On The Balashi Train

One of the very best things about a holiday trip to the Caribbean–and there are many good things to choose from–is sampling the local beer. In Aruba, one of the local beers is called Balashi. Like virtually all local Caribbean brews, it is a pilsner. No Russian Imperial Stouts or Triple IPAs or heavy porters down here–the traditional pilsners rule the day in this region of bright sunlight glinting off brilliant azure water. In the hot Caribbean climate, nothing suits for thirst-quenching purposes quite as well as a frosty pilsner, straight from the bottle.

Like all good Caribbean beers, Balashi is light and refreshing and is best served — and consumed — ice cold, almost to the point that you would get brain freeze. That maximizes the cooling effect and the contrast to the sultry weather. And Balashi has one nice feature that other Caribbean beers, like Sands or Belikin or Kalik or Piton, don’t offer–it comes in nifty eight-ounce bottles. The little bottles remind this native Midwesterner of Schoenling’s Little Kings, the beer that you got if you wanted to take a step above Stroh’s or Robin Hood Cream Ale back in the ’70s. And like Little Kings, those little bottles of Balashi go down very easy and stay cold all the way to the end, just the way you want.

I quaffed three of the Balashis without really realizing it, and wasn’t even troubled when the hat of the woman sitting next to me at the bar was blown by a gust of wind and and knocked over my about half-finished brewski. The woman apologized, the barkeep mopped up the mess, and he served me another ice-cold Balashi, on the house. It went down easy, too, and got our Aruba excursion off to a good start.

A Moosehead Lake Weekend

Mother Nature threw a curve ball at our plans for an outdoorsy weekend at Moosehead Lake. The big storm soaked the area in torrential freezing rain, and the high winds knocked down many trees. When we tried to drive to a hiking area the morning after the storm had passed, we discovered we were penned in by fallen trees and downed power lines. So, we contented ourselves with exploring the downtown areas, where these photos were taken, eating meals at the excellent Dockside restaurant, and checking out the shops.

Alas, I did not see a live moose, but we’ll have to try again. I liked Moosehead Lake and would like to come again in the summer, when — hopefully— freezing rain and ice are not part of the forecast.

Dawn Over Moosehead Lake

The big storm rolled over Moosehead Lake yesterday, pelting the area with a heavy, cold rain and blustery high winds. Overnight the temperature plummeted about 40 degrees, and a thin skin of ice has begun to coat even the open areas of the lake, leaving the few remaining ducks swimming in a shrinking area of open water.

With the thermometer at about 10 degrees, it will be a cold day today for exploring, but anything is an improvement over soaking rains when the temperature is in the 30s. We’re getting a glimpse of blue sky, too, which contrasts nicely with the lakeside building that is painted a bright, Pepto-Bismol pink.

The Storm From Up North

We decided to take a perverse course in the face of the latest Storm of the Century–we flew into Bangor, Maine yesterday, and then today headed north to Moosehead Lake, a large lake in inland Maine, just as the storm started to pummel the area. The roads were treacherous as we rolled through a “wintry mix” of snow, rain, and hail, but we made it safely thanks to Russell’s deft driving skills. Greenville, a town on the southern shore of the lake, was largely deserted, so that we felt like the lone duck, above, weathering the fowl (get it?) weather on one of the few unfrozen sections of the water. That’s the lake’s steamboat in the background, adding its black, white, and gray to a monochromatic landscape.

Moosehead Lake is one of those resort areas that caters to both summer visitors and winter visitors. I’m not sure that the storm will permit it, but I am hoping that I get to do some hiking and see a moose at some point during our visit. The road signs cautioning about being wary of moose collisions suggest that there are lots of moose around, but even they might be hunkering down in this crappy weather.

In The Teeth Of The “Bomb Cyclone”

It always produces a good, warm feeling when the holidays approach, you know lots of people will be traveling and anxiety will be high, and the inevitable dire warnings get issued about “travel hell” and disastrous weather. During this time of year, it’s great to see news stories like this one–about a huge winter storm bearing down on the Midwest that is expected to “evolve” into a “bomb cyclone,” just in time for Christmas.

I recognize that it’s got to challenging to write about the weather–how many different ways can there be to describe an approaching snowstorm?–but I have to give special credit to the writer of that piece, with the use of “evolve” suggesting that the storm is some living, malignant creature, ready to transmogrify into something even more fearsome and terrible. And, of course, “bomb cyclone” is the latest scary phrase for a bad snow storm with high winds. We didn’t used to call them “bomb cyclones” when we were hit with severe snow storms in past years; the weather people pretty much stuck with “storm of the century.” “Bomb cyclone” sounds a lot cooler and more hazardous, though.

