I went camping with my godsons, Nicholas and Daniel, and their Dad, John. I decided we should have a root beer tasting.
John brought small paper cups and we lined them up and sampled away! These are my picks (I was the only one nerdy enough to take notes):
Barrel Brothers Creamy Vanilla: A+. The vanilla tastes real and is a very nice touch. Vanilla is pronounced, well balanced. A surprise to me, as I thought the vanilla would be more of a gimmick.
Berghoff: A. Very nice, fairly subtle.
Hank's: A+. We didn't have this one there but I have picked it up since and it's really good. It's a little sweeter than I would normally want but the sweetness is balanced by complex flavor, strong carbonation, and a major root beer punch. Spicier than most, and with a vanilla-like background.
I need to retry: Bucking Bull and Sea Dog.
Virgils: C. OK but too sweet. This was a disappointment since it's a Trader Joe's regular. Faygo: C. Not too sweet, well balanced, but not very interesting. Boylin: D. Weird. Strange, unidentified flavor. Quite sweet.
You may have seen that Robert Moog died last week. Not many electrical engineers make headlines when they die. Moog, as most people know, was the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. I knew about the device, of course, and have heard pieces that used it. What I didn't know was how widely used it really was and how important it was - and is - to the music we listen to.
I just downloaded an album from the Moog movie soundtrack and was astonished to know the degree to which it was used by The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Devo, Emerson Lake and Palmer, They Might be Giants, Yes, Stereolab, and many others.
Moog's fascination with electronically synthesized music began at the age of 15, when he built a theremin from a magazine project. A theremin makes eerie sounds that vary in pitch as the user's hands moved near a couple of plates.
He built several more and developed a kit which he sold for $49.95. It was very successful and financed his electrical engineering degrees.
In 1964, Moog developed a revolutionary electronic instrument using transistors, which were pretty new at the time. Much less expensive and much easier to use than any previous synthesizer, the $11,000 Moog synthesizer and could emulate a wide range of acoustic instruments and go further, synthesizing sounds that were new.
In 1968, Moog's device became a hit when Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos) released an album, "Switched On Bach." Ultimately, he made a fortune, which he mostly lost later to not-so-good marketing and business skills, a story that is fairly common among electrical engineers. He sold his business and the name, ultimately regaining the rights to the Moog name and receiving a Grammy.
Moog claimed to have no personal taste in music and preferred silence. He lamented that contemporary music "is listened to by solitary people, isolated from their surroundings by headphones."
Source: The Week, September 9, 2005
Here is a song list from the album, "Moog (soundtrack from the Motion Picture)"
Abominatron -- 33 Another Year Away -- Roger O'Donnell Baroque Hoedown (Pop Version) -- They Might Be Giants Beautiful Love -- Tortoise Blue Monday -- New Order Bob's Funk -- The Moog Cookbook Cars -- Gary Numan Close to the Edge -- Yes E.V.A. -- Jean Jacques Perrey Endless Horizon (I Love Bob Mix) -- Electric Skychurch I Am a Spaceman -- Charlie Clouser Lucky Man -- Lake & Palmer Emerson Micro Melodies -- The Album Leaf Mixed Waste 4.2 -- Baiyon Mongoloid -- Devo Nanobot Highway -- Money Mark Realistic Source -- Bostich Sqeeble -- Plastiq Phantom The Sentinel -- Psilonaut Unavailable Memory -- Meat Beat Manifesto Variation One -- Stereolab When Bernie Speaks -- Bernie Worrell & Bootsy Collins You Have Been Selected -- Pete DeVriese You Moog Me -- Jean Jacques Perrey & Luke Vibert
Ever been tempted to cheat? Maybe someone makes incorrect change or fails to charge you for an item? Or maybe you are doing your taxes.
Long ago, someone told me a way to think about this: What is your price? If there is no way you would be caught, if no one will ever know -- would you cheat for a dollar? Would you cheat for 100 million dollars?
For most of us, somewhere between those two is "your price." Every opportunity I have had to cheat, I have asked myself, "Is this my price? Is this what my honor is worth?" and the answer was always "no." When I look at it that way, it becomes clearer.
Finally -- if the question lingers in your mind, it is probably because you have the answer.
Wars were fought over spices. I remember thinking in grade school history class how odd that seemed. The idea of traveling for months or years to exotic locations for herbs and spices?
Now that I am a cook, I understand. And if our ancestors were willing to die for them, I should have no trouble going beyond the supermarket -- but it worth it? Are premium spices really better?
And surprisingly, they are not much more expensive.
This article described three terrific sources: Penzey's, the Spice House, and "Grow Your Own."
Grow Your Own
The best source is your own garden and the good news is that herbs require very little space or skill. You can grow many of them indoors. It's pretty dirt-simple: Dirt, a pot or a plot, seeds or plants, and water. If you can rig a timer and drip irrigation, then it's all a no-brainer.
There is something romantic about walking outside and coming back with a handful of flavor you will never find in a jar. I presently grow: basil, thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, rosemary, and chives.
Penzey's and the Spice House
I bought from Penzey's numerous times and found them an outstanding source for really excellent spices and herbs. They also have several retail outlets, including one near me, in Menlo Park, CA. Their printed catalog and on-line articles are excellent and full of recipes.
About a year ago, I tried the Spice House. Their products, policies, and packaging are very similar to Penzey's, and for good reason: Both companies are run by offspring of Ruth and Bill Penzey, Sr. They are also great. In general, I find the information at Spice House folksier but just as good as Penzey's and the products are also top quality. Prices are generally lower.
What to Buy
The following comments apply to Penzey's and Spice House's products.
If you try nothing else, try their cinnamon (China Cassia) or Penzey's cinnamon blend. Some people prefer the Vietnamese cinnamon. But you can't go wrong. Either way. you will never buy cinnamon in a grocery store again!
Cassia and cinnamon are different, but similar, products and in fact, most of what you buy labeled as cinnamon is really cassia. There was a shortage of true cinnamon, around 100 years ago, I think, and suppliers began to furnish cassia instead. We became accustomed to is and that's what we prefer now.
There are numerous types and grades. I have only tried several. The China Cassia remains my favorite but I also like the blend.
Try their peppercorns. I use the Indian Special Extra Bold Tellicherry black pepper and it much more pungent and complex than anything I have bought in a grocery.
Their exotics, like curry and paprika, are complex and rich.
Herbs, like bay leaf, dill weed, parsley, and basil, are bright green, fresh and still fragrant.
I love the ground chili peppers. This is not the same as chile powder, which is a blend. These are dried and ground chili pods, of various types. I especially like the smoky ones. The Ancho Chili is smoky, complex, and full of flavor, and not at all hot. The Chipotle is quite hot and full of flavor.
Both companies market blends that are great. Try the Fox Point seasoning, the sandwich or pasta sprinkles and specialty mixes like pumpkin pie spice. I especially like Fox Point on popcorn. My favorite blend is the Sunny Paris.
The gift packs are nice wedding presents, too.
Trust me -- once you have tried a few of these items, you will never buy the red and white can, or any other supermarket spice, again.
One more source should be mentioned: local specialty spice shops (including the Spice House and Penzey's retail stores), which have the advantage that you can smell and taste what they have and get the advice of a face to face merchant.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.