Rings for Foodies

Today's Incredible Things email literally made my jaw drop and eyes goggle out in wonderment! (By the way, if you don't get this daily email, SIGN UP NOW.)

Photo from Incredible Things
Kawaii Handmade Food Rings are quite possibly the most perfect gift I can think of. Around $10 and with a variety of designs from pancakes to miso with a heavy emphasis on Japanese cuisine, it's a good thing I saw this late in the day at work because I'm sure I could not have resisted the urge to oogle all of the AMAZING and TOTALLY AWESOME and RIDICULOUSLY COOL designs, all of which I must own soon! Here are a few of my absolute faves:

Coffee & a Donut Ring

Coffee & a Croissant Ring

Beer & Takoyaki (Octopus dumplings!) Ring

Floating Ring- Pasta (I love the floating fork!!)

Green Tea & Sweet Potato Ring

Sushi with Chopsticks Pendant

Miso Soup with Crab Legs Ring!!!!!!!

MIHO Gastrotuck @ Ballast Point Home Brew Mart

I could make excuses as to my abysmal lack of updates, but I won't. I could tell you about the insanity of going live with a new system at work, plus planning a wedding on the opposite coast, along with inexcusable preoccupation, but it won't do any good. I'll just avoid the whole thing.

The perfect thing to take my mind off of my lack of foodshare was of course to eat and drink. Citybeat always alerts me to the choicest tidbits of activities around San Diego, and my eye was caught by the ad containing both the phrases "MIHO gastrotruck" and "Ballast Point & the Home Brew Mart". As regulars to the Home Brew Mart off Morena for Ashton's alcoholic adventures and as wannabe food truck groupies, we, along with about a hundred other people with the same idea, flocked to the quickly-overrun space to sample specially brewed editions of some of Ballast Point's finest paired with the culinary stylings of the celebrated gastrotruck.

The food menu was small (3 entree options, a salad, and fries were the only advertised items), but with hellish concoctions like Serrano Yellowtail Pale Ale and Dried Habanero Piper Down Scottish Ale to wash down the trashy-chic fusion, we were game. My selection was the Short Rib Sandwich, braised with the Chipotle-Cocoa New Black Marlin Porter, all natural Brandt beef short rib, local arugula, organic firehouse cheddar, and balsamic red onion. The meat was wonderfully tender and lent itself more to a savory, buttery mouthfeel than anything you'd expect from the back of a vehicle. I washed it down with the Chipotle Cocoa and Coriander Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale, which I found to be much too aggressive for anything beyond shock value and a mouthful to boot. Unless you like the smell and lingering taste of an overaddition of liquid smoke and an unrecognizable allusion to "hot cocoa beer", stay away. Second up was the Chipotle-Cocoa New Black Marlin Porter, which despite a danger of repetition actually revealed itself to move past the kitschy small batch collaboration of heat for heat rather than flavors' sake. Still very much a sipping beer, I found this of all the beers created for the evening to be the most creative and well balanced.

Ashton enjoyed the Burger of the night, made with grass fed beef, all natural cheddar, grilled balsamic, red onion (far superior to the limply half-cooked onion on the short rib sandwich), hand made French dressing, and local brioche. I felt that the brioche stood out as the simplest yet masterful ingredient of the entire plate (paper as it was), but all in all the burger could stand proudly next to any stationary restaurant's with pride. We split the side of Belgian-style fries with chipotle ketchup, which at the low price of $3.25 established itself as a crowd favorite. These certainly weren't bargains with the sandwich weighing in at $8.25 and the burger at $7.75, but the quality, experience, and fresh air appropriately complimented the cost.

The beers ultimately enjoyed with the burger were the Dried Habanero Piper Down Scottish Ale, which I found to be unexpectedly smooth for such an intensely flavored pepper. Ditto for his next beer, the Serrano Yelllowtail Pale Ale, in which the heat completely dominated the hop for a complete blindside upset. The beers would have paired better with a much higher Asian cuisine influence, but the Americana feel reminiscent of a Fourth of July cookout (despite being January) washed over the crowd and spun the night air into a raucous feeling of friendly camaraderie and most certainly a desire to judiciously follow the Gastrotruck's weekly revolving exploits and menu. I most certainly plan to stop more often at its normal service stop near the Whistle Stop on Friday evenings. Recommended for those who care about what they eat, and don't mind paying a bit more to eat curbside!

Taco Sundays

There's something about tacos...
Being raised in a bicoastal family has its perks; 4/5 of my immediate family are California natives, and with the entire extended family smattered across the West Coast annual pilgrimages from Virginia to California were frequent and with them always brought exciting new twists of culinary delight and exploration. Even as a young child I could differentiate between my mother's tacos (strictly Tex-Mex, virtually unrecognizable by any Baja vendor) and the street tacos sizzling on Tijuana corners, piled high with cilantro and onions as their only garnishes. Despite my appreciation for authenticity even now as I live less than 20 miles from the international American/Mexican border, when I trek back to Virginia as a visitor with grand spewings of carne asada and horchata (unknown to all suburbanites east of the Mississippi), part of my gluttonous nostalgia craves the 'authentic' tacos of my childhood. Despite dripping with Costco-bought ingredients, these crisp hot nuggets of my upbringing resonate in me more than any tacos I've ever enjoyed south of the border. I'm convinced that my extremely devout and Republican mother must have made a pact with the devil in return for his provision of a magical 'mom spice' that instantly guarantees any meal prepared by her hand trumps any potential competition.

