Monday, August 29, 2011

Tea Trekker Northampton, MA

K and I went to a Master Tea class at Tea Trekker which can be found in Cooks Shop Here in Northampton, MA.  The class was on Pu-erh tea!

The class was presented by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss.  They were both extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and welcoming.  I must admit, I was a bit worried that we would encounter the 'tea snob' mentality and I wouldn't feel like I belonged in a Master Tea Class.  Gratefully, I was wrong!  Everyone was welcomed...even me!

The handouts were beautiful.  The power points wonderful!  The first part of class gave an overview of pu-erh teas: the region, the tree groves, the history, and the different types of pu-erh.  There was some wonderful history of the travels on the Tea Horse Road, the treacherous journey Pu-erh had to make for trade.  Wow!  Just that history there is amazing and unbelievable!  Fascinating!!

The second part of class was a tasting of the different types of Pu-erh teas.  That was enjoyable and fun!!  I learned a lot!!  And, of course, had to buy some tea...oh, and some tea paraphernalia.

I would go back to more classes!  Most definitely.  If you have a chance and even remotely like tea...GO!  I believe that Thursday, September 8th the new tea class series begins with an overview of all six classes of tea.  If you want to learn more about tea, sign up and go!!

Fat Franks, The Wurst Place in Bellows Falls, VT

We went to Fat Franks a few weeks back on the way home from Upta Camp.

When we walked in, everyone was instantly attentive and friendly and remained that way through our visit!  Love good service!

Of course, we had to try the fries!  They were very good, though I think I am VERY spoiled by Local Burger, so they got a 4.  Love malt vinegar.
We also tried the famous chili which I thought was way too spicy, but P loved.  Maybe good on a frank?  Of course, it does warn that there is a kick!  So, fair 'nuf.  3 plus.
We all decided that the cole slaw needed a bit more flavor...3 minus.

M and S had a burger, which I did not try, but everyone said was awesome.  And I quote: "better than Five Guys"...that, coming from our family, is a giant complement.  4.

P and I had dogs.  I think we probably should have gone with smaller dogs, instead of the big franks, so we'd like to go back and test them again:
Bellows Falls Dog with mustard, catsup, sauerkraut, and onions...3 - 3 1/2.
Rockingham Dog with sauerkraut, bacon, onions, and cheddar cheese...3 - 3 1/2.
As I said, I think we would have liked the smaller dogs better...

Overall...3 3/4.

I really liked the attentiveness and friendliness of the staff!  I would go back...

Fat Franks on Urbanspoon

Peppercorn's Grill

Friday evening, we went to see Wicked at the Bushnell in Hartford, CT.  Arriving later than we would have like (having jobs and all), we ate near the Bushnell at the Peppercorn's Grill within easy walking distance.  And, they had 20% off entrees with Bushnell tickets...which also made us assume they would know to get us fed and out in time for the show.  A correct assumption.

P had a Red Sangria to start which he gave a 3 1/2 stars.  I had a Prosecco, but having not bothered to find out what kind, I won't bother to rate, but will say it was, as always, a good summer drink.  I just love drinks with bubbles, it feels like I'm celebrating everyday life!!

For an appetizer, we had antipasto del giorno (antipasto of the day).  We only gave it a 3 stars.  The meats were delicious, the red peppers were very good, but there was nothing spectacular about it, unless you count the giant pile of marinated jalapeno peppers which caught me off guard as I didn't expect a pile of hot peppers that big.  And not even P could finish and he LOVES hot peppers.

P had the Gnocchi del Giorno which he gave 3 1/2 stars.
I had the Housemade Artichoke filled Ravioli, which was awesome: butter, cheese, white truffle...ooh-la-la!!  4 stars.

No dessert or coffee.  We had to get to the show!!

By the Way, the show was awesome!  A few stretches in the plot line that just don't jive with the Wizard of Oz story...but entertaining, fun, and well done!  Worth going to see!!

