Showing posts with label not food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label not food. Show all posts

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hello Again

Babies are sure time consuming. The feedings, diaper changes, and soothing alone are a full-time job, and when the opportunity for a break arises (hello, afternoon nap), updating a blog falls low on the list of priorities, behind:

1. showering
2. washing dishes
3. folding laundry
4. eating lunch (with two hands!)
5. catching a nap myself

I am literally typing this in bed with one hand while the kid uses my left arm as a pillow. So shhhh! The meals I'm throwing together are not elegant: frozen vegetables appear regularly, as do carton soups. You know what makes a great 5-minute dinner? A baked potato, with stuff poured over it. Beans, vegetables, hummus, salsa, whatever. An even faster meal, because you fell asleep putting the baby to bed and woke up during Craig Ferguson? Cereal.

I've got some tasty posts floating around in my head, but until I get the chance to actually write them, I suggest you visit xgfx, a brand-new comprehensive resource for all things vegan AND gluten-free. No eggs, no wheat, no whey, no spelt. No delicious photos of food I can't eat! And if you click the xgfx icon on the right, you'll find a directory of gluten-free vegan blogs. There are more of us than I ever imagined!

In closing, here's a photo of my new man researching solid foods. He's a very studious baby.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MittenMachen is on maternity leave. I'll be back with more knitting and recipes when I have a spare hand and a free minute! Happy holidays!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Things Have Been Slow Around Here Lately...

Here's why:

Look! It's waving its bony little hand at you.

Between the fatigue, the morning (and afternoon, and evening, and middle of the night) sickness, and the intense food aversions, I haven't been up to anything special in the kitchen. Plain and starchy is where it's at. Can a person survive (and grow tiny human bones?) on rice cakes, bananas, and Peanut Butter Panda Puffs? Apparently.

Now that those lousy symptoms are mostly gone, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things as my CSA and farmers' market come back to life. I'll probably be taking some time off at the end of 2010, but until then, it's time to get some veggies in this kiddo!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Finds in my Moving Boxes

Last winter, the recession had fashion bloggers and morning show correspondents discussing how to look great and save money by shopping in your own closet. While I couldn't care less about fashion (I will remove my hoodie if I must, for very fancy occasions), I enjoy anything that helps me put off a trip to the mall.

Since moving last August, we've been slow to unpack, since every room in the house needs work. We're still opening boxes, finding places for our belongings, and culling broken and unwanted objects.

A few weeks ago, I tired of alternating the same two sweaters on school days, and of climbing over a rubbermaid bin to get into the upstairs bathroom. In the bin, with my work clothes, old shoes, and painting gear, was this Red Sox sweatshirt. I hadn't been looking for it and didn't remember owning it, but now, thanks to its super-thick fabric and snug wrists, it's in heavy rotation.

Then I found a quilt and plaid lap blanket that I bought in college. Good as new.

This weekend I decided to go through old cds. I opened a beat-up box and uncovered some 90s AWESOME, just what I need to turn folding laundry into a dance party.

I'm so glad I never bought any of these albums on iTunes.

If you're snowed in or stir crazy this winter, go shopping in a closet, attic, or stack of moving boxes. Find something old, fun, and forgotten; it's like getting a present from your (younger) self.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

R.I.P. Yellow Apron, 2005-2010

The old yellow apron was laid to rest this morning. After more than four years of admirable service, the apron could no longer perform its duties due to a malfunctioning neck strap.

Farewell, friend. You were a good apron. I shall remember fondly your wide pockets, your absorbent fabric, your hot sauce stains. The evenings I put you on and discovered a kleenex, or an animal cracker, leftover from some previous night's adventures.

You will be replaced, but not forgotten.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farewell, Dear Gluten

At a recent physical, I mentioned that my migraines have increased in severity and frequency over the last few years. I attributed them to stress, but my doctor ordered some bloodwork just in case.

At the follow-up appointment, she said, "It probably doesn't surprise you, but these came back positive for a gluten allergy."

"Um," I replied, "actually it does surprise me." Sure, my siblings, aunt, and cousins have Celiac Disease, but I was tested years ago, and I'm negative. "No way, doc," I said. "I love bread and bread loves me."

