Coffee EcoTour in the Dominican Republic

If there is one thing that I love in the world-its coffee.  Ask my husband, as I push him out of the way to get to my coffee pot each and every morning. If you look back at my blog post “New Year’s Resolution-Not” you will see that coffee is at the top of the list of food/drink I cannot live without.  We were on a cruise in the southern Caribbean and  the opportunity came up to tour a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic. I was all in.

The ship docked in Puerto Plata and we boarded a bus for the trip to the mountain coffee farm. We traveled past the resorts, and headed up dirt roads, winding our way up into the mountainous canopy.  This was not just a touristy-tour.  We were going to assist in the planting of coffee seeds for a new crop of coffee trees.

We arrived in the town of Pedro Garcia, a rural town  in which coffee growing is its mainstay.  The area in the past had suffered a blight on the coffee trees called “coffee leaf rust”  This fungus would cause all of the leaves to brown and fall off, killing the tree. With the loss of so many coffee trees, the people of Pedro Garcia began to leave the area.  In order to help the towns like Pedro Garcia, the government stepped in with a reforestation program to bring the coffee trees back.  Towns like Pedro Garcia are uniquely suited to grow the particular variety, Arabica Tipica, given the climate, altitude and the canopy required.

coffee tree

Coffee Tree Facts

Coffee trees are rather a finicky plant.  They have to be grown at high elevations, no lower than 350 feet above sea level.  They also need to be grown under other higher trees.  Coffee farmers will co-mingle their coffee trees with higher growing crops like citrus and avocado.  A coffee tree is more like a bush, and grows to about 11 feet in height. It takes a coffee tree 3 years to begin bearing fruit.  The tree will bear productively for up to 20 years, with one harvest per year. But here is the fact that  blew me away:

How many pounds of coffee does one coffee tree produce annually? Ready?

Three.

That’s it. Three pounds of coffee per year.  So the 25 pounds of coffee I personally drink in one year requires NINE trees.  According to a San Diego State University study, the USA consumes 12 million pounds of coffee annually. Which comes out to 4 million trees needed to supply that demand.  Yikes.

20180116_095722
Coffee Seedling 3 months old

On to the planting.  We were brought to an area with a large amount of compost.  Small black bags with drainage were filled with the compost, and a coffee seed was pushed down into the center.  The bags are then brought to a nursery, which is shaded with netting to filter the sun.  The trees  will grow in the nursery for about three months before being transplanted into the field. Our groups set to work, and planted 359 seeds into the bags.  Our tour leader told us our group had set the record for planting the most seeds!

 

Compost and the Seedling Starter Bags

After planting, we went to see how the coffee is processed.  The beans are hand-picked and spread out to dry for several weeks. They are raked several times in order to dry evenly.

Once dried, the beans are hulled.  The beans are run through a hulling machine to remove the outer husk.  The hulls are then ground up and used as natural fertilizer.

Hulling Machine & Box for Dried Beans

After hulling the beans, known as “green beans” are sold to coffee buyers.  In Pedro Garcia, the beans are loaded into a wooden box that holds approximately ten pounds of beans.

The beans are then roasted  to the desired level.  Once roasted, the coffee is ground and ready to be brewed.

At Pedro Garcia, the farmer demonstrated how the beans are ground locally with a giant mortar and pestle.  The thumping noise from the grinding alerts neighbors that coffee is brewing, and a gathering usually happens.  After grinding, the two local women brewed the coffee through  mesh bag, and served the fresh coffee for us to try.

Roasting the beans, the mortar & pestle, me pounding the beans, brewing the coffee.

In a word, heaven.  Rich, beautiful aroma, intense flavor but not bitter.

20180116_095539
The final product. Divine elixir.

We were then treated to a local stew that consisted of  root vegetables and braised meats.  The broth was fortifying, and the meats were tender and flavorful.

