Category Archives: food as pleasure

Quince – Sweet Briar Herb Farm

Indeed, it has been quite a while since I’ve last posted.

My wife Kaitlyn and I recently moved out to Washington to work on an organic farm. I currently sit inside Olympia Coffee Roasters, enjoying the smells and atmosphere, and am excited to share the first in a series of videos Kaitlyn and I will be producing for our own enjoyment as well as the forthcoming Sweet Briar website.

This video is about a recent harvest of Quince, a hard, sour, tree-growing fall fruit that must be cooked in order to be edible.

Enjoy!

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Going Vegan?!

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I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I think that I may have been secretly intrigued by the vegetarian, or more ‘radically,’ the vegan diet for a long time. Whenever someone drops the word ‘vegan’ in particular, a cloud of mysticism-induced wonder passes over my eyes as I simultaneously venerate such a ‘radical’ lifestyle while wondering how the heck anyone could ever possibly live that way.

My brother has been a vegetarian for a few years now and has never passed up the opportunity to distribute subtle pejorative hints regarding America’s pervasive omnivorous diet. Or, let’s face it, carnivorous diet. My brother began cooking his own meals when I was still in high school and has eaten Tofurky for Thanksgiving the last few years. His involvement in vegetarianism always got me thinking more about adopting a similar diet, but I always had numerous ways to justify still eating meat:

1. I freaking love bacon.
2. I freaking love charcuterie.
3. The animal is already dead – If I don’t eat it, its life would have ended in vain.
4. Vegetarian food is not readily available in America.
5. Follow up to no. 4, I’m secretly just too lazy to put time into finding delicious vegetarian food.
6. What about going out to dinner with friends? What if the restaurant doesn’t have vegetarian options (or only a lame risotto)?
8. MY FAVOURITE FOOD IS SUSHI!

I am sure there are other reasons not to be vegetarian, but there are even more reasons not to be vegan:

1. chocolate.
2. cheese.
3.  ice cream.
4. cookies.
5. cake.
6. bagels with cream cheese.
7. gelato.
8. semifreddo.
9. basically any baked good.
10. And for good measure, think of anything that has milk or eggs in it and immediately rule it out of your diet.

So I imagine that given these numerous (and incredibly convincing) reasons to maintain my self-indulgent (though honestly sophisticated and finely-tuned) omnivorous diet one would be rather surprised to hear my official announcement that I have decided to adopt a vegan diet.

That’s right. I’m ‘going vegan.’

Now before you scream about ice cream, cookies, and sushi, I would like to make what I believe is a truly convincing attempt at justifying this decision.

I first considered extending my gastrocentric lifestyle to veganism a few days after I graduated college (around May 5 or 6). I had been working on my senior theological studies thesis project about theology of food and sacramental eating. A large part of my research investigated how ‘healthy’ eating habits (particularly eating locally-sourced, organic, and free-range foods) can help promote the development of healthy community between humans, nature, and God. However, destructive eating habits (particularly eating processed foods, cheaply produced foods, or anything produced by factory farms or agribusinesses) destroys community between humans, nature, and God. Eating is a fundamentally spiritual yet significantly socio-political exercise, so destructive eating destroys the overall well-being of people, animals, and all nature.

This got me thinking more about my diet. Since I started the project in August of 2012 I had been more conscious of what I was eating. My wife and I ditched Aldi and started buying more organic and fresh stuff from Woodman’s Market. I even decided to try eating only free-range organic meats.

At the same time my Bible and Theology friends Nate and Josiah along with their roommate Lukasz were considering vegetarianism/veganism as well, having come out of a recent Environmental Theology class.

Regrettably, this attempt was primarily in vain. Anywhere I ate meat I knew for sure it was not going to be local or free-range or organic.

So my research and problems with food sourcing were on my mind a whole heck of a lot. I was considering vegetarianism when my friend Kaia told me that dairy contributes to many negative health effects but primarily has quite negative implications for allergies. I did some more research and discovered that the milk protein Casein causes the body to create more allergen-trapping mucous while contributing to tissue inflammation. I decided then to cut dairy out of my diet because my seasonal allergies could be a helpful tool for the Spanish Inquisition’s torture strategies.

Well, if I am going to cut dairy out of my diet, to me it logically follows that this would be a great time to cut meat out as well.

A few days later my wife Kaitlyn and I moved in with Kaia and her husband Josh for a few weeks. Kaia is a vegan-leaning vegetarian, so staying at her house made the transition a bit easier. She also introduced Kaitlyn and I to a wonderful documentary called Forks over Knives that demonstrated the problems with eating animal products while describing how a plant-based, whole foods diet provides a quick solution to these meaty problems. It turns out humans weren’t really designed physiologically to process animal products. This biological aversion to meat has serious implications on human health, not to mention the environment. By eating a vegan diet, you can reduce your risk of cancer and actually reverse the effects of lots of different health problems (high blood pressure, cholesterol, digestive problems, energy problems, etc. You should just watch the doc – it’s on Netflix!)

I ate my last meat meal at a Chicago restaurant called The Purple Pig. I had been planning this restaurant-outing with my dad for a while and figured it would be a wonderful ‘Last Supper,’ so to speak. Purple Pig is famous and highly rated in Chicago, and it was fantastic. The charcuterie was fresh, the ingredients balanced, and everything was delicious and rich. Might as well eat the best possible if I’m not going back to it. Since I’ve been eating vegan, I honestly don’t really miss meat.