She asked if I'd go gluten-free for a while, to see if the headaches went away. It's been two weeks, and not only have they nearly disappeared, the ever-present fatigue, soreness, and gastrointestinal distress that I'd attributed to laziness, aging, and food poisoning are gone. For the first time in my life, 7 hours of sleep is enough. I get up in the morning and my back doesn't hurt. I feel awake, and downright sprightly.

I should feel relieved. I should be grateful that I don't have a brain tumor, and that all I have to do to feel better is stop eating gluten. Instead, I'm bouncing like a pinball through the seven stages of grief:

Shock: This is not possible. What will I eat? I cannot survive on Lärabars and fruit alone. Oh my god, I'm going to starve.

Denial: To hell with migraines, I am going to stuff my face with this giant cinnamon roll.

Bargaining: I could just keep eating muffins and taking lots of Advil...

Guilt: Am I being punished for this post?

Anger: Stupid body and your STUPID allergies! Why can't you just work right?

Depression: No more steamed dumplings? No more Dogfish Head beer? No more FALAFEL?!? A life without gluten isn't worth living...

Acceptance and Hope: Without bagels, beer, and cookies, I'm going to get totally skinny.

People ask me if giving up meat, eggs, and dairy was difficult. I tell them it was the easiest thing in the world, because I never liked those foods to begin with. I rarely eat faux meat, soy cheese, or tofu omlettes, because I don't miss the real thing at all.

I already miss gluten terribly. Without wheat and barley, there is a gaping hole in my diet. I have to toss out everything I know about baking and start over. But why bother? Gluten-free approximations will never taste and feel like my old favorites. I'll give up cookies, bread, and pie crust entirely before I'll eat hard, gluey imitations. Isa's Gluten Freedom Cupcakes aren't bad, but they won't get me through the rest of my life.

I had vegan grocery shopping down to a science. I knew which foods I could and couldn't eat. Now, I'm reading labels again and questioning ingredients. I'm drawn to every shiny prepackaged food that has a gluten-free label. A month ago, I was not interested in frozen waffles or Santa Fe Barbeque tortilla chips, but in my self-pity and withdrawal from white flour, I'm forking over big bucks for tiny packages of processed rice and tapioca.

After I left the doctor's office, I went to the library and checked out some medical books, a cookbook, and Gluten-Free Girl, a food writer's memoir about learning how to eat after her illness and Celiac diagnosis. I want your recommendations, particularly for cookbooks, blogs, restaurants, or food producers who are gluten and vegan saavy.

This is probably the end of being invited to dinner parties; people who wondered what to feed the vegan now have to rule out normal bread and pasta. For the first time in a long time, I don't have a good answer when someone asks, "But what do you eat?" I'm figuring that out myself.

From now on, all the recipes on this site will be gluten-free. I'll also tag past recipes that are gluten-free. I have so much to learn. Please chime in, and if you can, have a bagel and an Allagash White for me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Quick Time-Out

I'll be away from this blog for a little while as we finish moving. I'm hoping the new kitchen will be up and running in a week or so. As you can see, clearing the counters will be a big job:

While Mitten Machen is on break, I'll be posting about painting, yard work, and roofing on our new house blog. Of course, you can still find tasty food photos at Veggie Thing.

See you in September, readers!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet Ellie; She Probably Hates You

My girl Ellie is a little cross-eyed, but that doesn't slow her down. She loves to wrestle, jump, and toss around toy squirrels. She's learned many tricks, but jumping through a hula hoop is her specialty.

Though just a svelte 27 lbs., Ellie has the deep, powerful bark of a much larger dog, and she is not afraid to speak her mind. If you live in Bangor, she's likely told you, your dog, or your children to go to hell. (I was the exasperated human yanking on the other end of the leash.)

Since she came to live with us at 11 weeks old, Ellie was a timid puppy. She hid behind chairs at obedience class and dove into the bushes when cars went by. In Ellie's world, a plastic bag blowing in the breeze poses a threat. She soon realized that the best defense is a good offense, and began to employ barking, snarling, and lunging to clear her path of danger. Add to this paranoid aggression her powerful herding instincts and the prey drive of a coyote, and you've got a challenging walk through the park.

