Winging It South

Last week a co-worker of mine asked the question “so how did Buffalo Wings get their name?” If you’re from Western New York (or married to someone who is), you probably know that the classic wings recipe was invented at the Anchor Bar in downtown Buffalo in 1964. That’s a fun fact that I know only because of Souzz (I was born in Japan myself, so most of my factoids revolve around wasabi).

The timing of my co-worker’s question was perfect, as Souzz and I were visiting her hometown this weekend and we decided to bring back a few wings. The idea was to have a taste test for my office (read: a good excuse to take a long lunch). We stopped by three of the better-known places, Duffs, Bar Bill Tavern, and the Anchor Bar, and we picked up some sauce, too.

We got a “double” from each place (a double is 20 wings, for those of you that don’t speak Buffalo), and I did all of my driving during a snow squall. Nothing says Buffalo like plowing through snow to get wings–especially when you are bringing them back to a town that shuts down at the first flake.

The locals say that an authentic Buffalo Wing starts with Frank’s hot sauce, butter, celery salt, and black pepper–but each place seems to add their own twist. Duffs are on the spicy (!) side, Bar Bill has a decidedly sweeter sauce, and the Anchor Bar’s wings are milder and maybe a little larger. All of these places (and many more) are pretty popular–and they emerged from a crowded field based on an empirical sampling of five in-laws. So you know they must be good.

The stakes were then lowered a bit when my brother-in-law Fred announced that “just about any corner bar with a 716 area code will have better wings than the best place in Virginia.”

In any case, Buffalo’s wings all got back to Virginia intact, where they made for a very interesting lunch at my office.

Our tasting criteria included appearance, sauce, crispiness, texture, flavor, and aroma. The various hot sauces were also hotly debated, as you might expect. And all three floors of the building smelled like wings, which might not have been what our landlord (and co-tenant) had in mind.

After much (ok, a little) fanfare, Duffs was crowned the unofficial Virginia winner, with a complicated scoring system that would have made my in-laws shake their heads (again).

When I shared the results of our taste test, my brother-in-law Steve said “you really need to do this under more typical conditions, like late at night after a few Genny Creme Ales.”

I’m not sure our landlord would have gone for that.

Good Waves

A few years back, we planned a trip to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands off of Florida’s Key West. But bad weather scuttled our trip, so we decided to try again this year—and once again the winds and waves were way too big for a seaplane flight. Oh, well. As the saying goes, sometimes the adventure has you.

With our trip cancelled, we had an extra day to spend in the Keys…and no plan. But there are a lot of things to do in the Keys—even in bad weather–so we had a new plan pretty quickly. Our destination of (second) choice was the Turtle Hospital in nearby Marathon.

The Turtle Hospital was started in 1980 by a VW repairman from New Jersey named Richie Moretti. Richie bought a foreclosed motel, fixed it up, and then promptly stocked the property’s saltwater pool with tropical fish. Guests could then experience easy-access snorkeling as (some form of) nature with no fuss…which is the kind of quirky business that seems almost common in the Keys (think underwater hotel rooms, feeding tarpons at Robbies, or undersea music festivals).

In the mid-1980s, a few years after Richie’s snorkel/motel destination was opened, the cartoon/movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started capturing the attention of local school children—many of whom were learning about fish through Richie’s pool. “Where are the turtles?” they would ask. But Florida law says that turtles can only be kept in captivity if they are being rehabilitated, which makes total sense. So, in 1986, an idea–and a hospital–were born.

Richie’s idea benefited both turtles and tourists, and the motel’s profits were able to fund the Turtle Hospital for the next 20 years or so. But that all changed when Hurricane Wilma tracked very close to Marathon in 2005. Thankfully, the turtles (and people) survived, as Richie and his team had constructed saltwater enclosures designed to withstand a hurricane. But the other structures weren’t so lucky, and there was only enough money to re-open either the motel or the hospital.

Richie chose turtles, and we’re glad that he did (as are a lot of turtles, whether they know it or not). Today the Turtle Hospital is a non-profit with a dedicated team that rescues, rehabilitates and releases about 200 turtles a year. It has released more than 1500 turtles since 1986.

As we toured the hospital, we heard a lot about marine debris. Entanglements are common, and nearly every rescued turtle has a large amount of undigested plastic in its stomach–especially grocery bags, which are often mistaken by turtles as one of their favorite foods: jellyfish. One of the hospital’s volunteers said to us that “these are creatures that have been here since the dinosaurs, and they are disappearing. And it’s mostly because of us.”

