ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


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This Week in Breakfast: The Lebanon Diner

Note the stark contrast between the white-and-black checked flooring, the stainless steel bar, the pressed tin tiles,  and the “retro” dropped ceiling.

Today we had a good breakfast. We drove down the hill to the Lebanon Diner (Yelp) that is located on the corner of the pedestrian mall in Lebanon. The Leb Diner is a red0-retro. The Quechee diner and 4 Aces used to be dining cars and were refit to modernize the kitchen and increase the size of the service areas. The Leb Diner was never a diner – it’s just a first-floor retail spot on the mall in Lebanon. The pressed tin walls and the stainless steel counter are afterthoughts.

I was happy with their menu selections – basic American breakfast fare. Sam had hash and eggs. I had biscuits and gravy. The B&G wasn’t as good as Quechee diner, but it was made with very good, spicy sausage. Sam’s H&A was also pretty tasty, but they obviously didn’t make their own brisket. The coffee was robust but didn’t taste burnt.

Yes, they serve only real maple syrup, and the don’t charge extra for it.

The bill was a little less than some other places – $23 with tip.

I was quite happy with our experience, but I have to admit, I really hate eating in a restaurant with a television. If you’re in a “sports bar” while “sports” are being broadcast, sure, fill every vertical surface with televisions, pour me a beer and serve up the hot wings. Everywhere else – Please get rid of your TVs or flip them over to the video-of-a-roaring-log station. I just don’t want to see it. The Leb Diner had a flat-panel TV over the counter playing highlights from Saturday’s college football games. The food was good. The service was good. I can’t see myself going back because I don’t want to have to see TV every Sunday morning. Mickey’s Roadside Diner also had televisions, but they were a _bar_ serving food on Sunday mornings before the football game. Leb Diner didn’t have much of an excuse – Turn the TV off.


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I want your socks, baby…

(Top left) White cotton athletic socks. Military wool socks. Knee-high skiing socks. (second row) Nubbly wool socks. Cotton athletic socks. Black versions of the military sock. (bottom) More white cotton. Women’s trouser socks. Bamboo socks. (Not shown) men’s black dress socks. Red version of the ski sock in upper right.

 

I’ve noticed a theme in the Northeast. People don’t build Sam’s Club, they make mini Sam’s clubs periodically throughout the year. Sam and I were able to goto the COOP Caselot (cursealot) sale a few weeks ago. This weekend, we drove up to lovely Northfield, Vermont for the Cabot Hosery Mill’s 33rd Annual Sock Sale. Cabot Hosery Mill makes Darn Tough socks, but also contracts sock production for lot of other companies. They open their factory to visitors and sell of their seconds, slightly blemished, large production, returns, etc at cheap prices.

New this year was the 5 am opening time for the first weekend. Rumor has it, the sock sale started out as an event for “hunting widows,” women with free time on their hands while their husbands packed off to deer camp for the first weekend of the season. There were signs along the roadway for “Hunter’s Breakfast 5am.” I guess the ladies decided to go early too. I don’t know why anybody would want to buy socks at 5am. It’s not like they were going to run out of socks any time soon.

There were a lot of socks for sale. I mean A LOT. Men’s. Women’s. Children’s. Dress socks, military grade socks that goto the troops in Afghanistain, skiing socks, hiking socks. Socks made from cotton, wool, merino wool, bamboo. White, black, all the other colors of the rainbow. There was some organization, but other areas where there were just bins of socks and people crowded around the bin and dug through until they found two socks they liked. Digging socks are $1 for a pair. All other socks ranged from $1-$8 per pair. The military socks were 6 pair for $10 (I bet the military doesn’t contract for them that cheap.) And here’s the weird thing. There were ONLY socks for sale. There wasn’t a single other item. Outside the sock sale, the local Jaycees setup a table with homemade doughnuts and coffee. But that’s it. Socks. Doughnuts. Coffee. All you could buy.

(Check out the video on youtube.) With socks so cheap, people seemed to have eyes bigger than their wallets. Everyone was given a white plastic bag to fill when they walked in the door. Moms with small kids would gather up all of the bags and start making piles in corners of the room to cull the herd of socks. Sam and I went through our bags and put back about 4 pair. Some people were walking out with multiple bags and spending hundreds of dollars.

Sam and I didn’t go crazy. We got some really nice socks. And you should all know what you’re getting for Christmas/Hanukkah this year. All of the pictures above were the socks we bought.

The sock sale seemed to be a big enough “thing” that it has spurred other local garment manufacturers to have their own single-item blowout sale the same weekend. I heard about a t-shirt/sweatshirt sale from a factory that makes cotton goods, and a fleece sale from Double Diamond. They seem to publicize their sales with signs directing sock shoppers to their locale. Shoppers were moving among the three sales, each about a 20 minute drive away.

