ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends

We will certainly not starve.

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In anticipation of the storm, Sam was able to bake bread. He makes whole-wheat loaves using King Arthur (local!) flour. The bread pans are the Alfred Bread Pan from Tufty Ceramics. The two brown pans are the new ones I gave him for his birthday. The blackened pan is over 20 years old – his father used it to bake similar wheat loaves for his family.

So unlike the empty bread aisles in East Coast grocery stores, we have fresh bread that will last us throughout the storm. We may get real sick of peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m guessing not. 


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Sandy: N’oreaster-cane

NOAA is predicting we will get 3+ inches of rain. Not as bad as Virginia, that may get 12 inches of rain.

Sam and I are “getting ready” for our first big Northeast storm: Sandy. If you live in a box, you’ve missed that there’s this big hurricane heading to the East Coast of the United States that will be merging with a second storm and creating pandemonium. Every news break on NPR is opening with “Hurricane Sandy continues toward the East Coast… The [insert official’s name] of  [insert major city] has declared [some vital part of city infrastructure: highway, subway, etc…] has been closed due to the storm.”

This is our first experience with a Northeast storm, and our first experience with a hurricane. It’s interesting.

First, most Midwesterners won’t really remember Hurricane Irene that hit the northeast in late August of last year. However, everyone in New Hampshire and Vermont remembers the rain, flooding, days without power, and the massive cleanup that is still ongoing. This storm is on everyone’s mind as Sandy comes barreling toward the East Coast, and it’s making everyone a bit more cautious than they normally would be. I’ve heard a lot of stories about Irene destruction – roads that were washed out, the last house in the neighborhood to get power, flooding that carried an RV over to the Connecticut river. Everybody points out the “water line” if their house was flooded. JoAnn Fabrics even washed away, rebuilt, and reopened.

Since Irene is recent history, everybody around here is preparing for the worst.

What we have done to prepare.

Sam and I have taken some basic measures. First, we have part of a winter larder put by for the winter, so we’re not too worried about not having food. We may be eating cold corn out of cans and tofu right out of the sealed package, but we won’t go hungry. I’m concerned with the chest freezer – if the power goes, we have about 36-48 hours of freeze, but after that, our chest freezer will begin to thaw, taking our fruit and veggies with it. We have ample dry pet food for Molly and Pidi.

We have also made sure to have lots of water on hand. We got a 2-gallon jug from the COOP, plus we filled our camping water reserve. Additionally, if things get too bad, we can fill up the bathtub so we have gallons of water.

Sam went out yesterday and topped off the gas tank, so we have enough gas to get out of the hurricane area. He also stopped at the grocery and made sure we had basics like some candles and matches, batteries for flashlights, bleach and rubbing alcohol. Bonus! The pre-packaged indian curries are shelf stable and pretty good cold. Sam picked up 2 boxes. We got into our camping supplies and got our camping stove and jetboil, so we can heat some food, if necessary. We also counted the tiles in our Scrabble game to make sure we had all of the Ps and Qs. If the power goes out, there will likely be Scrabble and re-reading of Harry Potter novels.

I’ll keep updating here, on Facebook at @AddiFaerber on Twitter.


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This Week in Breakfast: Stella’s in Hartland, VT

A tiny potion bottle full of real maple syrup. Tiny flower pots full of creamers. Handmade boxes holding equal exchange tea.

I saw a bumper sticker recently: “Vermont. I get it.” At Stella’s for breakfast this morning, I kept thinking, “Vermont. I get it.” Maple syrup. Beautiful foliage. Hills split by green pastures and picturesque farms. Organic sustainable shade-grown coffee. Local blueberries in the pancakes. From what I’ve seen, there’s a different character just over the Connecticut River. For example, Vermont Public Radio and New Hampshire Public Radio were both holding fall pledge drives. VPR met their fundraising goals two days early while NHPR fell short of their fundraising goal.

More compare-and-contrast later. But first – breakfast!

