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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Support Your Local "Mom & Pop" Shops

A few weeks ago, I found out that the small gluten free store I’ve been going to is going out of business.  This makes me sad, as the owners are truly wonderful people.

When I look back to 4 ½ years ago, I really had no one to speak to about how to be gluten free.  Of course I checked out the internet, but as someone said to me very recently, looking up gluten free information on the internet can be exhausting.  While the internet does contain a ton of good information, sometimes you just want to speak one on one with someone.

I distinctly remember the first time I went to this family run shop.  I was talking to the person behind the counter, and I was complaining about how I just couldn’t find a bread I liked.  He went over to the freezer, pulled out three samples, put them in the microwave they have and gave me samples to try.  I was hooked.

This is the store I went to for gluten free pastas, xanthan gum, various gluten free flours, gluten free cereal, etc, etc.  This is the store I would go to when I had any question – no matter how dumb – about being gluten free. 

This was the ultimate specialty store.  And up until two years ago, they did quite well.  But then being gluten free became…something of a fad.  We’ve all discussed that on Twitter and in other blogs, so there is no need for me to go into it any more than it already has been.  On top of that, more and more people are finding they have issues with gluten.

Because of this, supermarkets have begun to bring in more and more gluten free food – some in fact have their own section.  As Carol, co-owner of the store put it, “I can’t compete anymore.  I buy product by the case load, they buy product by the pallet load.  My customers used to come in and buy a lot of different products.  Now they come for one specific thing.”

Now granted, gluten free food is expensive, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it cheaper and more convenient to find Udi’s bread in my local supermarket.  But is that all we care about as a society?  Do we really want the entire world to eventually be owned by Walmart? 

Do you remember when you used to go to your local video store?  You would go and see what new videos they had in stock.  You’d talk to the owner about what movies they’d seen.  They’d give you recommendations, based on past movies you’d rented from them.  Now?  Order on line from Netflix.  Convenient for sure.  Also, pretty impersonal.

I don’t want to see small, privately owned shops of any kind fall by the wayside.  I would like to see them thrive.  So I ask you to please make a stop into your local gluten free store (or gift shop, or book store, or hardware store) and give them some business.  Sure it may cost you a little more, but it will be well worth your time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Restaurant Review of Eastern Standard

I just downloaded a book by Gail Simmons called, “Speaking With My Mouth Full.  Simmons is a regular judge on Top Chef.  I originally downloaded the sample onto my Kindle.  Part of the sample had to do with the season when the final two chefs were Hung and Dale.  The judges debated for something close to six hours on who the winner would be based on the final meal they were served.  The meal Dale cooked apparently had higher highs than Hung’s, but also had lower lows.  Hung was consistently very good.  So the question came down to this:  Would you rather eat a meal that was exciting and had big hits, but also had big misses, or would you rather eat a meal that was consistently good?  For my money, I would rather eat the consistently good meal.

Unfortunately, it was the other type of meal Cathy and I had at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square.

Cathy and I arrived about ½ hour early for our reservation.  Part of the reason was we wanted to try a drink at their bar.  They have an extensive bar menu.  Cathy got a Cosmo; I went with a Haverna, which had pineapple averna and Pimm’s.  Both drinks were delicious and strong.  The bartenders were very knowledgeable and answered various questions we had.

After our drinks, we went and got our table.  Our waitress came over and knew that I was gluten free.  She seemed pretty knowledgeable about what I could have and not have.

We were given a different menu than what they had on line, which meant that they try to use fresh, local ingredients.  Good start.  We both decided to have a three-course meal.

I started my meal with some Oysters.  These were all local, off of the coast of Massachusetts.  For those who have never tried an oyster, it is hard to describe what an oyster should taste like, other than they should taste a little like the ocean.  Kind of salty, the texture should be firm…not slimy but a little slippery.  They can be an acquired taste, that’s for sure, and it took me a while, but I now love them.  These oysters were among the best I have had on the east coast.

The second course was Moules Provencal.  For those of you who are less pretentious, I had mussels in a tomato, fennel and white wine sauce.  I received a generous helping of mussels and the sauce was perfectly seasoned, though I wished there was a little more of it.

So far, so very good.

Unfortunately, entrée’s came next.

I got the Herb Roasted Chicken, served with new potatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, and a truffle jus.  Let me tell you:  Asparagus should not be the star of this meal.

I got a chicken breast, a leg and a thigh, with the skin on.  The breast seemed to be cooked right.  The skin looked like it was just crispy enough.  Unfortunately, the skin was soggy, and there was no flavor to the meat at all.  It had not been seasoned properly.  When you season chicken with the skin on, it should be seasoned both on and under the skin.  This had neither.  Still, I ate my way through it, since the sauce added enough flavor to make it ok.  However, then came the leg and thigh.