The bigger struggle for me is actually not eating dairy. I consider(ed) myself a connoisseur of fine chocolates and cheeses AND ICE CREAM!, but now I can’t really eat that stuff. Thankfully I’ve found alternatives to not only chocolate and cheese but desserts in general. Plus, it is really easy to keep making your favourite baking recipes but simply use coconut oil instead of butter and almond milk instead of milk. It actually tastes better and has an excellent texture. Plus, ’tis a lot healthier.

Anyway, I’ve been straight vegan for a good three weeks now. I still eat organic honey and organic cage-free eggs because neither ingredient is super bad for you and neither ingredient really destroys the livelihood of the creatures that produce them (including human workers and the environment). Thankfully I’ve been a cooking addict for the past four years. Kaitlyn and I have found some great vegetarian recipes since being married is closely associated with being poor. I find vegan cooking so much more interesting and exciting than cooking meat because it takes a different level of creativity, knowledge of flavours, and ingenuity to make a fun and delicious dish. Plus, I’m pretty sure seitan is the best thing ever. Unless you’re allergic to gluten, then sucks to be you 😉 If you love cooking, eating vegan is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be at first. Restaurants are also much more vegan friendly than you might expect. Overall, this a lifestyle change that I definitely do not regret making and will certainly stick with it indefinitely. Amen and amen.

Photo: black bean patty with spinach, sprouts, tomato, avocado, dijon mustard on a whole wheat bun. By Kaitlyn Newberry

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Eating Thai Chili

Here is my first ever ‘video blog’ for Foodinthesense. A while back I got some thai chili – one of my favourite peppers for flavour and seasoning – for making daily stir fry and other fun foodie randomness. So one fine day I took it upon myself to eat some raw. In strict accordance with the ancient Greek mindset of striving to experience all things at least once, I ate three.

And here is my dear brother’s loving video response:

All in good fun.

So go out and get some chili I guess. Good stuff.

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Genmaicha Soup

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I love Japanese food (especially sushi). The subtle, clean, simple, and light flavours present in most Japanese food can be tricky to balance and easily overpowered by a heavy-handed dose of seasoning.

I am also a connoisseur of teas. You might remember my post about one of my favourites, the Dan Cong Honey Orchid Oolong. However, my general favourite tea is Genmaicha because it is, like Japanese food, simple and clean, but maintains a slightly rich and comforting flavour. ‘Genmaicha’ translates to ‘poor man’s tea,’ wich is appropriate since I have not the funds to frequently access the Dan Cong Honey Orchid.

One of my favourite parts of the meal at a typical high-end Japanese sushi bar or steak house is the beginning. Its great to start the meal with delicious broth soup. You know, the one with the thinly sliced green onions and mushrooms floating in the rich, amber liquid. Sometimes you’ll find tofu or rice noodles as well.

Well, I decided that Genmaicha, a more savory variety of green tea (sencha green with toasted brown rice) might work very well as the broth base for a simple and delicious Japanese soup.

Here’s what I did:

INGREDIENTS
Vermicelli noodles
Brown or Arborio rice (I used Arborio)
Green Onions (Scallions)
Mushrooms
Green Tea
Salt to taste
(whoa! SO SIMPLE)

PROCESS
1.Slice thinly the green part of the scallions. Its up to you how much you want to use. More slices will add a richer flavour to the soup.
2. Slice thinly the mushrooms. I kept two thin slices as ‘garnish’ and chopped about half of the shroom.
3. Place uncooked vermicelli noodles in a personal bowl (if serving more people you can just get a bigger bowl and increase the amount of ingredients) with chopped shrooms.
4. Put about 3-5 tbsp (or more, depending on how much of the flavour you want; I recommend more so the delicious, nutty, toasted flavour is more prevalent in your soup) of your rice in a dry sauce pan. Toast until golden brown.
5. Add enough water to fill your bowl to the rice in the sauce pan. Boil for a bit to infuse flavour of toasted rice.
6. Stick a green tea bag (or an infuser with loose-leaf green tea – if you alread have Genmaicha skip the toasted rice step) in your bowl with the vermicelli and the chopped shrooms. Pour the boiling rice water over the noodles in the bowl. Immediately garnish with scallion and the shroom slices.
7. Add a decent amount of salt to taste – I think I used about a 1/3-1/2 tsp for my little bowl.
8. Let sit for a bit so the noodles can cook and absorb the flavour and so you don’t burn your face off when you try to eat it. Then sit down and have a snack AND afternoon tea at the same time!!!

I apologise for the inexact nature of this recipe. I was simply experimenting and came up with this without ever having made the original Japanese style soup recipe. Next time I am going to try it with some small fried tofu cubes.

This recipe is very simple, delicious, and takes little time to make. I recommend as an appetiser or as an afternoon snack, or even breakfast.

Enjoy!

 

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One Year, One Michelin Star, and Bacon Ice Cream

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My dad does a lot of work with professional chefs. I think my domestic situation inadvertently infused my personality with ‘foodieness,’ and my family is on a sort of ongoing deliciousness pilgrimage.

Chicago is a great food city. You can take a look at this year’s Michelin Guide if you don’t believe me. Graham Elliot has three restaurants and runs the Lollapalooza Chow Town. Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef and owner of The Girl and the Goat, is one of Graham’s neighbours in the West Loop area, also known as ‘Restaurant Row.’ And the ‘best restaurant in America,’ Chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea, can be found in the immoderate Lincoln Park area, near the Blue Man Group Briar Street Theatre, numerous indie hipster cafes, and trendy, rich young folk who thrift for style, not for budget.

