Food, Beer & Buffoonery - Hops

New Food, Straight From the Farm

So, we just started getting weekly vegetables (and some fruits) from Two Small Farms. Two Small Farms is a collaboration between High Ground Organics and Mariquita Farm located in Watsonville and Hollister respectively. They are one of the several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in the area. They had a pickup point near us, so we thought we’d give them a try.

CSA VegetablesToday we picked up our first batch of veggies (we also opted to get weekly flowers too, for a few extra dollars. Why not?). In the bag we brought home were bundles of Erbette Chard, Spigariello Greens, Chantenay Carrots, Agretti, French Breakfast Radishes, Fennel, a few Leeks and some Sweet Dumpling Squash. All organically grown at a nearby farm. There’s just something nice about knowing where your food comes from — and supporting the “little guys”.

The batch of vegetables came with a few recipes than can be made with this week’s selection. The roasted fennel recipe sounds good. You just slice the fennel bulbs lengthwise, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. Though, I think I’ll spice this up a bit, tossing with some crushed garlic and parsley as well. Wondering what I could do with the fennel leaves, I consulted an Italian cookbook I have and found a recipe for a fennel cream sauce. Cook up some pasta and we’ll be set. Although I’d like to round out that meal by maybe roasting some carrots with the fennel bulbs.

Another item is the box was Spigarielo, also known as “leaf broccoli”. I think I’ve only had this once or twice, but it does have that broccoli flavor, so I’m thinking maybe a Thai Red Curry might make good use of this.

Getting a new bunch of “surprise” vegetables and fruits in each week should be an excellent challenge. I’m always trying out new recipes, but I always start with the recipe first and only then look for the food I need. Flowers CSANow I’m getting the food first… Which perhaps, is how it should be. Everything I’ll be making is fresh, local, and in season. And I’ll be getting some new and exotic vegetables, creating a culinary challenge. I can’t complain.

There are similar CSA programs all over the United States, and elsewhere. The USDA has a few links to help you find a CSA program in your area. But I imagine a quick internet search of “CSA ‘Your City Name'” would come up with some options as well. And if you need additional convincing in order to give your local CSA a try, Two Small Farms has posted a list of 10 reasons to buy local food.

The start of our Community Supported Agriculture pickups is quite fitting, as I am (coincidentally) currently reading a book that’s all about where your food comes from, Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals”. It’s quite a good book, so I highly recommend it!

The World is Ending!

Well, not quite. But you almost get that feeling by reading some of the major media coverage of “The Big Recession of 2008”. I’m not saying that there isn’t a downturn in the economy as of late, but you do have to wonder how much of this downturn might be attributable to a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuated in a large part, by the media.

Take the current top story on CNN’s RSS feed, “Poll: Three-quarters think U.S. in recession“. They needed to take a poll on that? Of course the people think that! CNN and other media outlets have been TELLING THEM that for several months now. And now, as soon as the population knows that 75% of us think we’re in a recession, CNN can take a poll again next week and they’ll probably find that 85% now think so.

Interestingly, another recent poll of “101 senior decision makers at U.S. companies with at least $500 million in annual revenues” by the Boston Polling Group found that only 37.6% think we are currently in a recession. Now, what do they know that the general population doesn’t? There’s an obvious discontinuity here. Ok, sure, another 15.8% of those executives that don’t think we’re in a recession now, do think we’ll be in one soon. But that’s still less than the nearly 75% that CNN found in the general population. And besides some of those execs are also certainly influenced by the inundation of grim doomsday recession news spewing out of every media outlet in the US and beyond on a daily basis.

At least a portion of all this recession stuff has got to be a vicious self-fulfilling cycle, predominantly perpetuated by the mass media. Tell them they’re “in a recession” enough, and they’ll act like it. The media tells us of this gloom and doom so often, that even the people who haven’t “felt” a recession personally start acting like their in one anyway. They worry about their savings more, their future. They limit spending. Less spending hurts retailers bottom lines, they report reduced sales, the media eats this up and reports on even further economics woes, creating even further paranoia in the unfortunately all too gullible public.

The media tends to do this for more than just recessions and slow downs. For many people, mass media helps to create reality. Several theories on this exist and while there’s some debate as to what extent it affects people’s reality, there is little debate about whether the media has influence at all. posted a really good article recently on how broadcast journalism is flawed. It touches on the media/reality topic quite nicely. Here’s just one cited example on how the media affects our reality. Think of the prevalence of reporting on child abduction and molestation cases:

“According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in a given year there are about 88,000 documented cases of sexual abuse among juveniles. In the roughly 17,500 cases involving children between ages 6 and 11, strangers are the perpetrators just 5 percent of the time — and just 3 percent of the time when the victim is under age 6. (Further, more than a third of such molesters are themselves juveniles, who may not be true “predators” so much as confused or unruly teens.)

[…] if your child is not molested in your own home — by you, your significant other, or someone else you invited in — chances are your child will never be molested anywhere. Media coverage has precisely inverted both the reality and the risk of child sexual assault. Along the way, it has also inverted the gender of the most tragic victims: Despite the unending parade of young female faces on TV, boys are more likely than girls to be killed in the course of such abuse.”

