Master of the House

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

You likely don’t know who Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is. You MAY know of a creamy spreading cheese named after him, or possibly the rich, spherical dessert.
If you’re like me, however, and you loved watching Iron Chef Japan, you know the quote that started each episode before Chairman Kaga’s monologue:

     Amazingly, the man who offered us this maxim was never a chef, a baker, or even a cook. He was a lawyer, a judge, a politician, and a violinist. He fled to America in order to save his head from the guillotine. He was a writer, a thinker, an amateur physician, and a singer- and he wrote the bible on how to be a host and a gourmand.
     When “La Physiologie du gout” (“The Physiology of Taste”) was published in 1825, a scant few months before Brillat-Savarin’s death, his words were treated like gold. His book was the latest on the science, development, society, and abject of food and the culinary arts. Memories of his parties- both recalled by attendees and recorded as anecdotes in the book- made him the final word in what it was to be a good host. How to throw a dinner party worth attending, how everything should be arranged and chosen to befit visiting nobility- all of it laid out with a physicians intellect, a gentleman’s decorum, and a party animal’s joie de vive.

     In 2016, however, we have Martha Stewart and Ina Garten on our TVs, and Alice Waters on our book shelves, offering an invitation to a different dinner party- one that most of us can only attend in our dreams, lacking the time or resources to make the TV show fantasies come true.

     If these pastel dreams are rare in the real world, then the classic dinner parties are all but dead. They’ve been left in the keeping of certain gourmet organizations that refuse to put them aside, or relegated to Masterpiece Theater.
     ​In this day and age, do the 190-year-old words of the legendary host still shine, or does their luster belong to a world long since past?

     Well, I read them- and I have thoughts on this.

Who Is Brillat- Savarin?
     Born in 1755 in the small town of Belley, France, Brillat-Savarin was a gourmand- a lover of fine food and wine- and was a magistrate to pay the bills. He eventually was elected mayor of Belley. However, when the French Revolution broke out, the heads of administrators (and a number of gourmands, for that matter) started to roll. Brilliant-Savarin would have been in line for the guillotine himself, had it not been for a chance encounter at a dinner party with a revolutionary’s wife. A shared love of music convinced the woman that “when a man cultivates the arts as you do, he does not betray his country,” and she persuaded her husband of the same. Even with this promise safety, Brillat-Savarin still feared for his life and fled first throughout Europe, then to America. 

     Returning to a calmer, less-deadly France in 1796, he became a judge in the French Supreme Court- the perfect thing to keep Brillat-Savarin’s finances happy while he pursued his love of entertaining. At the same time, Brillat-Savarin wrote prolifically of his opinions and meditations on food, dining, and everything to do with them. Every now and then, Brillat-Savarin would read some snippets at his dinner parties, much to the amusement of his guests (after all, a good host should never be without a few stories and jokes to tell!)
After much cajoling and goading from his friends, Brillat-Savarin published his writings as “La Physiologie du gout”, to almost immediate widespread acclaim- only to die a few months later of pneumonia in 1826.

Basic Gourmandism
First off, if you decide to pick up a copy of the book, this is absolutely a product of its times- with all the heteronormative, cisgendered, white ethnocentric thinking that time involves. While Brillat- Savarin (calling himself “the Professor”) fills most of the book with anecdotes about his life and doings, the first part of the book is given over to his understanding of physiology, gastronomy, and psychology. There’s a number of things you’ll likely be able to pick up as patently outdated and since disproved. Among them is Brillat-Savarin’s references to psychomorphology, the idea that certain body types and physical characteristics affect one’s personality and vice versa, such as “fat people tend to be jollier,” and “a smaller nose indicates greater intelligence.” 
While reading these chapters is certainly a fascinating look into the scientific understanding of the time, it should be regarded as just that- and since this blog post is aimed at his views of hospitality and food rather than the human body, I’m going to skip over those bits.
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Relax, you’re fine.

     That being said, Brillat-Savarin thoughtfully starts off with a list of 20 aphorisms he has coined, forming the nuts-and-bolts of his philosophy. Some of my favorites include:

“Animals feed: man eats: only the man of intellect knows how to eat.”
“The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures, outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss.”
“The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.” 

Thoughts on that one, Dr. Tyson?
     Perhaps most pointedly for this blog are these two additions-
The man who invites his friends to his table, and fails to give his personal attention to the meal they are going to eat, is unworthy to have any friends.”

“To entertain a guest is to make yourself responsible for his happiness so long as he is beneath your roof.”

    These lines form the basis of what it is to be a gourmand- that food and wine should be loved, studied, admired, and enjoyed in the same manner as a symphony or a novel. It is the recognition that food is an art form, and should be treated as such.
Brillat-Savarin, in his chapter on gourmandism, laments the fact that the word and concept are so misunderstood:

“I have consulted all the dictionaries about the word ‘gourmandism’ and am far from satisfied with what I have found. There is endless confusion between gourmandism, properly so called, and gluttony or voracity…”
Gourmandism is an impassioned, reasoned, and habitual preference for everything which gratifies the organ of taste. Gourmandism is the enemy of excess; indigestion and drunkeness are offenses which render the offender liable to be struck off the rolls.”

