Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dinner from the grill

Grilled chicken thighs with homegrown and grilled eggplant. One slice topped with cilantro, olive oil, chili powder and salt. The other topped with jerk seasoning. In other news, my space bar broke and typing this is way too hard. Every "space" is pasted in...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fancy Beer Friday: Redbrick 17th Anniversary

It's not Friday but this beer was worth the wait. Believe me, I've been waiting all year for it.

Over the past four years or so the owners/board of our favorite local brewery have been loosening the reigns on Brewmaster Dave McClure*.  The most pronounced result is the Brick Mason series (and Hoplanta). While it consists of some dynamite beers: Wee Heavy (yep), Vanilla Gorilla (duh). Double IPA (obviously); the anniversary series is world class.

Each anniversary ale is the Red Brick Brown aged in whiskey barrels. They started series with the 15th spending a little over a year on on Pappy Van Winkle barrels. It's become somewhat of  a legend around these parts. (In fact, a beer loving buddy of ours gave us two bottles as a wedding gift.) The 16th was the same base aged for six months in Jack Daniels barrels. I'm not JD's biggest fan and it was a little hot at 11% but I'm looking forward to pulling a bottle out of our cellar  to compare with this years. This years 17th though. Oh this years beer...

The 17th sat on Jim Beam** barrels and it is dynamite. It clocks in at a head leveling 8.5%. As it warms up, it is as complex as a good bottle of bitters. Don't tell my wife, but I'm buying a case of this.

*I don't really know anything about the politics behind the scenes at Red Brick, all I know is that Dave can crank out some stellar suds.

**I may like Jim Beam as much as I like Jack which is to say, not at all. Luckily we're speaking beer, not whiskey.

- Oliver

Saturday, July 28, 2012

134lb by 34: UPDATE

It's been four months since my 34th birthday and the final day of my personal weight loss challenge. The goal had been to lose eleven pounds in ten weeks with the intention of lowering my high blood pressure. My final weigh in was two pounds shy of my goal but there was still a noticeable difference in my blood pressure. Since then I've continued to lose weight but at a slower pace. I've gone from a pound a week to a pound a month. This morning I weighed in 131.6lbs. My blood pressure is looking so good that I'm going to make an appointment with my doctor to discuss going off the blood pressure medicine. I'm not sure what she'll say but I promise to pass on the info. 

*Fancy Beer Friday is still on the way! We're having some trouble procuring the beer we want. Check back tomorrow! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dinner from the garden

Thursday night Oliver made dinner from ingredients we had on hand. An onion, garlic, olive oil and box of pasta from the pantry. Plus three tomatoes, a green bell pepper, a red chili pepper, basil, oregano, thyme and parsley all picked fresh from the garden. 

*Fancy Beer Friday will be posted tomorrow (Saturday)! Check back to read about Friday night at Redbrick Brewing Company and their soon to be released 17th Anniversary Ale.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's for dinner? Pork tacos three ways

Pulled pork tacos (from the slow cooker) topped three ways. From left to right:
• Homegrown, heirloom tomatoes and fresh, diced jalapeno
• Homemade kimchi
• Strained homemade gazpacho

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Garden Update: Week Nine

Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and pumpkin - oh my!
We picked five tomatoes on Tuesday and it looks like we'll have a few more in a day or two. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heart disease and oral health

For all my talk about living a heart healthy lifestyle there is one component that I overlook every single day. Any guesses? The answer is a little embarrassing... FLOSSING! I brush at least twice a day and I waterpic several times a week but flossing is such a chore. (Especially for someone with a permanent retainer cemented to the back of my lower front teeth.) My excuses are the same everyday: in the morning I'm too rushed to get to work and in the evening I'm much too tired and just want to get to bed. 

My laziness wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't showing early signs of gum disease - but I am. It is most likely a symptom of taking over a decade's worth of oral contraceptives - but regardless of what is causing it it is something I need to get under control. 

The dental hygenist had a suggestion: don't wait until bedtime - instead make it a habit to floss immediately after lunch or dinner. I'm taking her advice to heart. I've been able to change my eating habits, lower my blood pressure, lose almost 20lbs and make exercise a routine part of my week - daily flossing is just the next step in living a truly heart healthy life. I can do it!