Peppercorn's Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Restaurant Week Charleston (and others!)

I am continually surprised at how many locals are not aware of the amazing deals available right in their own backyard.  During the early year restaurant week I mentioned it to my co-workers and not one of them had ever heard of it!

Here's the deal:

In Charleston, they have a restaurant week twice a year.  The next one starts Sept 7th and runs for a week.  During this week, the restaurants offer 3 course meals for between $20 and $40.  You know the menu and pricing before you go there (mostly - some restaurants vary their menu based on available ingredients.)  Some of these restaurants would cost you $100 for a night out, minimum.

Here's the link to Charleston:

You should google your city with the words "restaurant week" to see if your's does it.  I tried a few for you:

Try it, it's fun!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Dad called them Warwick Eggs

Most people have seen these eggs (after all they were featured on "V for Vendetta" but I make them with a twist.  Get a piece of wheat bread and cut a hole in the center with a glass. 

Melt a ton of butter in a non-stick skillet (are you listening "C" - owner of NO non-sticks!).  I use a quarter stick of butter.

Drop both parts of the bread into the butter.  (My sister's kids started calling the round piece the "Muff".  Innocent enough at age eight, but potentially awkward later.)  Flip both pieces after a couple seconds so they both get buttered.

Drop a FARM FRESH egg into the hole and then dust with salt and pepper.

For the "Muff" dust with cinnamon and sugar. 
My sister keeps pre-mixed cinnamon and sugar for use at a moment's notice!

After a minute, flip over and spice the flip sides.  Be careful, I regularly screw up and put S&P on the "Muff."

Give it another minute, then re-flip to make sure both sides are good and toasty.  Keep flipping until desired done-ness.

Enjoy immediately, I mean RIGHT NOW!  Do not wait!  The combination of super good eggs with super-dooper good buttery bread plus super dooperly whooperly delicious cinnamon toast is irresistible.

What's better?  Any idiot can do this!  (As long as they have a non-stick skillet - are you listening, "C"?)

Stop the Insanity!

I'm not one of those psycho, organic food nut-jobs.  Having said that, I appreciate things that are good, and dislike things that are bad.  Local, organic food often tastes significantly better than its mass-produced, thousand-mile shipped counterparts.  Freshness plays a big part, but care and concern of the producer do as well.  In few areas is this so obvious, and so easy to fix than it is with eggs.  I guarantee that somewhere very near you, someone is producing incredibly fresh eggs that are only marginally more expensive than store-bought crap eggs.  In fact, the odds aren't bad that you can find someone who keeps chickens in their backyard and will trade, sell or give you eggs that were in a chickens butt only hours before.

In preparing for this entry, I had my wife and sister (who keeps chickens and provided the fresh egges) go to the local store to pick up standard grocery eggs.  My sister (who IS a psycho) refused to be seen buying mass market eggs.  When they brought them home, my eight year old nephew picked up one of the eggs and said, "Are these REAL eggs?"  I couldn't say it better myself. 

 Just look at them side-by-side.  The "large" eggs aren't even as big.  And the variety of color and size available is awesome. 

Note the small poop stain on the fresh egg.  If you're getting them from the right people, they're not even washed until just before use.  Leaves a protective layer that maintains freshness.
But the real difference is when cooked and eaten.  Look at the gorgeous yolk and tight whites on the left.  No comparison.  And the taste - you'll have to try it for yourself.  Fresh, local eggs are a no-brainer!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Best Honey

The best honey is the honey you steal from bees.  Here's the bees taking back what we didn't use.  Harvested at Bumblechick Farm.

Mushroom Walk - North Orange, MA

Took a walk in the woods behind Bumblechick Farm.  I wouldn't eat any of these mushrooms, but they sure are beautiful!