-The Phsyiology Of Taste, trans. by Anne Drayton

Today, most of us may confuse the word “gourmand” with its hipper, more modern cousin “foodie.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with considering oneself one or the other, one writer for the Orange County Register suggests that while both foodies and gourmands love food, “They are beyond foodies. Foodies dabble. These are gourmets.” Indeed, Nancy Luna charges groups like the Chaine des Rôtisseurs with keeping and protecting the traditions and decorum that Brillat-Savarin loved and espoused.
Thus Spake Savarin…
Throughout the book, Brillat-Savarin offers anecdote after anecdote to illustrate his points (often amusingly- the man really DID have a great memory for stories.) Thankfully, however, in his chapter “On the Pleasures of the Table”, Brillat-Savarin lays down his requirements for the perfect enjoyment of a dinner, or to invoke “…the pleasures of the table in the highest degree.”

First, the guest list:
“Let the number of guests be not more than twelve so that the conversation may be constantly general;
Let them be chosen with different occupations but similar tastes, and with such points of contact that the odious formalities of introduction can be dispensed with;…
Let the men be witty without being too pretentious, and the woman charming without being too coquettish.”

The atmosphere:
Let the dining-room be well lighted, the cloth impeccably white, and the atmosphere maintained at a temperature of sixty to seventy degrees;…”
Let the drawing room be  large enough to allow for a game at cards to be arranged for those who cannot do without, yet still leave space for postprandial conversations;

The schedule of the evening:
Let the progress of the meal be slow, for dinner is the last business of the day, and let the guests conduct themselves like travelers due to reach their destination together;…
Let the guests be detained by the charms of the company, and sustained by the hope that the evening will not pass without some further pleasure;…
Let retirement begin not earlier than 11 o’clock, but by midnight let everyone be in bed.”

And obviously, the food:
Let the dishes be few in number, but  exquisitely choice, and the wines of the first quality, each in its class; 
Let the service of the former [the food] proceed from the most substantial to the lightest, and of the latter [the wines,] from the mildest to the most perfumed;…
Let the coffee be piping hot, and the liquers chosen by a connoisseur;…
Let the tea be not too strong, the toast artistically buttered, and the punch mixed feelings with proper care.” 

According to “the Professor,” this was how you throw a dinner party for the ages.

Sorry, Doc… times have changed.

​According to “the Professor,” this was how you throw a dinner party for the ages.

Sorry, Doc… times have changed.

Entertainment Today
     Today, if people throw a dinner party, it is likely not based on the words of gourmands or society gurus- rather the size of their budget, and what they have at their disposal.
     The last “dinner party” Emily and I held was Thanksgiving dinner. It was our first in Oregon, and we invited three friends from her work. It was in our small, one bed/one bath apartment, gathered around a folding table in the living room.
     The tablecloth was green and folded awkwardly to fit the tiny table, as we had just picked it up (along with many of our plates) from Goodwill. It was placed in our living room as that was the only place besides the bedroom and kitchen to put it.
     No order was given to the wines, as our friend Nick had brought them and I supplemented with some choice beers and homemade mead. The order of the dinner was not arranged “light to heavy” for the sake of proper enjoyment- the turkey simply needed more time in the oven, and everything else was ready to go first.
     Afterwards, coffee and tea were offered, but generally refused- there was still plenty of wine, and the desserts I had made of Jewish Apple Cake and Pumpkin Pie were on the table.
     We talked, played guitar, and watched YouTube videos for a while- and then everyone left around 9 to get home. They didn’t have work in the morning, but I did. 
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We don’t do “holidays.”

This is likely better-than-average for a modern dinner party. Even compared to the suggestions of Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, it was notably tacky and lack-luster.

Yet, I have a feeling that Brillat-Savarin himself would have had a good time and found no reason to complain. The reason, I feel, is very simple, and goes back to those two aphorisms of his-

The man who invites his friends to his table, and fails to give his personal attention to the meal they are going to eat, is unworthy to have any friends.”

“To entertain a guest is to make yourself responsible for his happiness so long as he is beneath your roof.”

Not to toot my own horn, but Emily and I put our all into that tacky little dinner. Emily spent the day cooking and prepping. I was up early baking the pie and cake- all just to make sure that our three friends could have one night of good food and good times. We shared stories, drank and laughed, and enjoyed the products of our labor.

THAT is what makes a good party, and while the decorum that Brillat-Savarin espouses is certainly grand and wonderful, it’s the effort and attention of the hosts that truly makes a gathering memorable. 

Times and food change, but good hospitality does not- and there will always be people like Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who love and study entertaining not just for its own sake, but to show the rest of the world something wonderful.

Cheers, Professor- Vous avez bien parlé, et un monde affamé est reconnaissant.

Rester chic,

​Rester chic,

Do What You Love

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

Now that The Black Hat Baker has launched, I want to get back to making this a weekly- or even a semi-weekly- blog. I’ve had a lot on my plate, and quite a bit fell by the wayside, but that’s no excuse.

People are passionate, and they have passions. Besides your day job, you probably have at least a few things that you love doing in you’re spare time, right? Things that take your mind off your work and troubles. Crafts and hobbies that give you the creative outlet you might not get at work. They might even earn you a little side money (hey- have you checked out my sister’s writing business Say it Simply? She’s pretty awesome.) or it might be something you keep to yourself, or just trot out for competitions in your spare time. (I’ve got two meads ready for entry in the next Oregon State Fair!)