• Those with adult gum disease may have increased risk of stroke
• Bacteria from the mouth may cause clotting problems in the cardiovascular system that lead to an increased risk of a fatal heart attack. 
•People with type II diabetes are three times as likely to develop gum disease then are nondiabetics.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Look honey, I baked! (chocolate cake by Cullen)

Pardon the pun, but this really takes the cake for procrastination!! This treat is officially Oliver's 32nd birthday cake (his 32nd birthday was in September of last year). For almost a year he has been asking when he is going to get his birthday cake - and since I find no joy in baking I have spent a year telling him to forget it! Well honey, I finally did it. I baked. Happy belated birthday!

The Recipe is from the Country Living website.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bad Tomato

For all my talk of perfect homegrown tomatoes you'd think I'd be able to spot an impostor. Well, it turns out I cannot. While at YDFM today I picked up a few seemingly ripe tomatoes, grown in the bordering state of North Carolina. My plan was to make Oliver the gazpacho he'd missed out on last week. You can imagine my disappointment when I cut into them and discovered this:

These tomatoes are my definition of CRAP TOMATOES! Ick. I threw them in the trash. If I'm going to go through all the trouble of making gazpacho then I'm going to use the best tomatoes possible. 

The end.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fancy Beer Friday: Lagunitas' Undercover Investigation Ale

It's five o'clock somewhere and you deserve a beer!

Lagunita's Undercover Investigation SHUT DOWN Ale is a hoppy, bitter, high gravity ale with a great back story. It commemorates what the brewery refers to as the "Saint Patrick's Day massacre of 2005". 

In the Saint Valentine's Day massacre of 1929  two prohibition era gangsters, dressed as police officers, opened fire on members of a rival gang in a Chicago garage. The bait? Whiskey.

76 years later, during the Lagunita's "massacre", eight California Alcohol Beverage officers, dressed as regular people, busted the brewery for "disorderly house and moral turpitude". Their actual offense? A few beer drinkers in the beer garden were lighting up doobies (does anyone still say doobies?). The citation led to an attempt to revoke the brewery's license - which eventually led to this fantastic fancy beer. For more details about the bust watch the following video (but fast forward to the 30 second mark everything before that is intro). 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer garden harvest

Tonight I picked two eggplants and three heirloom tomatoes. These are the same tomatoes that I photographed and posted on Saturday. Four consecutive days of thunderstorms and the subsequent soggy ground has caused these tomatoes to split their skins in a few places. No worries though, I'm sure they still taste fine. I've already roasted the eggplants and mashed them with tahini, lemon, cumin and garlic. That along with a piece of H&F bread (from the Grant Park Farmers Market) will be tomorrow's lunch. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A perfect homegrown tomato

This tomato* is exactly why I grow my own tomatoes. It's vine ripened, a luscious red color throughout and there isn't a trace of white/pink tasteless Styrofoam texture. Every bite is delicious. No ethylene gas ripened tomatoes for me. I'd rather wait all year for this!

Some reading material for those interested in learning more tomatoes:
Why supermarket tomatoes tend to taste bad - LA TIMES
Taking tomatoes back to their tasty roots - NPR
Perfect tomatoes come from unhurried biochemistry - VegetableGarden.com

*This tomato is from our Beefsteak plant. I'm looking forward to seeing how the larger heirlooms compare.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's for lunch? Alton Brown's gazpacho

The big news about this meal is that I (Cullen) made it by myself while Oliver was not home! I'm three for three on cooking for myself this weekend. I've started easy (spinach salad with an egg) and have been working my way into meals with more ingredients and more steps. Last night I roasted eggplant and then mashed it with tahini, ground cumin & lemon. While today's gazpacho didn't require any cooking it did require much more knife work then I usually take on. And I learned how to peel a tomato! I recommend this recipe for any beginner cooks who love tomatoes (and/or salsa). Thanks to Alton Brown for another easy and great recipe!


  • 1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Tomato juice
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade


Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe copied from here. Click for original posting.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pruning tomatoes

As usual our tomato vines have grown into a big, jumbled mess. Two of them are 7 foot tall tangles of branches, leaves, fruit and twine. It's containable - for now. But by the end of August we'll probably have given up trying to tame the wildness and will just let the plants spill onto the ground.