A few days after our visit, a 140-pound Loggerhead named Jack-O-Lantern was scheduled to be released on Sombrero Beach (also in Marathon). We decided to drive down from where we were staying in Key Largo, thinking we’d join a crowd made up of hospital staff and volunteers and may be a few dozen like-minded tourists.

When we arrived at Sombrero Beach, the place looked more like a rock concert than a turtle release. There were hundreds of people crowding around a path to the water, all very excited to see what the hospital staff describe as the most rewarding part of their jobs.

When Jack-O-Lantern swam out into the Atlantic, there were huge cheers. As the crowd waved goodbye, I felt a wave of hope–and I don’t think I was the only one.

While there’s no guaranteeing how Jack O’Lantern will fare (many of the same threats to turtles are still out there), the vets and volunteers gave him excellent care and he was healthy and raring to go. The Turtle Hospital is also working with a lot of organizations in support of clean oceans, helping on both ends of the challenge.

For us, what started out as a cancelled trip to the Dry Tortugas–islands named for turtles–somehow led to visiting a hospital full of turtles. We learned a lot, we gained an understanding of how each of us can help (maybe start by keeping trash out of the ocean and supporting organizations like the Turtle Hospital), and we met a group of very dedicated people that are making a difference.

The Turtle Hospital is out there creating more good waves every day, and we are thankful that we got a glimpse of their important work. I’m sure there were some mixed emotions when Jack-O-Lantern disappeared into the blue, but in some ways it would truly be a happy day if we never saw another Jack-O-Lantern.

Jack-O-Lantern is out there somewhere!

Smooth, Best Ever!

It’s fun to share holiday traditions–although I suppose not all of them are worth sharing. For instance, Souzz could probably have done without the hanging bell that plays Jingle Bells for about two hours every time I pull the string, or my family’s spinning Christmas tree heat lamp that eventually caught fire.

But one holiday tradition that is squarely in the shareable category is Souzz’s family egg nog. The nog tradition has its roots at the historic Buffalo Club in Buffalo, New York. In the 1920s, Souzz’s grandfather and his friends often enjoyed freshly made nog in the club’s elegant dining room, perhaps after a long day at work.

The nog recipe was soon brought home for the family’s annual New Year’s Eve party, and it eventually found its way on to the next generation(s). Making (and enjoying) the nog is now one of their biggest annual holiday traditions (well, that and spontaneously breaking into Christmas carols, which ironically makes me want to drink more nog).

The nog recipe is pretty straightforward: eggs, sugar, cream, nutmeg, a little brandy, a little rum–and roughly a cask of bourbon. But what really makes it special is how it is assembled. When the time comes, at least eight to ten folks across several generations crowd around a big antique (1920s) crock that seems to have its own magnetic pull. Hands swoop in and out adding ingredients and stirring, like an eight-armed mixologist (ok, so I need to work on my metaphors).

Some of the family take the same roles from year to year, while others move into whatever needs to be done–but lively conversation and laughter are a constant, and the process can never be rushed.

Back in the day, young nieces and nephews wandered in and out of the kitchen puzzling over what could possibly be so amusing–and now they have grown into full-fledged participants. A few of the in-laws generally stand to the side and make snarky comments—while secretly wishing that they had a family tradition as cool as this one.

After the nog is assembled, the crock is topped with an old cookie sheet and put outside in the snow, where it blends a little more each day. Souzz’s dad would always ladle out a cup the next morning and declare that year’s batch as “smooth, best ever!” It was something that he said–and meant–every single year.

There are some classic nog memories from over the years–like when Aunt Connie got engaged over a glass, or when Maggie (the family Labrador) over-served herself on some leftovers. And then there was the year that I opened the door to find the mailman helping himself to a cup (no wonder my Christmas cards were late).

Once again this year, the nog crock will be squarely at the center of the holiday for a few amazing hours–an enduring tradition that finds its place in the middle of the hustle and bustle of modern-day Christmas. It’s a ritual that feels like holiday magic–and especially so in a time where things can be so fleeting.

DSC_0204

Souzz’s parents are no longer with us, something that we feel even more during this time of year. But the making of the nog will always be a symbol of their grace, their love of life, and their love of family. When I raise my first glass of nog this year, I’ll be sure to say out loud that this year’s batch is “smooth, best ever!”

1999 12 Christmas in Buffalo

Friendly, Curious, and Beautiful

We are headed out of the Faroe Islands today, are back to Scotland for a quick overnight in Edinburgh before heading back to the USA tomorrow.

We capped off our trip yesterday with a ferry out to the island of Nolsoy, about a 20 minute ride from the capital in Torshavn, where we hiked around the town and explored a bit. Later we visited a church in Sandavágur before enjoying a nice meal at a restaurant called Arrstova (“House By the Brook”) on Torshavn harbor. Arrstova is in a wooden building built in the 1600s, but the menu is decidedly modern (my favorite was the lamb tartare, and the multi-course meal was the best of our trip by far).

