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This has very little to do with frites, although I did eat frites there, but before I went I looked all over for posts so I though I would write something to help others who might be having the same sort of crisis of indecision that I did!  I was in the market for a new horse and by chance was going to be in europe this summer so I went to the Hannoverian auction (sporthorses) in Verden.  I wanted to share some tips for others who might be thinking of making the trip!

  1. The Hannoverian Verband has a great visitor package where they pick you up from the airport (a one hour drive) and take you to the Niedersachsenhof hotel just a 5 minute walk from the Niedersachsenhalle where the all the horse action is. The hotel is not fancy but very comfortable and includes free breakfast.  It is seat yourself.  Actually all the meals are seat yourself.  I kept waiting at the front for someone to come seat me until I one day figured this out!  I actually did not have many big meals at the restaurant and sometimes would just get a sandwich or “hot dog” (it’s better there, trust me) at the gas station minimart across the street. There is also a grill in the auction arena area where you can get snacks and lunch.  And on the auction day there are a few food trucks out front which are very tasty.
  2. Before the auction there is daily training and some formal presentations of the auction horses.  If you are interested to try certain horses, you should give a list of your desired test rides (by horse #) to the arena master.
  3. Test ride etiquette.  Because everything is in german, I did not figure this out until much later–you will notice that the arena master calls out for changes of direction.  My first day of test riding, I kept waiting for him to say change direction, so that I could try the other side of the horse I was on.  This sometimes caused me to walk or trot around longer than is “proper” because what you are supposed to do is tell the arena master you would like to change direction as soon as you would like to, so that you do not test ride for too long.  If everyone rode too long the horses would be even more tired than they already are!
  4. If you have friends coming to video etc, be sure they stay out of the way, particularly if they are standing in the middle to film you. These are young horses that can be hard to steer (!) so there can be some near misses of people being run over if they are standing in the wrong place!
  5. Don’t be scared to test ride!  I was so intimidated before I got there about riding in front of the germans. But there were plenty of complete beginner riders trying horses as well, and there is no judgement.  Except maybe for one guy from Portugal who was so rough on the horses (cranking them up tight with the reins and kicking and kicking them when they, what a surprise, would not go forward) that we were all horrified to watch him.
  6. Test ride etiquette part 2. You can make appointments to try horses outside of the “normal times” but in fairness to the horses, it can be best to try them when everyone else is.  They get so tired, the poor things, from all the testing by strangers. So if we can save them from having to be put away and taken out multiple times a day, we should.  So, when are the normal times? there are 2.  First is after presentations. There are 2 a week, and sometimes they present jumping first in morning, then they show the dressage horses in the afternoon. You will see that in the presentations, after the horse is “shown” the auction rider will get off and the people who have signed up with the auction master will be called to try the horse.  Second is during the daily training.  In daily training the jumping and dressage horses are interwoven throughout the day. The horses are not ridden as hard by the auction riders those days, and after the daily training, you have the chance again to try them. Note that starting Thursday (the auction usually on Saturday afternoon) the test rides are in the big arena where the presentations are, with everyone watching you!  If you are shy, come earlier in the week or the week before,  when you can still try the horses in the small warm-up arena and there are fewer people around.
  7. Talk to the auction riders and the grooms.  They are generally really friendly and honest about their charges.  Sometimes they don’t speak english, but you can find someone who does and you can find out a lot about a horse’s personality by talking to these folks that work most closely with the horses.  Grooms can tell you a lot about their ground manners, and riders can tell you about how they are to ride.
  8. Wear an approved helmet.  It is a stressful environment and even the most laid back horse could be frazzled when overtired, or overstimulated.  There were bucks, and spooks, and leaps and run aways throughout the week.  In general if you talk to the riders and grooms like I suggested you will not be caught unaware by a spooky personality you did not know about!
  9. The Verband folks can give you estimates for how much they think horses will go for.  In my case all of the horses I was interested in sold for WAY over estimate, but I am told that usually their estimates are pretty good. It is helpful to ask so you don’t try a horse that is going to be disappoint you by being way out of your price range.
  10. Some horses from the catalog might be missing from the trials, and some of the horses might “disappear” during the week and come back.  The auction folks and vet keep a close eye on the health of the horses, and will mandate rest for horses that need it.  So horses can be unavailable for test riding some days and it is better to be prepared to test ride a few days so you don’t miss your favorites.
