Category Archives: Food, Thought, Philosophy

One Year (plus a few days)

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I realised a few days late that I’ve been working on this blog for a year and nearly six days. When I started this blog I simply intended to write about the experience of eating and the communal implications that accompany the meal. After finishing my Theology degree with a nine month long project on the theology of food and eating, the communal meal has become so much more than a bite to eat with friends or, as incredible as it is, a time to build relationships with others. The ethos of the communal meal, and I mean a community that extends beyond the immediate table members as well and particularly, has become a way of life for me that is ever expanding, holistic, and encompasses all areas of life.

I have eaten at many delicious restaurants this year, cooked many incredible foods, made lots of culinary mistakes and many successes as well. I’ve gone vegan, decided to pursue the tiny house lifestyle with Kaitlyn, and have set many goals for ourselves that emphasise a communal bonding that, for me personally, simply started at the table.

Thinking before you chew can be quite the dangerous exercise.

Thanks to anyone who actually read this blog this year! It is greatly appreciated. More posts soon to come!

~Cooper

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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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Communio Sanctorum: The Theology of Food

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Hello everyone. It is my distinct pleasure to announce that my senior research project, the culmination of my four years of higher education, is complete. I started this blog almost a year ago with the intent to write not only about my adventures with food, experiments with recipes, and the overall wonder that cuisine incites in me, but also to describe the theological, philosophical, and spiritual implications of eating. I began my research project with the desire to write about “the Theology of Food” in relationship to the church sacrament of the Eucharist (or the Last Supper). Over the course of nearly nine months of work it evolved into an intensive study on sacramental eating, church practise, and agrarianism.

It is therefore my distinct honour to present to you for your intellectual pleasure my theological studies thesis dissertation entitled “Communio Sanctorum: Sacramental Eating for the Body of Christ in an Industrial Age.” In this dissertation I place theologians Norman Wirzba and John Howard Yoder in dialoge to assert that churches must adopt ‘sacramental’ eating habits in order to embody the mission established by Jesus in his exemplary life.

Note: this is quite long. If you like reading long stuff, eat this up. But if not, don’t start reading it. Also, ©2013 Cooper Flatoff. Yeah. You’ve been warned. One more thing: special thanks to Norman Wirzba (who actually emailed me!) and, rest his soul, John Howard Yoder. You guys wrock theology hardcore.

Here we go.

ATTENTION: I HAVE REMOVED THE CONTENT OF MY PAPER FROM THE INTERNET DUE TO MY OWN PARANOIA THAT SOMEONE IS GOING TO JACK IT AND COME UP WITH A BETTER IDEA, THEREBY BEING EVIL. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ IT, PLEASE VISIT THE CONTACT PAGE AND SEND ME AN EMAIL. THANKS!

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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.

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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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Food is just so commonplace. Everyone eats, everyone has an opinion about food. But taste is not exclusively a matter of individual perception, and food is never ‘just food.’ Whether we like it or not, what we eat affects how the world looks. And that affects the way we understand it. When we look at a plate of food, we should see the greater ecosystem too. If we find out where the food comes from and where it goes to, maybe this knowledge can be made into a kind of flavour-enhancer. It matters whether the potatoes came from New Zealand or from the Lammefjord area of Denmark, and I can see great potential in not dividing knowledge and flavour (just as in art, we should not separate form and content.) They can be part of one and the same food experience. In the same way , cooking and eating and taste are assocaited with many other things. Food can be political. Food can be about responsibility, sustainability, geography and culture.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Rene Redzepi’s NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (review soon to come). As I read the introduction by artist Olafur Eliasson, I was amazed when I discovered that his essay, and particularly this quote (if not the entire message of the ‘cookbook’), essentially summed up the concept of my blog. I’m glad we agree, Olafur and Rene.

A Word from Olafur Eliasson

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Lollapalooza

Once a year in downtown Chicago, thousands of businessmen and women get incredibly frustrated. That’s right, a generous portion of roads and streets used by commuters in cabs, busses, and Mercedes are blocked off so a bunch of scene kids and hipsters can tear up the grass in Grant Park – but tearing up the grass to some of today’s best independent artists. If you have not already guessed from the title of this post, I am speaking (or rather clicking away at my keyboard in a Caribou in Lake Geneva) about the sensory overload known as Lollapalooza.

