Photo Of The Day: Catching Some Rays

Photo of the day - inside Bulgarian resort

Today’s Photo of the Day was taken indoors but the bright lights and orange glow make it feel like a hot summer day, or perhaps the inside of a tanning bed. Either is likely at the Bulgarian resort town of Varna where Flickr user PMania85 captured this scene with an iPhone camera. The photo features one of the most popular summer spots on the Black Sea. Every year, thousands of Eastern Europeans flock to the Bulgarian coast to tan under the sun or under the lamp, but preferably both.

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Traditional holiday beverages from around the world

holiday beveragesAmericans aren’t very creative when it comes to traditional holiday beverages (do, however, look for my upcoming story on Boulder’s banging mixology scene, which includes some killer contemporary winter cocktails). Historically, though, we’re more of an eggnog/mulled cider/hot chocolate kind of society.

I’m not knocking our Christmas beverages of choice. Properly made, they’re delicious, and certainly festive. But some countries really know how to roll when it comes to holiday imbibing (especially Latin America. One word: rum.).

Below, a compilation of some of the more interesting boozy holiday beverages from around the world that can be easily recreated in your own kitchen. Online recipes abound, and all of these are (almost) as tasty sans alcohol.

Coquito: Puerto Ricans are great because they’re not afraid to embrace their love of saturated fats (lard, coconut milk, etc.) or rum. In case you’ve been living under a rock, coconut is the new fat du jour (read more about its health attributes here). Everything in moderation, including moderation, as I always say.

Coquito recipes vary, but in general, this rich, blended Christmas concoction is a froth of spiced rum, condensed milk, coconut milk or cream of coconut, vanilla, and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some versions may include ginger or ground nuts, but it’s always served chilled, in a small glass. Heavy, yes, but both sexy and satisfying. Add some eggs, and you’ll have ponche, the Venezuelan or Dominican version of eggnog.

Mulled wine: Variations on this warm, spiced, sugared, and otherwise enhanced wine (usually red) are served throughout Europe. There’s Nordic gløgg redolent of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bitter orange (and perhaps a helping of aquavit). It’s very similar to German glühwein made with lemon, cinnamon sticks, cardamom or ginger, and cloves; in Alsace (the French region bordering Germany), they also add vanilla bean.

In Bulgaria, greyano vino contains honey, peppercorns, and often, apple or citrus. Polish grzane wino is more of a traditional mulled wine, but they also make grzane piwo, in which mulled beer (try a Hefeweizen or Belgian ale which are lighter and sweeter) is substituted for the wine. Na zdrowie (“To your health”)!

[Photo credit: Flicker user Akane86]holiday beveragesPonche Navideño: Not to be confused with those other luscious ponches, this Mexican version is made with sugar cane, apples and/or pears or citrus, raisins, prunes, and tejocotes–an indigenous fruit used by the Aztecs, who called them texocotl. Add tequila, brandy, or rum; heat, and instant fiesta. At Christmastime, ponche vendors can be found on the street, ladling out cupfuls of good cheer.

Another popular Mexican holiday beverage is champurrado, a version of atole (warmed cornmeal thinned to a pourable consistency) flavored with chocolate. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is delicious on a chilly day.

Sorrel Punch: This Jamaican Christmas drink is made from the petals of a species of hibiscus (jamaica in Latin America), locally known as sorrel. In Australia it’s known as rosella, and where it makes a lovely, delicate, fruity red jam. This isn’t the same plant Americans know as sorrel or French sorrel. That’s a bitter wild green, which would make for a truly revolting cocktail, unless you’re one of those people who find wheat grass juice “refreshing.”

Dried hibiscus buds can be purchased at Hispanic or Caribbean markets; the recipe varies, but it’s usually some combination of the flowers, sugar, smashed fresh ginger, water, lime juice, and rum (dark is more traditional than light). Mix, stir, turn on your light box (fellow Seattleites know what I’m talking about), and crank your fave reggae CD. It ain’t the islands but it’s a nice change of pace from all that mulled wine.
holiday beverages
Wassail: Did any American not grow up hearing about or actually going “wassailing,” aka carolling? This mulled British cider is synonymous with knocking on stranger’s doors and breaking into song. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to hit the wassail bowl after mandatory childhood post-carolling; parents should remember that singing in public is the worst possible form of torture for a geeky, tone-deaf pre-teen. Wassail has been a Christmas classic across the pond for centuries, so I’m sure generations of British children suffered the same fate.

