Thursday, December 31, 2009

PRODUCT REVIEW: Starbucks Ice Cream

My first product review of some Häagen-Dazs ice cream motivated me to delve into other brands of ice cream that, without said motivation, I would have never otherwise purchased.

I love coffee, but have never been the biggest fan of coffee ice cream. I've always liked my coffee hot and anything below 130-degrees Fahrenheit seems like a crime. But I like Starbucks. Starbucks seems to make decent supermarket products, so I figured, what the hell. This is Starbucks ice cream after a product refresh that happened earlier in the year. They dropped their ice cream bars, which weren't terribly good, and also jettisoned their more complex flavor concoctions like Mud Pie. Perhaps Starbucks' new-found focus in quality and product will result in something a bit more worthy of the name?

A little surprisingly, it's good! Not amazing, but very good. Coffee ice cream is a flavor that can be easily borked. Unlike vanilla, which regardless of other peccadilloes like poor texture is always just vanilla, can be seriously nasty if done wrong. The first area is the aftertaste. So many coffee ice creams have this horrid, bitter finish, and with ice cream savored, it's the finish that spends the most time lingering on your tongue.

Our taste buds don't work very well at low temperatures, which is why soft-serve ice cream tastes stronger than hard, scooped ice cream. So when eating hard ice cream, the majority of the flavor really emerges after both your mouth and the flavor compounds in your mouth have a chance to warm up. It's in that process that all the ass-like flavors of bad coffee ice cream come to the fore.

In Starbucks coffee, though, that after taste is a smooth, rich, deep caramel that truly reminds me of fine coffee. There's very little chocolate in it, but the fact that I can pick out any flavor notes is worthy of applause.

The swirls of espresso and coffee are a bit of a gimmick, I found. There's no Starbucks Espresso Concentrate on the ingredients list. Still, Starbucks coffee has a fair amount of coffee bite to it without that nasty bitter flavor. I just happened to have some Turkey Hill Colombian Coffee in the freezer, so I performed a taste test. Turkey Hill is, in my opinion, the best mass-market brand you can buy, so this is some good competition for the 'bucks.

Obviously, the Turkey Hill's texture is inferior. There's a lot more air whipped into the Turkey Hill, resulting in a 66g per 1/2 cup compared to Starbucks' 100g. But as with all Turkey Hill, the flavor is a home run. Very good for the price. It's smooth, sweet, with caramel and no bite. Definitely one of the best coffee flavors in the freezer. The Starbucks is a lot denser and more interesting to chew. It's got a stronger coffee bite to it and carries the aromas from your mouth into your nose much better. It's a more subdued flavor, as well. I assume many people would like this, but the stronger primary taste in the Turkey Hill is very pleasant and I wish the Starbucks had it.

All things considered, this is one of the best coffee ice creams on the shelves. I would not hesitate to recommend it to a fan of the flavor.

Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Starbucks Rewards Official Mailing

The details of this plan had been a bit dodgy for awhile, but I now have the official mailing to confirm all of the changes to what tries to be a customer loyalty program.

The similarities are the birthday drink, the 2-hour WiFi, and "offers and coupons." I don't remember free soy milk, but I might be wrong. The big difference is the loss of 10% off all food and drink. I don't like this and I'll explain why.

The Gold Card cost $25, which means that to pay it off, I'd have to spend $250. For a heavy Starbucks user, let's assume a drink and sandwich per day. For the drink, we'll put it right in the middle, the $3.10 grande latte. For the sandwich, the $3.25 artisan roll sandwich. That's $6.35 per day, and let's say three times per week. That's $18.05 per week. 52 weeks in a year puts total cost at $938.60. So we lop $93.86 off the cost, subtract $25, and we're left with $68.86 in savings. For a heavy Starbuck's user, that's a good deal. And if you use it for groups, offices, friends, or just a quick dinner, the discount piles up. In 2009, I estimate that I saved over $250.

Let's look over the details:
  • The "exclusive offers" and such amounts to very little.

  • The free drink with coffee is good, but if you're drinking that much at home, you don't spend a lot of time at cafes, and for real coffee fans like me, they already get their beans locally.

