Sunday, December 28, 2008

Raven's Brew Coffee

A recent semi-local treat I just had was Raven's Brew coffee. Although, somewhat obviously, the coffee is not grown here, it is locally roasted and therefore counts as local - more or less.

Anyway, we recently tried their Dead Man's Reach blend, and it is the best I have ever had, hands down. I drink my coffee black, so I really get the full flavor of it - sometimes that's a bad thing. In this case, it's a very good thing! Dead Man's Reach is very rich and full-bodied, but lacking in that acid-y edge that so often makes coffee less than a pleasure to drink. I will admit, I initially bought the coffee because of the humorous label design, figuring that it couldn't be any worse than what I normally drink. In this case, the coffee is actually better than its packaging suggests.

Many of the popular brands, such as Starbucks, are really acidy and terrible when you drink them black. They really seem to be designed to be smothered with gallons of sugary dreck. Not Raven's Brew - it tastes as delicious as it smells, and that's saying something. We are looking forward to trying their other blends, and will report back when we do! Don't know if this stuff is available via retail in the lower 48. If you like good coffee, it's worth a look. Of course, you could just visit them here and order some. You'll be glad you did!

Eating Alaska - the movie! is where you would go for information on Eating Alaska, a documentary. It sounds very interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing it! For more details here, see the lovely comment attached to the previous posting on Localvore eating. I should point out that this blog is not affiliated with the movie in any way, but it certainly looks like a great movie!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Localvore - the northern edition

So, the localvore movement (and yes, I know it is generally spelled locavore, but as the movement does not address eating locas that makes no sense.) As the localvore movement makes greater and greater headway, I thought it would be interesting to see how this notion would hold up here in Alaska. It is an issue of some immediate import, as well as the general "important to the next generation" kind of important. Anchorage is pretty much right on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and has had a very nasty quake in recent memory (I think '64). So what? Well, official estimates say that there is a 3 day supply of food in the state, and almost all that comes in comes through Anchorage's port. Which would certainly be destroyed in any major earthquake. So in addition to being green and so forth, it makes a certain amount of sense to have as many local food sources developed as is reasonable. Also, shipping costs are astronomical!
First, assessing resources. There seems to be a long, strange, and troubled backstory behind the dairy farms of this area. Apparently there are cows, and they are being raised on purpose by farmers who would like to harness the power of milk for commercial production. However - and I don't pretend to know why this is - no one can keep a dairy functioning in this darn state. I got all excited because a Mat-Su area dairy had started production on milk and ice cream and was attempting to work out cheese as well. This is well worth supporting, but is shaky from the consumer perspective. Their milk costs a good deal more than the stuff that gets hauled up from Seattle. I know - support your local. But paying more for something that doesn't have the shipping costs on it? I'm sure there's an explanation somewhere, but I'm going to have to see the data on this one. Also, apparently you have to drive to the dairy (about an hour from here) itself to get the ice cream, and I just don't care that much.
Vegetables are pretty abundant, depending on what you are looking for. If you are after carrots and potatoes, you are in luck. Anything else...well, if you consider Hawaii local, then you're in even more luck. And there are people here who consider basically the whole Pacific "local". Also, the two Anchorage/Mat-Su potato suppliers have happily chosen some of the funniest labels for their packaging that I have seen in a while, so that is an added bonus. If you like reindeer and caribou and so on, you will never lack for local meat. Also, if you like salmon and/or seafood, you are also in pretty good shape.
Of course, if you have any skill as a forager and know what to look for, you can also do pretty well. Alaska native cookbooks have all kinds of great tips for food you can find in the wild. Also, there is the famous whale blubber ;) However, I have a spotty track record with that sort of thing, so I plan to just stick to your commercial groceries.
Second, assessing allies in this quest to eat locally. Just judging by my cursory web search, there seems to be a small plucky band of Alaskans committed to localvore ideals that posts very occasionally on a website. There is the Alaska Grown organization. And that's about it. The hippies where I work buy veggies from a CSA...that is based in Seattle. That's the local. It gets flown in every week. I take this lack of a huge and active localvore movement to mean that no one else thinks its going to work that well, either.
But I'm not giving up on this notion! I will do some more investigating and get back to you. So there's something to look forward to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Living Cookbook

It Lives!

Night of the Living Cookbook!

Despite the fact that it sounds like a 50's B movie, Living Cookbook is actually a recipe managment program. And an awesome one it is!

