Road Trip 2015

School vacation week was this week. This year we decided to take a trip back down to the Maryland/Virginia area to visit family. We hadn’t been there in four years. It gave us the chance to catch up with family and a few old friends. 

We started in Frederick, got the chance to both chill at my mother’s house and walk around the historic section of Frederick. On the side of one building is a pretty nifty mural of a man looking out an open window. We ducked into an antique market where there were, among other things, endless jars of old silverware. 

After a few days we headed to Virginia, staying just over the line from Washington DC. From there we got to catch a Nats game one day, and revisit the National Zoo the next. Took the Metro both times, which was an absolute madhouse after the ballgame let out. The zoo had some great exhibits we hadn’t seen before, especially now that they’ve opened the Asian Trails section. This exhibit gives the Asian elephants a lot more room to roam than I remember them having the last time. 

In addition, I got the chance to play my father’s new Martin guitar, which has an amazing sound. 

All told, lots of fun was had by all. Observe the proof:

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How Was Your Weekend?

This weekend, like many of the weekends during the school year, was a blur. Ballet classes, Sunday school, grocery shopping, etcetera etcetera–the list runs long.

One of the things we did was man a table at the local Farmer’s Market. The town Farmer’s Market has been running for about a month now, and will keep on going until the middle of October. This Saturday was particularly fun because it was “kids vendor” day, the day when the local town kids can make things and sell them. There were the usual suspects of cookies, cupcakes, and Rice Krispy treats. There were also the usual craft-y suspects in the form of loop band bracelets, bead necklaces, and paracord bracelets. There was one little girl selling colored pencil drawings she’d made for $2 a drawing (each came with its own sheet protector–in case you were wondering what all you got for your $2).

The Boy Scouts were there selling popcorn, which, if you’ve never had, is very good. It’s not Girl Scout cookie good, but then again, what is?

IMG_3595Of course, there are other vendors there. Actual, you know, farmers. There were four or five farms represented, selling everything for apples to shallots to meat. (Apparently Boylston had its own meat CSA. Who knew?) There were also other craftsmen/women there as well. One woman was selling handmade soap (we bought a few bars because they smelled so good), there was a vendor selling goods made from alpaca hair, there was a local woodworker selling things like bowls and oil lanterns and pens. I bought a pen because they were just fantastically beautiful.

My kids didn’t have anything to sell. Instead, they had been asked to man the table for the local food pantry. The food pantry had been running low on stock and one of the parents of the third graders mobilized an effort to get it restocked. Because of schedules and conflicts, there were a lot of people who could be present at the Farmer’s Market to help collect the dry goods. So we volunteered. And while I can’t say they stood there for four hours taking food donations, they were there to help out for a while and accept food (with their parents there to pick up the slack for when they bolted.)

All in all, it was a great time. The kids had a ton of fun with so many of their friends who were there to buy or sell. And they helped out a local charity. I’m really proud of them.

Check out some of the pictures from the day below.

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Coffee. Nuf Said

Okay, maybe not quite. But I couldn’t think of a better title for this post, so there it is. And let’s be honest, sometimes it is enough. Sometimes the only word that we can get out in the morning is “coffee”.

But I digress. Shocking, I know.

There was a article floating around Facebook recently about how the Keurig k-cups might actually be bad for you. I shared it and proceeded to freak out a couple of friends and my wife. The short version: the hot water hits the plastic cups and may cause chemicals in the plastic to bleed into the water that hits the grounds that goes into the mug that goes into your mouth that goes…you get the idea.

And naturally, when the chemicals in plastic go into your body, badness ensues.

Whether or not this had any merit of truth to it is irrelevant. The idea is out there and can’t be taken back. Can’t unring the bell.

So what to do? Well, Keurig, and a couple of other companies no doubt, make an insert that you can substitute for the k-cups. Ostensibly, this is so you can use your own favored brand of coffee that hasn’t put out a k-cup version yet, but let’s be honest, who hasn’t put one out by now?

Okay, so we bought the insert. Here’s what it looks like:

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It’s basically three pieces: a mesh filter that goes inside another two piece insert that fits into the brewer.

