Food / Cooking

Hands On The Earth • Apple Cider

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Romance is in the air.  A brisk windy autumn day, the Schuylkill River brown and full from upstream storms.  Clouds break up long enough for a sunny stroll to my favorite produce stand.  To my true autumnal love, fresh apple cider.

Dave tells me he can sometimes get four gallons of cider per bushel of apples.  The latest press, just a day ago, is giving him a respectable 3.7 gallons.  The pint of cider I enjoy was made with nearly four apples.  And why, Dave, is cider brown?  That’s because it oxidizes as soon as it is pressed.  The flavor is not affected a bit.  The fresh cider tastes like healthy goodness.

If you hear crunch-crunch through the leaves behind you, it may not be a prospective paramour trying to catch your glance.  They may just want to know where you got your cider.  🙂

Breakstone’s Butter

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ADVISORY:  Some images and text may be disturbing to our  celiac  readers.

Americans eat lots of butter. A hundred years ago, EIGHTEEN pounds per person per year.  Thankfully, we’re down to about six pounds per capita  *burp*  Personally, ATB staff have reduced their consumption to sub-Japanese levels, under 0.6 kg per year.  There may be easier ways to live forever, but restricted fats is not a particularly difficult path to a healthy diet.

When we do fall off the wagon, or more appropriately, jump upon the dairy wagon for a healthy dose of converted cream and salt, we reach for the best.  Breakstone’s.

  • 1882: Isaac and Joseph Breakstone (Breakstone Bros) opened a small dairy store on New York City’s Lower East Side.

The best butter?  Attractive marketing?  Hard to say.  Delicious, yes!  And the only brand to display a two-pack, a pair of quarter-pound sticks in a single carton.  Perfect for our dietary pacing.

Owned by Kraft,  manufactured by Keller’s Creamery, under license by Kraft.  Keller’s butters go back over a hundred years, so it is all a creamy mystery as to who is running the shop.  Keller’s Creamery appears to manufacture butter for many labels at its plant in Winnsboro, Texas.  Our spies report townsfolk friendly but protective of their slippery secrets.  Me, I stay away.  Lest I return to a dozen pounds a year  🙂

Harvest Festivals

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Under cover of darkness, a quarterly division of Earth’s orbit passed the dotted line.  We officially cross into the season of crunchy leaves and spiced cider.  Sleeping late on weekend mornings under cozy blankets.  Comfortable evenings with darkness falling appropriately early, without the Federal Government fiddling with our clocks.

The Autumnal Equinox has again arrived, more quickly this year then last.  My niece at seven laid out her hypothesis on this.  It involves percentage of time lived.  A year is longer when you are seven – 1/7th of your life.  A year is shorter, say, 1/50th of your life, a few decades later.

Never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, this first day of autumn brings the season of the harvest festival.  No matter that the Harvest Moon is weeks away.  A time of ripe apples, perfect root vegetables, and late season corn.  Steamy days of sterilizing jars, vats of vinegar, pickling everything edible.

Support the local economy.  Spend money at your local harvest festival.  Continue traditions thousands of years old.  Exercise your Neolithic Revolution DNA.  Consume extra calories for a good cause.  Heck, even eat like a panda if you want.  It only comes once a year.  🙂

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

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With inflamed shoulders and wrists, hobbling upon bug-bitten ankles, we  conclude an excellent late-summer pickin’ session under the old oak tree.  The creamery crowds seem more appreciative in the evenings;  we played for them far past sundown.  A time of crickets, moonglow, and private ice cream consumption.

With a return drive through miles of farmland, missing dinner (and lunch!) is no joke.  As usual, a sack meal awaits in the truck.  One Honeycrisp (Malus pumila) apple, some multi-grain sourdough bread, and a nice wedge of cheese, sliced off our chunk of Beecher’s.

My tailgate sack dinner in the dark becomes a top hat affair.  With the complexity and punch of Beecher’s, every mouthful is the pleasure of a banquet.  

Cheese is one of the better discoveries in history.  Big business makes it by the ten-ton.  But real cheese?  A whole new ball game.  Like the first time I tasted carrots fresh from the soil or spring water from the hill.  Hearing true silence of a New Mexico desert.  Artisan-made cheese opens the senses to another reality.

Trader Joe’s giant open-air merchandiser is a great way to explore cheeses.  That’s where the Beecher’s Flagship was discovered – great job on the labeling and logo!

We’d been thinking of a cheese article for some time.  Peter Sallis, voice of Wallace and Gromit, passed in June.  This famous claymation series opened our eyes to varieties and passions associated with cheeses.  We wanted to note his contributions to society.  The English take their cheese seriously!  When we come up with an angle, we’ll have more about  Peter.

For now, a message from Kurt Beecher Dammeier:  By starting with fresh, pure milk from local farms and applying the traditional methods used by cheese makers for thousands of years, our cheeses are free of artificial ingredients making them just as delicious as the milk they are made from. – Beecher’s

Sweet Springs, Missouri

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Smiles   Horses thudding along the old Pony Express from Socorro.  Northward I roll to happy honking horns and wide Kansas smiles.  Inching my velocity up to the speed limit, a Man Of Purpose, intent on beating dusk.  To the joy of traffic backed up behind me.  But there was so much to see!  Miles and miles of prairie, cattle, wheat, everything!

Monarch Highway   Motoring southward, I recall grasslands preserved for butterflies and the generous Kansas rest stop welcome, “Camping Permitted”.  This would be a rare planned stop amid our freewheeling northward meander in search of “what was”.  Road & wind are our only influences.  Stretching out for sleep fits in there as well.

The horizon has yanked itself up above the sun but the birds don’t know it yet. With plenty of light, we roll to a far spot, change into night duds (jeans, fleece top, bandana), and off to a soft spot under the trees.  Only a couple of rough blankets and a cushion, but it is heaven!  Dozing off to darkening skies, birds chirping … fading … fading … And wake up at first light, a solid unbroken eight hours of sleep!  Far better than any motel room, and 100% cheaper!  Where’s the tip jar?  We owe nature a fat one for lulling us with her perfect Kansas breezes!