As is true with any adventure, we didn’t know what to expect here…even more so because we didn’t know a single person that had visited the Faroes (well, at least nobody that we had asked). What we found was a rich history and stunning natural beauty, along with more than enough tourist-oriented services and a lot of great people.

While there is not a lot of lodging (and just a handful of campgrounds), the choices are growing through new construction and through services like AirBnb. We really enjoyed our AirBnb house, and our host was super-helpful and responsive.

There’s a Faroese proverb that nobody lives in the Faroes for practical reasons. I’m not even sure what that means, but I can say that we’ve encountered people that are welcoming, curious, and eager to share their culture. And what a fabulous culture it is, with a deep respect for the past, optimism for the future, understandable pride, and a friendly approach to outsiders.

The Faroese are also very trusting. Nobody pays attention to locking anything here, the honor system is everywhere, fancy bikes are out leaning against fences and buildings in town, and the Faroese version of a key swap is to leave the door unlocked and the key on the table.

People are also very active and fit, and many of them were pushing baby strollers up trails that we thought were challenging ourselves. And pretty much every dog in the country is a black and white border collie (ok, so I’m not sure what that has to do with culture, but it does stand out).

IMG_0330

This was our new friend Fram

Topics of conversation with the locals have spanned a huge range, including politics, energy independence, education, and the economics of tunnel building (important stuff when you live in a mountainous country made up of 18 islands).

A quick example of the differences in culture: many of the rental cars are emblazoned with huge rental car logos, which would probably alert drivers in the US to pass at the first chance and maybe give you a “hand signal” if you weren’t up to standard. In contrast, a local in the Faroes told us that he saw the logos as encouraging folks to be more understanding when a tourist drives erratically (like us), too slowly (we did), or seems lost (we were, even though there’s basically one main road through the islands).

IMG_3415Based on our experiences, tourists are greeted with patience, whether fumbling for the right coins to pay, puzzling over a road or trail sign, mangling the pronunciation of a place name, or queueing in the wrong place (not that we ever did any of that, at least not in writing).

There is explosive growth on the islands right now, and people seem realistic about what tourism might mean for their country–both good and bad. For example, the introduction of new visitor fees—some with credit card enabled turnstiles–at the more popular attractions is something that the country seems to be struggling with (a lot of people were talking about it). Coming from the pay-as-you-go culture of the US, it all seemed fair to us–but I’m not sure how it would feel to pay for a hike if I were local.

It says something that the people made such an impression on us, as we don’t speak Faroese–but English is commonly spoken here. And the people were friendly, were interested in our story, and live in a beautiful country. That’s a nice combination for a wayward traveler.

You can’t understand a place in four days, but the Faroes–and their people–showed itself as a world destination. And just as nobody lives in the Faroes for practical reasons, it isn’t the most practical destination from the US. But as we get closer to wheels up, we are already talking about our next visit.

Ruins and Cows

Yesterday in the Faroes we started with a visit to the historic village of Kirkjubøur, about twenty minutes drive from the capital of Torshavn. Kirkjubøur is generally considered the country’s most historically important site, with structures that go back to medieval times. We visited ruins of 14th-century Magnus Cathedral along with a beautiful 13th-century church, Olavskirkjan, and Kirkjubøargarður, an 11th century farmhouse.

Kirkjubøargarður may be the oldest wooden structure in the world that is still occupied—and the same family, the Paturrsons, has lived there for 17 generations. How a wooden structure can last a thousand years is beyond me, especially as I have a fence back home that’s falling apart after a few seasons.

The settlement of Kirkjubøur was founded in part because it was a spot that collected a lot of driftwood, which was an incredibly important commodity in a land with almost no trees. We saw a piece of driftwood on the beach during our visit and I caught myself wondering where it’d come from. If only a tree could talk…well, if a tree could talk, it probably wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise.

DSC_1436

Before the Reformation, Kirkjubøur was the center of Catholicism across all of Scandinavia, and the Bishop at the time wrote the “Sheep Letter” there in 1298. The Sheep Letter is a Constitution of sorts, and is the oldest surviving document on the islands. Kirkjubøur dwindled after the Reformation, and then was hit by a devastating hurricane in the 1600s. The Cathedral was never finished.

We followed our visit to Kirkjubøur with a drive an hour north to the village of Saksun, where we enjoyed a beautiful (and super-windy) five mile hike out to the ocean and back, passing a huge mountainside waterfall along the way. We had to watch the tides, as parts of the hike are cut off with an incoming tide, but there was good signage to help out a few foreigners.

