Friday, December 26, 2008

Backyard Bounty

Gardening is great. I suggest that everyone have a food producing garden. Rip up that bullshit, yellow lawn, put in some raised beds, and give yourself the gifts of the Earth. If I were Mayor of this (or any other) town, I would offer property tax subsidies to residents who did just that. This is Texas, and large, grassy lawns just don't make sense. You're wasting water, and prime space for growing your own vegetables, flowers, and herbs. 

I've been eating a lot of turnips, greens, lettuce, and radishes lately. Why? Because that's what I've got around. I'm already looking forward to the diversity of my soon-to-be spring garden. Here are some photographs to inspire you on your path to having your own backyard bounty.


Speckled lettuce.

The patch.

Emerging snow pea.

Wet fennel.

Suspension.

Snow and sleet don't bother me.

Winter garden.

Snow pea in bloom.

Happy eating.

Vegans and Cast Iron

Sometimes I do my best thinking when I'm asleep. Solutions to problems, recipes, and strange contemplative lines of thought often arise when I'm not yet awake. Maybe I'm having these thoughts at the moment that I'm actually waking up, and want to believe that these things happen when I'm sleeping. I'll probably never know. This morning, I had a strange thought about cast iron cookware and vegans. 

I sometimes entertain vegans, or vegetarians, and always want to do right by their dietary choices. Something in me gut is telling me that cast iron may not be the preferred cookware to prepare food for either in. The curing and cleaning processes of this amazing material may not lend itself to be truly vegan, especially if you use as much animal fat in your cooking as I do. Why I thought about this, I have no idea, but it is interesting to me. Vegans, what do you think? And what about everyone else? Should I just not use my legion of cast iron when cooking for those with an animal deficient diet? Cast iron makes up most of my cookware fleet, and there's bound to be some instance where its use is actually necessary. Thoughts?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Serendipity on a Cold Afternoon

Sometimes the Universe wants things to happen. I just read a great blog entry over at the Award Winning Blog about whiskey, while sipping some unfiltered, cask strength (100 proof!), single malt Glenmorangie that I brought back from England. No lie. Now my buddy is coming by to share in the revelry. Life is beautiful. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Make Bacon Toffee

Back in September, when I was fasting, I did a lot of reading about food. I found two blogs that are worth both mentioning and reading. The first was one called Butter Pig, created by Tom Dowdy, a chef that had gone to the CIA in New York, had a tech job, and loved to feed his friends elaborate meals that were true Dionysian affairs, the second was Obsession with Food, written by Derrick Schneider, another techie-foodie, and best friend of Tom. It was on OWB that I found out that Tom had died suddenly last December, a solemn occasion that was celebrated by a beautiful feast prepared by his best friends for his family and loved ones. Tom's impact on his friends was powerful, and Derrick does a beautiful job of interpreting such a difficult subject in two admirable, and inspiring posts from earlier this year. The meal they cooked, and the feelings of remembrance, love, and grace, resound deeply with me. 

I had been pouring over these blogs late one foodless night, when I found it. It seemed too good to be true; a combination that seemed wrong in every way, yet so laden with ecstasy that it had to be right, like a forbidden culinary love affair. Bacon toffee. I wrote the recipe down in my recipe book, and vowed to make this beastly abomination soon enough. I tried my first batch for Thanksgiving, but the absence of a candy thermometer proved fatal to the consistency, and color of the final product. Guessing when candy hits 285º is hard your first time, so I sought out the tools I needed. Version 2.0 of the bacon toffee went off without a hitch. It hit its temperature, ensuring that it would have a hard break, and set up beautifully. I took the entire batch to Wheatsville on Sunday, and doled it out over the next two days to all my meaty friends. They loved it. I'll be making more this week end for an annual Holiday beer tasting potluck that a buddy of mine throws. Enjoy friends. This is a secret weapon for your arsenal. 

Bacon toffee slams!

Bacon Toffee

Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup water
5 strips of bacon

Method:
Crisp bacon, set aside to dry on a paper towel lined plate, chop into small squares when cool. In a sautè pan or sauce pan combine the rest of the ingredients, and mix well with a metal whisk or wooden implement (plastic will melt). Bring the mixture up to 285º[300º works], remove from heat, add bacon, and pour onto a  baking sheet covered in Silpat, or parchment paper. Let rest for two hours. Cover with a clean towel, and lightly rap with a hammer to break the toffee into shards. Keep in a covered container at room temperature. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Confit Me

Long before there was the convenience of modern refrigeration, our culinary forefathers had to find ways to preserve their food. Seafaring nations such as France and Britain, saw this as an absolute necessity as they set their sons adrift, absent a sense of security in procuring food while out to sea. One method of food preservation has not only stood the test of time, but has become a technique that is used in fine dining establishments  around the world: confit. 

The process of confit arguably comes from the Glascony region of France, and is the practice of preserving meats by salt curing, and slow poaching in their own fat. Once the meat and fat are cooled, they can be stored for up to six months in the refrigerator, in sealed containers. Recently, I've put away two different types of confit, duck and rabbit, for consumption at a later date. According to Fergus Henderson, the flavor of confit will "keep and improve for many months." 

Around Thanksgiving, the Butcher got in some ducks from Sebastian at Countryside Meats. Sebastian's ducks aren't the fattest ducks around -- I think he keeps the fat from the internal cavity for himself, but that's just a speculation -- but they tend to render out some fat. Anyway, I purchased a duck, broke it down like I'd been shown, and set out to confit the legs, save the breasts, and make some stock (last week, I purchased a rabbit from work, also from Countryside Meats, and made confit with it's plump hind legs). Despite rendering all the skin from the beast, I wasn't going to have enough fat to confit the mighty legs. As much as I don't like going there, Central Market sells one pound tubs of duck fat at a decent price. I suggest you pick some up (in the meat case), and cook some veggies in it. You may never want to use butter again. 

Yum, yum, yum...

After procuring the fat, I was home free to confit! You must first salt the meat, and let it rest for at least 24 hours, which starts the curing process, before you confit. The method I used involves making a layer of salt, pepper and thyme in the bottom of your vessel, on which you lay the meats, repeating the layering as you add meat. After the allotted time passes, you must wipe off the excess salt, pat the meat dry and place it in an ovenproof container. You then cover the meat with fat, and cook in a medium temperature oven (325º to 350º) until fork tender, about two and a quarter hours. The cooking time varies for the type of animal that is to be made into confit (duck legs - 2 1/4 hours, rabbit legs - 2 hours, goose legs - 2 3/4 hours). Remove the meat and fat from the oven, allow to cool, transferring the meat and fat to a storage container once it is cool enough to handle, and refrigerate.  