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Bigfoot here is waiting for his turn…

Even though people have these passions- the ones that fill them with light and happiness- so many people find reasons NOT to work on them. Why?
Sometimes there are financial constraints, sure- I can’t let myself go and get more honey for mead if I’m concerned about getting groceries for the week. Other times there are constraints on resources- it might be difficult to get the materials you need.
For the most part, though, the reasons people choose not to pursue their passions are almost tragically mundane:
“I don’t have the time.”
“I have too many obligations- it’s not the right time.”
“I’m just an amateur- it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s a waste of time.”
Let’s take a look at these one at a time, and maybe we give you the license you need/want to do what you love- something you should never need a reason to do.

1. “I don’t have the time.”

Everyone’s busy. You, me, the whole world- if we all ran around as much as we feel like we do, there would be no obesity in this country, and the energy crises would be solved by installing treadmills everywhere.
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I want to see someone do the Tour de France on one of these.

If you’ve used this as a reason to not do what makes you happy, don’t be embarrassed- you’re not alone. In fact, I’m more used to hearing it from people who don’t do something they NEED to do- exercise.

In response, I’ll say the same thing here that I say to any/everyone else-

YOU ALWAYS HAVE TIME FOR WHAT YOU MAKE TIME FOR.”

Really, that’s what it comes down to. Every time you put off on doing something you love to do something else, you are making a value judgement. You are watching TV instead of learning a new language like you’ve wanted to? In practical terms, you are saying “Watching this tv show is more important to me than learning a new language.”
What makes it worse is when you PROMISE yourself you’ll do it. You promise yourself you’ll make time for practicing, for exercising, for whatever- and then you don’t. Have you ever had someone break a promise they made to you? Doesn’t it suck? It sucks when you do it to yourself too- so you stop trusting yourself, and you don’t make yourself anymore promises… and you do nothing.

In Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” books, one of his characters- Sam Vimes- would remind himself every time he was tempted to let reading to his infant son at 6 pm every night slide- “If you break a promise for a good reason, you’ll break it for a bad one.”
Get your priorities right, and put what’s important to you first- or it’s not important.

​You might bluster at that, but facts are facts. If you want to do something that you love, start making the time to do it. Game of Thrones can wait.

2. “I have too many obligations- it’s not the right time.”

     This one I admit to being guilty of. It’s kind of the inverse of the last excuse- you simply have too much on your plate, and all of it is (or seems) important. People who use this excuse might dream of an escape- a utopian world where you can have all the time and space you need to finally create something wonderful. The writer and poet Charles Bukowski had a couple thoughts on this:

AIR AND LIGHT AND TIME AND SPACE
”– you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

In the end, Bukowski is right. If you really want to create something, you feel find ANY time, ANY reason, ANY excuse to at least do SOMETHING towards it. Time and space and freedom make creating more CONVENIENT, but they certainly don’t guarantee it. The timing will NEVER be perfect- so why not start now?

3.“I’m just an amateur- it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s a waste of time.”

 This one KILLS me when I hear it. People like doing something, but then some jackass comes along and tells them (or they tell themselves) they’re no good, so they should just quit.

SCREW THAT.

Let me tell you something about being an amateur. People love using that as an insult, or as a disclaimer to their passion and talent. Fun fact: “amateur” is derived from Middle French and Latin, and means “lover,” or “devotee.” A person who does something for the love of it, not for money or glory.
     You will never find a more pure-spirited, undiluted artist or creator than an amateur- and real professionals KNOW this. They may offer critique, or even brutally honesty. They may encourage more training, or more experience before attempting something particularly if it’s dangerous,but they will NEVER- EVER- dismiss an amateurs efforts or tell them to give up.

​    All artists and craftsmen know that more people, more work, more effort, raises everyone’s boat. It’s how a craft advances and improves. New blood and new ideas fuels the evolution of an industry- anyone who says different is a liar, or was beaten down too often in their own lives- or they’re actually nice people but know that douchebaggery sells on TV.

The last bit is the bit that REALLY gets me. “It’s a waste of time.”

This is self-condemnation in the extreme. Whenever I hear someone put down what they love and grumble “it’s a waste of time,”  I just want to grab them and shake them. “Oh really? A waste of time? What OTHER plans did you have, might I ask? You already work like a dog, you already devote so much of your life to the things you feel like you NEED to do- please tell me, of the fraction of your life that you have left, WHAT is more important than doing the things that fill that tiny little corner of your world with light and joy? What great plans did you have for those moment, besides breathing and slipping slowly closer to the grave and calling it ‘living?‘”

Maybe it sounds a bit preachy and dark, but it’s the truth. We all have so much to do, and you have no reason not to take that little piece of your life and fill it with what will actually satisfy you and make you happy.

It doesn’t need to make you money- though it can.
It doesn’t need to win you glory- though it can if you work on it and share it.

It just needs to be something you love.

Be an amateur. Keep working on what you love.

Start now.

Stay Classy,

New Beginnings and Old Memories

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

As promised, I dropped something new last Wednesday- the launch of The Black Hat Baker!

How it works is simple: if you have always wanted to learn to bake, and never had the time or availability, I will show up at your house- with ingredients, tools, and recipes in hand- teach you how to bake something, and then clean up and leave.
No enrolling in a cooking school.
No busting your butt to get to classes, or having classes you look forward to cancelled for lack of interest.

Imagine being in the audience of a cooking show, but not only being right up front and getting to taste everything, but being brought into the kitchen, getting your hands dirty, and having the chef stand next to you and show you how to do EVERYTHING. From separating eggs, to making merengue, to the best technique for rolling out dough.

