I’ve been aggregated!

and that seems to be a good thing.

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back to black

New year, new resolutions. This one isn’t about losing weight or getting in shape, but that will be a natural side benefit.

Fad diets? Nope. Excercizing more? I intend to, but that’s another story.

I’ve been into organics and natural foods for several years, now I’m learning more about eating local and slow food. Putting it all together has shed some intersting light on what’s hidden in the typical American diet. Sugars that we are mindlessly consuming, or are totally unaware are present. It’s just no wonder the state of unhealthfulness were in!

Learning more about food miles has me eager to eat locally, more healthfully as a favor to the planet (and my family). Rather than adopt a seemingly extreme 100 mile diet or some other arbitrary number, I’m going to attempt to have all my foods grown or processed within New England (being that I live, pretty much smack dab in the middle, that works well. – and isn’t all that far off from 100 miles come to think of it…) Luckily this leaves me open to surf and turf. Too bad for the seafood lover in Denver.

I’ve already started gardening indoors, planning what’s going outside, and looking for local sources of raw ingredients – and the occasional processed food stuffs. King Arthur Flour in VT for example, will suffice as a local processor of wheat (grown in the heartland) while I search for local wheat berries to grind myself. (I already bake my own bread anyway). The hopeful outcome will be reducing the food miles on my plate, the amount of packaging destined for landfill (if not recyclable) and thereby the amount of gas and oil consumed in bringing my food to the table. Saving me money, and doing the planet a world of good.

Part of looking locally, naturally has us favoring the garden, and I do plan on growing much of my own vegetables, as well as visiting my local farmers and farmers markets. NH apples trump Washington, and for the occasional product I need… the closer to home the better. New York wines instead of Chilean ones. (but let’s not worry about beverages just yet.)

Another part of the equation is naturally weeding out all those empty calories in the supermarket that we don’t really need – and have long since lost the metabolism to process. (Where does one find real Cheez?)

I’ve recently become aware (I love food blogs and podcasts – citizen journalism – power to the people!) of the movie King Corn – a documentary about 3 guys growing an acre of corn just to see where our food comes from and what happens to it. They had no idea where the project would take them.

I haven’t seen the film yet, just heard about it. (Thanks Don!) And now understand that corn is in almost everything we (the typical american) eats. Even the well rounded “college diet” of burgers, pizza and donuts is highly corn based. No diversity there – and LOTS of hidden sugar. Even those low-carb meals are full of sugar – given that most of the livestock in this country is fed corn – and not the delicious corn on the cob we eat mind you. Basically a nutritionally devoid foodstuff that is making our animals fat and unhealthy. Not good eats. (Vegans rejoice!)

Anyhow, taking a more local look at what I stock the shelves with, reading ingredient labels and only eating corn on purpose will take a TON of sugar out of my diet. Less sugar, less empty calories. Fewer calories in, fewer to burn or store as fat. Easy beans.

This week I started by adjusting my coffee habit. (Yes, coffee isn’t local, neither is Tea. I said lets not look at beverages just yet 😉

Step one, ditch the artificial creamer. It was a must when I was vegan, but I’ve lost the taste for milk in coffee. I know this isn’t the best thing to have, and once thought it was my only vice, my only source of empty calories. I like black coffee just fine, but I like my mochas too.

Anyhow here’s some simple math with coffee – information courtesy of Starbuck.com nutritional information page.

16 oz (Grande) Peppermint Mocha (yummy!) 400 Calories, 49 grams of sugar. (I’d usually get a Large for 80 calories more, 62 grams of sugar)

In the summer I’d enjoy a Java Chip Frappucino 490 calories (down from 600 without whipped cream) but these have 75 grams of sugar.

Today I ordered (and enjoyed) a large (16 oz) cup of coffee – 5 calories (black) 16 more calories with sugar. hmm 21 calories vs 480. How many minutes on the treadmill to walk that off?

Given that I was likely to have between 1 and 3 of these a week…. I’m looking at cutting excess (and typically mindless) 1,100 calories a week. Another benefit… it’s way cheaper.

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food for thought

Are the scientists who just announced that cloned meat is safe for human consumption the same ones who keep changing their minds about which foods are bad for us?

Avoid salt. No, wait, avoid fat. No – make that sugar. Carbs…

Let the government allow food producers to get away (with misleading the public) without labeling which meats are cloned. I’ll continue to follow the organic, local, slow-food model thank you very much. And those who label that they DON’T use GMO’s, cloning, etc….