  • I couldn't care less about soy milk (but I would like some free fucking extra shots!)

  • Free re-fills are decent

  • The two hours of WiFi is a continuing example of Starbucks' cluelessness

  • The free drink every 15 stars doesn't come close to matching the 10% discount when its applied to food and drink.

I can understand some of the motivations behind this. Starbucks doesn't want to cut too deeply into margins of heavy users, their profit base, and wants to find a way to involve lighter users for whom the Gold Card made no financial sense. Still, taking value away from the big fans is a bad way to go about this. Instead, they should have found a way to increase value for light users while leaving heavy users alone.

UPDATE 2/12/2010: As if this silly program didn't have enough people annoyed with it, I have just been informed by a Starbucks barista that to get the discounts associated with the card, you must pay with the card. As in, you must either associate a credit card with it or charge the card with cash at the register.

First off, I just want to say that I liked my old Gold card. I also didn't mind this card, even though I preferred it before. I now hate this card. In the previous system, Starbucks had two cards. You could buy the Gold card, or you could register a gift card as a "Starbucks Card," or something along those lines. Each card had different benefits. Before the Gold Card came out, I had one of those cards. It was incredibly annoying because I had to pay with the card to get the benefits of free extra shots and free syrup.

This resulted in the laughably stupid situation where I had to first give cash to the cashier, have them put it on the card, and then pay with the card. Or, if I had $10 on the card and didn't want to go through that whole rigmarole, I restricted myself to a $10 visit.

Why didn't I just associate a credit card with it? Because I didn't want to. If Starbucks is all about choice, why make that choice so problematic? I simply don't like spreading my credit cards about. I have it associated with an Amazon account, and that's it. It's not being paranoid, it's simply being prudent with potentially valuable data.

So now, here we are. Back again to the situation that was supposedly fixed last time. I have this ridiculous middle-man between me and my purchase. Frankly, I'm probably just going to stop bothering. It's just not worth the trouble.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

PRODUCT REVIEW: Häagen-Dazs Five

I've decided to change this posting to my very first product review. I'll simply use a two-stage rating system of recommended or not recommended.

As I mentioned in my recommendation of Choctal ice cream, I'm frequently unimpressed with so-called "gourmet" ice creams. The texture is usually too icy, the flavor is too mild, or ridiculous flavors and fillings are used as a band-aid over low-quality ice cream.

I've never been impressed with Häagen-Dazs, specifically. I've always found their flavors weak or unpleasant, and the texture has never befitted a product that costs $4 per pint. I tried their Rerserve ice cream chocolate, and it was good, but it came at the same time as the epic Choctal.

So it was with skepticism that I bought some Haagen-Dazs Five. It's their philosophically pure ice cream, where any of the seven available flavors is made with the four primary ice cream ingredients and a flavor. In the end, while I was not totally bowled over, it was good ice cream.

I've only tried the coffee, vanilla, and chocolate flavors, but since the ice cream base is the same for all of the flavors, my analysis should be applicable. The vanilla was very smooth and light. The flavor tastes natural with none of the bite from artificial flavorings. They used both vanilla bean and vanilla extract, and the extract is not noticeable. The flavor lingers on the palate for a long time, which is really nice. Maybe this isn't complete marketing nonsense.

The chocolate was a similar story. It wasn't as strong a flavor, and certainly wasn't epic like Choctal, but it was very smooth with a little bite to it. I've never been terribly impressed with Haagen-Dazs texture, and this ice cream is no different. All three had a faint icy texture to them. The coffee was the only one that had a problem with the flavor. There was a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste, which isn't good since the flavor doesn't hit the palate until it's been on the tongue for a second or two. It wasn't terribly unpleasant, and many people might enjoy it, but I didn't.

Five also stands as a good counterpart to Choctal. I mentioned in the recommendation that most pints of ice cream have four servings, but Choctal wedged in five. The ice cream was so stunningly dense and almost gummy between the teeth. Its texture left all other ice creams wanting. Five is the opposite. It has 3.5 servings, lower fat, and is much lighter and airy. They've whipped in a greater amount of air which is bad, in my book. They advertise that the ice cream has lower fat, but a lot of that is simply because there's less matter in each fluid ounce of ice cream. It's noticeable. Not terribly so, but noticeable.