20180116_111521The view from the porch where we had lunch was spectacular. Rain showers were rolling through the mountains and valleys. We were treated to this beautiful rainbow below us.

Our adventure took place at the Tubagua EcoLodge. Tim Hall, owner and founder, has created a place to relax and to learn about  the ecology of the area.  He is passionate about continuing the agricultural legacy of Pedro Garcia and offers a variety of programs at the lodge. He is hoping that the expanding interest in Eco-tourism continues to grow and will bring more people to visit Pedro Garcia.

For me, while it was fascinating to learn more about coffee farming, I was very glad for the opportunity to contribute to the reforestation project. Farming here is such hard work, and by us providing labor, the farmer was able to get trees started and actually make money at it. I was happy to spend my dollars this way, as opposed to buying a Tshirt or  yet another refrigerator magnet.  Plus, I got to see where my coffee comes from. We are so disconnected from all of our food sources. Every time I have coffee now, I think of the trees I help plant.  I am hoping I started enough trees to cover my consumption.

If you would like to take a trip like this, look at the many ecotourism trips that are available around the world.   You get to learn, and you get to contribute.

What could be better?

 

 

2017-The Five Tastes-with a Twist

I haven’t written a post in a while.  Here’s why.

I wrote my last post about my trip to New Orleans in September.  Since then, it seems like the world as we know it has turned completely upside down. People are angry and afraid, myself most definitely included.  And writing about food rituals, or trips or recipes seemed to be either:

  • ignoring the changes in the world and sticking fingers in my ears
  • just really trivial and trite

So, I didn’t write anything, because I couldn’t come up with anything that felt relevant or meaningful. This past year has hit me hard.  I campaigned for Hillary Clinton and was crushed by her loss.  Every day, EVERY DAY, feels like we are losing everything we have stood for as a country and as human beings. The lack of empathy from the White House, Congress and regular citizens is beyond shocking. I went to the Women’s’ March in January and did feel uplifted. But with immigrants being posed as a threat to American jobs (they aren’t) with Dreamers possibly losing the only home they have ever known, with the mass shootings by white guys (if I hear “thoughts and prayers” one more time with no action from Congress). White supremacists are being championed by Trump. The free press is under attack.  Lying is the new normal.

Basically, WTF, America?

So I have felt sad, depressed and afraid. Not conducive to writing a blog about food rituals. But it is the last week of 2017, and I didn’t want to let the year end without having a final word.  So I am basing my final post of 2017 on The Five Basic Tastes, with a twist.

Here goes.

Our taste buds are able to distinguish the five basic tastes as:

  1. sour
  2. salty
  3. bitter
  4. sweet
  5. umami

So let’s take a look at 2017 in terms the five tastes.

Sour

lemons

Sour flavors make your mouth pucker and the taste is highly acidic. Perfect description for how the American people feel about Congress. Soured. And this is on both sides of the aisle, from the most ardent Trump supporter to those who championed Bernie Sanders. Bipartisanship seems to have become a thing of the past, with only a winner and a loser.  Compromise doesn’t exist.  And that is not how our system is supposed to work, my friends.

But sour flavors make you sit up and take notice. They demand your attention. We are seeing people becoming more knowledgeable in how our government works.  A new interest in civics is taking hold.  The sourness witnessed by many has created action.  And that action is getting noticed, and is getting results.

Salty

salt

Salt is a double-edged sword. On the one side, it enhances flavors, bringing out the nuances in a dish. Salt is key to bringing other flavors alive. It is the great promoter of flavors.  We have seen the salty side of people like Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Doug Jones. They have stood up against oppression and disrespect from their colleagues in Congress and from the President.  They didn’t back down when ridiculed or maligned.  In fact, they got stronger, enhancing with their salty passion the need to stand up for those who cannot.  Doug Jones’ triumph over Roy Moore was proof that good will prevail. They are the salt of the earth.

But too much salt is destructive. “Sowing the ground with salt” means that nothing will grow. Salty water is undrinkable.  The soil of democracy and the lifeblood of freedom is suffering from  contamination. Balance must be restored in order to bring growth and progress.

