Tonight, we are sitting on the world’s best beer collection…

…in a hotel room.  I’m certain of it. And we’re too tired to drink it.

When I came to the States in 1999, American beer was constantly ridiculed as various forms of piss.  Who’d have thought the tables would turn to the point that Belgians and Germans are coming to the US to learn how to make beer?

Four days in the North East with two aficionados as tour guides blew my mind.  Think wine tasting with a hipster vibe.  No shortage of beards, tattoos and piercings.

First stop, Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, VT.  Quaint downtown.  It’s raining on and off like it will do for the entire trip.  The trees are just starting to bud so they have a smoke ring of red just forming around their gray skeletons.  It’ll look completely different in two weeks. We step into one of those comfortable local joints with whitewashed walls and a collection of signs, pictures and hunting trophies that feels authentically collected and curated.  Not like one of those brand new joints where somebody had to go out and buy all this arbitrary stuff two weeks before opening to make it look like this.

At 8:30 on a Wednesday the crowd is thinning out, so we grab three open stools at the bar and introduce ourselves to Kevin. The bar has a classic comfortable wooden countertop with that delightful bevel for your elbows.  I feel at home already.

The guys are intently studying the beer menu.  The names are almost as much fun as the beers.  I start my tour right with Lawson’s Finest Sip of Sunshine, a lupulin-laden tropical, juicy, hoppy, unfiltered, smooth double IPA that I’ve learnt is an excellent example of the North East IPA style vs. the bright hop riot typical of the West Coast IPAs.  Grapefruit vs. lemon might get you half the idea.

The check ins begin.  Untappd, is a Facebook for beer drinkers to keep track of and score all they’ve sampled (both my guides make it to 1,000 on this trip.  I feel like a novice when I hit 100.)  There are now over 5,000 registered craft breweries, so keeping track of the 50,000 plus brews is not a job for human memory.

 

The elusive BackAcre’s Sour Golden Ale in it’s cradle

While we tuck into some chorizo-stuffed grilled peppers, Jake spots a rare Sour Golden Ale from Backacre Beermakers.  Kevin leans over the bar to tell us this is what those in the know are really excited about. This is beer that will change your mind about beer.  It comes in a wine bottle, is poured into tasting glasses and then lovingly rested in wicker cradle to the sediment at the bottom is not disturbed.  The nose is incredible, and the balanced sour is so refreshing after the IPA.  A worthy competitor to champagne, far more scarce and way less expensive.  At $22 for the bottle it feels like a bargain and it’s a most enjoyable companion to the TPT signature burger with the brilliant unexpected twist of peanut butter.

We climb back in the car, satiated, yet keen to get to Burlington before close.  The Farmhouse Tap and Grill allegedly had a maple-inspired event but they’re on last call.  The bartender recommends a local dive bar around the corner.  Finnigan’s Pub definitely is.  Amongst the skull stickers on the fridge is “Vermont as Fuck”.  Here I get to try the phenomenal Heady Topper.

the delicious Heady Topper

It comes in a silver can with intricate tattoo-like graphics and the all caps instructions around the rim “DON’T POUR THIS”.  Apparently the amazing mix of smells and tastes will be damaged by the act of pouring into a glass.  I sip contently, marveling that we landed barely 5 hours ago in Boston and I’m already having this much fun.

As we stagger out of the bar in the wee hours, we learn that pizza falls from the sky in VT.  A man carrying boxes asks if we want any.  Umm, hell yeah! We tear the slices apart like starving dogs who can’t believe their luck as we walk back to the hotel.

The days start pretty late.  Most tasting rooms don’t open until 12.  On holiday, I like to make room for the coming calories with some exercise before the decadence starts.  After a little more shaky than usual yoga and a bracing run on the bike path alongside Lake Champlain with dog walkers and runners I’m ready for more.

Burlington Beer Co is not actually in Burlington.  It’s in an industrial park about ten miles out of town.  Of course, everything is desolate and deserted except for this parking lot.  There’s not a lot of money in this game and there’s no need for a picturesque vineyard.  The industrial vibe sits well with the hipster aesthetic.

Stepping inside is like entering something from Ken Kesey’s Electric Cool Aid Acid Test.  Trippy music is blaring.  The server is incredibly lean (not surprisingly, many of the brewers and their clientele are hardly svelte).  He’s clad in black, with dark rimmed glasses and a beanie and a chest tattoo peeping out the top of his Henley shirt.  The brewery’s graphics are incredible, line-drawings of wizards, deers and apparitions.  The names and brews are even more creative.