All in all, these are very good "default" ice creams. Nothing amazing, but nothing specifically negative. And for many people, you could treat these as a "diet" ice cream. For example, Ben & Jerry's chocolate has 250 calories per 1/2 cup (105g), while Five chocolate has 220 calories per 1/2 cup (102g). Importantly, Five has only 12g of fat compared to B&J's 15g. So Five has fewer servings, smaller servings, and fewer calories. Go ahead, eat a whole pint, because this is as close to diet as you're going to get without having to seriously compromise flavor. And even here, I wonder how much of the textural negatives are from the low fat as they are a result of Haagen-Dazs overall ice cream quality.

Häagen-Dazs Five: RECOMMENDED

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The End of the Beginning

Well, Thanksgiving has come to an end, ushering in the beginning of the rest of the holidays. Soon, the malls and shopping centers will be choked to overflowing with raging, zombie-like, consumer whores. Soon the television will be screaming desperate screams to come in and, for the love of Christ, shop. But before all of that, we have the simplicity of Thanksgiving. It's all about getting together for a big meal... and that's it. Nothing else. No gifts. No decorations. No maxed-out credit cards. Just food, family, and friends.

In all honestly, Thanksgiving is also one of those days where I would jump straight to the dessert if I could. Pies are usually had, and pies are one step below Ambrosia for me. Trust me, it is not possible to live on pie, because if it was, I'd be doing it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Village Hearth, likely my favorite bakery in Rhode Island, had pies available for order. My sister was making the apple pie, so I didn't get to try that one, but we ordered one of the other two: pecan maple brandy, and sweet potato pumpkin.

I'm not the biggest fan of pumpkin pie. Never have been. I don't really enjoy the flavor and the texture is just terrible. The weird, gelatinous body makes me feel like I'm eating a large, whipped booger. I'm also not the biggest fan of pecan pie. So of the two pies that I did purchase, I'm not a big fan of either.

That affords me an interesting perspective, though. Namely, I can say how someone who doesn't like the pies, likes the pies. And I say very well. The pecan pie is the best pecan pie I've ever had. It's sweet, earthy flavors and gritty, sugary texture paired well with the more savory, soft texture of the nuts. As I said, it's hard for me to say anything definitively since I've only ever eaten three slices of pecan pie in my life, but for my friends and family, all fans of pecan pie, it's easy to say. Universally, this was the best pecan pie that they've ever had.

The pumpkin pie was also a hit. The decorative leafs on top and deep color made the pie attractive, to say the least. It was palatable. That's saying a lot. The sweet potato, aside from adding some real depth to the flavor, also lended texture. The aforementioned gelatinous texture of pumpkin pie was kept at bay, and made the pie feel like something in my mouth. The best pumpkin pie I've ever had. And I've actually tried a lot. Everyone else seems to enjoy pumpkin pie so damned much, why can't I?! Ah well. Again, with others, the pie was a big success. Not orgasmic, like the pecan pie, but excellent nonetheless.

One thing I want to mention, though, is the crust. Oh how sweet it is. It was dense, DENSE, crispy, with great snap, and buttery beyond belief. This is where the real quality of the pies stood out for me. The crust alone distanced the pies from anything that is purchasable anywhere else. La Salle, Seven Stars, Emilio's, they all pale in comparison.

Simply because they had it, we also ordered a loaf of cranberry chocolate bread. I've never been the biggest fan of dessert breads. It just makes no sense to me. It's as though someone set out to make cake and somehow got lost along the way. Regardless, I liked the bread. We went digging around our fridge and found a variety of jams and jellies that went very well with the dark chocolate and tart cranberries inside the bread. We heated it up, which brought back the crisp to the outside, and piled high. One thing that blew our mind? This bread went really well with turkey. Turkey! With chocolate and cranberries! Who knew that poultry went well with cocoa?

