Small is the New Big: Drinking Local

Courtesy The Brewers Association

Courtesy The Brewers Association

The other day I was enjoying a beer on my porch when my neighbor, who lives a luxurious ten feet away, came out of his garage lecturing his friend about the evils of Wal-Mart. His friend, who floated lazily behind him on a skateboard, remained silent. My neighbor went on to say he hadn’t shopped there for years and stopped going to McDonald’s as well, since they were epitomes of capitalist nonsense (I’m paraphrasing). His friend attempted an ollie in the driveway.

His fervor surprised me because it’s not the usual rhetoric I hear spouted in neighborhoods like mine, which is to say, poor ones in central Ohio. It cheered me to hear someone outside my little blue bubble of artist friends who understood what megagiagantoconglamamarts do to the local economy. The word is spreading, my friends. And just as the buy local and eat local movements are gaining ground, so the drink local fad is rapidly becoming not a fad.

Allow me to share some statistics directly from the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade association that supports small and independent American brewers. They will blow your hops off! In 2013, there were a total of 2,822 breweries in the US. Of those, 2,768 were craft breweries. That’s 98%! Continue reading

Excuse Me, Waiter, But I Found a Tomato in My Gazpacho

gazpachoI’ve been on a gazpacho kick lately, since the cold tomato soup is easy to make and excellent summer fare. The other day, I was about to add a couple handfuls of basil to the blender, thinking, “Basil always goes well with tomatoes in Italian dishes.” And then I thought, “Wait, is this Italian or Spanish or something else?” And then I thought, “Man, I really don’t know much about gazpacho.” So I went hunting for some fun gazpacho history, and let me tell you, gazpacho has some murky little secrets it’s been keeping from you.

Gazpacho is, indeed, Spanish (though arguably Portuguese as well), specifically from the southern Andalusian region of the Iberian Peninsula. And it’s old, really old, though just how old is open to some debate. Some people think it might have its roots in Roman times, based on the fact that the oldest known recipes involve vinegar, and boy, those Romans loved their vinegar. But the more likely story is that the Moors brought over a soup from Morocco when they came to Andalusia around the 8th century, and the Andalusian peasants adopted it as their own since it was the perfect thing to eat while they were working in the fields.

Here’s the crazy part: wherever it came from, that original gazpacho had nary a tomato! It was a paste of garlic, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar, thinned into a soup with water. (A similar dish still exists in Andalusian cuisine, though it’s now called ajo blanco.) They might have added some vegetables and herbs when they were available, but tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers didn’t enter the gazpacho scene until much later, after Columbus brought them back to Europe from the Americas (What up, New World!?).

The name is also cloaked in mystery. Continue reading

Summer Garden Kasha Salad & Blackened String Beans Whatever-Style

IMG_1375The garden is kicking it thanks to the soaker hose-timer one-two, and we ended up with a bunch of monster-mature string beans.  The things double in heft overnight.  So, what to do?  These guys weren’t up to a gentle steaming.

Blacken.

And pair them with all the tomatoes bulking up in the garden, too.

First, the ‘maters, starring in an ensemble cast in Summer Garden Kasha Salad.

Combine in a big bowl:

Purty

Purty

  • One cup cold kasha (Kasha is buckwheat; barley would work as well.  Cook it with apat of butter in the pot, then chill in the fridge.)
  • One cucumber cut into small chunks
  • One bunch of parsley, chopped, with heaviest stems removed (We used broad leaf and, uhh, traditional? parsley.  I completely forgot that the former existed until the CSA dropped a potter version on us.)
  • One sweet red pepper, diced
  • Two monster or four medium tomatoes, chopped (We had Black Krim and Woodle Orange varieties.)
  • As much feta cheese as you can get your hands on (Bulgarian Sheep Feta is the Holy Grail.)

For the dressing, squeeze, shake, grind, etc into the bowl: Continue reading

The Belgian IPA: a Compromise We All Can Swallow

belgium-beer-flagFor the longest time I treated it as a fault, a failure of some sort. I tried to hide the fact from others and went to great lengths to avoid situations that could have revealed my failings. My tastes were a disgrace, especially for one who called herself a beer snob.