Stella’s is in Hartland, Vermont, which is about 20 miles south of Hartford, Vermont. No wonder we got confused and drove 25 minutes south to breakfast. I thought it was well worth the drive. Stella’s shares a building with the Hartland post office, and a “gen’ral” store. Next door, the local church was preparing for their annual Turkey Dinner: $5 or $10. Preschoolers for free.

Stella’s is tiny – it barely seats 27 diners at 6 tables and 5 counter spots. We got there at just the right time, walked right in and sat at the counter. I couldn’t take too many pictures because we were right in front of the kitchen and I was honestly worried about offending the chef who kept a very close eye on the dining room. I did have to catch a quick snapshot of the little potion bottles full of maple syrup.

I ordered blueberry pancakes, scrambled egg and a sausage patty. The blueberries were local, as were the eggs. I didn’t catch the whole description on the menu, but their eggs are local, pasture-raised, and I think there was something in there about tuition remission and paid volunteer time off. The waitresses wrote down orders and took them to the kitchen with, “Order, Please.” Vermont. I get it.

The pancakes were fan-stupid-tastic. The berries were tiny and sweet. The pancakes themselves had just a little tug but still sucked up the maple syrup. I was so happy to gobble down my pancakes, I don’t think I even took a moment to ask Sam how his breakfast was. What even did he order? Was it good? I hope he replies in the comments to fill in my missing details. Like everywhere else, the bill was $26, including tip.

Previous Breakfasts:

 


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Last Week in Breakfast: 4 Aces in West Lebanon, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Atwood from Yelp.

Last Sunday, Sam and I headed for another breakfast joint, the 4 Aces in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. It is an “official” roadside diner, with an old railcar diner with a bigger restaurant built around it. After breakfast, I was on my way to the airport to fly to a 4-day conference. So here I am, a week later, getting back to my notes to let you all know about the GREAT food we ate.

A confession. I’m really bad at puns. I struggle to use them casually and they always come out awkward. So I had written most of his post making horrible card-playing puns and after re-reading what I had written, it was unbearably bad. So, I will spare you the bad puns. Maybe you can add them back in the comments?

Service was slow because the waitresses were fighting with the new maple syrup pump dispenser. They had tiny beer steins with tiny glass handles they would fill with real Vermont maple syrup and bring to the table – 4 hooked in one finger. Like Lou’s and The Fort, there was no “pancake syrup”  – only good-ole Vermont maple syrup. And they didn’t charge extra for it. The staff really didn’t need the extra hassle of the pump dispenser – it seemed that most everything else was falling apart while they tried to serve breakfast. Two waitresses ran into each other and spilled hot water. A small child was running around loose and getting underfoot. We sat at the counter and the waitress came past four times before she was able to take our order. She was certainly apologetic for not being able to take our order, but still… We watched the syrup-pump show with hungry eyes.

Sam ordered the Irish breakfast that came with bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, scrambled eggs, and baked beans. I was weak at the knees looking at the home-made cider doughnuts under glass behind the counter. I ordered one, plus a scrambled egg and some hashbrowns with peppers and onions. Something about me and doughnuts around here – maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Just to note, I have no idea what bubble and squeak is… it looked like cooked cabbage. According to Jaime Oliver, a cockney wanker if ever there was one:

Bubble and squeak is a classic British dish of smashed-up winter vegetables, traditionally made from the Sunday roast leftovers. Use about 60 percent potato to get the right consistency, then whatever vegetables you like – carrots, Brussels sprounts, rutabagas, turnips, onions, leeks or savoy cabbage.

Supposedly the name comes from the sound the food makes while cooking. Only Klingon food should squeak while cooking… gak. (Sam notes that Klingon is closest in the linguistic family tree to Welsh. Mwynhewch eich bwyd! MP3)

I was pleased to note that my eggs were cooked in butter. Bonus.

