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Everything posted by bigkoiguy

  1. I have to seriously quesiton WS business model as well. Years ago, before the Internet when gourmet cooking was new, they were the place to go for odd-ball things - Cuisinarts when they first came out, for example. Now, Amazon and others are a click away, with free shipping, and appropriate prices. For heavier items or for immediate purchase, most cities have a decent, local specialty cookwares store. Somehow, I'm on the electronic mailing list for both WS and Sur la Table.... I'm one step from putting them on my spam list...
  2. There are companies that sell tree seedlings inoculated with truffle spores. The problem lies in the fact that it's realistically thirty years (in spite of what is claimed) until you can get your first sizeable harvest -- so naturally few people, other than maybe very rich homeowners (Marth Stewart is linked from the Garland website, for example) and tinkerers, are willing to put down the money to plant a "crop" -- with no guarantee of a yield or revenue. Want to plant your own trees? Look here : http://www.plantationsystems.com/ or here: http://www.micofora....dioma=EN&opc=48 Another company in North Carolina: http://www.garlandtr....com/index.html
  3. I would consider opening a restaurant in an under-served city as well. There are a lot of healthy, vibrant towns and cities out there where the restaurants do well simply because they are the only thing around. People in these cities clamor for a professional, well-run restaurant -- even a decent sandwich or soup shop -- and have money burning in their pockets. In addition, real estate is dirt cheap compared to more trendy locations, often with poorly-run restaurant locations that should've done well but had awful management. Too often chefs turn to the bigger cities, where competition and trends are fierce, when places like the Inn at Little Washington, VA, can be equally -- or exceptionally more -- lucrative. I love going to vibrant food cities like San Diego, Phoenix, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, etc - but tend to notice that as a traveler that, in those cities, the really good restaurant I found two years earlier is now closed as the locals have moved to something trendier. When I go to cities like Aberdeen MD, Columbus GA, Fairbanks AK, or Waynesboro, VA -- the good restaurants stay in business and I am able to visit them time after time, usually until the owner decides its time to quit.
  4. Well, this is certainly a city specific question... Cities that already have food trucks will want something exotic. Those cities and towns that haven't been blessed would probably take any type of good food. That said, I'd love to see good quality, creative hot sandwiches/wraps with above-average ingredients. Food truck food has to be easy to eat.... too hard and I'm not interested.
  5. There are a lot of regional foods that are suffering the same fate. Amish and Mennonite apple cider on the east coast comes to mind as they must now be pasteurized and generally produced inspected facilities, basically necessitating that they be mass-produced. So what used to be varied an interesting -- depending upon the apples used, age, processing methods, soils, etc -- is now largely a homogenized mass produced item. Here in Alaska, inspected restaurants by law are no longer allowed to make their own cheeses - something that chefs were beginning to tinker with. Cheesemaking ventures must have 6 separate rooms for processing, ensuring that no cheese will ever made to sell in Alaska due to the poor economies of scale. It seems large food corporations want the monopolies and don't want foreign companies and/or small mom and pops competing - something well documented in Marion Nestle's books.
  6. In New York State ALONE, foie gras production is a $17.5 million industry (http://www.shepstone.net/economicreport.pdf). I have no doubt that other food producers wouldn't think twice about spending $20-30K to lobby against foie gras so that they can have a piece of that economic pie instead.