The sun rises faster   Barely an hour into our morning I notice the Missouri sun seems awfully high in the sky.  Time zones aside, surrounded by farmland, I can see why a farmer gets up so early.  It is work from sun-up until sun-down; gotta leverage every minute.

The sun also reminds me of another issue:  hunger and thirst.  Sweet Springs is the first exit after I think of caffeine, so we take it.  Eschewing service station coffee, we delve southward and find Downtown.  Wow!  Jackpot!  Sweet Springs, platted in 1838.  We park by the Old City Hall c.1891 and smell food.  Right up the block, a business for all occasions.  The de facto City Hall, maybe?  🙂

Sausage, milk, flour, butter   Sausage gravy on biscuits made from scratch every day is a favorite, Parrish tells me.  A perfect start.  Last Chance Saloon is regular stop from here on out!

Individual Time   Grudgingly we re-enter the Interstate.  Missouri rolls by.  Windows down, crops and soil smell familiar.  Long walks amid barns and fields as a kid.  Driving Down The Highway.  Without radio, plenty of time to think.  New ideas.  Hmmmmm  Individual time:  I decide when I want it to be 5am, Noon, 9pm, whatever.  My clock is my own and computers figure out how to mesh my life with the world.  New songs.  New plans for new trips.  Missouri farmland smells like childhood.  Innocence.  Imagination.

 

Lancaster County Produce

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In the steel town of my parents’ childhood, life moved at a different pace.  Many people lacked a telephone.  Television was a new and rather worthless invention.  Texting?  The closest was telegraph and maybe a stock market ticker.  No “code words”?  LOL   🙂  Code words and phrases abounded, as old as the hills.  Maybe written by Moses herself.

Newlyweds jokingly said they ate a lot of apples,  referring to the Garden of Eden, Eve & Adam, and their newfound lust for apples.  But my dentist also promotes this perfect fruit, and he’s atheist.  Something about working the teeth, exercising the gum line?

Turning to his simple health advice decades ago, I’ve too decided the apple is a perfect fruit.  Portable, properly packaged, pennies a pound.  Maybe a bit more silver these days, but still a value.

Honeycrisps, newly picked, waft their scent from my fridge.  Pink Lady, Gala, Jonagold, all delectable.  Pick your favorite farmers market, find a grower, and select a few beauties of smooth unbruised skin.  Prepare for deliciousness.  Bonus:  Your sweetheart will find your close presence even tastier.  Maybe the serpent was on to something.  I’ll bet a good theologian can find reference to morning groping in the Bible, right after breakfast kisses.

Lancaster County has been shipping produce to Philadelphia since the mid-1700s.  Hands On The Earth Orchard from Lititz PA continues this tradition, weekly attending a Saturday farmers market along Walnut Street at Rittenhouse Square.

Native Americans, in what would become Pennsylvania, practiced agriculture for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. By the eleventh century, they had developed a high-yield system of slash and burn farming. Creating fields by clearing brush, and girdling and burning trees to let the sun reach the soil, they then planted beans, corn, and squash together – a method of planting that was advantageous to the crops and the people. Beans climbed up the cornstalks and fixed nitrogen in the soil that fertilized the corn and squash. The resulting network of roots and tendrils inhibited weed growth and helped to retain moisture in the soil. Beans, corn, and squash – better known to the Indians as the Three Sisters – provided a very nutritious diet that was high in amino acids, fiber, protein, and vitamins. http://explorepahistory.com

McCormick Extracts

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Just a teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down ~ ~ Sometimes it is just a pinch of this or a dash of that which makes all the difference.  My world-famous griddlecakes?  A single drop of almond extract per batter batch.  A pot of hot chocolate?  A drop of vanilla.

That is nearly the limit and extent of my extracts knowledge.  There was a third box of Schilling extract up in the cabinet corner, saved from great-grandmothers’ kitchen.  Never opened, never used.  The box dated 1976, our Bicentennial.

Of no use?  Hardly.  When a friend developed a bit of seasonal lip infection, she reminded me of the extract and asked to use it.  What for?  Sippin’?  There’s plenty of snake-bite juice in the cupboard.

I learn extract of peppermint is preferred by many professionals to resolve topical skin issues, especially near and in the mouth!  Even better, it is not a homeopathic cure, but real world medicine.  A quick web search reveals an exhausting list of ailments and issues helped by mint oils.  I find mint tea the perfect digestif after gastronomic overindulgence.  Especially following a triple helping of my galaxy-famous gluten-and-egg-free griddlecakes!

A. Schilling & Company was an American foodstuffs company founded in San Francisco, California, in 1881 by August Schilling and George F. Volkmann, a pair 27 year-old Bremen, Germany emigres.  It dealt in coffee, tea, baking powder, extracts, and spices and was acquired by McCormick & Company in 1946 and merged into its business as its Western Division.  McCormick continued to use the Schilling name until the 1990s, with the last product containers marked as Schilling produced in 2002.wiki

Nalgene N-Gen

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Sticking with the current theme of cooling off, hydration is the topic.  As natural as a glass of clean iced water on a hot summer day.  “You can’t take it with you” does not apply.

Everywhere I go, my Nalgene is in tow.  Fast rotation in the ‘fridge, or tepid tap, either does what the body cannot:  add water to the machine.  With current mid-summer weather, it is more important than ever to replenish this life-giving juice and basis of all chemical reaction in the body, water.

30OZ N-GEN  With three bottles in use, I’m usually well fixed.  But summer gift-giving approaches.   What to present a 14-year-old man-boy on his birthday?  Something cool and electronic?  An airplane model?  Swatch watch?  My call goes into the void, and echoes back, “An American-made water bottle”.  Nalgene, naturally.

Like potato chips, batting practice, or lýtkový řízek, I cannot stop at one.  I buy five.  Still free deliver on any order over $10.  For these gifts, a thin stack  of currency is traded.

At unwrapping, I learn my nephew recently acquired a new water bottle, but six is better!  With five from which to choose, he favors a match to his Swatch  (Accessorizing already?  No wonder the chicks dig him.  Smart lad.)  With plenty to share, his sister and cousins are ecstatic.  The cost of teaching generosity?  Priceless.

