Friday, October 19, 2012

City Chicks: Wicked Shahp Knife Skillz

Not too long ago I started noticing tweets and facebook posts about City Chicks; a self proclaimed "21st Century Home Ec" school. To say the least I was intrigued, and started to follow them on twitter.

City Chicks runs their classes out of Kitchen Inc, a community kitchen in Somerville that is also used by various other local culinary endeavors (such as Culinary Cruisers the folks behind the delicious gourmet fresh fruit popsicles Ocean Ave Pops). A look at their website and their social media says that their range of classes really does span what you might imagine a modern day home ec class should, with everything from cooking and baking, to at-home hair styling and makeup, to butchering, and knitting.

Now, I've wanted to take a knife skills class for years. For some reaon even with all of my talk about it, I just never quite seemed to make the commitment and sign up for one. (Do you see where I am doing with this? Remember, I've told you before, I am very lucky with odd things)

As I mentioned earlier, I follow City Chicks on twitter. They provide updates on upcoming classes, live tweets from their classes, information on their collaborations (like sausage making with Slumbrew beer sampling), and some really hand tips (like this one: Chick Tip: Made a mess in the oven? Sprinkle salt over the spill [while still hot], and wipe clean after oven cools. #nomess #chicktip).... and one day recently they held a contest. First two people to retweet information about their upcoming knife skills class would get to go to the class for free.

Brilliant! I was the first to retweet, and I won! Which is super exciting because not only had I been wanting to go to a knife skills class but I had also really wanted to check out City Chicks in action.

Heather, who runs City Chicks, was very welcoming; the whole evening felt like meeting up with old friends. She offered some apple cider and water while we waited for the class to start. She introduced me to Chef Brian who was leading the class. And gave me a run down of all of the great things that happen in Kitchen Inc, as well as some information on upcoming classes.

The class itself was great. Chef Brian did a great job at catering his teachings to his audience. We learned about knife safety, how to sharpen a knife (excited to put this skill to use in my kitchen), and then moved on to cutting various seasonally appropriate fruits & vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, butternut squash, apples, and herbs).

For me, the biggest A-HA moment of the night was the revelation that when you have a round or cylindrical vegetable, if you square it off first, it's much easier to cut (and make look pretty). I know this sounds pretty obvious, but for some reason this hadn't really occured to me before. From now on... perfect carrot sticks!

Just about half way through class Heather brought out a small plate of snacks; cheese, crackers, grapes, hummus, and a homemade apple chutney. Which was a really nice touch, again making the class feel like you were with friends.

I cannot wait to attend another City Chicks class, and to introduce my domestically inclined Boston area friends them.

Thanks City Chicks.

A small disclaimer: I did not pay for the City Chicks Wicked Shahp Knife Skillz class I attended. However, the thoughts and opinions I have expressed in this blog are my own.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Things to love about Boston: Part 1

For all the things there might be to complain about in the city of Boston, I've seen some changes in the last few years that I think are really exciting.

I've watched the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway go from a strip of grass that was basically a by-product of the Big Dig to a lively green space that spans the city's waterfront from the North End to Chinatown. During the work day it is filled with downtown workers having lunch, locals enjoying the open space, and tourists seeing what our city has to offer. There are food trucks and carts parked in various locations, one need not walk far to find a line of hungry Bostonians waiting for delicious street foods ranging from grilled cheese to bahn mi, curries, chickpea fritters with rosemary fries, and let's not forget dessert, cupcakes and gourmet Popsicles.

Clover Food Lab

There's a carousel and fountains that draws families and the young at heart, benches and tables with umbrellas that make the area a welcoming place to sit & rest or have lunch with a friend, several different pieces of public art (about 2/3rds of which are by local artists) that will rotate every year and a half or so, a large variety of flowers and plants which are all maintained organically, and several other special features like the Chinatown Gate and the Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion.

Chinatown Gate
And beyond just the physical space the city has begun to host a variety of events along the Greenway. There's the twice a week Boston Public Market at Dewey Square; free fitness programs like yoga, Tai-Chi, walking groups, and bootcamps; a weekly open air artisan market; story hour for young children; live music concerts presented by Berklee College of Music; and al-fresco dinners showcasing our varied food trucks offering  picnics, lawn games, and fun for all.