That’s what I intend to bring to peoples homes- the culinary education they need and wished they had, in their own kitchen and at a pace and manner so they can learn.
So, if you know someone in the Portland metro area and want to get them something fun to do for an evening, check out the website!
All the preparation for launching the Black Hat Baker got me to thinking about the ways I first learned to cook and bake. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that cooked a lot when they were young, but I was. I’ve written a lot previously about how important it is for children to learn about nutrition and how to cook and feed themselves well… but where can that start, and who should start it?

Well, the parents of course! You!

When I was very young, I would spend a lot of time with my mother and sister in the kitchen. Since I wouldn’t leave them alone, they put me to work- and in making me work, I started to learn. My mother would sit me up on top of the counter to fold hamantaschen cookies for Purim. My sister would have me crack eggs when she made cookies, and (of course) I got dish duty and table setting chores.

Here’s some ideas for how to bring your child into the kitchen, and start them on a life-long love of (and appreciation for!) food and cooking!

Cooking With Little Kids (Ages 3- 8)

When you have a young child, the first thing to do is introduce them to the kitchen! They know that it’s  where the food comes from, but show them everything! Teach them the names of things, and what they should and shouldn’t touch without you around.
Activities in the kitchen for a small child obviously shouldn’t involve fire and sharp things, but there’s still plenty of stuff you can do!

  • Washing/tasting produce
    Teach your kids about what good fresh veggies taste like! Wash the vegetables with them, and have them taste their favorites. Ask them why veggies need to be washed, and what they want done with them.
  • Measuring
    Pick a simple recipe, and have your child measure things for you! Show them the difference between liquid and dry measures, and how much each one holds. Grade school-age children may even be able to do some simple mathematics with this!
  • Go to a farm
    If you live near a pick-your-own farm, take them out there! Show them where their favorite fruits and veggies come from, and have them pick some for later. If kids feel involved with the finding and making of different foods- even if they’re vegetables- they will be more likely to eat and enjoy them!
  • “No-Cook” Recipes
    Pick out some snack recipes with your kids that they can do themselves, like “Ants on a Log.”  Letting kids get involved teaches them to appreciate where food comes from, and helps them associate food not only with fun, but with spending time with you. 

Older Kids (Ages 8-13)

As kids get older, they can handle more! Have them do more complicated chores around the kitchen that involve getting food on the table. When I was 10, my parents taught me simple knife skills- paring, slicing, etc.- to help with putting together sauces and dips. You might also start showing them how to use appliances safely (besides the microwave!)- the toaster, the blender, the food processor and mixer. 

  • Mixing and Portioning
    Put your child in charge of mixing up doughs and batters, and then portioning them- putting dollops of dough on cookie sheets, or scooping batter into cupcake tins. 
  • Reading off recipes
    HERE’S a good one- have your child read off recipes as you make them! This will get them used to procedural thinking, following instructions, and will aid their reading comprehension in a way that’ll highlight its real-world applications.

Early Teens

Here the REAL teaching begins. Bring your kid to the stove, oven and grill, and start REALLY having them cook! By the time I was 14, I knew how to chop vegetables, make pasta and rice, and stir-fry.
Now the fun part is just making recipes together. Take the time to teach your child new techniques. Show them how to bake a cake and roast a chicken. On the range, show them how to fry up an omelette or make pancakes! Your child isn’t a kid anymore- they’re a young adult, and now is when you start teaching them the skills they’ll need to BE adults. 

What you teach them young stays with them forever- good cooking, good food habits, and most importantly, good memories.

Stay Classy,

When Snacks Attack….

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! How did your mead turn out? Tasty, I hope!
I keep meaning to make this blog a bit more frequent than bi-weekly, and once my secret project finally unfolds, I think I’ll have more than enough material to do that!
Wait, what secret project?”
Oh, you’ll see… In about two weeks.
Anyway, one clever segue later…

​I don’t exactly know when or how we got our brains around it, but whoever decided that the three-meals-a-day eating schedule most folks tend to live around? They had some bad information.

When I was growing up, snacking wasn’t looked at as a bad thing so much- more like biting your nails- a silly habit that’s probably harmless but shouldn’t be encouraged. Unfortunately, with people becoming so diet and weight-conscious (often in very negative, even harmful ways,) snacking- and what we snack on- has changed in the public eye. I can really only speak to any of this as a white male American with a fraught but ultimately healthy relationship with food, but really-look at the vocabulary thrown around when describing “healthy” snacking:

“Skinny.”
“Cheats.”
“Zero (something)”
“Diet”
“Decadent”

What’s the common theme here? That you’re doing something naughty and getting away with it. That you shouldn’t be enjoying “healthy” food, and that you’re sneaking around snacking- like food is a dangerous affair and you’re afraid that other people will find out you are cuckolding your lunch.

Then there’s the one most absolutely miserable, self-damning phrase of them all- the one that I would love to have removed from the lexicon of anything to do with food, crafted into an effigy, and jammed up on a pillory as a warning to others-

“GUILT-FREE.”

