Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Friday, 7 September 2012

Food on a stick

Let me begin with a firm statement that I like the United States - a lot.  I like the American people in general and some of them in particular.  The ones I meet tend to be friendly, very hospitable, generous, kind and polite, and  I am sure the Americans I know represent the great proportion of others in that vast country.  

However there is a segment of the American population I just do not understand.  

I can best explain this through the following true story I read in Dining section of The New York Times on my recent visit.  The article relates to the Iowa State Fair and their annual effort to create new and exotic food, preferably on a stick, as food on a stick accounts for a 30 to 40 percent increase in sales.  I understand the economics, but the execution leaves me faint with disbelief.  It is not the 2012 treat that amazes me -  a "deep-fried pickle dawg". This concoction is a pickle slice, pastrami or ham and cream cheese. The creators of this treat were sadly defeated in their efforts to make it stay on a stick and had to serve it in a cardboard boat. 

Which makes the 2011 creation even more marvellous in both inception  and execution.  

If I give you 10 guesses I bet you will never come up with the answer.  

If I tell you the symbol of the Fair is a giant butter sculpture of a cow,  you may start to think along the right lines.  As an aside, the Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 275kg (600lb) of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about  1.67 meters by 2.4 meters (5-1/2-ft  by 8-ft ).

Is it an ice cream on a stick?  Too easy, besides, it has to be deep-fried to be truly delicious.  How about something cheese-y.  We all know melted cheese is good to eat.  No, let's go for gold.  

The Iowa State Fair PROUDLY brings you, for the second year by popular demand, at a price of just $4, DEEP-FRIED BUTTER ON A STICK.  If you would like to try this at home, take 60 grams of butter and put a stick in it, keep it close to frozen and dunk it in funnel cake batter (what the hell is this? I am afraid to google it) with cinnamon and spices, then fry in vegetable oil heated to 200 Celcius (400F).  Cook for 60 to 90 seconds then drizzle with a honey glaze - go on, I dare you.
Larry Fyfe, the brilliant man behind the concept

Kids, don't fry this at home.

In case you are thinking of a trip to Iowa in 2013, the website tempts you with a list of foods on-a-stick, but be warned - not all foods are deep-fried.

Here's the list of foods on-a-stick as of Fair 2012

Too many deep fried foods on-a-stick?
  1. Chocolate-Covered Chocolate Chip Cannoli - NEW in 2012
  2. Chocolate-Covered Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pop - NEW in 2012
  3. Fruit (with yogurt dipping sauce) - NEW in 2012
  4. Double Bacon Corn Dog (a hot dog wrapped in bacon, deep fried, dipped in bacon bit enriched batter and deep fried again to golden perfection) - NEW in 2012
  5. Bacon
  6. Chocolate-Covered Frozen S'more
  7. Fried Butter
  8. Peanut Butter & Jelly
  9. Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake
  10. Griddle Stick (turkey sausage wrapped in a pancake)
  11. Cake Pops
  12. Fair Square
  13. Chocolate-Covered Tiramisu
  14. Chocolate-Covered Turtle Mousse Bar
  15. Twinkie Log (frozen Twinkie dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews) 
  16. Octodog (hotdog in the shape of an octopus)
  17. Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Bar
  18. Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Dream Bar
  19. Carmellows
  20. Pickle
  21. Pork Chop
  22. Corn Dog
  23. Cheese
  24. Cajun Chicken
  25. Sesame Chicken
  26. Carmel Apple
  27. German Sausage
  28. Teriyaki Beef
  29. Corn on the Cob
  30. Cotton Candy
  31. Veggie Corndog
  32. Turkey Drumstick
  33. Nutty Bar
  34. Hot Bologna
  35. Chicken
  36. Monkey Tail (chocolate-covered banana)
  37. Honey
  38. Ice Cream Wonder Bar
  39. Deep-Fried Snickers
  40. Deep-Fried Milky Way
  41. Deep-Fried Twinkie
  42. Breakfast Lamb Sausage (brat)
  43. Deep-Fried Ho-Ho
  44. Deep-Fried Cupcake
  45. Dutch Letter
  46. Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake
  47. Pineapple (Fresh pineapple dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried)
  48. Hot Lips (breaded chicken breast smothered with hot sauce, served with blue cheese      dressing)
  49. Cornbrat (bratwurst dipped in corndog batter)
  50. Chocolate-Covered Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
  51. Rock Candy
  52. Salad
  53. Hard-Boiled Egg
  54. Unicorn Lolipops
  55. Rainbow Popsicle
  56. Push-ups
  57. Turkey Tenderloin

Monday, 3 September 2012

Taking the Maine chance

Fresh cooked lobster 
Lobster and clams.  That's why people come to Maine, the most eastern and northern, and least populated state of the US.  It is a state also known for its scenery:  a jagged rocky coastline, trees, lakes and waterways.  

For my part, the scenery features only a little in my decision to join a cycling trip in Maine, but mostly it fits into my travel dates: tucked neatly between visiting the foodies in Milwaukee and a friend in New York.  I also mistakenly think it will give me the incentive to get fit in the scant month we have back in New Zealand, between eating our way around France and Italy and coming to the US.  