The Public Market offers fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, eggs, and much more
I often hear people talking about what a waste of space the Greenway is, but I'm guessing those are people who haven't been down there recently to see the new life this city has breathed into that strip of grass. Not only is the Greenway thriving but there's also a growing number of restaurants and bars that have opened along the way making the area a new "destination" within Boston. These hot spots include Jody Adam's Trade, a upscale casual restaurant focused on local ingredients; Jason Santos' Blue Inc, a prime after work spot for inventive cocktails and food; and the newly opened Granary Tavern, an old-timey saloon in a historic granary serving craft cocktails and craft beers alongside New England classic dishes.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you haven't been down to the Greenway in awhile, you should check it out. The Greenway is no longer something for Bostonians to complain about, it's now a real live, thriving part of our city. One that should be visited and celebrated.

Cheers Boston! And cheers to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in all her glory!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Proud Of Myself

Yup. I said it. I'm proud of myself.

I knew I had improved during fit league. I could feel it. I had an easier time completing the warm up (as in I could do the whole thing without stopping!). My muscles weren't jelly at the end of our hour workouts. And my numbers improved with each test.

But tonight Social Boston Sports awarded me, and two other Fit Leaguers, prizes for Most Improved. At the beginning our the night tonight they called us each up one by one and told everyone about our improvements. It felt good knowing I'd worked hard and improved so much.

#ZeroExcuses Prizes for Most Improved

Who needs a team? I've got me! (though, I'd gladly accept a team if anyone wants to join me for the next Fit League which is rumored to be held outdoors).

Tonights gauntlet was tough. And my makeshift team (me, and two members from another team) went first, which meant we had to endure the learning curve. The gauntlet included shuttle runs, sprinting, bear crawling, tire moving, bean bag throwing, planks, sandbag passing, soccer goal moving, and yet still, more sprinting. Tough but fun. And we knocked a whole minute off our time the second go round!

And once I got home, I enjoyed a Victory beer. 

Some of you have had to endure my excessive Fit League talk and have been really encouraging throughout the last 8 weeks. Thank you to everyone who's listened and encouraged. And here's where I get corny and give a couple shout outs... to the best roommate and one of the best friends a girl could ask for, Jessica, and of course, to my parents. All three of whom have taken the lions share of my Fit League stories and been exceptionally supportive. Thanks guys.  

Zero Excuses Week 8

Tonight is my last night of Fit League.

I can't believe it's over already. Tonight we will be competing in a gauntlet style challenge. And while I'm intimidated, I'm not nearly as scare of this as I was walking into my first night of Fit League.

Each week as we've taken tests we've been scored individually and as a team. My teams scores are pretty irrelevant seeing that after the first week (where 5 out of 8 people showed), we had 3 people at most show up, and one week with only me. But my individual scores, I'm pretty happy with. I improved in all of the areas we were tested in (though they didn't retest us in the 40 yard shuttle runs).

Check out it:

Activity                         1st Test               2nd test               Improvment
 Push Ups                           18                        21                           3    
 300 Yrd Shuttle Run           2.18                     1.49                       -0.69
 Squats                                27                        34                           7     
 Inverted Row (pull up alt)   16                         28                          12    
  Box Jumps                         27                        28                           1      

Since not many of my team members actually showed up most weeks this didn't have quite the team encouragement and accountability factor I was hoping for. But ultimately, I think I've found a way of working out that I actually enjoy on some level. I'm really hoping SBS offers Fit League again; it's fun and a bargin in terms of the local prices for boot camps. If not, I think I'll be seeking other affordable boot camp options.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food Trucks vs City of Somerville

A month or so back the city of Somerville began meetings and hearings to draft an ordinance that would allow food trucks to vend in certain parts of the city. Early on one of the biggest concerns was the competition trucks would bring to brick & mortar restaurants; the ordinance was supposed to help strike a balance between the interests and needs of brick & mortar restaurants, Somerville residents, and the potential food trucks.

Well, the Board of Aldermen met last week and pretty much laughed in the face of this country-wide trend. Saying, according to the Somerville Patch, "Food trucks throughout the city of Somerville is not an image that I think promotes what we want the city of Somerville to be. I don't think they do any public good" (Ward 1 Alderman William Roche). And citing irrelevant concerns, such as, Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston "expressed concern about brick-and-mortar businesses, many of whom 'shelled out tens of thousand's of dollars for a liquor license and [are] paying so much in taxes every year.'" (from the Somerville Patch). Since food trucks won't be offering alcohol, they won't be taking that business away from the bars and restaurants who are paying for their liquor liscenses.