Bitter

bitter chocolate

A bitter flavor is thought to have been a poison alarm, that a food was dangerous to consume.

Ya got that right.  I have been very bitter with what I have seen happening in this country. Downright bitter, sad and angry.  But bitterness became my motivator. I took my bitterness and decided to become a Councilperson in my town to help get out the vote.  I live in a VERY Republican part of Pennsylvania. The Democrats here have had very little impact, but not for the lack of trying. So I became a part of a GOTV team for a local resident who was running for Town Board.  For the first time in many years, the Democrats had a huge turnout. Unheard of in years before. And while our candidate didn’t win, County and State positions that had been held by Republicans for years are now held by Democrats.

Bitter flavors are in foods that are high in antioxidants.  Which means, coffee and  dark chocolate, while bitter, have healthy components.  The point being, a little bit of bitter can be healthy in body and mind.

Sweet

sugar

Sweetness is described as the most pleasurable of the flavors.  It is the provider of energy and gives us our get up and go.  But too much causes decay and disease.

Many felt that the Trump victory was a sweet one.  There is a demographic that has felt unheard and unrepresented, and this cureent administration became their sweet revenge. But they have become addicted to the candy they are being fed.  They will believe anything that this faction says, as long as they will get their treat. The problem with sweets is, they have no nutritional value.  Empty calories.  No substance, just a flash of energy that leaves you in withdrawal. When the country finally has its sugar crash, we will be in debt from the tax reform bill, and people will lose their health insurance due to the individual mandate being removed.

But there is a sweet side.  The country has become energized.  People who never before have ever been involved in politics are running for office and winning. Protests are happening and voices are being lifted.  Look at how the African-American vote won the election in Alabama. Finally, there is a direct result that can be seen by the African-American community getting out and voting.  People there worked so very hard, and proved that their voices can and do make a difference. How sweet is that?

Umami

melting pot

Umami is a Japanese description that translates to “delicious taste”.  It is the hardest flavor to narrow down, but is best tasted in cured or fermented foods like cheese, cured meats, soy sauce or pickles. Umami is a gathering of many subtle taste points that are hard to identify individually, but together create a complex flavor.

It’s a melting pot of tastes and senses. Umami is diverse and complex. It is multi layered. It is not one narrative but many.  Umami is to be celebrated, not ignored or denied. Umami enhances and uplifts the other flavors.  It is a common thread of flavor and taste.  It is a unifier.

So here is what I leave you all with as we head into 2018:

We need all of our tastes to make this country a place for all. Sour, salty, bitter, sweet, all a part of our great heritage.

And Umami.  My new slogan for 2018 is MAUA. 

Make America Umami Again.

Wishing you all a hopeful and optimistic 2018, full of flavor and taste.

 

 

 

New Orleans Adventure-Food and meeting the Green Fairy

We recently took a trip to New Orleans.  I had never been there, and it was on my list of places to go.  I had heard many wonderful things about the city, and finally made time visit. So glad we did.

What struck me  almost immediately was the vibe of this city.  It has a very weathered, grimy feel. There is a feeling of old memories and a veneer of wisdom.  In the French Quarter, the buildings are old and open, with high ceilings, peeling paint and cracks in the stucco.  It is romantic and alluring.  History oozes out of every crack and chip.  It is seductive.

And the food.

I went off of my vegan regimen (see previous post on that story…) and took in all that the city offers. First, to get the beignet.  We went to Cafe’ Beignet, as it was near our hotel.  Ordered our coffee and beignets, and had a seat in the courtyard. It’s around 9:30 AM and there is live music playing. An awesome jazz/blues group at breakfast.  The beignets were good; I confess, I’m not a big sweets person, but you have to try them, right?

