More Thoughts on Ramps

Posted on April 16, 2012. Filed under: foraging, hodgepodge, local, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , |

My story about foraging for ramps aired Saturday on The Allegheny Front. They’re a marvelous little plant, and the experience of waking up (VERY) early to wander through the woods and harvest my own food was pretty incredible. I’d never foraged for anything before, and memories of that morning keep popping up. Now, when I pass a forested hillside, I wonder if ramps are growing on its slope. (I’ve cursed at several “No Trespassing” signs preventing me from scrambling up the hill and checking it out for myself!) I’ve considered foraging in my urban environment–but, I don’t know enough about urban foraging to decide what to harvest (though I did enjoy a nice snack of dandelion greens from my backyard the other day). This exercise was much easier to accomplish when I lived in Los Angeles; street-side rosemary grows everywhere and fruit trees overhang many sidewalks (protip: they are fair game if they are on the public side of a fence).

Back to the ramps. I touch on this in the story, but it’s worth repeating: if you forage for ramps, don’t over-harvest; experts say you should only take 5% to 10% of what you see (if you leave the bulbs in the ground you can harvest a bit more, however). If you see ramps at a restaurant, farmers’ market, or festival, don’t be afraid to ask about where they came from. This is especially pertinent if you see ramps on the West Coast–ramps don’t grow in California, so you might want to inquire about how they got there. I’m not discouraging the popularity of ramps (they truly are terrific), but we all need to be sure to consume them in a sustainable way, or we’ll be out of luck in a few years. Ramp population recuperation time is tremendously slow, and if they’re over-harvested the land where they grow can easily be overrun with invasive species.

If you do get your hands on ramps, what should you do with them? Here are a few ideas:

Quick and Easy Grilled Ramps:

Wash and dry ramps.
Rub with olive oil and salt.
Grill until ramps are just slightly charred.
Season with pinch of salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Pickled Ramps:

The basic ratio is 1-1-1 rice wine vinegar, water, and sugar–plus a pinch of salt.
Boil those ingredients and pour over (washed) ramp stems.
I also added a few black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, and pinch of dried ginger.

You’ll just be using the stems for this one. Better make use of the greens, too, right? Render a few slices of bacon, and add chopped ramp greens to the bacon fat. Add three eggs (beaten), the cooked bacon, and handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
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Gorging on Cal-Mexican Food: An Brief Look at Food and Place

Posted on March 8, 2012. Filed under: hodgepodge, rant | Tags: , , , , , |

My father pointed out that I came home with a bag of leftovers every day on my trip home to Northern California. “You seem a little bit obsessed with Mexican food, Hal B,” he said.

Big Art was correct. My Mexican binge was totally by design. I made a point to have a meal at a local Cal-Mex restaurant each day I was home, and I also made it a point to order more food than I needed; pozole, two tacos, a burrito all ended up wrapped and saved for a late-night snack. I stopped at a (pre-trendy) taco truck ON MY WAY to lunch–I could see the restaurant from the street where my hands were dripping with chile verde. My belly bulged on the flight home.

I think it’s terrific that, in this period of globalization, regional specialty food still plays prominently on the palate. Although there is a remarkable pizza maker just outside of Pittsburgh (and another delightful one just down the block from me), New York still haunts my dreams. Good BBQ is simply smoke, spice, and meat, and a exceptionally enjoyable one has just opened in Pittsburgh. Yet, the truly transcendent joints are the ones that perfume the air south of the Mason-Dixon line. And, for me, Mexican food is best from a strip mall/truck/hole-in-the-wall in California.

Why? People argue it’s the water that makes a New York pizza special. However, “imported” water, though not commonplace, feeds dough outside of New York. The pizza isn’t any better because of it.

A lot of this has to do with the food you “grew up” on. I have a deep preference for East Coast Angle-Chinese food; the greasy kind with iconic dishes. I judge by wonton soup and chicken & broccoli. My brother, who was 3 years younger when we left New York, has the opposite reaction. He prefers the authentic* Chinese food of the Pacific Coast. Less grease, thinner wontons, more seafood. This isn’t limited to childhood memory, either–though childhood influence in generally the strongest.