Legs in the terrine.

Cover with duck icing, I mean, fat. 

Place in clean storage container.

Sit back and relax.

Now you have confit to use at your leisure. To reheat the meat, wipe off the excess fat, and heat either in a pan on the stove, or in the oven until the meat is heated throughout, and the skin crisps up. You can also add your confit to soups, stews, or yummy things like cassoulet. Don't forget to save that excess fat, it can be used again for general cooking purposes, or to confit more tasty treats. Stand by that oven, and stay warm!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brunch with a Double Serving of O-R-Y

Last Sunday, I hosted a small brunch with two very dear old friends, Jory, and Cory. No lie. Jory and I became friends back in Elementary School, and Cory has been my best friend since I was like eighteen months old. It was cool to have a small reunion (the two them hadn't seen each other in a very long time), and to have some nice brunch type food.

Due to it being before Noon on Sunday, and our Draconian Texas alcohol laws being what they are, we were unable to procure any Champagne or Prosecco. Fortunately, Jory thought ahead, bringing a bottle of white wine with him, and thoughfully picking up some Perrier on his way over. Cory had been assigned the OJ, the juice that is, not breaking into a hotel room to recover lost personal goods, and we were well on our way to early morning libations.

The meal started off with some St. Andres triple cream brie, good ole English Stilton, some head cheese, and some of my homemade apple chutney. Both of my guests eyed the gelatinous pile of aspic and face meat with some trepidation, both eventually trying it. Cory commented that he thought it tasted like bologna. It does. 

Head cheese is good.

Brunch was served, and it was quite the spread: French toast made with locally baked bread, and Alexander Farms eggs, Pederson's applewood smoked bacon, poached wild salmon, and fingerling potatoes with homegrown arugula, cooked in bacon fat, natch. My favorite dish was the French toast. I should make it more often. The potatoes take a close second. Cooking in bacon fat is a right, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Spread.

Some fuckin' French toast.

I see a pool of artery bound bacon fat!

Bacon!

We all played catch up, drank our Franken-mimosas, and reveled in the goodle days. Unfortunately, I had to kick my guests out after a while, so I could go lose at RISK. This is the second brunch of the season, and I would like to do more on Saturdays. I had that Sunday off by chance, but Sunday is usually my Monday. We should have a blogger's brunch sometime? Thoughts?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Supper Underground

There seems to be a theme here at the Bearded Weirdo, one where I find inspiration from the pages of the New York Times. Two previous topics, and this, the third, were discovered due to some article that I read on the NYT website. The first being Dan Koeppel's Op-Ed on bananas, the second was the serendipitous discovery of the Duke of Cambridge in an article on eco-freindly gastro-tourism in London, and the third was being inspired to search for underground restaurants in Austin, because of this article on such dining events in New York.

This concept was not new to me. My ilk and I have been discussing doing something like this for years. I did my homework, finding that there were about three of these groups in Austin. I sought one out, the Supper Underground, joined the mailing list, and waited. I was unable to attend the September and October meals, and entered the lottery for the November dinner upon my return from London. To do this, you must reply to the invitation within the allotted time period, and be lucky enough to win a seat.

Of over one hundred and fifty entries, thirty people were selected, including one Bearded Weirdo. The undisclosed location for the event ended up being about five blocks from my house, which was convenient for me, and gave me time to clean up from the brunch I had hosted that morning. I was excited. I didn't know what to expect, who would be there, what we'd be dining on; I was outside of my massive comfort zone. As someone who has lived in and around Austin for most of my life, I have a hard time going anywhere (really) without running into people that I know, or that recognize me, so it's nice to find yourself in a posh North University home, surrounded by complete strangers. I ate dinner with an ad guy, two women who were really, really excited to be there, and the head of Travis County's Democratic Party. It was interesting. There I was, this produce guy, which in this circle was found to be more interesting than someone in politics?! Food-people. 

There were appetizers set out when I arrived, and wine was flowing freely. I was hesitant to take pictures for some reason, and there was a guy who was there to do just that, so there won't be any in this post (you can view the offish photos here). The appetizers consisted of little pieces of toast, some with an olive tapenade, others with some sort of livery patè. I was actually feeling somewhat shy, so I drank some wine, and wandered around the nicely decorated house-turned-restaurant-for-the-night. A glass in, and I was socially limber enough to approach and speak to a group of strangers. There was a nice diversity of age groups that night, which made things seem a bit more casual, than, say, everyone were blue-hairs talking about the McCain loss.

The hostess, Hannah, and her crew, were all dressed in whites, serving us wine until it was time to sit down. There was a brief introduction and welcome, and then service began. The first course was a curried apple and butternut squash soup. Butternut squash soup is almost cliche, but this was a fresh spin on this champion of fall American menus. The apples were a nice touch, lending tartness to the sweetness of the squash, which was accented wonderfully by the flavors of coriander and cumin. 

Next up was the salad course. It was a simple salad, with dried cherries, stilton, pecans and a fig balsamic vinaigrette tossed with mixed greens. Nothing too fancy, but still a nice play of flavors. Stilton can be overpowering, and the cherries and the vinaigrette stood up to its intensity very well. The wine kept coming.

For the main course, we were served braised beef short ribs, over roasted garlic, spinach, mashed potatoes, and haricot vert covered in a mushroom demi glace. You could braise a boot and I'd eat it, which is not to discredit this tender and delicious short rib, but a good disclaimer about this forgiving cooking technique. Being fresh off my London romp, I found the mash to be ironic; I definitely did not think that I'd be served mash at this dinner. It was a good mash though, however, texturally, it wasn't the best foil for the tender beef. The perfectly sized green beans were nicely cooked, and provided the only textural variance in this nearly mushy course. 

Coffee was served, in French Presses, just before our dessert of chocolate, peppermint mousse. Served in coffee cups, with crushed peppermint candies on top, this dessert was light and fluffy, with a delicate peppermint flavor that supported, rather than overshadowed the richness of the chocolate. Delicious. Especially with some strong coffee, and wine.