An Incomplete List of Things Ellie Hates
Ice and Roller skaters
Dogs (except Graeme)
Children (Why are their legs so short? Scary!)
Ringing telephones
Humans hugging
Humans standing on stools, chairs, or countertops
Humans ascending or descending stairs
Eye contact with strangers
Strangers approaching
Strangers sitting or standing too close
People at the door
People who slip on the ice
Feather dusters
Food processors
Salad spinners
Vacuum cleaners
Sudden movements

Comments from veterinarians and dog psychologists welcome.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Found Recipes

I told you things would be slow here this month. Between cleaning and painting the new house, packing up our apartment, and testing out recipes for MaineFare, I've had little time for knitting or playing around in the kitchen. We're eating a lot of $5 footlongs and farmers' market no-recipe salad.

I wanted to write about cleaning out the pantry, but I'd no sooner had the idea than sneaky Mark Bittman copied me, again. (He really loves to ruin good food with raw eggs, doesn't he?) Instead, I'll share with you some of the intriguing recipes I've stumbled upon this week.

First, I found this Parmesow Chicken at the bottom of a cobwebbed drawer in our new kitchen:

Please, could somebody adapt this with Vegenaise, nooch, and tofu, and then send me a picture? I dare you.

Recipe ideas often come to me in my sleep. I'll wake up craving something, and then tinker around until I've made it a reality. So it was with this, the Rubber Finger Sandwich. After a long day of scrubbing, scraping, and painting, I dreamed my husband made me dinner. Wheat bread, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a yellow glove. Creative, and so thoughtful.

But finally, a recipe for edible food. Peaches are $0.79/lb this week at the Bangor Main Street Shaw's, so let me share with you one of my favorite desserts:


1 fresh peach
tap water

Rinse peach under cool tap water for 5-10 seconds. If necessary, remove PLU sticker. Gently dry peach, using kitchen towel or pant leg. Eat immediately.

Variation: Halve peach and serve with ice cream and raspberries.

Serves 1.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Knitter. Vegan. Homeowner.

We're moving! After nearly two months of paperwork, we closed on a cozy little house on a quiet, dog-friendly street beside the river. Things may slow down here next month as we work on the new house and begin hauling things over from the apartment.

I'm planning to pack up the kitchen last and keep up cooking as long as possible. The new kitchen is smaller, but it comes with a neat little storage area called a butler's pantry:

I'll begin interviewing potential butlers as soon as we get settled.

Our first meals in the new house were Subway sandwiches and an assortment of chips, olives, edamame salad, and hummus. In an empty house, with no plates, silverware, or even chairs, you can dispense with table manners. While moving into a previous apartment, we used naan to scoop Indian take-out into our mouths, and when that ran out, we used our fingers. When you're lifting boxes and pushing paint rollers, concerns about balanced meals are similarly forgotten. In a house with no clocks, who's to say fritos aren't a fine mid-morning snack?

The new house needs a lot of work. There's an overgrown yard, a rotted deck, shoddy insulation, and an outdated roof. The previous owner was not shy about her love of pink, and it will take many, many hours of painting to make the house feel like our home instead of Barbie's vacation cottage.

But the old-fashioned formal living rooms, tin ceilings, boarded-over fireplaces, and odd nooks and crannies have so much potential, and the dogs finally have a yard. Here are some of my favorite quirky features:

Nautical light fixture in the laundry room. It reminds me of a sailor's tattoo. Definitely a keeper.

These old-fashioned faucets are apparently retro now. They're so dainty.

This left-behind garden frog looks wise, like some kind of protective house spirit/guardian angel. He can stay.

We met some neighbors on Saturday. One of my husband's coworkers lives up the street, and she dropped off this thoughtful basket of vegan Fig Newmans, sparklers, and a bottle of wine (with two plastic cups—a nice touch!):

If you care to follow our ongoing renovations, we'll be posting about them here. More pictures of the new house are at our SmugMug photo album.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Allow Me to Boast...