Bar Harbor, Maine
Just off the coast of Maine, on an island reached by a two lane causeway, lies Mt Desert Island home to one of the most unspoilt areas of the US.   Acadia National Park was designed and financed by John D. Rockefeller.  Between 1915 and 1933 he oversaw the construction of over 80 kms of trails, 17 granite bridges, and two gatehouses.  Beautiful as the park is, I'm afraid any biking I did was no preparation for cycling the undulating gravel carriage trails so lovingly designed by Rockefeller's landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand.
One of the 17 hand hewn granite bridges in Acadia 

I arrive the day before the rest of the group joining VBT's Purely Acadia tour, and spend time getting to know Bar Harbor.  Not unlike Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island of NZ,  it has a population of less than 5,000 which swells to three times that with summer visitors, who come not only to eat lobster, but hike, cycle, canoe, kayak, whale watch, sail, and generally relax and enjoy the outdoors.  However, unlike Kaikoura, many of those coming for the summer are the rich and famous who have  "cottages"  - a term surely rich in irony - on the island.  

A summer "cottage" 
On the afternoon of day one it is drizzling.  As tour members arrive throughout the afternoon, the tour leaders, Anne and Tony, fit us to our bikes and send us off with directions for a seven mile (11 km) warm up ride.  Given it is constantly wet, warm up is a bit of an exaggeration.  I throw in - or perhaps more accurately grasp - the towel about 2/3 of the way and retreat home to a hot shower and the comfort of our base, the Bar Harbor Inn.  At dinner we meet the whole group of 14: aside from yours truly, we have one woman from California; two couples from Virginia; one couple each from St Louis and Philadelphia, and four women friends from Florida.  As becomes apparent over subsequent days, Anne and Tony  are probably the best tour leaders on earth.  Not only are they passionate and enthusiastic outdoors people, absolutely nothing is too much trouble for them to organise or arrange so every member of the group has a great vacation. 
The best tour leaders on earth

Day two dawns sunny and everyone is ready to go - me with justified trepidation, given my lack of preparation.  The ride is rated easy-moderate which apparently means some "moderate" hills.  Tony heads off in the support van and Anne rides shotgun on the group. The support van is not really there to scoop you up when you lie exhausted alongside the road, nice as that would be. The carriage trails are just that - for horse drawn carriages, walkers and cyclists.  No vehicles are allowed within the Park.  It is not long before I am hoping a well timed heart attack will relieve me of having to continue on the ride.  It is quite hot, the carriage trails are gravel, and harder work than the nice flat asphalt I ride on at home.  By banana o'clock  I am gasping, but after a break and words of encouragement from Anne, I  complete the 13 miles (20 kms) to Jordan Pond House and lunch.  With survival my main goal, I elect to take a ride back to Bar Harbour rather than continue for another 13 miles in the afternoon.

Bar Harbor Inn, our base for 3 nights
That night it is a lobster dinner on the terrace of the Inn.  Having ready access to crayfish in New Zealand I am not as excited as most others by the delicacy.  Many make it their aim to have lobster at least one meal a day while on the trip, and successfully do so, including lobster omelette at breakfast. 

Looking back across Sand Beach
Day three is a much better day for me.  I seem to hit my stride and Tony gives me excellent tips for getting up the hills without exhausting myself and without stopping.  I feel like Lance Armstrong - without the blood transfusions.  We do a beautiful ride along the coast (no gravel) and before lunch take a break from the bikes to hike for an hour and a half across the only sandy beach on Mt Desert Island and up along the rocky outcrops which characterise most of the coast. The view is very similar to parts of New Zealand. Tony has great information about the flora and fauna and history of the place.  After this it is a short ride to where Anne has set out a delicious (and healthy!) picnic lunch.

The afternoon sees the group divide into two: the masochists who cycle up Cadillac Mountain - a 45 minute uphill (1,500 ft or 440 metres) grind with a 12 minute adrenaline filled downhill run;  and the rest who take a leisurely ride back along the loop road.  No prizes for guessing which group I join.

The next day we bid farewell to our accommodations and cycle south to Northeast Harbor - I know, it doesn't make sense to me either.  We stop for lunch at a microbrewery (yay) and enjoy a beer tasting and barbecue lunch to fuel the continuing journey.  There are spectacular views over Somes Sound, a deep bay which almost splits Mt Desert Island in two.  Although (Wiki tells me) "it lacks the extreme vertical relief and anoxic sediments associated with Norwegian fjords", it is popularly described as the east coast's only fjord.  As gorgeous as this is, the highlight of the day is when Anne and Tony take us to meet Harry Owen, a true character of Acadia.  At 86 or thereabouts, Harry is a long term resident with a wealth of stories to tell.  He is an inveterate collector of antique vehicles and has beautifully restored motorbikes, tractors and a 1929 (I think)  truck which he still drives to town.  

Having enjoyed weather that can only be described as hot over the first few days, it is a surprise that the next day it rains. And rains. And rains. However, as luck would have it, this is the one non cycling day, assigned as it is for a ferry trip to an offshore island. Hardy souls decide to take the ferry anyway, some opt for a trip to a car museum, and I enjoy sitting in the comfortable lounge of the Asticou Inn, drinking tea and gazing out over the brooding harbour.  It stops raining about mid afternoon and a mile walk into the village  is a pleasant respite and provides a surprise.  I find the best home and kitchenware shop I have ever seen!  They seem to do very well out of the summer people equipping their "cottages".

Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park
It dawns clear again for our final day and our last ride back up through the carriage trails.  I find the gravel riding much easier, and as the temperature is a little cooler it is a very, very pleasant ride back through the trees and alongside Jordan Pond to Bar Harbor.  

It has been a wonderful trip and everyone has enjoyed themselves immensely. There is enough challenge for the fitter, faster riders, and enough options for those who don't want to ride as much, or like me, need a couple of days to get up to speed.  The accommodations were  very comfortable, the food great (especially the picnic Anne prepared including her home preserves), and the company fun and congenial.  Apparently the Maine state motto is "life the way it should be". Sounds good to me.

14 happy bikers