Sam’s breakfast was good – as good as “traditional” Irish breakfast can be – but the beans were underdone. They needed another hour of cooking and probably once the “real” brunch rush showed up they would be perfect. My cider doughnut was a good doughnut, but not as good as anything from Greenbush Bakery. Please, someone go out and eat a raspberry rabbi for me…

The bill, like everywhere else we’ve eaten, was just shy of $22. We got there just shy of 9:30am and beat the rush.

Previous Breakfasts:


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Wisconsin and Korbel Brandy

Wet and hankerin’ for a drink.

Sam, Pidi and I had finished a hike through the New Hampshire woods, gazing into holes that were formerly people’s cellars, now abandoned and full of leaves and garbage. The rain was monotonous and, even with our fancy “waterproof” fabrics, we were soaked to the bone and hankerin’ for a warm drink. Cider with brandy was just the ticket. We went to the liquor store to pickup a bottle of Korbel brandy.

New Hampshire is one of those states that maintains state-owned liquor stores. Beer and wine can be sold at many venues, but if you want something stronger, you’ll have to head for the handful of state-owned liquor stores. Conveniently for us, the Hanover-area liquor store is next door to the COOP food store. Some poor souls must drive some distance (in the winter!) to get to a liquor store. This explains why ice fishing isn’t as popular here.

We encountered a problem at the liquor store. There was no Korbel Brandy. Anywhere. In all of New Hampshire. The NH Liquor and Wine Outlets’ list of available American Brandies. (Note the absence of Korbel Brandy.) This is a point of difference between Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

In Wisconsin, we call it “milk.”

In Wisconsin, Korbel gets its own aisle at Woodman’s grocery. (Note for New Hampshireans, Woodmans is like Dan & Whit’s gets hit with the gamma bomb that hit Bruce Banner to turn him into The Hulk. Only Woodman’s sells a ton of liquor and Dan & Whit’s can’t, per New Hampshire state law.) High consumption of Korbel brandy is tied to the Brandy Old Fashioned, sour, a regional cocktail that is as popular in Wisconsin as cheese curds and the Packers. An Old Fashioned is “a bar spoon of sugar, three dashes of Angostura bitters, a lightly muddled slice of orange, a slug of brandy, lots and lots of ice, a splash of soda and, of course, a bright red maraschino cherry, often with an extra dose of the fluorescent juice that they swim in.” Supposedly, Germans from Wisconsin got a taste of Korbel brandy at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and have been swigging it down ever since (Minnich 2006, p13).

We live in a state with no Korbel Brandy. This is uncomfortable. Like socks that are a size too large.

We bought a bottle of E&J California Brandy and had some hot cider with brandy. I haven’t tested an old-fashioned with it. It’s a little too horrific to contemplate.

We need to find us a bottle of Korbel Brandy. Then we will have a Wisconsin cocktail party and serve Brandy Old Fashioneds, kringle from Racine and one goddamn fabulous cheese board.

Note “NH” is not on the list.

How can we get some Korbel in New Hampshire? Maybe if our Wisconsin friends hear our pleas and will illegally ship us some Korbel Brandy. We can also venture across the river to Vermont and see if we’ll have any success at their liquor stores. Korbel maintains an online web store. But will only ship to a handful of states. We also have the ability to make a “request” for specific wines or liquors from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, but we have to order at least a case.


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“Caselot sale” means “Shop like you’re at Sam’s Club.”

(Not Sam.)

This weekend was the caselot sale at the COOP.

Don’t worry, I had no idea what a “caselot” was until a few days ago. Fair reader, let me educate you. From what I can tell, “caselot” is the shortened form of “curse a lot” and is a nor’eastern term for an event that makes community members want to exercise their constitutional gun rights. Parking in Boston may be another caselot.

So the caselot sale at the COOP meant that Sam got to goto the COOP with a grocery order form, drop a hundred bucks, and come home with pantry staples to help us last through the winter. He was able to score sizable discounts on canned corn, beans, and tomatoes (to make up for my current home-canning deficiency), frozen fruit (that should have been frozen back in the summer in Wisconsin, but alas…) cheap pasta, laundry soap for a year, and a winter’s larder of toilet paper and paper towels.

