I know you're all—one or two of you, anyway—waiting with bated breath for the next installment of the Hawaiian Adventure.  I'm working on it.  But it's not going to happen tonight, so instead you get a quick story of today's enjoyable shopping trip.

Yes.  I did just use "enjoyable" and "shopping" in the same sentence.

Thirty-plus years ago we visited Brazil.  One of the delights of foreign travel is the opportunity to expand one's taste in food, and that trip introduced us to, among other treasures, jabuticaba jelly, Antarctica Guaraná, and suco de maracujá sem açúcar.  The last is passion fruit juice, without sugar, and was my staple breakfast drink every day I could get it.

It is hard to find passion fruit juice here, and when I do, it's always sweetened.  Our local Albertsons did start stocking plain, frozen passion fruit purée a few years ago, so when, in my new-found enthusiasm for smoothies, I decided that passion fruit flavor was just what I needed, I turned to them.

Alas, they no longer carry it.  But the willing-to-be-helpful clerk suggested we try a Bravo Supermarket.  We have several nearby food stores, but Bravo is not one of them.  Research, however, revealed one not far from our church, so this morning we ventured in.

Success!  We came home with not one but three different brands of passion fruit purée:  one from Colombia, one from Ecuador, and one from the Dominican Republic. Mmmm—smoothies tomorrow!

Finding a long-lost love is enough in itself to take the sting out of shopping, but Bravo did us one better by being such an interesting store.  Even if it were closer, it wouldn't do for everyday use, because it's a small store with not much general selection.  But it abounds in what I'd call, for lack of better information. Hispanic foods.  The produce section was amazing, with half a dozen different kinds of bananas, and dozens of fruits and vegetables I know not of.

I look forward to other after-church excursions in the future.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Edit
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I dislike shopping.  (Those who know me, also know how understated that is, but "loathe" seems too strong a word to use about something so trivial.)  On top of that, I have an aversion to adding "stuff" to our home.  Until proven otherwise, if it takes up space, it's as welcome as an undocumented worker in Arizona.alt

It only took me a couple of years of waffling before opening the door to this immigrant, but it immediately proved itself a trustworthy and productive citizen:  a Cuisenart hand blender.

Why buy a hand blender when you have a perfectly good regular blender already?  That nagging question also postoned this purchase, but the answer soon became obvious:  despite the similarity of their names, the two appliances serve different purposes, and the hand blender is far superior for making sauces, soups, and—our favorite—smoothies.

The blender itself takes up little space.  (The accessories take up a bit more, and I actually haven't used them yet.)  No more laborious transfer of hot sauce bit by bit from the pan to the blender:  in a few seconds the hand blender delivers a smooth sauce right in the cooking pot.  Throw some frozen berries, yoghurt, milk, orange juice concentrate, and almond flavoring (for example) into a quart measuring cup, whirl it around with the blender, and—voilá!—an easy, healthy smoothie.  Best of all, the hand blender is an absolute snap to clean.

Okay, so I'm lazy.  Is it that much trouble to use the regular blender for these things?  Maybe it shouldn't be, but with the hand blender I actually do them.  These days, I'm very much into arranging my life for success.  Glenn Doman's philosophy, "We arrange for the child to win," works for adults, too.  Our new hand blender has turned out to be an effective addition to that toolbox.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 7:03 am | Edit
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Here's a quick story for you while I work on the Hawaii posts.  First the bad news.  The report is from Australia, but the practice is legal in America, though they are supposed to tell us about it in the fine print.

Then there's the engineers' and the chefs' point of view.  This one's long, but fascinating.

Yes, it's Frankenfood—but you can't deny it has a coolness factor, too.

As far as I can tell, there are two major problems:

  1. Contamination.  Those of us who like our beef to be mooing know that a rare hamburger is much riskier than a rare steak.  With the steak, even brief cooking kills surface bacteria, but with the hamburger the "surface" has been mixed all through the patty.  Thanks to meat glue, your piece of meat may look like a steak yet have all the contamination risks of a burger.
  2. Dishonesty.  It's like the carton of juice that proudly proclaims, "Unsweetened," but in the fine print admits it contains sucralose.  I wouldn't make using transglutaminase illegal, but I would require a clear, open acknowlegement that the food is not natural.