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wine, wood and (no song)

What is one to do with varied interests and blogs about woodworking, food, and random funnyness? Once in a while the universe opens up and proves that even as scattered as we think our lives and interests are, that everything is (once in a while) truly interconnected. (and we get to kill 3 blogs with one stone. Except this stone is a piece of wine soaked, charred oak.

I was listening to a back log of food podcasts from Don Genova – a Canadian writer/broadcast journalist/podcaster I enjoy (his voice reminds me of a cross between Rick Steves, and my friend Mike – which is entertaining, and very listenable in itself)… where he visited a French cooperage (one woodworking profession that is still relevant today, but mostly forgotten) and got to talk to the Nth generation running it about how the wood effects the wine, and the differences between American and French oak, etc…


Forget steam bending. Fire bending!
More photos of the process on Don’s blog even more (gorgeous) photos and slideshow at Francois Freres site. Bear with it, as the English link seems broken.

It was cool to hear about all the proper woodworking that goes into their barrels, brining in new oak trees from the forest of central france, cutting and drying the wood for a couple years, and from there only using wood as a fuel source to heat shape and char (carmelize) the insides of the barrels. 

Anyhow, this got to me thinking,… that while tastes surely change and evolve over time… historically I never liked “oaky” wines, (and hence Scotch) for the buttery, vanilla etc… flavors that the oak imparts…. Little did I realize that as I got more and more into woodworking (and my wife and I learned more about wines thanks to a side venture of hers this past year) My prejudice against “oakiness” has changed. Just this week I was ripping down a dozen oak treads, and savoring the rich buttery aroma of the wood, almost drooling over what would best go with. (Brie surely, crabcakes, no Lobster. Salmon! mmm)

These little passions of ours invade, and enhance our lives in many ways!
Now where’s that 12 year old doublewood Scotch I’ve been saving…

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losing several inches in the new year by cooking more!

It’s the day after Christmas, and I’ve already started a little pre-season gardening! Aeroponic parsley, dill, basil, chives, mint, purple basil and cilantro. I’ve made my own “neverending” bottle of vanilla. Organic vanilla beans covered with vodka – steep for 4 weeks, then replenish the alcohol as it get used – another very cool Christmas food find (that I shared with my mom and sister). I’ve also rearranged the kitchen, purged a bit, and begun paring down some – gearing up for a more ruthless clean out.

A friend of mine has a fantastic, and large pantry, with more books than you’ll find in any cooking section of any bookstore. Seriously. But since food and writing is his bread and butter, it makes perfect sense – yet no less inspiring, and intimidating to behold.

What is almost equally intimidating (to me) is the few shelves of cookbooks I have, and the sad fact that most have hardly been cracked. Apparently I don’t NEED them – Thanks Web 2.0! Some were gifted, others were too good not to bring home, (I have more still on my Christmas list). Many have not set foot in the kitchen. This is about to change.

It’s a new season, and for me that is a renewed interest in cooking… but with January, (resolutions) right around the corner, it’s hard to get excited about restraint. Oh, I want to make soups and stews, all kinds of great seasonal dishes. Never did make all the cookies I wanted for Christmas, and the time is right to enjoy the beer I made this fall. But it is finally time (again) I got myself down (closer) to my fighting weight. One helpful push is a contest at work – I decided I’m going to win!

I’m proposing losing dozens of inches in the coming months – off the bookshelf. Last year I sold my back issues of Cooks Illustrated when I signed up for an online subscription. Now I’m taking this thinking to a new level – I’ll pick a book, seek out 3 recipes that interest me and cook them in a week or so. If I have three winners, I have a keeper (and the confidence to try more). If I don’t like em, then odds are the rest of the book isn’t exactly to my taste, and will pass it on, and move on to the next book.

The goal – a streamlined kitchen, and a much less cluttered house. A house full of only the things I love and need. Will new books come into the house? Surely. I’ll try to break them right in, and I’ll have a tougher litmus test before I begin to create new piles of clutter.

If you DON’T love them, set them free!

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Saturnalia!

Christmas sure came up fast this year – just as fast as the snowfall. (More accumulation in one week than all of last winter). But unlike Christmasses past, with visits to grandparents the weekend before, back to work, Christmas Eve here, Christmas Day there, there and there.., and back to work in the morning (still hung-over from all the punch and cookies) we’ve got parties a plenty for the next four days straight. All Christmas all the time. And what’s better is no going from place to place on any given day, and plenty of time to sleep in to gear up for rounds two, three and four (as best as ones five-year-old will allow).