...about my new layout. Is it not the cutest? Marina at Penny Lane Designs came up with the new logo and template. I asked for classy, fun, and inviting, and I think she nailed it. I can't say enough about Marina's creativity and professionalism. She responded quickly to all my questions, and was patient when I repeatedly changed my mind. I'd thought I'd never be able to afford a blog makeover, since most web designers charge well over a thousand dollars, but Marina's designs are beautiful and affordable.

If you're considering a new look for your blog, or need customized business cards, invitations, or announcements, I highly recommend Penny Lane Designs.

More food talk tomorrow. In the meantime, have a look around.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Know-it-All Vegan's Review of "Food, Inc."

Last weekend I saw Food, Inc., a documentary narrated by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation). While readers of these books will be familiar with the film's topics and conclusions, this brutally honest examination of industrial food production will be a wake-up call for most viewers.

The film first examines milk, egg, and meat production, with footage of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), slaughterhouses, and meat processing plants. Any reasonably observant person knows what to expect in these scenes: cows knee-deep in their own waste, sick chickens suffocating to death in crowded warehouses, animals sliced apart at breakneck speed. While the filmmakers do not explicitly advocate reducing or eliminating consumption of animal products (neither Pollan nor Schlosser is vegetarian), I don't understand how anyone seeing this gruesome footage could draw a different conclusion. It compels you to watch a cow, caked in feces and too sick to walk, being driven into the slaughterhouse by a tractor, and says: this is your cheeseburger, your meatball, your roast beef sandwich. When confronted with PETA brochures, it's easy to dismiss these images as sensationalist. If someone else presents the truth about factory farming, maybe the message will get through.

An aspect of factory farming that deserved more attention in the film is the widespread use of pharmaceuticals. Because food animals live in crowded, filthy conditions without access to fresh air or appropriate food, they're uniformly pumped full of antibiotics. Not only are these antibiotics passed along to humans who eat meat, eggs, and milk, their concentrated use encourages the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (A measure restricting the use of antibiotics in livestock was recently proposed in the House of Representatives. It's supported by the Obama Administration, the American Medical Association, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, but opposed, predictably, by the National Pork Producers Council. Read about it here. I'm skeptical about its chances, because restricting antibiotics without losing many more animals to illness would require providing them adequate space and healthy feed. That would make meat more expensive, a repercussion few legislators are brave enough to stand behind.)

The film contrasts large-scale meat and dairy production with scenes of Polyface Farm in Virginia, where poultry and livestock graze and socialize until they're gathered up for slaughter. While farmer Joel Salatin discusses his guiding principles, behind him a group of pigs wag their curly tails as they nose through a pile of compost. Is this free-range method of farming healthier for the animals, and the humans who eat them? Certainly. But a scene of the presumed Good Guys slitting the throats of living, kicking chickens and hanging them upside-down to bleed to death over a plastic bucket is hardly reassuring. I can't imagine anyone leaving the theater craving nuggets.

The film next looks at the effects of industrial grain production on the land and on Western diets. Pesticide run-off poisons the water supply, monoculture depletes nutrients in the soil. As grain production increases, the American diet becomes less diverse, and more dependent on corn-derived pseudo-foods like high fructose corn syrup. Unless you've read Omnivore's Dilemma, you'll be amazed at how many of your calories come from corn and soy. Cameras accompany an overweight working-class family to the grocery store, where they buy calorie-dense hamburgers and soda and tell their daughter to put back a peach.

Farmers supplying grain and animals to multinational corporations complain of crushing debt and constant intimidation. When patented genetically-modified seeds ride the breeze to another farmer's fields, Monsanto calls it stealing and files a lawsuit. The film reveals how Big Agriculture uses its considerable legal and economic muscle to prevent small farmers and consumers from speaking out about food safety and inhumane treatment of workers and animals. The mother of a child killed by E. coli-contaminated beef, fearing a lawsuit, is unwilling to discuss on camera how the experience has changed her family's eating habits.

