In late 2014 I was commuting from Portland to New York every week for work. A friend of mine was getting married on one of the weekends and I planned to fly from New York to San Antonio for the wedding and then home to Portland. About halfway through my work week I became very ill with intestinal issues to the point that I could not leave the hotel room. I eventually recovered slightly and made it to San Antonio for the wedding but still experienced the illness until I was home. I was happy to enjoy the wedding but was in a lot of pain during the weekend.
To this day I still do not know what caused me to get sick. I had a slight cold the week before all of this took place and took Mucinex to help with the congestion. Was it the Mucinex? Was it food poisoning? Who knows. But ever since then, I have noticed myself becoming more and more obsessed with food preparation, cleanliness, and a concern of becoming ill. I will admit that it is completely illogical. In fact, I even remind myself that it is when I am thinking about it, but there is still a part of me that obsesses over it.
Three or four years ago without hestitation, I would describe myself as an adventurous eater. Put something new, different, funky, whatever, in front of me and I would gladly try it. What has happened since the illness is that I have found myself questioning whether or not I should eat something. Go to a new restaurant and I am wondering about cleanliness and less about what to order. If I notice that something has not been cleaned, I immediately become hesitant to order and have to fight a mini-war in my brain that I have eaten in some crazy and less clean places around the world and that I will be fine.
It is hard to even write this post because it sounds crazy to think about food preparation and health so much. It sounds obsessive to believe that a little dirt would make someone sick. And I do not disagree with you. The one illness event did not all of the sudden cause me to feel this way, I think it simply started my mind racing down a path that it struggles to deviate away from. Getting sick while criss-crossing the country made me feel completely out of control. I was taking medicine but still at the mercy of my body and I hated that feeling.
Deep down I know this is all mental with very little rooting in reality. Deep down I know that eating at a food truck is not going to make me sick. Deep down I know that I am going stay healthy on the road. But my thought process immediately goes the opposite direction and it takes quite a bit of self-convincing to get back on track. I know there is a bit of anxiety involved and I am working to control that and not overthink the small things that I cannot control. It is an uphill battle. Here’s to fighting that fight and adventurous eating.
When I lived in Houston a buddy and I would grab tacos on Tuesdays together. We tried a few different places but Taconmadre and Karanchos were our favorites. The trompo tacos at Karanchos were something special.
Everyone has those food items that stick with them as they grow up. A soup or casserole your mom made that you miss as you go through college. Then there are the recipes and foods that have a deeper history. For me, that is my great-grandmother’s kolaches. She would spend a full day making these for the family and we loved them. Our favorites were those filled with poppy seed and others topped with a sweetened cream cheese. This recipe, and the technique that went along with it, was passed to my mother. She too would spend a full day making kolaches. The smell of yeast would wander through the house and that was the sign that something awesome was a few hours away. My mom would send my dad to work with bags filled with different flavors and he would return telling her how quickly they disappeared. These small pastries were a staple of my childhood. And sure, there are some store bought options out there that come close to being a temporary replacement but they all vary just a little bit.
My mother was kind enough to pass the family kolache recipe to my wife and I after we got married. My wife made the savory versions (klobasneks) once before and they turned out great, but recently we decided to try our hand at the sweet version that I grew up with. Of course, we made some savory ones as a snack and for the science of it. If you’re going to perfect something, you have to practice. We ended up with a product we were happy with but that we know can be improved and perfected so we took copious notes and will make another attempt soon. We are also going through different flavors that could be combined to make the kolaches our own and we have a number of ideas of things that are readily available in Portland so we will give those a shot as well. As we make the tweaks to get the dough as close to what my great-grandmother would make, we know that we will be able to pass that along to our own children and keep this tiny bit of my Czech heritage alive.
I posted a few photos of the end result and received a large number of requests for the recipe. Seeing as this recipe was passed down to my mother first I asked how she felt about the recipe being shared. Right now, she would prefer that the recipe stay in the family and I am going to respect that. However, she had no qualms with me posting a few similar recipes that I found online and sharing a few ideas on techniques.
The first recipe is for klobasneks, the savory, meat and cheese version of a kolache. While the history of it (and the kolach in general) is a little off in the link, the recipe is a great start for making klobasneks. One note I will make here is that the dough and the sausage are the stars here and special care should be paid to both. For sausage we try our best to find a German or Czech style link. We then boil it and when cooked, give it a sear on all sides before letting it cool. We then cut it into the proper size before forming the klobasneks. The dough part is just as important. With all of the recipes I am going to post, patience (and butter) are the key. The more patience you have for the rise of the dough and the less you work the dough when preparing it, the better the final product. When you think the dough is ready, wait a little longer. A little more time and you may get a little jump in the rise, resulting in an even better result.
Next up is a very detailed history and recipe for sweet kolaches. The technique in this one is a little too precise and methodical for me and what you will find is that as you start to make kolaches, being precise is overkill. I do like that they include some filling recipes as well and the general concept of the kolache is still intact. For a more free form version there is this recipe. It is not perfect but it gives a lot more leeway to do what you wish with the kolache recipe.
I think these three recipes are a great way to get started trying to make your own Czech pastries at home. I hope you enjoy these sweet treats that remind me of my chilhood!