Maximum fun, family and food, minimum drive time.

May you (and not just your cup) runneth over with Christmas spirit!

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where o where has my little blog gone

No sooner do I hash out a redesign at this (and my other) blogs, that blogging seems to take a backseat. What have I been doing? Well culinarily, not much.

I mean, I am virtually swimming in beer. And excess breeds indifference,… (so naturally, I’m on a coffee kick. Coffee coffee coffee – but his time, not in beer) But – I did find some great 3-4 ounce glasses, I bought 24 of them for a song (don’t you just love a bargain?) and am planning to have a couple beer flights (mini tastings) at the coming family gatherings. After weighing the collective opinion of my beer-drinking friends and family, I’ll know better what to make (and gift) in the coming year. For now, I’ve put the kegs on vacation. I have cases and cases of ales, stouts, dopplebocks, IPA and pilsners OH MY! taking up precious kitchen space.

Right before Turkey, work (the day job) found me doing some overnights in Quechee, VT. I love that town, and we frequented a local brew pub – just across the river. The first night there we were serenaded by a Birthday Party of theatre types (I”ll let you paint your own picture of colorful 20 somethings – each trying to outsing, and out talk the next)… but, unlike the family chain restaurants, this bunch could belt out a great rendition of Happy Birthday. I enjoyed a Russian Imperial Stout with my fish and chips – huge portions for the price – and really, really good.

On a return visit I had a beer flight of six or seven? samples – basically everything on tap. Liked the lighter beers then. The Cream Ale, and Canadian especially.

Back across the river, we went to Firestone’s – Brick oven flatbread pizzas (inspired two return visits!) Their clam chowder was about the best I’ve ever had – odd, being so far from the ocean (for a New Englander). My beer of choice there, wasn’t the local microbrew… but rather Bass Ale – perfect with a Margarita pizza, 3 mushroom and chicken, or whatever the special was the first day. mmmm

I was going to take some of my homemade stout and make the same Guiness Gingerbread I did last year, and try my hand at the Guinness bread in my “recipes to try” page. Long days, and road trips have kept me out of the kitchen for the most part. I’m only going to do two Christmas cookies this year. (Two great big ones!) Both new favorites of mine as of last Christmas (and both thanks to Food Network)  – Chocolate Peanut-Butter Biscotti – salty, a little sweet, and surprisingly good with coffee, and a variation of AB’s Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels – heretofore called Chocolate Bailey’s Pinwheels. Skip the peppermint, go green, go Irish! -A splash in regular chocolate chip cookies wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  For years we’d dine on Mom’s Chocolate Brownie Bailey’s Pie for Christmas Breakfast, but I digress.

My latest food find, also thanks to being on the road, and the fantastic Co-op in Lebanon, NH – was really a food re-find. One thing that’s great about my local Trader Joe’s is they can get all sorts of neat things – and packaged under their own brand, come pretty cheap.

I happened to find out that their private-label brand of yogurt is locally made Stonyfield, which is all-natural, organic and totally what we’d be buying if we shopped at a different store. I can also guess with considerable certainly that some of their pizzas are made by Amy’s, which we used to get for a dollar or two more elsewhere. But they also carried bags of Coffee Candy, two bucks for dozens and dozens of little coffee hard candies. I was nearly addicted to those puppies. Kept a full candy dish on my desk at work. It never stayed full for long (I had help), but they were cheap, and easy to come by… until they didn’t sell them anymore after a year or so. Poor seller? They have another line of coffee candy, a name brand, a little chewy and, IMHO gross. An internet search found a bag of my mystery ones on Amazon for, big bucks. I wasn’t 100% sure they were the right product, and at that price, they had better arrive on velvet cushions and recite Shakespeare and Douglass Adams! Gevalia also offered them up in one of their gift baskets, in one, and only one catalog. Oh well, it was a good thing while it lasted… BUT THEN, I found tins of them at the Coop, with all sorts of other Stocking stuffers. Bali’s Best – from Fusiongourmet.com – oh how I love thee. Santa could bring me nothing but a stocking full of your rich coffee deliciousness,… (and I promise not to get addicted!)

This year, I’m all about simplifing the kitchen. Two cookies, lots of coffee (in candy and regular form) and one birthday cake – two flavors in the form of Blue’s paw print (yes, That Blue) Blue frosting on a chocolate paw, and 4 yellow toes – with a #5 candle in case you were wondering.

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