Thankfully, other than the senses of hearing (usually really delicious audibles, unless you’re near the stage known as Perry’s) and smell (typically unpleasant unless you’re near Chow Town or Green Street, where the scent of freshly-juiced wheat grass is particularly potent), the sense of taste is gloriously highlighted in a beateous realm know as Chow Town. Divided into two parts, Chow Town North and Chow Town South, Chow Town features a diverse taste of some of Chicago’s best restaurants disguised in skins of metal and tarp in a typical county-fair-esque row of food stalls. Chow Town is organised and arranged by famed Chicago chef Graham Elliot, owner of Graham Elliot Restaurant, Grahamwich, and g.e.b., a new and particularly intriguing restaurant (everything on the menu is composed of only three ingredients). For a full list of restaurants featured at this year’s Lolla, check out this link. Please take a moment to click on it, take notes if you like, but really, please, if you’re ever in Chicago, try some of these restaurants (Particularly Grahamwich and Chizakaya).

Great. Now that you’ve an idea about the diverse cuisines available at Lolla, I shall relay in detail our scrumptious experience. Ah, I might as well start out with Grahamwich. My wife and I wandered slowly through Chow Town, gazing in awe at each booth’s menu. The restaurants had managed to convert gourmet dishes and ingredients into delicious street faire food. Incredible. We stopped at Grahamwich and noticed two menu items: the lobster corndog, 10$, and the white truffle and pamesan popcorn, 5$. We approached timidly and asked if Graham was around. We were told he was somewhere in the park and if we came back later, there was a good chance we’d see him. We wandered a bit more, attended some shows, then returned to the booth for a snack. Since Kaitlyn and I are inherently cheap (and presently poor), we decided to go with the less economically detrimental option and purchase a sack of truffle butter popcorn. But not before I began to freak out; as I stared through the heads of attendees, I saw a white pair of glasses on a very large, meaty head: it was GRAHAM ELLIOT, in the flesh.

He was there.

We hurried in and got our popcorn, then stood and watched as two girls snapped a photo with him. I was freaking out. My heart started pounding, I continuously repeated the phrase “there he is!”, and Kaitlyn grabbed my arm and told me to chill out. We cautiously approached the booth, and Kaitlyn asked if she could ask him a question. He eagerly and graciously obliged. Kaitlyn asked him about food photography, and Graham replied with a line I will never forget: “You want the food to look like you stumbled upon it walking through the forest. It should look natural.” I then realised that I finally had a great view of his tattoos. Whenever I watch Masterchef, I try to figure out what the heck is tattooed all over his massive, burly arms. I stared at them as he talked about how to break into the food photography industry, and the only thing I could fully identify was a penguin attached to a propellor jetpack.

Kaitlyn thanked him, and we both shook Graham’s massive, rugged chef hand. He smiled at us, and it was over. We had met Graham Elliot.

We enjoyed the popcorn immensely. It was flavourful, salty, peppery, cheesy, and, best of all, crossover gourmet-to-street cuisine. It was beautiful, and it was popcorn.

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We also purchased an Asian Pork Belly Slider from the booth owned by Chizakaya. It was four dollars for a few bites, but those bites were transcendent. My body stayed in Chicago, and my soul went to a realm somewhat like Tokyo, but with less overpopulation and more Masaharu Morimoto’s on LSD. The pork belly was tender and flavourful, accompanied by sliced scallions, an Asian barbecue sauce, fried garlic, and served on one of those white, soft, Asian buns. Those few bites changed the way I understand contemporary cuisine, particularly in the realm of gourmet-to-street cuisine, and in many ways defined it for me.

