Month: January 2017

Brief Announcement…

So, I’ve been thinking long and hard about some things in relation to my blog & its social media accounts. How to speak up without losing followers. I know there are those who will say that “politics” don’t belong in an account for a food/travel blog. I get the point of view. It’s not a good business decision to speak up, to speak my mind. But, here’s my decision:

Anything that happens, any decision made by those in power to hinder the operation of any person, organization, or department related to the planting, growing, distribution, cooking, eating, disposal of food WILL be discussed here, and on my social media accounts. No, this isn’t becoming a political blog. Not by a long shot. I will always want to talk about the food I’m eating and cooking and the places I go. That will not change. But, these are unprecedented times, and I cannot stay silent about these issues. Climate change, USDA gag rules, etc… these things matter. They are related to what I do, and they demand discussion. I hope my followers will continue to follow with an open mind. Thank you.

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Giving back in the Lone Star State

Hi all!

I’m in Arkansas now. Visiting friends and looking for my next volunteer opportunity. I spent a week and a half with family in Northeast Texas, and while I was there, I got the chance to help MasterKey Ministries distribute fresh fruits and veggies to over 100 families in Grayson County, Texas.

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Every Friday, MasterKey receives a truck full of produce from the North Texas Food Bank. Volunteers rush to get boxes off the truck as quickly as possible so they can start sorting and dividing it for the two hour pick up window.

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Last Saturday, folks showed up hours before our scheduled 10am start time. By the time I arrived, cars were lined up down the street for several blocks.

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I got the chance to chat with organizer Crystal Brooks, who told me that while MasterKey has only been doing these Friday morning events since the beginning of the year, they opened their food assistance program in 2014 and their “everyone is family” approach has been a part of their mission since day one. On Saturdays, Brooks helps run a “clients choice” food pantry, where Sherman residents who meet the income qualifications can walk right into the pantry and take what they need for the week. They’re greeted by name, escorted back, and given the freedom to shop just as they would at the grocery store. That’s a unique experience for most clients, and one MasterKey is committed to continuing to provide, no matter how big their client list grows.

Along with food assistance, MasterKey also offers an after school program; adult education programs like ESL, GED prep, and Citizenship courses; as well as summer learning programs to help kids maintain their “educational edge” while they’re out of school over break.

I’m so glad I got to help out last Friday. The group of volunteers, some new and some who had a few Fridays under their belts, were so warm and welcoming. What also really made me happy was that so many of the volunteers brought their kids along, and those kids hopped right in, helping us sort oranges and break down bags of carrots and potatoes, without hesitation.

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I personally believe this kind of volunteerism is such a privilege, and knowing that these kids are starting to recognize that early is, well, not to be too cheesy, pretty damn heartwarming.

I am not a chocoholic…

NOTE: This post is not sponsored. I wasn’t given any free product. I just really had a lightbulb moment at this little shop. They were incredibly warm, welcoming, and generous with their time and knowledge, and I wanted to share my experience.

I have never considered myself a chocoholic. Therefore, beyond what little bit we learned during my semester in Latin Cuisine at culinary school, I’d never really had an overwhelming interest in learning more about it. After this week’s visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, however, I’ve realized that maybe I’ve just been eating the wrong chocolate. I’m hooked, you guys. I’m hooked on the good stuff… and I want to know more.

I think, in this age of Let’s All Get Educated About Food, most of us are aware of the differences in the Hershey bar you grab as you’re checking out at the grocery store and the stuff you might get from the Godiva store in the mall on Valentine’s Day. However, from the moment I entered Kakawa Chocolate House, or, well, let’s back up, from the moment I dove into Kakawa’s website, while doing research for my day trip to Santa Fe, my cluelessness about what really makes “next level” chocolate became painfully apparent. I’ve quickly learned since then that the good stuff (the BEST stuff) may not come from a big, expensive factory full of fancy pants machines, but rather, from the tiny kitchens where its made by hand, by small groups of chocolatiers who care more about each and every batch of chocolates they produce than you or I might ever care when we eat it. All we know is that it’s something special. But, if you want to know more, they’re happy to teach you.

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Tony Bennett, the owner of Kakawa Chocolate House for the past five years, was in the fashion business when he bought the tiny shop nestled among the prolific art galleries along Paseo de Peralta. He was looking for a business opportunity, but hearing him talk about his team, and seeing his face light up when he looks around the shop, it’s clear he loves being there and he’s proud of every piece of chocolate produced.

“We don’t use any machines, other than the tempering machine… We blend all the chocolate in house.”

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As I’m writing right now, though, I realize I’m burying the lead. Let’s talk about my “A-ha!” moment, which happened when I was handed a tiny mug of Zapoteca chocolate elixir topped with a generous dollop of house made whipped cream.

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Swiss Miss Cocoa this is not. Made from 100% chocolate and a just a little coconut sugar, it’s bittersweet, fruity, and rich, and one sip tells you this is probably what chocolate is supposed to taste like.