If you are a fan of Anne Burrell – or any chef on any cooking show for that matter – one of the things that they always try to make you understand is that brown food tastes good.  Look at the picture.


The skin is not browned at all.  Again, absolutely no flavor to the chicken.  It was like they ran out of salt and pepper in the kitchen.  Cathy had the same issues with her meal.  After having an appetizer of ceviche that was delicious, and a very tasty salad, her pasta dish was bland.  Needless to say, it was a very disappointing way to end our meal.

The service was very good.  The bill wasn’t all that bad.  $137 before tip for two cocktails, a glass of wine, and that essentially was four appetizers and two entrée’s.  Still, if I am going to pay $70 a head before tip, I expect to have my entrée seasoned properly.

I would go back and give Eastern Standard another try sometime.  I have to believe that, based on how good the appetizers were, the chef may have had an off night.  As Alton Brown says, “Sometimes good chefs have bad days.”  Still, I hope when we go next time, we find out that the meal we just had was the exception, rather than the standard for Eastern Standard.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Off Topic Post - For the Love of Suzie

A few weeks ago, a blogger that I follow wrote about her cat passing onto Rainbow Bridge.  After I read her blog, we exchanged a few words, I told her about my beloved Golden Retriever, Brady, passing away a long time ago. (Just for the record…even though I live in New England, he was not named after Tom Brady…Tom Brady was not even out of high school when we named him…)  Afterwards, life got in the way, and I forgot about her post.

Until last Saturday. 

I was sitting on my deck last Saturday reading from my Kindle.  It was quite windy that day, and Cathy didn’t want to sit outside.  So it was me, my Kindle, and Suzie.

Suzie is my 10 year old Golden Retriever.  I watched her for a few minutes.  Her back was to me as she was watching the boats go by and the planes taking off from Logan.  The wind was making her ears flop.  Then she turned to me and I scratched her underneath her chin.  When I stopped, she put her paw on me as if to say, “Ummm…can you scratch me under my chin some more?”

I remembered my friend's blog.  Then, a flood of memories came back to me.  

I remembered when we got Suzie. She was 10 months old when we got a call from Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue.  We had applied for an older male dog to adopt, but also told them that we wanted to help a golden with medical needs.   A few months later, they told us about a petite golden girl who had surgery on her knees six weeks earlier.  If we accepted her, we would be her third family, though only her first since she ended up at Yankee Golden.  Neither Cathy nor I knew what to expect… needless to say, we expected a dog to come out slowly…barely able to walk.  Instead, out came a whirlwind who jumped over the couch we were sitting on.  We took her for a walk…No, what I meant was, she took us for a walk.  We decided to take her home with us.

I remembered that she was so skinny when we got her, she could fit through the railings on our stairs.

I remembered the first time I got the ok from the vet to let her off the leash in our backyard.  It was the first time in Suzie’s life that she ran.  Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to stop and ran into the fence.  She figured it out though.

I remembered the time she got out of the house and ran down the street.  Despite hours of training, she wouldn’t come to me when I called her.  Then she heard me yell, “Let’s go for a ride!”  She nearly knocked me over running back.

I remembered the time she got kicked out of a doggie day care, because she was too much for them to handle.  I also remembered another doggie day care that told us that the kindergarten kids loved Suzie because she would play fetch with them until their arms practically fell off!

I remembered the first time I saw her go in the water.   How she plopped in on her side, stood up, and plopped in on her other side.

I remembered when we moved to a condo and how freaked out she was when she got in the elevator for the first time, until she realized this was a “magic box” that took her from our floor to downstairs and back.

And I look at her now.  Her muzzle is grey.  Whereas I had to train her to walk with me instead of ahead of me, now she has been training me to walk slower so I can walk with her.  When Cathy’s alarm goes off in the morning, she doesn’t always have the strength to jump up on the bed and cuddle with me for a few minutes.

I have never been scared of death.  I’m not sure why.   But as I have gotten older, I have gotten more spiritual.  Not religious, but spiritual.  They are two different things.  And I have come to believe that when a living thing dies, the only thing that really dies is the physical being.  The soul continues on among us, it becomes part of us.  I fear that Suzie will not be with us much longer.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying she will be gone tomorrow or next week or even next year.  But sooner, rather than later.  And while I will be sad when she departs for Rainbow Bridge, I know that Suzie will always be a part of me, a part of Cathy…even a part of our cat who is not particularly fond of her.

But for now, I will enjoy watching Suzie’s ears flop in the wind, while she puts her paw on me as if to say, “Ummm….when you’re done scratching my chin, can I have a piece of cheese?”