Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner at Mezzanine in Richmond

Recently, Patrick and I found an excuse to go down to Cary Town in Richmond, VA. I wanted to eat at Mezzanine, a place I had wanted to try on a prior trip but found it closed. Once again it was closed, it only serves dinner and I always seem to be out looking for a meal at 3 in the afternoon. Mezzanine supports the local food movement by using local farm fresh ingredients. I am disappointed by their website and menu as it really did not give much of a back story for the restaurant.

Patrick started with the beet salad which was served way too cold. The layers of goat cheese were creamy but tasteless. The citrus reduction and the beets were delicious. The salad had potential but serving cheese cold prevents the fats from giving their flavors.

I had a spinach salad with fried oysters, sun dried tomatoes, and bacon vinaigrette. The oysters were amazing, fried crisp outside and tender inside. The bacon vinaigrette had a nice smoky porky flavor but I could have used more bacon. I also could have used a bit more vinaigrette and a few more oysters. We wanted to order a whole basket of them.

Patrick had the Shrimp and Grits because he loves grits. This restaurant seemed to love grits as my entree was also served on a bed of them. Patrick's shrimp were overcooked but they are his least favorite part of this dish for that reason. The shrimp flavor in the grits is more enjoyable. I had the beef short rib that was swimming in hosin ju. The hosin ju was too sweet and needed balance, maybe something smoky. The first beef rib was fall apart tender but the other two were not. I like my meat to fall apart and these ribs fell short.

Their menu was promising and pretty decent despite a few differences in taste. The service was relaxed, laid back, and unremarkable. Our server was happy to tell us which items he liked and which items will soon be leaving the menu.

When we first sat down we were served a basket of New York Flatbreads. These crackers needed to be served with something to spread on them or dip into. As I was eating wheat at the time I really wanted hot fresh bread and butter. If I was in Richmond often, I would try this place once in a while as their menu changes frequently.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The King of English Cheese and the Wine of Philosophy

Stilton is a classic cheese for the Christmas season which can be made more indulgent by pairing it with Port. There is a Christmas tradition of scoping out a wheel of Stilton and pouring in Port. This website has a wonderfully detailed description of this process. They state that a “head of Stilton will take 2 weeks to drink a bottle of Port”.

Stilton was created in the early 18th century in the midlands of England. Stilton was named after the town of Stilton which is 80 miles north of London. Legend has it that in 1730 Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn in the village of Stilton, discovered this blue cheese while visiting Leicestershire. He fell in love with the cheese and was granted full marketing rights to blue Stilton. The Bell Inn was located near a major stagecoach route between London and Northern England which helped to advance the popularity of the cheese. Frances Pawlett was a skilled cheesemaker in Wymondham who is credited with setting the standards for Stilton. Frances and her husband organized the first cooperative in the area to produce Stilton. Together, Thornhill and Pawlett helped to build the reputation and popularity of Stilton.

The Stilton Cheesemakers Association was formed in 1936 to lobby for regulations to protect the origin and quality of the cheese. Stilton was granted legal protection with a certification trademark 30 years later in 1966 and was the only British cheese to have this status. As Stilton has a Protected Geographical Status (POD), there are specific guidelines for its making. Stilton can only be made by authorized creameries in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire. Stilton can no longer be legally made in the town of Stilton as it is not in one of the 3 permitted counties. There are only 6 creameries currently producing Stilton. Stilton can only be made from local pasteurized milk. Stilton can only be made in the traditional cylindrical shape and it must develop its own coat or crust on the outer rind. Stilton is never pressed and has delicate blue veins radiating from its center. Stilton will have a typical fat content of 35% and protein content is 23%.

Stilton is considered the King of English cheeses. The British enjoy their cheese and cheese has become a part of their popular culture. Most of us are familiar with the Monty Python cheese shop sketch and Wallace & Gromit and their cheese loving ways. The British Cheese Board conducted a survey in 2005 that reported 75% of men and 85% of women experienced “odd and vivid” dreams after eating a 20 gram serving of Stilton half an hour prior to bedtime. Try some Stilton before bedtime and be sure to keep your dream journal by your bedside to capture those vivid dreams upon waking.

When storing Stilton, keep it tightly wrapped and store in an air tight container. This will prevent your cheese from drying out and protect your other food items from being tainted by blue mold. This cheese will keep in the fridge for weeks and it will continue to mature as it ages becoming more intense in flavor. I do not often advocate the freezing of cheese but as the Stilton cheese website,, states it “freezes beautifully. Simply cut into easy to handle portions, wrap in cling film or foil and freeze for up to 3 months. De-frost slowly – preferably in the fridge overnight. Allow to reach room temperature before serving.”

Stilton pairs well with pears, celery, walnuts, and charcuterie. It can be added to sauces, soups, salads, and burgers. Stilton can top a steak, cracker, or bread. Stilton enjoys sweet accompaniments so experiment with chutneys and sweet breads or crackers. Stilton pairs well with sweet wines, sherry, and Shiraz. Port is the preferred drink to enhance Stilton so let us explore Port.

The origins of Port lie in the Douro Valley of Portugal. It is a fortified wine which means grape spirit is added during fermentation to halt the fermentation process. This leaves the wine with more residual sugar and higher alcohol content. This made shipping Port from Portugal to England much easier as the alcohol and sugar increase its shelf life.

Port is very sweet and usually served after dinner with dessert. There are several styles of Port and The Vineyard offers a wide variety for you to choose from. Any Port will pair perfectly with Stilton. Port and Stilton are a classic match because they provide a wonderful balance for each other. The sweetness of the Port is balanced by the saltiness of the cheese. The flavors combine on the tongue to form a unique flavor.

Port should be served at a temperature between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Your glass should be filled no more than half way to appreciate its aroma. Most Ports can be enjoyed after opening but Vintage Ports require decanting. To decant a Vintage Port, stand the bottle upright for at least 24 hours and up to one week, to allow time for the sediment to settle to the bottom. If the cork breaks, strain the wine while decanting but do not use paper filters as it will affect the flavor. If you love Sabrage service for opening Champagne, you can open your Port with traditional Port tongs. The tongs are heated to red hotness then clamped around the neck of the bottle below the cork and above the shoulder of the bottle for 1 to 2 minutes. Then apply a wet towel to the same spot and the rapid change in temperature will cause the glass to cleanly break.

Port is traditionally served at the end of a meal and leisurely enjoyed. Port can have a warm calming affect and is considered the “wine of philosophy". Contemplatively sip your Port and nibble your Stilton and enjoy stimulating conversations. Maybe Mr. Chesterton was sipping Port and enjoying Stilton when he wrote his Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese.

Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese:

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I–
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.
Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading “Household Words”,
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

- G.K. Chesterton

Stilton and Port are wonderful for cooking and baking, together and on their own. Last Christmas I made this wonderful Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Crumble. I have included this recipe and others below. Happy Holidays.

Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Crumble

• 6 large pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons Ruby Port
• 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup light brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
• 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking dish with butter and set aside.
In a bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon flour, the sugar, and port, and toss to combine. Arrange in the prepared dish. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, finely chopped walnuts, brown sugar and salt. Add the butter, working in with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the pear mixture. Bake until the pears are tender, the juices bubble, and the crust is golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Aged Blue Stilton and Port Souffle

Serves 1
85g/3oz Aged Blue Stilton®
2 tbsp Port
3tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 egg yolk
3 egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice

1) Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the Aged Blue Stilton®, Port and cream into a non-stick ovenproof skillet. Heat gently untill
the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk.
2) In a bowl, whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Fold the egg whites into the
cheese mixture.
3) Transfer to a ramekin dish and bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, or until well-risen and lightly golden on top.

Port & Stilton Sauce Adapted from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery — Everyday Specials

4 ounces (125 grams) Blue Stilton
6 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons of Port
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Blend the cheeses and port in a food processor or blender. Put the mixture into a saucepan and heat gently until melted and bubbling; add already warmed pine nuts and seasoning to taste.
If you are serving the sauce with steaks, cook the steaks and add them to the sauce and cook for a further 1-1/2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with a selection of traditional vegetables.

Stilton, Port and Walnut Paté

225gr Stilton
50gr unsalted butter
3 tbsp Port
125gr chopped walnuts
Place the cheese, butter and Port in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the walnuts, mix. Place the paté in a serving bowl, cover with cling film and chill till ready to serve.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is Local?