Now, the pies are all gone, the stomachs are still distended, and the shopping season is beginning in earnest. Soon, people will be shooting each other for Zhu Zhu pets, flipping each other the bird in traffic, hollering and gesticulating in parking lots, and peace and goodwill will descend upon the sphere. Santa will complete his heathen trip across the sky. Jewish Santa will deliver crappy gifts to Jewish kids. And at the end of it all, I'll get another chance to eat pie. Happy holidays, indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Evolution of Fast Food

What started with girls on roller skates and has ended with organic beef burritos? That's right! Fast food.

Isn't it amazing how far fast food has come? In many ways, it could be argued that fast food started as high quality, simple recipes made by mom-'n-pop restaurants, mutated into high-speed, low-quality restaurants, and after many years is finally morphing back to a business model built upon quality instead of speed and price.

While I don't remember it all that well, I assume that this progression has been going on for some time, and was salient enough of a market movement for McDonalds to conceive the Arch Deluxe back in the mid nineties. I suspect that it was this market foresight is what has allowed McDonald's to strongly outperform pretty much every one of its competitors in recent years. This was long before Panera Bread, or Cosi, or Chipotle, and yet McDonald's was already aware of the market shifts that would give rise to those now-ubiquitous brands.

Today, we've got so many fast food options is actually a bit amazing. You can satisfy nearly any craving for any food type on the run. I'm sure that lots of people will decry this as further fuel to our expanding waistlines, but from a gourmet's perspective, I see it as the continued advancement of food in America. It's because of our culture that gives the US, bar none, the most diverse diet on Earth.

I'm sure that there are studies about this somewhere, but I don't think I need them. Use Google Earth to take a stroll down a street in London, then do the same thing in Boston or New York. The difference is stark. London has half the variety of foods that NY has, and that doesn't even include the limitless variety of ethnic foods available from street vendors.

But that's neither here nor there. Street vendors could be seen as the original fast food, but they were limited to high-density areas that could support a business based on walk-bys. No, American fast food exploded when the car culture reached from coast to coast, and decent roadways started extending out in more rural areas. It's actually stunning to think that way, but going back less than a human life presents a country that's startlingly different from today's. In a very, very short time we saw the mass acceptance of the car, car culture, highways, fast food, and urban sprawl. Go back just sixty years and these things didn't exist. Think about that. A sixty-year-old isn't even old, anymore, and yet when they were born, those things didn't exist.

Now, my lord, now we have so much freakin' fast food. We've got the big guys, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and their ilk, but we also have countless smaller institutions such as In-N-Out. We've got alternatives to burgers that made their fortune as the "anti-burger" like Subway, and companies that made their fortune as the "anti-Subway," like Quiznos.

What's amazing is how much of a frontier this still is. It's tempting to almost think that we've gone as far as possible, that there is nowhere else to go in fast food. But finding how far efficiency can be pushed is an ongoing enterprise. Chiptole is only ten years old, and there are many small operations trying to figure out the sweet spot between efficiency, quality, and speed. Fresh City is basically fast food, but their Warwick location struggled for most of its life and finally succumbed early last year.

Moreover, I can only imagine the number of restaurants that are going under all across the country every year, all holding the possibility of becoming the next Chiptole. The next big hit might be Chinese fast food, or maybe falafel. All that might be needed is a good brand.

When I reviewed Chipotle, I called it the new fast food. I was wrong. The new fast food had been here for some time

Monday, November 16, 2009

QUICKVIEW: Providence Prime- +++ / $$$$

Having eaten at P-Prime on a few occasions, I was surprised to find it completely changed on my most recent visit. Granted, I hadn't been in nearly two years, but still, it was traumatizing.

The new layout is about six months old and does away with the space-consuming booths and replaces them with a large bench that runs the length of the dining area's eastern wall. The boooooOOOOOOOooooth closest to the window has been replaced with a cured meats counter that includes appetizers and bar foods that are fifty(!) percent off, 5-7pm daily. You have to sit at the bar for the bar foods, but still, great deal for those getting off of work, which is undoubtedly their intention.