  7. One thing that's being overlooked in the discussion of bans on certain foods -- whether raw milk or foie gras -- is the views of large corporate agriculture. Food production is a slim margin business. Eliminating small farms and producers is key to gaining growth and market share, even if not in the same industry. If you can't eat foie gras, you ARE going to eat something else - maybe a slice of Butterball Turkey instead? Corporate food producers have to report increased profits to Wall Street every quarter. They realize people can only eat so much. Since the only way to increase profits is to increase consumption, they'd rather have you eating THEIR products instead of foie gras. They've been effectively lobbying legislatures and regulatory agencies for years under many guises in an effort to choke out existing and emerging competitiors. [see Marion's Nestle's book "Food Politics."] Foie gras is a food that has a high profit margin and can keep a small farm alive; this ban will put existing and future small farms out of business permanently - which means fewer players in the overall food marketplace. As a "wannabe" cheesemaker, I can say that the same is happening with artisan and raw milk cheeses -- the regulations are getting so complex and expensive that only Kraft and Sargento will be able to compete. As an example, look at what happened to Estrella Farm in Washington State (along with many other small cheesemakers that have closed there recently). Corporate agriculture is only too happy for this to occur. They are quite savvy to choke new businesses out before they can gain a foothold -- and regulations are a way to do this. The more regulations government puts in place restricting food production to all but a few select items, the less likely it is that future competitors will emerge. Our governments are slowly handing our food supply over to corporations. That said, I am not anti-government (in fact, I work for the government) -- but we need smart regulations that favor both large and small producers.
  8. Living in Alaska, our produce gets chilled simply moving it from the truck to the store, or bringing it home in the car! I always have problems getting ripe avocados, so I refrain from buying them in the winter!
  9. I've noticed this too. I used to love to go into supermarkets when I traveled and look for regional variation in food -- say comparing a Piggly Wiggly in Georgia to something as mundane as an Albertson's on the west coast. Now, they are all starting to look the same across the US (and I would bet internationally). The consolidation of our food supply into a few hands is happening quicker than I would like, leading to less variety and more homogeneity. I'm wondering at what point it will also lead to higher prices and monopolies.
  10. This is one of the more important stories on agriculture to have come out in many years. I fully agree that feral swine are a problem anywhere -- but this rulemaking was poorly executed and thought through. One of the more important heritage breeds, Mangalitsa, was called illegal until March 8th, when a clarification letter was issued after a huge outcry. Unfortunately, this doesn't solve any problems for other farmers with other breeds that are less popular or visible. Furthermore, the state's guidelines are not based on genetics -- but rather phenotype (what the animals look like). They are using physical traits only, which is why Mangalitsa got thrown into the bunch. Details are here: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/Feral_swine_photo_illustration_381452_7.pdf I suspect they didn't want to use actual genetics because ALL feral pigs in the US come from European hogs, including the supposedly "safe" pink hogs. "Pink" pigs can and will survive outside (I've raised them here in Alaska) -- and will eventually go feral as well, their genetics reverting back to wild stock. So, to single out certain breeds based upon looks without singling out specific genes is laughable. What they needed to do was issue large fines to those hog operators without stout fences. I believe what really drove the train was the Michigan Pork Council. First of all, there is a huge concern about wild hogs transmitting diseases to feed lot hogs -- where such diseases would spread like wildfire due to the horrible growing conditions. Secondly, small producers are beginning to gain traction with breeds like Mangalitsa -- and will eventually cut into the already thin profit margins these large operators have. The best thing for them (big ag) to do was to sculpt regulations that were as restrictive as possible from the outset - destroying a few family farms in the process. The aftermath (compensation under takings law, for example) is something for the government to work out and fix later, long after the damage is done. While regulations were indeed needed, they could have been written smartly -- and the state could have chosen to consult with small farmers as well, which they did not. A few great books on the subject that illustrate how our food industry is being sabotaged by larged industry: "Mad Sheep" will leave you quite angry. It tells the story about a healthy flock of sheep in New England that was destroyed by USDA and found later to be clean of any disease - an incident which was probably a decoy to distract people from concerns over mad cow disease in the beef industry, with serious involvement by the Cattleman's Association. It can be found on Amazon here. Marion Nestle's "Food Politics" is an in-depth study of how the food industry uses every tool possible to maintain its razor thin profit margins in a cut-throat industry. The book talks at length about questionable practices that corrupt USDA and FDA rulemaking, sometimes at the detriment to the consumer, sometimes at the detriment of small food businesses and farms. It can be found on Amazon here. Finally, a great documentary was just released (today as a matter of fact) that talks about overzealous agricultural enforcement: Farmageddon. Farmers being held at gunpoint for doing something that was legal two months ago (in the case of the hogs) or selling milk (in the case of the Amish prosecuted for selling raw milk) is something that does not sit well with me. There is no reason to draw guns in these situations and treat honest people as hardened criminals.
