Thursday, April 28, 2011


Tomorrow Chef and I are working an event together, for the first time in almost two years.  We work well together, as long as I don't ask questions like "Do you think you should stir that more?"  or  "Is that burner too hot?"  I have no idea why I question him like this, particularly because usually I have no clue how to cook whatever it is he is making.  This Friday, I will bite my tongue and let him do what he knows best.   All the area's best chefs and many great small farmers are joining forces for a Slow Down, a fundraiser for our local Slow Food Convivium at Intuition Ale Works.
According to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, the word intuition is defined as the power or faculty attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference. In other words, a gut feeling.  If you recall, a few months back I posted about a certain fabulous beer tasting, that showcased Intuition's incredible brews each paired with local fare.  What struck me most about that meal was the flavor profiles of the beer...I just couldn't wrap my head around them.

The lovely folks at Intuition asked Chef and I to come for a tour of the brewery a few weeks ago.  We of course jumped at the opportunity.  It takes a certain type of panache to pull off a great beer with unique flavor, and we wanted to know more about this craft, and the crafty people behind the beer.  Heck, we just wanted more of their delicious beer.    
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Cari Sanchez-Potter, business manager extraordinaire and food blogger, who set before us this gorgeous flight of every beer they have on tap.  The gal knows how to make an introduction. A veritable rainbow of brew.   Chef and I happily sat down at the bar and began to taste.  As we sipped, this gentleman, or should I say genius, Ben Davis, owner and brewer of Intuition Ale Works, saddled up to the bar and began to describe in fantastic detail each beer, how its particular brewing process influences its flavors.
He spoke as if he were discussing the intricacies of fine wine, which makes sense.  Ben used to be in the wine business in California, but returned to his roots in Jacksonville in order to raise his family and there he found a burgeoning craft-beer market desperate to be tapped.  

Ben told us about hops, and how like wine grapes they are vines that thrive in particular regions, mainly Washington State here in the USA.  Recently there was a bit of a hops shortage due to weather and farmers making the unfortunate choice of switching their crop to corn for ethanol.  But unlike wine, it is not the fruit of the vine that determines the taste of beer. As he delved into the flavors of each beer, we learned that 70% to 80% of the flavor from beer comes from the type of yeast used while brewing.  Yeast is something that mystifies me...

It is alive for one thing.  In fact, its use has been documented by humans for over 4,000 years.  The domestication of this tiny fungi is responsible for two of my most favorite indulgences, booze and bread.  It exists everywhere in nature, but you have to capture it in order to cultivate it.  It is sexual being that reproduces like wild fire.  As it grows, it is stressed which causes it to release flavor compounds.  I didn't ask how one stresses yeast out.  Maybe they yell at it...or slap it around a bit?  Who knows, but just look at that glass of yeast. 

As Ben guided us through the brewery we came upon this giant machine.  From what I understand once you have your hops and your yeast it is then boiled, filtered, and fermented by this crazy machine and its various holding tanks:
While the above looks like the lab of a mad scientist, the process of brewing beer is as organic and natural as the day is long.  And what better way to end a long day than with a tall glass of cold beer.  Or eleven.
We did our best to treat the flight like a proper tasting, leaving a little sip in each glass.  But I am not going to lie, it pained me to do so.  The team at Intuition Ale Works have something special going on in this little warehouse tucked away in the Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville.  It just so happens that Chef and I are going to be calling this neighborhood home soon, and I have a beer gut feeling that their taproom is going to become a favorite watering hole.  At least that is what my intuition tells me.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Passover is the story of how the Jews fled Egypt to escape the tyranny of the pharaoh in 1312 BC.  They had to leave so quickly after the tenth plague that they didn't have time to let their bread rise.  So they baked it unleavened, resulting in matzo. The first fast food...who knew?

Pesach, as the holiday is in known in Hebrew, has arrived and with it has come the bright boxes of giant crackers.  If you have never had matzo, it is almost like a huge saltine that takes forever to go stale.  I love crackers, in fact as a decendant of a Florida Pioneer family I have even been told that I am "of cracker stock." Crackers are a common snack for our family and matzo is one of our favorites.  Its only downside is that like a saltine it is very fragile, making it terribly crummy.

Chef is a member of the Tribe, as we attempted to read the Haggadah with our two year old, following the rituals that accompany the text.  The matzo is an essential aspect of the Seder meal, the three sheets of bread are usually wrapped in fabric and placed centrally in the table.  The middle piece, called the aifkomen is broken and then hidden for the children to go find it.  The child that finds it receives a reward. We hid our afikomen for Lil' Bit to hunt, but this little doe-eyed rascal sniffed it out first.

The Haggadah is a long text with many rituals, and while it goes into detail about most rituals, the hiding of the matzo is never specified.  It turns out that it is hidden solely for the purpose of waking kids out of their daze from having to sit at the table in prayer for so long.   I have to say it worked for Lil' Bit.