Here we see a perfect example of media distorting and thus creating reality. It makes a good sensational story, kinda like economic woes — let’s go to press! Reminds me of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s when the media (and a huge number of evangelical Christians) reported a flurry of ritualistic Satanic crimes, that included child molestation (of course!), which when investigated, turned out to be a non-issue, probably started by a hoax, and was perpetuated by bad investigation and interviewing techniques, and of course, “the media”.

Admittedly, the cases above didn’t start a wave of copycat molestations or satanic abuse, but they did change peoples behaviors — creating multitudes of overly protective parents that are spending way too much time worrying about the wrong things (or in the case of the satanic ritual abuse cases – completely ridiculous things).

So, while there certainly is some current economic slowdown (in large part due to the bomb dropping in the housing market) one does have to wonder — “Is it really this bad?” Probably not. And it will probably get as bad as it does simply because the media is blowing it completely out of proportion — or rather, creating a reality that is worse than reality.

UPDATE: Just after writing this I ran across an excellent article titled “Shoppers Cut Back, But That May Hurt” which further exemplifies the above quite nicely. 😉 In particular, the quote from Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University:

“In some senses, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, […] The idea that consumer confidence can crash the market or boost it tells you that it’s not always about reality.”

And also in this quote:

“I think what is at issue here is: Are people responding to real things, or are they just responding to fear?” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden. “I’m not sure you can separate the two.”

What is THAT doing in my fridge?!?!

So, I’ve been taking some spare time lately and converting the new updated 2008 Beer Judges Certification Program styles into XML format. Their last update was in 2004 and the guy that created the XML for the 2004 guidelines has either disappeared or doesn’t have time to update.

Terrible Beers in my FridgeSo….. I’ve taken up the effort to update the XML version of the guidelines for the 2008 version. It’s a whole lot of copying and pasting. I’m on category 7 now. I do a little bit each evening. I figure it’ll take a month or so. Seems like a lot? Just take a look at how extensive the 2008 BJCP guidelines are. You’ve got 23 categories, each category divided into 1 to (around) 6 styles of beer (or mead, etc). In pdf format, it’s 51 pages.

So, while I’m at it, I figured, well, I’m reading all these style guidelines, perhaps I should taste the beers too. I don’t plan to taste the beers in sync with my editing of the XML. I think that would be a tad on the dangerous side. It’ll take quite some time, but in the end, I’m sure I’ll be ready to take the BJCP exam!

My good friend Dean, and fellow BrewSession author has taken the exam and is a certified beer judge. So, I guess I’m playing catch-up!

Tonight I decided to go out an get the first beers, representing the first two styles in the BJCP guidelines. Here’s where problem #1 arises. The first two styles in the guidelines are: “Lite American Lager” and “Standard American Lager”. Probably my least favorite of all beer styles! But you gotta do what you gotta do (even if it means typing out phrases in terrible grammar).

So, take a look at my fridge in the above photograph. Now THAT is a scene that you will never EVER see again. I promise.

To represent the Lite American Lagers I purchased Amstel Light (yeah, it’s made in Holland, but it’s “style” is in this category), Miller Lite, and Bud Lite. Tonight I split a Miller Lite and Amstel Lite with my wife. She hated them. In fact, I was given a lecture for actually wasting money on such awful beer. Depending on your outlook, this sort of lecture from a wife can be a really bad thing, or a really good thing. I choose to see it as a very positive thing. A toast to wives with good taste everywhere!

To represent the Standard American Lagers, I bought: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Coors, and Miller High Life. Ouch, ouch ouch. Sometime later in the week, or more likely, on the weekend when I have help, I’ll sample these beers.

So, problem #2 arises in the fact that I was stupid enough to buy two bottles of each beer (note again, the photo). What was I thinking?!?!? Two bottles of Fullers ESB might be considered “not enough”, but 2 bottles of Coors? Damn, I wasn’t thinking. I must know SOMEONE who I can invite over for a “beer” this weekend. 😉

In any case, both of the Lite American Lagers we sampled were watery, had what I’d call an “odd bitterness” and were generally unpleasant to drink. The BJCP guidelines say these are very thirst-quenching. I’d rather just drink water. It also states, “Strong flavors are a fault”. That almost needs revising…”flavor is a fault”. Okay, they do have some flavor. It’s just not particularly enjoyable. There’s a bitterness, but it’d be difficult to identify it as a “hop bitterness”. Could be anything. There’s little maltiness to these beers. There’s little to enjoy.

Going forward with this little endeavor, my goal is to try and get beers that are actually stated as “examples” for each style in the BJCP Guidelines. I may or may not succeed, but occasionally, I’ll update you here on how it’s going.

By all means, if you’re interested in going through all these beers with me…post a comment here, drop me a line, whatever. It’d be great to get a discussion going.

My analysis for tonight? Both beers are extremely bland. Amstel light is a bit more watery than Miller Lite — which strikes me as odd because I always heard that Amstel is one of the better light beers. Well, I think it’s the sophisto-foreign aspect of Amstel that causes people to say such things. Trust me. It’s not any better (than Miller Lite, at least), just more watery. Both beers are light in body, light in color, light in mouth-feel, and low on taste. I don’t see any reason for anybody to drink such a beer. Honestly? I’d rather have a Clausthaler non-alcohol beer. At least you’re just going all out at that point — and Clausthaler is actually not bad, considering. The BJCP doesn’t seem to have a non-alcoholic beer category though.