Cola de mono: Although Chile is better known for its pisco sours (Peru also claims this libation as its own, but both countries produce it and they’re still duking it out over who actually invented this potent grape brandy) and wine, Christmastime means a glass of “monkey’s tail.” Combine aguardiente (sub pisco or a neutral firewater) with milk, coffee, vanilla bean, and cloves. I have no idea what this has to do with the tail of a monkey, but it’s a cute name. Uh, bottom’s up.

[Photo credit: eggnog, Flicker user elana's pantry; wassail, Flicker user jeremytarling]

Removing Red Wine Stains

Museum of Socialist Art to open in Bulgaria

Socialist art, BulgariaA Museum of Socialist Art is opening next month in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. The museum exhibits statues of Lenin, paintings of Bulgarian Communist Party leaders, and other artwork from Soviet times.

The former Eastern Bloc country is the last such nation to open a museum to its totalitarian past. The socialist government fell in 1989 and Bulgaria had its first free elections the following year.

Not all vestiges of the past are sitting in museums. Many of Bulgaria’s current ruling elite were members of the old regime, and the last-minute name change from “Museum of Totalitarian Art” to “Museum of Socialist Art” is making some Bulgarians question just what the purpose of the museum is.

I worked in Bulgaria as an archaeologist in 1994, and the country was full of Soviet art. With the economy bottoming out, grannies set up stalls in the streets to sell old medals, uniforms, and busts of Marx for next to nothing. If only I had bought more than a few mementos, I could make a bundle on eBay! Most people were glad the old regime was gone, but the dire state of the economy had many people questioning the value of a free market system. I haven’t been back in more than a decade. Can anybody out there tell me how the majority of Bulgarians feel about the transition more than a decade on?

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This Soviet stamp from 1969 commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Socialist Revolution in Bulgaria. The text says, "The friendship between the Soviet and the Bulgarian people- indestructible for eternity."]

Israel, Chile, Slovak Republic among countries with highest adventure travel potential

Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic are amongst the top adventure travel destinationA new study conducted by George Washington University, Vital Wave Consulting, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) shows that Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic led the way in adventure tourism in 2010. The study, which resulted in the third annual Adventure Tourism Development Index, uses a mix of quantitative data and expert surveys to rank nations from around the globe on their approach and commitment to sustainable adventure travel.

The study examines what researchers call the “ten pillars” of adventure tourism. Those pillars include such things as infrastructure, cultural resources, adventure activities, entrepreneurship, and more. When those factors were all examined and ranked accordingly, for each country, a score was calculated that resulted in rankings for both developed and developing nations.

So exactly which countries earned high marks in the latest Adventure Tourism Development Index? The top ten developing countries included the following: Israel, Slovak Republic, Chile, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Jordan, Romania and Latvia.Conversely, the top ten developed nations included: Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Austria.

The ATTA is quick to point out that these lists are not an indication of how well visited these countries currently are as adventure travel destinations, although some are already popular amongst travelers. Instead, it is a general rating on the climate that exists in these places that make it possible to support sustainable tourism now and into the future.

Judging from the list, it appears that Europe is well ahead of the game in terms of promoting sustainable travel. Both lists are dominated by countries from that continent, which could come as a surprise to many travelers.

To read the entire report click here.

Archaeologists explore “Pompeiis” in Bulgaria and El Salvador

Nikopolis ad Istrum, Bulgaria, Pompeii
Pompeii is an archaeological wonder, an entire Roman town preserved by a volcanic eruption. Now archaeologists are investigating two other “Pompeiis” to learn more about the past.

In El Salvador, a team has discovered a village dating to c. 630 AD that was covered in volcanic ash. Joya de Ceren was sealed up so well that archaeologists have been able to examine corn cobs, the logs used to build homes, and even the paths leading through the village and how crops were planted.

Archaeology is generally biased towards big sites, both because they’re easier to find and because it’s easier to get funding to excavate them. Finding a small village that was inhabited by only 100-200 commoners helps us understand how the other half lived. The village has been declared a World Heritage Site.

At the Roman city of Nikopolis ad Istrum in Bulgaria, an archaeological team is working on another “Pompeii”. This Roman city was never buried in a volcanic eruption but it’s so well preserved, scientists make the comparison anyway. An archaeological team is exploring a temple to Cybele, a mother goddess.

I’ve been to Nikopolis ad Istrum and was very impressed. The city was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 101-106 AD. It was a major center of trade and culture until Attila the Hun trashed it in 447 AD. So it goes. Attila wasn’t very thorough and the town soon flourished again under the Byzantines. Today you can walk the streets, see the foundations of many buildings and even spot some of their decoration. You can even trace the sewers, which are a lot less stinky than they used to be.

[Photo courtesy Klearchos Kapoutsis]