My previous recipe management system went like this: I have subscriptions to about 6 food magazines and I check out epicurious and CHOW on a daily basis. When ever I see a recipe that interests me and/or Mr EA, I cut or print it out. It then got stored in The Notebook. The Notebook is a 3 ring binder divided into sections (Vegetarian main dish, baked goods, sauces - that sort of thing). These untried recipes go into folder/pockets in the sections, and once they have been tried they get taped fast to pieces of paper and put into the bodies of the sections. You can see how this would be really efficient up to a certain point and then become completely unworkable. Well, it did. The pockets are overflowing, many of the recipes in the "try this" folders were duplicates or very nearly so, and the thing weighs like 50 pounds. It was about the time the system went into failure that I decided to surf around and look for a different solution.
After weighing a couple of different options, I decided to go with the Living Cookbook . It's reasonably priced while having an absolute boatload of features. In addition to being able to manage the recipes in a handy digital format, it also has menu planning, shopping list creation, nutrition analysis, and cookbook publishing features that will be extremely useful to me. It also has a bunch of features I probably will not use - inventory management being one of them, but mostly it is very useful. So far I have had it two weeks, and I love it very much.
The best thing I have found about it so far is that you can copy and paste recipes from net sources, which is saving me a huge pile of time. Since most of the recipes in The Folder - which I am busily converting - are from magazines, and those magazines have websites, and those websites have databases of their recipes... Well, you see where I am going with this. It is saving me a LOT of tedious typing.
While I know that it is wrong to look for happiness outside of yourself, I will go ahead and say it - this program makes me very happy indeed. I am a tech-geek kind of person, and this program is already making my life easier, which is what computers were supposed to do. Every week I -with input from Mr EA - make up a weekly menu, from which I make up a shopping list. I use the list to plan our weekly grocery shopping list, pick out the coupons we can use, plan our route for the stores we need to hit, if our Fred Meyer's is not likely to have everything we need. This took probably a couple of hours of planning time per week. Since I've started using Living Cookbook, it's taken about 45 minutes, and approximately 10 of those minutes were me hunting through the drop-down menus looking for the option to edit the list. Seriously, you drag and drop your recipes into the calendar, hit the shopping list button, and it does your list for you, which you can then edit to add other stuff or remove the items you already have. And it organizes the items into categories. I'm dizzy just thinking about it.
Is this program for everybody? No, probably not. I was telling a coworker about it, and she launched into a thing about how cooking is an Art and she doesn't follow recipes, and anyway, she doesn't like to be constrained by pedestrian menu lists, and anyway, she doesn't cook everyday, just like she doesn't paint everyday. O. K. So this program is not for her, or anyone like her. Also, if you don't have a lot of recipes, it's probably not worth it for you. But if your situation is more complicated, it just might be for you.
(I paid full price for my copy, and am receiving no compensation for writing this. I just love it and think it rocks. Enjoy!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge

When I die, if I am very good indeed, there will be places available to me that are very much like Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge.
I was first introduced to this place through my boss, who is a very kind lady, and who brought all of us in my office a cup of their drinking chocolate - spicy style! This is a warm concoction of chocolate, not quite a liquid, but not a solid, more like a fifth (no, that's plasma) ok, a sixth state of matter. You could pour it into your mouth, but only if you were quite patient. We ate it with spoons. The flavor is very like dark chocolate, more bitter than sweet, and extremely good. If you get it spicy (I forget if they call it Aztec or Mayan or something along those lines - anyway, if you say spicy, they know what you mean), it comes with some chili zing to it. If you don't like spicy hot stuff, you can always get it sweet.
After my first taste, I kept trying to get there myself, but the place has limited hours - they aren't open Sundays and don't stay open too late evenings - and I could just not get there when they were open. Finally I got myself and Mr EA in while they were open. We got one cup of each of their drinking chocolates. After a bit of sampling, Mr EA decided he wasn't a fan of the spicy, so he finished our cup of sweet, while I had another go at the spicy! It was so good we didn't talk the whole time we were consuming. It is one of those gustatory experiences that rewards attention - flavors keep developing in your mouth. You get varying layers of sweet and bitter, and the chili heat gently builds in your mouth the whole time. There aren't words to describe it fully.
In addition to the wonderfulness of their drinking chocolate, they also, as you might expect, carry commercially made premium chocolates as well as truffles of their own make. I was too sated to try them on this trip, but will definitely be back for further experiments! Also, they were playing some Twin Peaks-y music ( very like Audrey Horn's Theme), which was fun. In addition to all the chocolate, there is also local art and some fun jewelry and that sort of thing for sale as well. If you are all in range of this place, go! You won't be sorry.


Humpy's, located downtown in Anchorage, is yet another pretty good, reasonably priced place to eat. It has been in place for many years, and the locals really do recommend that you go there, especially if you are looking someplace unpretentious and kind of fun with decent food. And all of those things are there for you. I would call the atmosphere somewhere between "sports bar" and "burger joint". It was about equivalent to one of your finer Rod and Gun Clubs (for those of you familiar with the type of institution). We went on a Sunday evening, and the crowd level was sort of raucous, but not scary-raucous. Mr. Eating Alaska had a Bacon Cheeseburger, and I had a Portobello Mushroom sandwich, both of which came with fries. We each also got a nice local ale to go with our sandwiches. Everything had good flavors and was well done. Apparently, Rachel Ray visited this place and raved about it. While we certainly agree with her that it is a good place to eat, especially if that is the atmosphere you are after, I don't know if it is the crown jewel of Anchorage Eateries.
Overall, I'd give it 4 stars - Very good, but not incredible.