Food, Inc. is a frightening, uncomfortable, vitally important movie. Anyone in the industrialized world who eats food should see it. For those of us already trying to make healthy, sustainable food choices, it offers affirmation. I hope it frightens others out of complacency.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Changes & Summer Knitting

School's out for the summer so I have more time to cook, knit, write, and tearfully watch Michael Jackson videos. (I was always a bigger Janet fan, but have you watched the Bad video lately? No human being, before or since, has ever been that cool.)

Happily, this blog will get a much-needed makeover soon. I don't know about you, but I am tired of these damn polka dots. I'm not terribly design- or tech-saavy, so I'll be working with someone to come up with a clean, fun, and colorful look. I'll be adding new features, like a list of frequently asked questions. I thought about changing the name; seriously, when was the last time I talked about mittens? I write almost exclusively about food. At this point, though, the name and address are out in the world too much to make changing them feasible. I'll just have to start posting my knitting projects a little more often, like Hannah at BitterSweet.

My busy spring schedule is one reason I haven't had much knitting to post; when things get hectic, I still cook and eat, but my evening knitting time gets trampled.

The other reason is insecurity; I am a much better cook than knitter. I knit mindlessly, while talking, watching television, or riding in the car. I can't be bothered to follow a pattern, which limits me to scarves, hats, and easy mittens. As much as I would love to brag abut my handmade sweaters or stuffed animals, I just don't have the patience.

Last week I stopped into my local yarn shop and was humbled by the amazing, gorgeous, intricate projects those ladies seem to complete in no time. Their monogrammed mittens are works of art, while my mittens are... let's call them "rustic." A trip to the yarn shop always leaves me inspired and totally intimidated. With summer here, I'm getting a start on Christmas gifts: hats, mittens, pillow shams, and the nascent necktie above.

For now, Graeme models one of my cabled hats: fierce!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Visiting Chicago

I'm staying with friends in Chicago this week, left to my own devices while my husband attends a conference. Aside from weather delays and a strange toddler in the boarding area who licked my leg, the trip from Maine was uneventful.

I love the challenge of orienting myself in a new city, building a mental map of its layout and public transit, noticing how the people move. I've heard Chicago is a great place to be vegan, but all I can report on so far is this soy chai. We're keeping it frugal for now, cooking portobellos and pea shoots at home until this weekend when we'll check out The Chicago Diner.

I spent yesterday walking Chicago's tourist route, from the top of the Hancock building and down the shopping streets to Millenium Park, where visitors use the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (known as "the bean," though it's shaped more like a red blood cell) to photograph themselves taking a photograph.

Back in Maine, there's plenty of room and plenty of time for everyone to get where they're going. When I lived the city, I had to learn the unspoken rules of urban pedestrian life: walk quickly and decisively, stay out of the way, and do not look at anyone directly. Traveling up Michigan Avenue during rush hour felt like a fast, precise game of pinball, the steel marble dodging to avoid opening doors, weaving around strollers, perfectly timing a jump between oncoming taxis. I cursed the oblivious lumps who stopped to talk in the middle of the sidewalk, halting my progress. I've learned how to go about my business without interrupting the flow of the crowd. I glance around at the swiftly moving feet and think, I am in this club. Do I belong in the city?

Where is vegan utopia? Is it a metropolis, with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, a dozen vegan restaurants, and ethnic markets full of exotic spices? Or is it a small community where you grow your own salad, make pickles and trade them for loaves of your neighbor's homemade bread, and let the dogs run wild in grass that smells of deer and turkeys? I'm pretty sure it's one or the other, and not somewhere in between. When you live in the suburbs you spend your life driving between Lowe's and the Cheesecake Factory.

I love the rush and anonymity of the city, but I also love leaving my windows open at night, waking up to bird noises, and noticing what the weather does to trees.

For now, a city visit is enough. If you have suggestions for the rest of my stay, let me know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

If you can read this recipe, volunteer!

Last night I attended a dinner celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, an organization that provides free basic literacy and English language instruction to adults, families, and the local prison population. The evening featured talks by tutors and students, and even Governor Baldacci showed up.