We order tasters of all 12 on draft and get to sni

Samples!

ffing, swilling and checking in.  You Can’t Get Here From There (Key Lime & Kumquat), I See the Vision (Paw Paw & Dragonfruit) and the signature It’s Complicated Being A Wizard are standouts.  The smokey and sweet mushroom tacos and were welcome and unexpectedly good sustenance.

House of Fermentology does not have a tasting room.  Fortunately a few of their creations are on tap at Foam Brewers down by the lake, who are producing some outstanding drops as well.  Like Clockwork is a knockout surprise.  Rites of Spring is a tasty palate cleanser.

We score a last-minute cancellation and treat ourselves to some sophisticated farm-to-table fare at Hen of the Wood.  The rabbit liver pate is a standout amongst beef tartare and heirloom carrot with homemade ricotta starters.  We enjoy a four flight taste of bourbons and rye whiskeys another area of incredible artistry and innovation in the US.  Enjoy them while they last, we’re drinking them faster than they can age them.  Another excellent sour with our main course of pork loin and a delicious couple of desserts round out the meal.

The Growler Garage is a not so well thought out concept but we enjoy chatting with a few locals and helping them finish the antipasto plates from their office function.  In search of more beer and apparently suffering from bottomless stomachs we find ourselves drinking more beers and devouring a superb mushroom and sausage pizza at American Flatbread.  Time to stagger back to the hotel again.

Must be ready to roll by 10am.  We’re going to the world’s best brewery today.  There’s a palpable tension with sticking to the schedule because supplies are limited.  After some more unsteady yoga and a much slower run, I check out and pile into the car for the nearly 2 hour drive to Hill Farmstead.  It’s at the end of a long dirt road on top of a ridge.  There’s still snow on the ground in patches. This feels more like a winery especially with a new tasting room commanding views of the surrounding country.

We arrive ten minutes before 12 and there’s already a line of cars and people assembling their coolers.  You can’t buy these bottles online, so you have to be here to get this golden nectar.  Sean Hill has been producing incredibly finely crafted Pale Ales, IPAs, sours and other exotic varieties and these patrons can’t get enough of it.  First stop is the retail store to see what’s on sale today and what’s in limited supply.  Then into the tasting room to get a number to get in line to fill bottles and start sampling to choose the two pours we will have today.

Liquor licensing in this country is a nonsensical patchwork of state regulations.  Minnesota just allowed liquor stores to open on Sundays.  In the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire, you can only buy hard liquor from state run stores.  In this tasting room, they don’t want you getting drunk and driving on those windy hill roads, so two pours is the limit and no pours are allowed of the stronger double IPAs.  You can buy bottles to drink on site but they’re 60% more expensive than the takeaways.  Signs everywhere advise you not to open the takeaways on site.

Part of the FOMO tension is driven by this scarcity and these crazy rules.  There is an active trading market for these limited bottles and mules from all over the North East are here to pick up bottles.  The guys have trouble relaxing as they wait for their number and decide how to allocate the precious slots in their luggage to the bottles they can take home.  I just sample everything and wish my nose wasn’t blocked as I’m having trouble picking up the floral, spice and fruit notes of these beers.  There is no bad beer here. The onsite list is reminiscent of a winery with a seemingly endless list of rare bottles. It can’t be long before the best breweries start to charge for samples, much like the wineries.  There’s a constant struggle to keep this market for the everyman and somehow still cover the costs.

Unfortunately, being doubles, Abner and the Double Galaxy are not available for pours.  So I settle down with the creamy dry Pale Ale Harlan, and the wonderful wheat saison, Florence. The sours are such a welcome pallet cleanser on this trip after all the bitterness of the hops.  As we settle down and enjoy our pours and the initial opening wave thins out, we can feel calm descending. I’m struck by the mild irony of Frenchman filling a dozen bottles with American beer while his wife and kids patiently wait in a room and where the only food available is a selection of artisan cheeses.

It’s back to Waterbury to check in and visit The Alchemist’s new out of town tasting room.  It looks like a punk winery, the crowd and the graphics on the merchandise and the building cement the vision.  A black cap with a vibrant green line drawing of hops makes me realize that image has become a symbol of craft beer as iconic as the hemp leaf for cannabis.

At Alchemist they’re milking the success of Focal Banger and Heady Topper for all it’s worth.  It’s all about cranking out these cans at scale.  Locals are dropping in all the time to pick up their limited allocation.  It’ll be interesting to see how long they can stay ahead of the fierce competition.