As we celebrated our Seder this year, our first at our home,  just our little tribe of four, I began to think about the story of Egypt. Three thousand years ago its people stood up against totalitarianism, and with its recent revolution the cycle of history continues.  Then it was the Jews, and this year it was Egyptian Christians and the Muslims together planting a slap on face of tyranny.

Matzo, like all feast foods, brings people together.  Biblical scholars see Moses, Muhammad, and Jesus as three of God's most powerful prophets on Earth.  I think if the three men were here today, they would agree that it would do all of humanity some good to break bread together.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Farmer Lee

Last week Chef came home giddy from work, which is rare.  "Farmer Lee is dining with us tonight!"  I began to rack my brain as to who was this Farmer Lee.  I know most of the farmers in our county and his name was not ringing any bells.  So, I asked. 

"Who is Farmer Lee?"

"You don't know who Farmer Lee Jones is?  Bow tie, overalls!  You know Farmer Lee!"

The iconic imagery definitely triggered some memory, but it wasn't until Chef blurted..."He is a legend, of Chef's Garden!  I am more excited to cook for him than I was to cook for Mick Jagger in '96!"

Chef's Garden, I know.  Anyone in the restaurant world who gives a rats ass about perfect ingredients knows the Chef's Garden, and you dear readers should be made of aware of what a treasure the little town of Huron, Ohio holds for our nation's culinary world.  The mantra of this extraordinary sustainable farm is "growing vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature." It is a mission statement that embodies the way all life should be raised.  Replace the word veg with "children" and think about it.

There are farms all over this country, that chefs can buy what makes the Jones family farm the top artisan produce grower in the country?  They use traditional farming methods to raise heirloom plant varieties while utilizing modern day efficiency and sanitation.   It is a combination that is the best of both worlds, balanced and productive...and the fact that it is location on Lake Erie is a veritable Mesopotamia with its rich loamy lake silt soil doesn't hurt either. 

Not only can a chef pick from over 600 varieties of heirloom vegetables and edible flowers, but he/she can also select the exact size they want the vegetable harvested.  Custom grown veg.  Amazing.  One thing I noticed as I purused their website is that the word organic isn't sprayed across every page.  In fact I didn't see it once. Words like traditional, heirloom, and sustainable fill its pages...which gives it a certain authenticity.

That night at the restaurant we set up a private table in our garden at 29 South for our friend Chef Thomas Tolxdorf and his special guest of honor, Farmer Lee Jones.  Chef paid them a visit while he was in between water taxi shifts that evening. We had house guests that week who were dining at The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, and he was their fishing boat chauffeur.

There was a strong northeastern wind blowing that night, which made for a gusty breeze on land, and a rough chop at sea.  Chef had a bit of trepidation about his journey and both the farmer and the chef wished him luck.  

There is a certain camaraderie between people who live on the coasts of large bodies of water.  Huron, Ohio is on Lake Erie, the thirteenth largest lake in the world.  The Jones family farm thrives because of this landlocked freshwater sea.  My chef's humble garden is flourishing due to our coastal Spring, and I am sure the Chef's Garden is waking up to the fresh season as well.   

Coastal farming is as old as agriculture itself, and the fact the the farmer of all farmers, Lee Jones, found his way to a table at our beach town bistro tells me that we are on to something.  As exquisitely said in the film Casablanca, "This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Residual Relaxation

How fast the bliss of a Caribbean vacation fades once you have returned to the grind.  I swear the residual relaxation lasted maybe a week.  Although, just revisiting some of these photos, like the one above of my weird toes, seemed to drop my blood pressure a notch.   This is a daydream post.  A daydream where breakfast and dinner are cooked by these handsome gentlemen, Chef Antonio Chin sosa of and his sous Benjamin. 

A dream where the sun rises at 5:30 am and you don't want to strangle your toddler for waking you before 6 because when you step outside of your house this is what greets you.  This and a beach hammock swaying in the morning breeze.

A dream where you throw diets and caution to the wind as you face a plate of this at dinner: Chile Rellenos. Then gobble it down without a second thought.

Followed by flan.

Vacation.  I live in a "vacation" hot spot.  This little island I call home is swarming with vacationists...I like that term as opposed to "tourists."  When I think of tourists I think of garish mass of sweaty people in clothes that are too small, hats that are too big, and cameras dangling from thick sun burned necks.   

Tulum is also a vacation destination.  The guide books said so, mainly for Europeans...which I saw a few about.  But there was a tourist faction not mentioned in the books, mid-westerners.  There were two little casitas on the property we stayed that were both rented to mid-westerners, and then on the beach I struck up a conversation with a woman and her staggering toddler on the beach, both of whom also from middle America.  I thought about why all these polite, genuine folks from the same region happened to be congregated in this tiny stretch of the Caribbean and I figured for these two reasons:  To escape a terrible winter, and to enjoy an affordable slice of paradise.

I am telling you people.  Mexico is where it is at.  Do yourself a favor and pay our neighbor a visit.  You will not be disappointed.