Overall, I enjoyed this meal, and would go again, if selected. I found the food to be very solid, not too adventurous, yet not boring. The service was top notch, and they seem to really have their timing down. Consistently pulling off an event like this would be difficult, but they had their act together. If you are interested in trying to attend a Supper Underground dinner, go here, and register. The meal was $65 per person for four courses, and free booze. I felt that it was worth it, if not for the food, for the experience.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to Feed a Wine Rep

Everyone should have a wine rep in their circle of friends. Since I was a teenager, my circle of friends has been comprised mainly of service industry people. Now that we're all grown up, many have actual professions, or at least some general skills. There's the butcher, the baker, the policy maker, the lawyers, the chefs, the servers, the bartenders, the bussers, the buyers, the knitters, the stockers, and even the wine rep. 

Shaddley, of Head Cheese fame, is my wine rep. He does a damn fine job of using my face hole as a disposal of opened, partially consumed bottles of delicious wines that I otherwise wouldn't know about, or have a chance to drink. For this, I am thankful. We've been friends for the better part of six years, and since we both have decadent tastes, his grape juice slingin', and my cooking have formed a natural marriage. Despite that he and his wife, YogaMarketingBrownieGirl, live in North Buda, we still manage to sit down to meals from time to time, shoot the shit, drink in excess and revel in the mystic beauty that is life, oft over some plate of food crafted from high quality, local, and organic ingredients. 

A few weeks back, Shaddley and I had such a chance encounter without YogaMarketingBrownieGirl, who was busy doing whatever it is she does (I have no idea anymore?!), and I was stoked to get in the kitchen. I had bought a duck from work earlier that week, and after breaking it down, I had one nice breast to work with. The rest of the duck was used for various projects; the legs were used for confit, the other breast is being saved for a future special dinner with the Biegs upon her return to Texas for the Holidays, and the rest of the parts were turned into a delicious stock. This was to be a test run of some new plates that I picked up, and I was excited to cook a big meal, having some ideas that I wanted to test out from my trip to London. 

Shaddley and I had spoken about Cab Franc, but he couldn't find any, so we went for Shiraz instead. Our wine for the evening was Herman Story Shiraz, vintage forgotten, which worked well with the foods that we would be having that evening. This was one of those multi-course themed meals that we all know and love. It was feeling rather Autumnal for a change, so I ran with that inspiration. What did this mean, exactly? For me, as a Produce Manager, it meant squash, beans, fingerling potatoes, cranberries, root vegetables, greens, and apples. These things have been the focus of my section for the past few months, and I figured they deserved their time to strut the virtual runway of my dining table, before the seasons shifted to citrus and dark, leafy greens (right around the corner!). 

First up was a delicate soup of butternut squash and white beans. I used the duck stock as a base, and garnished this fine, creamy soup with some local Richardson Family pork sausage, a dollop of Remember When heavy cream, fried leeks, and some fresh thyme. The soup was light enough to start this meal, without filling us up too much. The savory flavors of the sausage and the sweetness of the squash set our pallets up for the rest of the meal, without overshadowing the remaining two courses. 

Stray sausage adrift in the ether.

Next, we had a salad. I had picked a variety of lettuces, arugula, and other greens from my garden for this occasion. Some Pederson's apple smoked bacon, and a poached local Alexander Farms egg topped this crunchy mix of the freshest greens available, which ranged from peppery to sweet. A well balanced Champagne vinaigrette rounded out this beautiful pile of homegrown, local fare. 

Bacon and eggs on salad. 

Our main was ready to go soon after, and I was having fun with the seasonal action, which showed in the playful dish. We sell lady apples at work, which look cute as hell, but seem somewhat useless, being that they are smaller than ping pong balls, have a 'meh' flavor, and a thick skin. I had an idea, inspired by none other than Food and Wine magazine to slow roast them, and serve them alongside the duck. They got roasted in a mix of Becker Vineyards Fume Blanc, Champange vinegar, anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, organic sugar, and some fresh cranberries, which really set off their flavor, and brought the essence of these warming fall flavors to the dish. 

The duck breast looked so beautiful that I could have eaten it raw, but instead it got pan seared and coated in a spice pear glaze, which was really just the syrup leftover from reducing some pear poaching liquid from brunch the week before. The spices in the pear syrup were almost the same as the little roasted apples, substituting cardamom for cinnamon, and kept the tone of the meal cohesive, like a fine Burgess novel. This dish had four vegetable sides to accompany it, two on the plate, and two family style. On the plate, we had homegrown turnips, and organic rutabagas, pan roasted in duck fat, as well as homegrown turnip greens and lacinato kale, cooked in bacon fat. Family style, we had fingerling potatoes slathered in Remember When butter, and radishes cooked in duck fat with their happy leaves. That dish is really good, and easy; it just makes sense.  The duck was served topped with a apple-cranberry foam made with the roasting liquid from the apples. Pictures for this dish were hazy, a clear indication of the state of the photographer at this point in the meal, so, deal. 

Turnips and rutabagas...

Apples are yummy.


The foam keeps getting thicker, and just keeps getting harder...

Blurry veg.

After our meal, we had room for dessert... two bottles of the new to Texas, De Proef beers. These Belgian beauties were a perfect ending to this meal. We had a wild fermented number, and a Flemish style ale, both of which were sour, and refreshing. I love sour ales, and the flavor of brettanomyces, so for me this was treat. I'll have to find more of them, soon. After all this revelry, Shaddley had to make the long journey South to North Buda, full, and content; I was left to my own devices, savoring this celebration of camaraderie and season. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Repost 101

My dear friend, and colleague, the genuinely enigmatic Professor Conti, has posted yet another brilliant entry on his blog. You need to read this. Why? Because it's good for you. Conti's prose is deliciously elegant, like a nice panna cotta, and consistently informative. Far better than the trite nonsense you'll get here at the Bearded Weirdo. Read it. Love it. Live it. 

Tons of food posts coming this weekend, promise. If you're good, you may even get a few new recipes. Cheers. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Canning Conundrum

I hate making mistakes in the kitchen, nothing makes me more livid. If you mildly botch a dish, no one will notice, but you'll always know. In this case, I didn't make an error on a plate of food served to a guest, but rather had a plan that was flawed from the start. 