If I lived in Waterbury I would weigh at least twenty pounds more.  The small downtown has three outstanding brewpubs and restaurants separated by about 20 paces.  We hit Prohibition Pig (Pro Pig as the locals call it) for some beers and fine barbeque. I’m thrilled to find Hill Farmstead’s Double Galaxy on tap and it goes well with some dry rubbed wings, very tasty pimento poppers with chili jam, and a good brisket with duck fat fries.

Across the road is the Craft Beer Cellar.  Just looking at the labels is entertaining.  Boom Sauce, Consolation Prize and Steal This Can crack me up.

We head across the road to The Blackback Pub (try saying that fast after a few brews). Dave stops by our table to check in and gives us some recommendations including the surprising Rodenbach’s Fruitage (raspberries and elderberries, queue Monty Python’s Holy Grail) and lets us know which local brewers he’s excited about.  Asking staff what they’re excited about is my pro trick contribution to this trip.  The nachos with bacon, blue cheese, green onions and maple syrup are so good we go back for seconds.

We unsteadily cross back across the road to The Reservoir for yet more beers.  And then we stumble back across that same road to Blackback for a final round. At this point I’ve clearly had way too much, somehow we’re eating yet more pizza and then ubering back to the hotel.  Alchemist’s Crusher crushes me and I crush the can.  Definitely time for bed.

ice cream 🙂

You can’t live like this forever.  Or even a week.  I’m a mess the next morning.  We’re right next door to Ben & Jerry’s Factory so Tom and I take the factory tour for a change of pace.  Even on a cold rainy morning the humorous graphics and community programs give you the warm and fuzzies about this institution.  A funny graphic video of their history, a guide that somehow bursts with authentic enthusiasm, and a generous sample of Milk and Cookies flavor have us back on track.

We’re heading back to Boston today.  Following up on Dave’s recommendation we stop in at River Roost Brewing in White River Junction and yak it up with the guys behind the bar and Brandon the man behind Big Fatty’s BBQ across the lot.  Big Fatty’s is awesome, with an incredible salad bar and world-class brisket, burnt ends and ribs.  Terrific selection of beers on tap and in their bottle shop.  It’s worth remembering the unplanned surprises are the so often the highlights of travel.

today’s selection

We’re all pretty tired by now so the conversation in the car is thinning out.  We’re rather pleased to finally make it to Trillium Brewing’s Canton MA location.  The lot is packed, there are cars parked everywhere.  Clearly we are in the big city now.  Inside is a noisy zoo, with opposite lines for tasting and purchases reminiscent of United Zone 1 and 2 boarding snaking across the floor and overlapping. Dogs on leash add to the chaos.  Again a two pour purchase limit.  We divide and conquer hitting both line. The beers are really, really good making all the waiting for beers and somewhere to sit worthwhile.  Vicinity, Double Dry Hopped Congress, Double Dry Hopped Summer are a juicy, cloudy, tropical collection of goodness. A decent, perhaps bit too fruity, Raspberry Soak sour to finish. Sadly, we miss out on the Fort Point Pale Ale.

After checking in at our airport hotel and dropping off the rental car we Uber over to Night Shift Brewing in Everett.  Winding through an urban wasteland we reach the industrial oasis of the brewery, and the ever-present BBQ food truck. There’s a line to get in the door! It’s a lively scene inside and we choose our beers carefully and scout for a table.  Morph, Santilli and The 87 are winners here.  Of course, I finish with another sour, the well-balanced Rickey Weisse.

With dying cell phone batteries (the scourge of the modern traveler) and flagging energy we catch an Uber back to the hotel.  There’s an amusing conversation with the driver who has recently graduated from Corona to Stella Artois and has noticed a craft brewery near his home and his thinking he should give it a try.  He can’t remember the name.  It’s something like Brewery he says.  That should narrow it down a bit we later chuckle.

Back at the hotel, it’s time to sort out what will fit and what has to be drunk that night.  Right here, right now, fresh cans and bottles of what is unquestionably now the best beer in the world are ready for consumption.  And we’re too tired to enjoy it all.  It’s time for goodbyes and half formed ideas of the next trip.  Richmond, VA anyone?

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What some true badasses taught me about leadership

This book is truly hardcore and yet surprisingly helpful from a leadership perspective.  We imagine Navy SEALS pulling off Mission Impossible style activities.  Who would have thought that Navy SEALS would have to deal with PowerPoint slides and face similar frustrations manaextreme-ownership-coverging up and down that the rest of us do in a business environment? I immediately recognized challenges with my own leadership style and used the perspectives in the book to change my attitude to great effect.