Armed with these shiny, new preconceptions, you just might understand the following group of words a bit more effectively. As I said, my dad works with a lot of chefs. And, it logically follows that professional chefs know what to eat and where to eat it. Whenever my dad asked chefs where to eat in Chicago, the frequent answer was  “Longman&Eagle. You gotta eat there.”

Longman&Eagle. Never heard of it. All I hear about is Graham Elliot’s progressively commercialistic ventures (and controversy within) and Grant Achatz. It’s always Grant Achatz, and there’s really nothing wrong with that except, unlike myself, the only people who can afford his restaurants are oil Sheikhs and God. But within the contemporary culinary trends, the Gastropub – like Girl and the Goat and Longman&Eagle – is quickly subverting the legendary Ferran Adria’s widespread molecular gastronomic influences in prixe fixe avante garde tasting menu style restaurants. And subverting prixe fixe itself.

After visiting Longman&Eagle’s website, I was instantly intrigued. My interest became a mild obsession, and when I discovered that Longman&Eagle was also an inn, ‘nestled within a bustling metropolitan neighbourhood,’ my wife Kaitlyn and I instantly knew where we were going to spend our one year anniversary.

We’ve been planning a trip to the city for our anniversary even before we were married. We initially wanted to try Girl and the Goat (and take cooking lessons at their new location across the street, ‘Little Goat’), but when we found out that Longman&Eagle has an inn and a Michelin star, our fickle sympathies quickly shifted to settle on the latter.

We were a bit disgruntled when we entered the restaurant. It was a lazy, rainy Tuesday afternoon and the place was scattered with individuals who might have been ex-biker gangsters turned hipster. Or perhaps ex-hipsters turned biker gangster. We were greeted by a woman who looked like Trinity from the Matrix Trilogy dressed in selections from Antropologie. Our room wasn’t ready, so we wandered around the Logan Square neighbourhood for a bit, then returned to check in.

When one transects the inn’s glass entrance, he or she is immediately greeted by a beautiful wood and iron staircase enfleshed with glass, steel, and exposed brick. We meandered on natural wood floors down a clean hallway, past a massive ‘artwork’ that proclaimed “Help Wanted – No Hippies,” and stopped in front of the number 13 painted rustically on a burgundy door.

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In the hotel guidebook, the innkeepers recommend that no more than two individuals stay in each room, and that these two individuals must be on very intimate terms. The innkeepers are quite right. The room was indeed miniscule, but its stature was exactly what we were looking for. It was decorated fairly minimalistically; one wall presented a stained wood facade that served as the bed headboard. It flowed seamlessly into the mini-bar on the next wall, from which protruded a natural, rustic wood table. Apon this table sat a wonderful literary magazine, a set of earplugs that proclaimed in print, ‘Non-alcoholic sleep aid,’ two handmade tokens for free whiskey, and a fisher-price tape player accompanied by three Longman&Eagle Mix-Tapes. There was not a separate bathroom; the toilet was in the shower area and the sink was against the bed’s opposing wall. Netflix and iTunes were included in the room stay.

We took some photos, got dressed up for dinner. It was, after all, our one-year. Then we descended the stair, hurried, shivering in the Chicago wind, around the outside of the building because the inn and the restaurant had separate entrances, and entered the dining area. The place was full, but not packed yet since it was only 6:00pm. This would change within the half-hour; a line extended around the corner by 7:00. The rustic gastropub interior was transformed into an energetic sanctum for nightlife, bathed in the low light of candles and ceiling pieces that may have been salvaged from an old, condemned factory.

A very excited waitress handed us our menus. I immediately ordered a Brazillian Sweet Mate and our palates were greeted with an amuse bouche of apple puree, almond, and caviar. The apple was savory and had enough richness to complement the caviar without being overpowered.

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We started with the Pretzel and Welsh Rarebit. The pretzel was homemade, crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside, and coated with large flakes of salt. It paired perfectly with the cheesy Welsh Rarebit sauce; It was basically a classy, Michelin star version of the Pretzel and Cheese carnival classic.

We ordered two plates from the small plate menu: Crispy Slagel Farm Pigtail, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Apple, Sweet Potato, Chickpea Porridge, Cascade Hops for $12 and Nantucket Bay Scallops, Oxtail Cannelloni, Sunchoke Puree, Tempura Preserved Lemon, Black Truffle Vinaigrette for $18. Both dishes were wonderful, but the Pigtail made quite the impact.

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All the usable meat had been extracted from the pig tail, stuffed into a natural casing, breaded, and deep fried. The chickpea, hops, and apple all had very distinct and predominant flavours on their own – sweet, tart, salty – and when brought together with the pigtail and cubes of sweet potato, Kaitlyn and I agreed that it was one of the most dynamic dishes we’ve ever tasted. No flavour dominated the others but rather blended  with and supported the others perfectly.

The Scallops themselves were excellent. Bay scallops are considerably smaller than conventional scallops, sweeter, and astonishingly tender. The dish itself was not as cohesive as the Pigtail. When the scallop, cannelloni (shredded oxtail meat wrapped in a sheet of thin pasta) sauces, and lemon were consumed together, the flavours were nice albeit incoherent. One would be better suited to eat the scallops on their own whilst pairing the sauces with the cannelloni.