Good luck to everyone who will be on the road over the holidays. Keep your chin up, try not to let the predictions of disaster and travel delays quash your holiday spirit, and be ready to move fast to lay in ample supplies of toilet paper and bottled water if that dreaded “bomb cyclone” goes off.

When The Season Turns

Every autumn, it seems, a day comes when the weather changes abruptly. One day you’re standing outside a restaurant after a delightful dinner at about 10:30 p.m., perfectly comfortable wearing a sport coat and slacks with the temperature around 60 degrees, and the next morning you wake up to weather information on your phone that looks like this.

Don’t be fooled by the optimistic “possible light rain” statement on the weather app, either. When the weather change comes, and the season seems to shift in an eyeblink, the veteran Midwesterner ignores the rain forecast and scans the weather app for the dreaded snow icon. Let’s see . . . yes–there it is, lurking on and after 9 a.m. And because the snow is forecast to fall when the temperature is just under 40 degrees, it will be that kind of wet, sloppy, immediately melting snow that soaks everything–the kind of snow that slaps the innocents with brutal, cold reality and sends an unmistakable message that the delightful fall weather is officially over, When such a snow falls, you can only shake your head sadly and move the cold weather gear to the front of your closet.

It’s hard to complain, really, because this year we’ve had one of the nicest autumns you could possibly want, with warm temperatures and, especially, dry conditions. Now it’s time to recall those brilliant days with wistful pleasure as we slosh and slop and slip and slide into the pre-winter period.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLVIII

It’s autumn, folks — a beautiful and wonderful time of year in central Ohio (especially when compared to, say, winter). There are many great restaurants in the Columbus area where you might celebrate this season, and we decided to head to one of the finest — Veritas — to enjoy its autumn tastings menu. That’s because some of the best things about fall are the foods and flavors that are available to be enjoyed this time of year.

Veritas is, in a word, fabulous. It’s the kind of restaurant that you like to take out-of-towners to, because you know they will leave with a positive impression of our city and its culinary attributes. The food at Veritas is reliably spectacular, filled with interesting flavor and textural combinations, and a treat for the eyes, besides. Add in a welcoming ambiance, and nice attention to every little detail that can move a meal from great to greater, and you’ve got a restaurant that can do autumn, or any season, proud.

The Veritas autumn menu is five courses. You start with a mandatory broccoli and cheddar cheese tart, then make your choices from options for the other courses. Starting with a broccoli dish was a challenge for me, because in my view it is one of the most unholy, vile, unpleasant smelling and foul tasting vegetables in the land of greenery. Any yet, the wizards in the Veritas kitchen found a way to minimize the broccoli flavor and cushion it delectably in a flaky crust and a mound of cheddary scrumptiousness. When a culinary genius can turn a food you loathe into something that you would gladly eat again, it leaves you ready for more.

For the next course I went for the carrot, yogurt, and curry leaf soup, which thick, and rich, and creamy, and introduced me to multi-colored carrots that I had not seen before. Let’s just way that these were not Bugs Bunny’s kind of carrots. And speaking of hares, the follow-up dish was a rabbit, paprika, and creme fraiche combination that featured some delectable dumplings and perfectly cooked, supremely tender rabbit. That triumph was followed by the filet medallions shown above, framed with multiple kinds of potatoes, and a root beer infused sauce that I would have gladly eaten straight with a spoon–except it went incredibly well with the spot-on medium rare meat. The different kinds of potatoes were wonderful, too.

We ended our fall feast with the almond, banana, and sourdough concoction seen below, which is the best dessert I’ve had in a long, long time. What’s that, you say? Bananas aren’t an autumnal dish? To that I say you’re wrong, because any Midwesterner knows that the fall season is full of surprises, Just as the weather can suddenly turn cold, or warm, or blustery with rain, so can a banana creation suddenly grace a fine meal.

The autumn menu at Veritas was so good that I want to go back again, to try some of the dishes I didn’t choose this time around. If the chef can make broccoli an enjoyable treat, even cauliflower is worth a try. in fact, the seasonal tasting menu almost makes me look forward to what winter might bring.

Hike Ohio: Infirmary Mound Park

Yesterday the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon took over the downtown Columbus area. The road closures, crowds whooping and shouting encouragement, police sirens, and general commotion spurred us to hop in the car, find a way out of downtown, and head due east. Our goal was the Infirmary Mound Park in Licking County, near Granville.

The Infirmary Mound Park is part of the Licking County park system. It has lots of trail choices, as well as other amenities, including a number of shelter houses, open fields, and kid spaces. Some of the trails even permit riders on horseback. We chose a trail winding around a wildflower meadow for our initial hike. We didn’t see any equine friends, but we did see some happy dogs romping around with their human pals. The meadow trail was wide and made for an easygoing morning hike and an enjoyable ramble through the countryside on a cool, cloudy morning, with lots of interesting and colorful plants to examine.