  11. bigkoiguy

    Morel Mushrooms

    Dexter: Alaska produces morels around late May to June. If you check the Fairbanks Craigslist, you can find some locals selling dried ones; I'm guessing they'd be willing to ship them. In a few months, you may be able to find fresh ones -- though I doubt they would ship well. Alaska morels are picked from wild lands for several years after a forest has gone through, beginning the Spring after the fire. Occasionally, I've found them in unburned forest in bare areas where the soil had eroded. Fruiting, it seems, is the "last gasp" of a dying, underground morel colony that has lost its host (spruce trees). When I moved here in 2000, there had been a huge fire the previous year that killed several thousand acres of spruce forest - and we literally picked bushels of them. There were also commercial pickers up from the lower 48 that were shipping them out by the truckloads. [Which reminds me -- I still have a single bag of frozen morels from that fire - which are probably simply sentimental at this point since they're likely freezerburnt beyond recognition!] Fresh morels are usually available every year, but the cost varies. There are usually fires every summer -- but often these areas are only accessible by plane or boat, increasing the cost significantly. As you can guess, I'm waiting for the next big forest fire within driving distance! I have attempted to grow morels using some of the commercial kits you can get online. I've had absolutely no luck with them, whereas I've had reasonably good luck with other species. Morels are actually a yeast rather than a fungi. I'm guessing it's going to be a while before we see any signficant numbers of commercially grown morels as the growing practices seem quite finicky.
  12. BMDaniel: You have a point. There is gentle criticism - but this would essentially be scathing. My guess is that the owners have probably already heard plenty from other folks, but haven't taken the advice (at least I hope that's the case). As the damage is probably already done (due to this being a super-small town), I'm inclined simply not to say anything (and not go back). Qwerty: Interesting idea -- not sure if I have the nerve though! As far as why I want it to stick around -- it's simple -- the town needs a diner and the people that run it are nice folks who I hate to see fail. This particular town has no fast food or chain restaurants and very few local restaurants in spite of demand. In the late 90s, this location was the hotspot in the center of town, always crowded. The business was sold successively to two more owners that ran it "okay" for several years (CISCO type food - nothing spectacular, but great for a quick breakfast or 9:00 pm meal) and, in spite of mediocre food, it still did okay. Unfortunately, two years ago, the building was sold in a nasty divorce and the occupants kicked out -- allowing the buyer to open their own diner, resulting in the farce that remains.
  13. To clarify, this diner has been open about 6-9 months. They had a good crowd at first, but it dwindled in two weeks. everyone who has eaten there shares similar stories - things as simple as hamburger and fries screwed up. Good advice from everyone though.
  14. MJX: I think your question is a valid one. Businesses obviously have absolutely no obligation to provide free accomodations to the public; it is private property after all. Restaurants have the same rights as lawyers, hospitals, etc. Nonetheless, if I were by a hospital and needed to use the bathroom, I would. Most hospitals do have open restrooms. Other than my work as a volunteer EMT, I rarely find myself in or near a hospital though - so this situation rarely presents itself. I would not hesitate to ask to use a government office bathroom - and have done so. If a lawyers office was the only thing around and I had an emergency, I would walk in an politely ask. If it were a non-emergency, I would not -- because there would be no chance I would ever do business there. There is a very strong chance, however, that I would --- and could -- buy something from a chocolate or coffee shop, essentially thanking them for being courteous to the public. In so doing, they get to introduce me to their business. Hopefully, I will like it and return!