Buy Fresh Buy Local, Locavore, the 100 mile meal, Local Food. We hear a lot about local food these days but what does local food really mean? How local is local? The answer is surprising. Some farmers markets clearly define what they consider local. Freshfarm Markets consider local to be within 200 miles, the Farmers market in Lorton will only accept producers within 125 miles. Whole Foods considers local to be within a day’s drive. My husband and I drive to Michigan in a day which takes about 9 hours but I would never consider an apple from Michigan to be local. When I checked their website, they states that a day’s drive is 7 hours and individual stores may establish a shorter distance to define their local foods.

I recently learned that a large scale dairy producer trucks his milk from Virginia to Pennsylvania for pasteurization and then drives it back to Virginia. Is that milk local? Many foods are grown in one area and then transported to a different area for processing. Then the items still have to be transported to the consumer and they might even make another stop before getting to market. Some produce is sold wholesale and has to be transported to a warehouse location before it makes the market. If produce was labeled with the miles it took to reach the shelf from start to finish, people might think differently about their food.

Food travels an average of 1,300 miles from farm to table and can spend 7-14 days in transit before it arrives at the supermarket. That is a lot of time and distance for who knows what to happen to those food items, not to mention that produce will lose vitamins and minerals in time. I think food that travels a short distance will be fresher, healthier, and less beaten up by a long commute. In 2007, a study was conducted by the Dewey Health Review which examined the diet of 100 people between the ages of 18-55 who enjoyed a diet of local food that was grown within an 80 mile radius. The study found a 19% increase in the sturdiness of bowel movements and a drop in sleep apnea and night terrors.

Michael Pollen often uses the term food miles which refers to how many miles the food must travel before it makes it to your plate. If I get lamb from New Zealand or carrots from California, I picture the food swimming in oil. How much oil did it take to transport these items? How much pollution was released into the air? Buying local food will reduce our dependence on oil, congestion on our roadways, and the amount of pollution that is released into the air. There needs to be a better way for local food producers to reach the average customers. Virginia is an agricultural state that has many productive farms. This makes me wonder why most of the local produce I see in supermarkets comes from Pennsylvania. Virginia is a producer of cheese, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Our farmer’s markets are filled with apples, peaches, beets, greens, carrots, potatoes, figs, corn, tomatoes, berries, and asparagus when in season, just to name a few. Farmer’s markets can offer a greater variety of produce that would not be available in supermarkets. Farmer’s markets can promote local obscure varieties and tell you how to enjoy them.

A locavore is a person who values local food as their primary deciding factor when choosing food. The term was coined by Jessica Prentice from San Francisco for World Environment Day 2005. It was intended to promote the idea of enjoying a diet that consists of food harvested from within a 100 mile radius. The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore as the word of the year in 2007.

The local food movement is a group effort to encourage locally based and self reliant food systems. The local food movement values sustainable food production, processing, and distribution. They want to enhance the economic environment and social health of the area. Local food systems remove the middle man and encourage relationships between producer and consumer.

Why buy local? You can enjoy fresh food, support the local economy, and reduce your environmental impact. I like to think about the process my food endures before it gets to my kitchen. I drive to a farm to get my milk, butter, eggs, and the occasional duck or chicken. I know where these items came from and I know what they eat and who takes care of the animals and makes the end product. I know how many miles they had to travel before making it into my fridge.

Many farms in Virginia offer community supported agriculture or C.S.A programs. People buy a share in the farm and enjoy its bounty. Many farms sell at farm stands and farmers markets. But it is daunting for a small farm to sell to a national supermarket chain. Whole Foods wants its producers to have a large amount of liability insurance which may be unreasonable for the average small scale farmer.

People often argue that shopping at Farmer’s Markets is too expensive. But many people consider cost per calorie instead of cost for nutrition. The dollar menu may sound like a deal but that food is not healthy. Some CSA’s and buyers clubs can make eating local less expensive. Industrialized, commodified food is often cheaper due to governmental subsidies and tax breaks. Organically and sustainably grown food cost more because of many of these government subsidies which favor big agricultural business. Currently there are three farmer’s markets in the D.C. area that accept EBT cards. More and more farmer’s markets nationwide are accepting food stamps.

For every $100 spent in our local economy, $68 of those dollars return to the community in taxes and payroll. Buying local is a great way to keep money in the area you live. Not to mention supporting small local business. Every $1 spent locally will see a return of $.45 into the community compared to a return of $.15 on non-local items. The 3/50 project asks people to pick 3 local independent businesses and spend $50 once a month at these businesses. If half the employed population spent $50 a month in locally owned independent business it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue

Since 1935, 4.7 million farms in America have vanished. Currently there are less than 1 million farmers in America who farm as their primary occupation. Most farmer’s must work an off-farm job at some time to support their farm. Farming is hard enough without working a second job. Supporting local food supports local farms and local people. I care about local food and value the people who produce it. I want to support local farmers in my community and I want to live sustainability. Today is the first Save Our Food local food Holiday Festival. I am excited to check it out and share my experience with you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am Thankful for American Cheese!

What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear American cheese? Do you think about American cheese slices, Kraft singles, and Velveeta? These cheeses give American cheese a bad name. As a child my favorite cheese was, government welfare cheese. I used to love these enormous orange blocks of cheese that would come in a cardboard box. Sometimes I wish I could still get this cheese but I am happy to longer need this cheese. America has done so many awful things to cheese, we have even put cheese in a can which you can spray directly onto a cracker. Growing up in Philly, home of the cheesesteak, you would have to choose between cheese whiz, American cheese, and provolone at Pat’s steaks.

Cheese has been apart of American since the beginning, as soon as British colonists arrived in America they started making cheddar. American cheddars were being exported to England by 1790. The British called these cheddars “American cheese” or “Yankee cheese”. In 1878, The New York Times gave the total amount of cheese being exported to be 355 million pounds a year with the potential to reach 1,420 million pounds. American cheese was considered by the British to be inferior but cheap and therefore popular. This is where the idea of American cheese being inferior originated. An article from 1878 mentions that exceptional American cheeses were often relabeled under European names after export leaving the low grade cheeses to be labeled as American.

The term “American cheese” was first used in 1804 and appeared again in The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens in 1860. Americans have called their cheddars “yellow cheese” or “store cheese” or “apple pie cheese”. With the increase of cheese factories in the 1890’s, these cheeses were called “factory cheese”. In the 1920’s these cheeses were often called “rattrap cheese” or “rat cheese”. That does not sound tasty; no wonder cheese had a bad reputation for so long.

The legal definition in America for “American cheese” is a kind of pasteurized processed cheese. Today there is a new term for cheese, American Artisanal cheese which is cheese made by hand in small batches. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, American artisanal cheese began to grow in popularity. Factory made cheese manufactured by large companies dominated the market but there were a few small cheesemakers. The Vella Cheese Company started in 1931 and Maytag Dairy started in 1941. Both of these companies are still making excellent cheese.

In the summer of 1942, the US imposed restrictions on cheese consumption because of the war. This conservation measure allowed American cheese to be the only type of cheese to be legally consumed. This was to encourage wartime patriotism and due to the surplus of American cheese and lack of European cheeses. The ban took effect May 4, 1942 and was quickly repealed on August 1, 1942 due to public response and complaints from British exporters that it damaged morale and solidarity between the US and Britain.

Growing up, cheese was a major part of every family gathering. I can remember my mother making special trips to Trader Joe’s in the early 90’s just for cheese. Saint Andre became a family favorite along with fresh chevre that was often drizzled in olive oil and coated in spices. Pate, pumpernickel, and cornichons always had space on our table. I can remember teasing my aunt about cornichons just being little pickles. I was lucky to grow up in Philly because I can always remember there being Claudio King of cheese, DiBruno, and the Reading Terminal, with wonderful cheese selections. Even the small mom and Pop delis had some pretty great cheeses. I first fell in love with Prima Donna when I was living next door to a small family deli on Passyunk Avenue.

Cheese has come a long way in the United States. The American Cheese Society was founded in 1983 to promote American made cheese. The American consumer is more interested in cheese these days and more interesting cheeses are being imported into America. There has been an increase in the number of cheese specialty shops in America and an increase in cheeses available in supermarkets. The American cheese palette is growing beyond cow’s milk cheeses to include sheep and goat cheese.