Don't ban the foods; be honest and let the consumer decide.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Edit
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The Olde Cup & Saucer, Jamestown Place, Altamonte Springs, Florida

This is for our friend, Nancy:  I'm taking you to tea at The Olde Cup & Saucer.  All you have to do is figure out how to get here from North Carolina.

It's a pity the Olde Cup & Saucer is in a storefront rather than a garden setting, but if you sit with your back to the window and ignore the fact that you can read the menu, you can at least imagine you're sitting in a European café.  Better, because no one's smoking.

The restaurant serves lunch and afternoon tea; we went for the former, and will be back to check out the latter.  There's a good assortment of teas available, though we chose the specials of the day for the cheaper price and free refills.  True, even $1.25 is a lot to pay when we have a store of many excellent teas at home, but hey, I once spent four Swiss francs for a cup of tea in Bern.  (As that cup came with shelter from a storm, as well as a cookie, the price was not too high.)

It was a good Irish Breakfast, served in a lovely cup that brought instantly to mind the above-mentioned friend.  (Porter enjoyed the Arctic Raspberry, iced.)  From the lunch menu, I chose the Classic, with a cup of the soup of the day and two tea sandwiches.  The cheddar cheese and bacon soup was served as hot as I like it, which is rare in restaurants, and I could have happily eaten a large bowl.  For the sandwiches I chose curry chicken salad, and spinach.  They were out of the spinach, so I substituted cucumber.  Both were delicious and creatively presented.  Porter couldn't resist the dish named for our mutual ancestor, Henry II:  shrimp salad, and a side of hearts of palm with Vidalia dressing.  Again, the food was creative and delicious: the shrimp salad included, among other, less-identifiable treats, walnuts and olives.  Quantities were decidedly un-American, a "tea sandwich" being the size of half of what I'd call a sandwich, and thus even smaller than normal restaurant fare.  But it was enough, just right.  Smaller portions lend themselves better to savoring.

The Olde Cup & Saucer also sells a modest selection of loose teas; my only disappointment was discovering that what they call Russian Caravan is noticeably smoky, unlike the other teas I've had under that name.  Ah, well—we know people who pass through the Basel train station now and then....

Although I generally prefer to have people come to our house to share meals, sometimes folks would rather meet at a restaurant.  I'm confident enough in my cooking not to let this bother me (much), but heretofore I've not had a suggestion to make when asked, "Where would you like to meet?"  Now I can't wait for the next opportunity.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 7:19 am | Edit
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Not long after we moved to here, we planted a couple of blueberry bushes in the backyard.  As with many of our Florida gardening ventures, this one could not have been called a rousing success.  Or perhaps it could, in a relative sense, simply on the grounds that the bushes are still alive.  But they never seemed to bear more than a handful of berries each year, and the birds always got to most of those before we did.

This year, however, was different.  I have no idea why; but look at all the berries on this branch!  (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

alt

So Porter decided it was about time we stopped ceding the crop to the birds, and built this:

alt

Was he more clever than the birds?  We'll let you know when the berries ripen.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Edit
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altWhen will I learn not to trust product labels?  I tasted these delightful cocoa almonds at the Daleys' and didn't resist when our local Publix had them on a buy one, get one free sale.  They were just as good as I had remembered, and Porter agrees with my assessment.

The problem?  Hidden away at the bottom of the ingredient list—which otherwise is agreeably small, for a snack food—is that hateful word, "Sucralose."

Now, I'm not opposed to artificial sweeteners for those who want to use them.  Xylitol, for example, is an important part of my dental care, and I don't want any well-intentioned busybodies trying to ban it.