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We ordered two desserts. The first was a Terrine of Heirloom Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Salted Peanuts, Espresso, Translucent Caramel, Brown Butter Chestnut Financier, Chestnut Maple Coulis, Salted Peanut Brittle. The interesting and eloquent description raised great expectations for a mindblowing flavour overloard, but the dish did not live up to its name. The combination of peanut with espresso was the most interesting element of the dish. The Ganache was nothing particularly special, in fact, I am quite confident that I have made a more delicious ganache in my own kitchen. It wasn’t a terrible or ill-conceived dessert, but at a Michelin star restaurant I suppose I expected it to taste as good as it sounded. I do concede – it was indeed beautiful.

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In my opinion, the star of the meal was the second dessert: Fried Apple Pie, Caramelised Cheddar, Rosemary, and Bacon Ice Cream. Your eyes hath not deceived you: verily, I say, Bacon Ice Cream. My mind was satisfactorily blown when I ate this dessert. All elements of the dish must be eaten together in equal parts. Otherwise, the strong rosemary flavour overpowers and creates a more savory flavour experience. The bacon ice cream was sweet but had a miraculous smokey flavour. When eaten with the apple pie, the flavours became immaculately balanced. My palate had never experienced anything like it and I am quite sure my brain was initially unable to process this new and exciting combination of synapses. I felt like I was eating the ethos of a log cabin in the middle of the woods. The experience was so foreign that I can describe it no other way.

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We had a fitful night sleep. My head hit the pillow with lingering thoughts of bacon ice cream and mild, weary excitement for morning, because morning means breakfast…

We checked out, packed our car, and headed to the restaurant to order some Michelin star quality fast-breaking cuisine. Always intrigued by the sweet/salty paradigm, I ordered the Fried Chicken, Waffles, Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash, Maple Syrup. The waffle was, well, a waffle. The Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash was fantastic. But then again, how is Pork Belly ever NOT FANTASTIC? ‘Tis the meat of gods. I’ve been to the south and eaten soul food, but not even soul brothers could make fried chicken as soulful as that of Longman&Eagle. Rosemary was present again in the light and crispy batter that encased moist and flavourful meat. Pour some syrup on it all and BOOM: dynamic synthesis.

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Kaitlyn ordered the Cinnamon Spiced Brioche French Toast, Citrus Butter, Maple Syrup, Praline Pecans. It was large and impossible to fully consume. Based on description alone, one might assume this dish is incredibly sweet and one dimensional. The opposite is true. The dish was light and carried lots of subtle, nuanced flavours, elegant yet rustic, and suitable for nearly any demographic.

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I was not at all sad to leave Longman&Eagle at the outset of our culinary adventure. My excitement over how delicious everything tasted (and that we had celebrated our first anniversary!) quelled any sense of departure-related melancholy. I am not necessarily a chef, but I can definitely attest that Longman&Eagle is the place to eat in Chicago if you want Michelin quality food without the pretense of traditional, old school French Haute-Cuisine and the astronomical prices that accompany such eating venues.

Words by Cooper Flatoff
Images by Kaitlyn Newberry

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Tea and Other Beverages

Greetings dear reader(s).

I must begin with a formal apology. It has been literally months since my last post, and I admit, I’ve been selling out to another blog. That’s right, I’m actually getting paid to ramble on with my incoherent musings about life, theology, and food. Excellent gig if you can get it.

Well, I believe it is time to return home.

Let’s get right into it. I would like to tell you about the most wonderful tea I’ve tasted to date.

Photo on 2012-10-24 at 18.36

Here is a rather poor quality photograph of me sitting at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters in downtown Chicago. I try to come here whenever downtown (which is not often since the Metra increased the weekend pass price from $5 to $7) and I am quite fond of Intelligentsia’s teas as well as their perfect espresso.

Every time I ordered tea in the past at Intelligentsia I would peruse the menu and choose a selection that both sounded tasty and was kind on the pocketbook. Each time, however, my eyes would linger on one selection listed under the Oolong category: the Honey Orchid Dan Cong. At $180/lb, this tea does not mess around. And it was time for me to stop messing around and buy a dang pot before God forbid I meet an early end, full of regret that I never tasted this miraculous tea.

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Here’s a closeup of these precious leaves.

Oolong is one of my favourite tea varieties and – ironically in light of my previous comment about dying early – when I took the first sip I was in heaven. The baristas at Intelligentsia are also experts of tea infusion and this cuppa was perfectly balanced. There was quite literally nothing wrong with it – not too bitter, huge flavour, no residual water taste. Absolutely perfect. The tea has robust yet light and crisp honey and orchid flavours accompanied with a traditional light Oolong flavour. Interestingly enough, the flavours originate purely from the way the tea is cultivated. It is considered a high altitude mountain tea because it is grown at 1000 metres above sea level. No flavours, oils, etc. are added to the leaves prior to infusion.

I wonder if it would be possible to use this tea to make my other favourite beverage, KOMBUCHA!

I don’t think I would want to try for fear of wasting it.

However, this is a nice seque into part two of this long-winded post: Kombucha.

Kombucha is an ancient chinese fermented tea beverage not to be confused with japanese Kombu, a tea drink made from seaweed. Kombucha is actually a pretty trendy drink nowadays, and many people associate Kombucha with hipsters, but seriously, it’s been around for thousands and thousands of years. Its about the least avant garde/progressive thing out there, right after fireworks and the wheel. Kombucha is also insanely healthy and was initially used by the ancients to treat a variety of illnesses. Not to mention, it’s delicious!

