Dispatches TM_DP_BEERWLK_FI_001

A few years back, while I was driving through the States, I passed a hitchhiker holding a sign that read “Hiking for Beer.” This abstruse notice made me wonder. Was he offering drivers beer for their service or if this were the goal of his trip — to hitchhike in search of the best beer across America — did he hope motorists would empathize with his mission? But I also got this idea in my head: I could hike, too, but proper hiking…for beer.

I had trekked a number of impressive trails. They provided a communion with nature; a temporary retreat from modern distractions; an enhancement of necessities, making the simple feel luxurious. A bag of gorp was forest caviar. Tap water from a rusty faucet tasted as if it had flowed from the purest mountain spring.

But after a long walk among green trees or russet mountains, nothing compared to drinking a golden brew; this was a luxury heightened to the libations of royalty. Of course, a beverage of this nature was never actually enjoyed in nature. Typically, after a hike I would have to scrape off the mud from my shoes, scan my body for ticks, and then jump into the car and drive out of the forest if I wanted to end with an ale. MORE

Baking TM_BK_FIGS_FI_001

As summer begins to make way for the cooler months ahead, many bakers aren’t just looking forward to autumn, the time of all things pumpkin and cinnamon-sprinkled. We also know that precious figs are in their prime in September, finding their way to farmers markets and into our kitchens.

For those of us who can summon the willpower to not devour each and every fig we bring home — and truly, eating a fresh fig in the peak of the season is possibly best way to taste the warm, sweet days of summer — we can reward ourselves with the next best thing: baking with figs. MORE

The Brew TM_BR_BIGBREW_FI_001

Visiting the Coors Brewery has about the same feel as getting on an amusement park ride. A line forms just outside the main gates of the largest single-site brewery in the world guided by the familiar zig-zag of a metal railing. When you’ve reached the front of the line, a small tour bus driven by an enthusiastic retiree picks you up and gives you a grand tour of the two-stoplight town of Golden, Colorado, from its gold rush heritage to Adolph Coors’ decision to open up a brewery there. The bus then drops you at the visitor’s entrance where you’re greeted by local kids working part-time jobs. They ask you to put on a cowboy hat made of beer cans and pose for a photo in front of a Coors-themed backdrop. From here, you are free to wander through the tour area listening to a self-guided tour recording (not in Sam Elliot’s voice, unfortunately) and getting a peek at some of the inner workings of the brewery.

The company’s chairman, Pete Coors, is having a hard time understanding the recent craft beer boom. In an interview earlier this year with the Denver Post, he states that he’s “baffled” by it. Whereas craft beer brands grew 7% last year, light beers like Coors Light showed no growth and bargain brands like his Keystone showed negative numbers. Coors is then quoted: “In this economy that is difficult to understand.”

In fact, his company has gone to great lengths to show that it’s better to have their beer on tap. “People stay in their seats an average of 18 minutes longer when they have a light premium beer on tap. That means they are spending more money, leaving bigger tips. We have a little algorithm and an app that we give to our distributors to evaluate and analyze these businesses and bars,” he’s quoted as saying. I had these sentiments still fresh in my mind during the tour of Coors’ headquarters I took while on a recent Rocky Mountain beer trip.
MORE

Dispatches TM_DP_MUSHR_AP_001

On the weekend after Labor Day in the hilly town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a group that totaled 80,000 people gathered to celebrate. Many drove across state lines to get there. They weren’t commemorating a monumental day in history or an important win at the Little League World Series. No, these people had arrived to celebrate the humble little mushroom at the town’s 29th annual Mushroom Festival.

Located about 30 miles outside Philadelphia, Kennett Square isn’t that unusual of a place to host such a quirky event. After all, it is renowned for being the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” an area where half of America’s mushrooms are grown. As you drive through it, you’ll occasionally catch a mildly unpleasant whiff of the nearby farms and the compost used to grow their prized product. You’ll also see Kennett Square’s nickname branded on the town’s water tower. If there’s anywhere that deserves the rights to a funky fungi festival, it’s here.

But what is it about mushrooms, exactly, that draws such an enormous crowd year after year? I was curious. So I went to find out. MORE

Questionable Tastes TM_QT_APRICOT_FI_001

For years, apricot brandy occupied a dusty corner of the liquor store that I avoided. It confounded me. Most of what was there wasn’t even brandy, and most of it was awful: cloying and full of artificial flavoring and coloring.

For me, the brandy brought bad associations; it seemed to be the sort of thing people down on their luck bought in pints and drank out of little paper bags. As a young person, I remember classmates buying pints of Jacquin’s Apricot Flavored Brandy for illegal parties in the woods. Later, I had a friend who ordered apricot sours, and I was always vaguely embarrassed when she did that, particularly in dive bars. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_TOMFRUIT_FI_003

When you think of the famous, history-changing Supreme Court cases, what comes to mind? Brown v. Board of Education? Roe v. Wade? Miranda v. Arizona? How about Nix v. Hedden? Instead of debating over segregation, freeedom of choice, or the due process of law, this particular case was over the issue of tomatoes being a vegetable or fruit. The Nix v. Hedden case, the most heated battle of the Supreme Court in 1883, was between a tomato importer — Nix — and the New York Import Authority, Hedden. Nix was suing Hedden for taxing his tomatoes as vegetables. He argued that they were really fruits (which were, conveniently, tariff-free), and, therefore, were exempt from taxation.