Nalgene.  Made in the USA, stylish, sleek, and affordable.

THERMO FISHER SCIENTIFIC

Woodside Farm Creamery

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A FAMOUS WRITER ONCE told me, “You always want to have a couple of stories in your back pocket.  You don’t want to be out with your buddies, everyone savoring their own delicious tale, and come up empty”.  Same goes true for money.  This weekend, however, I came up blank.  Pocket lint.  88˚ and triple-digit humidity boils the brain.  Creative juices squeezed out, my skull resembles an original Denis Papin steam digester,  c. 1679.

When it is time to cool off, to bring about brain freeze,  most iced drinks can satisfy.  Though isn’t life about enhancements.  Ice cream, please.  If we are going to consume sugar calories, why not make it the best ice cream this side of the Monongahela River!  To the source we travel.  With carriage and four-in-hand, back in time we clatter, through Delaware’s Arc to the 1700s farm of the Mitchell family.

With milk-fat levels approaching my cholesterol numbers, this is real ice cream.  It sits upon the tongue, infusing smiles and euphoria.  Where kids can be kids, clocks slow, and the bluegrass circle plays on. Under the big oak tree, mature even in colonial times.  We eat our treasure, cows looking on.  Children’s laughter sets the beat, as faithful renditions of Doc Watson’s honest clarity measure time.

Farm fresh ice cream  ~  Worth the trip!

Más Taco

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I’ll be back – With hopeful yet prophetic words I grudgingly exit the best taco joint west of the Mississippi almost three years ago.  But back I am!  Coming off weeks of backcountry camping in Yellowstone National Park, this gem was the stuff of daily cravings.  Homeward bound, Más Taco is my first destination over Beartooth Pass within tiny Red Lodge, Montana.  The restaurant is just as I left it.

Famous for having the finest chow outside Yellowstone Northeast Entrance miles away, Mike has not let fortune go to his head.  His passion is still fly fishing.  Off-river, Más Taco gets his full attention.  Many of the same people help Mike turn out plate after plate of 100% fresh ingredients blended into a perfect meal.  Always an artful presentation.  And chaos?  Seven people working full bore in a galley kitchen.  It was like my recent trip under polar ice aboard Nautilus (upcoming article, of course).  Except for plenty of fresh air and sunshine.  On a plate.  Nature at its finest.

Trader Joe’s Navel Oranges

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Weekly shopping would not be complete without a stop at our local Trader Joe’s.  Once a novelty, this grocery store chain has become a must-visit for specifics.  Why?  As with our Coffee Filter article, Price, quality, and consistency … When something works, why look for anything better?

Joe’s navel oranges.  Consistent size, fresh and juicy, and a good price.  The four-pound bag is $4 on the East Coast but $3 in Phoenix … guess they are coming from California this time of year.

The serving size is misleading, though.  One orange?  Really?

Free Offer:  When Trader Joe’s drops the $3.99 and prices bagged oranges on the even dollar, we’ll give them a banner ad for a year!

Bass Ale

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MERRIMACK, NEW HAMPSHIRE  is home to a smaller of the dozen Anheuser-Busch breweries.  With their world-touring Budweiser Clydesdale team also in residence, you’d think the town has its share of glory.  But within the dizzying array of acquisitions and mergers, AB InBev ended up with one of the United Kingdom’s best exports, Bass Ale.

For the American market, Bass Ale, once the best-selling beer in the world, is made in this country.  AB InBev have pledged funding to support the Bass brand in America, and since June 2012, Bass has been brewed in Merrimack, New Hampshire at 5% ABV for the American market. – wiki

Long one of our favorite imports, Bass, a smooth bitter English ale, was a bit out of reach.  But as a domestic, this niche beer with the oldest registered trademark in the world is now as affordable as a mass-produced choice!  Great decision by Anheuser-Busch InBev.  Make it where they drink it.  A global company reacting locally!

Bonus trivia:  Budweiser Clydesdales began their stomp in 1933 to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition.

Boylan Bottling

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boylan bottling logoWhen I come off trail, nothing kicks the dust out of my throat like an icy cold refreshing root beer.  Not high fructose sugar water hawked by corporate America.  The real thing.  Boylan’s root beer has it all – flavor and kick.

A rich sassafras flavor derived from cinnamon, sweet birch, vanilla, and wintergreen oil. – Boylan

As Saba’s Jerry Hill famously taught us, hand-crafted is nearly as good as it gets.  Boylan’s, with cane sugar and natural flavors, handcrafted since 1891, is the pinnacle of our highly competitive American soda market.

After knocking back a bottle or two, I had to know their secret.  Was it ginger?  Where did the tang come from?  Boylan Bottling was characteristically silent.  I tried multiple departments, running through all the extensions of their telephone system.  No one would share their secrets.  

“The ingredients are on the label”, Samantha sweetly explained.  Yeah, I could be as nice with an unlimited supply of Boylans for private consumption.  Rumors abound.  Unconfirmed reports mention the addition of anise and that master spice, black pepper …

Barkeep, get me a Sarsaparilla!

big-lebowski-sam-elliot-bar

Five Guys Burgers

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fiveguys-burger-charlotteobserverTwice a year or possibly a dozen times more, a hamburger and fries are necessary to balance the universe.  Make everything right.  American Comfort Food at its prime, protein and starch.

No one does it better or more consistently than Five Guys, even hobbled as they are by the All-Powerful FDA.  Most impressive, the fries are burningly fresh.  If I’m going to subject my body to fried food, it better be well-prepared fried food.  That’s why I save up my fat-intake points for a Five Guys visit.  The potatoes are labeled with the grower’s name – Five Guys makes a big deal out of that, the kitchen is wide-open, and the manager is constantly circulating, cleaning, adjusting the work flow.

After visiting a few franchisees across the country, I’ve yet to find one with lower standards than perfect, a great testament to Jerry Murrell’s philosophy. Keep It Simple, Simon.