The dining area is still very nice. Very well lit, with decent table dress. I love the wood tones and leather. It makes it very... metro/masculine, if that's possible. Service is friendly and knowledgeable about the meats. They still have a presentation of meats available for the discerning tongue.

The wine list is good and decently-priced. Not a drop of Opus One in sight, finally. They have a new Prix Fixe menu up for offer which, for $30, is a good deal. Not mind-blowing, but good. The salumi menu of cured meats is an interesting addition, and will likely dig into it on some later visit. The appetizer of warm artichoke and spinach fondue ($9.95) wasn't. By wasn't, I mean it wasn't a fondue. It was a dip. And a pricey one at that. It was good, and the spinach and artichokes went well, as they would be expected to, but the toasted flat bread was too soft. It was heated on a grill just long enough to get some sear marks on it. This added a nice, smokey grill flavor and smell, but they were too soft to add some contrast in texture. If they had just called it what it was, I think I would not have been as disappointed, but I expected fondue, not dip.

The entree of Steak and Crab ($33) was as I would expect from my previous visits; It's some of the best steak in Providence. Considering it was a filet, it was incredibly flavorful. The crab was perfectly-cooked, with just the right amount of salt. I got some bernaise sauce for the steak which was a relatively thin and very mild sauce. I generally like my bernaise to punch me in the face a bit with tarragon, but it was still well-prepared. If you like mild bernaise, you'll love it.

For a side, we were all about the sweet potato & pancetta hash ($5.50). The sweet potato was a bit crispy and still very firm. With oh-so-sweet caramelized sugars covering each delicious bit. The pancetta added a nice, salty undertone, and it went very well with the savory flavors of the steak, crab, and sauce.

After all that food, dessert wasn't much of an option, so we passed. I was as happy with Prime as I expected to be. The fondue was a letdown, but everything else more than measured up. I've been before, I went this time, and I will certainly be back. Providence Prime is my favorite steak house.

Providence Prime: +++
Price range: Appetizers- $4-$14 Entrees- $15-$41

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Monday through Thursday 5:00pm to 10:00pm Bar open to 1:00am
Friday & Saturday 5:00pm to 11:00pm Bar open to 2:00am

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Pies at Village Hearth

The Village Hearth Bakery in Jamestown has three pies available for order for Thanksgiving. If you do not plan on making your own pies, or are completely aware that your own pies suck, look no further than The Village Hearth. I guarantee that you will not find better pies.

The pies available are apple (natch), sweet potato pumpkin, and pecan maple bourbon. They range from $22 to $24 and are your standard 10-inch pies. They will be open on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving AND ON Thanksgiving. Place your orders soon. You will not want to miss these pies.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Restaurant Business.

As I discussed in this post, I have good reason to believe that restaurant business is slowing. Not only were there some persistent rumors that Providence Prime was, and a number of other restaurant were, closing, on a recent visit to Prime, their menu has taken a turn for the, dare I say it, cheaper.

I mentioned that absolute head-count is only part of the story, it's the quality and profits derived from those crowds that can make the difference between open and closed. And if Providence Prime's increase in seating, at the cost of ultra-cushy booths, offering of cheaper, cured meats, panini, bar food (which is 50% off from 5-7pm daily), and $30 pricks-ficks menu, is any indication, the high-end places in RI are doing all they can to weather the storm.

These are dangerous times for a gourmet. Not only are our own budgets strained, but many of our favorite eateries might not be able to make it. Hell, even fast food is having a hard time. The $1 double-cheeseburger is causing litigation between BK corporate and its franchises. For October, McDonald's is flat (and that's considered outperforming), BK fell 4.6%, and Arby's plummeted 9%.

About the only one doing well is Chipotle. I assume it's because people can now more freely eat it thanks to Chipotle Away.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Panera Bread Borks Their WiFi Even More.

Panera Bread has apparently starting blocking link-shortening services such as

They say it's to maintain a "family-friendly" atmosphere, since they actually filter all the traffic delivered on their connection, and as such they need to know where the links go.

I'd say it was horseshit, but it's not like it matters. P-Bread's WiFi is already terrible. They've just made it more terrible. I don't know about you, but all this just makes me yearn for Panera's pseudo-urban, synthajazz interior, shitty espresso, and bad fruit salad.