Of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already been told that tomatoes are actually fruits. But what makes the tomato a fruit and not a vegetable? Botanically speaking, fruits are the mature ovary (flowering structure) of plants. Fruits are designed to house and protect the seeds of the plant. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible portion of a plant. They are classified into different groups based on their structure like roots (carrots), bulbs (onions), or leaves (lettuce). Therefore, a plump, seedy tomato is really a fruit, but technically, so are pumpkins, peppers, and squash. MORE

Questionable Tastes TM_QT_RISOTTO_AP_004

During late summers, I become almost fruitarian. Sometimes, nearing the dinner hour, I suddenly realize that the only things I’ve eaten all day have been fresh melon, berries, nectarines, and plums.

The root of this fruity love affair is clearly my childhood summers, which I spent at my family’s open-air, roadside produce stand in southern New Jersey. My cousins and I sold fruit and vegetables in a makeshift wooden structure with hand-written signs at the edge of property owned by my father and uncle’s packing house. I worked there pretty much from the first grade, when I had a little corner where I sold little containers of bruised and overripe “seconds” under a sign that read “Bargain Table. Everything 50 cents.”

By the time I was about 12, I awoke before sunrise and — before eating breakfast — pedaled my bike a few miles over to the packing house, where we kept our produce in huge refrigeration rooms. I enjoyed whizzing down the loading dock on an electric pallet jack, and I loved the sensation of zipping into the cold and then back out into the warm summer air. I mostly worked alone, unless an onion truck had just arrived, and then one of my dad’s employees might decide he needed to “help” me, instead of unloading 50-pound bags of onions. My job was to get the pallets ready on the loading dock before my cousin arrived in his pickup truck, back from a daily run to the farms or from the produce terminal in the city. MORE

Coffee TM_CO_BREWING_FI_001

Not long ago, the coffee-brewing industry revolved around convenience. It was all about where you could you grab a hot cup of joe on the go, finding the fastest way to extract the caffeine out of those magical beans and inject it into your bloodstream.

Fortunately for all coffee lovers, the coffee culture has greatly evolved since then. Now, some coffee geeks are bravely roasting their own beans at home. The nerdiest are buzzing about the most-expensive beans — like civet coffee (known as “cat poop coffee”), or the newest strange coffee to join the scene, Black Ivory Coffee, which is similarly made using elephants. And others attend regulated coffee cupping rituals to evaluate and discover certain flavors, aromas, and nuances of different coffees.

But it doesn’t matter how fancy, refined, or perfectly-roasted your coffee beans are if you aren’t giving them a proper brew. By not focusing on how your coffee is made, you could be missing out on the beautiful flavors and aromas your specialty beans possess. I recently discovered the difference it makes at a home brewing class at Joe, a rapidly expanding small chain of coffee shops, where I learned of the many kinds of brewing gadgets and devices you can buy in order to make a better cup of coffee at home. Surely you’ve seen them before. They fill counters of high-end coffee shops across the country — various pour-over options and a range of different presses.
MORE

Bookshelf

Saving the Salad

Hearty (and vegan) salads go way beyond rabbit food

by

TM_BK_SALADS_AP_001_1We’re living in a golden age of salad. But for too many people, the thought of salad for dinner still conjures up ideas of rabbit food – and doubly so when it’s vegan. Terry Hope Romero’s new book, Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love is here to help. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

“But there’s always the salad!”

If you don’t eat meat (or any animal-derived food), ordering a meal in a nice, if not necessarily accommodating to a vegan palate, restaurant usually drifts to the inevitable rendezvous with a salad. Everyone tucks into steak and potato-flavored mounds of butter. You, however, poke your fork into a morose pile of limp leaves. As a teen vegetarian (and later, adult vegan), countless experiences like this one soured me on ever loving salad. Or actively seeking it out as a meal. Salads just sucked. MORE

Breakfast TM_BF_ONTHEGO_FI_001

Like most people, I wake up in the morning with just enough time to scramble some eggs or make a bowl of oatmeal, taking my coffee to-go in a thermos. Maybe the scrambled eggs and oatmeal go beyond what most people eat in the morning, if they even eat anything at all. But I can tell you that it’s been a decent number of years that I’ve sat down at the breakfast table for a bowl of cereal.

After stumbling out of bed every morning for school, it was an unconscious movement through kitchen cupboards for the familiar box, bowl, and spoon. Through the years, I ate all types of brands — from the sugary kid stuff like Count Chocula to grown up Great Grains — but eventually I switched to foods like fruit and yogurt well before I earned my diploma. As my mornings became more rushed and my stomach started growling earlier and earlier, I started to pick more balanced breakfasts that weren’t so carb-heavy, but were still convenient.