America is the world’s largest cheese producer making 30% of the world’s cheese. Germany is the second largest producer followed by France, Italy, and the Netherlands. The largest exporter of cheese is France and then Germany based on monetary value. 95% of the cheese produced in Ireland is for exporting, 90% in New Zealand, 72% in the Netherlands and 65% in Australia. The largest importer of cheese is Germany followed by the UK and Italy. The largest consumer of cheese per capitia is Greece followed by France then Italy. As of 2003, Americans ate an average of 31 lbs of cheese per person with Mozzarella accounting for about 1/3 of this consumption.

America is producing some amazing cheese, many of which are being recognized in Europe. American made cheeses won 140 International awards in 2006. Some popular American cheeses being imported to Europe are made by Marin French, Cypress Grove, Vermont Shepherd, and Fiscalini. In 2003, Rogue River Blue won the best blue cheese award at the World Cheese Awards. In 2007, Rogue River Blue became the fist raw milk cheese made in America to be approved for exporting into Europe. American made cheeses are extremely expensive in Europe. Rogue River Blue costs about 65 GBP (Great Britain Pounds) per kilo (which is over 2.2 lbs). This high price tag has not stopped Rogue River Blue from being a popular cheese in Europe.

Stephane Blohorn is the owner of Androuet, a chain of cheese shops in France whose website lists over 30 different American made cheeses. But they would not stock these cheeses because “The French go first to French cheese”. A new idea is beginning to change this mentality and that is terrior. This term has been common in the wine industry to describe a climate, soil, and location of a certain region which imparts unique qualities into the wine. This notion is becoming popular in the cheese world. Laure Dubouloz, manager of Maison Mons, an affineur near Lyon says “U.S. terrior is as good as the French”. He goes on to state that French cheesemakers are very traditional whereas American cheese makers attempt to create something new and different.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday which calls for American artisanal cheese. Some of my favorite American cheese and cheesemakers are:

Cypress Grove, makers of Purple Haze, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, and Humboldt Fog.
Dante is an aged sheep’s milk cheese from Wisconsin.
Roth Kase Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix
Rouge Creamery makers of Smokey Blue and Lavender cheddar.
Kenny’s farmhouse makers of Awe Brie
Tumalo farms makers of Pondhopper and Tumalo Classico
BeeHive Dairy in Utah makers of Sea Hive and Barely Buzzed

What is your favorite American cheese? Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for reading!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow."

Cheese is made from milk and milk comes from many different mammals. The most popular milk types for cheese making are cow, goat, sheep, and Water Buffalo. There are cheeses made from Yak and even reindeer milk. Today I will focus on the more common types of milk being cow, goat, and sheep.

In most countries around the world, goat milk is preferred making it the most consumed type of milk. Goat milk is pure white and naturally homogenized. The fat in cow’s milk will rise to the surface whereas the fat globules in goat milk are much smaller and will remain suspended. Goat milk is lower in lactose and is easier to digest than cow’s milk. People who have issues with cow’s milk will often find goat’s milk to be a wonderful alternative. Goat milk is a great source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B2, potassium, and the amino acid tryptophan. Goat’s milk also has anti-inflammatory compounds called oligosaccharides and can enhance the metabolism of iron and copper. Goat’s milk can be frozen and stored for up to 30 days. Freezing goat’s milk and using it for cheese making will result in a more delicate curd.

Goats lactate for ten months and their milk will become scarce as they move into their breeding season. For this reason, goat’s milk is harder to come by in winter but the milk will have a higher butterfat content. Goats are milked twice a day and can produce between 3-5 quarts of milk per day. Milk from the Nubian breed has larger fat globules and is great for making soft and semi-firm cheeses. The Toggenburg breed of goat will produce milk with smaller globules which is great for making sharp aged cheese.

Goat milk can taste sweet with a salty undertone. Goat’s milk cheese can have a tangy flavor that will mellow with age. There are many different kinds of cheeses made from goat’s milk ranging from fresh and soft to aged and hard. There are also yogurts, ice creams, and butters made from goat’s milk. People often tell me they do not like goat cheese but I argue they have not met the right goat cheese yet.

We have been milking sheep longer than we have been milking cows but there are only 100 sheep dairies in the United States. Sheep milk is rich, concentrated and has the highest amount of fat and protein when compared to cow and goat milk. Sheep’s milk is also higher in nutrients than cow or goat milk. Sheep milk is rich in Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Folate, Vitamin A and C. It also provides Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Panthothenic acid, Vitamin B6 and B12. Sheep’s milk can help reduce cholesterol as its primary fats are heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Sheep’s milk contains medium chain triglycerides which may reduce cholesterol.
Sheep’s milk also has high levels of conjugated linoleic acid which can fight cancer and reduce fat. The fat globules in sheep milk are small and people who cannot tolerate cow or goat milk can often enjoy sheep milk.

Lactating ewes of any breed can be milked. There are more than a dozen sheep breeds that specialized in dairy producers. Only a few of these breeds are available in the United States, the East Friesian and Lacaune. These breeds will produce 400-1,100 pounds of milk per lactation as compared to the 100-200 pounds of milk per lactation for conventional sheep.

Sheep milk is sweet, nutty, and creamy. Sheep have the shortest lactation period and can produce milk for up to eight months. Sheep are milked twice a day and can produce about a quart per day. Sheep milk has more solids than goat or cow milk which means more cheese can be made from one gallon of sheep milk. Goat and cow milk will yield 9-10% cheese where sheep milk will yield 18-25%. Sheep produce less milk than cows and goats making it four times as expensive. Freezing does not alter the cheesemaking ability of sheep’s milk which can be frozen and stored for up to 30 days

Cow’s milk is 88% water, 5% lactose, 3.5-5% protein, 3-5% fat and minerals and enzymes make up the remaining percentage. Cow’s milk has the highest amount of carotene which makes the milk look yellow. Cow’s milk can taste earthy and grassy but taste will depend on season. Cows have a longer lactation period than goats and sheep. If the breeding is staggered for a herd of cows, they can be milked year round. Cows are milked twice a day and can produce between 8-20 quarts of milk per day. One gallon of milk will produce about a pound of cheese. Cow’s milk cannot be frozen and used for cheese making. Milk from Jersey and Guernsey breeds of cow have the largest fat globules making their milk wonderful for making soft and semi soft cheeses. Ayrshire milk has the smallest fat globules and is great for making sharp Italian cheese and long aged Cheddar.

Cow’s milk is a great source of iodine, calcium, Vitamin D, tryptophan, riboflavin, phosphorus. Cow's milk is also a good source of protein, potassium and Vitamin B12, K, and A. Grass fed cows produce milk with conjugated linoleic acid which can prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, and prevent atherosclerosis.

Many people will argue that the best way to enjoy cow’s milk is to drink it raw. When milk is referred to as raw, it means the milk has not been pasteurized. Raw milk contains components that assist in killing pathogens, preventing pathogen absorption, and strengthen the immune system. Many of these immune enhancing and antimicrobial components are greatly reduce by pasteurization and destroyed by ultra-pasteurization. Raw milk is safe only if it comes from a safe producer. Do you know where your milk comes from?

Raw milk can be legally sold in 28 states within the United States. Many cheeses are made using raw milk. In the United States, raw milk cheeses must be aged for a minimum of sixty days before they can legally be sold. After sixty days, the acids in the cheese have killed any harmful pathogen. Raw milk cheeses are legal and widely available in Europe. A recent report issued by the Australian government argues that producers can make raw milk cheese equivalent to pasteurized cheese in safety.

Don’t judge a cheese by its milk type unless you have allergies or lactose issues. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy a Goat Gouda or Sheep’s milk brie. There is also a variety of cheeses made using two or more milk types. Try a mixed milk cheese like Menage and taste what you have been missing. "Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow" is an old Spainsh Proverb that seems to say the best milk comes from goats, butter from cows, and cheese from sheep. There might be some truth to that but I love cheese made from all of them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tools of the Trade

This past Friday I was in Fredericksburg and found what I had been missing, a really big cheese knife. I bought myself a 14 inch Lamson Sharp two handle cheese knife. This thing is like a machete, when I washed it for the first time and again on the second time, I sliced that sponge like butter. This knife is sharp and wonderful for cutting into big wheels of hard aged cheese like Gouda or Montasio. This knife isn’t necessary for the average cheese enthusiast but is a must have for any serious cheesemonger. There are a few tools on the market that will help the home cheese lover enjoy their cheese more.