Specific geography can play a part in flavoring food. The first oysters I had were grown in the cold-water of Tamales Bay. Small, briny, deep mineral flavor. They FLOORED me. I figured I’d love all oysters after that, but that wasn’t at all true. The large, warm-water Gulf oyster didn’t make me dance inside. I learned that the size and flavor of an oyster are directly affected by the ecology of the local waters and the breeds that can grow in it.

I also think a lot of this has to do with the food-culture of the place. There was a recent New York Times article written by a vegetarian complaining about the lack of vegetarian food in Kansas City. He made some valid points, but he missed the big one–it’s a beef town. He went on to complain about the lack of “ethnic” restaurants in the city, ignoring the fact that Kansas City hasn’t been a historic center of multi-ethnic immigration. Does he think that “ethnic” should be ubiquitous? What a dink.

I’m fascinated between the connection between food and place. It’s an issue that I’m going to continue to explore. I hope you will, too. Share your stories.

*Authenticity is a complex concept, so I won’t spent too much time on it here. For the sake of this piece, let’s just say that it’s generally agreed that the Chinese food in San Francisco is characterized as “more authentic” than the food on the East Coast because it’s more directly connected to the foodways of China. There are holes to be poked in this argument–not to mention the fact that I’m totally lumping a heterogenous culture into one cuisine called “Chinese food”–but that’s the basic idea. 

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Catching Up

Posted on March 1, 2012. Filed under: hodgepodge |

Things have been busy lately: I’m working on a few stories, traveling, and creating new recipes…and there’s that whole master’s degree in Food Studies thesis to finish. Look for a new post early next week. For now, check out what I’ve been doing elsewhere:

I’ve had a few stories on The Allegheny Front:
A chat with “The High Priest of Permaculture,” David Jacke.
Exploring the connection between food and nature with Michael Pollan. Yup…that Michael Pollan.
(If you haven’t had a listen to my feature on Parma Sausage Company, you should do that too!)

I’m still writing “On the Rocks” for Pittsburgh City Paper. Hooray for local libations!

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Tiki Memories

Posted on February 20, 2012. Filed under: booze, hodgepodge, travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

As Tiki Month draws to a close, it seems appropriate to pay homage to the great Tiki cocktail culture. I’m not a mixologist, so no recipes today; instead I’ll share a bit about my two happiest Tiki memories. It beats working on my thesis, right? (Note: I actually really love working on my thesis.)

My experience with Tiki bars goes back nearly as far as I’ve been (legally) visiting bars. Shortly after graduating UCSD, I moved home to San Francisco to attend a summer-long acting (ah…drinking) intensive. My classmates and I quickly discovered the Tonga Room in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel. We learned that timeless Tiki classic had an amazing deal: a super cheap (I think it was $5) all-you-can-eat happy hour buffet. For super cheap young actors, this was a beacon of frugality in the sea of an expensive city. Plus, we were told the menu featured potent, easy to gulp tropical cocktails. And there were intermittent indoor rainstorms. If that’s not a way to draw a party-happy dude of 21 into Tiki drinking culture, I don’t know what is. For the next two years, I spent many happy happy hours at the Tonga Room. And many stupefied Muni rides home.

Years later, I moved to the heart of Tiki culture: Los Angeles. Don the Beachcomber, the first Tiki bar in the continental United States, opened there in 1933. Although there is a chain of knock-off Tiki bars with the same name, the original Don’s is long gone. Luckily for me, I lived an easy stumble from the greatest Tiki bar left in the city, Tiki Ti. The 12 seat bar is located in the nether-region between Los Feliz and Silverlake, right near the PBS studio. It’s tricked out in Tiki paraphernalia, and it’s smoke-filled; Tiki Ti is exempt from the longstanding CA indoor smoke ban because the only people who work there are the owners. Michael Buhen (and his sons) carry on the legacy of Ray Buhen, who opened the bar in 1961 after working for years as one of the original mixologists at Don the Beachcomber. (Read a bio of Ray Buhen.) The drink menu is as large as the bar is small–over 92 (mostly rum-based) tropical drinks. If you’re overwhelmed, ask someone behind the bar; if you’re especially adventurous, ask a regular. Just remember, these drinks are terrifically potent. Pace yourself. Or don’t. Arrive early and be prepared to wait in line. Unlike the silly boom-boom-pow clubs a mile down the road in Hollywood, this place is worth the wait. Really.

So there you go. My little homage to Tiki. Want to hear more thoughts on drinking? Read my column in Pittsburgh City Paper and follow me on Twitter @ThisMansKitchen.