 

On to oysters. Damn. They were perfect.  Raw oysters tell the tale of the ocean like no other shellfish.  Briny, but sweet and tender, they  bring alive all of your taste buds.  The gentleman shucking the dozen shown here has shucked over 3 million oysters, give or take.  For real.

New Orleans oysters

 

On to the best meal of the trip. We went to GW Fins, in the French Quarter. Known for its seafood, I had one of the best meals I have had in years.  No joke.  A delightful salmon carpaccio as an appetizer had the perfect blend of acid with the fish sliced paper-thin.  My main course is a specialty known as “Scalibut”.  It is a combination of scallops and halibut with lobster risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter.  This was outstanding, cooked to perfection.  The pea shoot butter added an earthy softness that  pulled all of the flavors and textures together. Divine.

 

The service here was also the best I have seen in a long time. Nick knew the menu inside and out, and recommended the perfect wine pairings. He is spot on.  This place is a do not miss; make sure to try it. (Dare I say, went we to Emeril’s and I think GW Fins is better..)

But on to my favorite ritual.

Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy”.

Absinthe is a spirit that has its roots in Switzerland and was made in the early 17th century.  The mystique of absinthe was that it had hallucinogenic properties, which caused it to be banned for sale in many countries in the 1920s. Favored by artists, poets and writers, it was the signature drink amongst the Bohemian set.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Ernest Hemingway all imbibed.  Oscar Wilde stated about absinthe:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical in the plant wormwood, the main floral in absinthe.  But you would have to consume enormous quantities for it to have any effect.  The more likely cause of  seeing pink elephants is the high alcohol content, up to 138 proof. It has a licorice taste from anise, along with other botanicals. I’m not a huge licorice fan, so I drink the “Mata Hari” brand, less licorice, more florals.

But one of the best things about absinthe is how you drink it.  There is a ritual around how the spirit is prepared.  The ritual conjures up images of bistros in France, with artists romancing show girls.  Decadence, bawdiness, and passion. The ritual itself is as intoxicating as the spirit.

First, you need an absinthe spoon. (These are really cool, and I want an antique one!)

New Orleans absinthe spoons

Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on the spoon.

New Orleans absinthe1

 

Pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful green color.

New Orleans abinsthe2

Light the sugar cube so that it melts into the glass.

New Orleans absinthe3

Add cold water to create the “louche”, the cloudy appearance the absinthe takes on when the water is added.

 

 

 

 

New Orleans absinthe5

 

Sip and experience “The Green Fairy”.

My absinthe experience was in the “Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House“, a bar that is over 200 years old. The bar is like a stage set, with peeling paint and old carved woodwork.  If you are going to try absinthe, this is the bar to try it in. With over 20 types to choose from, you will find one that suits your palate.

I was captivated by New Orleans. It is a magical, mysterious place.  And you need to walk through it, to experience all of the sounds, the fragrances and to feel the pulse of the city.

And get to know the Green Fairy.  Quite the lady.

new orleans green fairy

 

 

 

 

 

Fueling The Cause-Protests & Food

dc protest

I attended the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21, and it was an exhilarating experience.  There was an atmosphere of love, support, tolerance and a much justified dose of outrage.  My two friends and I drove down from the Philadelphia area. We waved to others on the road showing their signs from their cars and wearing their pink hats. The mood was uplifting; from the train ride in, though the march to the train ride back out.  I was so glad to be a part of this historic march.

This march has kickstarted many other marches on various days worldwide. With so much to protest about, I thought I would look into how food has played a part in the history of protests, and also touch on what to eat and drink when you are protesting.

The History of Protest and Food

Food and protests have gone hand in hand throughout history.  But why food?  Well, first of all, it was accessible.Tomatoes, eggs, easy to get and they make a great splat. NOTE: I don’t condone throwing ANYTHING.  No one should get injured in a protest.   While throwing food may be considered non-violent, I wouldn’t risk getting arrested for throwing an egg.