We were blown away by–and because of–the hike. I know everybody exaggerates wind speeds, but I’m pretty confident that there were sustained winds of 30-40mph and gusts above 50. Even the locals seemed a bit winded.

From there, we drove another half hour up a narrow one-lane road to the village of Tjørnuvík, the northernmost village on the island of Streymoy and a popular destination with surfers (easy to see why, as a powerful surf pounded the beach the entire time we were there). We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the café there, and also looked out over an old Viking burial grounds.

We closed out the day back in Kirkjubøur, where we joined a friendly rancher tending to the Paturrson family cows.

The diversity of experiences that are possible on the 500 square miles of land of the Faroes is remarkable; I’m pretty sure that this was the first day of our lives that started with medieval ruins and ended with feeding cows. (Oh, and we fed ourselves, too, with local salmon, and a nice view at our lovely AirBnB in Hoyvik).

IMG_3328

Well, this is supposed to be mostly a food blog.

A Long Way To Go For A Screen Saver

Souzz and I are into the next leg of our vacation and arrived in the Faroe Islands last night by way of Edinburgh, Scotland (one of a handful of cities that offer direct flights). The Faroes are a collection of 18 islands that are halfway between Iceland and Norway. They are a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but they are very independent. They have their own government, their own language (Faroese), lots of services/amenities, and a very interesting culture.

DSC_1325.jpg

Less than 50,000 people live here, although there are supposedly nearly twice as many sheep. That said, it’s a very modern destination with a lot to offer–dramatic scenery as well as wonderfully friendly people.

As to how we got interested in visiting the Faroes, there’s a famous waterfall here called Múlafossur, and it popped up one day on my dad’s cable TV screensaver (doesn’t everyone get trip ideas from screensavers?).

screensaver

The screensaver shot that inspired our trip

When I saw that photo, I asked “Where is that?” As one might expect, my dad hadn’t memorized the screensaver shots; he was more interested in the Georgia Tech football game that we’d paused while we freshened up our drinks. Later, I tried (unsuccessfully) to find the location of the photo through the web. I finally took a picture of the TV screen (after waiting waiting waiting for the same image) and did a reverse photo search with Google.

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten a crazy idea for a trip in an unlikely place (see Pegman Meets Viking) and something tells me it won’t be the last.

We’ve just started our visit to the Faroes, but it’s clear that this is a special place. Cliffs plunge hundreds of feet into the ocean all around, the human history goes back to Vikings more than a thousand years ago, birds are everywhere, the roads and tunnels between islands are an engineering marvel, and the people are fantastic.

For our visit, we are basing out of an AirBnB in Hoyvik, just outside of the capital city of Torshavn. Our AirBnB host Sarah Ann has been super-helpful, and there’s a full kitchen so we have been able to pursue some local dishes. Most everything is imported from Denmark or Iceland, but the stores are full of choices.

As for the food, it’s always interesting to go grocery shopping when you are far away (much as it was in Scotland last week). The main store in Torshavn, called Miklagarður, was very well stocked, but with labels in Faroese that we couldn’t easily translate. A quick example: Toskaflak is what we cooked for dinner tonight. We’re confident that it’s fish…but we have no idea what kind.

This morning we spent some time in and around Torshavn, a vibrant town with a fabulous harbor. We really weren’t expecting so much culture here, and I felt sheepish about pre-judging this place (insert your own joke here re sheepish in the Faroes).

And with such a compact geography, we had time this afternoon to visit Múlafossur Waterfall (which inspired the trip) and to hike about five miles to a viewpoint above Sørvágsvatn. With only 500 square miles of land, everything on the road system is totally within reach. For the part of the Faroes on the road system, it’s probably only about an hour end-to-end (there are ferries to a few of the outlying islands).

All in all, we had a great time taking in the culture, hiking in the tree-less terrain, and enjoying the incredible vistas. One is never more than three miles from the ocean here, so it’s not hard to find an interesting view.

DSC_1324

The village of Bøur

It’s easy to see why this place shows up in screen savers…and travel blogs. We are here a few more days, so we are looking forward to more time in a part of the world that isn’t as well known (at least in the US) as it should be!

What’s In A Name?

Wikipedia tells me that the name Ogilvie (also commonly spelled Ogilvy) is well known in Scotland. This has been reinforced a few times during our travels, like when we introduced ourselves to our innkeeper in Nethy Bridge and she responded “aaah, Ogilvie, that’s quite the aristocratic surname (I had to look up the word aristocratic, which means I’m probably not). And then a few days later, while paddling on the River Spey, our new friend Jerry said “Ogilvie? You have your own tartan. There’s some yellow in it, right?”