Though not everyone on the Board of Aldermen is against the idea of food trucks. As quoted from the same Somerville Patch article cited above, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz said, "They are small businesses, they are innovators, they come into a community and bring something maybe that community does not have."

I truly think that food trucks would be an added value to the city of Somerville. And one of the things that really gets me going on this topic is the mis-information that is being tossed around by the politicians and business owners who oppose the idea.

For example, a commercial landlord in Somerville who has posted comments on a previous Somerville Patch article stating that he is against these trucks, said in response to the latest story:

"cp kostos: I'm totally against all food trucks unless they are part of an event in a public area. As a commercial property owner with a number of restaurants that provide a living and jobs for the local community, I vehemently oppose this concept. We have all types of food establishments in the city that pay their fair share of taxes, license fees, and water and sewer charges. Believe me, it's tough enough to make a living with the existing food establishments as fair competition so please, please, don't complicate this situation with food trucks. Most have no running water, fire suppression systems, which, by the way, need to be constantly inspected and replaced and monitored. Who will monitor the walk away trash that customers will toss on the streets a couple of hundred feet away? Who will be checking the cleanliness of the trucks and employees hands,no hand sinks? All this will be adding more people to the city payroll. And they will, after all this experimenting is over, put rent paying, tax paying businesses out of business. Think of the winter months when everyone of the legitimate business already struggle for patrons. I'm just saying!!!"

After reading this, I couldn't help but respond.

"Me: cp kostos, many of your complaints against food trucks are simply untrue. They do pay taxes, and licsensing fees, and waste removal fees. And they do have to abide by the same health and safety rules as the restaurants that opperate on you properties.
I'd urge you to ask the restaurants around Dewey Square, and the rest of the Greenway, if their lunch business has suffered due to the food trucks that park there everyday? Because as a patron I will tell you that they are all just as busy as they have always been.

Do you get upset when a new restaurant opens? Particularly one that opens in a store front that wasn't formally a restaurant? For instance, when Foundry opened? It used to be a retail store and now it's a restaurant which has created new competition for the longer established restaurants in that neighborhood. We live in a society where people want choices. From a consumer standpoint, what food trucks offer isn't in direct competition with what brick & mortar restaurants offer. Simply put. I won't choose a food truck over a brick & mortar restaurant.

Particularly when you consider food trucks are a form of fast food or on-the-go food. The city of Somerville (and the cities of Boston, Cambridge, & Brookline) are actually severely lacking in that market anyhow.

And one last point to consider. These are local entrepeneuers trying to make a living and providing jobs and revenue to the city. The same as you."

Suffice to say, I hope the Board of Aldermen reconsider the ordinance. I think evening and weekend food trucks in Davis and Union Squares would bring people to those area who may not normally come. And I think it also gives patrons who live in those neighborhoods additional, affordable, casual, non-sit-down eating options that just don't exist right now. I think only good things can come if the city would just take some hints from other successful food truck cities. Come on Somerville. You can do it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's hip to be (hyper-) local

Hyper-Local Craft Brew Tasting. When I heard about this festival being put on by Boston Local Food, part of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, I was really excited about it. Their goal is to foster the growth of a local food system that is healthy and sustainable, and to create connections between "the eaters and local food sources, producers, distributors, restaurants, retail food businesses, government agencies and non profit organizations with a core interest in supporting locally owned independent food businesses."

The market for local ingredients in restaurants, and local products in stores is surging right now. It's hip to be local. And I'm a fan. And one area in which I can confidently say that more than 80% of my monthly purchases are from local purveyors is beer. And the number of micro and nano craft brewers in the Greater Boston area (let's say 100ish miles of the city) seems to be growing rapidly, so there are a lot of good local beer choices. Just figure in the last two years at least 5 such brewers have popped up within 30 miles of Boston, and (I believe) 3 of those hit the market within the last 9 months.

So, the brewfest. It was held at The Armory in Somerville; which turned out to be a great location for an intimate festival. The brewers in the main room weren't exactly set up in rows or a circle as one might expect, but somehow the flow still worked. Although it was crowded you didn't necessarily feel squished. Food vendors, wineries, the meadery, and cider were mostly set up around the outside edges. And then there were a handful or so of brewers (and Homebrew Emporium, and some chocolates) on the balcony which felt a little more squishy. Because of the open space and high ceilings I would have expected it to be naturally loud but even with some music playing via a radio it wasn't too loud, until the live band went on.