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Chevy Sonic Sweets Tour

Posted on December 5, 2011. Filed under: community, dessert, hodgepodge, travel | Tags: , , , , , |

My friends at Driving the Northeast invited me to another “Drive a Chevy and Eat Some Free Food” event. This time, they were promoting the Chevy Sonic and treating us to sweets. The premise: we drive the Sonics to Sugar Cafe, Dozen Bakeshop, and Gluuteny. Then, we write about the good times we had with General Motors.

I didn’t drive a Sonic. Instead, I was able to drive a Volt. It was sitting there, looking like it was going to remain in the parking lot where we met to start the tour, so…me being me, I asked if I could drive it. They said I could. Wicked. I’m a big fan of innovation, and a hybrid gas/electric vehicle represents a big leap forward in transportation sustainability. They did a pretty terrific job with this car; aside from how quiet it is, you’d never know it was running on electricity. The Chevy Volt is no golf cart, either–it actually drives like a real car. This is important to me–I believe the path forward to convincing people to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle isn’t about telling people “NO! Bad things! Do without,” but rather “Good! Yes! You see how this is better than the unsustainable thing you’re doing because it’s the thing you’re used to doing?”  If I had a parking spot with an electrical outlet and $41,000 to spare, I’d be all over one of these cars. Well done, American Auto Industry! Enough about cars.

The first stop of the tour was Sugar Cafe. It’s located in Dormont, an up-and-coming Pittsburgh community. My friend Cory takes people on food tours there–you should go on one. But if you’re just interested in a tasty snack, you can’t go wrong with Sugar Cafe. They serve a selection of sandwiches, La Prima coffee, and of course there are many many sweets. The lemon pound-cake was the highlight of our sampling; it’s tart and buttery, with just enough sugar to feel like you’re having a treat. The vanilla macaron was a delight, too; crisp and chewy, resting on a bed of homemade raspberry jam. Sadly, the Irish Car Bomb cupcakes were less successful–perhaps I was biased though, as I’d just written a piece on Cocktail Cupcakes a few days prior to the tour. My standards were high.

Thanks for the easy segue, Hal. No problem, Hal.

I’d written the Cocktail Cupcake article on Dozen Bakeshop, which happened to be the second stop of the tour. We were treated to pumpkin gobs (delicious!), apple-cinnamon pop tarts (you’ll never eat a processed pop tart again after having one of these), an assortment of mini-cupcakes (buttercream frosting happy happy), and a cleverly designed push-up cupcake pop (clearly intended for small children, but the frosting had way too much bright food coloring and it creeped me out). I’m really happy Dozen is starting to find its way again. It closed abruptly last summer, shocking many people in both Lawrenceville and the rest of the city. Although the cupcakes were often dry (they’ve improved quite a bit under new head baker Lindsay Headley), their presence in the community was missed during the time they shuttered the store. It’s a wonderful place to sit with a cup of coffee and pastry, especially on a winter afternoon. Glad you’re back, Dozen.

The final stop on the tour was Gluuteny, a gluten-free and caesin-free bakeshop. I want to like this place. I really do. I feel horrible for people who have a gluten intolerance (an actual one, not one that was diagnosed by a lazy doctor following a health scare trend). No bread? No cake? No PIZZA?!?! This is a terrible thing. So when a company decides to try to add bread-like food back into people’s lives, I hope for the best. And, for being gluten-free, this is damn good stuff. But it’s never going to be able to replace a cake made with wheat flour. Sorry.

I must confess: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I’d much rather have a slice of pizza pie than a slice of chocolate pie (and I would indeed have pizza for dessert). Still, sugar shock aside, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

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Food, Community, and $35 For the Week: Wrap-Up

Posted on November 26, 2011. Filed under: challenge, community, favorite, hodgepodge | Tags: , , , , , |

I did it. With just $35* to spend, I was able to eat (mostly) wholesome food for a week. There were times, especially in the beginning, when it was challenging–but there wasn’t a point when I felt like I had to throw in the towel and grab can of chicken.

So challenge completed. But is it sustainable?