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Ramuntos Brick n Brew

Sam and I got to eat out for dinner tonight. We chose to goto Ramunto’s Brick n Brew Pizzaria in Hanover. It’s next to the library where Sam meets for his “BikePed” meetings, so he leaves his committee meeting to the aroma of brick-oven pizza. I guess after Monday’s meeting the smell was seductive enough for us to go out to eat.

A variety of ways that pizzarias have screwed up our pizza order. It’s likely there will be more illustrative figures of this type in future posts. Blame Omnigraffle.

We ordered a chicken-bacon-ranch pizza, which was the one that sounded the best sans cheese. We typically order a pizza with toppings across the whole pizza and cheese only on one half. I’m lactose intolerant and haven’t eaten dairy since I was in college. There are a number of creative ways that pizzarias have screwed up this arrangement, as illustrated in Figure 1. In the upper left is the correct pizza. Toppings cover 100% of the pie, while cheese only covers 50%. In this pie, I can eat and enjoy 50% while Sam can eat and enjoy 50%. We’ve seen it screwed up in some pretty inventive ways. In the upper right is the typical way that Glass Nickel in Fitchburg will screw up our pizza. They only put toppings on half. I can eat 0% of this pizza. In the lower left is the way that Glass Nickel University Ave would screw up our pizza. They would put toppings on half and cheese on the other half. While I can eat 50% of this pizza, Sam’s half is pretty boring. I usually share my toppings with his half. In the lower right is they way Toppers screws up our pizza. They completely disregard special instructions and slap toppings and cheese on all of the pie. I can eat 0% of this pizza.


Ramuntos deserves credit for landing in the upper-left quadrant of pizza. They got it right, and we had a tasty chicken-bacon-ranch pizza. Sam could eat and enjoy 50% and I could eat and enjoy 50%. Ramuntos makes a quasi-New York style pizza. It’s thin and HUGE, but not completely floppy. The crust stays a little crisp and can puff while it bakes. Surprisingly for a place named “Brick n Brew” the brick oven wasn’t even fired. All of the cooking was being done in standard gas-fired pizza ovens. The chicken was boring – maybe cooking them with the bacon would have added some moisture and flavor. Other toppings included slices of tomato and broccoli.

We also sampled some local beers. I’ve discovered an American style unfiltered Wheat called “UFO” which, according to the Harpoon website, stands for “UnFiltered Offerings.” It’s the most unremarkable American Wheat – no cardamom or orange notes, just wheaty and yeasty. It’s boring in a drink-a-lot-of-this kind of way. It’s offered at most bars in Hanover, so I’m thinking of it as the Spotted Cow of Hanover.

 


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Ticks vs Mosquitos

I haven’t had a lot of experience before with ticks in Wisconsin. We theoretically are exposed to ticks, but I had only once personally experienced a tick. It wasn’t even biting anything, just hanging around on my bathroom floor after being shaken out of my pant cuff.

Ticks are a much bigger problem here in New Hampshire. A couple of reasons why this could be:

  1. I’m doing more hiking and spending time in the woods, so I”m getting more tick exposure.
  2. There’s more ticks in New Hampshire than in Wisconsin.
  3. The ticks in New Hampshire like me while the ticks in Wisconsin were disgusted and repelled by me.

Thankfully, I haven’t been bitten by a tick (yet) but Pidi has now had three ticks bite him and numerous ticks crawling around on him. Eew.

So, in Wisconsin, mosquitos were a big problem, but here in New Hampshire, ticks seem to be a bigger problem. This deserves a detailed comparison. Ticks vs Mosquitos: The Showdown of the Bloodsuckers!

(L) Deflated and engorged deer ticks. (Photo from Biology-blog.com (R) An engorged mosquito. Photo from IMVCA.org.

Mode of Transportation

Ticks hang onto long grasses and wait for an animal or human to brush by. They jump on for a free ride and hopefully a snack. Mosquitos fly around and make a distinct buzz to announce their presence. Ticks +, Mosquitos +++.