If we could get the FDA out of our business, I’d like my burger medium-rare.  Condiments?  Salt and pepper only, please.five-guys-potatoes-thedailymeal

Most health reviews place this restaurant chain’s food as among the most unhealthy on the planet, which means even the experts acknowledge it must be good!  Everything in moderation.  I’ve moderated to a small fries with my burger . . . 

Rule of thumb? For each visit to Five Guys, I visit Agno or Pure Fare thirty times.

five-guys-logo

Triscuit • Wheat Thins

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field-of-wheatEven before I could count past eleven, I knew there was a difference between “adult snacks” and the stuff pawned upon non-voting kittle.  Within the latter group I waited.  Better nibbles would have to wait until I could see over the kitchen counter.

wheat-thins-triscuitEventually counters lowered.  I saw what I was missing, and began to appreciate.  As the Art of Cooking took hold upon my imagination, I marveled at the Triscuit ingredients:  “Wheat, water, salt”.  That’s it.  Amazing.  Simply amazing. 

When calories consumed surpass necessary, appreciation of a good snack increases.  If you’re gonna snack, go for the good stuff.  Triscuits and hummus.  Maybe some Cracker Barrel Asagio, olives, a few pepperochini with your Wheat Thins?  Don’t forget the pickles!  WHEN is our Vlasic article coming out!?!  Product testing calls ~

Editor’s note:  From the very start  AmericanToolbox has endeavored to present entertaining, positive, and non-political articles on American products, people, and companies.  With sadness we learn Mondelēz,  parent company of  Nabisco,  is laying off half their Chicago workforce.  Associated production will be performed at an upgraded plant in Mexico.

I stopped purchasing York Peppermint Patties when production moved from Reading PA to Mexico.  The days of buying four or five packages of Oreos to take to the kid’s birthday parties may likewise be coming to a close.

Support American Nabisco workers in the following ways:

1) Check the Label: There are two ways to know if your Nabisco snacks are made in the U.S. or Mexico:

  • Check for the words “Made in Mexico” under the ingredient list
  • Check the plant identification code, which is part of the expiration date code: do not buy if the initials “MM” or “MS” are listed.  The initials AE, AH, AP, AX, AZ and XL all indicate American-made products.

Trader Joe’s Coffee Filters

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trader joe coffee filters

BLINDED BY SUMMER SUNRISE, I move with half-closed eyes, by feel, to the Technivorm.  With luck the night before I’ve set up the coffee maker with filter, grounds, and water.  Joe’s Dark Roast is my usual.

Trader Joe’s is a relatively new event in my life. We go back a decade or so.  I’ve noticed some products are fair rather than good.  Packaging can be insubstantial.

Trader Joe’s is where I get fresh dairy. Coffee. Hummus.  Bread.  Maybe salmon jerky.  Staples, like baked beans, Saltine Crackers, ammonia, coffee filters, these are usually purchased from the regular grocers.  But one day I threw TJ filters into the basket.  For two bucks, I’d give them a try.

Several years later, I’m still a believer.  Price, quality, and consistency.  After noticing a competitor’s filter coming apart when wet – certainly makes a mess when dumping out, I didn’t bother with any more market research.  When something works, why look for anything better?

trader joe coffee with filters

Kingsford Charcoal

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Kingsford Charcoal with Weber jsergovicHenry Ford had many good ideas.  “Waste not, want not”, ingrained within him, saw value in even the lowliest pile of rubbish.  Scrap wood from his production line?  “Make charcoal”, he proclaimed.

His subsidiary thrives with ubiquitous Ford success.  Currently owned by The Clorox Company, Kingsford Charcoal enjoys a safe 80% market share.  What would Ford say?  “Why not 100%?”, perhaps.  Or maybe “You can have any color you want . . . as long as it’s black”.

With lighter fluid, I choose Kingsford® Charcoal Lighter Fluid.  One may say, “It’s all the same”.  Aliphatic petroleum solvent, like everything, can be produced in differing qualities.  I’m a brand-name believer, so it’s Kingsford for me when grilling vittles for friends and family.

Our American Toolbox method varies depending on what we are grilling.  Today, it was this:  lay out an almost double thickness of coals;  pile into a pyramid, douse with Kingsford lighter fluid, and light;  admire this January Arizona weather –  grapefruit are not yet ripe but last year they were early;  spread out coals when red, set top grill and wipe with olive oil-soaked towel;  grill;  wait for your chicken to cook – this was nearly 20 minutes, covered for the last two.

Ziploc • S. C. Johnson

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twistnloc-small
We last visited consumer offerings of S. C. Johnson with a great Windex article.  We’re back with another product from one of our favorite American companies.   With Saran Wrap, Ziploc freezer bags, and my favorite, Twist’n’Loc reusable containers, it is easy to see why the company is so popular with foodies.

Exclusively used in my kitchen.  Pint and quart containers share the same lid.  Stackable.  Holds up well in the microwave.  Most others have hit the recycling bin.

Along with quart & gallon freezer bags, these are the nicest food storage solutions on the planet!  Thanksgiving is coming up.  Pick up a few.  Bring them to Aunt Genevieve’s house, and take home a feast of leftovers!

As an amateur luthier, I find Twist’n’Loc containers especially valuable in keeping parts safe during repairs to acoustic instruments!  What else?  Maybe a few become stained or etched from repeated trips into the microwave.  Fret not!  These are perfect for holding small quantities of paint.  Perfect for touching up trim and stairwells after the kids have their romp.  

Premium Saltine Crackers

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nabisco saltines jim sergovicAUTUMN DELIVERS LEAVES, chilly damp winds, and my favorite comforts.  Tea and honey, cinnamon sugar sprinkled on buttered toast, and tomato soup with Nabisco Saltine Crackers.

Nabisco Original Premium Saltine Crackers . . . wow, that is a mouthful.  Nabisco likes the whole line, which is fine.  Deservedly proud they are, with earned market share.  Their white box with a prominent blue PREMIUM across its front has been an easy-to-find choice for decades.  