     I HATE this phrase. The notion of food as being a decadence, a pleasure, leading to poor moral fiber and bad life choices has been around for ages. It’s common, classic, even cliché- but you know what? Food is FOOD. It is SUSTAINENCE. We have evolved to find the acquisition of food a pleasurable experience. If you get that thrill from eating filet mignon at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a mystery-meat patty from a greasy-spoon diner, FINE. You do you.
     Having a good relationship with your food- what it is, and how you eat it- is essential in feeling good about yourself and having the lifestyle you want to be happy and healthy in. If you feel like certain foods are “bad,” or are “cheating” when you have them, that casts a pall over the feeling that eating the food you like gives you. As long as you know what you are doing, and are smart about it, there’s no reason to feel guilty- ESPECIALLY for something like snacking.
I’ve written a lot about my weight loss, and a bit about what and how I eat. I don’t think I’ve ever written about snacking before.

I am a snacking FIEND.

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Image by Matthew Inman (a.k.a. The Oatmeal)

Okay, maybe NOT to the level of The Oatmeal there, but I snack a LOT.
I almost always have between-meal snacks, and absolutely when I’m out and about during the day- particularly if I have the opportunity to try something I never had before. New things excite and interest me.
“Skinny” doesn’t get me.
A wrapper screaming “all-natural” doesn’t get me.
“Guilt-free” DEFINITELY doesn’t get me… and has earned me a series of odd looks when I’m caught growling profanities in a supermarket aisle.

What DOES get me is stuff in its most natural form possible- minimal processing, no preservatives, full fat. Fat, protein, and carbs are all necessary for your body to function right, and it’s important to get enough of the right kind- which are most often found in real, unprocessed food.

So as a healthy-living, good-relationship-with-food-having guy on the go, what ARE my preferred snacks? Here’s a short list- all of them include healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and many other nutrients that make them a smarter choice for when you need a quick fix.

Here we go:

1. NUTS

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When I get a crunchy/salty or sweet craving, my go-to is just a handful of nuts. Almonds and cashews are my favorites, but with the climate problems in California, I’ve lately been turning to pistachios. Are nuts loaded with fat and calories? Hell yes- but they are also loaded with delicious protein- the stuff that will actually fill you AND give your body the nutrients it needs. Whether I get them in bulk and keep them in my kitchen, or I’m running into a rest stop really quick, when I need some clean protein I go with these.

These what?”


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Oh, pipe down. You knew it was going to come up soon.

2. Popcorn

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Emily and I love watching movies together, and we like having popcorn available. No, NOT the super-buttery microwave stuff, or even the fancy flavored junk. Microwave popcorn is loaded down with salt, hydrogenated oils, sugars, and whatever other stuff they use to make something taste like butter or cheese but can sit on a shelf for a year.

What I do is I get a stove-top or hot air popcorn popper, get bags/ jars of loose corn (often, it’s cheaper!) and then I do it up my way. On the stovetop, you DO need to use a little oil (I love using extra virgin olive oil) to make it work, but hot-air poppers don’t. You get tasty popcorn, and then you can add the salt, herbs, spices, REAL butter and oil if you want it- all for cheaper and with less mysterious chemicals.

That sounds like a Hollywood happy ending if there ever was one.


3. Veggies and Hummus

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Cliche? Yep- but for a reason.

Chopped up fresh veggies and hummus is an snacking two-fer. The veggies are obviously great for you, are refreshing and crunchy, and can offer hydration as well. The hummus, being made from chickpeas, is rich in protein, and can be easily made or bought in a variety of flavors to suit your fancy. My fridge almost always has some in it… Which reminds me: I need to get more on the way home.


4. Sunflower Seeds

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My go-to road snack, and idle-snacking godsend. When I was in college, I would sometime find myself driving a 4-hour slog from South Jersey to Hartford, CT- rolling down long dull highways, and often jammed up in traffic. With an oral fixation habit that I’m not ashamed to own up to, sunflower seeds were both snack and entertainment. There was something wonderfully rewarding about jamming a small handful in one cheek, cracking them between my teeth, eating the seed, and then spitting the shells out the window, trying to hit the cars that were trying to cut me off earlier.

I’ll confess that I tend to like the flavored ones, which have more salt and preservatives than is good for me. If you can develop a taste for plain, unsalted ones, good on you. As for me, though, the added flavor just makes it even better when I’m trying to hit the hood of that jackass yellow Hummer.


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Nailed it.

5. Fresh Fruit

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Yes, it’s cliche again, but for a reason. When the warm weather hits, and I’m walking around the city looking for trouble, I love stopping into a grocery store and picking up just some simple pieces of organic fruit. I especially love plums, peaches, and apricots for when I am walking around, but if I’m camped out on a park bench? I love whipping out my Scout knife and slicing off pieces of apple or pear. Sweet, refreshing, and convenient- you can’t beat fresh fruit on a summer day.

Ok, so nuts, seeds, fruit, healthy crap.. Great- but what if you’ve got a craving for something? Not just a need for something crunchy, or something sweet- a craving for something SPECIFIC. A candy bar that you had as a kid… Delicious frosty ice cream, and the store has your favorite flavor.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE SNACKS ATTACK?!

Surrender.
Yes, you read that right. If you want a specific something THAT badly, just go ahead and have it, but BE SMART.

1. READ THE NUTRITION LABEL. Know how many servings are in the package, and what you are putting in your body.

2. GET AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Realize you are feeding a moment, not forever. Get enough to enjoy NOW, and have a good time.