Seriously, the major guys are the last places I would go for my internet fix, and this just confirms that. Hit up a local shop, instead. They'll actually have a good, unfiltered connection.

Panera Bread Blocks Links (

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Totally Forgot.

I completely forgot to mention in my workup of the New Hampshire Highland Games that a very good gourmet shop is nestled on the main drag, just waiting for tourists to wander in.

Make no mistake, it may be in a town heavily dependent on tourists and ski bums, but the Abbey Cellars is a legitimate gourmet store catering to gourmets, and not just tourists. The prices are competitive and the selection is good. They have a wide selection of cheeses and have a small tasting area. They've got chocolate from around the world on offer, and a good selection of fine wines and beers.

I didn't know this, but apparently New Hampshire has a weird set of liquor laws. Everyone knows about the duty-free shops just over the border, but apparently that's the only way New Hampshire gets liquor into the state, via the state. All private businesses have to buy their booze through the state supplier, and if the state supplier doesn't have what you want, well, you're shit out of luck, buddy.

The owner of the store said he's always trying to convince the state buyers to expand into more exotic offerings, and he appears to have at least made progress. Their selection of wine was impressive for any state, and they had a decent selection of beers, as well.

If you plan on being in Lincoln for more than a few days, make a trip to The Abbey Cellars to pick up some much needed snacks. They're the best game in town.

Tuesday through Saturday 11:00am to 8:00pm
Sunday & Monday 12:00pm to 6:00pm

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's Harvest Season! Bring Out the Pipes! (Part 5)

Kenyon's Grist Mill has, after a multi-year hiatus, returned with their festivals. Knowing this, I give them a lot of credit for what they've pulled together in less than a year.

As with the Middletown Harvest Fest, Kenyon's is a great place to check out since everyone there is local. Celestial Cafe, Updike's Newtowne, and Gerb's Pumpkin Seeds are some of the small companies that give Kenyon's festival a distinctly non-global feel.

It's much smaller than the Middletown festival, with maybe one-tenth the number of stands, tents, and crowd. This is certainly a good thing since they really don't have parking for large crowds. Even as the festival was beginning to wind down, the crowds were so dense cars had a hard time making it through. The poor sap walking in front of me got nailed by a passing car's side-mirror. Thankfully, the walk is very pretty, with a large pond and waterfall adding serious ambiance to the rural, farmy exterior.

It's a fun little distraction, but there's not much here to occupy your time for more than an hour. And perhaps that's just fine. Not every event need be a multi-hour endeavor.

This greeted people as they walked over a bridge to the festival grounds.

One of the best parts of the Kenyon's festival is that everyone who participates must give away something for free. As you would expect, some were better than others. Celestial Cafe brought home the bacon with some delicious cinnamon-rum apple pancakes. Since I hadn't had a chance to have breakfast, this was a godsend.

Mark from Updike's Newtowne was also there, supplementing the breakfasty nature of the tent with multiple types of free coffee to try. Combined with Celestial Cafe, this tent was definitely the star of the show. The biggest crowds, and the best free shit.

Kenyon's shop, which is a GIANT tourist trap. Fair dinkum, their corn meal is more expensive here than at actual stores.

All credit to Sophie's Coffee, which recently started making ice cream and brought along a number of varieties to try. They had run out of everything by the second day save for the pumpkin, which was surprisingly good. A very subtle pumpkin flavor with a little spice won me over.

Also as you would expect from a down-home, farmy sort of festival, there was LOTS of crap made from more crap. I'm sure that if you have one of those rooms no one lives in in your house, you'd be on this like white on rice. I don't. So I wasn't.

They had llamas! And the llamas had eyelashes! EYELASHES! And they made the weirdest whining noise. Almost like they were trying very hard to push out a fart.

And just in case you wanted to add them as a friend, their Facebook info.

I have no idea what this guy's deal was.