For me, “caselot sale” meant standing in line behind a woman ordering 50 cases of paper towels. Seriously. 50 CASES of paper towels. AND… to increase my caselotting (curse-a-lotting?) she was in the 12 items or less lane, which was creatively decorated with bright green signs saying “NO CASELOT ORDERS.” They couldn’t have been more emphatic if they had hung piñatas and ordered custom neon signs.

On top of flagrant violation of the “NO CASELOT ORDERS” and 12 ITEMS OR LESS rules, apparently when one decides to come to the coop and order more than $1,000 in goods, the manager must punch some code into the register to allow the transaction to proceed. First, note that 50 cases of paper towels costs more than $1,000, and second, note the additional party that has become involved.

Gun ownership statistics from the Nashua (NH) Telegraph.

(As a sidenote, the need for authorization for an order over $1,000 was surprising because many things in New Hampshire are less onerous. For example, anybody can check out beer or wine at the store, not just someone over 18 or 21 years old.)

Just for a bit of math, I wanted to know the square foot volume of 50 cases of paper towels. One “case” of paper towels (6 rolls, 10″ x 16″ x 12″) takes up about 1.1 cubic feet, so 50 cases of paper towels will take up more than 50 cubic feet. How in the hell was this woman getting 50 cases of paper towels home (or where ever there was a need for 50 cases of paper towels)? A 2013 Honda Odyssey minivan has about 90 cubic feet of space after you take out the last two rows of seats. I guess this is why I drive a compact sedan.

So, after the caselot sale, we have less-empty larder and freezer, fruits and vegetables for the winter, and 1/50th of a Honda Odyssey’s load of paper towels.


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This week in Breakfast: Mickey’s Roadside Cafe

You know it’s “roadside” since I’m standing in the road to take this photograph.

This week’s breakfast at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe in Enfield, NH  (link plays music… sorry) was the opposite of last week’s experience: good food and bad service.

For a moment I want to rant about the new maps in iOS6. I am an “eager upgrader”-I sit at my computer obsessively pressing reload until I can get the latest iOS updates AS SOON AS they are made available. I really like the feeling of having a shared experience with other people across the world where we all are downloading and installing the same piece of software. The point being – Like other iOS users, I am finding the world around me is a new place, when seen through the eyes of the map software on my phone. Now, my phone will talk to me and tell me where to go, but I no longer have any confidence that where I’m directed reflects realty. It was my quick wits that kept me from going the wrong way down a one-way street in Hanover, and I still can’t convince the map software that our home address is anywhere near proximate to our physical location.

Back to breakfast…

We got in the car and made an attempt to goto Enfield, NH, about 10 miles southeast of Hanover, to a place called Mickey’s Roadside Cafe. It had received good ratings from the Yelpers, and we had got a good review from a former waitress while in line at The Fort last week. Phone navigation was failing us, so we resorted to old-fashioned maps to get to Enfield.

We didn’t have to wait for a table to eat breakfast at 9:30 on Sunday morning. This can say either good or bad things about a restaurant. Too many people means breakfast is likely to be good, but very rushed. Too few people means breakfast may be new to the restaurant or downright bad. Or, it means the Packers are playing at 10am and nobody wants to watch at a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol. Sam and I try a bunch of different times to eat at a restaurant until we find the ideal time where we can sneak into a table or first-come-first-serve counter space, then watch from our vantage while all of the less-experienced and knowledgeable customers arrive on the hour or the half and wait in line for tables. While not waiting for breakfast at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe was a plus, we didn’t get the feeling of moral superiority for being able to get to the restaurant at the perfect time to avoid a crowd. (Hubbard ave Diner in Middleton. Either 8:25 or 8:50am. Lazy Janes: be in line when they open at 9:30.)

 

I’m not making this name up.