The key concept is in the title and aligns closely with the Stoic writings of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – stop blaming others for what happens, look in the mirror, accept the blame and take ownership.  This is the only way to build true trust that is the most effective way to make teams work together.  Google comprehensively studied what makes teams effective and discovered that psychological safety was the single most important metric for determining how well a team would work together.

When you hear lines like “corporate doesn’t understand what’s happening in the field”, “management doesn’t get it”, you know trust is not present.  Jocko and Leif make the argument that the best way to fix this is to ask “Do they want us to fail? Are they trying to sabotage our efforts?” Of course not.  If they don’t get it then you’ve failed to explain it to them.  So own the communication, invite them out to the field, learn why they are asking the questions they are, build the relationship and the trust.

Navy SEALS are true badasses.  The audiobook is fantastic because Jocko and Leif read with their intense deep gravelly voices recounting stories from Iraq with a deeply measured intensity that transports you to the urban battlefield. It can get a little repetitive with the stories, details and acronyms (I got tired of hearing M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle spelt out every time they were featured) but at the same time there’s an important lesson from this precision and attention on details, the cost of a mistake can be the death of a close team mate, so checking and double checking when the stakes are high is absolutely critical, even if it get’s annoying.  There are two examples in the book of avoiding blue on blue incidents (aka shooting your own guys) that were averted by having the courage in the heat of battle to stop and confirm the details before acting.

If you remember nothing else, remember there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.  They tell a great story of 6 boat crews competing in SEAL training.  Boat 2 is crushing it, all working together.  Boat 6 is losing every race.  The leader is blaming his crew and thinking he had the bad luck of getting a weak crew.  They swap the leaders and suddenly Boat 6 starts coming in first or second with Boat 2.  The successful leader did not assume he would lose, and focused the team on pushing to the next immediate obstacle in the race.  This small shift in approach coupled with belief in the team (which made everyone on the team believe in themselves) made all the difference to their performance.  So have faith in your teams, look in the mirror and ask are you truly owning the outcome no matter the result.

If someone on your team is causing you frustration, seek first to understand the behavior and the motivation.  Ask them, hey I noticed you seem to be having trouble with doing x, are you not sure where to start or why we’re doing it, or something else? By realizing that you are responsible for their success you’re now on the same team and working together to be successful.  If you both understand and believe in the mission (the why) and your own personal whys, the motivation will be there and you can focus on the execution.

Best ever wake up routine (and rediscover how to stay warm)

Cole enjoying the coldIt’s cold. 9 degrees (-13 C) this morning.  21 degrees (-6 C) now.

It’s now or never.  I don’t want too, but I promised myself I would.  I’ll be kicking myself for months later if I don’t man up and do this.

“Which way to the lake? We’ve got time for this right?” Mason nods.

“Good, let’s do it”

I’m committed now.  We drive over the pass. Donner  Lake appears as a  mass of dark water brooding in the valley. We drive along snow-covered roads. The snow-covered houses across the lake look like picturesque gingerbread houses from here.

At the parking lot, some much younger guys are Go Pro-ing their attempts to ski along a rail. “Bathrooms are locked” they helpfully say.

“No worries, don’t need them” I say, privately thinking I can always use that old tactic to warm up a little.

Mason thinks I should jump off the end of the pier.  The thought of going under is terrifying.  I opt to lay out my clothes on the snow on the pier (so I can get some dry stuff on fast afterwards)

I start breathing.  Big deep breaths in.  Focusing on the breath up around my chest. Releasing the breath around the back of my neck, searching for the inner warmth that should come from the brown adipose fat tissue activation.

Gingerly I step in.

dipping a toe in the lake10 weeks ago I started an online course called the Wim Hof Method.  Wim Hof is a Dutch man, who according to Wikipedia: “holds 20 world records, including a world record for longest ice bath (1 hour and 52 minutes). He’s  climbed to 21,982 ft altitude on Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, completed a full marathon, above the arctic circle at −20 °C (−4 °F) dressed in nothing but shorts, in 5 hours and 25 minutes. He ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water… He demonstrated he is able to directly influence his own Autonomic Nervous System and Immune System. Hof seems to be able to raise his cortisol levels and lower the amount of cytokines (inflammatory mediators) just by using his meditation techniques.”

To prove he’s not just a faker, he gets scientists to test him.  To prove he’s not a freak, he trained a group of 12 volunteers in a University project to do the same thing.  His online course has now trained thousands.  Today there were 9,485 members of the private Facebook page, and the pictures and stories they post are amazing.