  15. I live in a very small town -- with only a handful of restaurants. As a result, I REALLY want to see a new restaurant succeed. Unfortunately, I've seen dozens open and close their doors in the time I've lived here. They all had obvious fatal flaws in their food or service that would kill any restaurant anywhere. Generally, these have been run by people who've never been in food service before -- but each had a glimmer of possibility had they been well run. Furthermore, in this case -- it is not the local economy. A well-run restaurant opened last year and is booming. So, how does a random customer like me offer constructive advice to a new restaurant without seeming like a Gordon Ramsay wannabe or a food snob? When I know the staff is really trying - but they get virtually everything wrong - what do you say? For example, my breakfast at a recent diner included the waitress asking me what came on the plate I ordered and asking me how much coffee was. I could see into the kitchen -- where they proceeded to burn my first plate of hash browns and over easy eggs, setting of the a smoke detector. They recooked the food - but it was still scorched a tad too much. My over-easy eggs were perfectly hard cooked. There were no coffee refills. I had to ask for silverware and had to snag someone from the kitchen for a check after waiting about ten minutes. I got so frustrated with all of this I wanted to rush into the kitchen to help! Should I butt out? Offer a few tactful tips... or let my thoughts rip?
  16. Edward - I didn't mean to imply that you are rude to your customers, but was talking generally as I have run into these type businesses elsewhere. My viewpoint is this - some people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on advertising or other incentives to draw people into their shop. Your bathroom is doing this for almost nothing - and some of these drop ins, once exposed to your shop, might become future repeat customers. Once they are there and you have their attention, it is up to you to provide an experience that entices them to shell out a few bucks and try your products. Tolerating the disrespectful, unfortunately, is going to be a part of this.
  17. I've really enjoyed cooking from this book. In some ways, it's a great "back to Asian basics" cookbook with some twists and turns. For me, the recipes have always turned out great - particularly the beef short ribs and the ramen. In thinking about traditional ways of cooking, it occurred to me that ramen has been made for some time - which got me to thinking, where did people 100 years ago get potassium and sodium carbonate??? This got me looking into the chemistry of these two chemicals. If you look at potassium carbonate, it appears that it was originally manufactured from potash. Potash was obtained by soaking plant ashes in water and then, after filtering charcoal and silica, drying the resulting solution. This left a slurry of silica (fine sand) in a potassium carbonate solution. Similarly, sodium carbonatewas obtained from ashes from certain plants. It seems that ramen would have originally been made with potash? Thoughts?
  18. If 50% of the people using your bathroom don't buy something -- that means 50% of them DO buy something -- and probably will come back to buy more. You've gained sales for the price of a toilet flush. Yes, there will be freeloaders in ANY system - but I would not recommend punishing the good people because of a few bad incidents. Keep in mind, you can count the number of people that used the bathroom and didn't buy things -- but I doubt you can count the number that buy things and never return because they encountered a locked bathroom or received a bad attitude from staff. If I know a business has a locked bathroom, I personally tend to avoid going there. A locked bathroom is also a sign that the place may have some less than savory characters around. For me, when visiting a large city, it becomes a red flag - particularly during off hours -- that maybe I am not safe in that area.