Since the Patriots (no comment) weren’t playing until 4, I suspect breakfast was new to this restaurant, because the food was pretty darn good. Sam had hash and eggs with homefries and sourdough toast. He was quiet while eating, so that meant it was good. The potatoes needed a bit more cooking from my vantage point. I got to have “redneck benedict” – english muffin, sausage patty, poached egg with sausage gravy – with a side of tater tots. The gravy was good. It was peppery and had small pieces of sausage, and was made with milk. I was very happy. With tater tots.

Sam’s breakfast.

The service, on the other hand, was mediocre. Sunday breakfast servers (and Saturday too) need to act as if they are just as desperate and hungry as the patrons. Stopping to drink coffee, to nibble a piece of toast, to chit-chat with other staff – these are all the actions of the fed and caffeinated. Breakfast patrons DESPISE the fed and caffeinated until they themselves are fed and caffeinated. Waitresses should be efficient and expedient, not ask unnecessary questions, and deliver caffeine as soon, or before, butts hit the seats. I really feel for Sunday breakfast wait staff and I always tip well, even for bad service. Their job is hard. They must ease the transition from hungered to fed, and to navigate a slew of breakfast option questions that are unheard of in other meals. (How would you like your eggs: scrambled, poached, sunny side up, over easy, over hard, egg beaters, hard-boiled, coddled? What type of toast: white, wheat, rye, sourdough, cinnamon raisin? Potatoes: homefries, hashbrowns, mashed, tater tots, fries?)

Redneck Benedict. With Tater Tots. A side of parsley.

The service at Mickey’s Roadside Cafe made two sins: they made people wait for caffeine (including Sam and I and the table across from us) and they chit-chatted among themselves while sipping coffee. I hate to damn someone for such minor sins, but at the time, I was HUNGRY, so minor things get exaggerated. In retrospect, the service was on-par with a restaurant that doesn’t often serve breakfast beginning to serve breakfast. The wait staff have yet to develop the ESP necessary to be good at breakfast. By the end, though Sam and I were both well-fed and didn’t feel rushed. The bill was $23 and some change, right on par with our expectations for what we “should” pay for breakfast.

We’re quickly running out of affordable ($$) breakfast joints, so we’ll be moving onto the more pricy options in the next few weeks. I’m sure there will be a carving station and lobster at breakfast in the upcoming weeks. We’ll see…


Previous Breakfasts
Lou’s in Hanover
The Fort in Lebanon


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Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce and Coconut Rice

I don’t quite remember where I got this recipe, but it was the first time that I bought sweet thai chili sauce. Fool that I am, the first time that I made it I thought sweet Thai chili sauce was sriracha. We almost died from the heat of the recipe. No, you may not substitute sriracha for sweet Thai chili sauce. But if you’d like this dish a little spicier, add some additional chile flakes – like the kind you find at an old-school pizzeria next to the shaker of “parmesan cheese.”

For the Rice:

3 units rice
6 oz coconut milk (whole fat, no cheating)
big pinch of salt

Add ingredients to your rice cooker. Fill to the line with water. Close the lid and press the button. Don’t have a rice cooker? Until you get one, you’ll have to figure out how to make rice yourself. Sorry. Once the rice cooker has done it’s magic, stir the rice to distribute the coconut fat throughout the rice.

For the Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce:

1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup Asian sweet chili-garlic sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons ketchup
chile flakes
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Cut the tofu into similar-sized pieces. (I typically cut mine to 1″ x 1″ x 1/2″. This gives me two broad surfaces to brown and four smaller sides to ignore. It’s easier than trying to brown all six sides of a 1″ cube of tofu.) Place the tofu on a single layer on paper towels or a flour sack towel. Press between two weights for 10 to 30 minutes. The more water you press out, the easier it will be to brown the tofu.

Whisk together the stock, chili sauce, soy, vinegar and ketchup. Add chile flakes to taste.