But I'm also in favor of full disclosure when it comes to food products, and hiding artificial sweetener behind small print is cheating.  One ought to be able to assume that a product is sweetened naturally unless otherwise clearly informed.  They could at least have used the same upper case letters that boldly inform me that this product "CONTAINS ALMONDS."  Really?  A product named "Cocoa Roast Almonds" contains almonds?  What is the world coming to?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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altI mentioned Speculoos à Tartiner before, when in January this unusual Christmas gift caused both U.S. Customs and the TSA concern on my return from Switzerland.  Now that Porter and I have been in the same city long enough to broach the jar, I find it deserves a post of its own.

The giving and receiving of this liquid gold at Christmastime should become a tradition on the order of stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Speculoos à Tartiner looks and spreads like peanut butter, and tastes like a Biscoff cookie.  Thus far we have only sampled it on bread—plus a small, furtive spoonful this morning in the interest of journalistic accuracy.  For the future I'm thinking pancake, waffle, and ice cream topping, fruit dip, frosting for a creamy vanilla cake, and a new twist on cinnamon rolls.  What would you suggest?

It was with much trepidation that I looked at the nutritional data on the label, but it's quite comparable to peanut butter, being higher in sugar, but with fewer calories and less fat.

I'm curious to find out if any of my readers can obtain Speculoos à Tartiner at a local store.  Wegmans, for example, is my court of last resort when it comes to unusual foods—what a pity the nearest store is 800 miles distant.  But there's always the Internet, where you can buy this confection under the name "Biscoff Spread":  $12.95 plus $5 shipping (continental U.S.) will get you two jars.  One could easily replace the marshmallow chicks in an Easter basket.

Or you could schedule your own trip to Europe.  True, that is somewhat pricier, but also infinitely more rewarding.  And in all likelihood it will earn you personal attention from Customs and the TSA upon your return.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 9:00 am | Edit
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What shopping at your standard grocery store, with its standardized food, won't tell you:

alt

The fruit on the left is a lemon, and on the right is a grapefruit.  All natural, from local (Central Florida) trees, healthy (as well as healthful), and absolutely delicious!

I should have put something recognizable in the picture for sizing; the grapefruit is about the size of a baseball.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 7:35 am | Edit
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altStephan's thoughtful parents gave Porter a jar of Speculoos à Tartiner for Christmas, and I can't wait to try it.  It's made by Lotus, the same folks who make the incredibly delicious Biscoff cookies Porter occasionally brings home from a plane flight.

I don't have as much quarrel with the TSA as many people do, but I am tired of having my luggage singled out for hand inspection nearly every time I fly.  On my most recent trip to Switzerland, I wasn't particularly surprised to find the tell-tale TSA notice in my checked bag when it and I were finally reunited (that's another story), because I was carrying a large, metal cylinder filled with dangerous ... candy canes.  The can did a great job of protecting the fragile candy, but must have looked intimidating on the x-ray.  There is no packing job so good that the TSA can't make a hash of it, but the only victim of their efforts was one crushed chocolate truffle.  We promptly destroyed the evidence.

On the way home I thought I had a chance of escaping.  I had a few bizarre encounters with airport security—none of which involved pat-downs, I'm glad to say—but it wasn't until I landed in Charlotte that my checked bag became a problem.

First, I was singled out for special treatment at Customs, because I'd answered honestly the question, "Are you bringing any food into the country?"  That always gets me into trouble, although normally as soon as I explain that the food is chocolate, cookies, and similar items, they lose interest.

Not this time.  Everything, including my purse, went through a scanner.  "What's in the jar?" I was asked.  "It's kind of like peanut butter," was the best I could do, but it was sufficient.  The pleasant Customs officials released me, and I thought I was home free. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:52 am | Edit
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On this Thanksgiving Day, as we prepare for a very traditional American feast, I’ll take time to be thankful for the tremendous variety of food now available from other countries and cultures all over the world.

I’m a great fan of the locavore movement; I know from my childhood that nothing tastes as good as food that not only comes straight from a nearby farm, but also has a distinctive local flavor.  But there is also something to be said for being able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter.