  11. Vet checks.  Dr. Frank Reimann of the auction house has an office behind the jumping warmup arena.  You can go by to talk to him about your favorites to see x-rays and get health report.  Go early because on friday and saturday his office is a zoo!  In Germany they seem much less concerned about bony changes in x-rays, so have a good chat with a trusted vet at home before you go so you know what kind of changes will e deal-breakers for you.
  12. The auction!  So, not speaking german, I was really intimidated by the auction itself.  It went really fast and although it there is a big LED that shows the current bid, the bidding happened so fast that the board tended to lag the actual bid quite often, so you could get into trouble if you don’t have help.  Verband folks can help you with bidding, or you might think about using the bidding by phone option, even if you are sitting there.  It really goes thick and fast.  You use the yellow card in the back of the catalog, holding it upright raises the bid by 1000 euro.  Making a horizontal cutting motion with it raises the bid by 500 euro.  Some people make very subtle motions so you cannot tell that they are bidding. And it can go really FAST!
  13. When the bidding his 20000 euro a bell goes off and a song plays.  It happens again at 40000 euro.  Girls with baskets of drinks and gifts go to the winning bidders to get their signatures of commitment.
  14. It was a very international crowd with folks from Italy, Spain, and phone bidders from Korea and China etc.  The Korean bidders were juts berserk!  They would throw down 30k euro bids when the going bid was only 12k!  Crazy!  Hopefully you will not be bidding against someone like that!
  15. What else to do in Verden?  In about 3 days you might have tried all the horses you want to try and think about looking around town.  I didn’t have a car, so my entertainment options were limited. The town of Verden is about 25 min walk or a 10 min bus ride from the Nidersachsenhof.  Be careful because the bus that takes you into town is a different number than the one that brings you back!  I had to ask many helpful people to find my way!  In Verden there are 2 tack stores worth a browse.  Neither of them had great deals but they did have pretty good selections.  Sporthaus Verden is near a bus stop and is the biggest shop.   Reiterladen Ulli is a smaller eclectic shop where you can negotiate with owner for a deal.  I love to visit groceries and there is a big Holzmarkt that you can stroll around that has good chocolate selection. The German National Museum of the horse is right next to the Holzmarkt.  It’s all in german, but you can still absorb enough just looking and admission is cheap. The main strip of Verden is a pedestrian street where you can find bakkereis, restaurants and shops galore.  If you have a car, there are a some HUGE tack shops in the area (hour radius or so) that might be worth a trip.
  16. Although I did not successfully bid on a horse it was a great experience to go there and to test ride all the wonderful horses.  And I would go back.  You will hear many varying opinions about auctions, but I found that the people advising against buying at auction had never been to one themselves, or were more used to the US version of auctions.  The auction is a great place to see MANY horses (there were ~100 for sale about half were dressage)  in the same place, so you can directly compare between them.  And you get free vet exam.  Although it is not as detailed as the US x-rays can be, you can request other views, and if you ask early enough that they have time to do so, they will and there is no charge.  I found that to be a great service.  The downside is that there is no guarantee you will get the one you love, because of the auction nature of things.  If you want to be sure to come home with someone, the best strategy is to have 3-5 horses of interest to bid on so you have backups.
  17. if you buy a horse.  There are 3 tax “levels” depending on who is selling the horse.  0%, 10.7%, and 19%.  You pay these taxes on the sale price in addition to the auction fees and insurance. Only the 19% tax is refunded for horses leaving the country (like duty free). I did a lot of research in advance to know what expenses I would be facing if I bought a horse.  I made a spreadsheet that calculated the euro to dollar exchange and also the auction fees (the Verband can give you their spreadsheet that shows the final pricing after taxes, and fees) that also added the transport fees.  G. Klatte handles flights to US and Dutte does flights to NY.  Then Jet Pet or Apollo cover the ground costs.  In 2015 it costs about $8500 to import a gelding and 12K to import a mare to LAX (incl CEM quarantine at UC Davis). This is if you wait until they fill a pallet. If you cannot wait you will pay extra. And you can also pay more for “business class” for a box and a half or more for your horse.  Costs are about $2k less to import through NY/Ohio, but it might not save you any money depending where your final destination after CEM quarantine.  It’s good to have a chart written out of what the different possible prices end up being in total, so that you can consult during the auction to be sure you don’t go in over your head.  Many people can get caught up in the heat of the moment and you want to be able to see at a glance what that extra 1000 euro really means!