Heat oil on medium-high in a nonstick pan. Tofu will stick to anything less. Trust me. Nonstick. Unwrap the tofu from the paper. Once the oil shimmers, place the tofu in a single layer in the pan and brown the bottom side. Shake the pan occasionally to make sure the tofu isn’t sticking to the pan or to each other. Flip all of the pieces over and brown the second side. Once the second side is browned, add the sauce and cover (QUICKLY!) with a lid. When the sauce hits the hot pan it splatters EVERYWHERE… so don’t make this if your mother is coming to visit and you don’t have time to clean little red drops off your white party dress and your white kitchen walls. Reduce the heat down to medium and simmer the sauce until it’s thickened, about 10 minutes. Keep shaking the pan to spread the sauce around the tofu cubes.

Serve the tofu with sauce over coconut rice.


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We finally found the Asian grocery store

Sam and I took a trip into Lebanon into an area that the locals affectionately call, “Little Jersey,” to goto the only Asian grocery in the area. I wasn’t expecting much.

Yipings Asian Market
55 Main St
Lebanon, NH 03784
(603) 928-7267

Like many Asian groceries, this was a small space crammed with shelf-stable foods from a multiplicity of Asiatic nationalities. They seemed especially well-stocked in Thai foods, and they knew to keep the nam pla where it won’t accidentally get broken. I saw lots of brown Chinese condiments all labeled “bean paste,” or “garlic bean paste” or “sweet bean paste.” There were few Japanese items like nori (sushi seaweed wraps), but none of the high-end Japanese foods. I suspect they’re just part of the standard asian foods distributor networks.

Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce

So the whole reason for this trip, to give some background – I spent much of the day on Thursday craving pan-fried dumplings with sweet thai chili sauce.

“Dumplings” are a fantastic food that my college buddy Gene introduced to me. They’re also known as “gyoza” in Japanese, “potstickers,” or “Chinese dumplings.” Basically, they’re a thin skin pleated around a little wad of meat and vegetables, then steamed, boiled, or pan fried. Gene’s mom would send him back to college with an entire marine chest cooler full of frozen dumplings. We would boil entire bags and pig out. In Madison, when I could get dumplings at Woodman’s grocery store or at  Yue Wah, I probably went through 4 or 5 bags a month. Dumplings are one of my favorite breakfasts. Anyone who wants to point out my blatant Locavore hypocrisy is welcome to do so in the comments section.

Thai sweet chili sauce is like “duck” sauce that is at some Chinese restaurants. It’s thick like catsup, not too spicy, and a little fishy-smelling. I finished my last bottle from Yue Wah in Madison about three days before we moved. I couldn’t justify buying a bottle, just to drive it across the country. I don’t like this sauce that much.

But after abstaining for almost 4 weeks, all I could think of was the lovely taste of crispy dumpling skin and Mae Ploy. So, we sought out the Asian Grocery, hoping to find dumplings and sweet chili sauce.

We were able to find three different brands of dumplings, all new to me. I suspect they’re made locally in the big cities like Chicago and Boston and spread out through smaller distribution channels. We also found thai sweet chili sauce, but not my preferred Mae Ploy brand. I think the stuff we got (no English on the label, or else I would give you the name) is a little better than Mae Ploy. It’s thicker and spicier and the sweet is better balanced with fishy.

As for their selection of Japanese goods: I was happy to note that Nishiki rice was $5 less than at the COOP. Yiping’s $19.95. COOP $23.49. I also found bonito (shaved fish used to make clear Japanese soup), wakame (dried seaweed), furikake (a seasoning to put on rice) and ume plums.  I was happy to find mirin, a sweet Japanese rice wine that is a staple of our cookery. Unfortunately, when I got the bottle home and had a taste, it was just glucose syrup. After browsing through my favorite japanese cookbook, I discovered there are two types of mirin – with and without alcohol. We had been buying the type of mirin with alcohol and this new mirin had no alcohol. I’ll have to look harder for “hon mirin.”

Ultimately, though, I am looking forward to going to the Japanese markets in Boston to get my Japanese groceries – those things I’ll NEVER find in a mixed-asian grocery store: freeze-dried tofu, sachimi pepper, yama imo powder (youtube), high-quality ume plums, fresh pickles, Yamasa soy sauce, hot mustard, etc…

But I’ve eaten a bag of dumplings already…