So what exactly is Kombucha, you ask. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage and considered a raw food because billions of living microorganisms populate one 16 oz. glass. In order to make it, one must first grow or obtain a SCOBY, or a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sometimes called a ‘mushroom,’ because that’s what it looks like, it is comprised of acetobacters and a few varieties of yeast. The bacteria and yeast work together in the colony consuming sugars and caffeine to ferment the tea (no worries – kombucha is non-alcoholic because the bacteria eats any alcohol produced by the yeast – perfectly legal for Judson, I promise! I wouldn’t be making it in my room if it was against policy). Many wonderful acids and vitamins are produced in the process including glucaric acid, which actually helps your liver function more efficiently. Glucaric acid also combats strong toxins, and people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer should not drink Kombucha because it will fight off the treatment! WHOA! Drinking Kombucha is great for detoxification and it is said that drinking lots of Kombucha over time can actually help prevent cancer.

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Okay, maybe the whole bacteria and yeast thing freaked you out a bit, but you gotta admit, the cancer prevention and increased liver functionality sounds pretty attractive. And the best part is, you can make as much as you want for free. And better yet, I can show you how. (These instructions begin with growing your own scoby. If you already have a scoby you can skip to the middle).

Alright. Here’s how to do it. But before you attempt, try some kombucha to see if you like it. Also, remember that sanitation is KEY in making kombucha. Even the smallest particles or oils can contaminate or increase the possibility of mould to grow in your kombucha. My instructions include very strict cleanliness guidelines that should be adamantly adhered to.

PREPARATION:

-Obtain a 1 gallon glass jar.
-Obtain 100% organic black or green tea. DO NOT USE ANY TEA THAT HAS ANY ADDED FLAVOURS OR HERBS – ONLY USE TEA LEAVES! Failure to use only 100% organic tea leaves could result in moulding or contamination, which is dangerous. I’m currently using TAZO organic darjeeling black tea.
-Obtain a bottle of organic raw kombucha. I use GT’s kombucha (but if I were back in Austin I’d totally hit up Buddha’s Brew!) Once again, make sure that you buy only the organic raw – any added flavours will cause contamination or risk mould.
-Obtain some sugar (you’ll need between 2-3 cups)

DIRECTIONS: Growing the Scoby

1. Sterilise your hands with vinegar. Do not use soap. Only use clean paper towel to dry your hands.
2. Sterilise the glass jar with vinegar. Rinse well but don’t let anything touch the inside of the container except the kombucha (below)
3. Sterilise a wooden or plastic mixing tool with vinegar. Again, rinse well but avoid contact anything. Shake excess water off but do not dry with a towel or anything.
4. Pour the entire bottle of organic raw kombucha into the jar. Try to get the strands of yeast in there also, they will help facilitate growth.
5. Pour about 1/4 cup of sugar into the kombucha and stir until dissolved. If you would like a sweeter kombucha you can add more. Sugar not only flavours the beverage but helps facilitate growth.
6. Cover the open jar with a clean, breathable cloth and fasten with a rubber band.
7. Wait about a week, maybe more. A scoby will grown on the surface of the liquid.

DIRECTIONS: Brewing the Kombucha

1. Once again, sterilise your hands with vinegar and very hot water. Some discomfort might be necessary, but it’s all for the art.
2. Find a glass jar or bowl and sterilise it with vinegar and very hot water as well. Rinse with cold water to cool down the container (temperatures over 75-80 degrees will kill the microorganisms essential to making kombucha). Once again be careful not to let anything touch the interiour of the container. Shake excess water off but do not dry with a towel or anything.
3. Transfer the scoby and the liquid in which it grew over to the glass container or bowl. Immediately cover with a cloth but don’t let the cloth touch the surface of the liquid. The liquid will serve as a starter for your kombucha.
4. Sterilise the now empty glass jar (in which the scoby grew) with vinegar and rinse. Shake off excess water but do not wipe dry.
5. Boil about 3/4 gallon of water.
6. Pour the boiled water into the empty glass gallon jar.
7. Brew some tea in the water – I use two tea bags. If using loose leaf tea you can use between 1-1.5 tbsp, more if you like a stronger tea flavour. Keep in mind that black tea will become bitter quickly if over-infused.
8. Once the tea has sufficiently steeped, remove the bags. Mix in between 1-2 cups of sugar and dissolve. You can use a wooden or ceramic stick (like a chopstick) to mix in the sugar. Never let metal touch any part of the scoby, brewed tea, or kombucha starter liquid during this process! So don’t use a metal spoon to stir!
9. Let the brewed sweetened tea cool. Remember, if the tea is above 75 degrees, you can risk killing the essential acetobactors and yeasts that ferment this marvelous beverage.
10. Once the tea is cooled, once again sterilise your hands with hot water/vinegar and shake off excess water. You know the drill. Pour the liquid in which your scoby grew into the brewed tea until the jar is full. Carefully transfer the scoby to the jar as well, making sure that it doesn’t flip upside down in the jar. The scoby will initially sink to the bottom, but as the tea ferments CO2 will be released creating carbonation and floating the scoby to the top of the tea.
11. Cover with the cloth and fasten with the rubber band.
12. WAIT. A week to a week and a half should do the trick. If you like a stronger more acidic brew, wait longer. If you want to test your kombucha, stick a clean plastic straw underneath the scoby and have a sip.
13. When your kombucha is ready, transfer the scoby and some of the kombucha to another clean class jar/bowl. Pour the finished kombucha into a sterilised (with vinegar and hot water!) jar and you’re all set to enjoy!

If you want to infuse flavours or create a more fizzy brew, you can seal the brewed kombucha in an air-tight container with fruit juices or other herbal tea flavours. Be careful, however, because these can explode.