3. OWN IT. Yep, you like some junk food. Big deal- I love salt water taffy, gummies, and beef jerky myself. Just be aware of what you are doing, and that you don’t want it to be a regular thing. Enjoy it, and then go on your way.

4. DON’T REGRET IT. You had a little something you wanted. The only regret you should ever have about food is if it wasn’t what you remembered, or didn’t taste as good as you hoped. Even then- you know not to do it again.

Go forth my friends, and eat well!

Stay Classy,

“L’CHAIM!”- The BHB’s Forays Into Homebrewing, Part 2

Good evening, friends and neighbors!
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on On The Bench… some dude screamed the whole time with his arms up or something.

Actually, I told you how to how to get started brewing a simple mead at home. Here’s what you do for when the 10 days- 2 week fermentation time is up!
Ok, not to curb your enthusiasm or anything, but just a quick note- this is only the PRIMARY fermentation. Today, we’ll be getting your delicious mead off the dead cells, sediments and whatnot that might mess up the flavor if you let it sit there. Your mead will KEEP fermenting until either it runs out of sugar (which can take years) or you choose to kill it by boiling and filtering it.

Mead is interesting in that, in most cases, after it is bottled it can be cellared INDEFINITELY. You can drink this stuff in 5 years and see where the reaction and aging has taken it. If you just want a sweet, quick little drink, go ahead and enjoy now. Otherwise, hold off for a while- this is only a BABY mead at this point.
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Unless you’re REALLY into drinking babies for some reason…

What To Do When Your Mead is Done

First of all, you might want to get some equipment from your local homebrew supply store:
A large tub for sanitzing everything (remember what I said about cleanliness?). This is a storage tub I got from Home Depot, filled up with about 10 gal. of water.
This is my preferred sanitizing agent, BTF Iodophor- an iodine-based cleaner. It’s food-safe, doesn’t require rinsing afterwards (even though I do anyway,) and doesn’t leave a funky flavor on the stuff it cleans. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that won’t leave weird flavors, and DEFINITELY won’t mess with your equipment.
Just dump the appropriate amount in (following the sanitizer’s instructions) and mix.

You’ll also want a couple of tools to make this process a little easier for you. None of these things will break the bank, and in fact some homebrewing stores may include them in a “starter” kit.

This is an auto-siphon, an open-ended pump that’ll make it super easy to get your mead from your big fermenting jug to smaller bottles. This one even has a special cap on the bottom to keep it from sucking up TOO much of the sediment.
You’ll also need a length of food-safe tubing. I picked up a clamp for mine just to keep things neat.
This is a bottle filler, and it will prevent a LOT of cleanup later, trust me. The valve on the bottom only opens when pressed, so with your siphon and hose connected to this bad boy, your mead will go where you want it- as opposed to the floor.
Bottles. Duh.

Those are the basics. I also have a hydrometer, testing flask, capper and caps.

These are for if you are a super-nerd like me and really want to figure out the proof (alcohol content) of your mead. The capper and caps are only a must if you want to store it in bottles that don’t have a swing or screw top, and it’s cheaper than a corking machine.

At this point, you will want to chill your mead down as best you can. This will slow down the fermentation and it will gather most of your sediments to the bottom in a process called “clarifying.”

This whole process is called “racking.” In winemaking, this would be when the wine is pumped from steel fermentation containers to barrels so that it can sit and age. In my case, my big 3 gal. fermenter can’t fit in my fridge, so I split it up between several smaller containers so I can clarify it more quickly and fully rack it later.

​CLEAN EVERYTHING!!!

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FIll all your bottles with sanitizing solution, let sit about 4 minutes, then dump them out…

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…drain them well, and let them air/sun dry.

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Everything else goes in the tub for about 5 minutes, immersed COMPLETELY, inside and out.

EVERYTHING that interacts with your mead must be cleaned, sanitized, drained, and air-dried. EVERYTHING.

Once you have your cleaning out of the way, it’s time to set up your siphon and get things going!

Simply take your hose and connect your auto-siphon to one end, and your bottle filler to the other. Drop the business end of your siphon slowly into your mead so that it sits JUST ABOVE the sediment on the bottom. Yes, you will lose some mead to that. Sorry. :C
If you’ve ever filled up a fuel can or cleaned a pool, you know how a siphon works. Put simply, it’s when water goes down a tube in such a way that it pulls more water with it. The pump on your auto-siphon will get your mead “up the hill” enough that it can fall and create the siphoning action. Since the end of your hose has your bottle filler on it, you might need someone to press that down into your first bottle while you pump. That’ll get everything going.

From there… just fill up your bottles!

Cap them in whatever way pleases you. I love swing-top bottles just for this purpose.  

Voila! You have bottled your first mead! Now label it, date it, and either drink it or store it!

​Just remember, before you put all your equipment away…

Yeah, you weren’t getting away from that one. Brewing is mostly cleaning.

At least you get booze out of it!

​Stay Classy,

“L’CHAIM!”-The BHB’s Forays into Homebrewing, Part 1

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

Like many good, honest souls across this great land of ours, indeed this whole wonderful world… I like my booze.

Wide and varied is the world of fermented portables, and I am very keen to try as many as I can from as far abroad as I can. Call it my humble task in bringing understanding and goodwill the world over… or I just want to get pickled in the tastiest ways possible. Whichever way is tax-deductible
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Obviously, company is welcome in my quest… provided you cover your own tab time to time.