How well does it work? Pretty well, actually. You fill up the mesh filter with grounds. (I’ll clarify here and say “fresh unused grounds”, which you wouldn’t think I’d need to do, but you never know.) The filter accommodates two levels, one tablespoon or two tablespoons. This obviously goes to your personal preference. Do you like your coffee to resemble coffee, or do you like the stirring spoon to stand up straight in the coffee without you having to hold it? Put the filter in the insert bottom, twist on the insert top, insert the inset into the brewer, and off you go.

What are the drawbacks? Well, after each brew, you have to take the mesh filter out and clean it. You can’t just chuck it it the trash like you would with the k-cups. It doesn’t take long to do, under a minute, but it’s a little bit of extra time. And you can’t clean it immediate after brewing cause that sucker’s hot. The best bet might be to have two inserts so you can always have one ready to go when the other is done and cooling off before cleaning. This is an especially good idea in households where coffee consumption is measured in gallons. Like mine.

The other drawback (but maybe not) is that you might have leftover k-cups to deal with. Not a huge deal. You can simply slice open the top and use the grounds inside.

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An interesting discovery in doing this is that the amount of grounds in a k-cup is more than the mesh filter will comfortably hold. So, balancing out the drawback of slicing open your old k-cups is the fact that you’re likely to end up with more brew-able mugs than you would have gotten otherwise.

Speaking of which, I think it’s time for a mug of decaf.

Food Review: The “Nut Brick” (aka “The Life-Changing Loaf Of Bread”)

I was browsing Yahoo one day and came across this recipe.

I followed the link to the blog from which the recipe came. You can find that here. Turns out that the recipe was put together by Sarah Britton over at My New Roots, a blog she started to share her “edible inspirations”.

“Life-Changing Loaf of Bread”? That’s a pretty bold statement. I mean, it’s bread, and I loooovvvveee bread, so it’s possible that a loaf could very well be that good. But still, to make that claim, you have to be pretty darn confident. What else could I do but try this recipe out?

Here’s the finished product with some butter on top.

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First,some notes on the process. I chose to make this recipe with honey instead of maple syrup. I love sugar of all kinds, arguably too much, but if I have to choose between honey versus maple syrup in a recipe, honey wins every time. Secondly, instead of using hazelnuts, which I loathe, I decided to use almonds. But hey, that’s what this recipe is all about. It’s all about being able to substitute things when the original is unavailable or simply doesn’t appeal to you. Lastly, the recipe calls for being baked in a flexible fiberglass loaf pan. I don’t have one of those, and I wasn’t willing to buy it for this recipe, especially considering how much all the ingredients cost. The reason for the flexible loaf pan is because you have to take the loaf out of the pan a third of the way through the baking and finish baking right on the over rack. What I did was line my glass loaf pan with foil, which allowed me to lift the loaf out during baking, peel away the foil, and finish baking on the oven rack.

Okay, baking done. So how did it taste? Was it life changing?

Let me say at the outset that, given the recent Yelp lawsuit decision, this is my opinion only. It probably doesn’t hurt either that I’m not accusing Sarah Britton of billing me for work she didn’t do and stealing any jewelry. But, to reiterate, my opinion here.

Okay, so, was it life-changing? For me, I’d have to say no, it wasn’t.

I found the bread dense, something that Sarah Britton says she really loves, and which reminds her of bread she had in Denmark. Okay, fine, I don’t mind dense. But this was Dense with a capital D. So dense that it could not be eaten alone, it had to be consumed with a beverage of some kind. I choose coffee since I was eating it in the morning. The bread turned out to be pretty short since my loaf pan is wide, probably wider than what is used in the original recipe. This made it too short for sandwiches. It was also far too dense to be a sandwich bread, and I’m not sure it would hold up if you layered all of the usual sandwich toppings on it. It was so dense my wife, upon trying it, labeled it the “nut brick”.

As for the taste, well, it tasted like nuts. If you’ve read through the recipe, you’ll see that it is a very nut/seed driven recipe. The oats helped keep it from becoming too much like a baked jar peanut butter, but the taste was very nutty. The aftertaste was all sunflower. Were I to make this recipe again, I’d probably halve the amount of sunflowers and up the amount of oats.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to take this as a starting point and playing with the amounts until you get something that appeals to you. With a recipe that lends itself so easily to adjustments, maybe the end game is to experiment until you find the right combination to make it a bread you’ll ultimately enjoy and want to make again.

Which leads to the final thought: will I make it again? Probably. I have all these frickin’ ingredients (see below). I have to do something with them.

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