If you love cheese, you should have a cheese plane. These are often called Norwegian cheese planes because they were invented in Norway and patented in 1925 by Thor Bjorklund who was a carpenter. He designed the cheese plane based on a carpenter’s plane to give thin and uniform slices of cheese. Cheese planes are excellent for hard cheeses and are great at removing mold from the surface of cheese. If a cheese is moldy, just shave it off and it is good as new. The cheese plane can also be used to slice vegetable like cucumbers.

Cheese wires are great for cutting softer cheese like mozzarella or a Colby style cheese. They can also be great for younger cheddars but the wires can break and will need to be replaced. You can also use a classic hard boiled egg slicer to cut uniform pieces of mozzarella with one slice. There are some nice cheese boards that have this style of cutter built in which is great for party convenience. If I am hosting a party, I do not like to cube the cheese ahead of time as the cheese will dry out. I like my guests to hack away at chunks of cheese and the cheese wire and board all in one makes this very easy.

There are also cheese knives which have a ticker handle and the blade is thinner at the top and gradually widens towards the tip. This can look like a cleaver as it is often square and is wonderful for cutting cheddars. This knife can also have holes in the blade as this prevents the cheese from sticking to the knife. Stainless steel is the best choice for a cheese knife as it is easier for the cheese to be removed from the knife without sticking. This knife is great for cutting cake, butter, hard boiled eggs, and anything that would stick to the knife.

This knife also comes in another style that does not look like a cleaver. The blade has large cut out sections to prevent sticking and crumbling and is serrated. These are sometimes called tomato knife. This knife is great for cutting soft to semi firm cheeses and is one of my favorite knives. I got a set on eBay that says cheese down the blade in cut out letters. These often have a forked tip to pick up and serve the slice of cheese.

There is also a fine knife for soft cheese that has a rather dull blade and is very slim. This knife is wonderful for blue cheese as well as soft cheeses. Soft cheese can also be cut with a spreader. You can use the edge of the spreader to get a bit of cheese and then spread it on a cracker. I am not much for spreading and squishing cheese on to delivery systems as this makes the rind distribution uneven. A spreader is great for chevre and soft cheeses when you cut open the top and dive into the delicious goo. Butter knives work just as good as cheese spreaders.

There is also the Girolle cheese shaver which was first used in Switzerland for Tete de Moin or Monk’s Head cheese. This is a firm full fat cheese when cut with the Girolle forms rosettes. This cheese is never supposed to be cut, you should slice off the top rind and shave away. An entire wheel of Tete de Moin would be placed onto the spindle then slide on the handle and crank away. Wheels of this cheese average about 1 ½ - 2 pounds. Shaving the cheese this way brings out the aroma and flavor of the cheese. This cheese has been made for the past 800 years but the Girolle was not invented until 1982. Tete de Moin has become more popular sine the invention of the Girolle. They used to have to shave this cheese the hard way. If you love gadgets, this is a cheese tool for you but I hear Alton Brown’s voice in my head bemoaning uni-taskers. You could also use a box grater or microplane which is also useful for grating Parmigiano Reggiano and other hard aged cheeses.

This brings us to cheese boards and how best to serve the cheese now that you have the cutlery. Cheese boards should be durable and easy to clean. Marble cheese boards are heavenly during the heat of the summer as the marble will help the cheese stay cool. There are some great cheese boards out there that also provide a home for your cheese knives. Bamboo is great for cheese boards as they absorb less moisture, are harder than maple and very durable. Knife marks are not easily visible on bamboo boards. Bamboo is a renewable resource and environmentally friendly.

There are some nice slate boards on the market that provide a stunning visual display and the ability to write the name of the cheese on the board in chalk. There seems to be some debate about weather these are appropriate surfaces for cutting cheese. Artisanal’s website says there are not useable as cutting boards but this information was nowhere else to be found. Slate scratches easily and is made from compacted shale and clay which is basically mud. I am not able to recommend or discourage slate cheese boards.

It isn’t necessary to buy a bunch of new kitchen toys to enjoy cheese but some will make it a bit easier. You can use a decent chef’s knife to cut hard cheese and a pairing knife for softer cheese and a standard wooden cutting board to serve them on. The most important thing is to enjoy your cheese at room temperature. There is a great picture of cheese knives at See if you can pick out from the photo which is what kind of knife.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wheat Hates Me

Wheat, oh how I love the things you can do with flour. Bread is such a staple of life. Crusty baguette with cheese, croissant, bagel, muffin, cookie, and even sweeter, cake, pie, tarts, brownies, then there is breakfast, toast with butter and jam, waffles, pancakes, strata, and breakfast for dinner was always a special night. And how about dinner, pasta, pizza, anything breaded, and for lunch there is no sandwich without two slices of bread and there are so many sandwiches and very few substitutes for them. How I have been craving a sandwich. Crisp golden crust that crumbles to flake when you bite it and the center is so soft and chewy.

I used to live a block away from two of the best bakeries in South Philadelphia, a French boulangerie that did a wonderful baguette and a version with chocolate, as well as cheesy bread and croissants and the other was a wood fired Italian bakery. We could stand in our tiny bricked backyard or even just standing in the kitchen and smell burning wood and baking bread. But bringing any of these things into the house was just asking for it. Hot fresh bread, how could I stop myself from consuming all of it? It would be eaten way quicker than a loaf of sandwich bread would ever go.

When I was backpacking through Europe for four and a half months I lost a fair amount of weight. My mother was so shocked when she laid eyes on me upon my arrival home. Eventually I gained it all back by eating bagels. I find bread and carbs to be so comforting and delicious. I was never into the Atkins low-carb crazy. Honestly, I am a wheat junkie. I shouldn’t touch the stuff but it’s all I ever want and if I get some I only want more. And there is no substitute for flour. I have tried many imitators but I want the real thing. How can it be so bad for me?

Well how bad is it? I have arthritis everywhere and wheat is inflammatory so it causes my already painful joints to feel even worse. There is a magazine for Celiac disease called Living Without. How sad is that? So please do not tempt, offer, or give me wheat. There will be a few occasions between now and 1/2/10 when I will indulge but after that so much will be a no.

At least I do not need crackers when it comes to cheese but it does make eating some soft cheeses easier. And yes that includes beer. But I shouldn’t be drinking alcohol anyway which is also on the chopping block. My last meal would be fresh hot bread basket with butter and jelly and can I also have a sandwich with cheese or a grilled cheese or a Panini. Oh to dream…

Monday, November 2, 2009

The running of the cheese

This time of year is very special when it comes to cheese. As the weather turns cold, my appetite moves toward richer, heartier flavors. The time for fresh goat’s milk cheese has been replaced by a craving for fondue and raclette. This time of year is wonderful for cow’s milk cheeses that have matured for 12 or 24 months and the best surface ripened cheeses of the year. Surface ripened cheese will soon start to ooze their delicious creaminess. I like to think of this time of year as the running of the cheese.

Surface ripened cheeses are called surface ripened cheese because they ripen from the outside into the center of the paste. They can also be called soft ripened cheese as they are soft when ripe. The soft ripened family includes double and triple crème cheese. Double crème cheeses contain over 60% fat in the solid matter and triple crème is over 70% fat in the solid matter. Saint Andre is a triple crème and Chaource is a double crème cheese. These rich creamy cheeses may seem like a sinful indulgence but are no worse than any other cheese. One ounce of brie has 8 grams of fat and one ounce of cheddar has 9 ½ grams of fat.

So why is this the best time of year for soft ripened cheese? The answer is in the milk and what the animals were eating. A chunk of Brie you buy today may have been made in September. What were the cows doing in September? They were out grazing on lush summer pastures and eating some of the best grasses and wildflowers of the season. The animal’s diet will affect the flavors of the cheese.

Toward the end of summer, the animals reach the end of their lactation cycle and prepare for a new breeding season. The animals will produce less milk but this milk is more concentrated in protein and butterfat. Milk is composed of water, butterfat, lactose and proteins. The butterfat and protein are very important to cheese making as they give flavor. The butterfat content of milk will be higher towards the end of an animal’s lactation period. This means excellent milk to make cheese. Summer milk has been found to have higher amounts of beneficial antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamins.