When I heard about this on Tim Ferriss’ fantastic podcast with Laird Hamilton, Gabby Reese and Brian Mackenzie I was intrigued.  After watching the Vice YouTube video and hearing Wim on Tim’s podcast I decided to sign up.

Ever the earnest student, I printed the guide, did a baseline for seconds holding breath (retention) and then maximum push-ups, woke early and followed the weekly videos (no you can’t step ahead to the next week until a week has expired).

It’s all filmed at his training facility in Poland.  You see Wim and a handful of students in their gray hoodies and sweat pants sitting on yoga mats in a plain room. His voice is deep (as if coming from deep within his diaphragm) with an infectious laugh, and some hilarious translations (such as “put them in the pelvis” to explain a seated hamstring stretch)

Every morning you do 4 cycles of 30-40 deep inhales and light exhales resulting in a tingly feel as you flush out carbon dioxide and fill up with oxygen.

You will hold your breath 50 to 200%  longer than your benchmark after this first “hyperventilating” cycle.  First surprise.

By the end of the fourth cycle, no matter how groggy you felt getting up, your whole body will feel alive and you won’t even be looking for a cup of coffee.  That is super cool.

After a 5th cycle of breaths, you do push ups holding your breath.  The first time will be more than you did while breathing.  Second surprise.

You then do yoga stretches with a breathing technique (inhale to point of resistance, hold breath for 5 to 7 seconds and focus on releasing blood flow into point of resistance).  You can feel the area release and allow you to go deeper into the stretch.  Third surprise.

Then exercises – headstands (can do), 1 arm crow (success!),and this insanely hard thing called the shelf, which I haven’t mastered yet.  I’d wanted to do a freestanding headstand for years and now all of a sudden it was happening.  Another surprise.

Next, meditation.  5 to 10 minutes. Focus on breathing and the forehead.  You’ll start seeing “stroboscope” lighting in your head.  He says it’s the pituitary gland.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty cool.  The intensity varies (it can be vary faint).  In an earlier post, I shared my experiences with Headspace, and it was nice to try this simple approach

Then the cold showers.  You start with alternating 30 seconds cold then hot, then a minute, by week 7 you’re doing 10 minute cold showers daily.  I won’t say they are pleasant, but within days, you stop gasping when the cold water hits you.

I’m rather compelled by the simple notion that with heating and clothes we’ve lost touch with our ability to regulate our body temperature.   Before civilization, early humans would have presumably died from exposure all the time without this.

All up the routine takes an hour.  If you just do the breathing it’s 20 minutes.  I feel incredibly awake and invigorated every time I do this.  It’s now my absolute favorite way to spend the first 20 minutes of my day.  I’ve been testing different morning routines for the last 2 years including different combinations of journals, gratitude and affirmations, yoga, meditation, and reading.  Breathing wins for me.

Back to that cold lake.  I was surprised I didn’t start shivering when I took off my clothes.  I was surprised I didn’t gasp stepping into the water (it was a relatively warm 48 degrees (9 C) so maybe that’s why).  I expected my fingers to start freezing up on me so I crossed my arms over my chest.  They never got cold.  I kept breathing.

One of the young guys filming the skiing came over and said that’s way more interesting than what we’re doing and shot a little action on the GoPro (maybe we’re on YouTube now?) Mason kept track of time and shot the video on his phone.  Cole got bored, wanted to pee, did snow angels, and as you can see, ate snow.

5 minutes in some shivering started. Decided it was time to get out.  Stepping out was fine.  Reaching for my towel and drying off was fine.  Getting the first layers on was fine.  Then the cold blood from the extremities started to hit my core and the shivering started (they call this the “after-drop”).  Apparently vigorous physical exercise like running or pushups can help offset it.  Like climbing a mountain, it’s not over at the top, it’s over once you get back down.  I shouldn’t have lost focus on my breathing.

As the shivering really kicked in, I needed Mason’s help to get those socks on my wet feet.  Getting back in the car, the shivering came on strong.  It took about 1/2 an hour for it to stop.  I was hungry as a horse that night, guess my system got challenged and needed fuel to recover.

Sometimes it’s good to shake things up and scare yourself.  I was more scared about doing this than running the Miwok 100km in 2011, or 50 miles at 10,000 ft in Park City, Utah last year.

What’s it all good for?  Excellent question.  For me, finding the best way to start my day without caffeine is priceless.  Rediscovering new potential, and redefining  what is possible is priceless.