Pruning the tomato plants is not something I've given much thought. I only have a vague understanding as to why we pull off the "suckers". A conversation last night with Oliver's cousin has gotten me thinking about changing my ways. He explained that a well pruned tomato plant produces more fruit. As evidence he showed me a photo of his well trimmed tomato vine and then one of of the huge pile of gorgeous tomatoes he'd already picked. 

Motivated by what I learned I did some research on the internet this morning. The following video provided a great lesson about which suckers to pluck, why and what you can do with them (stick them in ground and they'll grow a new plant!!). It's probably too late to make difference for us this year; but I'll definitely apply this knowledge next summer. 

Our tomatoes as of mid-July 2012:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fancy Beer Friday: Stone Ruination IPA

This week we shared a bomber of Stone Ruination. It's the 10th anniversary, limited release, IPA from Stone Brewing Company. Hoppy and bitter! 

Now let's toast: TO WEEKENDS! Opa! Salud! Cheers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Healthy lunches take work

A combination of recent experiences have led me to the topic for today's post: healthy lunches take work. I'll start with this little gem that Oliver stumbled across this evening on Digg.

Oh yeah, that Lunchable comes with both a burger-like-substance (which I assume has a Twinkies-inspired shelf life) AND a generic cola! MMmmm! (Ok, but seriously, how did any of us survive all the crap food directed at kids in '80s and '90s? I for one was clinically cuckoo for Coco Puffs.) 

While the American population is trending towards healthier eating I still notice A LOT of bad choices being made at lunch time. And while this may make me the bad guy (not sure how many, if any, co-workers read this) I think this needs to be said:

• Lean Cuisines are not a healthy alternative. Foremost they have way too much salt. Additional offenses include: overly processed and preserved ingredients, never filling anyone up and substantially altering one's taste buds for the flavors of real foods. 
• Muffins are cake. Banana bread is also cake. Bagels, in my opinion, pretty much cake.... Do you see where I'm going with this? Let's not kid ourselves. None of the above foods should be counted as a daily healthy lunch; they are sugar laden, extremely refined carbohydrates. 
• Restaurant lunch portions are ridiculous! It's lunch not THANKSGIVING! If you're going out to eat for lunch remember that your portion size should be the size of your fist. 

On days when I have not planned ahead and packed a lunch I am faced with the everyman dilemma: where should I go for lunch? My first choice is Alon's for a salad - but the over $7 price tag often steers me into Moe's for a questionably healthy, $3 black bean taco (no cheese, no sour cream, yes to gauc, salsa and fresh veggies). It only takes an hour for me to regret that decision - and that's always because of the after effects of too much hidden sodium (those tacos leave me PARCHED). The next day I am sure to bring something from home. 

Having a healthy, homemade lunch every work day takes planning and work. It's not something either Oliver or myself LIKE to do. But doing it makes a big difference in our overall health, budget and waistline. Most days we eat beans. On days when the beans have run out we eat left overs from dinner. Today was one of those days and my lunch consisted of a grilled chicken leg and rice mixed with leftover vegetables. It was jumble of three different dinners - but it still tasted good and I never questioned how good it was for me. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Garden: Week Seven

We planted a handful of pumpkin seeds this week; they're all coming up nicely. Hopefully they'll do better then our watermelon. The watermelon vine goes on forever, has plenty of blooms but not one fruit. Our strawberries suffered a similar fate; in the end we didn't get even half a dozen berries. Fortunately strawberries and watermelon are the only plants we've had problems with this summer. Everything* else is going great.

*Two varieties of eggplants, four varieties of tomatoes (two heirloom, two hybrid), green peppers, hot peppers, leeks, basil, mint, thyme and parsley. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Homemade ice cream

When Oliver saw that YDFM had bags of fresh cherries he found his inspiration to make homemade ice cream. After roasting the fresh cherries on the stove top they were dropped into the blender with half & half, egg yokes, sugar and salt. From there everything went into the Kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment. Towards the end he added bits of toasted almond and chunks of dark chocolate. I don't normally like chocolate cherry ice cream - but this is stuff is perfection!

If you want to try it for yourself click here for the recipe. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's for dinner? Mojo chicken & brussel sprouts

Mojo chicken, brussel sprouts with cayenne pepper and a homegrown heirloom tomato. These midsummer nights, when it stays light so late, these nights are perfect for grilling.  We're making the most of them; hope you are too.