Even better is the opportunity to enjoy fruits, vegetables, spices, and prepared foods that were unheard of when I was growing up:  sushi, satay, tandoori chicken, naan, fajitas, egg rolls, mango lassi, bok choi, passion fruit, kung pao chicken … the list is long of now-common foods that were unavailable to most Americans 50 years ago.  I’d never even had a bagel till I went to college with a large crowd from New York City.

What a multicultural feast our table has become!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 6:06 am | Edit
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altThinking in Pictures:  And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin (Vintage, 2006) (Expanded from the original 1995 version)

I’ve already written about Temple Grandin, the movie, which was the inspiration for getting this book from the library.  It’s well worth reading, and the only reason I’m sending back unread the two other books of hers I picked up at the same time is that I realized I must put the brakes on my reading for a while.  At the very least I need to substitute books I won’t be tempted to review.  Smile

Thinking in Pictures would have convinced me, if Grandin’s own commentary on the DVD had not, that the movie is an accurate, if not perfect, portrayal of her life.  It’s fascinating to read about autism from the inside out, as it were, and also interesting to note her opinion that for all the advances we have made in understanding autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as a child in the 1950’s she had a few advantages over today’s children.  School classrooms were well-ordered and quiet; the noise and chaos often seen classrooms now would have been impossible for her to handle.  Parents, teachers, and other adults worked hard to instill good manners and polite behavior into children; these are difficult but essential skills for autistic children to learn, but they are sadly neglected today.  Finally, there were no video games then, which encourage solitary activity; she was forced to interact directly with other children through board games, outdoor play, and other normal, 1950’s-era activities. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Edit
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When I was a child restaurant meals were very rare, the stuff of vacation travel and anniversary dinners.  My father carried a homemade lunch to work, just as we children carried ours to school.  When we did eat out, the food was rather ordinary—though I'll admit I thought a Howard Johnsons hot dog followed by their special peppermint stick ice cream was the highlight of many a vacation.

I wouldn't trade our homemade meals and family dinners for any five-star restaurant, but what I love about eating in the 21st century is the great variety of food now available from cultures and traditions all over the world.  From Indian to Korean, Ethiopian to Moroccan, Thai to Lebanese—this is a great time to be eating!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I am thankful for the baby formula that is available today.

I know.  Me, the Notorious Despiser of Artificial Baby Feeding, thankful for infant formula.  But it’s true. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:43 am | Edit
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altFruitless Fall:  The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, New York, 2008)

Fruitless Fall had been my "to read" list since mid-2009 and, thanks to generous family, on our bookshelves since Christmas.  I loved Jacobsen's Chocolate Unwrapped, so why it took so long to begin this book is beyond me.  Once begun, however, I couldn't stop, and finished it the same day.  There are a few compensations for being sick and not having the energy to tackle much of anything else.

Speaking of feeling sick ... Fruitless Fall is scarier than The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc., and Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal combined.  Or perhaps the effect is cumulative.

That's not to say the book isn't a delight to read, doing for honey and beekeeping what John McPhee's Oranges did for the citrus industry many long years ago.  (I wish someone would write an update, as McPhee's book ends when frozen concentrate was king.)  The overall theme is the recent precipitous and inexplicable decline of bees and beekeepers, with many side notes (some delightful, some frightening) along the way.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 6:38 am | Edit
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Regular readers of Lift Up Your Hearts! know I'm a fan of Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog, though I blush to admit I haven't (yet) read her book of the same name.  I've written quite a few comments there, and a recent letter I sent evolved into a guest post, which you can find here:  A List that Sums Things Up Nicely.

To anyone who may have wandered over from the link at FRK, welcome!  Things are pretty random here, as this is where I post, for family and friends, whatever happens to be on my mind.  That way they don't have to hear me talk about it quite so much.  Okay, so it's really just a small portion of what is buzzing around in my brain; fortunately, life imposes time limitations.

In the upper right hand corner you'll find links to what it's all about here, and various disclaimers and disclosures.  Thanks for visiting!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 11:32 am | Edit
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