After queuing for a while, we drove through the single highway lane Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel and emerged in Whittier, Alaska. It was lunch time and hunger was starting to overtake us so made a pit stop at Swiftwater Seafood Cafe. It is a tiny place but the fish and chips was delicious and they had cold Alaskan Brewing Company beers ready and waiting. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed our lunch on the patio, watching a couple of cruise ships leave the small port before petting a reindeer and waiting in the queue for the next crossing through the tunnel.
I stumbled on Joe Tea one evening in New York City while shopping for dinner. I am an iced tea fan and Joe has a lemon flavor so I bought a bottle and took it back to the hotel to enjoy with my meal. The lemon flavor was subtle but noticeable and it lacked that lemonade sweetness that a lot of other bottled teas have when they claim lemon flavoring.
My usual bottled iced tea of choice is Sweet Leaf but after trying Joe, I am a convert. Now if they’d only ship to Texas so I could get it while at home!
The past two weeks have been Houston Restaurant Week and Jessica and I have gone out with friends to a couple of different places. Last night was the most interesting of all, we visited Feast, a nose-to-tail restaurant done in a classic European style. For those uninitiated in the nose-to-tail movement, it is a practice of using as much of the animal as possible for dishes, rather than using the most desirable cuts and throwing the rest out.
We were uninitiated last night but went in with an open mind and a hungry stomach. We were not disappointed.
My first course was black pudding, also known as blood pudding, with a fried egg, peas, and mint. The texture I was expecting was pudding like, but instead I was met with very tender meat. Mixed with the peas and fried egg, the flavors definitely jumped up a notch. Jessica had a chickpea and feta soup, which had somewhat of a funny flavor and was a little heavy on the tongue. It was not bad, just something that we were unaccustomed to eating.
For the main course I ordered the crispy braised pork belly while Jess had the fish and scallop pie with brussels sprouts. I have ventured into the world of pork belly before and had an expectation of an all around tender meat, but I should have paid more attention to the “crispy” in the name. The fatty part of the belly had been fried to a crisp while the interior of the meat was tender, juicy, and downright delicious. The sides were mashed potatoes and cabbage and both were the perfect compliment to the pork. The potatoes had been topped with a crispy potato cake reminiscent in flavor of tater tots. Jessica really enjoyed her pie and loved the brussels sprouts, a food she has never really tried until now.
Finally came dessert, with Jessica ordering spotted dick, a type of pudding and custard and me having the sticky toffee pudding. Jessica’s dish was amazing, the texture was light and airy and the custard gave it just enough sweetness. My sticky toffee pudding was very heavy but delicious.
For our first time trying nose-to-tail it was not a bad experience. I am still a little leery of some of the dishes but I’m sure with time I will give in and try them. If you have a chance to try Feast, be sure and give it a shot. Even if it is not your favorite place, it’s a different take on food.
With the economy heading nose first for the pavement there has been an increase in stories about people feeding their families on the cheap. One story last week discussed a family of five living on $100 worth of groceries a month. The family bought a lot of canned goods, frozen vegetables, and stocked up on meats when they were cheap. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this, but when health and sustenance are taken into account, the family’s plan does not sound so great.
A Google search for multiple terms did not bring up the exact story but something that did pop up was an eHow article titled “How to Spend $100 on Groceries and Eat Well For a Month“. It is basically a shopping list for an entire month and though it contains dried fruit, a majority of the items are heavily processed and/or salt heavy. By no means am I a doctor but the list looks like a terrible diet, there is barely any fiber, there is a ton of starch, and most of the starches are bleached white flower.
The family on television had a similar list and apparently shopping for so little money is becoming a trend. This leads me to my question, is sacrificing diet for cheap food a good idea? Are there not better things to knock-off of one’s budget to allow for more spending on food, a vital piece of life? I am not suggesting that everyone should be shopping at Whole Foods or upscale stores, I just think that what we feed our bodies should be more healthy than a loaf of white bread everyday.
The way that Jessica and I budget is that we figure around $80-$100 per week for food. We usually sit down one night and go through cookbooks and make a menu for the next week, the whole process takes 30-minutes. Jess writes down all of the ingredients and then compares that to what we have in the pantry and the fridge and marks things off that we already have. We then go to the grocery store together and buy as much as we can for as little as we can. Lately we have been looking at shopping at an extra store to get things that we know will be cheaper at one place, especially with meat products.
One glaring observation I have made from shopping with Jessica is that vegetables are cheap, as long as they are in season. The amount of green leafy vegetables that can be had at a low price is amazing and it does not end with them, there are tons of options ranging from avocados to leeks. Fruit is a little trickier but grapes and apples are usually available year-round and at a decent price.
The trick with all of this is to actually eat the food that is bought. Dinner is made every night and the leftovers are taken to work the next day by both of us. Some dinners last two or more lunches (soups and sandwiches). Doing the math, I figured that our daily cost for eating a meal is around $2 each. Now I am sure the families that eat on $100/month are down in the pennies per meal, but does that really matter when the meals are not necessarily healthy?
What do you think? How much do you spend a month on groceries?
We live down the street from a very large farmers’ market and there is a fruit stand nearby that sells mangoes. Outside of this mango stand is a large, white sign that gives the current price for half-a-dozen mangoes. Last month the price was $4 for six mangoes, over the past few weeks the price has risen to $5, and as of yesterday, the price is now $6 for six mangoes. Jessica and I have this a mass media name of, “Mango Inflation 2008”, but we could have gone with something more along the lines of “The Great Mango Inflation of 2008”, which is a little more classic and a throwback to the 1960’s and 70’s.