I’m hundreds of years (probably more) removed from anybody important, but it’s still interesting history. The name Ogilvie originally comes from the Earls of Angus, and it is derived from the Old British word Ocelfa, which means high plain. I’d rather be named for a mountaintop, but I guess high plain is better than some other options. In any case, it’s fun to visit my roots, however distant.

There are several Ogilvie castles in Scotland, and we tried to visit two of them, Airlie and Cortachy. Airlie Castle is a bit more “modern” (it was rebuilt in the late 1800s after it was badly burned in 1640; more on that later). It is often used for weddings,  events, and “lodging.” I’m not very aristocratic, so it was out of my price range for this trip.

Airlie Castle

Airlie Castle on a sunny day

Cortachy Castle dates to the 1400s and most recently was the private home of the 13th Earl of Airle, Lord David George Coke Patrick Ogilvy. Lord Ogilvy served as Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, and he is one of the last surviving attendees of the Queen’s Coronation in 1937. His younger brother Angus married Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1963, so there are some interesting connections to the royal family.

I had to laugh as I learned more about Ogilvie/Ogilvy lineage for this trip, as it conjured up memories of a visit to the Ogilvie Mountains in the Yukon a few years back. The Ogilvie Mountains are named for the famous Canadian explorer William Ogilvie (a descendant of the same British family), and I tried hard to find a link to him in my family tree…but I only succeeded in figuring out that I’m related to Scottish horse thieves. I need to be careful with this ancestry stuff.

P1030886

Ogilvie Mountains, Yukon Territory, Canada

Horse thieves notwithstanding, I learned a bunch of interesting history as I researched the various castles ahead of our trip. For example, the Ogilvys had a longstanding (hundreds of years) feud with the Campbells, and the Campbells significantly damaged Airlie Castle and set it afire in 1640. There is actually Scottish folk song about it, called the Bonnie Hoose O’ Airlie, written in the 1800s.

bonnie-hoose-o-airlie

A drawing of Airlie Castle before the fire

As for the present day, we reached out to Lord Ogilvy’s assistant via email (is this a crazy world, or what?), and she told us that Airlie Castle was not open for visits because the Ogilvy family was “currently in residence.” In contrast to Airlie, Cortachy Castle is never open to the public–but a few years back, my sister talked her way onto the property and even met Lord Ogilvy. So we figured we’d ask permission to walk the grounds, and we knew we could at least visit the church and cemetery at Cortachy.

While we weren’t permitted access the grounds of Cortachy Castle, Lord Ogilvy’s assistant generously shared information on how we could get close to it on a neighboring property. So after a little sleuthing/exploring around, that’s what we did. And we had a great time, even on a rainy day when we could only get within a few hundred yards of the castle.

As for the feud with the Campbells, we haven’t encountered any Campbells yet on our trip–but I’m keeping my eyes peeled, and Souzz has been watching my back. And I’m now revisiting my friendship with two close friends back home named Campbell–and I’m also totally giving up soup.

Water, Barley, and Yeast

Suzy and I left Nethy Bridge yesterday morning hoping to paddle some of the River Spey in our packrafts, which are ultralight inflatables that are quite capable in whitewater (although the Spey is super-mellow, class II). We then proceeded to get thoroughly lost on back roads looking for the put-in. We were basically giving up when we saw a van with a rack full of kayaks pass us in the other direction. So we did a quick 180 and followed them to the river.

Once at the put-in, we soon learned that river etiquette is the same in the UK as in the US–yet another thing that our countries have in common. We asked the friendly local folks from Abernethy Nethybridge Outfitters for information on the run, they sized us up (including our boats and weather-worn gear), and then our new friend Jerry offered us a shuttle from the take-out–as long as we could be ready when they were. What followed was the quickest gear throwdown in history, and then a lightning fast shuttle ride (amazed that their van could move that fast, even towing a boat rack).

The run was very straightforward, maybe a few rapids of class II, but very pretty. And a great way to see the Scottish countryside.

Another first for us was that the take-out was at a Speyside distillery. So naturally we followed our paddle with a tour of Cragganmore Distillery.

Both the paddle and the tour were worth doing again, and the day gave new meaning to the idea of adding barley and yeast to water.

Bookends

Today we bookended one of the most touristy destinations in all of Scotland with two slices of more local culture. We started our day at the Scottish Highland Games in nearby Newtonmore, followed that with a visit to Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart, and closed things out back in Nethy Bridge at the remains of one of the oldest castles in Scotland, Castle Roy (11th century).