And speaking of color, the trees were doing their part to remind us it is indeed fall. The classic autumnal palette of rust, tan, orange, and yellow had been liberally applied to the trees at the Infirmary Mound Park, as well as to the trees lining both sides of Route 161 as we drove east from Columbus and then headed west to return after our hikes were over. Yesterday was probably close to the peak fall foliage point in central Ohio, and there was beautiful color to enjoy everywhere you looked.

After we finished our stroll through the wildflower meadow loop, breathing in hearty gulps of fresh country air, we explored other parts of the park. The cloud cover started to break up, some blue skies contributed to the day’s color, and the temperature got warmer. We got a glimpse of Ohio’s agricultural heritage when we came across an old woodshed with a classic split-rail fence in the background.

We wandered along another trail that wound through some woodland and a small ravine. It was quiet and peaceful as we walked along, enjoyably shuffling through the leaves and smelling that high, somewhat spicy scent of leaves that have fallen to the ground and are just starting to crumble to dust. Our feet got another workout when we came across an area where the trail was covered with Osage oranges (technically, maclura pomifera, and also known as horse apples), which look like round green brains and weigh a few pounds. We booted them off to the side of the trail to clear the way for the walkers to follow, variously choosing the soccer-style and straight-on Lou Groza approaches to our kicking. It’s fun to kick Osage oranges–and toss them, too, if they’ve just fallen and you can do so without getting your hands sticky.

By the end of our hike the blue skies had appeared in earnest. As we walked back to our car, we passed an area where the grasses were permitted to grow to prairie length and were adding their subtle hues to the autumnal color fest. It was time to head back, but we enjoyed our visit to this pretty park and a chance to experience some more of the best season central Ohio has to offer.

Hoping For A Warm Winter

There are dire forecasts for the winter in Europe. The forecasts aren’t about the weather, specifically, but more about the ability of Europeans to stay warm and European factories to operate when the temperature drops and energy supply problems reach a crisis point.

An article recently published in Fortune outlines the issues. Many European countries made the decision to rely on Russian natural gas as one of their primary energy sources. When it invaded the Ukraine, Russia provided 40 percent of the natural gas for the 27 countries in the European Union. Some European countries then responded to the invasion by stopping purchases of Russian natural gas, while others were cut off by Vladimir Putin.

Obviously, losing 40 percent of a primary energy source–natural gas is the second most popular energy source in Europe behind oil–puts a dent in your energy policy. And, as the Starks are fond of saying, “winter is coming.” Prices have skyrocketed to historical record levels. The cost of electricity has already tripled in some places, and governments are scrambling to reopen coal-fired and nuclear power plants that were shuttered in moving toward “green” energy. The EU countries also are looking to other, non-Russian sources, but they don’t yet have the infrastructure, such as pipelines and processing terminals, needed to use the alternative suppliers. Building that infrastructure can’t happen overnight.

That means there is an immediate energy crunch, and the experts consulted by Fortune paint a bleak and alarming picture of what might happen when the snow falls. They say that world energy supplies are so precarious right now that any increase in demand could cause even bigger price spikes, mandatory rationing, and mass shutdowns of factories and businesses, “devastating European economies with a wave of unemployment, high prices, and in all likelihood public unrest and divisions between European nations.” That’s petty scary stuff. Some European factories have already stopped or reduced operations, and some countries have already instituted some energy conservation policies to try to preserve supplies in advance of the winter. The rubber won’t really meet the road, however, until the cold weather hits and energy demand increases in response.

So let’s all hope that the European winter is mild, and our friends overseas aren’t left to shiver in the cold and dark. But praying for warm weather isn’t exactly sound energy policy. What has happened in Europe should cause our government, and every government, to take a careful look at their energy policies and focus on making sure that energy supplies are secure. That means reducing dependence on unreliable energy sources–like Russia–and taking steps like building nuclear power plants and pipelines to provide domestic sources of energy that won’t be turned off when winter comes.

Combine Season

Autumn is a beautiful time of year in Ohio. If you drive out into the rural areas you’re likely to see a scene like this: brilliant blue sky, farm buildings in the far distance, and a field of cornstalks waiting to be chopped down. The owner of this field decided to stop in the middle of cutting—probably knocking off to watch the Buckeyes game.

Uptown Columbus Friday Night

Yesterday was a beautiful day, with cooler temperatures and a crisp, decidedly autumnal feel to the air. Last night we decided to stroll up High Street and do some random rambling through the Short North, perhaps to have a drink and dinner if the fates were kind. We weren’t alone in our thinking: there were a lot of people out and about, enjoying the weather and the many streetfront taverns and restaurants.