Everything else is just gravy.  Achieving personal goals like freestanding headstands and improving flexibility is cool.    I’m injured right now from running, so I don’t know if it’ll improve my cardiovascular system.  Haven’t had a cold yet, but it’s just the start of winter.  Still get cold hands (Wim suggests training with an ice bucket). I just made a work trip where it was 30 degrees and I didn’t feel the need for a jacket, hat or gloves.  Lighter weight travel is a nice perk.

All up, great value for $199.

I hope I can thank Wim Hof in person one day.  Maybe share a beer and a few laughs.  We are all amazing.  As Wim would say “breath motherf#%ckers” or less crassly, “enjoy, have fun with it”.  Namaste.

 

Watermelon plays nice with chicken

 There’s been so much tasty goodness this summer.  This was another popular food porn shot receiving multiple recipe requests.  The tangy lime dressing is so refreshing with the watermelon.

This is a great example of how you can turn a salad into a meal by combining it with a protein, in this case, a foolproof (always juicy, never dried-out and rubbery)  grilled chipotle-lime chicken recipe from Cooks Illustrated (subscription required)

I’m trying to eat more greens, so I tend to always have clamshells of organic arugula or mixed greens in the fridge.  A handful goes on the plate first, and then I just lay the salad on top

Watermelon Feta & Mint Salad with Chipotle-Lime Grilled Chicken

  • Make ahead: the grilled chicken (I make a huge double batch and use it throughout the week, good for 4 days in the fridge and much longer in freezer )
  • Prep time: 15 minutes for watermelon salad, 1 hour for the grilled chicken
  • Serves 4
  • Ingredients:
    • Chicken (for each 1.5-2 lbs of skinless chicken breasts)
      • Marinade: whisk together 3 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp water, 1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice, 1 tsp sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 3 cloves minces garlic.
      • Sauce (this sauce is awesome, and perfect if you’re having the chicken by itself, otherwise you can omit for this recipe): whisk together 3 Tbsp EVOO, 1 Tbsp lime juice, 1 tsp minced chipotle chile, 2 Tbsp  cilantro leaves, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    •  Dressing
      • 1/2 cup mint leaves
      • 1 serrano chile (seeded and minced) or 1/2 tsp red chile flakes
      • 1 Tbsp  honey
      • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
      • 1 Tbsp lime juice
      • 3 Tbsp EVOO
      • Salt & pepper
    • Salad
      • 1/4 cup mint leaves
      • Seedless watermelon about 3lb, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
      • 6 oz feta crumbled
  • Preparation
    • Charcoal grill: if using (you can also broil the chicken if you’re in a hurry), fill and light the chimney starter,  then make a two level fire – all charcoal on 1 side.
      • I like using smoker chips.  Add 1 cup of Hickory chips to 2 cups of water before starting the grill (they need about 30 minutes of soaking).  Add to the charcoal after its gone white, then add the grate back in
    • Chicken:
      • Make the marinade and pour into a gallon size zip-loc freezer bag
      • Add the chicken and massage around, squeeze out the air, seal the bag and put in the fridge for 15 minutes (I usually do this after starting the grill)
      • After 15 minutes flip the bag, and leave for another 15 minutes (total of 30 minutes)
      • Use a wad of paper towels with oil on them to grease the grate just prior to adding the chicken to the side withOUT the coals.
      • Grill 5-7 minutes each side on the cool side with the lid on (until chicken goes white, maybe some minor brown marks)
      • Move chicken to the hot side (where the coals are) and add some color (grill marks) about 2 minutes each side
      • Use an instant read thermometer (you’re good once it reads 135 degrees in the thickest part, and get it off straight away if you’ve topped 150! If you’re using a broiler, you’ll just need to watch it, plan on around 5-9 minutes each side)
      • Cover with foil and let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes
    • Dressing:
      • Put all dressing ingredients (remember to save 1/4 cup mint leaves for garnish!)  in a blender, buzz, taste, add more chile, lime, salt or pepper to taste
    • Salad:
      • Toss the watermelon with the dressing up to 30 minutes before serving
      • Add the feta and grilled chicken and toss lightly
    • Plating
      • Lay down some arugula, then place salad on top to desired portion size.

Enjoy!

 

Summer Bliss (aka: How to learn to love salads)

 Summer fruit and veg are just irresistible to me.  Tomatoes, figs, peaches, nectarines, pluots, berries.  So good.

If you’re not into salads, summer is the time to start.  The cookbook that made me finally get salads is Salad of the Day, by Georgeanne Brennan. The genius of this book is right there in the sub-title: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year.

There’s a ton of different flavor profiles: French, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Indian, favorites and favorites with a twist…  Many of these salads are meals in themselves with protein  included.  Many are easily made into meals by adding some grilled chicken, salmon, tuna, steak, lamb, or shrimp.