The first recorded protest with food was in 63 AD in present day Tunisia. Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips by people who were angered by food shortages under his reign. That had to hurt…

turnip
ouch

Eggs historically were very popular at protests. In the Middle Ages people were put in stocks and pelted with eggs.  Abolitionist George Whittier was hit with eggs at an anti-slavery talk in 1834. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was hit with an egg in 2003 on a campaign trip for governor of California.   In 2011 Afghan protesters threw eggs at the Iranian consulate to protest a fuel blockade that caused fuel prices to soar. But the biggest egg protest took place in 2013, when French farmers broke 100,000 eggs a day to protest the low price of eggs set by the European Union.

french egg protest
Sometimes you gotta break some eggs…

On to tomatoes. While typically seen as a response to a poor theatrical performance, tomatoes have been used in protests.  In fact, one tomato protest has turned into an annual festival. La Tomatina occurs in  Bunol, in the Valencia region of Spain on a Wednesday every August. The legend is that the townspeople were upset with their town council and threw tomatoes at them. That one event  became the present day festival.  The festival begins with a ham being placed on a greased pole, and participants climb the pole to retrieve the ham.  Once the ham has been obtained, the tomato throwing begins. A cannon sounds, and the tons of tomatoes are thrown. Its chaotic, and messy.  The throwing continues for two hours, then the cannon fires and the throwing stops.

Not sure what happens after that.  Many, many showers, I guess..

la tomatina
La Tomatina Festival

The cream pie in the face has had its place in protest history. Ok, most of the time, you see this in the Three Stooges or I Love Lucy… but both Ralph Nader and Rupert Murdoch have been “pied”. Anita Bryant got a pie in the face in 1977 during a press conference when  she was trying to justify the fact that she hated gay people.  Again, I don’t condone this, as it could cause injury, and you may get arrested for assault (but Anita had that one coming..)

Lack of food has had a significant place in protest history. The hunger strike has been used  in many circumstances as a form of protest. The first hunger strike is purported to have happened in ancient India.  Indian scriptures tell the tale of when King Rama’s brother fasted to urge the King to return from exile. Gandhi  was on a hunger strike for six days to protest the British government’s decision to place a strict separation between India’s lowest and highest social castes. Gandhi’s actions caused this decision to be reversed.

gandhi
Gandhi

In the United States, suffragettes went on hunger strikes in jail. This method usually got them released prior to completion of their sentence.  But Alice Paul, famous woman activist and organizer of the Woman Suffrage Procession (and a Jersey girl from Mount Laurel!), was force-fed in a London prison. This damaged her gastrointestinal system permanently.  Alice Paul returned to the USA, attended the University of Pennsylvania and continued her work in the Suffrage movement.  Read more about Alice Paul here: http://nationalwomansparty.org/learn/who-is-alice-paul/

Alice Paul
Thank you, Alice!

I found this really terrific blog called “Food and Resistance“.  It is a collection of food related protest signs from various protests.  Go check out the images. They are powerful and also humorous.

My favorite? “Muslims Invented Coffee”.

Staying Fueled While Protesting

So you are getting out and standing up for what you believe in. Good for you! Here are a few tips for staying fueled during your protest experience.

  • Cut back on the coffee. I know, this is a tough one.  But  comfort stations can be few and far between, and lines can be long.  And peeing on the White House lawn is illegal…also a good idea to BYOTP.  (Toilet Paper)
  • Fuel up in the morning.  I recommend more protein than carbs.  Eggs will keep you fuller longer than a bowl of cereal. Perhaps a little fruit as well, to get some sugars for energy.
  • Bring snacks. Granola bars, more fruit.  You can also bring a wrap. Refried beans and rice with cheese in a tortilla are easy to carry, and have a great mix of carbs and protein. Make a few, and wrap them in plastic.  Yes, you will have to eat them cold, but you can deal this one time.
  • Bring water, but watch your intake. You will need to stay hydrated, but drink just what you need. Again, the peeing issue. Warmer weather will cause you to need more liquids. Look at bringing some green tea with honey. This provides good energy and will soothe your throat from all of your yelling and cheering. Throat lozenges are also a good idea.
  • Bring some chewing gum. This helps keep you from getting dry mouth, and you won’t drink as much water.