This wasn't one of those giant 100 plus brewery beerfests (which in my opinion can be fun but also a bit of a waste because let's face it who can try that many beers?!), there were 18 brewers, a meadery, a couple of cider offerings, and a few wineries. I was surprised to realize that I'd had, or at least tasted, beers from 12 of the breweries that were in attendance; but I was excited to see that all of them had brews with them that I'd never tried before.

Some beer highlights:

Cape Ann Brewing Company had a cask of their Fisherman's Pick Ale, which is brewed with cucumbers and had some melon flavors. It reminded me of a beer cocktail, in fact one of my companions likened it to a Pimm's Cup. It was certainly crisp and I am sure it would be a refreshing brew in the hot summer sun, but I'm not completely sold on it.

Blue Hills Brewery had their Watermelon Wheat Beer on tap along with a few other offerings. The nose on this beer was unbelievable, if I didn't know better I would have thought I was about to bite into a juicy piece of watermelon rather than take a sip of beer. Now I like most fruit beers anyways, but I think this one might even satisfy those who think fruit beers are too sweet.

Idle Hands Craft Ales brought their flagship beer, Pandora (which I've had) and one of their special releases, Blanche de Grace, a Belgian Wit. It had a surprising tartness at the end that really lent well to the other spices and flavors.

Slumbrew had several offerings but I was most excited to try their newest beer, Rising Sun Ale. A reddish German style beer with a rich malty flavors. I can't say enough good things about these guys; their beers always hit the mark for me (My Better Half is my favorite take on cream ales).

Night Shift Brewing was the only brewery where I had tried all of their offerings before (this is mostly due to the fact that I visited them at their brewery in Everett recently), but there was something I hadn't tried: a half/half mixture of their Taza Stout and Viva Habanero. Both are great beers but with their powers combined they're a force to be reckoned with.

Other notable mentions go to Mystic Brewery, who use an old world Belgian brewing style to create a variety of Saisons (they had 4 different types with them, I really dug their Mystic Saison); and to Notch American Session Ale, whose focus is on session beers (those 4.5 ABV and below, meant for multiple consumption over a "session) and whose newest offering, Tafelbier, is an extremely drinkable, flavorful 2.8% ABV Belgian style table beer.

I'd say the Hyper Local Craft Brew Tasting was a total success and I look forward to more events like it. Oh yea, and drinking more local beer!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And it was INSANE!

I survived the Insanity workout with Shaun T.

I was definitely nervous going into it. I didn't really know what to expect other than something intense that might make me want to puke. And then as Shaun T gave his introduction he asked who had done his work outs, who had completed the Insanity set, and who was a total Insanity newbie. As a handful or so of us raised our hands, he said "and you chose to do your first workout live with me? Ha you're brave." yikes! He told us to dig deep, dig deeper, and focus on making our own workout the best it can possibly be. Don't worry about keeping up, focus on form, and making every movement count.

But first Jodi from Revere's Millions Of Muscles lead an energetic warm up session.

And then it was Shaun T time. It was intense. I definitely had to take some breaks but I pushed, I pushed hard. The workout is full of dynamic exercises and plyometics.

A lot of the exercises and movements are things we've been doing in Fit League. Though Shaun T kicks it up a notch by going faster, and only taking short 30 second water breaks between circuits. I'm not sure I would have made it through the workout at all had I not been going to Fit League.

He did a question and answer session after the workout and I've got to say, he's sort of charming. Kind of adorable in a scary muscley kind of way. He didn't say anything groundbreaking but I appreciated that his nutrition suggestions were pretty real world applicable. He told us that he doesn't restrict himself because it's not realistic. I hate listening to well known people or celebrities say "oh I never eat junk food. I just don't" because that's not realistic (and probably not totally true). Shaun said his diet is 85/15; 85% healthy and 15% treats. He also said "don't go ON a diet because you're going to come OFF it. You have to LIVE it." good advice and an excellent way to look at healthy eating.

This may or may not have been when he said "I gotta have my M&Ms" 

The event was run by Powerade Zero; there was tons of swag, plenty of Powerade Zero to drink, and some healthy snacks for post workout. Nothing about the set up of the event wowed me outside of the warm up and workout itself.

The Powerade Zero tent had t-shirts, water bottles, towels, bags etc
and participants  to to take home their mats.

However I was wowed enough by the warm up and workout that I'm thinking about checking out Millions Of Muscles bootcamp once Fit League ends. And if the Insanity set wasn't over $100 I'd love to give it a try (not sure how my downstairs neighbors would feel about that though).