I personally drive out to a farm every week to pick up milk. I notice my milk will stay fresh longer in the summer and in winter it can go bad before my next weekly trip to the farm. Summer milk also tastes better and some cheeses are made only using summer milk. A French study of Alpine Gruyere found more flavor compounds in the cheese made with summer milk. Summer may be over but we can still enjoy the flavors of summer in soft ripened cheeses.

To make a surface ripened cheese, the milk is inoculated with bacteria or the curds are placed into a mold and then sprayed with bacteria. These bacteria will develop a soft downy mold on the outside of the cheese. It can take a few weeks for the rind to develop a nice downy sweater of mold. These cheeses are usually available a few weeks after they are made and will continue to ripen as they age.

Mold is a wonderful and important part of the cheese making process. The mold on soft-ripened cheeses will help the cheese ripen from the outside in. The bacteria in the mold will break down the fat and protein within the cheese. This is what makes cheese alive, the fact that there are bacteria digesting the cheese to help the cheese achieve its optimal taste and texture. The mold forms a natural edible rind and imparts flavor to the cheese. You can eat the rind of any cheese as long as it is not wax, wood, or leaves. Weather you enjoy the taste of the rind is up to you.

When you look at a soft ripened cheese, notice the area between the rind and the paste. This area is called the creamline and shows the breakdown of fat and protein. Once the creamline becomes darker and starts to ooze, you know that cheese is ripe and ready to eat at its peak. Surface ripened cheese will be ripe when there is no flaky center and they are soft and moist. If you press the rind, the mark will slowly spring back.

Soft ripened cheeses can be enjoyed on their own, on a cracker or bread but they can also be used in a salad and you can also cook with these cheeses. They compliment meat and poultry and impart a rich smoothness to sauces. They can top a pizza and melt well. Their flavors can be enhanced by the proper beverage. The richness of soft ripened cheeses requires a good amount of acidity to cut the fat. Champagne and sparkling wines have a nice acidity but even better than acidity, they have bubbles. These bubbles act as scrubbers and will clean away the richness from the cheese and cleanse the palate. These cheeses will also pair well with a hard cider, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cheese & Wine – A classic combination

Cheese and wine share many commonalities, for instance they both go through a process of fermentation. Wine is fermented by the addition of yeast to grape juice and cheese is made by fermenting milk with bacteria, acid, and/or rennet. Wine and cheese are both affected by climate. The weather experienced will affect the taste of the final product. Both are excellent ways to experience terrior, to taste the area where the wine and cheese were made. Wine and cheese are both living and changing and affected by their environment.

Wine and cheese were created as a way to preserve grapes and milk. Both have been enjoyed together for centuries. Enjoying wine and cheese together can enhance the taste experience of both parties. Wine and cheese are more enjoyable when tasted together. Taste is subjective and there is no right or wrong way to enjoy wine and cheese but there are a few suggestions to help you enjoy wine and cheese together.

Balance is necessary when pairing wine and cheese. A sweet wine like a Port pairs well with a strong assertive blue like Stilton.

Cheese can follow the flavors and intensity of the wine you are drinking. An intense red can stand up to an intense cheese like aged Gouda.

If the wine is subtle, try a delicate cheese. You can also contrast flavors, try an earthy cheese with a fruity wine.

The more acidic your wine is, the higher the fat content of the cheese. The acid from the wine will help to cut the fat of the cheese. A rich creamy D’affinois is accentuated by Champagne.

When thinking about wine and cheese pairings you can take a trip to a destination. If you are interested in French wines, reach for French cheese. Wines and cheeses made in the same region will pair well together.

Young mild goat cheese, double or triple crèmes and bloomy rind cheeses pair well with light whites and sparkling wines.

Soft to semi firm mild cow’s milk, aged goat, and sheep’s milk cheese pair well with light red, rose, lager, and pilsner.

Stronger, bolder nuttier, harder, aged and mild washed rind cheese pair well with red wine, ales, and lambic.

Strong washed rind and blue cheese pair well with dessert wines, port, and stout beer.

Some cheese friendly white wines are: Albarino, Champagne, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Valtliner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Some cheese friendly red wines are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Dolcetto d’Albec, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo-Garnacha blends, and Zinfandel.

Some things to avoid when pairing wines and cheese are wines that are tannic and those that have strong oak flavors. A wine that is very tannic will overwhelm the taste buds that are used to enjoy the flavors of cheese. You want to enjoy a wine that has high fruit and low tannins. A light bright red will be better enjoyed with cheese rather than a wine that is heavy with tannins and oak.

Reds can overwhelm the palate. If you have to go red, try an old world red wine. Many argue that old world wines compliment food better than new world wines. A Rioja from Spain is very versatile and will pair well with many different foods. Enjoy wine and cheese together and feel free to experiment and try different combinations. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chasing the Doughnut

We set off on a grey day with the threat of rain for an orchard in Charlottesville to continue the quest for Apple Cider Doughnuts. It took over two hours for us to hit Carter Mountain but the view out the car window was the picture of fall. Some of the trees looked as if they had burst into flames bright orange, red, and yellow. But by the time our car was climbing up to mountain, I was car sick and the rain was undeniable.

Carter Mountain has an orchard and vineyard and grows peaches, nectarines, apples, and grapes. They have a wine tasting room, snack bar, and bakery. I went straight for the doughnuts, apple cider doughnuts. Sadly, these doughnuts were a disappointment and seemed to lack apple cider. Part of the reason you drive for hours to an orchard for doughnuts is to get them hot and fresh. The orchard was busy despite the rain but the doughnuts weren't hot.

The doughnuts were fine but not worth the hours in the car. They were bland and could have used more of a cinnamon and sugar coating along with more cider. Turns out they do not use their own apple cider in their doughnuts. We learned that it is very difficult to get a licence to make apple cider. This may explain why every orchard was selling the same apple cider on our previous quest for cider doughnuts.

The best part of Carter Mountain was the Pink Lady Apples. These are Patrick's favorite apple and they were ready to pick that day. The rain eased up and we hit the orchard filling our bags with Pink Ladies. These apples are so firm, crisp, and juicy but not too sweet. Carter Mountain is beautiful and dog friendly. A great place to bring the family but not a doughnut destination.

I did buy some Caramel Apple Cookies that were delicious in my opinion, Patrick did not like them which left more for me. They were fresh, chewy, and the apples had a nice texture.

As we left the mountain and headed into Charlottesville the rain cleared and the sun came out. We walked the downtown and checked out the shops. I love towns that have pedestrian promenades. There were many coffee shops, independent businesses, and restaurants with outdoor seating. Charlottesville is very dog friendly and I felt like a horrible puppy parent for leaving my two dogs at home.

We picked up a local newspaper to find a place to eat and found a very interesting ad for Carpe Donut. Carpe Donut is a mobile doughnut truck that only offers apple cider doughnuts. We had to find the doughnut truck. Thankfully, the truck was parked less than a block from our car. Carpe Donut's lights were visible from our parking spot.

I fell in love with Carpe Donut as it is a family owned business that supports local and organic foods. Matt, the owner, talked with us about where he gets his eggs and cider. The truck has a small selection but what they do offer is done right. The thick Italian hot chocolate was wonderful. Floating on top of the cup was a great chocolate layer that was left in the bottom of the empty cup. I had no shame and used my finger to fish out the chocolate goodness.

The doughnuts had a nice apple cider flavor, they weren't hot but they were fresh. Carpe Donut has a great and informative website. But these doughnuts did not satisfy my apple cider doughnut craving.

The first time I had apple cider doughnuts, Patrick took me to Solebury Orchard in New Hope. Once we arrived, we were presented with hot apple cider doughnuts. I remember them being light, cakey, and flavourful. I have been chasing the doughnut ever since. I may have to drive the four hours up to New Hope to satisfy this need. We did drive 2 hours for a doughnut disappointment, why not drive 4 hours for the real thing?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can a festival be green?

This past weekend we went to the D.C. Green Festival which was held at the Convention
Center. It felt more like a convention than a festival and made me wonder how green it was to hold the festival at all. We were lured by the ability to see Joel Salatin speak. He would give a talk about his book Everything I want To Do Is Illegal. As a cheesemaker, I have been very interested in his work and Polyface farm.