If you are one of the organizers of a march, try to engage restaurants and food stores who may be sympathetic to your cause to provide some eats and drinks along the march route.  They may choose to donate or sell. If they donate, make sure you provide a  money jar for  donations to cover their costs.

When you are done with your march, patronize the local restaurants. You are supporting the local economy, and you will assuredly meet others who were in the march as well.  Share a table with some strangers.

These are challenging times.  But I am so optimistic.  People are becoming engaged, getting involved and running for office.

So get up, get out, make some noise.  Fuel your cause.

 

 

 

 

Pass the Haggis-A Brief History of the Burns Supper

robert-burns

Robert Burns, the bard poet of Scotland , was born on January 25, 1759.  He became the voice of Scotland with his poetry and song. In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, nine men who knew him well gathered to have a memorial dinner in Robbie’s honor. There was ritual and remembrances, and a toast at the end.

Oh, and haggis. More on that later.

Thus began the tradition of the Burns Supper.  Around January 25, people and organizations hold the traditional Burns Supper to remember Robert Burn’s legacy.  And  it is quite a party.

First, everyone gathers and chats, and checks out the whiskey selection.  Many varieties are offered, from light Scotches to my favorite, the dark, peaty, malty ones.

Next is the call to the table by the host and the Selkirk Grace is recited:

 Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The soup course is then served.  The Cullen-Skirk soup is traditionally served. It is a creamy fish and leek soup. Click here for the recipe.

The next part is my favorite–The Parade of the Haggis. A bagpiper leads the procession and “pipes in the haggis” to the guests. The chef follows the piper, and presents the haggis to each of the guests.  The haggis is then placed on the table in front of the host, and a reciter will  read the “Address to a Haggis”:

piping-haggis
Piping in the Haggis

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

To see what this means in English, you can find the translation here.

Whiskey is offered to the chef, the reciter and the piper, and the host ceremoniously slices open the haggis with a dirk-a small dagger- but any sharp knife will do.

About haggis.  This is a dish that was made in the fields by shepherds watching over their flocks. It was one of those  meals  that was born out of necessity.  Haggis consists of  sheep heart, liver and lungs, ground up, with oatmeal, onion or leek, spices, salt and some stock. It was encased into the sheep’s stomach and boiled or steamed.  Before you get turned off by this, try it.  It is quite delicious.  I love it. Haggis is served with “neeps and tatties”-turnips and potatoes. You can find a contemporary haggis recipe here.

haggis-2
Haggis, Dirk and Whiskey

After the meal, it is time for songs and poems. And more whiskey.  The host will  deliver the Immortal Memory Address, which  is a biographical telling  about Robert Burns, and ends with a toast to the Bard.

Guests are invited to read from Burns’ poems and to perform songs, and this is great fun! Some folks have the Scottish brogue down, others, not so much.  Again, more whiskey…

Next up is the Toast to the Lassies– a  light-hearted lampoon of the shortcomings of women.  But fear not, ladies, because next is the Reply From the Lassies– an opportunity to note the shortcomings of men.  This is all done in fun and with great wit.  You can read both the Address and Reply here.

And now for the reading of one of Burns’ most epic poems, “Tam O’Shanter”.  It is a tale of drunkenness, debauchery, witches and ghosts. And the hero of the story is Tam’s horse, Maggie.  You can read both the Scottish and English version here.

tam-oshanter
Tam O’Shanter-Maggie lose her tail!

The evening progresses with more songs, poems and dancing.  The host will then do some closing remarks, thanking the chef and the piper and all who attended and raising a toast or two or three.

The finale of the evening is for everyone to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.  Nope, it’s not really a New Year’s Eve song. This is a song about friendship and the gladness of celebrating together.  You can see the Scottish and English translation here.