A recap for those who haven’t been following along so far: Sherrie Flick,Cory Van Horn, and I decided to see if we each last a week on a $35 food budget. This is a pretty significant challenge in itself–I could easily spend $35 a day on food. Eating Good Food was the other part of the challenge; we could probably make this happen by eating processed junk and Dollar Menu offerings, but could we do it if we limited ourselves to whole foods? I realized before the project started that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone, so I planned a series of tasks that would combine community connections with my culinary skills, this would earn me a “free” meal. It worked out more or less as planned, and, no surprise, I also learned a thing or two along the way.

People were terrifically generous. While working at GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, a friend gave me a jar of homemade maple apple butter. At a potluck the next night, the hosts tried to give me…all the leftovers. My ladyfriend brought a ham for me to cook (see earlier entry for a breakdown on the Great Ham Controversy). Other tried to give me random bits of this and that, and several suggested they just leave food for me somewhere so that I could “discover” it. I drew a pretty firm line in the sand and stuck with it–I wasn’t looking for handouts, that would have been too easy. The apple butter was accepted because this friend would undoubtably give apple butter to someone who needed it (who am I kidding, she would fill your freezer with home-cooked meals if you needed it). I took some food home from the potluck, but nothing more than a guest would normally take. As much as I wanted to chow down on ham for the rest of the week, just about all of it went into the freezer (some of it might come out of the freezer today). And no meals were “discovered.” If I were truly in this situation, I would have leaned on my friends more. I’m really luck to have connected with a community in Pittsburgh that values the importance of a good meal, and is always willing to share. Apparently, I’ve also fallen in line with a bunch of rule breakers insist I take their food for free. What a bunch of rebels.

Volunteering was a big part of the project–you can read more about my experiences in the day-by-day recaps. Connecting with people who don’t have a choice about the food they eat totally put things in perspective; I was complaining about being hungry, and then I met people who are actually hungry. This turned the project into something much more personal. I took on the idea on on lark, as an experiment. The same day I volunteered at the soup kitchen, I dropped a huge pot of beans on the ground. Normally, I’d be pissed off that I had so much cleaning up to do (I’m clumsy, I drop things). When it happened this time, I was devastated that I was losing so much food, and so much good food too. The food was irreplaceable–I’d used precious bits of ham and onion to flavor the beans, there were none left for the next batch. The fact that I seriously considered keeping beans that had fallen on my not-so-clean kitchen floor was really telling.

I cooked. A lot. I cook a lot in general, but this was extreme. There is no possibility of dining out (at least dining out on wholesome food) on a $35 per week budget. Everything has to be made from scratch. All in all, I enjoyed my time in the kitchen–I mean, cooking is such a big part about what I do, so why wouldn’t I? But I did notice my creativity started to wane toward the end of the week. At first, I was trying to use this as opportunity to be as creative as possible, but by the end of the week I just wanted to get fed. Perhaps this was a because I realized that the project was taking up more and more of my time. I wanted to be true to the nature of the experiment, but I also didn’t want to miss a deadline/fail any of my classes. So instead of diligently planning out meals that combined flavor/nutrients/sunshine, I made a variety of soup. Good soup, delicious soup, soup from scratch–but still soup.

To my surprise, snack time turned out to be a much bigger challenge than mealtime. I didn’t realize how mindlessly I snacked until I had to be mindful of everything I ate. Suddenly an apple or a banana was a precious commodity. It was a difficult adjustment during the first few days. I would casually wander over to the kitchen, and then realize that I couldn’t actually eat anything. At first this made me feel more hungry than I really was, but eventually I learned to ignore it (OK, perhaps I learned to live with it–I still wanted to snack).

There are plenty of reasons to critique this project.

The first is that I (and my partners in writing) are part of a leisure/creative/academic class, and therefore have the opportunity to explore this. Agreed. We are. And frankly I’m glad we are. The creative part of society has been constantly demonized, and I think that’s a bunch of crap. My response to this is perhaps one of the biggest problems in our food system isn’t the food system itself (is a MASSIVE problem, don’t get me wrong), it’s that as a country we’re on a downward spiral to catch up with the lowest common denominator. The fact that so many people don’t have time to cook isn’t just a reflection on privilege, it’s a kick in society’s face. We should all have time to cook (or pursue a hobby, play a sport, read a book, etc), we shouldn’t have to run to McDingDong’s because we’re so worked to the bone that all we want to do is get home and watch other people cook on TV. It’s sad.