That said, sometimes my financial situation is not exactly conductive to my altruistic bringing-peace-through-boozing desires. Being a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, though, makes that MUCH less of an obstacle.

With the recent rush toward everything being local, seasonal, homemade, small-batch, etcetera, the long-loved tradition of homebrewing in America has emboldened the “microbrewing” surge, and let humble beer and wine-lovers like myself not only embrace a new set of skills, but make the jump into entrepreneurship- bringing the taste of home and local flavor to the masses.

While most of these ambitious drinkers embrace the complexities of beer or austerity and mystery of wine, I have chosen a more simple, ancient, and no less wonderful beverage to bend my thirsty energies against.

MEAD.

The legendary drink of Vikings, and potentially the oldest fermented drink in history. Thick and sweet or light and refreshing, easy to make, and usually gluten-free.

Mead is little more than a fermentation of honey and water, sometimes with the addition of fruit, juices, spices, herbs, or any other conceivable flavoring. While beer and wine aficionados will argue to the end of time, throwing archaeological proof at each other over whether man fermented grain or grapes first, I make the humble assertion that only honey NATURALLY occurs in a fermentable state. Grapes must be crushed, and grain must be milled and steeped to make mash for beer or whiskey- raw honey only needs water and time. With Paleolithic evidence available for the gathering of honey from wild hives, I maintain that mead has a VERY strong case.

I started brewing my own mead about a year or so ago, after Emily’s family gave me a copy of “The Art of Fermentation” for Chanukah. The book is a veritable encyclopedia for anyone who wishes to understand and control the forces of fermentation, pickling, canning, and pleasurable decomposition. Since then, I have made several brews ranging from the acrid to the pleasurable to the competition-worthy (one of which I have just recently entered into the Oregon Homebrewing Festival.)
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“Scarlet O’Hara”- a mead I made with raw meadowfoam honey, dried hibiscus, and vanilla bean. Tasting is on the 7th- wish me luck!


Obviously, if homebrewing is something you wind up REALLY getting into, there are WAY more sources for you than my little blog, and a lot more details you can play around with. Online, you can get a lot of leads from the American Homebrewers Association. The books on homebrewing are numberless, but recently my go-to guide for how-tos and ideas is Ken Schramm’s “The Compleat Meadmaker.” If you have a homebrew supply store nearby, you can absolutely ask there or even see if they offer classes.

For the purposes of this blog, though, I’m just going to give you a quick how-to on an absolutely basic level spiced mead.

How to Get Hopped Up On Honey

YOU WILL NEED:

  • ​1 lbs. raw honey (available at most health food stores and crunchy supermarkets. If they have a bunch of varietals, pick the one that most appeals!)
  • 4 lbs. water (about 2 quarts. This 4:1 ratio will give you a “standard” strength mead. For a thicker, sweeter, “sack” strength mead, go for a 2:1 ratio.)
  • A combination of your favorite herbs and spices (don’t go overboard here- you want the BEST tasting spices, but not so many that your mead becomes undrinkable. This ESPECIALLY goes for strong ones like whole cloves.)

Equipment:
(All of this should be SANITIZED- you can use whatever means you like- steam, chemical, whatever. Just make sure they are really REALLY clean.)

  • 2 strong glass containers, about 1 gallon each. Fermentation creates carbon dioxide (CO2), and a LOT of it. Exploding containers are no fun, so make sure they are up to the task.
  • Measuring cup
  • Funnel
  • Strainer/sieve
  • Strong-fitting caps for the containers. If you are using an airlock (a device that lets CO2 escape without letting in outside air), you might use a cork with a bored center. Otherwise, a screw-top for your jug will work best. 

At homebrew stores, there’s a lot of other equipment you can get that can give you metrics on your mead- hydrometers, acid testers, flasks, and such. That stuff you might want to forego until you decide that homebrewing is something you are really into. Other stuff will make these steps a little easier, but aren’t strictly necessary for what we are doing here- siphons, filters, and such. 

    Here’s my set up for my next mead that I’m calling “Besamim,” after the aromatic spices used to end the Jewish observance of Shabbat.
    In case you’re wondering, that thing down at the lower left corner is my preferred airlock, with a cork for the container. My container is a 3 gallon PET carboy, since I’m making a larger batch here.

    Now, how do you get everything started?

    1. Pour the honey into your container.
    2. Pour the water in. You want to use cool to room temperature water here.
    3. Use a bit of hot water to swirl in the honey jar to make sure you get everything in there.
    4. Add your spices, cap the container, and shake vigourously to make sure the honey is dissolved.
    5. Wait.

    ​Yup. That’s really it.

    “What happens now?”
    Well, now your job is over for the time being. Inside that container, you’ve just diluted the honey enough that the live cultures trapped inside can get busy fermenting! Fermenting is when microorganisms (usually yeast) eating sugar, and excreting alcohol and CO2- and you just threw them into a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of their favorite food.
    All you have to do, for at least the next 10 days or so, is put your mead (well, technically, “must” at this point. It’s not mead yet) in a cool spot in your house, give it a little shake about twice a day, and let those little guys have fun. If you decided not to use a cork and airlock like I have here, you’ll need to vent it about twice a day to let the CO2 out but just SLIGHTLY untwisting or opening the top and resealing it quickly- remember, you REALLY don’t want outside air in there, with all the nasty stuff it carries.
    That’s all for the time being- stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days, for what to do when your mead is ready!