The talk was a huge disappointment. He described a hunting scene where the hunter brings home his kill and leaves it laying around for week before it makes it into the fridge. For a man who has many paid speaking engagements, he did not seem to know what he was talking about. He couldn't’t seem to decide if he is or isn’t a Luddite. The room was shocked when he implied that foreigners do not wash their hands because of cultural differences. Sitting in that room, I felt like one of few who did not drink the Kool Aid. Honestly, I cannot recall any interesting information that he shared with the group. But I was distracted buy the obnoxious woman sitting next to me who spent most of that hour picking her face and nose. I hope she washed her hands.

After hearing Mr. Salatin speak, we moved into the sea of booths. There were a lot of familiar companies like Cliff Bar, Honest Tea, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The longest line was at Ben & Jerry’s to get a free sample of ice cream. I find this rather sad and hard to believe that so few people had never had their ice cream. Yes, we all like free stuff but why wait in line for a small paper cup filled with nothing new. I was hoping to find some smaller producers and local companies but it wasn’t the Localvore Festival. It seems to be very expensive to have a booth at the Green Festival.

I had hoped since Mr. Salatin was speaking there might be a Polyface farm table. Or Consumer Supported Agriculture, buying program, local farm, or an alternative to Supermarkets. I did sign a bunch of petitions. Greenpeace was there and the girl had a hard time explaining the petition, it was related to clean energy. I signed up for some email newsletters and have already received one from the Green Restaurant Association. Patrick picked up a flyer about a new style of beehive which looked interesting.

I picked up a Sustainability report thinking it might list sustainable foods, clothing, and lifestyle options. Instead it was a strategic sustainability consulting and had charts and graphs and bored me. This waste of paper did not note if it was printed with soy-based inks on recycled paper. I must have picked up ten ponds of paper from the many booths and plan to recycle all of it. Some of these bits of paper did state they were printed with soy-based inks on recycled paper but some did not have any such statement.

I picked up a Department of Public Works Reference Guide from September 2008. The back stated “Mixed Sources Product group from well-managed forests, controlled sources and recycled wood or fiber”. Then there was the following paragraph:

“Printed on 30% post-consumer-waste, process-chlorine-free recycled paper manufactured with wind power, creating the following environmental benefits: 364.64 trees preserved for the future; 154,892 gallons of wastewater flow saved, 17,138 lbs solid waste not generated; 33,745 lbs net greenhouse gases prevented; 258,289,500 BTUs energy not consumed; and 66,794 lbs air emissions not generated. The use of wind-generated electricity produced savings equivalent to: planting 4,515 trees”.

Wow and this booklet is filled with useful information, I only wish I lived in D.C.

I got The Vegetarian Guide, one for Washington, D.C. and one for Baltimore, MD. There were many booths to help you become a vegetarian but being a vegetarian in not necessary for a green lifestyle. The festival had an atmosphere where meat is bad, but corn and soy bean farming can be as devastating to the environment as any cow. Whatever you are eating think about the life it had and the environment in which it was grown. Then think of the process it took to end up on your plate. Consider food miles, the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport the materials. I personally like to know the history of my food be it animal or vegetable.

The scariest thing I saw was an ad for Quorn in the Healthy Clippings “coupons for a NATURAL way of life”. What is Quorn? The ad states: “Quorn products deliver great taste, fantastic quality and a wide variety of items to meet the demands of on-the-go lifestyles”. I am glad I do not have an on-the-go lifestyle. Quorn is meat and soy free but that does not explain what it is. Their website says Quorn is all natural and the principal ingredient is mycoprotein from Fusarium venenatum. So what is that and how is it made? Wikipedia supplied the following information

“Quorn is made from the soil mould Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684 (previously misidentified as the parasitic mold Fusarium graminearum). The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, otherwise sterile fermentation tanks. During the growth phase, glucose is added as a food for the fungus, as are various vitamins and minerals (to improve the food value of the resulting product). The resulting mycoprotein is then extracted and heat-treated to remove excess levels of RNA. Previous attempts to produce such fermented protein foodstuffs were thwarted by excessive levels of DNA or RNA; without the heat treatment, purine, found in nucleic acids, is metabolised by humans, producing uric acid, which can lead to gout.[12] The product is dried and mixed with chicken egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then textured, giving it some of the grained character of meat, and pressed either into a mince (resembling ground beef), forms resembling chicken breasts, meatballs, turkey roasts, or into chunks (resembling diced chicken breast).”

There seems to be some chicken in your Quorn. If you want chicken the just eat chicken. My issue with vegetarianism is all the fake foods which are often filled with sugar, sodium, and chemicals. If you want the taste of a hot dog then maybe you shouldn’t be a vegetarian. I think the only reason for being a vegetarian is because you do not like the taste of meat and love vegetables. Instead of changing what we eat, why not change how the food is raised.

The same booklet with the Quorn ad also stated that “October is National Dessert Month!” Do we really need more excuses to consume dessert with Thanksgiving and Christmans around the corner? Does that promote healthy living? Many of the coupons and samples were for cookies, chocolate, snack foods and other foodstuffs we do not really need.

The festival also had many booths to greenerize your home and help you build a new green home. I only wish I was about to build my own home. One exciting company was Repax which is an alternative to U-Haul. They offer a Reusable Packing System and the brochure states their “revolutionary moving system significantly reduces the amount of time and effort spent in making your move, reduces the cost of your move, and simultaneously provides security for your valuables during the move. We have made the entire process of moving easy, affordable, and ECO-FRIENDLY.” I hate moving but I like this company. I might not be building a house soon but I will be moving in the near future.

Another exciting discovery is the Airlie Center in Warrenton, VA. I picked up 8 hand outs and there was no note if they were printed on recycled paper with soy based ink except for one which just had the recycle symbol. The following information was gathered from those handouts:

“The Airlie Center and Conference Center was founded in 1960 as an “island of thought” and has provided a unique environment for the creative exchange of ideas ever since” They offer “recycling and a linen and towel reuse program, organic culinary garden, energy efficient lighting, and non-toxic biodegradable cleaning product… a comprehensive pollution prevention program focused on sustainable business practices which minimize the center’s impact on the environment… The Local Food Project at Airlie’s ¾ acre garden has annually supplied more than 4,000 pounds of fresh herbs, vegetables and flowers to Airlies Center’s kitchen… Airlie Center, For over 40 years, the natural place to meet.”

They host an Annual Harvest Dinner and Dialogue, offer workshops such as the Organic Garden Primer, Exploring the small farm dream, and tractor safety. Airlie has environmental certification from Green Seal’s Environmental Lodging Program and the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. I look forward to exploring Airlie and only wish I had to find a place to hold a conference.

The festival was consumerism at its greenest. There were coupons and free samples but there were plenty of booths where you could purchase jewelry, clothing, and handbags. There was a lot of shopping and Visa was everywhere. I paid my $15 entry fee and spent $1 on an Honesty Tea drink. I was not there to spend money but to get new ideas.

The festival also had a Hemp Pavilion, Movement Room, Green Teen, and an Organic Valley Green Kids’ zone. Many of the companies involved are a part of larger companies but they don’t mention this. Kashi is owned by Kellog and Casadian Farms is owned by General Mills. Green is the new buzz word and it is making me see red.

OK, I still have a lot to read from the Green fest and a lot to think about but now I am gonna play with my doggies on this beautiful day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Movie review of Whip It!

This is our review of Whip It. This review was the one and only take and was submitted to The Rotten Tomatoes Show but they did not use it for their show. This review DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The story of my wedding and the death of my mother.

Four years ago today, Patrick and I were married. It was such a crazy time; I hardly know where to start. Six days before the wedding, my brother came home from Japan and my mother was hospitalized. He got off the plane and went to the hospital where we all were. My mother had breast cancer that spread to her liver. She left the hospital on Friday, the wedding was on Sunday.

Three days before my wedding, my grandparents were in a car accident after visiting my mother in the hospital. A driver made an illegal U turn causing the accident. Grandpop hardly had a scratch, but Grandmom was in really bad shape. They were unable to attend my wedding.