During my trip across the Pond, I fell in love with a lot of things of a culinary nature, but one condiment stuck out above all the rest. Chutney. I mostly ate chutney served with Stilton, or other cheeses, but really, it can go on anything. I saved apples from the freebox at work in order to make this delicious apple accompaniment, only to not have the right equipment to fully process the jars (I also may have cooked it down too much... it's darker than I would have wanted).

When I went to can, I could only get the water about a half an inch above the lids, rather than the suggested inch. All of the lids are depressed, which I guess means they're sealed, but I don't really have the confidence to give one of these to someone. I'm asking the blogosphere for some opinions here. I refrigerated the jars, rather than leave them at room temp, so they'll keep for a little while, but I just don't know. What do y'all think? You can leave comments here, or on Facebook or Myspace if you have any suggestions or thoughts. 

Interrobang

2009 will focus on knocking out a long queue of tattoos that I've been meaning to get for several years. Saturday, Marisa and I went to Diablo Rojo and got some punctuation marks. She got the tiniest sarcasm mark (¡) ever, only about an inch tall. I went for the interrobang, since it is something that I find fascinating, and representative of my general state: excited and confused. 

Thought

Idea


Form

The artist that did our work has the best portfolio up there, and I will be seeing him soon to start working on my four family crest pieces, as well as some food, and co-op related ones. He is also very good at portraits if any of you out there are wanting an Escoffier tattoo, or maybe, Julia...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Losing at Risk

Makes me mad. Live RISK blogging is interesting. I'm totally getting my ass handed to me in RISK!: 2210 A.D. I haven't played this in about two years and it shows...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mother Nature Laughs Long and Hard

Mother Nature's Son

Red Rocket

"You should really get that checked out..."

I'm just sayin'?! Okay, that has to be the most hilarious thing I've seen growing from the ground. I almost pissed myself, I laughed so hard. It got picked.

I don't post many recipes here, but today, inspired by this radish, I'm going to. This is a recipe that comes from The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson, owner/founder of St. John. This may be one of the least unusual recipes in this canon of offal, game, and swine. You should buy it. 

Radishes to Accompany Duck or Goose

The fresh, peppery radishes make a perfect foil for the rich birds. 

Ingredients:
3 bunches of radishes with happy leaves
Juices from the roasting pan of the duck or goose, or duck fat and a splash of chicken (duck) stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
Remove the leaves from the radishes and wash both the leaves and radishes. Heat up your roasting juices or fat and stock, then add the radishes. Let this sizzle, stirring frequently. In approximately 5 minutes the radishes will have changed to pink blushing orbs, still crispy but with a hint of giving. Add the radish leaves and remove the pan from the heat. The leaves do two things: they give a wonderful flavor, and they add a structural weave, preventing your radishes from rolling all over your plate when served. Season with salt and pepper and stir, letting the leaves wilt a moment, then serve with roast duck or goose. 
 

Duck Fat  Loves You

I think that this dish can do more than accompany duck or goose. We had it last night with a Niman Ranch Ribeye Roast, and it was a nice foil for the rich meat of the roast. I think you could use the drippings from roast beef or pork, and it would be just fine. If you have duck fat laying around, then use it. Duck fat is the bomb. I've made this recently to accompany pan seared duck breast, and it is a nice complimentary flavor, so if you plan on having duck soon, try this. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, or may be entertaining one, butter (preferably the Remember When Dairy variety, for the non-vegans) and some Imagine No Chicken Chicken Broth would do fine. For those vegans who may actually read this, a blend of some of the richer oils, like walnut, and grapeseed oil, with the aforementioned broth, would produce nice, tender results. 

Enjoy. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Editing

I love to write. At one point in time, I was set on being a Journalist. This never happened, for several reasons, and I'm content being a Green Grocer at a natural food cooperative for the time being. Despite it not being the focus of my career, I still get to do some writing, and enjoy that I have an audience of about ten thousand people (in theory, who knows how many actually read the newsletter) that receive my work in their mailboxes several times a year. 

I noticed after re-reading the Koeppel interview for the nth time, that there are many typos, word omissions, and grammatical errors throughout. Most people don't notice, or care about these things, which I know, but, I care. I rushed getting that to our Editor, and I feel that it shows in the grammar. Transcribing is tough work. It took me about four, maybe five, hours to transcribe a thirty-five minute interview. I finished the piece when I was in London, and I definitely did not check it as thoroughly as I would have liked, which is something that I'll have to work on, but our Editor didn't edit it either. 

This blog is written a particular tone, and is kept informal, and casual for a reason. I read blogs that feature really solid writing, and some that are just great. I aspire to hit the right balance of tone and style someday with my writing. Bringing your life to life for others enjoyment, and entertainment is fun, and I feel that it is a great vehicle for keeping a record. However, I want to not post errors on here, or, have errors published. Now, I just feel like I messed up the Koeppel interview because of all the typos and what not, but know that the content is solid. 

Long story short, I want to make sure that when something gets out into the world, that was written by me, that it is properly edited, and corrected. I guess we'll have to see how that works. 

Koeppel Interview Part 7

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. This is the final installment of this series, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

Do you have anything you would like to say to consumers, like the owners of our cooperative about the fate of this fruit that changed the world?

I would like stay to the owners of the cooperative, is that, it is not your fault that you only about one banana. For a hundred years the definition of the word banana has been this banana that we eat called the Cavendish. But there are a thousand other amazing bananas out there. The banana supply chain has been has been constructed so that the only ban that we can get is this banana that we eat. This ban is threatened now, and it an opportunity for us to either lose bananas entirely, or to open ourselves up to this amazing world of bananas. I’m not even exaggerating when by saying that the Cavendish is the white bread of bananas. And in a co-op like yours, people know what white bread is, and it’s not so good.

Foodies, members of co-ops, and people who have the opportunity to control their food destiny a little bit more than the average consumer, you have the opportunity to save the banana for asking for more types of bananas. It’s not just a matter of going to your co-op produce managers, or co-op boards and saying find us more bananas. It’s a matter of actually learning about these other bananas your selves and going a little bit deeper than that. Figuring out where these bananas come form and trying to learn way to get them to the United States.