Why volunteer to teach an adult to read and write? Imagine not being able to read the labels on your medication, the terms of your lease, a ballot, or a note from your child's teacher. Low literacy impacts a person's ability to make healthcare and financial decisions and obtain employment, and parents who don't read or write often pass these struggles on to their children. The problem is more common than you think: low literacy impacts 1 in 5 Mainers.

If you can read, write, and spare two hours a week, you can tutor. You don't have to be a teacher, Literacy Volunteers will train you. I'm on the basic literacy training team for Bangor, so if you want to talk reading comprehension, I'm your gal. For locations of Literacy Volunteers programming in other parts of the state, see Literacy Volunteers of Maine. For programs in other states and around the world, see ProLiteracy.

For last night's pot-luck, I brought the Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad from Veganomicon and some veganized Mrs. Fields oatmeal-pecan cookies.

I figured there'd be little else for me to eat, so I was thrilled to find tabbouleh and several types of bean salad. Those international students really know how to cook!

Nobody asked for my recipes, but if they had, I could have given them this:

Oatmeal-Pecan Cookies
adapted from Mrs. Fields Cookie Book

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick oats
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance vegan margarine, softened
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips
36 pecan halves (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt, and oats.

In a large bowl blend sugars with an electric mixer at medium speed. Add margarine and mix to form a grainy paste. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add flax seed, water, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture, pecans, and chocolate chips, and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. Do not overmix.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. If desired, press a pecan half into each cookie. Bake for 22-24 minutes. Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Makes 3 dozen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

No Beets for Barack

Did you see this story?

No Beets in the White House Garden

Offering evidence that he is our smartest president ever, Obama hates beets, and won't plant them in his new garden. Root vegetable partisans want him to reconsider.

Don't do it, Barry! You're absolutely right, beets are gross!

I've tried to like them. I bought some lovely-looking organic specimens at the farmers' market, roasted them just like the farmer suggested, and then couldn't bring myself to swallow a bite. They taste like dirt, but... creepy.

I propose a constitutional ban.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's spring! Let's buy yarn.

We've had steamy jungle temperatures in the forties and fifties this week, but this morning, on the first day of spring, it was twenty-four degrees while I walked the dogs. Nevertheless, I discovered that enough snow and ice had melted to make the brick walkways along the Penobscot passable. We strolled beside the river for the first time since November, the plates of ice cracking and squeaking as they rubbed against each other, completely freaking out the dogs. Ducks sat in streaks of open water. The mud along the path thawed, releasing odors that had been safely encased in ice all winter. In Maine, March is a hopeful, smelly month.

It may soon be too warm to wear knitted hats and mittens, but I'm stockpiling for next Christmas. On this knitting and food blog that has turned into a mostly food blog, I wanted to take a minute to plug Fiberphilia in Orono. I've lived in lots of classy places, but I've never had a better local yarn shop. Their high-quality yarns are thoughtfully selected and neatly arranged, the range of vibrant colors and contrasting textures compelling me to run my hands over the shelves.

The owner lives upstairs with her family and a pack of cats. She and the other ladies at the shop are talented, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about knitting. Unlike the snoots I've encountered in yarn shops in New York and Boston, they are patient and encouraging teachers. I've taken several Saturday classes, learning how to make mittens and cables, and to knit fair isle patterns holding two colors of yarn in different hands like some kind of expert.

I love shopping at businesses like Fiberphilia, where people know your name and love what they do. Big chain craft stores give me a headache; the harried employees aren't familiar with the products and can't teach me anything. I worry for my favorite local businesses, several of which have closed in the last few months. I'm no economist, so I won't spend long on this soap box, but I encourage you to visit the locally-owned yarn shops, cafes, and bookstores that give your community character.

I'm off to sew together the pieces of a top-secret gift for a bridal shower tomorrow. Enjoy the warm weekend, and watch out for mud puddles.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Extreme Beer Fest 2009

Let me begin with an off-color joke by John Cleese.

Q: How is American beer like making love in a canoe?

A: They're both f***ing close to water.

While this is true of the vast majority of American beer made by a few corporate mega-breweries, the brewers at last weekend's Extreme Beer Fest in Boston push the limits of style and flavor.