There. I’ve shared my knowledge with you all. I hope you can go buy some of the aforementioned Dan Cong tea and please have a go at making kombucha! It’s a blast (and addicting) and the health benefits are miraculous. Good day to you all.

Book Review of NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine

I must admit, it greatly pains me that this is simply a review for the NOMA cookbook, not the restaurant itself. However, if you deem yourself a loyal reader, your loyalty may someday pay off. Your dreams of reading a NOMA restaurant review, authored eloquently by myself, may come to fruition – that is, if I ever get a full time job aside from teaching students Biblical exegesis and writing for a university blog. Perhaps one day, my dreams of eating at NOMA will come to fruition as well, and perhaps my fantasy will continue to transform from only metaphysical, transcendent spiritual musings to cold, hard reality, and that aforementioned full-time job I seek will manifest in employment at NOMA.

But until then, let’s keep it simple, shall we?

I must begin by stating that the word ‘cookbook’ is grotesquely insufficient when ascribed to this…. this, whatever it is, this ingenius and mindblowingly incredible publication of Chef Rene Redzepi’s paramount creations. Indeed, it is a book, but only Jesus or Redzepi himself are capable of recreating the recipes within (and Jesus only because he can perform miracles supernaturally, with the Creator God on his side; Redzepi has to do it on his own).

The book opens with a scrumptious essay from artist Olaffur Eliasson. I posted the closing paragraph to his essay, and you are invited and encouraged to read it by clicking on this word here. This essay establishes the concept behind the book, the idea of time and place in the cultural and sociological context of Danish cuisine. Redzepi attempts to preserve the suchness of his ingredients, and even replicates their appearance in nature with his own brilliant gastronomic adaptation. One such dish is entitled “Blueberries surrounded by their natural habitat” or something of the like; another is the vegetable field made of carrot and other root vegetable tops planted in dirt of hazelnut ashes and some sort of dehydrated mead and flour concoction. Essentially, Redzepi wants his beautiful dishes to represent that time and place within the very specific cultural context from which his cuisine and recipes are bourne.

Next, after Olaffur’s eloquent introduction, you will find a story on the origins of NOMA as well as all the journal entries kept by Redzepi during his pilgrimage across the nordic countries in search of the perfect ingredients. Next the reader will feast their opticals on a vast array of beautifully photographed dishes, ingredients, and farmers who supply ingredients to NOMA. This section encompasses about a third of the book. Each page displays a new and different ingredient or artfully plated dish. This layout has its benefits and drawbacks. First, its nice to have an entire page dedicated to the beautiful plates of food. However, if one desires to know what is in the dish, or even what it is entitled, one must flip to the back of the book in a section entitled “The Weather Recipes” and read about it there. Each dish has a corresponding page. I found myself flipping back and forth for a few hours, looking at the edible art and then attempting to understand the incredibly out of reach techniques and ingredients that Redzepi uses for each dish.

Most of the ingredients are impossible to obtain unless you live in Denmark, and even then, it takes a culinary superpower like Rene to find the correct ones. Additionally, one must have a large sum of cash he or she is willing to spend on incredibly high-tech kitchen appliances, such as a thermomixer and pacojet ice cream machine.

Nonetheless, I learned a thing or two about cuisine, and a thing or two about how little I know about cuisine. This book redefined ‘recipes’ for me and definitely displays an entire world of food that no one can touch and that no one has done in the past. Also, the idea of a concept driven restaurante, and microscopically, concept driven dishes, is so new to cuisine that all others in the genre are deemed ‘postmodern.’ I know many restaurants on Pellegrino’s Top 50 list are indeed driven by concept, but NOMA’s is nothing like the others.

I think Rene Redzepi might be a little crazy. But crazy in a good way, crazy in a way that drives him to invent and develop new techniques and flavours that existed all along but no one knew or cared enough to extract them. After all, the fine line between genius and insanity is determined by one’s level of success. And Rene Redzepi is indeed a genius. NOMA has won the award for best restaurant in the world, three years in a row.

Go to the library and pick up this book. If you have 40 dollars laying around, buy it. It is worth the investment for any foodie and aspiring gastronomician. It may inspire you to go to culinary school, and one day, after years of experience (and working in Adria’s kitchen), you can open a restaurant in the genre of NOMA yourself. And I’ll write a review of your cookbook telling the world how truly great you really are.

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The Many Faces of BREAKFAST

Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t love breakfast?

Dishonourably, not long ago, my answer to this question would be “I. I do not love breakfast.”

Yes, yes, I admit it. And I am prepared to receive all necessary shuns and ostracism. But really, I’m not a morning person, and cereal, though oftentimes delicious, is not what I’m about to blog about.

No, I shall blog about something much, much more interesting, beautiful, and unexpected. Well, unless you’re an avid breakfastarian. But the diverse possibilities and variations on breakfast remained unknown to me before my eating adventures of summer 2012.

This past summer I had the opportunity to live and work in Lake Geneva with my wife Kaitlyn. While we were there, we decided to pursue our food blogging and photography passion and try a new Lake Geneva restaurant each weekend. We ate at Tuscan Tavern and Grill, Next Door Pub, Tempura House, Simple, Yogeeze, Lake Geneva Creperie, Popeyes, Egg Harbour, Sopra, Boatyard Bagel, and Baker House, to name a few. For my review of Baker House, click here.