It also called into question my belief that people should pay more for their food. I have the luxury of being able to purchase humanely raised meat; that’s expensive. I’ve often said that it should be expensive because farmers and farm workers should be able to earn a decent living without being forced to treat animals like commodities. But if it remains expensive, how can a person with only $35 for the week eat humanly raised meat then? Some would argue that we shouldn’t be eating meat at all. Fair enough, but I disagree. We should be eating less meat (and avoiding factory meat), but I don’t believe we should be eating no meat. That’s a totally different subject for a post, isn’t it? The point is that this week forced me to question where the balance is between supporting farmers and farm workers, and being able to afford Good Food. Perhaps we need to be spending less money on other things? Growing gardens? Working communally?

Another critique: This is a bit of a whimsical exercise, and we weren’t really in the same position as people on fixed incomes. Agreed, and at times it made me feel terribly silly about doing this project. Who am I to think that my participation in this is somehow important? This was an exercise, and it’s not going to change the world. But like we said at the beginning, it wasn’t designed to be perfect. It was, however, a terrific learning experience. I am still thinking about every food choice I make. I’m going to go back to the soup kitchen next week. It’s challenged me to rethink ideas and ideals. So perfect? Not at all. Worthwhile? I’d say so.

Some people felt my methodology of using my culinary skills and community connections to “earn” meals was a cop-out. I disagree. While I don’t think bartering my time would be practical over the long term, I do think it was worthwhile. I was able to connect with people who needed help in some way, and I think that’s a pretty good thing indeed.

So is a $35 weekly food budget sustainable? No, not for me. It can be done, and of course there are people who don’t have a choice. Perhaps during the summer it would have been an easier project since my garden would be in full swing–that wasn’t an option right now (though I will be sure to grow & save more next year). In some ways, I actually ate better throughout the week; more vegetables and whole grains than I normally would, I cut down on my meat consumption (and only purchased meat raised in a way I philosophically agree with), and reduced my overall calorie intakte (sad Hal, no snacks). But in the end, I love food way too much to have to decide between a piece of cheese and a slice of beef. I’m grateful that I don’t have to make that choice right now. I’m also mindful that we as a society need to work to build a food system that ensures everybody has access to wholesome meals.

*Technically I had $45 to spend. When we set the ground rules, we decided coupons were allowed. I cashed in a Living Social Deal that allowed me to spend $20 at Whole Foods for only $10. As the week went on, I started to feel like I was gaming the system; Whole Foods doesn’t have coupons like this on a regular basis. So I decided to try to stick as close to the original $35 as possible. I came close, and probably would have done it if I didn’t make a few choices (I’m looking at you, cheese) on my original Whole Foods trip.

For more on the project, please visit:
Sherrie Flick’s Sentences and Food
Cory Van Horne’s Culinary Cory
Both of them are fantastic writers, and I found their collaboration on the project as worthwhile as the project itself.

To read about my day-to-day experiences, go to:
The Preview
Days One and Two
The Great Ham Controversy
Volunteering, Losing My Beans

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Food, Community, and $35 For The Week: Day Three. Ham Rescue.

Posted on November 8, 2011. Filed under: challenge, community, favorite, hodgepodge, recipe | Tags: , , , , |

On Day Three I ate ham.

My task for the day was to use my cooking skills to teach someone how to make a dish they had always wanted to learn how to cook. In exchange, they would provide the ingredients. Part of my skill-set is helping new cooks learn how to make cooking enjoyable, so I thought this would be a perfect way to earn some food. My ladyfriend is southern, but she didn’t know how to make one of the most iconic southern dishes: baked ham. Also, I’m pretty sure she was taking pity on me for my restricted diet. Regardless, I thought it was a good deal.

Baking ham can be a totally simple proposition: purchase ham (already cured, smoked, and cooked), gently heat it in the oven, and then serve. Ham can also be a very complex proposition: purchase a fresh ham and do all the curing, smoking, and cooking yourself. As much as I’d love to cure and smoke my own ham, that was impractical for this task. OK, it’s generally impractical (though fantastic!), so it made much more sense to use a pre-cured ham. Since it wasn’t possible to teach her how to cure a ham from scratch, my best bet was show her how to enhance the flavor of a pre-cured one. Hello Whiskey-and-Spice Ham!