Now that I’m solidly in my mid-thirties, though, I feel old and wise enough to say What do you care? Shut up and drink your beer. So: I don’t like Belgian beer. ThereIvesaidit! So far, no not-so-merry monks have run into the room, robes a-flutter, threatening to bludgeon me with oversized wheels of cheese.

I’ve been drinking long enough to know that it is not the Belgian part of Belgian beer that I don’t like. That unique, expansive taste of Belgian yeast is delightful! Rather, it is the lack of hops that gets me. I need the dryness, the bitterness, the kick in the pants that is a well-hopped beer. And then I discovered the Belgian IPA.

Sweet mother of fermentation! Where have you been all my life?! My first Belgian IPA was a tulip glass of The Audacity of Hops in Boston’s Cambridge Brewing Company. I was suspicious. My favorite cute bartender with the Buddy Holly glasses served it to me and I eyed it sideways, its perfect head and cloudy orange hue suspect. But then I took a cautious sip and was hit with a face full of hops. I was instantly converted. Continue reading

Are These Zucchini Multiplying While I’m Not Watching?

zucchiniI love zucchini. Really. But this is the time of year when zucchini seems less like a vegetable and more like a species of highly reproductive rodent. Every time I think I have a handle on our zucchini supply, the CSA bombs me with another shipment. Last week, a stranger physically dragged Jason into a church up the street so she could foist a bag of zucchini upon him.

And I know I’m not alone. I know this because when I was in Ohio recently, my mom, while feeding us zucchini bread for breakfast, suggested that perhaps we’d like some nice stuffed zucchini for lunch. Or maybe we had a little extra zucchini room in our suitcases? When I asked her what was up, she sighed and said, “I keep telling your father to pick them when they’re smaller.” Enter Farmer Dwight, right on cue, carrying a zucchini the size of a surface-to-air missile and grinning mischievously.

So I’m going to share one of my go-to zucchini recipes. It’s adapted from one I found years ago in one of the Moosewood cookbooks. (One of these days, I will pay proper homage to Mollie Katzen and all things Moosewood, but right now I have to keep an eye on my zucchini, lest they try to mate again.) It’s delicious, a little unusual and good for using up zucchini. Who could ask for more?

Zucchini Ankara Continue reading

The Even-Movie-Characters-Gotta-Eat Puzzle

ratatouille

I fell asleep during this movie, so I didn’t use any quotes from it.

We haven’t had a puzzle around these parts for some time now, and since this is the season of free outdoor movies in New York (enabling me to see Sharknado for the first time last week–divine), how about a little silver screen brainteaser to send us all into the weekend? Name the movie from which each of these finger-lickin’ food quotes is taken. Be warned: some of these are tough nuts to crack. (I didn’t use “Take the cannoli,” or “I’ll have what she’s having,” because I respect you more than that.) For bonus points, name the actor and character who uttered each line.

  1. Lunch is for wimps.
  2. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab and even these apples look fake, but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together.
  3. Sometimes the spaghetti likes to be alone.
  4. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It’s watching you stuff your face with those hotdogs! Nobody–I mean nobody–puts ketchup on a hot dog!
  5. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris?
  6. Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.
  7. What’s tiramisu? Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her, and I’m not going to know what it is.
  8. When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs / Ev’ry morning to help me get large / And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs / So I’m roughly the size of a barge!
  9. Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.
  10. Annie, there’s a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can’t get it out. This thing’s heavy. Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side.

Don’t click Continue or scroll down until you’re ready for the answers.

Continue reading

In Search of Lost Time, Episode of the Pale Ale

It's true.

It’s true.

With apologies to Proust, I reflect on my history in beer. A long, meaningful, and eventful relationship.

In the small town where I live, everyone knows everyone. People who don’t know my name know my profession, and I answer to “Hey, Bookstore Lady,” on a regular basis. Without fail, the second thing people remember about me is that I like beer. A lot. Most of them do not know that my memory is stored in six-packs and cases like so many bottles of beer at the corner shop.

Time and devotion have ingrained beer in my life. The way others can mark their history by food or travels, I can with beer. The taste of certain beers will take me back to a memory as fast as any smell or song can. One sip of Labatt Blue and I’m a senior in college again, Thursday night pitchers with a basket of unshelled peanuts for $6 at the CI. Toss the shells on the floor, carve your name in the table.