And according to Kellogg’s most recent earnings report, many Americans are making a similar switch. With a dip of 16% and a reduced outlook for the rest of year, Kellogg’s is feeling the effects of Americans ditching the cereal bowl. According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, Kellogg’s isn’t alone – on the whole, the cereal industry is down 5% and dropping. But at the same time, statistics show that more Americans are eating breakfast – about 44% do, compared to 34% back in 2011 as reported by a Kellogg’s survey.
MORE

The Brew TM_BR_AMCIDER_FI_002

In a recent e-mail conversation with Bruce Wright, co-owner of the popular J.K.’s brand of organic cider, the existence of a new product was brought to my attention. “…just read in consumer reports that there is gluten free window cleaner..sigh,” said Wright. Now unless people are drinking window cleaner or rubbing it all over their hands before eating lunch I think there’s been some sort of public misinformation about gluten. Me, however, I’m striving to look at this whole misunderstanding of gluten from a positive angle and I think I’ve found my hook. See, Bruce’s ciders, like all real ciders, are naturally gluten free being that they’re made from just yeast and apple juice. I’d argue that the gluten-free trend has actually helped bring about something very positive to the world of fermented beverages in America (read: not gluten-free beer): a bump in the amount of shelf-space and tap-lines dedicated to cider. MORE

Baking TM_BK_PEACHCON_FI_002

Friends and family know me as the friendly baker. I bring cupcakes to graduation parties, bake miniature cakes for birthdays, and send cookies across the country for Christmas every year. But the people at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market know me as someone else: a highly competitive baker, a woman who has a stash of first, second and third place ribbons in her kitchen work table drawer.

Last October, at the annual Apple Pie Baking Contest, I had a market coordinator come up to me after I set my caramel apple pecan praline pie, topped with a handcut squirrel top crust, on the judging table.

“I hear you’re the baker to beat.”
MORE

The Larder

Tomato Time Capsule

It’s easier than you to think to take the taste of summer produce into fall

by

Every year, I single-handedly preserve 100 pounds of tomatoes at the height of the season. I buy them from a local farmer and spend a week packing them in jars, moving them through my dehydrator, and cooking them in various ways to concentrate their sweetness and essential summer flavor.

When I first started this yearly preserving madness, my favorite way to condense the tomatoes was a slow-cooked Italian-style conserva. The finished product looked like grocery store tomato paste but tasted like pure sunny pleasure. That recipe’s one drawback was its need to be touched and tended regularly. I’d devote a weekend to a single batch, simmering, straining and finally cooking ten or fifteen pounds down to just two or three pints of brick-colored, tomato concentrate.

A few years ago, while I was working on my first cookbook, I found that I didn’t have the time or mental energy to make a product that needed to be stirred and smoothed every hour and went searching for a less intensive treatment. The winning technique was a long, slow roasted tomato. MORE

Cooking TM_CO_PESTO_FI_001

Basil, like most herbs, is at its peak during summer months. Growing up, my family had a basil plant in the backyard that would grow like crazy once summer rolled around. The best way, we found, to keep it under control was to pick the leaves and use them to make large batches of pesto.

My first memory of making pesto is in my kitchen at age 5, helping my mom make it to put into her family-famous white lasagna. After combining all the ingredients in a food processor, including handfuls of basil from our backyard, I was allowed to lick the bowl as if it were the beaters from mixing cake batter. I always loved making pesto at home, not only for the taste, but also because the whole house would smell like basil for the next several days. MORE

Issues TM_FC_DISHES_FI_001

Imagine yourself as a child, frolicking through your parents’ backyard and digging up worms. Your mother calls you in from the kitchen for dinner and you bound in through the back door, smelling the roast she’s been tending to for the past few hours. At the table your father sits reading the newspaper, your sister fidgeting with a bow in her hair. Before you is the same familiar spread: off-white plates, clear glasses, spotless silverware, uniform serving utensils, and of course, the butter dish. You think nothing of the materials off of which you shovel food into your mouth, moving as quickly as possible to resume your outdoor activities. For hours your mother slaved over the stove to prepare your meal, but that won’t cross your mind until present day when, as an adult, you prepare meals for yourself and maybe even your own children. Now is a time when you’ve come to understand the worth of quality Tupperware, the importance of a sturdy teakettle.

On display this summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an exhibition which allows you to take your newfound appreciation for kitchenware to another level. “The Main Dish” is composed of display cases plainly contrived so as to draw focus on the objects within them, like original Tupperware or decades old decanters. The arrangements evoke a strange feeling of appreciation for kitchenware as art, as many of the items are expertly crafted yet have obvious functionality. The show centers around the notion that the gadgets, cutlery, and dishware in today’s kitchens mirror the qualities of ideal homemakers: “polished, efficient, organized/contained, decorative/entertaining, and clean/tidy.” MORE