You’ll here from the banana companies that it’s impossible to get more kinds of bananas into the U.S., and you really do only see one kind. But this is an opportunity, really. This is really a chance. There is a business opportunity here. There is going to be a replacement banana and the question is, who’s gonna bring it. The banana is the most popular fruit in the United States. More bananas are sold than apples and oranges combined. The Cavendish banana is going to go away, we’re almost certain of that. It’s going to take ten, or twenty, or thirty years, but it's going to happen. Who’s gonna introduce those new bananas? Who’s gonna get rich from doing that. Who ever is going to do it going to have to find new ways to ship it, invent new technologies, new supply chains. They’re also going to have and opportunity to make those supply chains, more fair, more equitable more environmentally sound. It’s a big job, but somebody can do it.

Right now, the big banana companies don’t know that the job is ahead of them. They don’t know how to do it, they don’t want to do it, and they don’t understand that they need to do it. So what I would say to the members of Wheatsville Food Co-op and members of food co-op everywhere, and anybody who is out there, and is looking for a business opportunity, or who wants to help change world, well, millions of millions of dollars, and millions and millions of people, and millions and millions of opportunities are out there. The banana is waiting. It’s waiting for somebody to say, “Let’s take this, and let’s change it, and bring more bananas to the American public.” This is a chance.

Right now as the banana exists it doesn’t look all that good for the Cavendish. But it doesn’t look bad for the banana unless things stay the same. And like I said, the real opportunity is that Chiquita and Dole, right now, are pretty much walking around with blinders. That doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t keep our eyes open, and can’t do anything.

.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tasting Notes: No Need For Offshore Drilling

Ten Fidy has landed at Wheatsville, and is coincidentally priced at $10.49 a four pack. Rumor has it that it is also on tap over at the Draughthouse... Think I'm gonna have to go and drink one, or two, after work. Remember, don't drink and drive, you might spill your beer!

Koeppel Interview Part 6

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

Can you briefly discuss the politics of the banana industry and banana pricing?

One thing that is really important to understand, is that, the banana was unheard of up until about one hundred and twenty five years ago. When you look at bananas, you have to ask yourself, “Why are bananas so cheap?” This is a fruit that comes from at least two thousand miles away from just about anyone in the United States, maybe a thousand. It has to be shipped under refrigeration. It’s highly perishable. A banana last no more than fourteen days once it’s been cut from the tree, yet it costs significantly less than apples, which are grown one hundred to two hundred miles from most American super markets.

Now when the banana companies came to be, this was there strategy. They needed to make bananas cheap in order to beat apples. To do this they had to be brutal. They basically had to control their costs so radically, that they had to take over countries and enslave people. To make this fruit the number one fruit in the United States, at such cheap prices, they had to do terrible things.

For most of their history, starting in around 1890, and going up though the ‘50’s, and even to a large extent, today, banana companies had to cut a bloody path through Central, and South America. Using the U.S. military, banana companies overthrew governments in that region over twenty times. This what lead to the term Banana Republic, these were countries that were controlled by banana companies.

If any of your readers want to know more, they could look in my book, or they could look at any number of dozens of other books, but some of them might actually remember reading Gabriel García Márquez’s, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and in that book banana workers are massacred in a fictional town in Colombia, after coming out of church during a strike and the year is 1929. After they’re massacred, they and their families, their bodies are thrown into the sea. Well, this actual 1929 massacre really did occur, in Colombia, in the town of Santa Marta.

This massacre was ordered directly by a company called United Fruit against striking banana workers. United Fruit is today known as Chiquita, and it was just one of many massacres that was ordered. So, the history of bananas, and the history of banana pricing is a bloody and terrible one. It’s really important for people to remember, when they think about bananas that there are costs and benefits, and to remember that the banana industry invented globalization, as we know it. And that those issues still reverberate today, and are still important.

When we think about bananas as a product that may be disappearing, and when we think about adding new bananas to the market, and making bananas fairer by adding bananas that might cost more and that might benefit workers more, that we’re also thinking about ways that we might be reversing over a century of unfairness to banana workers who are being forced to work on a crop that is still very much a commodity, and that are still very much sold at prices that don’t allow a lot of help and health to the people that pick them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 5

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.


I’ve learned from several years of experience working in a natural foods grocery, that many people are concerned, and sometimes fearful of GMO foods, yet it seems clear that in the case of the banana that that route may be the only way to save this food. Do you feel that consumers will set aside their distrust or fears of GM products in order to continue to eat bananas, or will they willingly let them go away?

I don’t think that consumer’s will set aside their fears of GMO products. I think there’s good reason that consumers are not setting aside their fear of GMO. But, I don’t think the proper reason is the product. I think the reason is, let’s call it GMO tactics. I think the issue is not the product necessarily; the issue is the way that GMO has been used as a tactic throughout the world by the big corporations that manufacture GMO seeds, GMO potatoes, and GMO corn. Clearly they have behaved in ways that have made many people rightfully suspicious of GMO, [laughs] of what GMO is as an institution. GMO has been exploitative; GMO has been poorly tested; and GMO has caused damaged, for example with the corn crop and possibly potatoes.

But, you have to separate the idea of the technology from the way it has been executed. There are people who say you can’t, and, you know, I respectfully say that – you need to. You can’t condemn the science. It’s wrong to do that. And in the case of bananas especially, it’s wrong to do that. There are a lot of reasons that bananas are a safe product to genetically modify. Actually, there’s one reason, and I can say it very easily – bananas are sterile. They do not have seeds. They do not have pollen.

The issues that we worry about with GMO, is that seeds and pollen will come out and contaminate other non-GMO products. Without seeds and without pollen, that is impossible. Um, so that won’t happen with bananas. People also talk about allergenicity, and things like that. I personally believe that that is not an issue, and that that is a scare tactic. People will disagree, and I’ll probably get a lot of notes saying that, but I don’t think that’s a big problem. I think there’s a lot of superstition.

Now, is GMO going to save the Cavendish? I don’t think that’s the issue. I’m willing to say that if consumers feel that it’s better to sacrifice the Cavendish because they don’t want GMO, so be it. That’s a consumer product, and that’s fine, they can vote with their pocket book. No problem.

However, there are a lot of other threatened bananas out there, especially those African subsistence bananas that we’re talking about that really, really require GMO. They are equally susceptible to even worse disease. And, they need at least genetic modification to test resistance. Genetic modification is one of the tools, in other words. Scientists, not corporate scientists, but scientists working in the public sector, need to try and find ways to get these subsistence bananas to resist dozens of diseases, that if they spread, people will starve.

