Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Fast Track to Cheese Expertise

A wine expert is a sommelier, beer, a cicerone, heck there's even one for charcuterie (it's charcutier, for those curious readers). But is there a term for cheese experts? Not quite. There's the affineur, the person resposible for monitoring the aging process of cheese, the fromager or cheese merchant, and the cheesemonger who sells the cheese. You can add MaĆ®tre in front of affineur or fromager to express a higher level of knowledge, but there's still no universal term that implies the highest level of cheese mastery.

Not to worry, there are still plenty of affifromamongers (we're still working on the best portmanteau for this situation) that we can turn to in order to teach us about the wonderful world of cheese. They've even written books about it!

First up is Mr. Steven Jenkins and his book Cheese Primer. Cheese Primer looks at the world of cheese though an encyclopaedic lens, starting with the inception of cheese, how it's made, classified, and changes throughout the seasons, and moving to cooking, serving, and eating cheese. From there the book is broken down by country, then region, discussing cheeses hailing from all over the world and their specific characteristics, best examples, wine pairings and bottom line. Coach Farm is even mentioned in Steve's book (and we think he's got a pretty awesome hat on the cover). Overall, it's an epic 576 page pocket tome full of hard (and soft) cheese knowledge and its sure to impress guests when casually strewn across your coffee table.

Our wonderful friends from Culture Magazine came together to publish our next recommendation. Cheese for Dummies is another in the long line of the "Dummies" series, that, ironically, you are quite smart for choosing to read. Similar in structure to Mr. Jenkin's book, Cheese for Dummies spices things up with more thorough drink pairings, a metric conversion guide, and a whole part of the book discussing famous cheesemakers, festivals and the world's most bizarre cheeses. Lighthearted, yet detailed, this is another strong choice to make when choosing to educate yourself. Just stow it away somewhere; that bright yellow cover is a dead giveaway.

Finally, we come to Laura Werlin's Mac & Cheese, Please! which is something yours truly has been politely saying since childhood. The cover alone induces drooling, but wipe it off your lower lip, tie your apron on, and dive into the sweet, melty goodness that is this book. Recipes range from your garden variety mac, to mac with garden veggies, meaty macs, decadent macs and everything in between. She also has tips on preparation, sauces and preservation. In a pinch, this would make a perfect holiday gift, but take note that it doesn't hits the shelves until December 4th.

Any other literary recommendations for cheese fans looking to become froaffingers? Ooh...that one has a nice ring to it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving and the Importance of Commensality

With our lives moving at a break-neck pace day in and day out, the time we spend genuinely unplugging from our demands and replugging into personal interactions is limited. Fortunately, every once in a while, a holiday meal comes along and provides the perfect opportunity for kicking back, cooking, sipping, tasting, talking, and connecting.

Commensality is the word for it; the act of eating together. It's the founding of a fellowship, an opportunity to learn more about those around you through their likes, dislikes, tastes and toasts. It's a continuation of tradition, a transmission of culture, with recipes taught and retaught through generations. It's a resurgance of memories, a time to reminisce, and a time revel in the present. It is a demonstration of altruism as a sharing of table and bounty.

It's a chance to shift the focus from ourselves to others, and a chance to silence the incessant chatter of our inner monologue. It's a nourishment of the body, spirit and mind, for all involved.

There are many things to be thankful for in any given year, but if this Thanksgiving you find yourself drawing up a chair to a table full of family and friends, know that you are participating in a tradition that is older than the pilgrims and is more than just a meal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excess Stress and Food Success

We've all been there before. The feeling of having too much to do and less than enough time to do it in. Or maybe  it's a thought we're hung up on and it seeps into our daily processes. Regardless of the source, stress can manifest in ugly ways, one of the ugliest being the effect it has on our eating habits.

Chronic stress occurs when the stressing element or elements do not abate for an extended period, typically days or weeks. Cortisol (the hormone response to stress that jumpstarts life-saving responses to dangerous situations) is released and in the case of cronic stress, continuously. This constant flow causes further anxienty, hyperalertness and in most cases, depression. The sustained state of anxiety and depression drains our energy reserves and causes us to seek fatty and sugary foods to keep up with daily life. Ironically, the sensation of eating these foods can sometimes alleviate anxiety and depression as the body gets what it wants.

While this move might be beneficial in the short term, the imbalance of healthy versus unhealthy foods is obviously dangerous in the long term. The real key lies in breaking the cycle and not allowing stress to have such a massive influence on one's diet.

So what is one to do in these holiday times of financial, temporal, familial, and gastronomical stress? Here are a few quick tips to keep the levels (and therefore the calories) down.

1. Expenses spike this time of year due to gifts and entertaining. If you're highly efficient, budget earlier in the year for gift shopping, squirreling away extra cash when it's available. Or shop earlier in the year, taking advantage of sales through other holidays. (This technique also saves you plenty of time with a big headstart). If planning ahead isn't your MO, try going for quality and not quantity. One gift well executed is worth many generic and middling. Big family? Consider choosing one or two members to exchange gifts with or chip in for a group gift.

2. Think back on a time when you were rushed during the holidays. What was the result? Half hearted gifts? Shoddy wrapping? Scant decorations? Burnt casseroles? Knowing that there is a lot to do is half the battle. Attack each project a little at a time. Piecemeal, the work will be a lot less intimidating and much more managable.

3. If family is your biggest stress, make sure you carve out space and time for yourself during the visits. A lot of extra cooks literally in the kitchen can swiftly become nightmarish. Ready your house a few days in advance if there are overnight guests. Prepare for the little things by stocking up on extra coffee, breakfast foods, clean towels and fresh sheets. That way, when your guests arrive, you are able to sit back and grin (or grin and bear it, depending on the family).

4. And finally, the food. Besides being prepared for whatever cooking has to be done, make sure to have plenty of healthy options on hand. Sure it's easier to reach for leftover cookies or chocolate but in the long run, fruits, veggies, and nuts (and not the amazingly delicious sugar and spice coated ones) are better.

Have any stress management tips for the holidays? Share them below or on our Facebook page!