Thursday, April 17, 2014

Aussie Goodness, Photo(s) 15

Part of the purchases on Sunday at The Fresh Market were these two items. I bought the licorice because I have a World of Warcraft friend, Amber, who lives in Australia.

It's not a healthy supper by any stretch of the imagination but I was so tired that I decided this was it;  fast, with sugar for energy. It didn't work. I was still way tired. I think it's coming down from the adrenalin rushes of the past month. But here are my impressions of these.

The licorice. First of all, they don't spell "licorice" correctly. (snicker) Second, it was not at all like the licorice I'm used to here.

The first thing I noticed was the instant smell of strawberries. My typical strawberry licorice doesn't emit an odor you can detect when you open the package. I smelled strawberries. In fact, it was more strawberry than the organic strawberries I have in the fridge.

Second, this was almost like fruit "leather". If you don't know what that is, it's pureed fruit, spread out and dried, then cut into strips. It's reasonably easy to make at home and is a great way to use up excess fruit when it's in season. You can control the amount of sugar and other additives. There's no high fructose corn syrup in this licorice, but the other ingredients were similar to what I've seen on American licorice packages.

The taste was superb. It was easy eating. The pieces actually melted in the mouth and the strawberry taste was through the entire piece. It could become my new favorite strawberry licorice if it wasn't so expensive.

Now for the root beer.

This was interesting because I didn't buy the beverage because it was made in Australia. I bought it because it was cheaper than similar beverages and I wanted some soda. (It was very interesting to me that this store carried Coca-Cola but no other mainstream soda and nothing else from Coke's extensive product line. There was no Sprite or root beer, just Coke.) After I got it home, I realized it was Australian.

The first thing I noticed was the pop top.

The pop top itself dates from 1959. It was invented by a guy who struggled with opening a bottle of soda one handed. When he invented the pop top, sales of beverages in aluminum cans skyrocketed and gave us one of the best songs ever.

"I blew out my flip flop
Stepped on a pop top.
Cut my heel had to cruise on back home."

From that humble invention, which lent itself to so many projects and cut heels, we moved to the pop top that doesn't leave the can without major effort. I'd never seen this kind of opening device before. As the tab says, you pull up, peel back the aluminum and underneath is a plastic ring that pops open with an audible pop.

I don't get around much so perhaps these are on beverages in the US, but this was new to me. It opened easily, even for someone with arthritis, but was a complete seal.

How did this taste? Well, first of all, I was surprised this was from Australia. In 1996, we made our last visit to England to see my late pen-pal and her family. We took with us a can of A&W Root Beer because we'd read that root beer is not found in the UK. We chilled the can for 24 hours and then sat around the table giving them a sample. They were not impressed. "How can you drink this stuff!?" was the consensus.

It's a matter of what you've grown up with. "Root beer" is an American creation born of the desire to have something to drink but not having familiar ingredients at ready disposal. Recipes abound on the Internet for making your own root beer. (Note: I have not tried the recipe linked. I merely linked it so you can see the ingredients used for root beer made with roots. Some recipes use a "root beer extract" and not the actual roots. This article explains which roots actually go into the drink.) The ingredients are not found in England. Settlers made do as people will and created a uniquely American drink. To have something like this from Australia was going to be an experience.

It's not sweet. I have to admit I was expecting the taste of current American root beer and this was not. The initial taste was bitter. I thought, "Crap. I'm going to have to pour out all 4 bottles. This is not what I was expecting." It wasn't, but several sips later and I realized I was tasting root beer as it used to be, before the advent of high fructose corn syrup. Sugar based root beer always had a slightly bitter taste to it, that was something of the appeal. That's why it held up so well in root beer floats. The bitter complimented the sweet of the ice cream. The more I drank, the better this became.

I tend not to drink things immediately. A mug of tea will last me a couple hours and I'm drinking room temperature tea by the time I get to the bottom. The same is true of soda. Even on a hot day, which is just right for an ice cold Dr Pepper, I won't drink the whole thing at once. This root beer is best when it is cold. At room temperature, it's more bitter and less blended in flavors. It was still good, but less so than it is cold. I don't have any vanilla ice cream, but I'm considering getting some to try it in a float. This brought back memories of family picnics, summer night spent sitting on the front porch stargazing, hot August days where the air just didn't move, fireworks and the sound of Minnesota Twins baseball games on the TV. It hearkens back to a different era for me.

It's too bad these are so expensive, but then, it's probably good they are. I'm not inclined to have them always in the house.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Go Away Already, Photo 14

Monday at 5:15 p.m.

This was snowball snow, heavy and wet. I remember how excited I was to see this last November, when it was a dry, powdered sugar-like snow. Now, it's just angst producing.

On Tuesday morning, it was an inch worth and it was pretty, gleaming in the morning sunshine.

It's the kind of snow you want on your Christmas card.

Except this is April and we're looking for warmth, not snow. I found the look of the snow on the front grass interesting, kind of bubbly.

The weather people made an interesting comment on Tuesday's news. Chicagoland is .4 of an inch away from the 2nd snowiest winter on record. Although we are going to have mild temperatures next week, the idea that snow could still come is in the back of my mind. I remember snow as late as Memorial Day. It didn't stick but it was in the air.