At two of these restaurants, Simple and Egg Harbour Cafe, I truly learned how to breakfast. I have always been a fan of Eggs Benedict and would consider it my favourite breakfast dish. Simple, refined, and loaded with hearty flavours. I had the Farmer’s Benedict during my first Egg Harbour visit, and it was a very fresh and tasty vegetarian take on my old favourite. However, my mind was truly blown during my second Egg Harbour visit.

I looked at the menu and decided to order some pumpkin pancakes (which were indeed delicious). But I didn’t order them. I happened to see, out of the corner of my eye, a small seasonal menu at the corner of the table. But I did a double take; I thought for sure I saw the words RED VELVET on top. Yes, I did! I looked closer. I grabbed the menu and stared in awe at the words that followed: FRENCH TOAST. RED VELVET FRENCH TOAST!

I typically shy away from bread soaked in a fatty (albeit delicious) batter and fried, particularly for breakfast. I have a sensitive stomach that hates me forever, at least for a few hours, if I eat anything dramatic in the morning. Or almost anything at all. But I do love fried battered bread after 10:00, and I had been up for a good six hours or so before I went to Egg Harbour for lunch. So I took a risk and ordered it.

In a few words, it changed my life. It changed my perspective on breakfast, and really emphasised that comedy routine about how its acceptable to eat cake for breakfast but unacceptable at any other time. Nevermind the cream cheese frosting inside.

My next formational breakfast experience took place at Simple. Simple is ranked very highly for Lake Geneva, and though I’ve eaten there three times, the restaurant lived up to this high ranking only on my third visit. I ordered the Korean BBQ Breakfast Bowl: brown rice in Korean BBQ sauce with a plethora of fresh garden veggies and BBQ Korean pork, served with a fried egg on top.

This dish also changed my breakfastology, though a stark contrast from the mind-numbing extravagance of the Red Velvet French Toast. But that was what was so amazing about it. After eating these two dishes within a week of each other, I was truly enlightened about the possibilities of breakfast. It can literally take the form of anything you want. Do you awake with the desire for ice cream? No problem. Deep fry some dough, drop some fresh berries and ice cream on there, and BOOM BELGIAN WAFFLE. Oh, wait. I’d rather just eat left over Chinese food from last night. Or, better, yet, I got a pound of sushi grade hamachi in the walk-in, lets just make some makimono. Throw a fried egg on top and BOOM ASIAN BREAKFAST.

I hope you get my point. The possibilities are endless. If you don’t, well, go back to cereal.

So, in a fit of inspiration, I went home and made this:

Inspired by a meal my wife had at Simple at the beginning of the summer, what you behold with your opticals is a breakfast ‘taco’ comprised of eggs scrambled with sweet vidalia onions topped with apples sauteed in butter and brown sugar, zucchini, parsley, and a little parmesan cheese. The combination of sweet, fresh, crispy, sour, and acidic was profound. I did it! I made a cool breakfast! And I had it for lunch! And a year ago I would have opted for a sandwich made by my Jewish friends over at Carnegie Deli. Nothing wrong with that.

The point I’m trying to make here is this: No matter how much you hate waking up in the morning, breakfast definitely can be worth the pain.

Photo Credits: Red Velvet French Toast photo credited to TripAdvisor, Asian Bowl Breakfast photo by my wife Kaitlyn Newberry, and I dabbled in the food photography world and took the last photo. My food, my photo.

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Campus Cooking

There comes a time each fall when students all over America rue the day they were conceived (and rue the fact that they thought of their conception). As do the bus drivers. But thankfully, the back-to-school rush is nothing but utter pleasure for the dedicated, intellectually starving eccentric types such as myself who enjoy gorging our grey matter with wonderful information that will most assuredly escape our brains in a few months.

Enough with the self-indulgent introduction – time for the food. My wife Kaitlyn and I have been comfortably settled in our on-campus apartment for less than a week, but the flames are bright and the boiling hot tempura oil is flying (into my face) in the kitchen. Yes, the oil was a bit hot; yes, it exploded, spraying bajillion-degree olive oil into my face; yes, I cussed out the tempura. But then I ate it aggressively and maliciously, which made me feel quite happy, inside and out.

Anyway, I figured I would share some of my recent kitchen exploits from the past three days. Here’s some homemade mac and cheese I casually threw together (note the sarcasm here). I wasn’t super excited about the recipe since the 2 cups of heavy cream that was essentially the sauce caused the dish to maintain a very dense and heavy feel (particularly for early fall). Plus, I used sharp cheddar instead of the requested aged gouda. However, it was creamy and had a tasty albiet rich flavour. Garnished with a little parmesan cracker thing I baked in the oven, fried onions, and basil from our window herb garden (visible in the background).

I also tried my hand at creating risotto for the first time. I resolved to learn this classic, fundamental dish after watching Masterchef contestants flounder during a risotto challange earlier this season. I made my risotto with vegetable stock, arborio rice, olive oil, butter, onion, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper, and a bit of parsley to garnish. I don’t have any photos of that because we ate it all without taking a picture. Plus, it was dark. No natural light = no food photography.

I previously mentioned my tempura attempt, and this is something I should address in full. I have previously created this delicious Japanese dish of fried fresh vegetables (in this case zucchini and onion), but this time I was limited by a small fondue pot and minimal amounts of olive oil. Yes, you’re probably thinking, “This dude displays ludicrous inferiority in the realm of tempura fabrication – who makes tempura in a fondue pot?” and I completely agree with your musings. For my batter I used 1 cup of flour and 7 oz of Pellegrino sparkling water. However, I am beginning to realise that Pellegrino may not contain enough CO2 for a light and crispy batter, so I recommend purchasing some super sparkly seltzer if you want to make a light and crispy tempura.