When I say Extreme Beer Fest, you may imagine funnel hats, a can crunching contest, and a beer-lubricated slip-and-slide, but don't be alarmed. At this annual showcase of the creative and experimental, extreme describes the beer, not the consumption. The fest is hosted by the Alström brothers, founders of BeerAdvocate, a magazine and website featuring beer reviews and articles about homebrewing, beer styles, and the business and history of brewing. Dozens of breweries from around the country come to offer samples of their least conventional products. The evening features panel discussions where brewers speak about their craft, hearty snacks provided by local restaurants, and an atmosphere of camaraderie among beer connoisseurs who, like their foodie counterparts, are in pursuit of thoughtful, authentic flavors.

In previous years, I've taken a commando approach. I printed the list of available beers and highlighted my priorities, color coding my top ten and backups. I lined up early and mapped a route through the booths. One year, I made a beeline to Allagash, where I sampled the last ounces of a nearly extinct ale barrel-aged with wild Maine strawberries. I felt elite. I carried a golf pencil in my pocket and rated the beers, taking notes on smell, flavor, and mouthfeel. Toward the end of the evening my notes became less systematic and harder to decipher ("raisin dragon" is scrawled diagonally across a page).

This year I relaxed. I've been to enough festivals that I've got a good handle on beer styles, and I'm familiar with the flagship extreme beers: Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA, Sam Adams' Utopias, double and triple-IPAs, imperial stouts, ales aged in wine or whisky barrels. This year's list included many terrific beers I'd tried before and some intriguing new ones, but few I felt I absolutely must try. My goals were to sample some new breweries, take good pictures, and pace myself so I wouldn't have a headache on Sunday. I'm sure I missed out on some good ones, but of the beers I tried, these were memorable:

Reunion Saison
American Flatbread (VT)
The 2009 edition of Winter Saison made with green & pink peppercorns
Wheaty, crisp, with just a hint of bite. My favorite of the night.

Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing Co. (MI)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Chocolate Coffee Stout
Oh my. Flavors of chocolate milk, espresso, licorice, and ginger. Rich without being heavy. I regret missing out on the Canadian Breakfast Stout, aged in maple syrup barrels. Unfortunately, Founders is not available north of Boston.

Morimoto Soba Ale
Rogue Ales (OR)
Specialty Ale made with buckwheat
I haven't understood the hype about Rogue, but I liked this beer, which has a subtle nutty flavor like 12-grain bread. Morimoto would be nice with pasta or spicy tomato foods.

Peanut Butter & Jelly
Short's Brewing Co. (MI)
This beer really tasted like bread and peanut butter, with an aftertaste of grape jelly. How did they do that? Did they just drop sandwiches into the fermenting vessel? I would imagine that a little of this goes a long way, but 10 points for creativity and execution. People were also raving about their s'mores beer, which I didn't try because it came with non-vegan marshmallows on top (Wilbur's hooves, you know).

As always, the offerings from Allagash and Dogfish Head were outstanding, but I didn't try anything new besides the BA Select, which isn't available in the real world. BeerAdvocate also hosts a Belgian Beer Fest in the fall, and they've featured German beer and lagers at other events. At the panel discussion there was mention of a New England Beer Fest, which would be a great opportunity to showcase the variety and quality of Maine-brewed beers.

Our pictures didn't turn out well because it was dark and people kept moving, and it seemed impractical to bring a tripod. You can see the rest of them in this gallery.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Eggplant Mitten Hat Hat

I was awfully busy in the kitchen this week, but I've got no post to show for it. I was working on an extra-special super-secret recipe that will appear in the spring issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle Magazine. That's right, on actual paper. It'll be out mid-March and you can drool over the photos then. I'll just tell you that I did something marvelous with cannellini beans, zucchini, and this eggplant:

I made three versions of the recipe in 36 hours, so my fridge and stomach are (happily) full of eggplant.
It was school vacation this week, so I had some time to knit. I finally finished the man mittens, which fit the man to a tee!
I made myself a hat...

... then started another:

I like making hats because they're quick and easy to customize. This one's for nobody in particular, I just love the yarn. Who wants a yellow hat?
Update: The yellow hat found a home!