Just me, but I've never understood pumpkin seeds. My dad tried so hard to get me to eat them when I was younger. Every Halloween, "hey, kids, let's make our own roasted pumpkin seeds!" And we were all like "Uhhh, ye...ah. Yaaaa...aay?"

Oh right, that's where I've seen this guy before. At every other local festival. He's damned pricey for not-very-good kettle corn. Nine dollars for a large bag of barely-salted, barely-sweet kettle corn. I pretty much paid a Hamilton for a bag of plain popcorn. Score.

Hopkins Farm had a really exciting little tent with lots of fun, homemade goodies. Including these Halloween Oreos...

And these chocolate covered Pringles. I dunno', I've never been the biggest fan of the whole sweet/salty thing. Kettle corn is alright, but even there, when I make it, it's basically a fused ball of melted sugar and popcorn and 4-5 femtograms of salt.

This was the only real, purchasable food aside from the clam cakes and chowder. It was an alright burger, but cost me $5 with nothing on it.

And to close up, these little bastards were everywhere, enjoying the warm weather and harassing you for whatever you had. They didn't seem to care what. All they knew was that you had something and they fucking wanted it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

RECOMMENDATION: Bonne Maman preserves

Bonne Maman is the best fruit preserve on the market. Hands down. I have found no other competitors. Cory's Kitchen is better, but he's a tiny, local guy. As far as big names go, Bonne Maman is without peer.

The strawberry has big, juicy hunks of fruit in it. It has a joyously tangy edge to it to liven up the sweetness. Too many preserves and jams are loaded with pectin and not enough fruit to keep it interesting (Smucker's, I'm looking at you). Preserves should be more than a jam or jelly. It should have texture and weight to it. It should add something to the bread. Bonne Maman is the grand, high lord of this.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's Harvest Season! Bring Out the Pipes! (Part 4)

Middletown Harvest Festival

I love the harvest festival. It's one of the few festivals that has a wide variety of local vendors selling local things. Every time something gets large enough, all of the local vendors are squeezed out by larger, interstate salespeople hawking the same shit from fair to fair. Eventually, instead of painters from the next town over, you have painting factories from up and down the eastern seaboard selling perfectly generic portraits of sailboats in the sun to hang next to the painting you bought at Sears. Even worse is when the event gets big enough to attract vendors of shit that HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EVENT.

The biggest culprits of this crime against locality that I can think of are the Situate Art Festival and the Washington County Fair. Everything is local, except all of the shit that isn't. At least the food vendors at the County Fair are local, but none of the vendors selling stuff are. The marines have a setup. Verizon and T-Mobile are at the art festival. Because cell phones are artistic.

This sucks because these vendors are willing to pay much more, thus driving up the prices of a spot, and thus driving out local talent. Eventually, you end of with sad pieces of shit like the Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival. Which has a competition for best apple pie... And one, count'em ONE, vendor selling apple pie. They have a contract to be the only seller. And it sucks. Hard. One would expect to have APPLES at an apple harvest festival. Apples from lots of different farms, selling different pies and home recipes. Instead, you get a pie competition in which only the judges get to have pie. Shitty pie from the local church. And one place selling every kind of pie but apple.

On top of all this, you then have a large carnival, and a giant aisle of vendors selling -you guessed it- the same damned shit as every other line of vendors at every other damned festival. The only saving grace of the festival are some live bands that frequently end up being quite good. Whoever plans the music should be in charge of the entire fair. Maybe it wouldn't such so badly.

But the Middletown Festival is different. EVERYONE is local! All of the crafts tents are local. You have jewelry makers from Pawtucket, woodcarvers from Wickford, and dollmakers from Cranston. Some of it is rather pricey, but the same crap from vendors from New Jersey and Florida is usually the same price and of lower quality. The food is still pretty crappy, but it's local. There are games for the kiddies, setups by local organizations, like a robotics club from URI, and it all feels local. It feels like your buying from your neighbor.

That's a great sensation. I'm all for globalization, I don't hate giant corporations, and I shop at Wal-Mart. Still, given the choice, I'd rather give my money to someone I kind of know. Someone who might live one town over. I'd rather take my money and inject it directly into the local economy instead of funneling it out to some other state/country/planet. This fair feels like I'm doing just that.