A Harpoon IPA shuttles me to Boston faster than a speeding Chinatown bus. It was my go-to beer at every less-than-fine establishment I frequented. Its high hoppy buzz reminiscent of every dinner I drank at Charlie’s, a diner a block away from the bookstore where I worked. It reminds me of every boy I sat next to at the counter there, wishing they would just kiss me, and the black-and-white tiles, the chrome, and the lobster tank in the corner.

One night in Boston’s Publick House, I drank five Great Divide Hercules Double IPAs, much to the astonishment of my friends, and realized I wasn’t going to marry the man who had stayed at home that night. To this day it tastes of revelation. Continue reading

Quick Dinner Sandwiches: Torta Riffage and Beauteous Red Onions

This is onion overkill.  I had to remove probably two-thirds of these to get the taste proportions correct.

This is onion overkill. I had to remove probably two-thirds of these to get the taste proportions correct.

I love immigrants.  I’m convinced that if anything is to save the U.S. from its tech-tweaked obliviousness and proudly-uninformed politics, it will be immigrants coming here to kick ass and remind the rest of us how it is done.  There are two primary personal experiences that actualize this feeling of love.  The first is the rare experience of taking a cab (always driven by an immigrant) and leaving soothed by the reminder that people all over the world still see this as the place to come and work your ass of in relative peace and safety.  The second is the torta.

The torta is the ultimate combination of Mexican gastronomic glory and that ultimate form in American dining: the sandwich.  Its bread is white-bread hero rolls, and I don’t even care.  We eat beans a lot in our house because 1) they’re super tasty, 2) they’re super inexpensive, and 3) they’re super inexpensive, and after paging through cookbooks looking for something out of the ordinary to make for dinner and getting distracted by a recipe for marinating onions, I decided to riff on the torta motif with those onions as the primary ingredient. Continue reading

Pimp My Potluck: Spicy Southwestern Potato Salad

southwestern potato salad

Also makes a great side dish for a night at home, with leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

One of the beautiful things about New York City in the summer is that the abundant sunshine drives people out of the tiny, winter hovels they call home and forces them to interact with the outside world. Hence, the plethora of outdoor concerts and events, to say nothing of the potluck, picnic and barbecue invitations that begin to pop up in one’s inbox.

But what exactly to contribute to these events can be a sticky problem. Beer is almost always welcome, but what if you need something edible in concert with the potable? Forget about baking whatever you took to those holiday parties months ago; turning the dial on the oven is a dangerous proposition that could result in instant HIC (Heat-Induced Coma). Salad is often a good idea, but no one like the sight of something brown and wilted giving up the ghost in the middle of the table. I think that’s how potato salad became a potluck staple, but I tire of both the mayonnaise-y and vinegary varieties pretty rapidly. Here’s a variation that has a refreshing citrus kick but is still hearty enough to carry you through the most taxing games of cornhole.

Spicy Southwestern Potato Salad

Dressing:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste Continue reading

When Good Food Goes Rogue: Allergy Mysteries

peanut picture

I found this whimsical peanut shower by Lou Beach in the New York Times. Yes, that New York Times.

While visiting my homeland of Ohio this week, I learned that my youngest niece has developed an allergy to chestnuts. Chestnuts! Victorian open-fire roasting events and turkey-stuffing festivals will never be the same for her, that’s for sure. And then just a couple days later, my friend Dave was laid low (very low, sadly) in the middle of a wedding celebration due to his unfortunate exposure to pine nuts. It seems that everybody has an allergy to something these days, which begs the question—what exactly is going on here?

To be sure, food allergies are not a new phenomenon. Sir Thomas More implies in one of his books that King Richard III knowingly used an allergic reaction to strawberries to accuse one of his lords of poisoning him, and subsequently demanded his head on a platter. Yeesh. In more recent history, Bruce Lee, the martial arts star who may or may not have suffered from a family curse, died from an allergic reaction to aspirin.

But if you think that allergies seem like more of a problem now than they were, say, when you were a kid, you’d be right. Continue reading