I just want people to think about, if they have blanket objections to GMO, and this especially true in the European Union, where objections to GMO prevent research of all kinds, then they are preventing research into GMO being made on subsistence products as well.So, sometimes being against GMO research in a commercial product actually provides legal barriers to research on genetic modification of subsistence bananas. It provides legal barriers against that.

And so, again, if were going to think about the choice we make in our foods, in how it affects the people who pick them, and grow them, then we need to think about those choices in a big sense as well. Genetic modification can be scary, we need to think of that, we need to worry about it, but, it’s not that cut and dry. By issuing a blanket objection without knowing all the issues, we may actually condemn some people who really need genetically modified bananas to not have any opportunity to get them, or at least learn about them.

Koeppel Interview Part 4

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.


Your article in the New York Times inspired me to read your book. As a Produce Manager for a Co-op, I felt compelled to share this information with our owners, yet am weary of drumming up fear around the eventual loss of the Cavendish. In your experience since writing Banana, do you feel you’ve had to allay fears from the public, or put out any small fires that your research or writing may have caused?

Yes [laughs]. You know, here’s my one regret in the way I wrote the book, and it’s something that I’ve come to – well I wouldn’t call it a regret… It’s something I wish I would have emphasized more, and something I’ve come to believe more, since I wrote the book, and it’s an answer. It’s kinda the end question – you know, “What’s gonna happen?” – and I talked about it a little bit in the book.

The answer, and this something that you, as a Produce Manager in a co-op, and your members, and anybody who cares about food, and is in an organization where you have a say about food -- in other words, people who don’t shop in supermarkets, you’re the beginning. You are at the Vanguard of the ability to actually say what kind of food you want. There are more, there is more than one kind of banana out there in the world – there are a thousand kinds of bananas. So the answer to allay fears about the Cavendish is to say, “Yes, be afraid that the Cavendish is going to go away, because it will.”

But, there are other bananas out there. Right now the problem is the banana supply chain. As much as you know from reading my book, and being a Produce Manager, that the Cavendish is the only banana you can sell, because that banana supply chain is geared toward the Cavendish, you couldn’t sell another banana right now, even if you wanted to, because that supply chain is so tweaked towards that cheap Cavendish banana. It is possible to change the supply chain. It is possible to come up with technologies to make those fragile bananas transportable. It is possible to find ways to grow those other bananas.

You know, there are so many hundreds of other fruit that have arrived at the U.S. marketplace in the past twenty years, and there are so many amazing bananas, some grown as closely as Brazil. There are amazing bananas grown in India. There are amazing bananas grown in the Pacific. The banana companies will tell you, and since they invented the supply chain, and since, unfortunately, the Fair Trade bananas come down that same supply chain. They have to.
The banana companies will tell you, “No way, the Cavendish is the only one that fits.” Right now, that’s true.

There’s such a thing as being able to get those other bananas. It is possible. By beginning to demand those other banana. By beginning to ask, “How can we modify the supply chain so we can have two, or three, or four different types of bananas?” Just like we have two or three types of apples, four types of oranges, three types of cherries, and just a plethora of different kinds of fruit. That’s the answer. Oh, and by they way, that answer can help save the Cavendish.

By diversifying banana plantations by using proper crop rotation, then all of a sudden, those clean farming techniques begin to have a chance, because Panama Disease begins to kill more slowly. Now, I can add two more little things about that are really, really important.
Number one, the banana industry is going to say, “This is impossible. The Cavendish is the only shippable banana.” Well, when the Gros Michel, the earlier banana, went away, the banana industry said, “It’s impossible, we can’t use the Cavendish, because it’s not a shippable, acceptable, commercial banana.” When this necessity hit, and the Gros Michel went away, they invented technologies that allowed the Cavendish to happen. So… that’s not true.

Number two, the banana companies themselves -- why are they so scared of another banana? I find it amazing. If you go onto the Chiquita or Dole websites and click on the product link, you will see dozens of exotic fruit that these companies themselves import from around the world. So, it’s not as if, even conventionally, they lack the knowledge of how to import weird fruit. They import fruit from all over the world already. That they say that they don’t understand there is a consumer desire for interesting fruit, or that there are methods for importing interesting fruit, is absurd.

And, finally, just to talk about Fair Trade a little bit. Fair Trade is really important, because the plight of the banana worker is miserable. Fair Trade is really a great thing, but Fair Trade does not do a lot for the banana worker because bananas are a cheap commodity. And you can’t help a banana worker that much with Fair Trade, because your only funneling a few pennies down the line. It’s not like Fair Trade coffee, where you can funnel a few dollars down the line to that coffee plantation.

But imagine if you had really exotic bananas. Imagine if you had a range of bananas, ranging from a commodity banana, like a Cavendish for 69¢ a pound, to an exotic banana like a Brazilan Uro, which you could sell for $2.99 a pound. All of a sudden, you’ve got banana plantations with mixed varieties. You’ve got entrepreneurism introduced. You’ve got the ability then for people to own their own plantations and to mix different profitable bananas in there. Then all of sudden Fair Trade bananas become something that actually makes a difference. So, you’ve got opportunities for both the banana industry as a whole for individuals to actually own banana plantations, and for the entire banana industry to transform the model upon which it was founded one hundred and twenty five years ago. And, you’ve got a chance to improve the lot of the Cavendish, to at least extend its life by possibly decades. So what we’re seeing here is just sort of a psychology that says, “It can’t be done.”

In fact, it can be done. As someone who has tasted bananas all over the world, I mean, it’s not just sorta like someone standing there – like me standing in front of a supermarket, with a picket sign saying, “Damnit, give me some more good bananas!” I mean these are like, great bananas. It’s like standing in front of a supermarket, saying, “Give me Hagen Daas!”, when the ice cream inside was junk. These are fantastic bananas, and every single person that shops at your Co-op, I promise, is gonna want to pay two bucks a pound for these Brazilian Uro bananas, because they’re fantastic.

So this is the answer, diversity. Banana diversity, and working on helping to improve the Cavendish’s resistance and all that stuff.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tasting Notes: Sweet, Sweet Crude

At the beginning of the summer, I was more than pleased when the Oskar Blues line of beers made it to Texas. Having only tasted these treats from the mean streets of Lyons, Colorado, on a few chance occasions, the arrival of high quality, craft brewed, potent beers available in a specially made can, right in my own co-op, was a beautiful thing. 