Crowley Cheese - Healdville, VT (Near Chester)

The sign out front says they have the best cheese.  I'm not qualified to judge that, it's delicious, I love it, but I don't know if it's the best.  What I do know is that they're the friendliest.  We popped in for a quick look and stayed for hours.  Kenny, Kim and Greg were extremely funny and informative as we watched the major portions of the cheesemaking process (we got there just as the curds and whey were ready to be transferred for draining and rinsing.)  Cheryl showed us around the old cheesemaking equipment and the other parts of the factory.  The owner, Jill, came down to answer our questions and talk about blogs, cheese and business.  Everyone was super friendly and knowledgeable.  I plan to stop in every time I drive by.

Kim, scraping the curds down into the whey.

 The curds and whey, transferred onto cheesecloth for draining, rinsing, salting and chiving (adding chives (made up word of the day!))

Sample casserole for checking the pH (acidity).

 Kenny, checking the pH.

Kenny, Kim and Greg, breaking up the curds after draining.

 Hand cut chives and salt, waiting to be added.  The salt goes first, followed by more stirring and curd breaking, then the chives go in followed by, you guessed it, more stirring.

 Chives going in!

Filling the buckets with curd.  These are two part buckets thet will settle together.  They are held up by pins that will be pulled out after they're full.

Full buckets, cheesecloth now folded over the top.

Pins removed and stacked in two's to let a little pre-drain occur.  The top gets swapped to the bottom once, and then....

Lined up by Kenny in preparation for squishy-squishy with the hydraulic compressor thingy

Compressed for a couple hours until most of the water is gone.  Then pulled out and left to age until it's ready to be eaten:

Waiting for me to buy it!


Still in use equipment (except the center picture.)  I was impressed by the ancient block and tackle in the left picture.

This was a great visit!  Thanks to everyone for making it so much fun.  Make sure to call ahead to see when they're making the cheese so you can see the action!

Rose Arbour Tea Room - Chester, VT

We stopped in here for a classic Afternoon Tea.  We sat on the porch on a gorgeous, sunny day.  Before sitting down we met a charming, three-legged, calico cat.  No picture, though, he was too quick.

This was a proper Afternoon Tea, slowly paced, with correctly prepared tea.  Too often, we go to more expensive teas and find that they leave the tea in the pot so the brew gets bitter.  We checked that the tea was removed (discreetly) and you could tell because the tea was perfect.  Kari had the house blend and I had the 1886, a blend of two teas that I didn't write down (I planned on using the pictures as a memory aid - no pictures of tea names, dangit!)

The tea came in perfectly sized pots with beautiful tea cozies to keep them warm.  We gave the tea a 4.0.

The sandwiches came on a three tiered tray and were extremely well thought out.  Each tray had four finger sandwiches of the same type, so you got three types of sandwiches.  Each type had a different shape, color and filling.  The half circle shaped Deviled Egg Sandwiches were the best, tasted just like they sound.  The square Cucumber Sandwiches on dark bread had a sour, pickled flavor that was a nice change from the usual bland cucumber sandwiches you get.  The triangle Chicken Sandwiches were a little bland, but still good.  We rated the sandwiches a 4.0.

The dessert tray was also three tiered.  The top tier was hand dipped Chocolate Strawberries and Orange Slices.  There was a garnish of Purple Grapes and flowering Mint Leaves that was quite striking.  The second layer were the Black Currant Scones with Whipped Cream and Strawberry Jam.  No clotted cream, but the whipped cream went well with the jam.  The scones were some of the best we've had.  We could have eaten a lot more than two.  We gave the desserts a 4.0

I really enjoyed this tea, where as I usually tolerate them.  Every aspect got a 4.0 on our scale, but I give the overall experience a 4.5, based on the fact that this tea competes very favorably with a lot of VERY expensive teas we've been to.  Given the choice between this tea, and the top tea in London at Brown's hotel, I'd do this one 9 times out of ten based on price alone.  If they were the same price, it would still be a tough choice, based on the differing styles.

If you like Afternoon Teas, you'll love this one.  If you've never been to one, do this one first.  You will not be disappointed!

Rose Arbour on Urbanspoon