Yes, these are PREMIUM crackers.  A quick test which anyone can try will have all naysayers convinced.  Buy a box of discount store-label crackers and compare them with Nabisco Saltines.  Waste not, want not.  You’ll find a use for the “off-brand”.

autumn leaves 2015 jim sergovic

A saltine or soda cracker is a thin, usually square cracker made from white flour, yeast, and baking soda, with most varieties lightly sprinkled with coarse salt. It has perforations over its surface. It has a very dry and crisp texture. Wikipedia

Peanut Butter ◊ Skippy or Jif ?

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54f6acc084679_-_skippy-container-lgONE OF MY FAVORITE evening snacks is a cup of herbal tea and a piece of  sourdough toast lightly smeared with peanut butter.  Easy to make & satisfying.  Probably relatively healthy (but I’m not sure).  Every few months or twice a year, I buy a new jar of spread.  

Much has changed in the decades I’ve been eating peanut butter.  Glass jars are out.  Plastic is in.  Chunky came along in the ’70s or ’80s.  Natural, organic, unprocessed, vegan, these new foo-foo monikers began to adorn some labels at natural food stores.  Since it costs more, it must be better?  Not really.  Usually that peanut butter is stiff, lumpy, & separates from its oil.  And tastes somewhat off.  In my humble opinion.

A quick stop for basics made me realize something.  I’ve been buying the same peanut butter for decades.  Skippy or Jif.  Today at a University City grocer, I came across a pair of coeds studying their peanut butter selection.  All these years I thought the action was in the Produce Department.

can-i-give-my-baby-peanut-butterThese women are from my favorite area of Germany.  Cologne, from which Kölsch, as in Gaffel Kölsch BEER, is brewed.  Traveling home this week, just in time to miss the Pope’s visit and -accompanying Parking Popocalypse- they want to smuggle home the most popular, common example of American peanut butter.

They saw me choose without hesitation, asked for American guidance, and received Basics 101.  Creamy, brand name, mid-size jar.  Jif or Skippy.  Skippy or Jif.  You can’t go wrong with either.  I lean a little towards Skippy.  That probably has nothing to do with the peanut butter and more to do with advertisements between Saturday morning cartoons many moons ago.

Arachis hypogaea – The peanut or groundnut is a species in the family Fabaceae (commonly known as the bean, pea or legume family).

 

 

Heinz Vinegar

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tarragon-vinegarVinegar.  It has been around forever.  Babylonians made vinegar from wine 7,000 years ago.  Their reasons were the same as today.  Preserving food and medicinal use.  A tablespoon into your chicken salad adds zest and excitement!  Jim’s Pennsylvania Coleslaw is lifeless without equal parts sugar and tarragon-infused vinegar.  An easy complexity achieved through sweet and sour.

 A few shakes of rice vinegar over greens at my favorite Chinese lunch counter cuts the bitter.  Instant respect from their employees.  Always a huge grin from the head duck and pork chopper.  Open-palmed, he animatedly gestures up and down, highlighting the body’s core.  “Very good!  Very good!”.  An EXACT gesture has been received from a different restaurant’s employees.  Same words.  Very good for the body’s core.  Part of their culture?

Most of my recipes call for very little vinegar.  Why buy discount when you can get the best?  Heinz has been my go-to product for decades.  There is a difference in smell and taste between the cheap stuff made for profit and a product made for quality.

cleaning-vinegarOne of my favorite uses?  Vinegar as a deodorizer.  I’ll pour half an inch into a large pot or pan and set it in a room.  Vinegar adsorbs odors as it evaporates;  musty -or other- smells are whisked away when the room is aired.  If your guest room doesn’t smell “right” after Aunt Tilly or college friends leave, don’t mask the odor.  Remove it naturally with Heinz Cleaning Vinegar!  

Besides medicinal & taste benefits, I’ll use vinegar to keep my bedroom smelling fresh and neutral.  And occasionally, after a particularly odoriferous contractor rides in my truck?  I can restore a GMC factory smell by leaving a pie tin of white vinegar on its cab floor overnight.  Next day,  with windows wide open on the way to work, and both stink and vinegar flushes out.  Who would have thought?

Apple Fritters • Reading Terminal Market

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beilers-donuts-michael-kleinAmericans love their donuts.  An 1803 English cookbook included doughnuts in the “American recipes” section.  Homer Simpson says they are a domestic invention.  Can’t argue with facts.  Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and donuts.

A year ago we had fun with an article on donut pans.  Complete with linked Homer sound bites.  Our USA Pans 6-Well Donut Pan continues to please!  But the best donuts do not come from our kitchen.  They come from a local farmer’s market.

It’s the smell that sets me off.  Math skills crumble.  Resistance is futile.  Calorie counting, after a healthy meal at Reading Terminal Market, is forgotten.  Sauntering post-lunch, how many times does one seem to end up “entirely by chance” in the Northwest Corner of Reading Terminal.  Home to Beiler’s Donuts and Salads (Ha! I see a line of 20 people for donuts, but if you want a salad, there’s no waiting!)

Deeply embedded instinctual desires for sweets overcomes even the most hardened fitness buff.  We are led . . . no, pulled, towards donuts . . . but if even the tiniest bit of rational sense can struggle to the surface, we approach with only a single dollar in our hands.

That’s it.  95¢ for a ticket to heaven.  Churches would be packed if they gave out vouchers like this.  Apple & blueberry fritters seem the most popular.  Between the two, one of them will be just-out-of-the-fryer.  I’ll purchase just one.  There’s always tomorrow.

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Bánh mì • Vietnamese Hoagie

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A NEW SHOP OPENED ACROSS the street.  Windows boarded up, a Grand Opening sign none-the-less said, “Come on in!”.  After several weeks of derelict appearance, with flashing sign still proclaiming “OPEN”, I finally relented to curiosity.

Half the shelves were empty.  The floor, cracked.  The prepared food selection?  Sold out today, sorry.  Nothing?  They can still make sandwiches.  Recognizing the Vietnamese Hoagie from Chinatown shops, I pointed to a #3.  Spicy, please.