Hope these tips are helpful to someone out there!  If I go back for an auction, next time I would rent a car and line up horses to see at breeders stables in the area.  Maximize your chances!  But enjoy the experience whether you come home with a horse or not!  Tschuss!

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And the frites from the caravans in front of the beltower in Brugges…were not good! 😦  Vleminckx frites were so much better.   BUT Brugges had something, dare I say, better than frites! The Belgian (liege) waffle!  This is not like any IHOP style waffle you have ever had.  It is  yeasted dough waffle that has a carmelized sugar surface.  Delectable!  The dough is kept in little muffin cup looking things until you order and then they pop it on the griddle and make you a fresh one on the spot.  The smell is divine and the caramelized coating?  TDF!   Apparently the secret is Sucre en Grains (pearl sugar), sugar that comes in little balls.  I have dragged back a few bags to try to make these beauties at home!  Pictured is a strawberry and cream option, but really eating them plain on the street is equally enjoyable and maybe better because you can get the full waffle flavor this way.  Yum!  I am making myself hungry… need to find that liege waffle recipe!

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This summer found us in Amsterdam!  Although Belgium is rumored to be home of the original frites, this little hole in the wall shop in Amsterdam beat all the frites we tried in Brugges or Paris or anywhere else we’ve tried so far. The very famous (atleast in tour books) Vleminckx frites stand– is it all it was cracked up to be?  YES!  These frites were A-MAZ-ING!!!!, even with mayonnaise topping (get belgian mayo, yum).  They put a pretty big blob on top which looks like it is going to be disgusting but these are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, really creamy texture and flavor potato goodness, and the mayo actually enhanced the flavor.  I am not a big mayo fan but this mayo was da bomb.  Also highly recommended is the cassis flavor Fanta soda that we do not have in US.

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Fried Green Beans

Not a pommes frites, but worthy of note are the fried green beans at the dining room at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.  The green beans are magically coated with a thin, very uniform, very crispy layer of some sort of batter (or perhaps they are just rolled in seasoned flour?).  Very nicely browned and seasoned, perfect crunch and the beans themselves were cooked to a nice tender-crisp consistency. The coating itself was fascinating–so uniform!  How did they do it?  Might be worth home experimentation in the future.

Vacation frites are the best, aren’t they?  🙂

A recent visit to Grand Teton landed us in the Jackson Hole Lodge, a its gorgeous view of the Tetons.  There are 2 places to dine in the lodge, the Mural Room (upscale dining) and the Pioneer Grill (diner style, 50’s counter service).  The Grill has several varieties of fries on the menu and one of the most intriguing was the Fries with Truffle Oil, Parmesan, Herbs and Goat Cheese Ranch.  Fancy frites for a 50’s diner setting!  The fries arrived as a large basket of amply seasoned potato goodness.  The truffle oil lent a sort of earthy/garlicky flavor.  The fries themselves could have been a bit crisper (they might have been softened by the application of truffle oil, some fries had a notable sheen to them that seemed to be an applied oil and not the oil they were fried in) and were not as good cold. The Goat Cheese Ranch was delicious, however, and made a nice complement to the fries.  Sorry, no photo!

If you find yourself at the Pioneer Grill be sure to also have huckleberry ice cream with a little blueberry sauce and whipped cream.  Yum!  Also loiter about the sofa area in the lounge ~6pm and 8pm when they circulate hot chocolate chip cookies.

First frites!  With guest chef D we embark on the maiden voyage of the good ship frites.  Being scientifically minded, we conduct a small semi-controlled experiment and investigate two types of frites preparation: once-fried (but with temperature ramp), and the mythical, magical twice-fried (cited by many to be the method of choice).

Oil: Peanut (100%).  Shopping note that you should check the bottle that it is 100% peanut oil.  Many peanut oil labeled products are a mixture.  Peanut tolerates the heat for frites well, yet does not seem to lend peanut-y flavor (more on this later).

Equipment: Cast iron skillet (there is almost nothing that cannot be cooked in a good old fashioned one of these).

The spuds: Russet potatoes were peeled and sliced to fry shape.  Being hand made, size control was somewhat of an issue and fries were ~ 0.26±0.1″ by 0.3±o.1″ in cross section, and length varied with the part of the potato they came from (i.e. longer in the center cuts, shorter at the outer surface).  This lended for aesthetic interest in the finished product but increased the uncertainty of our observations.

Seasoning: After frying, both sets of fries were seasoned with salt:sugar (12:1) mixture

Method 1: For the twice-fried, the potatoes were fried first at lower temperature so they were soft but not browned, then removed from the oil and dried.  While they dried we moved on the sample set #2.  After the fries for sample set #2 (below) were finished and fished out, the fries from this set were put back into the hotter oil and browned.

Method 2: For once-fried with ramp, potatoes were fried first at lower temperature til softened then the heat was increased til they were golden brown.

The kitchen thermometer was sadly nonfunctioning for this test, so temperature (aiming for 325°F for the first fry and 375° for the second fry were determined subjectively by the chef using the water-splatter test. Hey, we said “semi” controlled experiment).

The visual results:

Method #1: The twice-fried:

The low temperature first fry for the twice fried sample set

Product of Method #1: twice-fried

Method #2: ‘once’ fried with temperature ramp:

Product of Method #2: 'once'-fried

The verdict:

The fries from Method #1 (twice fried) were quite a lot crispier, with a thicker crunchy shell, but they were not very potato-y in flavor.  They were still crunchy when cold, but were somewhat less enjoyable to eat cold than the fries of Method #2.

The fries from Method #2 (once fried) were more potato-y in flavor, but were not as crisp when hot out of the oil.  Surprisingly, they increased in crispiness as they cooled.  This batch was still tasty as a cold fry and had a slightly sweeter flavor.

Chef D’s notes: A good first attempt. But still an amateur fry.  Product was a bit inconsistent fry to fry, or even bite to bite.  Some fries larger, smaller, crisper, browner.  I preferred the less crisp, more potatoe-y 1st batch.

Sous Chef A’s notes: Certainly the difference in browness of the fries made direct comparison more difficult.  But I too preferred the more potato flavored (and sweeter) once-fried variety of frites.  Requires more investigation under more controlled conditions.  Stay tuned!