Once Auld Lang Syne is sung, the evening is officially over.

If you would like to go to a Burns Supper, look for a Scottish Society in your area that may be hosting one.  Or hold one yourself.  It’s  a bonnie auld tradition, full of fun and friends, with literature and drama.

Oh and whiskey…

 

 

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

 

cheers

The hangout. The go-to place. We all have one. But why?  Why have one place that you go to repeatedly? What is the allure to going to the same location, having the same experience over and over? Where is the fun in that?

The answer is:

Familiarity breeds well, familiarity. In other words, sometimes you just need a place that you can count on. Your happy spot. Your own version of “Cheers”.

We have lived in our new location for 2 years now, and while we enjoy eating out at all different types of places, we didn’t have our hangout.  And we missed that.

Growing up, I had a few places that were my hangouts. The Tewksbury Inn in Oldwick NJ, used to be a great bar and restaurant. The Inn was old, and the bar was an enormous old-fashioned wooden bar. The bathrooms were labeled “Bucks” and “Does” and there were deer heads mounted on the wall wearing hats, Hawaiian leis and smoking cigarettes.  You could get a burger and a pitcher of beer inexpensively and listen to local blues or bluegrass musicians.  But, as time went on, it was sold. The deer heads came down, and matching wallpaper and curtains went up. And so did the prices…. you can check it out here, but it ain’t no hangout…. $33 entrees, sheesh.

There was also Bernie’s Hillside Lounge in Chester, NJ.  Bernie’s has been around for a long time, and used to host  some well-known jazz musicians, like Bix  Beiderbecke.  I used to go there to listen to the Blue Sparks From Hell, a local band that played R & B, swing and blues. Frontman C.J. Tucker, was both talented and entertaining.  Sadly, Tucker has passed away, and the band is no longer playing.  But check them out on YouTube. Listen to one of their best songs “Caledonia”.  Bernie’s is still growing strong, playing music.  Stop in.

The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ was a haven for great music.  It was the place where everyone went to dance and drink. Sawdust on the floor, and plenty of graffiti in the restrooms.  Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy were some of the notables that played here. I danced the night away many time, reveling in blues and R & B. I have a term for places like this.  It was my “clean dirty bar”.  Tidy enough to just barely pass a health inspection, but gritty,  colorful and raw.  Loved it.  It had closed for a time, but since has reopened, and back to being a roadhouse.  I haven’t been back in years, but may take a trip to see  if it’s still dirty.

So back to why we like our hangouts. Sometimes we need to go somewhere that doesn’t change much. After a day or a week of challenges, we all need to have some continuity.  And a hangout offers that. My requirements for a place to be a hangout are:

Casual Atmosphere-nothing fancy. I want to be able to go right from the horse barn in my horsey clothes to the hangout. No cloth tablecloths. No coordinating curtains and wallpaper. Just tables and a bar. Fireplace is a plus.

Great food with entrees under $20-yes, it can be done.  A hangout offers well priced entrees cooked superbly, plus burgers, salads and soups.  And some specials. No overdone plating, no foam, no pyrotechnics. Just fine fresh food cooked well.

A large selection of beer, wine and spirits- an extensive and changing craft beer list is a must.  With so many craft beers, local wineries and distilleries opening, I want to see  an establishment support local products IF- and only IF- they are quality.  And hard cider.  Love hard cider.

Friendly staff- without a doubt, one of the most important features of a hangout. Personable wait staff who know the menu, and are pleasant and chatty go a long way with me.  And a bartender who will remember what I like to order.  Remember, I can go anywhere, so if you get to know me I will be back. No surly or pretentious attitudes at a hangout.  No way.