Dale's Pale Ale quickly became my go to beer for the summer. This hop forward pale ale, weighing in at a nice 6.5% ABV, either made many an evening memorable, or hazily forgotten. Perfect for those long, hot, Austin nights. Gordon, the big, red, and sticky beer, hit hard at 8.7% ABV, only to be discontinued from our work beer selection due to slow movement. Sometimes consumers are dumb. I mustn't leave out our lovely friend, Old Chub. This Scotch Ale style can beer has a benevolent malt backbone that makes you go back for sip after sip, only to be backhanded by its dastardly well covered 8% ABV. Take all three on the river for a day of tubing, and you may find yourself throwing three British (and Irish) women around as they pitifully try and battle royale style wrestle you in the shallows. Spontaneous spectator water sports and snoozy car rides back from the sticks are definite side-effects to this potent combination of micro brewed beer and leisurely river activity. 

It's no secret that I have a love for the style of ale known as Imperial Stout. There are so many to choose from, some that shine like Venus in the night sky, and some that are just kinda, meh, like the kid that ate paste, and gave himself haircuts in your Kindergarten class. I was stoked when I found out that Oskar Blues had their own canned crude, only to be bummed that it wasn't available in our humble state. Until about a month ago.
 
This beer is really good. 

Ten Fidy, whose name has conflicting lore around it (previous statement removed due to being wrong) is a beast of an ale, and a grand representation of this style. It pours slow and thick like motor oil, and is crowned by a burnt toffee head that smells of roasted barley malt, molasses, and ripe dark fruit. The presence of flaked oats in the grain bill lends to the character of the creamy, milkshake-like body, and velvety mouthfeel. The roasted malt sweetness does a graceful job of masking the gracious 98 IBU's packed in this little can of wintery deliciousness. 

This beer is an animal, not for those with bopped collars and Daddy's old Land Rover. This stout is for the caber tossing, I-built-this-bike-myself, I-have-more-chest-hair-than-my-father, this-one-goes-to-eleven, ilk, weighing in at a massive 10% ABV. As the Professor soon found out, this is a beer to drink when you plan on staying somewhere for the night. Available in four packs, moderately priced at fine beer purveyors in Austin. Pick some up, and sleep where you fall today!

NaNoWhatO?

November has come and gone. It seemed just a short while ago that I had the ambition to be a short time novelist. Riding high on the success of last year's NaNo, I felt as though it would be an easily accomplishable feat to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. Then life got in the way. 

I fell short of the goal by about twenty thousand words, maybe thirty. It was a poor showing for me this year; there's always next year. This November was possibly better spent traveling dark cities, scrounging for offal, and swilling perfectly pulled pints of cask aged, well brewed, craft ales. Life is hard, I do these things so you don't have to. 

Koeppel Interview Part 3

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

As I read your book, I thought heavily of the dichotomy of experiences surrounding the banana. Here in the States, bananas are basically luxuries. They’re cheap, convenient, consistent, and available year round, whereas, in many African and Asian nations, they are the staple for healthy living, and nutrition. What are your thoughts on this drastically different pair of experiences?

It’s really interesting, you know, the banana is the world’s oldest cultivated fruit. It’s been around for seven thousand years; it is the World’s fourth largest crop. Most people don’t really know this, and to us the banana is sort of this benign thing.

Yet, there are also similarities in the way we that we view the banana. It is, really, to us an essential product. It’s the cheapest fruit we have and it does serve a function as a cheap fruit. It does sort of act, not as much, or even, as a competitor to more expensive fruit such as apples, and oranges; it is that. But also is a competitor to snacks like candy bars and Doritos, and really lousy things that are in the American diet. You know, if you go into a 7-Eleven, you see a basket of bananas up there along the big grab of Cheetos, and the humongous double sized bag of M&M’s. You’re not as likely to see an apple up there – and if you do, that apple is gonna be a really crappy red delicious apple, that’s gonna be mealy and bad. On the other hand, the banana that you get you know is gonna be in good shape, you know it’s gonna taste good. You can tell by looking at it.

So in a sense there is a similarity in the essentialness of the banana here, and the essentialness of the banana in Africa. It’s a stretch, but my point is: we need the banana here, mostly because of the foolishness [laughs] of our industrialized diet. We should eat more bananas. Chiquita has actually – like the one smart thing this company has done – is try, and position this as a convenient food. That’s something the company has done for over a hundred years. I mean, I could talk a lot about the not so smart, and terrible things it’s done, but the idea that the banana sits there in the 7-Eleven, is a great idea. I can’t tell you how many people reach for that banana compared to reaching for the Snickers bar, I think, sadly, probably it’s not enough [laughs], but at least it’s there.

Now, on the other hand, in Africa, the banana is so much more than that. In Africa, the banana is life itself. You go to a village in Uganda the African banana isn’t just eighty to ninety percent of the calories. Now imagine eighty to ninety percent of your calories. Imagine your store with only ten percent of the food that it has now. Imagine your home with just ten percent of what you were able to eat. You would starve.

The banana is that.

In addition, as ninety percent of the calories, the bananas are also responsible for the other ten percent. In a Ugandan village, the banana is part of a village ecosystem. That tree provides shade to grow the rest of that food. So if that tree gets sick, if that tree dies, that shade is gone, and the rest of that food also goes away.

In Africa, were there is a lot of tension, where governments are not stable, without food, there is starvation, and there is war. So the banana is a lifesaver. There are efforts to save the banana, to prevent banana disease, to strengthen the fruit, and to make sure that there are different varieties of banana grown. And that people learn how to recognize banana disease, and do everything that they can to protect the banana against it. It is absolutely essential.
If we lose our bananas it is a terrible, terrible thing, but in Africa, to lose bananas is a death sentence to millions, and millions of people.

Koeppel Interview Part 2

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

Do you think that as the situation worsens for bananas future, that companies like Chiquita will publicly acknowledge the plight of their product? If so do you feel that this will assuage consumer fears that they will lose this staple product?

Chiquita for the very first time about a month ago, mentioned Panama Disease, in a media interview with a reporter in the Cincinnati Inquirer. Panama disease is the disease that has destroyed banana crops in Asia, and throughout much of the world. It’s the incurable disease that threatens the banana crop in Latin America. It has yet to hit Latin America. It most certainly will come sometime in the next thirty years. And, when it comes, assuming that no cure is found, there’s been a fifty year search for a cure, and none have been found, and it’s not likely that one will be found, it will almost certainly wipeout the crop of Cavendish bananas, which is the only kind we eat. It is the only kind that people find in markets, whether they’re organic, fair trade, whether those markets are large supermarkets, co-op or anything. It’s the only export banana available, for the most part.

