Tag Archives: travel

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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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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Of Cheese, Bread, and Mansions

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If you’ve ever studied history or viewed a BBC made-for-tv film, you very well know that back in the 1800’s, numerous wealthy unemployed heirs and heiresses built massive vacation homes on beautiful lakes to entertain pretentious guests and to honour the memory of their dead lovers. Then, years later, the indulgent and business-oriented American tourism industry workers or restaurateurs or entrepeneurs purchased these estates and converted them into restaurants, B&B’s, or novelty interactive theatre experiences.

You may assume that I am approaching this private estate-to-restaurant concept in a pejorative context, but you mistake my dry, cynical sense of humour for pessimism. Conversely, I greatly appreciate the restoration and maintainance of these estates and the fact that this has allowed the general public, myself included, to enjoy the experience in a contemporary context that spoiled, rich kids with fancy outfits were able to enjoy in the 1800’s, without the necessity to put on a false venier for my false-veniered guests. Instead, we are all allowed the pleasure to dress up in period clothing and simply have fun.

One such previously private lake-side estate is the Baker House in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It is rumoured that Steven Spielberg has a house on this beautiful oasis in the middle of farmland southern Wisconsin, and it is clear to me that the sole purpose of the existence of the town of Lake Geneva is to bring pleasure and relaxation to its inhabitants and visitors. And that it does, indeed. I’ve worked in the town of Lake Geneva for two summers now, and as the 2012 summer work season comes to a satisfying close I finally had the opportunity to visit the Baker House with my wife Kaitlyn.

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The Baker House has been beautifully maintained and converted into a restaurant and B&B. I’ve passed the house hundreds of times and was always intimidated. I presupposed that this restaurant’s occupants were groups of middle-aged rich white ladies and gentlemen in black-tie attire, sipping expensive glasses of wine and gazing down at me from behind their protuberant noses. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the opposite of this assumption was true.

We entered the restaurant and were seated fifteen minutes earlier than our scheduled reservation. We were greeted by the sights and sounds of the 1800’s: young and trendy waitstaff disguised in period dresses and suits with long coattails and matching formal gloves and tophats. The sound of a live pianist jamming out to the Billboard Top 40 list from 1884. Rooms that had not been converted to a typical restaurant interior, but instead left almost exactly as they might have been when occupied by the Baker Family before the surrounding trees were chopped down and replaced with ugly hotels on either side of the building and a busy road in front. I felt as if I were a guest of the Baker’s for a fabulous dinner party. The only thing I was missing was a tophat.

We were served by a very friendly southern lady named Peach, decked out in a frilly black-and-white dress, complete with the flowery hat and veil. The restaurant’s menu is very unconventional for Lake Geneva and features an almost tapas-esque selection of dishes. We chose the gruyere and white wine fondue with delicious breads and fresh apples in conjunction with the Bruschetta Italiano (pictured above). We were also cajoled by our waitress into sampling a Sprecher’s cherry cola.

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The fondue was delicious. Gruyere is a wonderful cheese. The slightly sweet, salty and nutty flavours were beautifully complimented by the tangy and minutely sharper accents of the wine. The flavours of the fondue wonderfully accompanied the soft, fresh breads, but emerged as a Holy Trinity when completed by the crisp and sweet green apples.

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As our meal ended, the jovial sounds of dining and piano music were interrupted by the racous clambour of ringing bells. Kaitlyn, myself, and the other guests were escorted to the lawn to partake in the Baker House tradition of the sunset toast. Complimentary champagne and strawberry lemonade were served, and the current owners provided a brief history of the building and offered a toast to the sunset.

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The toast to the sunset is performed every night during the summer and for me emphasised the unique, personal, and intimate experience of the Baker House. It reiterated the notion that I was indeed a guest of the now long dead (and supposedly living on in ghostly forms within the house) Baker family and for the first time at a restaurant I felt at home, I felt like I belonged, and I felt like I was a rich heir with nothing better to do than entertain my well-dressed, equally wealthy guests. The Baker House features a fun, unique, nearly escapist experience that emphasises the purpose of the meal in the context of community and pleasure and paints an accurate picture of the true purpose of tourism, relaxation, and the overall reason that towns like Lake Geneva exist.

All images displayed in this post were artfully captured by my wife and food photographer Kaitlyn Newberry. Please take a moment to visit her food photography blog at here.

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