Taco Sundays
When I picture my mother, the vision always remains the same: wild curls of thin-but-shiny hair spritzed into an immoveable helmet crowning an untanned spectacled face, darting gray eyes with nonexistent lashes and daily drawn-on brows with a slight pumpkin-colored tinge, arms constantly moving in a symphony of conversational expression, meal preparation, or simply tidying the ongoing litter trail left by her husband and children, a voluminous body measuring in at 5'5” radiating maternal love and a disciplinarian attitude when necessary, all covered in her omnipresent threadbare red apron depicting a pattern of Christmas Nutcrackers. The apron is ever-present in my mental recall, with its dilapidated hems and grease-spotted front pockets; it has dominated my mother's bosom and torso for as long as I can reach into my memory. If it had the ability to speak, it would easily claim the title of my mother's biographer with unlimited row-front seats to our family's history in and out of the house of conversations, interactions, and most importantly, meals.

To the modern day on-the-go family, the tradition of eating a meal as a family has almost completely disintegrated, remembrances only depicted on sitcoms and antiquated books. However, growing up in the Demmon household the family meal was never a question, only a certainty that at the end of the day we would regroup, shake the day's dust from our heels, and enjoy the fruits of my mother's labor. Weekends only prolonged the time available for an extended meal open to family and friends alike, and after church on Sundays it was understood that meal time was as holy as the prayers uttered earlier in the day. My mother's culinary magnetism slowly seeped throughout the neighborhood, and once we hit the teen years, she found herself as the second home to many a starved boy requiring the same caloric intake of bull elephants to feed their frenzied growth into manhood. As a California native transplanted in a suburb of Washington, D.C., my mother's table often included Mexican-inspired staples such as salsas, tacos, enchiladas, and other sizzling dishes not often found in the white affluent white neighborhoods of upper middle class Virginia. Her culinary wizardry became available every weekend in what became known as Taco Sundays.

With 3 biological children born within 3 years of one another, my mother's network of additional mouths to feed exploded once my older sister hit her pubescent years, and with a fresh crop of ravenous fans greedily salivating at her table every weekend my mother concentrated her efforts on what we all loved the best- her tacos and salsa. My mother would take a stack of corn tortillas and fry them in oil in a way that no one west of Texas had ever experienced, providing a crisp, hot shell ready to be filled and devoured; each Sunday she would load her sagging table to the breaking point with searing ground beef seasoned with traditional Mexican spices, fresh sour cream, shredded lettuce, mixed cheeses, and always a huge vat of her famous salsa, each time the heat level a surprise depending on the concentration of the peppers used that week. Authentically Mexican it was not, but the concept of family time centered around a meal was as unfortunately alien to many young attendees as was her introduction of pico de gallo to unsuspecting upper crust progeny.

It remains understood within our family that when my mother serves her tacos, it is the only acceptable time when decorum takes a backseat and we are not required to wait to bless the food before stuffing our faces with the glorious shells- God understands that a cold taco makes a sad meal, and as children we silently thanked him and my mother with full mouths and grateful hearts. However, with a rapt audience ready to kowtow to my mother's any whim, she could never pass up the opportunity to act as a mother and spiritual guide to any available ear once she had attained their everlasting loyalty through their stomachs. Many who passed through her home were starving not only for spiced delicacies previously unknown, but for the radiating servitude and motherhood she selflessly served to any willing to seat themselves at her table. Based on the numbers of youngsters lining up each Sunday, it proved to be a successful line straight into the heart of the community, and once welcomed to the Demmon table, few ever left. Despite moving out from my parent's roof over 6 years ago, I still get the occasional call from an old friend regaling me with a recent story of stopping by my parent's house and being held hostage by my mother until they had been properly fed.

Especially during my turbulent teen years, Taco Sundays proved to be the single point during each week where the typical teen angst and parental embarrassment reached a cease-fire, where parents, children, and friends alike could gather in harmonious union over a table overflowing with beans, rice, tacos, and salsa. Food marches on as the universal unifier of all who share a meal; this singular act of eating together has allied countries and preserved families for generations. Lack of culinary connection weakens communication and unglues the very foundations of households every day, and luckily that line was never tread in my home. Stragglers from broken homes and the offspring of working parents could hardly help being bewitched by the welcoming bounty provided unselfishly by my mother every week. I don't think that any smug satisfaction ever burned within my mother due to the social good she provided, only pleasure in fulfilling her God-given appointment to minister to the community through tacos. I, for one, can't think of a better way to show love and motherhood to those in need of both.

My 1st cheese!

I've taken up cheesemaking! With my ample free time available to silly hobbies, I've started dedicating myself to the art of cheese. I figured Ashton is making beer, Andy was making bread, what's the next best thing? Cheese! For someone as decidedly un-sciencey as myself, cheese is actually a pretty big challenge (what's a mesophilic culture??), but TOTALLY satisfying and REALLY fun. So far I've only got 1 cheese under my belt, but I've assembled a few more supplies and am ready for round 2!

The first cheese I made is probably one of the most basic ones around- a simple lemon basil cheese, made from a half gallon of pasteurized whole milk from a cow + 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, salt to taste, and some freshly picked basil from our pet plant. I slowly brought the milk up to 165 degrees F while stirring to avoid scalding, and once it was removed from the heat I added the lemon juice and let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. After that, I poured it into a cheesecloth lined colander and tied into into a ball and placed it in a large pot to catch the drippings while it sat in the fridge for an hour. Once I took it out, it had clumped into a ricotta-esque spread to which I added the salt and basil and voila! It's one of the few recipes that doesn't call for calcium chloride, rennet, or cultures, so for my first time it was absolutely perfect. In the end I could have used a bit more salt and maybe a tad more lemon juice for some zazz, but overall it was wonderfully spreadable and lent itself beautifully to a breakfast schmear.

Next I'll making paneer (the basic Indian cheese) and I've just gotten my cultures in the mail and some goat's milk chilling in the fridge, so stay tuned!