Archive for the 'Rabbit Trails' Category

02
Jan
09

New Website!

I want to thank everyone who has visited my blog. It has been a real learning experience.

After much consideration, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and start a site that isn’t hosted by wordpress. This will hopefully allow me to have more control over how I run the blog, as well as allow me to start fresh on a new domain.

I plan on running a much tighter ship at the new site, keeping my focus more centered on baking and pastry. I may actually retain some of my more popular articles from here and post them there for posterity sake.

I hope you’ll join me at www.improveyourbaking.com

Sincerely,

Jeremy

27
Oct
08

Earliest Food Memories

One of my earliest and fondest food related memories comes from my early childhood, when my Grandma used to babysit me. I would have been about three years old.

 Every morning we’d walk to the post office and get the mail. We would also pick up the mail for one of her elderly neighbours, “Ms. F-.” 

Ms. F- was always very good about paying her postman. I’d hand her the mail, and she would disappear into her back kitchen, only to return with an old cookie tin. The tin was always lined with wax paper, and always contained homemade chocolate covered raisin clusters. I’ll never forget the smell when she removed the lid, or the taste of those clusters.

To this day, I like chocolate covered raisins, but the individually coated ones you get in stores now are a pale comparison to the ones I ate in Ms. F-‘s sun porch as a 3yr old mailman.

The closest I’ve ever come to tasting those wonderful little clusters again came unexpectedly about a week ago. I had a Toblerone fruit and nut bar that almost had the ratio of chocolate-to-raisin mouth feel dead on. But alas, it didn’t include the old cookie tin that smelled like heaven. Maybe one day I’ll have the good fortune of coming across that Pandora’s box at a yard sale.

I’m sure everyone has similar memories of a favorite food from when they were little and the world was big. So, what’s your favorite food memory?

06
Sep
08

Lysteria and Safe Food Handling Practices

I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize the importance of safe food handling practices.

Far too often we rush through meal preparation without considering what types of bacteria we may be transferring to our bodies from our food.

Listeriosis monocytogenes found in meat products from a processing plant in Toronto has recently been linked to several deaths and illnesses in Canada.

Listeriosis monocytogenes is a bacterium found in food which mainly affects the elderly, newborns, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. It is mainly found in water and soil.

There are systems and regulations in place in food production facilities to ensure that bacterium like Lysteriosis don’t make it into the food supply chain. Those systems are what keep your food safe to eat. They are not foolproof.

Maple Leaf Foods, Canada, recalled all products made at the Toronto plant since January 2008. ( http://www.mapleleaf.ca/ ). They also shut down the plant.

I think this incident underlines why we need to be our body’s last line of defence when it comes to food-borne illnesses. There are things we can do on an individual level to prevent illness.

Here are some preventative measures as listed on the center for disease control and prevention website: ( http://www.cdc.gov/ )

“General recommendations:

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible

Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten. “
08
Jul
08

Starbucks closes 600 stores

The Starbucks sign is seen outside one of its stores in New York July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

It’s fascinating how one dimensional the media can portray a piece of news. Today on Yahoo! there was an article entitled “Some coffee fans get grim delight in Starbucks woes.”

The article briefly mentions that the company is planning to close 600 under performing U.S. stores. It then quickly states that this “is evoking glee and little sympathy from aficionados who say they resent the coffee shop giant and favor small independent cafes.”

The bulk of the article contains interviews with people mainly in favour of seeing the demise of the coffee chain.

I have a problem with this.

Before I get into my reasons, and get a lot of hate mail,  I want to state for the record that I am not a loyal Starbucks customer. I haven’t set foot in one in over a year.

I have no personal feelings or money invested in the company in question, nor do I work for an independant coffee company. I therefore consider myself generally unbiased.

Where my concern with this article comes from is in the way that it glosses over the reasons why a company like Starbucks has to close 600 stores in the first place.

Think of it this way. Starbucks is massive. It is able to utilise economies of scale to keep it’s costs down. It is also able to afford marketing experts and PR people that small independent coffee companies don’t have access to in order to keep the public interested.

One of the few truths of the article was this:

“Starbucks has really created a coffee culture, raising awareness of good coffee, which is good for independents,” said Carol Watson, owner of the Milk and Honey coffee shop in Chicago. “But on the other hand, they’re on practically every corner, and that makes it tough on the little guy too.”

Frankly, I think independent companies should be worried. 600 stores represents approximately 10% of all Starbucks stores worldwide. How many small companies can afford a 10% total loss (or more) and thrive?

