building a new school in Sun Prairie and rural Hungary, or my December column, about spending Thanksgiving with a 30 pound turkey and a dozen ex-pats. And of course, there’s more to come next month.

It’s a Map!

Seeing as this is a blog written by two travelers who can’t seem to write about their destinations fast enough, we thought it would be a good idea to map our travels. Now, you can see all our destinations at once—everywhere we’ve been in the entire world (though we’ve been so many places in the motherland that we only included a few), and click on them to learn more information. If there are blog posts about that place, you will see them listed below the place description, and if we happened to snap a photo while we were there, you’ll see one of those two. There are still some bugs to be worked out, and any suggestions—style, functionality, or otherwise—are more than welcome either in the comments here or by email. And now, without further ado, we present the map:

Click here for a map of the places we have visited, and learn more about them.

Cross-posted: Harms-Boone Admin Blog, Schoolhouse: ROK, Keeping up with the Magyars

Behind the Scenes

On our blogs we often reflect on our time abroad; the things that surprise, challenge, and force us into changing our perspective. We offer travel and teaching advice, recipes, and occasionally a post about a dog sneaks in, but what we rarely do is write about our day to day, the things that keep us busy after school, and the things we do to stay in touch with home. Today we offer the latter.

Some of our closer friends, or Twitter followers, may know that Danielle has been writing a monthly column for her hometown newspaper, The Sun Prairie Star. Her most recent piece was about the experiences of Sun Prairians living abroad during the holidays. Greg will also be writing outside the Harms-Boone sphere; he was invited to write for the CheapOair.org travel blogs. He is not sure what he will write about yet, or when it will be published, but it will for sure be linked here. CheapOair is another discount airfare website competing with the likes of Kayak, SkyScanner, and others.

At school, Greg launched the first (ever?) English language newspaper at his high school called The Munkácsy Times. The articles were written by a dedicated, hard-working group of 10th and 11th graders. The first issue dropped this week, and it will be published monthly. A download of the PDF is linked at the bottom of this page. At this point Munkácsy students are required to pay almost a dollar for a color copy of the publication; donations and advertising are accepted by paypal! Greg is also working to organize a web design club, and an East Asian cultures club at Munkácsy High School next semester: did I hear Kimchi making experiment? Send forth your recipes, film recommendations, and anything else you can think of to introduce Central European high school students to East Asia.

Other things that have kept us busy have included wild and crazy adventures to Budapest, coming up with a neat way to visualize our travels and experiences using both the Google Maps API and Protovis (which has included Greg getting a crash course in javascript), baking like crazy, and catching up on some television shows we heard were too good to miss (mostly The Wire, and Dexter). Finally, our friends Kristin Pederson and Tyler Ray, who are on their second tour of Korea this time in Daegu, have launched a lovely website, you should visit it and read their blogs about baking and living in South Korea.

Download: Munkácsy Times Volume 1, Issue 1 [PDF]

Ruminations on the Hungarian Language: Take Two

Due to a potent combination of distraction and procrastination, here is part two of a short series on the Hungarian language, belatedly posted and slightly aged. Interested in reading part one? You’re in luck.

Attempts at Hungarian
Who knows how far we'll get with the infamously elusive Hungarian language, but when June comes around, the goal is to at least be able to honestly say we tried.

Not speaking Korean in Korea was easy compared to not speaking Hungarian in Hungary. Korea’s population is remarkably homogenous and there was no mistaking me for a compatriot. As a result, I was rarely forced to speak Korean and, I’m a bit sheepish to admit, coasted by on “Annyeong haseyo” and “gamsahamnida”. One look and the cat was out of the bag that I wasn’t Korean, and thankfully kind Koreans often came to the rescue with English. Suffice it to say the language expectations of foreigners were low.

Yet now I find myself in Hungary, a land of fellow light haired, light eyed people, and the plug on my neon sign blinking, “Foreigner, please talk slowly or stick to charades” has been yanked from the wall. Now when I walk into a store, people don’t treat me like a toddling three year old. Of all the nerve, they treat me like an adult. Continue reading “Ruminations on the Hungarian Language: Take Two”

Nem Beszélek Magyarul: Ruminations on the Hungarian Language

That's salt and pepper to you, or pronounced something like "show aysh borsh" to you.

With a storm of graduate school admission deadlines approaching, I’ve been a patchy blogger at best. Forgive me for posting pieces months late (including the apologetic preface that follows). Over the past couple of weeks I have had lots of time, and reason, to ponder the Hungarian language, specifically my inability to express myself in it. Between lack of Internet and the exhaustion of miming in as many ways as I can think of, “Please don’t bite others,” to first graders, among other tiring demands of teaching, I’m a bit behind on updating the blog. This first post was written in my first couple of days in Kaposvár. Even since then, my survival Hungarian has improved. Still, the message on biting and how we should only do it to our food and not our friends has yet to reach at least one member of the first grade. All in good time.

Making my way past the supermarket’s overflowing crates of pale green paprikas and stacked tubs of sauerkraut, I found one phrase sliding through my mind again and again, like a slideshow with a solitary picture: “Nem beszélek magyarul.” I don’t speak Hungarian. Continue reading “Nem Beszélek Magyarul: Ruminations on the Hungarian Language”