So that’s all. I just wanted to do a quick post (since it’s been five thousand years since my last one) and show off Kaitlyn’s food photography (once again, click HERE to see more of her work). Happy eating, and for all you college and grad students out there, I promise you’ll get a job someday. The economy isn’t as bad as they say 😉

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The Cafe Lifestyle

Today, the entire cafe experience has transcended a physical four-walls-and-a-ceiling space where people enjoy hot and cold (and significantly expensive) beverages and loiter for annoyingly long periods of time. It has traveled beyond the quick morning cafe pick-me-up (which is what 5-Hour Energy and gas stations are for anyway). It has become a marketing ploy used by McDonalds (McCafe sound familiar?), Starbucks, and trendy fair-trade suppliers. Most importantly, it has become a lifestyle.

Forgive me, I mispoke. The cafe experience has always been a lifestyle until it was capitalised apon by said Starbucks and McDonalds. But before all this corporate money mongerers stole the cafe identity, it came from somewhere original, unique, avant-garde, creative, and it came from people who lived and breathed coffee and tea and dedicated their entire lives to pull one great espresso. True, most of these aficionados hailed from France or Italy (or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter) but something can be said about the classic cafes within American borders which chains like Starbucks strive so hard to imitate. There really is something about those indie, hipster-riddled cafes stocked with beans who’s names no one can pronounce. Everyone recognises it, everyone can feel and see it, but it is so intangible that no one can really put a definition on it or truly capture its essence.

I love coffee and tea. I always have. Now, I must state a disclaimer: in light of my previous anti-Starbucks comments, I must admit that Starbucks’ anniversary blend of aged sumatra beans is what originally got me hooked on coffee. Thankfully, since then, through the help of numerous cafe’s and my coffee-geek of a brother, I’ve been able to expand my coffee palate and have regrettably become a coffee snob. I find it impossible to drink anything that hasn’t been prepared with a pour-over, french press, or, my favourite, coffee syphon. Therefore, in homage to the world of truly great cups of coffee and tea, I shall share with you some of my favourite cafes in America that truly embody this intangible coffee house lifestyle and experience. Cafe’s are listed in no particular order – all are equally amazing and unique.

1. Paradigm Coffee and Music – Sheboygan, WI – Though Paradigm does not offer pour-overs or syphon brews, Paradigm provides, to me, the epitome of the cafe experience. The place is decorated with dozens of unique bicycles and stocked with random, beautifully mismatched furniture. In the back of the cafe you’ll find Sheboygan’s first co-op, Goodside Grocery, run by nature child volunteers. Paradigm carries Rishi tea and Alterra coffee, as well as cafe sandwiches and snacks.

2. Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters – Chicago, IL – I am convinced that Intelligentsia offers the best cup of coffee you will discover in the continental United States. The cafe specialises in pour overs, syphons, and the aforementioned beans with unpronounceable names. The place is very chill, very cool, and more refined and sparse than most cafes. They also carry their own brand of tea, including a $7.oo oolong.

3. Metropolis Coffee Roasters – Chicago, IL – I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago and Metropolis is one of my favourite spots. I prefer the chaotic and artsy atmosphere to Intelligentsia’s more austere interior, and the coffee is nearly just as good.

5. Kickstand – Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL – Kickstand is a tiny hole-in-the-wall near the Blue Man Group Briar St. Theatre in Lincoln Park. They feature Metropolis Coffee and I enjoyed a beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a bean my brother got me hooked on.

6. Alterra on the Lake – Milwaukee, WI – Built into a beautiful old house and positioned directly across from Lake Michigan, Alterra naturally features Alterra coffee and teas. Alterra is, in my opinion, one of the best roasters around and their tea selection is unique and delicious.

7. Spiderhouse – Austin, TX – My wife Kaitlyn is from Austin and introduced me to this place. I have to say that Spiderhouse is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in my entire life. Everyone there is so cool, I feel like the lame nerd with coke-bottle lenses and headgear when I step in – but a frequenter of Spiderhouse could make even that look cool. Spiderhouse carries a very simple beverage menu that highlights espresso and Yerba Mate, one of my favourite teas (other than Genmaicha). They also carry Kombucha on tap.

8. Kavarna – Green Bay, WI – I would never expect to find a hipster haven in Green Bay. Conveniently enough, I didn’t have to. My brother discovered this place and introduced it to my family. Kavarna features a vegetarian menu and a very diverse drink menu.

9. Gallery Espresso – Savannah, GA – Savannah is the most artsy city in the south, and the cafes are no exception. Gallery Espresso carries one of the most diverse tea selections I’ve ever seen in a cafe – its almost like stepping into a Teavana, but less commercialised and overmarketed and more unique and archetypal. Espresso beverages are decent also, but I would recommend stopping by and trying one of their literally hundreds of tea varieties.

10. The Sentient Bean – Savannah, GA – This place is amazing. I visited this cafe a number of times during my trip to Savannah, and once attended a showing of the film “The Day of the Triffids,” sponsored by the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. It is also the number one ranked independent film venue in Savannah. Great outdoor area, very quirky interior and staff, delicious bakery and cafe snacks, and an interesting beverages.

So there you go. I regret that my list does not include more diverse locations, but at the moment my travel budget is quite minimal. I’ll continue to update this list as I taste and experience.

My brother roasts and sells coffee beans and it would be great if you would check out his website here.

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