Baked Whiskey and Spice Ham
Start with a pre-cooked, bone-in ham.
Pat ham dry with paper towels.
Brush ham with a layer of Dijon Mustard.
Pat on a layer of Brown Sugar over the mustard.
Spray ham with Whiskey (bourbon is best).
Pat on a layer of Crushed Ginger Snaps.

Tent with foil and bake at 275 for 15 minutes per pound.
Raise heat to 325 and bake uncovered for last 15-20 minutes of cooking.

I’ve taken some slack for this one because in the middle of this project I got to eat one of my favorite foods, which happens to be a giant and fairly expensive hunk of meat. So I’ll say this: I didn’t eat an entire ham, nor do I have plans to eat the rest of it (this week). I had a meal-sized portion, and reserved an extra slice for a breakfast sandwich the next day. The rest of the ham, except for the bone, will be frozen for later enjoyment (the bone will be used to flavor another round of beans). Also, although ham would certainly be high on my list of requested dishes, it wasn’t my idea (though it was very much appreciated).

Additional money spent: $0.25 (that’s about how much whiskey I used)
Money left for the week: $12.63

*If you’re wondering about my other meals: Oatmeal w/ maple apple butter for breakfast, leftover veggie soup for lunch, green beans with dinner, tiny bit of cheese and some pretzels (given to me on Sat.) as a snack, and an apple as another snack.

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Food, Community, and $35 For the Week: First Two Days. Beans & Greens. Veggie Soup.

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: challenge, community, favorite, hodgepodge, vegetable | Tags: , , , , |

The first two days were easier than I thought they would be, though not without challenges.

My first meal for the project was a bowl of oatmeal. My breakfast every day, save one or two, will be oatmeal. (I tend to get on kicks where I eat the same food for breakfast every day.) I’m actually pretty happy about that– I love oatmeal. But…I didn’t really budget for sugar, so my oatmeal was really bland! Argh. Lesson one, budget for sugar.

Lunch was filling. I volunteered at the Chatham University booth at GoodTaste! Pittsburgh. GoodTaste! is a terribly-named food exhibition that takes place annually at the Monroeville Convention Center; small and large food purveyors, culinary entrepreneurs, and (yuck!) PA winemakers all gather to sample their goods. Last year was wonderful, but this year the exhibition was about half the size–and most of the food was processed. Happily, we were making delicious pumpkin spice pancakes–that was a good start. I also had quite a few pasta samples (including a surprisingly good gluten-free ravioli), and some marginally decent BBQ. I wish there had been a wider selection of wholesome food, but at least I left with a very full belly. I also left with homemade Maple Apple Butter courtesy of my classmate Barb! (And a loaf of commercial bread. It was free. I don’t want to turn my back on it, but it’s pretty…commercial.)

Dinner was Beans and Greens. I cooked pot of mixed beans (as well as half of my onion), then simmered them with some garlic and kale. Very satisfying. I also reserved about 1/3 the beans for another meal.

Day Two was a bit more challenging.

Things started off well: A bowl of oatmeal sweetened with Barb’s maple apple butter. It was delicious, especially considering how flat the oatmeal from the previous day had been. I had leftover Beans & Greens for lunch.

I started getting really hungry around four, but I wasn’t scheduled to go to a potluck until six. I’m a chronic nosher, and this was the moment the challenge really hit home for me. No noshing. Even my snacks have to be accounted for, so I couldn’t just grab a handful of this, that, and a bite of cheese. I had a small pack of pretzels. It didn’t really help the hunger, but at least I got a tiny bit of satisfaction. (I know. Poor me, right?)

By the time I got to the potluck with my Tasty Veggie Soup, I was ravenous–especially for protein. Someone brought a cheese plate. Normally I’d bag on someone for bringing a cheese plate to a potluck (unless they actually made the cheese–in that case I would praise them to the highest heavens), but since I could only afford a wee bit of cheese on my budget (note: rationing cheese sucks), I was happy to have some glorious Gruyere. The rest of the potluck was pretty good. It was all vegetarian, and I left full. Also, they gave me half a loaf of good bread. (Not homemade, but at least locally made.) Exchanging the soup (which didn’t cost too much to make) for the many dishes, good company, and free bread was totally worth it.

“You are having hunger anger…but you aren’t hungry,” I was told by a friend later in the evening after becoming (allegedly) snippy. I started to wonder if I was getting enough protein. I had a good swim and an epic walk with the dog earlier in the day, so perhaps I wasn’t getting all the nutrients I needed? I thought I was building complete proteins with the combination of foods I was eating, but I’m not totally sure. We’ll see.