We finally discovered our hangout here in Bucks County, PA. Becker’s Corner is located right near the beautiful Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown PA.  It meets all of the above requirements, and we head there whenever we don’t feel like cooking,  and we just want some time together.  We have gone there with friends, and we now run into people we know. And they have hard cider on tap. Perfect. Give this place a try.  You won’t be disappointed. And hey, we may meet at the bar.

What is your hangout?  What makes a place a hangout for you?  Share your place, spread the word.  Everyone need a place to hang out.

 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I was having kind of a rough day yesterday. Let’s just say it was a day of roadblocks, contrary people and general frustration. My husband knew I was having a tough go, so he wanted to make me something special for dinner and asked me what would I enjoy.

And I couldn’t think of anything. Me. The writer of this blog, couldn’t come up with something I would like to eat.  I was really in a funk for that to happen.

So, my husband came up with a solution himself.  We had been watching a food travel show and it featured Charleston, South Carolina.  I have only been there one time, but I love the city. Culture, history, and great local cuisine.

One of the featured restaurants was Bowen’s Island Restaurant, on Bowen’s Island, just a short drive from Charleston.The place looks great, kind of the run down shack look that you know has really good eats.

As the show progressed, they featured a traditional Lowcountry dish called Frogmore Stew.

Well, my husband decided that this was what he was going to make for my” get of of the funk” meal.

So here is the low down on Frogmore Stew.  One-no frogs in it. Two-not really a stew.

Frogmore Stew is also known as Lowcountry boil or Beaufort Stew. Historians claim that it was invented by shrimpers who threw whatever they had together to make a meal.  It consists of freshly shucked corn, fresh shrimp, small red potatoes, sliced onions and beef sausage or kielbasa.  This is all simmered together in a crab boil mixture.

The results? Delicious! The seasonings from the crab boil plus the sausage all blend together in a spicy but not hot blend of flavors.  The potatoes become soft and creamy, and the skin of the potatoes absorb the boil and have a salty, pungent flavor.  The corn and the shrimp were tender and delightful. Pair this with a cold beer, and all your troubles will fade away.

I love a simple dish that was born of necessity. The shrimpers cooked with what they had on hand, and probably boiled it up right on the boat.  Shepherd’s Pie came about by the shepherds in Britain having to stay with the flocks to protect them,  and also created haggis, which is a mish mash of ground up organ meat,  and mixed with barley or oatmeal, and sewn into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. (Don’t turn your nose up, haggis is quite good.) The Syracuse NY area is famous for salt potatoes, which are small white potatoes boiled in a salt brine. The salt brine makes the skins  slightly dry and crunchy, while the inside of the potatoes is creamy and smooth.The workers on the salt flats in Syracuse would make salt potatoes for their mid day meal.  All simple fare, using what was on hand and not wasting anything.

Many recipes that are traditional to an area came from a group of hard working people  coming up with a meal to get through their day.   Local foods are the legacy of history, culture and community.  Enjoy in local cuisines, and while you are at it, find out the stories behind the food.

And be sure to tell the stories to others.

Special thanks to my husband, who took the time and care to make me a wonderful meal.  What a great guy. Love you!

frogmore stew

South Carolina Frogmore Stew-RR Adams

  • 3 quarts of water
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 ounces of dry crab boil or Old Bay seasoning
  • 1- 1/2 lbs small red potatoes
  • 4 ears corn, husked and cleaned
  • 1 -1/2 lbs fresh large shrimp, unpeeled
  • 1 lb smoked beef sausage or kielbasa, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 dash of Tabasco sauce or to taste
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the water and throw in the halves. Add the onion, garlic, salt and crab boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes and sausage, and return to a boil. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Break the ears of corn in half and add to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the shrimp and cover for 5 minutes-no longer! or your shrimp will be rubbery.
  3. Drain off the liquid and reserve.  You can use it for stock or marinade.
  4. Stir the melted butter and hot sauce together. Serve the butter with the plated stew for dipping or drizzling.

You can also add scallops and craw-fish to the mix.

Serve in bowls with a nice cold  crisp beer.

Enjoy!