800px-Bánh_mì_xíu_mại-meatball-sandwichEven thought this was a Sunday, the baguette had just-from-the-oven crusty flakes.  The green stuff, garden fresh.  Meat flavorful and satisfying.  Mine was pork, sliced.  Along with a heaping of fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled carrots, spicy chili sauce, and stuff I couldn’t identify.  No use asking the owner.  Her English?  Practically non-existent.  But her shop nails it perfectly with an authentic Vietnamese sandwich.

Be adventurous.  Small shops like these are now all over America.  Pictures of the sandwiches, accompanied with the name of the meat and a number, adorn their walls.  Four bucks or maybe $4.50 in the bigger cities, will get you an excellent Bánh mì • Vietnamese Hoagie.

Morton Salt

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morton-full-size CONTINUITY IS A GOOD thing.  Visiting the supermarket, finding the same brands one sees as a kid, ties past with present.  Your parents trusted it, you trust it, your kids will (maybe?) trust it.  I always reach for the Morton.  When it rains, it pours refers to the anti-caking formula Morton uses.   Modern climate-controlled homes may have made the motto obsolete.  But I always reach for the blue cardboard cylinder when it’s time to fill the shaker or add that all-important ½ teaspoon to the muffin recipe.

47384-roasted-unsalted-sunflower-seedsIn a pinch, when I require salt immediately for ice removal on the front stoop, there is the store brand.  Which I’ve used in muffins with no ill-effects.  But the blue cardboard container of Morton is always my first choice for chili and muffins.  Salt is essential to open up flavors in both savory and sweet dishes.  But have Americans been led astray?  Taught that excessive salt itself it a good flavor?  You can spot these brainwashed Spawn of Advertisements.  They salt without first tasting their food.  And are usually overweight.

It’s easier than you think to reduce salt.  Just cut back.  Add other flavors instead.  Buy unsalted nuts on your next trip to Trader Joe, pour some in a jar, and add a pinch of salt.  After a few tries, you’ll notice a better-tasting snack.  And you’ll be on the road to better health.
 

McCormick & Company

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img-logo-mccormick.ashxTHE UBIQUITOUS RED-LID containers.  Consistent of size, a design shared by no other company.  From humble beginnings selling extracts door to door in 1889, Willoughby M. dscf0938McCormick’s efforts became a global presence with 8,000 employees.  McCormick even acquired their own plastic bottles producer.

For as long as I can remember, McCormick seasonings have been around the dscf0955kitchen.  Sure, there are cheaper seasonings.  But there is always a difference.  A sacrifice in freshness.  A discernible lack of pop.

Never has the investment of a couple of dollars, the difference between the cheap stuff and the good stuff, been such a value.  If you want friends to crave your chili and savor your slaw, turn to the leader. McCormick.

S. Donald Stookey “Mr. CorningWare”

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S. Donald Stookey   1915 – 2014

06Stookey-Obit-master675There does not exist within this great Republic of ours the kitchen absent of CorningWare.  The most important invention to modern cooking, Stookey’s ballistic glass became the temperature-resistant material from which have been fashioned billions and billions of cooking, serving, and mixing  articles.

Moving into new digs?  A quick trip to the corner 5 & Dime will supply all the Pyrex your kitchen will need.  And it has never been expensive.  Just about as cheap as any glassware, but infinitely more durable!

MidCenturyModernEamesEraPYREXClearWaterPitcher_zps0f5845aeNestling bowls are my favorite.  Whether creating pasta salad or reheating a Super Size Serving of chicken soup, Corning makes the item that works for both preparing and serving food.  And drink!  Here’s another favorite, which we wrote about a few months ago.  A Pyrex® pitcher in the Eames tradition.  Who knew glass could be both functional and stylish?

Missouri Hick’s Bar-B-Q • Cuba Missouri

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TUBING IN THE MISSISSIPPI from April to October, involvement in multiple competitive sports like softball and golf, and generally running around the beautiful countryside stirs up a passionate hunger in the local populace.  And every Sunday the town heads to Hick’s for the all-you-can-eat ribs.  But they always leave some room for cobbler.

I missed this event by a day, but did sample the meats, smoked over wild cherry.  Being a purist, I eschew sauces on my meats, and go for the true taste of the smoked product.  Missouri Hick’s does not disappoint!

And the cobbler?  That may be the hidden story of this BBQ  joint.  Although the recipe was sealed behind loyal lips, I’d bet there’s a little lard rolled into the biscuit that you find in your bowl under a mound of fresh fruit, itself cooked with butter and sugar.  A meal itself!

Missouri Hick’s is a MUST DESTINATION!

SPAM (canned meat product)

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Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree, Damned from here to Eternity, God ha’ mercy on such as we, Baa! Yah! Bah! –  Rudyard Kipling

There Is A Conspicuous Lack Of Gelatinous Goo Encasing My Spam 

124Hormel-spam-12oz-500x500The can of Spam sat awaiting release into the world of gastronomic excellence.  Waiting . . . and waiting . . . awaiting the pan . . . Two years passed before the urge to buy and the urge to fry.  But when finally opened, it was, as expected, factory fresh.  Ready to eat cold or hot.  I like mine grilled, served between white bread.

What was different?  The goo that used to slide out of the can with the Spam was absent.  Maybe it is a money thing?  Hormel realized that goo costs money?  Spam will fry up perfectly fine without the extra fat?  Unknown, Houston.  Do not care enough to call the manufacturer?  Maybe Hormel will comment on this blog entry . . .   And our interest is ???

JamesJones_FromHereToEternity1Reading the novel From Here To Eternity, I became impressed by Sergeant Maylon Stark’s order that all men be given a hot meal upon request at any hour.  This meal would be fried Spam and toasted cheese on bread with hot coffee.  A meal I’ve recreated a few times; it certainly does “hit the spot”.

Tell you what.  Get the book.  Buy a can of Spam (low salt, maybe?).  Read.  Eat.  Experience what James Jones was feeling when, after WW II, he penned one of his most famous works. 