This probably reads a bit like I’m complaining. Poor me, no snacks and cheese. I know my “problems” are tiny when compared with people who aren’t doing this by choice. I might have felt hungry, but it pales in comparison to people who are hungry. And I know when this project is going to end, something most people who have to live on a tight food budget don’t have the luxury of knowing.

Additional money spent: $0.00
Money left for the week: $12.88

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Food, Community, and $35 for the Week

Posted on November 5, 2011. Filed under: challenge, community, favorite, garden, grocery, hodgepodge | Tags: , , , , |

Last week, The Huffington Post reported that nine Democrats in Congress decided to challenge themselves to live on $4.50 per day (the rate food stamps would be reduced to under a Republican proposal). They did this for a week. However, their diets were comprised almost entirely of processed foods.

We can do better than that.

Challenge! A few friends and I are taking up the mantle to see if we can do this without cheap, processed foods. Or at least not any more processed foods than we normally would eat. (True Confession: I am, on occasion, partial to a bowl of Top Ramen.) We are giving ourselves a weekly budget of $35, but also the freedom to trade our time/skills for food: if we garden, anything still left from that garden (in the dirt, jar, or freezer) is good; if we can cook a meal for someone who supplies the ingredients, that’s good too. The theory: if you are connected to the food community, you can still eat Good Food on a tight budget.

 We are not trying to play-act like we are food stamp recipients. All of us are creative professionals, and we all have greater access to the food community than most people do (at least at the moment). There are plenty of valid critiques of this project; many emails were exchanged regarding these critiques, and we came to the conclusion that perfection isn’t the goal. Having said that, I will try to address some of these issues at the end of the week. For now, I just want to see if I can do this.

I’m up for the challenge. This is going to be tough. I can quite easily spend $35 a day on food. I like meat, but I try my best to only eat meat that’s been humanely raised. That kind of meat isn’t cheap. (And it shouldn’t be.) So I’m going to be mostly vegetarian this week. That’s a good challenge in itself, and I like it. Can I make $35 last for a week? We’ll see. At least I have a plan.

Each day for the week, I’ll engage in a food-related activity that will hopefully result in a free (and delicious) meal. But before I do that, I need provisions.

Task One: Provisioning.
Coupons are allowed, so I’m cashing in a Living Social deal. I have $20 to spend at Whole Foods for the cost of $10. Budget is now $45. Most excellent.

I shop for provisions.

Here’s how I spend my $20 at Whole Foods:
1Lb. Rolled Oats: $1.49
.5Lb. Cannelloni Beans: $1.50
.43Lb. Red Beans: $1.03
.45Lb. Pinto Beans: $0.90
.48Lb. Barley: $0.67
.45Lb. Quinoa: $2.11
.43Lb. Roasted Almonds: $4.60
.86Lb. Carrots: $0.85
.56Lb. Onion: $0.55
.55Lb. Mozzarella Cheese: $3.29
.92Lb. Bananas: $0.63
One (10z) Frozen Spinach: $1.99
With the bag refund, my total is $20.02

Other Provisions:
I also purchase 1 Bunch Celery ($2.00) and .67Lb. Kale ($0.60) from Giant Eagle.
I already have 6 eggs in the fridge ($2.50) and 5 apples from the farmers’ market ($3.50). One of those apples was given to me for free.
In the freezer I have an andouille sausage (given to me over the summer), pesto (garden), frozen tomatoes and sauce (garden).
In the pantry I have 2 squash (given to me by a friend who had too many squash), garlic (garden), and various oils, vinegars, and spices (let’s factor $3.50 for those).

Total spent so far: $32.12
I have $12.88 left to spend this week. I can do this.

Please check out Sentences and Food and Culinary Cory. They aren’t planning on posting until the end of the project. However, you should read their blogs anyway–they’re full of wonderful stories and recipes.

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Guest Blog: Vincent Rendoni, “Maturity.”

Posted on September 19, 2011. Filed under: drinks, hodgepodge, patience | Tags: , , , |

Writer Vincent Rendoni explores the virtues of aging beer (and testing patience) in this guest post.

I’ve been waiting for this beer all year.