Gross Factor

Ticks suck blood. Mosquitos suck blood. When ticks are engorged with blood, they turn a grossly grey color and their bodies expand to a very large size. When mosquitos are engorged with blood, they are clear and red. Ticks that are engorged with blood cannot be swatted to death. Mosquitos leave a bloody smear when they’re swatted. Ticks +++, Mosquitos +

Physical Biting Mechanism

Ticks have “mouth parts” that they use to gnaw at the flesh of animals and insert their head into the flesh to eat blood. Mosquitos have a long probiscus that pierces the skin and takes blood from the arteries. Ticks are hard to remove because those “mouth parts” and the head can leave infection. Mosquitos add a saliva into the wound so the blood doesn’t coagulate and so the mosquito can remove the probiscus and fly away. Ticks +++, Mosquitos ++

Local Reaction to Bite

Everybody’s had a mosquito bite. It itches for a few days and then goes away. Tick bites are just about as bad, as long as the “mouth parts” are removed. The rare cases of serious complications from tick bites can lead to widespread local infection and paralysis. Ticks ++ Mosquitos + (Ticks get an extra + for possibility of serious badness.)

Ease of Prevention

Both ticks and mosquitos are repelled by common insect repellants including DEET. Mosquitos can bite through clothes while ticks have to bury under clothes to bite. Ticks +, Mosquitos ++

Public Health Threat

Mosquitos are a vector for transmission of malaria, west nile virus, and a whole spattering of other horrible maladies. Ticks can transmit lyme disease, as well as some animal diseases. According to the WHO, in 2011 there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide, and over 650,000 deaths. According to the CDC, there were 4.981 confirmed cases of west nile virus in 2011 and 223 deaths. For lyme disease, (only accounting for Lyme disease, not the chronic pain condition sometimes called “chronic lyme disease.”) there were about 26,000 cases in 2011 and is the most common insect-vector born disease in the United States. Ticks ++, Mosquitos +++++!

So the final count is:

Ticks 12, Mosquitos 14

MOSQUITOS WIN! 

Nasty.


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This Week in Breakfast: Quechee Diner

This is the second “Diner car” we’ve visited for breakfast.

So, for all of you from Onomonowoc, Neenah-Manasha, or Waukesha, it’s pronounced “KWEE-Chee.” Sam and I had been out to Quechee once before to go hiking at the Quechee Gorge.

We drove about 20 minutes west into Vermont to the village of Quechee to goto their Diner for breakfast. It’s a greasy spoon attached to a tourist-trap strip mall within Quechee, the downmarket tourist area in Close-enough-to-New-York-City parts of Vermont.

It’s also near Woodstock, Vermont, which is the place where Mitt Romney’s friends save each other in their yachts and Sotheby’s sells “cabins” worth millions of dollars.

Tourist-trap “Antique Mall” with a Yankee Candle Company.

So we found the place to be pretty empty, but we were also there very early (8:15, they open at 7) because our hungry bellies don’t respect Daylight Savings Time. By “our” I mean Pidi and Molly – who graciously awoke us at 6:15am with demands for breakfast. Being there early, we had our choice of any booth in the place. By 9am, the booths were full and the counter stools were also filling up. We ordered from the menu of standard breakfast faire – I had a “Hunter’s Breakfast” with eggs, sausage, bacon, french toast, and fried potatoes, $9.50. Paid an extra $1.95 for real Vermont maple syrup. Sam ordered Biscuits and Gravy and a scrambled egg, $7.95.

I ordered the wrong thing for breakfast. Although the french toast was good, it was only warm when it reached the table. The potatoes were good, with crispy exteriors and fluffy interiors. The eggs were blah, but they all are (see more later).

I ordered the wrong thing for breakfast.

Sam’s biscuits and gravy were frickin’ awesome. Best we’ve found out here. Spicy gravy with spicy sausage. Fluffy biscuit. Absolutely YUM. No lumps in the gravy, with an excellent smooth texture with no flour grainyness. I was very impressed.

The waitress was a little rushed, but she was by herself as the place was filling up. The second waitress didn’t come on until about 8:45 and they didn’t have anyone to bus or seat, so tables couldn’t turn around much faster. That being said, we didn’t feel rushed.

Total bill: $23.00.

On the way home, Sam and I lamented that we have not found good scrambled eggs at a restaurant anywhere. Full stop. When I make eggs, I make them very slow, and leave them with some moisture. However, this technique doesn’t work at a diner because it takes a long time, and because the cook works on a flat griddle. I had suggested keeping the egg slurry just at about custard temperature and holding it there, so when an order for scrambled eggs comes in, the chef ladles out hot but not cooked egg slurry into a pan with butter and finishes the last cooking. However, the idea of a warm-but-not-cooked vat of egg slurry causes Food Inspectors’ temple veins to pop out – that’s not going to happen in any restaurant I know. What’s the solution? Sous-vide eggs. This way, the eggs can be kept in a closed environment and brought up just about to done and kept at that temperature until it’s time to serve them. Then the chef can remove the egg packet from the sous-vide water bath and finish the eggs in the pan with butter, a crack of fresh black pepper and some chives or other fresh herbs. I think it would work out great.


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