Chiquita did acknowledge that this disease existed. It was the very first time in over fifty years, that a big banana company acknowledged it. Unfortunately, the acknowledgement was basically to say, “It’s not a problem, we know that it exists, it’s not coming. But if it does come, um, we know what to do. But it’s not a big deal.” Totally wrong. What they said they would do, basically, they were going to quarantine their farms. Now, quarantining farms, which is basically building a fence around them, by using clean farming techniques, has never worked. Australia, which is a first world country, and presumably has the ability to build strong quarantine measures, recently tried to quarantine its farms against Panama Disease, and utterly failed. Chiquita will not succeed with that, and I’m not the only person saying that. Plant pathologists, and banana scientist agree with me on that.

Acknowledging is a good first step, but the banana industry, when the first round of Panama Disease wiped out the earlier breed of banana that Americans grew up on -- starting around 1900 until 1960 -- when that breed was wiped out, quarantine measures were tried, banana companies were in denial, and its being repeated. So, I don’t think the banana industry really understands what’s happening, and what will be happening to it in the future. I don’t think that it’s the end of the banana as a commercial product, I think that there’s a lot of hope.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 1

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

It’s apparent that you traveled a fair amount to do research for Banana, what areas or populations do you feel are being hit the hardest by banana maladies that Americans may not be aware of?

In terms of being hit hard, I would say that the definition of hit hard is two-fold. The first one would have to do with people who depend on bananas to eat, and pretty much all over the world, wherever bananas are grown, except for our hemisphere, people depend on bananas to eat. Wherever they do, banana maladies are prevalent. We don’t really know about people in Africa, for example, who get ninety percent of their daily calories from bananas.

Wherever bananas are grown, they get very sick, so, you’ll find, for example, in parts of the Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, banana sickness can devastate crop yields by up to eighty or ninety percent. These are people who are dealing with sick bananas, and they’re literally finding that eight or nine out of ten of the bananas that they grow are not coming off the tree. This can lead to starvation. So that’s something we have no idea about, and these banana sicknesses are very virulent, they’re invincible.

Now, on our side of the world, where most of the bananas grown are for commercial use, in other words, they’re the bananas that are grown for us to eat, we don’t have a lot of problems with sick bananas because we spray them against getting sick. The problem is that these sprays in conventionally grown bananas make the workers sick. So the problem with banana maladies is that we cure the bananas and we sicken the banana workers. The sickness of the banana workers has been a problem for sixty years. What you’ll see is that the kinds of sicknesses and kind of sprays have been changed, and that the word from the sprayers is, “well, things have gotten better, we’re using safer chemical now,” and perhaps these chemicals have gotten a little safer, but I would, uh, dispute that they’re safe. And, in fact, even if the chemicals are a little safer, the effects, which can range from cancers, to sterilization, are by no means safe. The other issue is that bananas need to be sprayed more and more as the years go on, because these maladies become more and more resistant.

So, even if thought the most horrible chemicals of all time were probably used farther back in the past, what’s happening now is pretty bad, so the effects of banana maladies is world wide, it’s just who and how they affect that varies across continents.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cold Leftovers

Thankgiving is over. Good. Next year will be better, and will be here before we know it. I enjoyed waking up this morning in a relatively clean house, without having to clean up the wake of destruction that usually envelops my house on Thanksgiving. Instead, I got to make coffee in a clean kitchen, and enjoy my day doing nothing in particular. 

Turkey pile

I ended up not making the radish dish, due to time, but I will and you'll here about it. It's really simple, I've made it before, but it is so damn good. That's because anything cooked in duck fat is good. I did make an apple pie, poached some pears, and made bacon toffee. The end result was interesting.

My contribution

The pears came out fine. I used some leftover syrup I had from the last batch of poached pears I made for a brunch last week. Even the kids liked them. One kid, Caleb, the child of my co-worker Miranda, touched one, but didn't eat it, prompting a, "Don't touch it if aren't going to eat it," speech from some adult. Grubby kid hands all up on the food...

My bacon toffee is still in its beta testing stages. I couldn't find my thermometer, so this left me guessing when to pull it from the heat. This means I need to go buy a) a candy thermometer, b) a regular thermometer. Due to this lack of precision, the candy didn't get hard like a Skor bar, instead it was more like a soft toffee. The flavor was there, and bacon is just fucking good, so I see where it's going, but it wasn't right. Next time. This will be something that I keep up my sleeve for a long time. I mean, it's bacon toffee?! I envision a summer day with some vanilla ice cream mixed with broken pieces of bacon toffee, or a nice salad with bacon toffee in lieu of bacon... Yum.

v1.0

My pie... Oh, my pie. It was so beautiful, it was a shame that it was eaten before it fully cooled. You can chose which lesson should be learned here:
a) don't stay up so late drinking, that way you can wake up before noon to make pie for evening meal.
b) make pie/crust day before
c) hold out longer than two hours before caving for hungry partygoers
d) don't worry about, have another drink
Regardless of lessons, it was a good pie, it just never set up all the way. It was still pretty warm when I finally cut into it. The crust, which is from a recipe that I have been working with for several years, turned out the way I wanted for the first time in a while. Sometimes it gets too warm too fast, which makes it so hard to work with. This year, I employed a more regulatory system to control the temperature of the dough. It made a few trip back in the fridge as other things were worked on. I used honey crisp apples, which are a nice blend of sweet and tart, and keep their shape as they cook. It was moderately disappointing to watch it ooze when I removed the first slice...

Pie

Pretty pie

The success with the crust makes me want to make another pie soon. I like making pies. It's the only baking I ever do, so it's nice to feel good about doing it. Baking is scary to me for some reason. I guess that comes down to practice and familiarity. I don't eat many sweets anymore, so that means I rarely make them, which is no excuse not to gain practice making them for others. Most people like baked goods. I know when I have high quality baked goods versus just so-so baked goods, but overall I'm indifferent. Except for pie. I like pie. Pie can also be savory, and that gives it extra bonus points. Its all about that pastry. Thats the hard part, especially in Austin, Texas. When it's eighty degrees on Thanksgiving, one must be careful when handling their pastry. Until next time. 

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