For a beer nerd, I’m quite unusual. Brewing requires precision, practical knowledge of chemistry, and patience. I severely lack all of those things. Especially patience. To my fellow beer nerds, this may explain why unlike the rest of them, I don’t even bother with brewing and lack a true cellar.

Much like wine, some beers benefit from aging. Often beers such as pale and India pale ales are best enjoyed as soon as possible to get the most from their hops as that flavor is often the first to go. Although there are exceptions, usually beers with active yeasts in them or a high alcohol content (your Belgian strong ales, your barleywines) age quite well. After covering a lot of ground in my beer drinking, purchasing proper glassware, and becoming familiar with Michael Jackson’s (the beer/whisky writer, not the singer) books and philosophy, I decided in June 2010 to tackle cellaring. Working at a bottle shop at the time, my boss was happy to oblige me and started me off with an already year old 2009 vintage of The Abyss of Deschutes Brewing.

Of all my favorite styles of beer, the Russian Imperial Stout remains my favorite. Best drunk in winter, they’re remarkably heavy with dark flavors and high alcohol content both apparent from the first sip. It’s one of the few types of beers that can’t be paired with any other food than foie gras due to its overpowering taste.

The only way these already powerful beers can become stronger and let’s face it, more absurd, is to age them in bourbon barrels. Some beers of this style such as Port Brewing’s Older Viscosity have an abundance of smoke and cookie sugar while The Lost Abbey’s Angel Share (same brewer, just different persona) has more of a gentle vanilla to contrast the dry whiskey. Unlike these other two, The Abyss has more of a hop profile, and as you can see from the label, anise and molasses flavors added, something I personally enjoy when balanced. Usually in the priciest range of beer, I save bourbon-barrel aged imperial stouts for very special occasions. Although to echo Sideways, the day you open something like this, that’s the special occasion.

After breaking The Abyss’s near-insurmountable wax seal with a corkscrew and butter knife (see: lack of patience), I prepare a snifter glass to get the maximum amount of flavor. Before I properly open it, I recall when I last had this beer, fresh, before the best-after date. The anise flavor was strong enough to induce nausea and the hops far too bitter. The beer did its job: It was cold and I needed heat, even if the roast nose stuck to my hair and gums the next few of days. But with the lack of balance, my boss and I both agreed that it seemed to be a candidate for cellaring.

But even then, I still asked myself why The Abyss when I could’ve gone with something I loved and was sure-fire like Older Viscosity. Call it brand loyalty. In the Northwest, Deschutes is hard to avoid much like New Belgium in the Rockies, Samuel Adams in the East. For my generation, either Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale or Black Butte Porter was often the first craft beer outside of Pabst we got to try, the first craft beer sold in our QFCs and Haggens. Two of my closest friends had their wedding atop the brewery in Bend, Oregon. One hot, underaged summer in Central Washington, I was served their Twilight Summer Ale, the beer that would get me into craft beer. We beer nerds always remember our first. It was only right that the first beer I ever aged, that first bourbon imperial stout I ever tried would be Deschutes.

Taking a superficial whiff of the now aged Abyss, I notice that beer too mellows with age. After holding the beer to light to see its opacity, I smell the beer and notice the nose is of roasted, earthy Sumatra coffee grounds. The aroma is strong, but not overwhelming as it was in its immaturity. Inhaling deeper, one can notice the molasses and even feel the bourbon. I spin the beer in my glass, noting the muddy head and take my first sip. The first thing I notice is the absence of the hop, something I loathe in my imperial stouts, now killed off with age. The oak barrel aging gives it a frothy feel in the mouth. The licorice essence has now evolved into allspice, the molasses to rich brown sugar—complexities attributed to aging. The bourbon is constantly humming in the background, raising the temperature of this surprisingly cold summer night. The finish is tall and smooth, all nutmeg and whiskey. I try not to think about the possibilities if I had waited longer. But let me assure you, there’s no regret.

So why did I wait to open this beer? Besides proving to myself that I can actually wait for something, I also promised myself I wouldn’t open it until after I completed my first year of graduate school. It sounds silly, I know, but sometimes I’m rather surprised I’m getting my Master’s degree. Nearly dropping out of high school, flunking English in my junior year, and being told by that teacher to give up still doesn’t feel like it happened all that long ago. Before I take a sip, I wonder if being at Chatham alone is enough to deserve this. Then I remind myself that it was also my birthday two days ago and put it out of my mind.

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