Más Taco • Red Lodge MT

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DRIVING OUT OF YELLOWSTONE over the Bear Tooth Pass Highway, one experiences a truly mortal encounter with their fate.  Motoring above cloud cover with little between the pavement and plunge?  Possibly the snow slows one down long enough to develop real appetite?  Either way, out of the Pass, the first few choices are typical tourist town smack.  Keep driving.  A little further.  To Red Lodge, my friend.

On the north edge of a very walkable business district, conveniently placed upon  a corner with plenty of parking, lies the answer to life’s riddle;  “How do I compete with the scenery of Bear Tooth Pass?”.  Begin with one Taco Carne Asada, designed and built by Mike Muirhead.  Then try a small burrito.  Or another taco, different flavor?  

The chips and salsa are a must.  This is not the salsa you gorge upon as a mini-meal; besides, you don’t get enough in their serving.  You do get a robust explosion of flavor upon their freshly-cooked chips.  A value at twice the price!

My first impression was that the food far exceeded my expectations.  The waitress explained the chef was from LA.  I spied it in his focused, steely eyes, from the start.  The passion for flavor.  Seriousness for the product delivered.  A professional making this one small taco joint his life.

Mike Muirhead Mas TacosWhat makes it so good?  I called a few days later, and Jake gave it to me straight.  Lots of work!  The crew starts their day 5 hours before the 11am opening.  EVERYTHING is made fresh, from scratch, daily. Trim the steak, marinate in “secret” ingredients, make the masa (corn meal dough) fresh every day, cook it to order, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!!!! And this is just for my taco!  I was tired just imagining the amount of work involved!  Maybe I’ll pay the $2.95 per taco, and stick to plumbing?

Make it part of your life.  Find the time to make a trip to one of America’s great eateries.  The Bear Tooth Pass Highway will make an excellent addition to a perfect day!

 Mike Muirhead’s culinary journey has taken him from  Florence, Italy, to Beverly Hills. His Red Lodge restaurant, Mas Tacos, offers al pastor — served five different ways — as its specialty.

USA Pans 6-Well Donut Pan

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Homer_Simpson_2006EVERY AUGUST, THE MOST difficult decision of the year comes up.  What to get Mom for her birthday.  After a while, it seems most people have everything they want;  when something is needed, they buy it.  So the chance to find something Mom wanted but had not purchased was an exciting event!

What did Mom want?  A donut pan.  Never heard of it, but this new invention, the internet, cleared that right up for me.  In the true spirit of everything Homer Simpson stands for, one can buy a specially constructed pan to allow baking of donuts at home!Donut2

The Asian manufacturers evidently have not caught on to the American craze of home-baked donuts; the most prevalent search hits pointed to a local company.  Over 50 years of experience with materials and commercial end users have made USA PAN the go-to manufacturer of quality bakeware.  They had the donut pan.  It is made in the USA of heavy gauge aluminized steel  The price was right. SOLD! 

logoMade in the USA by American Pans in Pittsburgh, PA, the Largest Worldwide Manufacturer of Commercial Bakeware.

 

Le Sirop de MONIN

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Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 7.57.39 AMTREKKING THROUGH THE WILDS of colonial Philadelphia on a sweltering summer morning, one comes to appreciate the offering of a cool Italian soda in a chic café.  Americans are inured to pleasures a quality soda-pop over ice in a clean glass may produce, but there was a time when the drinking of sugary carbonated beverages was not taken for granted.  Planning and location dictated when one could “grab a Coke”, as a soda bar at the Pharmacy was the de facto sole supplier of these addictive, rejuvenating beverages.

When I tumbled through the doors of Old City Coffee one particularly hot July morning, I thought first of an iced coffee.  An ultra-hip hipster, arranging bottles of flavored syrup behind the counter, had another idea.  “How about an Italian soda?”, he suggested, nodding to a leaving customer.  I’d never tried one, assuming factory-bottled sodas to be superior.  But the look of delight on an exiting customer’s face as she tasted her fruity concoction seemed endorsement enough.

“I’ll take one of those”, I asked, pointing to Miss Red Fizzy Drink.  The Hip Barristo poured a finger of raspberry syrup into a cup, added a bottle of Pellegrini, ice, and capped it. “Here you go.  Two-fifteen, please”.  And what did I get for two bucks?

A refreshing fruity soda made with quality seltzer water, pure cane sugar, and natural raspberry flavor.   Most stimulating, I assure you!  A little syrup research reveal’s a company history dating to 1912 in Bourges, France.  Within years, the Monin family is shipping around the world.  1996, Tampa Florida, sees construction of a plant to supply all of the Americas.  This French company producing a quality soda syrup in the USA earns an American Toolbox Five Thumbs Up recognition!

Diamond Strike Anywhere Matches

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WAY BACK WHEN THE WORLD WAS a simpler place, my plumbing practice concentrated on specialized services to restaurants.  Fortuitous events led a customer to give me a commercial Garland oven with 4-top range.  From this point on, I was hooked on commercial equipment for the superior construction and control one had over their work.

The Garland is gone, was traded to The Master Of Disaster for wages owed.  I did, however, acquire a countertop 2-burner APW WYOTT a few years later, sporting a healthy 30,000 BTUs per burner.  ***your typical residential cooktop might product 12,500 BTUs on a good day***

The quest for matches in a smoke-free household often impeded timely lighting of the range, usually when marinated chicken was past due in a cast iron skillet.  I finally tracked down the wooden matches DSCF0011ubiquitous throughout childhood, when gas ranges did not have standing pilots.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  Still Made In The USA Since 1881 they are!

Naturally, we’re talking about Diamond matches. I chose Strike Anywhere Extra Long to fire up the  APW Wyott GPH-2H.  This exclusively outdoor minimal-cleanup gas cook top can now safely be lit without sacrificing the hair on one’s fingers!  While current production Wyott countertop ranges, like the GHP-2i,  feature electronic ignition, Diamond matches will find a use in any household. They store for decades.

 APW Wyott GHP-2i dual open burner countertop range features heavy-duty cast iron grates that quickly conduct heat and distribute it evenly to your pans or pots.

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Mid-Century Revere Ware 10″ skillet

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Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.46.45 AMAHH, THE CRACKLE OF BACON.  Butter, hitting the right temperature to snap and foam!   Then in go the eggs!   The basics of an American Breakfast.