I spent the week before my wedding visiting my mother and grandmother in the hospital. I was being referred to as the bride in two different hospitals. I didn’t go to the hospital on Wednesday in order to have a trail run for hair and make-up. I also had to deal with a very badly fitting handmade wedding dress. But I didn’t even have the time or energy to deal with that dressmaker.

The night before the wedding there was a dinner with Patrick’s mom, step dad, dad, step mom, his maternal grandmother, aunt, and uncle. My brother and father were there but my mother was too sick. My aunt Mary came in her place and read a note my mother had dictated which made me cry.

That night I shared a bed with my mother. I hardly slept, every time she moved I had a little heart attack. I remember she got up to close the window and I tried to help her. I lay in bed next to her and cried. She was 59 but had aged so much that week; she was a shell of her former self.

There was so much rain that week and Saturday was a deluge. The morning of my wedding I got a call at 6 a.m. from the V.F.W, where our wedding was to be held. The location was flooded and I would have to find a new location if I wanted to get married that day. I fell to the floor and cried not knowing what to do.

I called Action News and left them a message about my situation. They called me back and there was a reporter at my mother’s house by noon. I got ready for a wedding with the location to be decided by generosity. Many people called Action News wanting to help which was such a blessing.

The Jeffersonville Golf Club donated their space to us and the ceremony was only a few hours delayed. I used to pass by this place often when I lived in Collegeville. I never would have imagined I would get married there. I wanted to get married by water and we did not want to get married at a golf course. But I was thankful we had a place for our 150 guests.

We left the house before my mother. She got sick along the way and we waited for her arrival. I remember her face when she saw out flower girl who was a man in drag. She was happily shocked and we all needed the comic relief. She walked down the aisle flanked by my brother and Aunt Mary. The rain had stopped and the clouds cleared. We were able to have our ceremony outside. By the time I could see my soon to be husband’s face, I just wanted to kiss him. I just wanted to hurry thorough the ceremony and kiss him and hold him tight.

There was great food, music, and dancing. My mother danced and seemed to have a wonderful time. Many of her friends and family were there and I was glad we could all share this time together. Fox News showed up to the reception to get a piece of the story. I wanted my grandparents to be able to see me on my wedding day even though they were in the hospital.

The next day was my mother’s 60th birthday. Many people were celebrting at her place. Her friends got together and bought her a dream come true, a Chinese crested hairless puppy. Mr. Broadway was about three months old and a little sweetheart. My mother was so surprised and happy but Mr. Broadway needed a few more shots and went home with my mother’s friends that night.

On Wednesday, Patrick and I left for our 12 day honeymoon in Hawaii. I arrived in paradise and cried. It was so beautiful and I was so tired and sad. I had been afraid to leave but was convinced to go by family. That day, my mother fell and fractured her hip but I did not know this.

Thursday, we had massages and we went food shopping as our little place had a kitchen. Friday, we hit the beach. I was amazed by all the fishes in the crystal clear water. Saturday, I got a call to come home. Once again, I fell to the floor and cried. I opened a bottle of champagne as my husband tried to get us on the next fight home. When we got to the airport, someone had to give up their seat and spend another night in paradise. Patrick and I got on the plane but couldn’t sit together and I cried silently to myself.

I got off the plane and my father was waiting. His voice was shaky as he told me that my mother had died. The last time I saw her was on the birthday when I tucked her into bed. The day she died, her friends smuggled Mr. Broadway into the hospital for a last visit. In October, Patrick and I moved out of our place in order to keep my mother’s puppy. We renamed him Squeeky, which was my mother’s motorcycle name.

I think of my mother everyday and miss her with all my heart. My wedding will always be connected to her sickness and death. I have tried to make sense of these events but have to accept them as they are. And now I really hate these bridezilla shows because they don’t have a clue. I wanted a simple wedding but you can’t always get what you want. But I did get what I needed, Patrick.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Cheap Eats

If you have $5, you can get deliciously stuffed at Abi Azteca Grill & Bar at 13760 Smoketown Rd in Woodbridge. They serve authentic Salvadoran and Mexican food. There isn’t much ambiance but the food is excellent and the place is clean. When we walked in the other night the bar was full of rowdy rednecks watching sports. We sat in the dinning room which had two of its own televisions. If there is a TV, Patrick will stare at it even if its sports that he is not usually interested in watching.

As is fairly standard, we were promptly served house made chips and salsa. The salsa was flavorful, herbaceous, and mild. I ordered a Horchata which is a cold drink made from rice, almonds, cinnamon. It was delicious and perfect for cooling the palette after a bit of spice. I ordered a beef Tamale Mexicano and a pork pupusa, both of which are gluten free. I have never been impressed by pupusas and this one was fine but not what will bring me back. The tamale was excellent and the beef was tender and tasted like brisket. It was served with some pickled onions that were an unexpected treat. I could eat a whole bowl of them.

Patrick ordered the Plato Tipico which was a NY strip steak served with a plantain, queso fresco, avocado, corn tortillas, rice and refritos. The steak had a smoky charred crust that was delicious. Patrick had finished his steak and was eating a tortilla with queso fresco when our server came by and asked him if he could wait. She was searching for the word steak. The chef had decided that the steak he was served was too small so he was made another one. He had been perfectly happy with the food he had been served and was full, but who can turn down free steak. I happily ate most it and was utterly stuffed.

If I am hungry and only have $2, I’m going to Abi for a tamale. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On weekends they serve Sopa de Mondongo which is a soup of veggies, cow feet, and comb tripe. They also have tacos, burritos, and fajitas but I loved that tamale so much I may never try anything else. Next time you have a craving for Mexican, give this place a try. They have been in business since 1986, so they must be doing something right. Then you can pop into the thrift store next door for some buried treasure.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Searching for Cider Doughnuts

Last weekend, Patrick and I drove an hour and a half to Winchester. We passed many apple orchards but we were heading to Hill High farms. We weren’t there for apples, we wanted apple cider doughnuts. I don’t like doughnuts, never did, until Patrick took me to New Hope the fall of 2004. We went to an orchard that offered fresh hot apple cider doughnuts and I was addicted. These doughnuts also had a nice coating of cinnamon and sugar.

Unfortunately, Hill High farms did not have any apple cider doughnuts. I had a very, very sad face. So we walked around and visited the cows, goats, and chickens. Then we bought some cider and pumpkin pie fudge that tasted more like cinnamon. We did not give up the doughnut dream. We drove around the country side and stopped at a few farmstands and orchards. No one had doughnuts.

We picked our own apples at Rinker orchard. It was a beautiful fall day that was sunny with a nice breeze. We brought home our half bushel of apples and I got to wondering what to do with all those apples. Patrick likes to make applesauce which has never interested me all that much. He is a wonderful pie maker but I am trying to avoid wheat. So I started to think about apple ice cream. I found a few recipes but didn’t have cream so I made up my own.

My first attempt of the day was a failure as the apple cider curdled the milk. The second attempt was a delicious success. First I washed, peeled, and cored three apples. I put the apples in a pot on medium heat with some butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and one cup of sugar. I let the apples go with occasional stirring until the apples were tender. I left them to cool then added them into a blender with two cups of milk. I blended them, chilled the mixture thoroughly, and then churned in my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker.

This ice cream came out wonderfully without cream or eggs. Patrick was in love with its bright apple flavor. I have decided to call this applesauce ice cream. I am still searching for apple cider doughnuts. I plan to visit another orchard later this month in Charlottesville that claims to have apple cider doughnuts. I will definitely call them before I make the two hour trip.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I want more Baltimore!


Earlier this week my husband, Patrick, had a meeting in Baltimore and I tagged along for the ride. My purpose for being in Charm City was to visit the American Visionary Museum. We arrived in town earlier and randomly drove into the Federal Hill area. I fell in love with this hip area. There were a number of restaurants, coffee shops, Cross Street Market, and an American Apparel which I am not promoting.

We had lunch at Regi’s American Bistro,

which has been open since 1978 but the food tasted fresh and new. I ordered the Club salad which had hard boiled egg, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, chicken, mixed greens, and a balsamic dressing. I thoroughly enjoyed my salad and found it worthy of the $13 price tag. The bacon was the most delicious bacon I think I have ever had. It was smokey, thick, and crisp without being over cooked. Patrick ordered a burger which he enjoyed and was actually served medium rare as requested.