    Stay Classy,

    Who Needs A Hero?

         Hello, friends and neighbors!
         Sorry that this blog has lately become biweekly- I’ve lately been planning to pull off a big redesign. I’m not quite ready to unveil it just yet, but when I do… oh it’s going to be worth it. Trust me.
         That said, everyone needs heroes.

         When I started trying to get fit, I had a notion of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to look- but I had never been an athlete before. I didn’t have any sports posters, or athletes I idealized. Sports were never a big part of my life, let alone bodybuilding or fitness.

         What I did have, however, was literature, movies, and comic books.

    The hell with Michael Jordan- I wanted to be unstoppable like Juggernaut. I wanted to run like the Flash. I wanted to throw a punch like Bruce Lee, lift like Superman, and be as precise and flawlessly skilled as Batman. When I exercised, I wanted Rocky Balboa beside me, and when I ran a race, it was against Umslopogaas the Zulu warrior.

    We all need heroes- people and characters to inspire and enable us.

    Here’s some of mine.

    The BHB’s A-Team

    1. Sun Wukong (a.k.a. Son Goku, The Monkey King)
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    “Hero is he alone who vies with powers supreme!”

    Fictional character from the Chinese epic “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en

    Sun Wukong is my favorite example of having everything, and losing it through foolishness. A divinely-born stone ape, Monkey attained immortality and superhuman powers through nurturing himself physically and spiritually. He then let his power go to his head, made war against heaven, and wound up trapped beneath a mountain for 500 years. Eventually, he was freed and found redemption through humility and helping others. For his good works, he even attained Buddhahood, earning the name “Buddha Victorious in Strife.”
    Every time I read Journey to the West, besides laughing at Monkeys antics and adventures, I learn again that strength only matters for what you do with it, that nothing worthwhile comes without effort, but that “Nothing on Earth is difficult- it is only our minds that make it so!

    2. Umslopogaas
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    “I die, I die- but ah! ‘Twas a kingly fray!”

    Fictional character from H. Rider Haggards “Allan Quatermain” novels.

    Steeped as they are in imperialism, colonialism, and all the exploitative racial thinking of the Victorian Era, the Allan Quatermain novels still introduced us to the “lost world” adventure narrative. They also offered us a character possessing absolute nobility and quiet strength. No, not Quatermain- rather his sometime companion, the Zulu chief Umslopogaas.
    An old warrior, wielding his beloved axe, Umslopogaas saw himself as inferior to no one, and superior only to those he deemed dishonorable. Any man who underestimated him based on his race would be met with dispassionate regard, and often a sort of dry humor.

    My favorite moment for him comes at the end of the book “Allan Quatermain.” After having fought in a massive battle the day before, running through the night (keeping pace with a galloping horse the entire way,) and only sleeping for a few hours, Umslopogaas awakes and knows he must fight again against incredible odds:

    “… The hour has come for us, old hunter. So be it: we have had our time, but I would that in it I had seen some more such fights as yesterday’s. ‘Let them bury me after the fashion of my people, Macumazahn, and set my eyes towards Zululand.”

    – “Allan Quatermain”, H. Rider Haggard

         Besides physical prowess and phenomenal endurance, to me Umslopogaas embodies absolute nobility and dignity. He represents the confidence of quiet strength- a person that lets his actions speak for his character and ability, rather than bragging about them.
    3 + 4. Teddy Roosevelt and T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a “Lawrence of Arabia”)
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    “In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

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    “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

    How you start in life does not dictate how you live it. Here are two men, born sickly or disadvantaged, who proved to be more than their worlds predicted.
         Teddy Roosevelt was born to a wealthy and well-connected family, but with debilitating asthma. Against expectations, he took to the outdoor life and exercised vigorously. A rancher, a hunter, a policeman, and a naturalist, Teddy resigned from a comfortable desk job under the secretary of the Navy to form the Rough Riders and fight in the Spanish-American War. While campaigning for his “Bull Moose” progressive party, Roosevelt was shot in the chest just before he was to give a speech. The bullet went through his steel eyeglass case and the 50-page speech in his pocket before lodging itself in his chest muscle. Roosevelt declined to be taken to the hospital, and proceeded to give a 90-minute speech before allowing himself to be treated.

         Lawrence was born with a sort of megacephaly (a larger head and scrawny body) and also took to strenuous exercise and rigorous- often dangerous- self-imposed endurance trials. He would test himself against sleeplessness by staying up for days at a time. He would fast to test himself against hunger, and would regularly challenge himself against extreme heat and cold. Supposedly, in his youth, Lawrence could run a 7-minute mile barefoot.

         In the lives of both men, I learn that the circumstan
    ces of your birth need not define you, and that you certainly do not have to live the life that others expect of you.

    5. Bruce Lee
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    “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

         C’mon, he’s f***ing BRUCE LEE. Through intense training, studying disciplines of both East and West, and single-minded dedication, Bruce Lee became a martial arts legend, developing his own style, Jeet Kune Do.
         While anyone could stand to learn from Lee’s physical training, dedication, perseverance, I personally learn most from his adaptability. Unwilling to be constrained by concepts of “discipline,” “school,” or nationality,  he studied widely and voraciously- borrowing what he liked, putting aside what he didn’t, and combining it all into a form all his own.

    These were some of my heroes- who are yours? Who do you see coaching you when you work out, or standing at your shoulder when you struggle?

    Stay Classy,