As a three-year old, sitting on the floor for hours in a kitchen identical to Julia Child’s The French Chef set, these were the sounds I heard.  And revisiting her shows years later, I began to appreciate the nuances of temperature, time, and cooking surface.

When my best teflon pan gave up the ghost, I researched All-Clad selections, convinced technology had trumped tradition.  Investigations cast doubt, however, upon my preconceptions!  The buying decision was even more tempered with caution and eventually placed on hiatus.

paul toungeAlong came a fortunate Dumpster® find, as a friend’s childhood abode was being cleared out for the next owner.  I had scored a nice stack of 1950’s-era Revere Ware, as detailed here in a previous blog entry.

The pile was stored in an apple crate.  A piece found use as a water bowl for our cat, some smaller pots went to neighbors, but the skillet?  The skillet I retained, beheld by the rich history of its patina and a promise of potential magic.  I saw value, but was unsure how to harness its powers.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.46.31 AMOnly after repeated frustrations with our remaining daily-use skillet did I retrieve the old 10″ Revere Ware skillet from the crate, wash it thoroughly, and give it a try.  Wow, first use with a grilled cheese, and the butter burned.  O.K., it heats up really fast, but it was even. All of the stove’s potential made it to the cook surface.  Then I tried eggs, and again burned the butter.  Third time’s the charm.  I’ve found a perfect pan.  Nothing sticks to the decade’s old stainless interior, and the copper bottom spreads heat as well as it did in 1955, when purchased.

This pan should be a basic tool of anyone learning to cook, as well as a must-have for the experienced chef. About $5 at a garage sale near you, or $25 through online auctions.

¡Ay, caramba! Cara Cara CARA !!!

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WE ARE officially in mid-season for one of my favorite Venezuelan imports! Discovered at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, this  cross between the Washington navel and the DSCF2780Brazilian Bahia navel is a phenomenal treat.

You don’t like oranges? You’ll love the cara cara, regardless. Slice one up! Go ahead, I dare you ! The carpels tear cleanly off the pericarp and melt in your mouth in a complex explosion evoking notes of cherry, rose petal, orange, and blackberry. Carpels, you ask? HCeLFThat’s the flesh of the fruit, also called the segments. The inner core is the pith, and even that didn’t go to waste in the orange I just consumed. This cara cara was $1.25 at Wegmans, and well worth it!

Rosa Blanca – Cuban Diner in heart of former Philadelphia Financial District

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ˈkuβa ˈliβɾe

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Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.43.18 PMIN THE mid-50s, men still wore suspenders. One man with vision, thinking belt sales would eventually far exceed those of suspenders, had just sold his suspenders company and was walking along Chestnut Street near 8th, thinking. He was in the heart of Philadelphia’s vibrant Financial District, and he had a pocket full of money.

He’s offered a business deal in a chance encounter with an acquaintance, the purchase of a cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi. Knowing nothing about cable TV, he nevertheless purchased the company. His name is Ralph Roberts and his company became Comcast.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.44.11 PMThe Financial District is long gone, along with it’s NewYork-style diners. Change comes to everything, however. Renaissance is striking even this area of Philly.  We are graced with a new eatery which makes an authentic Cubano Sandwich for nine bucks [comes with plantain chips]. Clean and shiny,  visiting Rosa Blanca @ 707 Chestnut will be a pleasant and memorable experience.

Something a little more hearty? Try the Masitas de Puerco, a bowl of fried pork shoulder and other very tasty stuff.  The side salad is strongly recommended. Fantastic blending of flavors!

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 1.44.28 PMDesert? How about a fruity shake? Morir Sonando Batido is an Orange-Vanilla smoothie well worth five bucks.

It will be very east to over-order in this place. On a date? Stick with one entry and one sandwich and share.  You may still need a take-away box.

Mid-Century Revere Ware

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Soup’s On!

B2HSbWHAT American kitchen has not been graced by the 3 quart Revere Ware pot with lid? Everyone I’ve spoken with remembers at least one of these iconic copper-bottomed pots, pans, or skillets on the stove top every dinner, usually the 3 quart pot. The perfect size for soup, mashed potatoes,  boiled or steamed vegetables & eggs, even popcorn!

o76MsIt is no wonder so many people bought Revere  cookware. In 1929, Revere Copper and Brass Corporation was the largest copper manufacturer in the US. Before teflon, Revere Ware would have been your first serious set of cookware. First pot you’d buy when starting out on your own. A gift or purchase that was meant to last from one generation to the next.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 12.39.04 PMAlthough the company has long since been sold, broken up, bankrupted, and humiliated upon the machines of corporate profits, good deals in sturdy, second-hand Revere Ware persist to this day. My most recent Revere acquisitions were rescued from a house clean-out. Saved from the Dumpster®, these will be stored among the basement joists until a friend or relative starts their first house-keeping.

Smoked Bluefish Paté

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Delish!

PHILIP R Craig, I’ve never met. Yet I feel a kindred, a bond, with one of Craig’s best buddies. Craig was an American writer who, among other accomplishments, produced 20 mystery novels set on Martha’s Vineyard. The star of the series was J.W. Jackson, retired cop-turned-fisherman, who lived a simple life but got caught up in some complicated situations. I’ve lived vicariously through Phil’s writings, for which I will be forever grateful.

J.W. loved to fish. What he didn’t sell or give to the needy, he ate or smoked to eat later. J.W.Unknown made, and consumed daily, his own smoked bluefish paté, on sandwiches and among cocktail nibbles up on the balcony.

J.W.’s recipe was reproduced on the flap of one of the books, and, I’m told, is listed within the collection of J.W. Jackson’s recipes in the book Delish, by Shirley Prada Craig.

Smoked Bluefish Paté 

5-6 ounces shredded smoked bluefish *
8 ounces whipped cream cheese **
½ tablespoon finely diced red onion (more, please)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dash of Worcestershire sauce if desired

* Trout works fine. Bet any good smoked fish would do.
** Package of cream cheese, softened, in the mixer with a little milk or sour cream.