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This little bun cost four dollars. When I finished eating it, I told Kaitlyn that I have a particularly pejorative reaction when I discover the food has a size:price ratio such as this. However, when we finished, I decided that it was one of the best four dollars I’ve ever spent.
We also ventured in to Green Street where we purchased a vegan hummus and sprout wrap and some vegan tamales in honour of the true roots of the avant-garde music and food scene. Gaze upon them for a moment.Image

You have just observed a digital image of a large amount of home-made vegan hummus and very developed bean sprouts wrapped in an all natural, whole grain tortilla-type-thing. I felt fifty years younger after snacking on this recrementitiously healthy roll of life.

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This is Kaitlyn with the tamales. The tamales don’t look like much here, but they were very fresh, very healthy, and very pleasurable to consume. There’s not much more I can say, and honestly if you’ve read this far, I’m just as tired of writing this as you are of reading it (which means, of course, if you are not tired at all, neither am I. Shall we continue?).

That’s about it – the essentials of our Lollapalooza adventures in the sensory realm of taste. I would rather not brag about the wonderful bands we were able to enjoy (including, but not limited to, Sigur Ros and of Monsters and Men, visible below), so I shall refrain from doing so.

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Of Monsters and Men.

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Jonsi of Sigur Ros.

Alright, let’s wrap this up with a hasty closing statement. When Lollapalooza rolls around next year, I definitely suggest that you drop a month’s worth of rent and attend. Honestly, those business people need a nice good annoyance once and a while.

For more images and food photography, visit Kaitlyn’s blog here.

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Spring Rolls

I stared at my fairly empty website for a few moments, deliberating. I would very much enjoy stocking my page with restaurant reviews, both scathing and gracious – but alas, reviews of local restaurants are entirely irrelevant to anyone beyond a fifteen mile radius of the given eatery.

Then I remembered: spring rolls.

Let me explain. A few nights ago, my wife and I travelled north along Lake Michigan to my parents home. What stood in their kitchen, lying in wait to be sliced, sauteed, baked, fried, etc., was a bountiful harvest from the local farmer’s market. I was initially frustrated and confused about what I should create from this multitude of home-grown edible crops, but we finally threw together a light watermelon gazpacho (made with a billion dollar bag of Xanthan gum), thai tofu spring rolls, some marinated eggplant with peppers and onions, and finally some blackened catfish with basil and sweet corn cream sauce.

But as this entry is titled ‘spring rolls,’ it is clear that I must now move on to the main point, which is, of course, ice cream.

My parents had some of those rice based spring roll wrappers laying around so my wife and I resolved to recreate our favorite thai appetizer. I would like to therefore, out of the kindness of my culinarily adventerous and incorigible heart, spread the gospel of easy asian appetizers across the land, like Johnny Appleseed or Jesus. Just think about that one for a moment. It may or may not make sense in a few decades.

Because we’re cheap/we didn’t have any access to freshly captured, innocent little delicious tiger shrimp we settled for tofu as the backbone and protein for our springrolls. Here’s how its done:

1. Shred copious amounts of carrots
2. Chiffonade or finely chop into strips copious amounts of lettuce (whatever kind of lettuce you have available, or, if you prefer, indulge yourself with a bit of lollo rosso, cress, whatever floats your boat).
3. Once you have the veg prepped, take some oil – wok oil, sesame oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, white truffle oil, whatever kind of oil (other than the kind used for making gasoline or greasing engines) and fry up the tofu with a little fresh ground pepper and rock salt. Remember to use a towel and slight from your hand to press the water out of the tofu before frying. I typically use firm tofu as it tends to hold its originally intended form during the cooking process. I also recommend slicing the tofu into long, thin rectangles to fit the shape of the cylindrical spring roll. Throw the tofu on some paper towel post-fry to drain the oil.
4. At some point, you should also cook up some very thin rice noodles. Strain them, pop ’em in a bowl and chill until its time to assemble your appetizer.
5. Set up your workstation: make sure you have a clean cutting board with access to all your ingredients.
6. Acquire your spring roll wrappers. If you are unsure about the asian stock of your local market (or massive domineering corporate superstore), here’s a quick link with more info on spring roll skins: (link to gourmetsleuth definition of spring roll skins)
7. Dip two stacked spring rolls skins, one on top of the other like two sheets of paper, in warm water for about 5 to 10 seconds. When you take the skins out, they will continue to absorb water, so it is exorbitantly acceptable if they are still a bit stiff when you remove them from the water. Lay the skins on the cutting board, drop the tofu in the middle, followed by carrots and lettuce, and finally plop some of those noodles on top.
8. Carefully roll up your little asian taco by folding in two ends and wrapping up one side. Once three sides are sealed, push in the ingredients so they don’t flop out, then carefully and tightly roll up and seal the last side. The skins, now wet, will easily stick together like annoying cling wrap, so be careful at this point.
9. Serve with your favourite asian sauce. I love thai peanut sauce, it causes me to grin. As Sigur Ros so elequently states, “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur.” Inside of me, a fool sings. That is what happens when I straight up drink a pint of peanut sauce.