Some records we look on with pride. This is not one of them. Old man winter, it's time for you to go rest. I don't need a white Christmas in 2014. I'm good, really. Thanks.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2014 Book 4

This book has been in the stack for a long time. It was purchased when the Field Museum had an extensive exhibit on chocolate many years ago. I've read Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner, which is a fantastic read about the early rivalry between Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars. The author of that book was able to gain access to the highly secretive worlds of both companies. Although out of print, if you are at all interested in why these two are at the top of the heap, then search it out. I might still have my copy kicking around somewhere.

Therefore, when I saw this in the Field Museum's gift shop, I thought it would be the perfect complement to the current history of chocolate, meaning the 20th Century. Let's go backwards and read about where chocolate came from.

It's probably not fair to compare the two books. Brenner's book is more topical. You can wander any grocery aisle and see the objects of her tome. This book sets out to be more scholarly, tracing chocolate back as far as records will allow. That is both a strength and a weakness.

If you are interested in historical accuracy, this book will appeal. It took me a month to read it because it felt like the book of a required class. The original author, Sophie Coe, died before she could write it. Her husband, Michael, assembled the book from her extensive notes and research. The bibliography alone, was some 20 pages. If I were taking a class on the history of foodstuffs, this is a book I would expect to be on the syllabus. It's not something, unlike Brenner's, that would go stale quickly. Brenner ends with the current crop of Mars children who run the company, so it will be somewhat dated. As this book goes back to the Mayans, there aren't named people around to date it.

Coe did an incredible job of research. I can't imagine anyone finding anything else in the historical records to illuminate how cocoa was grown, used as money, and assimilated into European culture. The only thing would be more accurate translations of Mayan and Aztec pictographs. Coe admitted that some things scholars just don't know and this includes the pervasiveness of cocoa in Mayan and Aztec life.

The book goes to the 19th Century in tracing how chocolate, both as a drink and as an element in eating, took over Europe. Essentially, we have the Jesuits to thank for chocolate going from Mexico to Spain and then Italy. It didn't really catch on in the far East; Japan, China, India; as they had their own culinary creations and trade did not include chocolate for a long time.

There is a discussion of how different chocolate is today with what it was like when the Spanish conquered Mexico. There is a company,, which is making chocolate the way the Mayans and Aztec made it at the time of Cortez. Having read this book, I stumbled upon the web site through an unrelated article in the May 2014 issue of Cooking Light. Reading about the process they use to make their chocolate was like reading the early chapters of this book, although in a much more friendly style.

I think that's my biggest gripe about this book. It's overly scholarly. Michael Coe mentions he is trying to do his late wife justice by writing the book, "but I lack her humor". At times, I felt like I was slogging through cocoa liquor. Am I enlightened? Yeah, a bit, but retaining all of the information in the book is just not going to happen. I felt like I should expect a quiz at the end of each chapter. This is not a book for popular consumption.

It has left me with a desire to learn more about the Jesuit order. They have a bad rap for things like the Spanish Inquisition. I feel as though I should learn more about this Catholic order to know more about world history. The Jesuits and the Dominicans hated each other but both were instrumental in the preservation of what little Aztec and Mayan culture they came upon by the time they made it to Mexico. It was intriguing to me to read that both orders decried the use of the native population to work on the chocolate plantations. Unfortunately, this led to the importation of African slaves. They didn't seem to have a problem with that.

The other thing that struck me and which I'm sure has been rued, is how Cortez decimated the local culture. It is known there was a huge oral history among the Aztecs when he came to what is now Mexico City. In slaughtering the rulers to feed his greed, he destroyed this history. For instance, native "doctors" utilized thousands of plants from the jungles around the city. They knew what each plant could do with regards to its medicinal value. The European medical model at the time was frozen, attached to the ancient Galean model of 4 humors of the blood; wet, dry, hot and cold. This was woefully outmoded. How much farther along our medical advancements might have been had this information not died with the scholars. At times like this, you sort of wish for a time machine, to go back and grab the information and attempt to get it placed somewhere that future generations would learn from it. 

While this rumination is interesting, it's a fault of the book. The author tried to shove everything his late wife found between the pages. In getting people to adopt cocoa as a drink, it had to be shown that it helped one of the humors, but the author spent a good 5 pages explaining early medicine, tracing its history to the time where chocolate had made its way to Spain. Was there no editor handy to say, "This is interesting, but condense it."? Again, this kind of thing is found in a scholarly tome and not a book you'll pick up off the stack at the local bookstore.

This will be added to the give away pile. I can't say that I'm glad I read it. I'm glad it's out of the to be read stack. Perhaps, down the road, I'll stumble across something and it will trigger a memory of reading this book. Compared to the three previous books, this was an effort to get through. Now on to book #5.

Beverage:  La Croix Cran-Raspberry seltzer


Walk This Way

So I bought these sandals with an eye toward wearing them to the office in the summer when I know I'm not going out, to wearing them under jeans where casual is good, but I don't want to wear my flip flops. I figured, with a vacation peering just over the horizon, I'd better figure out if they really were okay. Sunday, with the mild temperatures, was the day to try them out on a few errands.

You know what? I'm going to really enjoy these. With or without a sock, they feel great on my feet. They are lightweight but sturdy enough for me. I like the tread which feels secure walking through a wet parking lot. I'm also thinking these are sturdy enough to be worn on a daily walk, particularly when it's rainy.

The hardest part is getting into them because there isn't a tie. It's an elastic band that adjusts to your foot size. This is a huge plus even though I have to figure this out to get into them a bit quicker.

These are a wonderful addition to my wardrobe. I should look at the shoes I have and give away a pair I don't wear. Maybe it's time to get rid of the red heels.

Beverage:  La Croix Cran-Raspberry seltzer