In my opinion, a lot of the aggression towards Starbucks comes from jealousy. How many of those small companies are trying very hard to be the big dog? Business is and always has been competitive. Don’t like the fact that another business is doing better than yours? Improve or fail. In the end it’s the consumer who will determine the winner. 

The customer is always right.

At this point, the customer is broke.

That’s the real story behind Starbucks closing 600 stores. People can barely afford to fill up their cars and get groceries, let alone spend several dollars on a coffee.

600 stores are closing. Thousands of jobs will be terminated. I guarantee that 600 independent coffee shops will not pop up to replace the stores being closed. So why is this a victory for anyone involved?

The truth of the matter is that big buisness doesn’t just create jobs and offer cheap products, it also offers a place for small business to sell their products too.

A car plant recently closed in a city several hours north of where I live. People lost their jobs in that city. The trickle down of that plant closing is that a lot of places that had contracts with that particular company are now having to scale down their operations and lay off employees.

Nobody wins when big business closes up shop. We can’t all work at local coffee shops and in turn patronize local coffee shops. The economy just doesn’t work that way.

07
Jun
08

Waitress loses job after shaving head for cancer charity

A recent incident has got me fired up about poor restaurant management practices.

A 36-year-old waitress at an Owen Sound, Ont., restaurant lost her job this week after she shaved her head to raise money for a cancer charity.

The head Chef/owner’s rather weak excuse for this action is that he has a standard of dress that he expects from his employees. The problem I have with this is that she claims she had told him what she was planning to do well before hand, and nothing was said.

Nathaniels owner and chef Dan Hilliard issued a statement late Thursday saying Fearnall did not advise him that she was planning to shave her head.

 

“Mr. Hilliard had indicated that this is an employer-employee matter and such matters are not to be dealt with in the public,” the statement said.

Frankly, the waitress was still very presentable with the shaved head. I probably wouldn’t bat an eye if she waited on me in a restaurant.

Also, she did it for a good cause. It’s not as if she went out and did it to spite her boss.

I fully agree with kitchens with a no piercing policy, etc, where health code issues are cited as the reason. However, I’ve worked in the food and hospitality industry for years with a shaved head, and never had a problem. How about some equality?

This story honestly sounds like something I’ve come across many times in different kitchens. An owner who has poor management skills and may be a little mentally unstable begins to treat employees like he owns them. It’s crap and I don’t like it.

Why should an employee be punished for doing a good deed?

http://www.cbcf.org/ – Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

http://www.bcsc.ca/ – Breast Cancer Society of Canada

http://www.cancer.ca – Canadian Cancer society

http://www.cancer.org – American Cancer Society

31
May
08

The Pieman

Simple Simon met a pieman

Going to the fair;

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,

“Show me first your penny.”

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Indeed I have not any.”

I recently came across a write up in a publication from the mid-1800’s about the sellers of street foods in Victorian London, England.

Apparently the street pie trade had been one of the oldest of the street callings in London. By the mid-nineteenth century the trade had been almost destroyed by “pie shops.” Summer fairs and other large outdoor gatherings seem to have been one of the few places a pie-man could make a go of it.

The piemen would wander the streets with a portable tin oven getting business wherever they could. This often meant stopping in at the local public houses. Apparently business was pretty poor, and street piemen didn’t have the best reputation for quality goods. According to one meat pieman:

“People, when I go into houses…often begin crying ‘mee-yow’, or ‘bow-wow-wow!’ at me, but there’s nothing of that kind, now.”

Piemen bought their meat from the same places as sausage makers. They wouldn’t care about the flavour because they would use pepper to mask the taste of the meat. You could tell the quality of the meat by how little or how much pepper was in the pies.

Often a pieman would drum up business by calling out “Toss or buy! Up and win ’em.” Which basically turned the sale of the pies into a coin toss. You win the toss, you get a free pie. Loose a toss, and you’d better be able to pay for one.

That certainly sheds a new light on the old nursery rhyme.

And this…

 

20
May
08

Honey, Straight from the Farm

Having been a farm kid, I like to check in on  http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com every now and then to remind me of my roots. Today I was pleasantly surprised by this article, and just had to share.

http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/bee-keeping-intro/#comment-2455

Growing up on the farm, we had bees, and I had my own suit and hive tool.  I loved the smell of the honey extracting in the garage.

We only ever had a few hives, so when my high school guidance counsellor told me I should become an Apiary, I laughed at him and said I couldn’t make a living at that. Maybe I was wrong, or maybe sweet just runs in my blood and that’s why I became a Pastry Chef. C’est la vie.