Most weeks, usually Friday arvo or Saturday morning, I’ll flick through that month’s recipes and get some ideas.  Then, when I get to the market, I go with what looks good, and know I can look forward to some delicious days using what’s seasonal.  (Added benefit: if it’s in season, it’s often relatively cheaper)

This week has been ridiculous.  I’ve been teasing friends on Instagram and Facebook with some of the photos.  Here’s the recipe behind the food porn pic.  What makes this recipe rock:

  1. It looks and tastes amazing (thanks to the best heirloom tomatoes you can find, never refrigerated, just bursting with flavor and juices)
  2. The unexpected combo of oregano, and sherry vinegar (instead of basil and balsamic)
  3. You can let it sit a couple of hours and it just gets better (unlike most salads that need to be eaten almost as soon as they’re tossed with the dressing)

Heirloom Salad with Oregano, Sherry & Balsamic Vinegar (August 8, p. 183)

  • Serves 2 with 2-4 heirlooms, 4 with 6-8 (recipe below for 2, double for 4)
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Prep Ahead: up to 2 hours
  • Ingredients:
    • 2-4 Heirloom tomatoes
    • 1 green onion (or 3-4 chives)
    • 1 clove garlic (optional)
    • 1-2 tsp fresh oregano
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Sherry vinegar
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO, a good salad-worthy one if you have it)
    • Salt (Maldon crystals are awesome, but regular salt works)
    • 1/4 tsp sugar (skip if desired)
    • Country-style bread for mopping up the juices (if you want 🙂 )
  1. Slice tomatoes a bit over a 1/4 inch thick.  Lay them out on plates or serving platter
  2. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp sugar, 1/4-1/2 tsp salt to taste over the luscious beauties (do this from about 12 inches above the plate for a more even sprinkle)
  3. Finely chop the oregano & green onion (or chives), and mince the garlic (if using) and sprinkle over those tomatoes.
  4. Drizzle lightly with sherry and balsamic vinegar (a couple of drops per slice seems to work), drizzle more generously with the olive oil
  5. Try not to eat this goodness for at least 15 minutes.  It’s good to stand out for a couple of hours.  Then dive in.  No one will mind if you lick the plate.  You could always mop up the juices with a tasty bread.

What’s your favorite summer bliss?  Let me know if you want me to post more recipes 🙂

Stressed? Try this

 

Got too manyhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/5691277643 thoughts going on in your head?  A friend told me “it’s like I have too many tabs open in a browser.”

It’s a modern American affliction.  Everyone is always “busy”. No one has any time.

Maybe people are saying that to avoid talking to others.

Maybe it’s a status symbol when people want to feel important and/or are worried about unemployment.

I actually think being able to afford to not be busy is the real status symbol.

If you can’t afford that, being able to create space and peace in your head is arguably just as good.

Meditation and mindfulness is an effective way to do that.  All the cool kids are doing it. Business leaders like Richard Branson, financial gurus like Ray Dalio, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, artists and writers…  If you listen to Tim Ferriss’ excellent podcast, it seems like 8 out of 10 of the amazing guests do it.

(Side note: Somewhat ironically, in the most recent Ferriss podcast I listened to, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote playfully predicts that Zen is over and Stoicism is next.  I better get my modern translation of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations finished!)

The New Yorker, seemingly always up with the Zeitgeist, even in Silicon Valley, covered this mindfulness movement in depth in July 2015.   A year before they reviewed Dan Harris‘ attempts at mindfulness in his bestseller “10% Happier”.

A stressed colleague recently said with respect to meditation: “I wouldn’t even know where to start”.

That’s when I remembered Headspace.  It’s a beautiful app. Guided meditation.  No woo woo spiritual stuff.  Andy whispers in a delightful British accent in your ear.  First 10 days are free.  About $70 for a year’s access to over 350 hours of guided meditation across a surprisingly wide range of themes: relationships, health, balance, focus, change, creativity, performance, …

I’m on my second year.  As I’ve heard a number of people say,  the days with it are typically better than those without.  My attention, patience and sense of good will are improved.

The trick is to stop fighting and learn to impassively observe.  You step out of the torrent of to do lists, endless re-runs of things you should have said or not said, done or not done.

You just sit and breathe.  You notice thoughts or feelings when you mind invariably gets distracted and come back to the sitting and breathing.

That’s it. No levitation.  No transportation to a higher mental plane.  It creates mental peace to cope with what life throws at you.  And it creates the distance (you step back and see the forest, rather than spinning your wheels down in the trees) to enable insights into what’s bugging you, and what you need to do.