For a visual, check out my wife Kaitlyn Newberry’s food photography blog – clicking on this link will transport you across cyberspace.

But the fun doesn’t end there. Ohhhhh, no it does not indeed. The beauteous aspect of these versatile spring roll skins is that they are so, well, versatile. Try stuffing them with fruit and dipping in yogurt. Or stuffing with chocolate and ice cream and bananananas. Whatever your favourite desert is, you can get super creative and make it asian by stuffing it into a spring roll skin (not really asian, but you know what I mean. Maybe I should instead say, ‘whatever your favourite desert is, you can get super creative and make it FUN by stuffing it into a spring roll skin” because we all know that desert is the most excessively boring meal of the day).

Well, my work is done here. I’ve done enough spring roll proselytising for one day. Now go out into the world and make spring rolls from all nations, dipping them in peanut sauce, yogurt, and chocolate ice cream. Amen.

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theology of food?

Theology of Food?

So the main question encircling this entire digital publication is what is the meaning of food. I personally have a very distinct opinion about said meaning, and if you peruse the various pages of this site you will see this article in three separate locations. I am presently a theological studies major, and my professor once said that everyone is a theologian; not everyone knows this, and it all depends on how good of a theologian each individual is. I believe this is also true for food. Everyone has an opinion about the meaning and purpose of food, but not everyone knows it or gives much thought to it. But I gaurantee, if you sit down and ask your friend, your grannie, your rich great uncle whom left you copious amounts of cash in his last will and testament, what they think about food, they’ll tell you – simply enough, everyone has an opinion. About everything. If they don’t, they’re lying.

So even though I have set out on an ongoing quest to discover the elusive meaning of food, I have my own opinions about it. As a Christian and an individual who studies theology, I have come to the initial conclusion that food is a hub for community. The meal is present throughout the four gospels, not to mention the rest of the Bible and Jewish mythology, and is associated with Jesus’ incredible involvement with the rejects of the day, such as prostitutes, tax collecters, etc. Take a look at Matthew 9:10: “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” And in Matthew 14 you can read the incredible story about Jesus feeding five thousand men – that number does not include the women and children present. Additionally, the Jewish Passover meal in Exodus carries loads of meaning and representation, which connects to  just another minor example, a very inconsequential meal (hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm here), the Last Supper. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed… you know the story. He gathered with his disciples and had an insanely important meal. But it wasn’t an atonement theory that Jesus gave them – no Christus Victor, no Penal Substitution, not Calvinist or Orthodox or any other doctrine – it was a meal, a time of community.

I believe that Biblically and theologically, the meal has so much significance, carries so much meaning. And this meaning and significance has driven me to believe that a theology of food can be developed, and that this theology can have so much more impact on people in today’s contemporary and increasingly postmodern ideology. Modelling the actions of Christ with emphasis on community and the meal, I think that community can be developed through and around the meal, and this theology and community is so much more applicable to life and ministry than some notion of Greek philosophical metaphysics and inane debates over doctrine. Indeed, it is necessary to discover more about God and actually learn about what you believe – I believe to not do this is the epitome of ignorance. But let’s not overintellectualise it, because if theology doesn’t change relevantly anything or make a difference, it is useless theology.

That’s about it.