A woodworker straight from Wickford, my homeland. If you're interested in his work, he's Tom Schwab, at 401-295-0492. I bought a thermometer/barometer/hygrometer from him. Pretty, with perfectly molded wood.

One of the best tents from the show, the wood pen lady! Hand-made and polished wooden pens of various types, which can be paired with a matched letter opener. Gorgeous pens.

The food tent was large, but the food selection was surprisingly thin. Take a look at the lower left; it's just a table with some pizza boxes. That's... gourmet.

I was seriously not expecting to find fine teas at a local harvest festival, but here they were.

Unfortunately, I can't say anything about Empire's quality since I never bought anything from them. They have a great variety of teas and coffees, including those weird bubble teas that I seriously don't get. I'm going to check out their Newport location and see if they're any good.

I was happy to see a genuine ice cream stand set up. The large power infrastructure obviously made this possible.

And behold! The ice cream I got. Not a terrible price. About three bucks for my cone. And the ice cream was good, too! Not at all icy, which seems to be the biggest issue with ice cream, these days.

Some of the better hand-made pottery available was from Rising Sun Earthworks. They had a wide selection of plates, mugs, and other dishes. The best thing had to be the hand-made french salt dishes. In the Wal-Mart era, $20 seems a bit pricey, but I have no regrets. I love my soft, spreadable butter.

The tree of mugs from Rising Sun. See the one in the upper left? That baby came home. Very playful designs, sturdy, perfectly glazed. Very good mugs.

This guy looks familiar... where have I seen him?

A necklace made from two sanded mussel shells, molded together with a silver frame. Very pretty. Bulky as all hell, though. Not a very good prospect for jewelry. Come to think of it, it may have been intended as a door hang. Regardless, you like? Buy your very own at

The amount of stuff for the kids was amazing. Tons of games, tents, toys, big... things... this. I think they lit a fire in it sometime later in the day, but I'm not sure. It was big and it was smiling, which of course means kids will like it.

Some of the nicest jewelry of the day came from Ellora Janes. Not cheap, nothing here is cheap, but not terribly expensive, either. Very fine details and good aesthetic quality. Where many of the other vendors were making jewelry out of stones and whatnot, Ellora was light metal.

This just seems pretty dodgy to me. $10.99 for two lobster rolls? Where the hell did you source the lobster? Your koi pond? Well, I didn't hear of anyone dying from mad lobster disease, so I assume it was ok.

Cory's Kitchen was another highlight of the day. Excellent muffins and cookies and some of the most fruit-packed jams I've ever had. I'm talking huge, fuck-off chunks of fruit. Bumbleberry jam was the bomb-diggity, yo. Sweet, with a strong tartness zinging through the raspberries. It is one hell of a way to wake up the taste buds in the morning.

Clam cakes compliments of Kempenaar's Clambake Club. I'm all for fried food, but these bad boys were like eating clam-flavored blocks of hardened arteries. I didn't even finish them. Very greasy. So afterward, still hungry, I went to another stand.

I'm glad I did. Candy apples! You have no idea. I am singularly obsessed with apples dipped in stuff. You want caramel apples to SCREAM about, use butterscotch ice cream topping. Knowing this, it's amazing that all I got was...

... a hot dog! It was what you would expect. At least it was a decent hot dog. Ballpark, I think. And for only two bucks, it was a great fairground price. I think I avoided the candy apple because I knew that Amy's Apples lay just a few hundred feet away. There was no need to even look twice at these pathetic, unelaborate concoctions.

Speaking of Amy and her Apples (not THOSE apples), they had one of the most densely-packed stands of the show. It was absolutely overflowing with chocolate-dipped goodies. At $12, their apples are to die for. To DIE for. High quality chocolate and toppings, decent prices, and a huge variety of creations truly won me over. That giant apple can go screw.

This necklace was compliments of Very Petra designs, out of Pawtucket. It's representative of something lots of the artists had a problem with: subtly. It's one chunky, bloody necklace.

This is URI's ball-throwing robot in action.

I have no idea what these people were here to do, or what they signified.