I would love to return to Regi’s as I fell I must try their crab offerings. I am a crab cake aficionado and I see they have gotten some acclaim for their crab cake and cream of crab soup. But that will have to wait till next time as Patrick was off to his meeting and I was on my way to the museum. I dropped Patrick off and found ample parking in front of the museum. I was amazed by the parking meters because a quarter would get you an hour and these meters went up to ten hours.

The American Visionary Art Museum is dedicated to art created by self-taught artists. Before you enter the museum you are confronted with art. The façade of the building displays mosaic work; there is a sculpture garden with masks spilling water from their mouths, a bus that has been covered with mosaic, a balcony that looks like a birds nest and a bird that is almost as tall as the building. I was very glad of all this as you were only allowed to take pictures outside.

The main exhibition area was closed for installation but I was able to keep myself busy looking at their permanent collection. Many of the artists suffered from health problems and experienced hard lives. They created art for themselves, not for money or fame but as a way to express themselves. I was very moved by the art and over joyed that someone has provided a home for these artworks. This museum is a must for every art lover and anyone who wants to be inspired.

We had a 6 o’clock reservation at the Woodberry Kitchen so I picked up Patrick and we headed over to Clipper Mill. If I were to move to Baltimore, I would live here. Clipper Mill is a converted Foundry located in Jones Falls Valley between Druid Park, Hampden, and Woodberry. The original Foundry was responsible for casting the columns and brackets that still support the US Capitol dome in D.C. There are many elements of the original Foundry throughout Clipper Park such as metal sprockets and enormous metal turbines.

Clipper Park has apartments, artist studios, business, offices, and our restaurant for the evening. Woodberry Kitchen focuses on farm to table cooking and lists their purveyors on their menu. They use seasonal local sustainable ingredients and organic meats. We started off with the John the Butcher Plate which included a pear chutney, head cheese, chicken terrine, and a delicious sausage. It was so good and I was so hungry that I forgot to photograph the plate.

Patrick ordered the Paella and I the Truck Patch Suckling Pig. I have been wanting to consume a baby pig for quite some time now and had to seize the opportunity. I found Patrick’s Paella delicious and well seasoned with tender octopus and flavorful shrimp.

My Suckling Pig fell short of my expectations. It was served in what amounted to a pool of Minestrone soup with pasta that did not do the pork justice. The pork was served as a reconstructed brick. They took the pulled pork and compressed in into a brick and added the skin back on top. The meat was delicious with a small amount of gristle but the skin was turned to leather. I love crispy fatty pork skin but this could not be cut with a knife and was not worth eating. Maybe in Minestrone soup was required to soften up the pork skin but that defeats the crispy point.

We returned home with 2 slices of pie I had picked up earlier in the day from Dangerously Delicious Pies in Federal Hill. We noticed this place during lunch due to their pie and cross bones logo. I went into the shop around 4:30 before picking up Patrick. The sales woman seemed annoyed that I wanted to purchase pie because she wanted her work day to end. She had to verbally list the pies as there was no menu present and seemed bothered by my questions. They also serve coffee but did not have any iced tea or iced coffee but she offered to pour some coffee over ice for me.

There were your basic pies such as coconut, sweet potato, peach, and you’re your specialty pies like the White Trash Tiramisu and the Baltimore bomb. All of their pies are handmade with fresh ingredients and without preservatives. I used to work for a pie shop in Occoquan and have a pretty good pie pallet. Not to mention that Patrick is a master pie maker. I ordered a slice of peach and a slice of the Baltimore Bomb. The peach pie was not sweet enough and the peaches were bitter but the crust was tasty. Can’t say the same for the Baltimore Bomb, this one was too sweet and the crust was like cardboard. Nice logo but I would not give them a second chance. I can head down to Mom’s Apple Pie in the ‘Quan for excellent pie and friendly service.

Aside from the eating and visiting the museum, I felt good to be in an urban environment. That feeling is hard to come by in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. It reminded me of Philly but cleaner and friendlier for the most part. The streets were as bad as Philly with pot holes and trolley tracks. We were driving around at 5 and did not get stuck in any traffic. I have been fascinated by Baltimore since I was a young girl obsessed with the John Waters film Hairspray. I can see why Baltimore is home to him and wouldn’t mind making a home there for myself someday.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Laloo’s Goat Milk Ice Cream

Last night I was at Wegman’s in the natural foods section and I found Laloo’s Goat Milk Ice Cream. There were flavors like Black Mission Fig, Deep Chocolate, Rumplemint, and Strawberry Darling. I am not much for strawberry ice cream but I picked the Strawberry Darling because it wasn’t just strawberry. This pint had a balsamic vinegar swirl.

Later that evening, I served this ice cream to some dinner guests without telling anyone it was made from goat’s milk. One of my guests that evening was a five year old boy. I was very curious to see his reaction and he really seemed to like it! Everyone enjoyed the ice cream and was surprised when I told them it was made from goat’s milk.

The flavor was rich, creamy, and tart. There were chunks of strawberries and plenty of balsamic vinegar. Best of all, this ice cream has a short ingredient list with only nine in total. Their website,

states the ice cream is “naturally low fat, lactose friendly”. With only 5 grams of fat and 130 calories per ½ cup serving, it is almost low fat. Low fat is usually considered 3 grams of fat or less. But considering Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Ice Cream has 9 grams of fat, I think their low fat claim is valid. Their website claims that their ice cream is made “the farmstead way by hand with love from natural ingredients that are locally produced in Sonoma County”. They also do not use any growth hormones.

The start of this company has roots in the Slow Food movement. Laura Howard was an entertainment executive in Los Angeles who realized that there “must be a way to be kinder to the animals and planet without sacrificing taste and style”. She realized “that the shorter the journey from the earth to the table, the better the food would be”. And I sure am glad she did!

She compares goat’s milk to mother’s milk as its chemical structure is similar. Laura states that goat’s milk “is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids without the heavy fat content and catarrh producing materials of cow’s milk”. So what is catarrh? It is an excess of mucus and white blood cells caused by a swelling of mucous membranes. I can recall consuming too much ice cream and feeling very phlegmie.

Their website states that “goat’s milk offers superior digestibility to cow’s milk”. Goat’s milk has smaller fat globules allowing more of a surface to volume ratio which allows the goat’s milk to be broken down easily. Goat’s milk also contains more Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) which can be absorbed more easily. MCT’s also has "a unique ability to provide energy to the human metabolism, as well as an ability to lower, inhibit and dissolve cholesterol deposits”. The casein in goat’s milk can be digested easier than cow’s milk and goat’s milk is lower in lactose. Goat’s milk is a valid and delicious alternative to cow’s milk for those who are lactose intolerant or with certain allergies to cow’s milk. Regardless of any of the science behind this ice cream, it is delicious and worth a taste!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Disappointment at Evening Star

The other week, I went to the Evening Star in Del Ray. This was my first experience with this particular restaurant. The Evening Star is owned by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which also owns Vermillion, Tallula, Eat Bar, Buzz Bakery, and my favorite, Rustico.

It was Friday night and the place was packed. As there were no tables in the dining room, we took a spot in the upstairs bar and lounge area. I was there to catch up with friends and did not intend to order any food until I had a look at the menu. The menu included Beef Carpaccio with grilled watermelon, Grilled Asparagus Salad, and Oyster Sliders.

I ordered the Smoked Duck Salad which had a grilled peach stuffed with Camembert and pickled Cipollini onions. I had been begging my husband to grill peaches all summer and the one attempt was disappointing as they were not free stone peaches. And this grilled peach was another disappointment. The peach was hard and tasteless. It being peach season, I had assumed I would be served a wonderful ripe peach. A local peach would have won brownie points. I was expecting a tender, juicy peach that taste of wood and smoke.

The Camembert was bitter and did not pair well with the peach. The smoked duck was sliced thin like bacon and laid out in strips on the bottom of the plate. For $11, I was hoping for more duck or at least more greens. The small ball of greens seemed to be a garnish, not a salad. The dressing left no lasting memory.

The space seemed nice but I cannot comment on the service as we did not have table service. It was rather loud and hard to enjoy conversation. I had big expectations as I love Rustico and enjoyed Vermillion but this was a big let down. It only takes one bad peach to spoil my salad. Next time, I’ll just go to Rustico.