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Kakawa has over 18 different elixir blends that include a few more modern takes, as well as traditional Mesoamerican blends like the Zapoteca, European blends based on historic recipes from the Italian and French royal courts (try the Marie Antoinette blend!) and even one developed by Thomas Jefferson. Their selection spans the history of chocolate, and if you get the sense that its past is as full, rich, and complex as the chocolate itself, you’d be right. I highly recommend reading through the origin story provided on the website as a great primer. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, The History Channel website has a super informative section on the history of chocolate that takes the story even further.

If, after doing all that reading, you’re ready to have your own “A-ha!” moment about chocolate, Kakawa ships their granulated elixir blends all over the U.S. via website ordering, and internationally by calling the shop.

Things in bowls…

As I write this, I’m listen to the popping and crackling of a fire burning in a little black stove in the corner of the room. It’s different from a fireplace, which, in my mind at least, evokes nostalgia and maybe a touch of romance more than anything else. But, the fire that burns tonight is one of necessity. It requires attention– poking, prodding, stoking, and feeding. It’s the fire that warms us, that heats the water for tea, that warms through chunks of leftover cornbread, and keeps a large pot of split pea soup bubbling away. This home is not without some modern amenities, but when this little stove can do so much with so little, it’s easy to forget that they’re there.  Like a ballerina dancing a steady, controlled adagio so slowly that you are somehow a little surprised when she’s made it to the other side of the stage, I’ve barely noticed that time has seemed to march backwards a little. I don’t feel inconvenience, or “without.”  Just… I’m not sure what the right word would be. Content? Sure? Serene? I do know I’ll miss that little wood stove when it’s time to move on.

My time here in Taos, so far, is making me thinky. Very, very thinky.

I’m thinking a lot today about things that cook in pots, and meals eaten out of bowls. Those soups and stews and braises cook for hours. They’re the things we cook when there is still so much work to be done. While chores are finished, projects moved forward, emails checked and answered, phone calls made, homework done, blog posts edited, snow to be shoveled… whatever it is that needs to be accomplished, these pots of things simmer and bubble away, filling the house with promises of an end in sight. When we finally sit down, bone and/or brain weary, to a bowl of comforting… whatever it is that’s been cooking in that pot all day, it feels like the logical, natural conclusion to something.

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Our soup feels somehow even more fulfilling because the peas, and the carrots, for that matter, came from the ground right outside the front door. It’s a big pot, and we’ve revisited it multiple times over the past couple of days. I’m not bored with it yet, and am actually a little sad knowing we’ll hit the end of it soon.

I ventured into town today, and, fortified against the cold with an Americano spiked with cinnamon and chile powder (called The Coyote), wandered around Taos’ central plaza. After a little bit of shopping, lunch was yet another meal in a bowl– a fiery green chile, thick with tomatoes and potatoes and a delicious broth that delivered on both heat and flavor.

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My server warned me, “It’s really spicy,” and kept coming back to check on me to make sure I was ok. “Geez, you’re a trooper.” I ate the whole bowl, and every last shred of the homemade tortillas that came with it. I’ll admit, it took another hour for the last vestiges of heat to fade away, so maybe I’m not so much a trooper as I am a glutton for punishment.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about food with the locals here. There’s a strange dichotomy that comes from living in a place that supports both a thriving locavore community as well as native culture, but also the hesitant necessity of big chains. I’m still learning, so maybe I’ll hold back on pontificating any further until I’ve gotten to dig in a little more. I really don’t think a week and a half will be nearly enough time to learn it all, but isn’t that the way? For now, I’ll just enjoy the lessons as they come. Hopefully there’s more to learn from the things that come in bowls.

Off I Grow!

Well, 2016 is done. It definitely had its ups and downs, both personally for me, and for the world. I, for one, am happy to see it in my rear view mirror. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I developed amazing friendships and learned a LOT about myself, and those are never bad things.

It’s time to look ahead, though. This is just a quick update to let you all know I have, indeed, hit the road. I left Colorado January 2nd, and am currently posted up in Taos, New Mexico. I’ll be here for about a week and a half, helping a friend with some winter chores for her little farm, making a day trip or two down to Santa Fe, and just generally learning as much as I can about the food and culture of the area while I’m here.

On my way here, heading down Highway 160, I came across this sign. I noticed it, drove past it, then felt that little voice inside me say, “Jordan. Go back and look again.”

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So I flipped a U-ey and went back. I looked again. I stared at that sign for a good five minutes. I know quite a few people who choose a word for themselves at the beginning of each year… something to help give direction and focus to their endeavors for the next 365 days. I’ve never really done that, but I think, at least for 2017, it’s a fairly apparent imperative (say that five times fast) that “Grow” is my word.

Here’s to growing… and learning about growing… and watching things grow.