  19. I figured as someone living outside of Fairbanks, this thread needed an update. When visiting Fairbanks, some great places are: - Most any of the Thai restaurants. Fairbanks, oddly enough, has a huge Thai population that was located here after the Vietnam War by a Catholic non-profit. We have more Thai restaurants than Chinese -- and virtually all are great. Lemon Grass, in particular, tries hard to serve locally-grown and organic food. Thai House, downtown near the Marriott, has a great catfish dish and other chef's specials. - Chena Pump House -- a historic landmark (old dredge site) with well-prepared and often local food, on the river. - Seoul Gate Restaurant -- cheap but very good Korean food in the basement of a bowling alley! - The Bakery -- old-fashioned simple American diner, great homemade donuts and breakfasts - SourDough Sams - another inexpensive and simple local diner - Pike's Landing - unpretentious but good American food, on the river as well - Wolf's Run -- I haven't been here in many years, but it used to be (and I assume still is) a cozy little bistro with an interesting menu. - Lavelle's -- downtown in the Marriot SpringHill Suites, local produce when available, high quality ingredients, varied menu. Lavelle's took a while to hammer their menu down, but has turned into one of the more reliable spots in town. - Drive-through coffee stands. Alaska has a LOT of these, and Fairbanks is no exception. Many have bagels, paninis, and sandwiches for something quick. Rising Sun is one of the better ones. Two other notable mentions while in the Interior, out-of-town: -- Taste of Europe, in Delta Junction, is owned by a Russian family and serves Eastern European and Italian fare. Their food is excellent. The sampler plate is a good choice. -- Fast Eddy's in Tok. It has been in business for years for a reason.
  20. I'm in the "leave bathrooms open" camp. Many times, when I have to go, I'll use the bathroom first -- and then buy something. If the bathroom is not readily accessible, I'll simply leave and find someplace that has the bathroom open to the public. Therefore, theso business with a closed bathroom will lose a sale. In addition, if I really have to go, I don't want to carry my pastry or coffee into the bathroom - or try and eat it while being uncomfortable, visiting the bathroom after I've finished. I won't ask for a key if I haven't bought anything as I feel very self-conscious doing so (feeling like the clerk is looking at me like a freeloader if I haven't yet bought anything). Finally, I would DEFINITELY not go back to someplace that chided me for using their bathroom.
  21. Interesting.... This makes me think the smaller cities -- desperate for good food -- might be better incubators for young and upcoming chefs than highly competitive markets.
  22. I just butchered two hogs myself and have been busy for the last week making all sorts of wonderful things. The best thing to do is to get a copy of the book "Charcuterie" by Ruhlman -- it will tell you how to use everything. From the book, I made salami, dry salted hams, andouille, real frankfurters (with the fat), various types of bacon (all are great), and more. I also made lard - perfect for pie crusts (and donuts fried in the lard while we made it!). Finally, I made scrapple (one of my favorites) using the scraps from the head and organ meat (recipe not in the book unfortunately but basically involves gently simmering the meat on bones, deboning and grinding/chopping it, adding back to the broth, then adding cornmeal and flour -- sort of like an American polenta with pork, then sliced and fried). Much was frozen as fresh pork.
  23. I have a solution to all of this. As soon as a restaurant is no longer trendy in NYC, ship it to us here in the hinterlands! They do this with Broadway Shows -- why not translate it to restaurants. I love big cities, but it would be nice to get that kind of dining in Topeka or San Diego when I visit. I'm only half-sarcastic with that comment. It drives me crazy that extremely talented people open trendy -- and probably financially risky -- restaurants in the city when opening a good restaurant in a mid-sized or small city can provide hungry (figuratively and literally) and ultimately devoted customers. Heck, here in interior Alaska, we're desperate for a good burger more or less foie gras! Is it all ego that drives people to open up in NYC versus Topeka???? Customer's income is obviously part of the calculation - but that doesn't seem to be all of it as there are many midsized cities with rich residents.
  24. It was weird to read this post after hearing a story about a local guy who modded his oven to bake pizzas. He somehow bypass the controls on the autoclean function and can get his oven up 775F - which, to my surprise, is a good temperature for baking a pizza (never knew that). I wonder if the commercial stove manufacturers will ever take notice and make these changes. I'd love to buy one that could do these things. Add a high-capacity burner for a wok and I'd have the perfect stove!
  25. Great photos and story. I am so jealous. Here in Alaska, reindeer is occasionally for sale (though mostly you find reindeer sausage). One source to check is http://www.deltameat.com/. I suspect they will custom butcher a piece for you. On a funny note, a farmer friend of mine has an entire herd that he keeps for pets believe it or not. I keep eyeing the fat little butterballs thinking.... oh nevermind.
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