ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


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This Week in Breakfast: EBA (Everything but Anchovies)

We’ve had a long couple of weeks without Sunday Breakfast. Last Sunday, I was sick with a terrible cold, so I stayed in bed for the day and kept my germs to myself. As much as I would have loved breakfast, I was still feverish.

This week, I’m healed up, and we went into Hanover to a old-standby restaurant Everything But Anchovies, that has recently started serving a Sunday brunch. I guess EBAs has served a Saturday breakfast buffet for some time, but is only now expanding breakfast service to Sunday morning.

The service at EBAs is typically a buffet – in the evenings they have a pizza and pasta buffet set out. Following that theme, EBAs set out a brunch buffet. Since the Sunday service was rather new, the place was mostly empty at 9:30. The service picked up more toward 10am. We stayed until almost 11 and the place didn’t fill up. This was our first Brunch Buffet and so had to set the standard for diversity. The buffet included:

  • standard breakfast fare – steam tray eggs, roasted potatoes, sausage links and bacon, pancakes, a waffle machine,
  • Toast, bagels and muffins
  • Breakfast burritos (Unfortunately I didn’t have one, as good as they looked, because they all had cheese in them.)
  • Cold plate (lox, onions, capers, tomatoes)
  • Fruit salad
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Salmon with wild rice pilaf (the lunch-like entree)
  • A collection of deli-style salads and greens salads
  • Vegetable sides like roast green beans, roast squash

EBAs also had a standard menu, but we didn’t even look at it. The buffet was pretty good, and worth the $11.95 (including drinks) price.

I’m sorry that I didn’t take any pictures. Sam and I were actually really chatty through breakfast (no TVs to distract us this week), and were well-ignored by the waitstaff, who probably struggle to make a living serving breakfast buffet. We gabbed over a long breakfast, going back for TWO plates each and ignoring our books.

My impression was that EBAs had all the benefits of a brunch buffet – fast service, great for big groups, meets different dietary needs, etc… But I admit, the buffet was missing a “star.” It needed the one dish that was so darn good that everybody had to take a bit. I’ve been to two extraordinary brunch buffets, the Buffet at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC (PDF), and the Brunch Buffet at Granite City Grill in Madison, WI. I could gush for hours about brunch at the Capitol Hilton. The food is excellent quality, the tea service is spot-on, and the items rotate around for great diversity. The “star” at the Capitol Hilton is the fruit parfaits – local fruits, tart yogurt and homemade granola. They bring them out in trays because everyone wants one. Plus, their croissants are very flaky and buttery. Granite City is a big indulgence – a place to goto brunch when you don’t want to eat for the rest of the day. Granite City has a egg benedict station and the chef has ingredients to make 5 or more variants on the dish. Yes, they will do Hotel Benson eggs – biscuit with ham and a poached egg, topped with cheddar-based mornay sauce. Plus, they put out sauce for everything – gravy for biscuits, au jous for the carving station, homemade ketchup for potatoes.

So missing at EBAs was the “star.” Everything was ok, but nothing was exceptional. I guess it came off more like a mid-tier hotel “hot free breakfast” rather than a coherent breakfast buffet.

I do give them a lot of credit for having a lot of seafood on the buffet: lox, roasted salmon, and shrimp.

We’ll likely go back, but probably for pizza and pasta, rather than breakfast.


Previous Breakfasts:


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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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“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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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…


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The price of tea in China

Scrambled eggs (from Dreamfarm) with Ramps.

Back in the day, Sam and I received a dozen eggs a week from Diana Murphy of Dreamfarm in Cross Plains, WI. If I remember, we paid $120 for 24 deliveries, or $5 per dozen eggs. Diana sells a dozen eggs at the Westside Farmers’ Market in Madison for $4.25. I’ve been to her farm on many occasions and I was able to see how she keeps her chickens.

The Madison area also had Phil’s Eggs, that are raised in Forreston, IL, near where I grew up.  I was able to tour their farm in high school and see how they were raising cage-free (but not free range) hens. These eggs were cheaper – If I remember $2.99 per dozen.

Confused about these egg terms? CNN has a guide that explains egg terminology and what’s regulated by USDA and what’s fluff.

So given that we had been noshing on humane eggs, I now have to relearn the market, in order to choose good eggs. I had to go scouting for prices on eggs. We eat a LOT of eggs, usually a dozen a week. Please don’t tell my doctor.

Eggs at the COOP

Eggs at the Norwich Farmers’ Market

I’ll fill in more details about how hens are raised at Echo Hill and On the Edge Farm once I’m able to talk more to the producers.

So we’re paying a premium for farmers’ market eggs. However, that premium may be from smaller production, hence small-scale markups, or else the hens may be kept in better (more expensive) conditions. The big advantage is that I can talk to the chicken farmers at the market and ask them questions about how their chickens are raised. I’m willing to pay a premium for humane chicken treatment, but typically not a premium for organic feed.


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There’s a lot of pumpkin beer out here…

Pumpkin beer is a beer fad out here, it seems. All of the local breweries are making one. We saw these six at the COOP.

According to the “history” that was on these websites, pumpkins were more plentiful than barley, so brewers historically turned to pumpkins to get more sugar for their mash. Most of the beers use pumpkin or pumpkin puree, but some of the other breweries just add a pumpkin flavoring. Most of the beers also add cinnamon or clove flavoring.

Sam and I tasted the Pumpkinhead from Smuttynose, supposedly the best-selling of the pumpkin beers. It was an OK ale. That’s as articulate as I get when reviewing beer.

It seems many of the East Coast microbreweries are making a Pumpkin Ale, while Midwest microbreweries are making Oktoberfest. I suspect it stems from the German brewing tradition in the Midwest while Eastern breweries may have a stronger English tradition. Beer Advocate lists 354 different pumpkin ales and 791 Oktoberfest lagers. Unfortunately, I have no quick-and-dirty way to categorize the breweries by geography, or else I’d back up my claims of more pumpkin ale on the east coast with some statistics. I can do that, you know…


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COOP Food Store. Making it easier to eat locally

A label for locally grown Courtland Apples at the COOP Food Store.

Sam and I are falling for the COOP Food Store in Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction. They have a good collection of standard groceries found around the middle of the grocery store, plus basic self-care products, soaps and cleaners, etc… They also have a wide range of prepared foods to go and a nice patio to eat lunch. We have been over there most every day since we got into Hanover.

We can get brats here. We will not starve.

Having a good coop makes eating locally easier. Kudos to the COOP food store for labeling the origin on almost all of the produce and featuring local farms. I haven’t bought meat from them yet, so I don’t know how well the meats are labeled. They stock lots of local dairy too – this is VERMONT, mind you… I expect that this is the peak of the local produce season, but I was surprised at how little local fruit they have for sale. I’ll have to compare the COOP’s inventory with that of local farmer’s markets and food stands before I pass judgement.

We will certainly become members at the COOP and I’ll be able to tell you more about the advantages of membership once we join.

Of course, I’m comparing this COOP to the Willy St. Coop in Madison. Sam and I had been members for two years, ever since the new Willy West store opened. We got to know the staff and the weird quirks of their product selection. (Note: NEVER buy graham crackers at the Willy St. Coop. Every single variant is disgusting. And, avoid homemade pork sausage. It’s not fatty enough.) Navigating a new grocery is never fun, especially when I want to do a Tactical Strike. I’m left fumbling around the wine and cheeses looking for olives and pickles.  Willy St COOP has a great selection of local produce. I think they’re either better able to source, or, since Willy St is smaller than the COOP, then maybe they can buy smaller volumes from smaller farms.

Whatever will I do if I can’t find local pears to can?