One stop on our ramble was the Lincoln Social Rooftop Lounge. I’ve walked past it many times, and last night we decided to pay a visit. Regrettably, the place was jammed, with every table and seat taken and not even much room to stand, so we couldn’t stay–but we were there long enough for us to enjoy an overhead view of Columbus, including this interesting perspective looking north up High Street, toward the Ohio State campus. The view of the downtown area in the other direction is even better, but the crush of people was such that there literally was no way to squeeze in to take a photo. We decided we will have to visit the Lincoln rooftop again one of these days and get there earlier so we can enjoy the view, a drink–and a seat.

Although we had to leave the Lincoln rooftop behind, we found another place to dine outside along High Street, which allowed us enjoy an excellent meal and adult beverage while watching the world walk by and hearing some deafening blasts of bass notes from some cruising cars. It was one of those nights that shows off Columbus, and the fine fall weather, to very good advantage, .

Skin Story

Many of us have spent significant chunks of time this summer dabbing and smearing lotion on ourselves and our family members. It used to be called suntan lotion; now it’s called sunscreen or even sunblock. Some worried people search constantly for ever-higher SPF numbers due to fear of sunburns and dermatologist cautions about sun-related skin cancers.

The sunscreen issue is interesting when you think about it. Our ancient ancestors obviously spent a lot of time outdoors, hunting and gathering, and they didn’t have ready access to drugstores that provided rows of 50 SPF lotions. So how did they deal with the sun?

I ran across an interesting article by an anthropologist that tries to answer that question. He notes that the early humans didn’t fear the sun, thanks to their skin–specifically, the crucial protection provided by the epidermis, the outer layer of skin that adds new cells and thickens with increasing exposure to sunshine in the spring and summer, and eumelanin, a molecule that absorbs visible light and ultraviolet light and causes skin to darken due to sunshine. Because early humans didn’t radically shift their sun exposure by, say, hopping on a jet to Costa Rica in the dead of winter, their skin could adjust to their local conditions and provide all the sun protection they needed. In effect, their skin became well adapted to providing the protection needed in their local area. (Of course, they may have looked a bit leathery by modern standards, but they weren’t worried about such things in their desperate bid for survival in an unpredictable and unforgiving world.)

The article posits that the change in the relationship between humans, skin, and sunshine occurred about 10,000 years ago, when home sapiens began to develop more of an indoor life and exposure to the sun began to distinguish the lower class from the upper class. People became more mobile, too. The disconnect was exacerbated when people started to take vacations to warmer climates that abruptly changed sun conditions without a ramp-up period allowing their skin to adapt. In short, the trappings of civilization and class removed the previous balance between skin and local conditions and deprived our skin of the time needed to adjust to gradually increasing sunshine.

Does that mean you should try to recreate the former balance by staying in the same place, spending as much time as possible outdoors, and accepting the wrinkles and leathery look that are the likely result? The article says no, because your skin probably isn’t matched to your current location, and your indoor time is going to interfere with the process. That means we all need to keep dabbing and smearing to prevent sunburns and skin damage.

Incidentally, the highest-level sunscreen that is available now is 100 SPF, which is supposed to block 99 percent of ultraviolet rays. The ancients would shake their heads in wonder,

Our Misty Morn

This morning was my first really foggy morning since I came up to Stonington a few days ago. As always, I’d forgotten just how blanketing a fog bank can be, and how the ghostly mist and absolute quiet can turn familiar views into interesting, otherworldly landscapes.

I like the fog because it makes for an interesting walk. I also like it because it means that our east-facing bedroom isn’t invaded by blazing sunshine at 5:15 a.m., and it’s actually possible to sleep in until 6 o’clock.

120 Degrees

What’s on your “bucket list”? Is taking a walk in a place where the outdoor temperature is 120 degrees one of the items? If so, Marana, Arizona in July is a place where you can check that box.

To my knowledge, I’ve never been anywhere where the outdoor temperature has exceeded 101 or 102 degrees. In the Midwest, if you top 100 by a degree or two it’s remarkable, and cause for extended weather discussions. But I’ve now smashed my personal record, and I doubt whether I’ll ever be anywhere hotter, unless future travel takes me to Death Valley or the Sahara. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine hotter conditions.

To be sure, the heat here is a “dry heat”—thank goodness for that!—but . . . heat is heat. And at 120 degrees, heat becomes an oppressive, ever-present thing. The outdoor thermometer cautions that when you get above 110 degrees you’re in severe heat risk territory, and you can definitely understand why. When you are walking, taking sips from your water bottle, you’re always acutely conscious of the sun, the heat, your water bottle, and your reaction to the heat. It makes it hard to enjoy a stroll.

The only good thing about 120-degree heat is that it makes the early morning temperatures in the 80s seem like a cool breeze.