Here’s the other thing.  If you think you’re too busy and you haven’t got time, or too stressed, that’s when you most need it.  Andy even has a 1 minute SOS meditation.  Trust me. Give your mind a little space and everything will come into perspective.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Chipping away at the pre-diabetic white diet

ppw-cover-frontMy daughter has been on the “pre-diabetic white diet”: processed flour, sugar, dairy.  Pizza, pasta, candy, cake, milk, cheese, vanilla yogurt.

Scary as hell.  I’ve felt tortured watching it every day.  Nothing worse than feeling like you’re choosing between killing your kids slowly, or fighting with them at every meal over food.  Presumably we didn’t fight hard enough for long enough, early enough.

She’s always loved mac n cheese.  We bought Annie’s instead of Kraft, but it’s still some sort of magic cheese powder + pasta even if it’s organic.   And eating it twice a day, 5 days a week can’t be good.

I took her to Europe in summer of 2013 and since then she’s been saying she’s Italian based on the trip and having an Italian great-grandmother J  Based on my current belief that home cooked is always better for you than something processed from the store, I starting making a béchamel cheese sauce (melt 1 Tbsp butter in small saucepan, stir in 1Tbsp flour, gradually add 1 cup milk stirring consistently till thick + then add ½ cup mozzarella and ½ cup reggiano).   Fancy. Very popular.  Also time consuming and not healthy (assuming you’re not yet convinced that saturated fats (even if grass-fed) are good for you)

She’s 9 now.  Finally some good news!  It’s a little step forward here and there, but every morsel of vegetable, fruit and healthy fat that gets consumed is a little victory in my books.  First we had success with apples.  They have to be Honeycrisp or Pink Lady and she kind of gnaws a trench around the middle, but hey, that’s some fiber and micronutrients.

Then I saw fellow Aussie, Joe Cross’ inspirational “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and bought a juicer.  I’d prefer to give smoothies (so they’re drinking the whole plant), but if fresh juicing is more acceptable that’s ok with me.  Started with carrots and apples.  Now I sneak in a little lime juice or cucumber or a leaf of spinach or kale.  Kids are amazing, they can taste the slightest change.  So sometimes I go too far and end up having to drinking the juice myself, and I always have to skim off the foam.  But it’s progress.

In the last two weeks we took some giant leaps forward.  After hearing Rich Roll on a podcast, I bought The Plantpower Way because they focused so much on how to help the kids eat better.  I’m so excited the success we’ve had.

First a Kids’ Mac & Cashew Cheese recipe (page 204) that replaces the béchamel with ½ cup frozen butternut squash, ½ cup cashews, 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, ¾ cup water, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ½ tsp salt, throw in the Vitamix, blend, adjust seasoning to taste.  As we’re not trying to go vegan or gluten free, we used regular pasta (you could always go with rice or quinoa or whole wheat) and garnished with 1 Tbsp reggiano.

This got rave reviews: “better than béchamel”.  I beamed. I told her how excited I was.  I danced around the room. Wow.  Replacing a cup of cheese with squash and cashews and all the vitamins and minerals in the nutritional yeast is huge.

Tonight, we doubled down and tried “Fettucine Alfredo”(page 227).  Having her look at the recipe, agree in advance to try it and to help me cook it is surely part of the acceptance.  This one is very similar (2 cups butternut squash, ½ cup cashews (soaked in water 4 hours plus), 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 1 cup hot water, 2 Tbsp butter (you could use vegan butter), and ¼ tsp salt all blended up in our trusty Vitamix.  Then the big surprise: ½ tsp freshly minced sage, ¼ tsp nutmeg and ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper.  Blend again and season to taste.

In the early years, whenever we ordered pasta with butter and cheese at a restaurant we used to have to say please, no garnish.  If they did feel compelled to add a little herb garnish, we’d send it back.  Or we’d pick off all the “ne-nots” until she stopped complaining.  That sucked.  Although ne-nots was a funny made up word for garnish.  Her ne-not detector was crazy strong.

Naturally I was nervous about the sage and nutmeg and pepper additions.  But no dramas at all.  Not quite as popular as the mac and cashew cheese, and needed more like 1 ½ Tbsp parmesan.  But way more veg (in terms of squash quantity) packed into this recipe.  For these two wins, the book has more than paid for itself.  I can’t wait to see what else we can try.  Maybe Vegan Lasagna (page 236)?

Who else is struggling with getting fruit and veg into their kids diets and what’s been working? (I’ll try anything!)