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candyReaching into my mailbox recently, I pulled out a small, brown package with a return address of Salem, Massachusetts.  I admit, my  imagination immediately drifted off to eye of newt, mandrake and toadflax, as I innocently opened the bundle seeing smoke arise enveloping me in a mystical spell.  Alas, my package during this month of Samhain, was something a little sweeter.  My niece sent me Salem Gibralters, well known since the early 1800’s primarily on the East Coast, I’m guessing.  A favorite of sea captains because of its unique ability to stay fresh, the peppermint bar is a little like those pastel butter mints I remember.  Still made from the original ingredients used by a Mrs. Spencer who travelled from England and landed in North Salem with not a penny to her name after surviving a shipwreck.  The townsfolk took pity on her and donated supplies, one of which was a barrel of sugar (they had heard that Mrs. Spencer was a candy maker).  Sold out of a pail on the steps of the Church, the candy drew rave reviews and Mrs. Spencer soon purchased a wagon to sell her confection far and wide.  The packaging is part of the old-fashioned allure consisting of an envelope-shaped packet with the peppermint “bar” loosely wrapped in parchment paper inside.  Gibralters are touted as the first commercially made candy in America.  My package of sweets also included Black Jacks, a stick candy made from black-strap molasses that immediately transported my daughter to the Banks of Plum Creek.  Who says our kids’ imagination has been eaten away by cell phones and video games?  A little candy never hurt anyone.

You may be wondering where “the rabbit” has escaped to in this short story.  Unfortunately, he didn’t run fast enough from something and ended up as a leg and a foot in the dog’s mouth.   And the witch is apparently living in Washington state under my name!

Read more about Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie
122 Derby Street
Salem, MA

*The nineteen women (and men) who were thought to be witches and hanged in 1692 in Salem where exonerated by the Massachusetts State Legislature in 2001, but the specter of fear, extremism, and false accusations, still haunts us today.

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Happy Birthday Mrs. B

Wmrsbicecreamith great fanfare (and many requests for seconds), Mrs. B’s Birthday Bash ice cream was unveiled last month in honor of the bicentennial year of Bradley University Founder, Lydia Moss Bradley (1816-2016).  Because I live within a stone’s throw of campus, I believed I should “honorarily” celebrate, i.e. taste, the new flavor created by Spotted Cow, Peoria’s home-grown and home-made ice cream maker. Vanilla ice cream with a red velvet ribbon certainly matches the color-scheme of BU, but how does it taste? I don’t know if Mrs. B. liked ice cream, but to me her signature flavor was understated as I believe she was, not too artificial or sweet, but offering enough of that red-velvety flavor to enjoy a scoop or two.  Mrs. Bradley was one sharp ice crystal if you’ve read anything about her and way ahead of her time.  She made her first investment while still in her teens and proceeded to marry, have six children, lose a dear husband, assume control of a valuable estate, marry again and divorce, heartbreakingly lose all six children, and quietly accumulate through smart business deals, over a million dollars – all of this in the mid-1800’s.  That is one determined and very strong woman who lived her life the way she wanted not how society dictated.She shattered the glass ceiling that we still struggle with today.  In addition to starting the Bradley Polytechnic Institute, she was also instrumental in donating land and funds to launch some of the bigger philanthropies in Peoria.  I think she would appreciate her cool tribute and probably chuckle in private about “those crazy kids” making ice cream for me … I hope their studying too.

Happy 200th Birthday … may your spirit inspire us all!

Spotted Cow
718 W. Glen Ave.
Peoria, IL
Mon-Thurs: 10:30am – 9pm
F-Sat: Open until 10pm
Sun: Open until 9pm
*Mrs. B’s is available through the end of the year

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pork_burgersBlue Apron is the hot new foodie trend bringing fresh, sustainable ingredients and custom recipes straight to your door each week for super easy meals.  My sister shared one of her deliveries with me to taste-test/test-run at home.  Ginger Pork Burgers with Black Bean Mayo and Furikake-Dressed Green Beans was my assignment.  Does anyone know what Furikake is … well, my handy recipe card explains.  A Japanese blend of seasonings that includes seaweed flakes and sesame seeds (this seems like a cliff notes version) but no matter, I read on for my suggested wine pairing and my 6-step instructions to “…piquant pork burgers with layers of complex flavor …”.  With 11 total ingredients (all included) and literally 6-steps laid out beautifully in a full-color recipe card, it’s hard to mess up here.  The instructions even have photos!  Now if my ophthalmologist had given me a step-by-step “recipe” card for eye surgery today I would have dissolved into a quivering heap, but for Blue Apron, it’s a big selling point.  Clear, concise, and if it doesn’t condense onto an 8 1/2 x 11 card it’s out.

And now for the million-dollar question … how does it taste?  My pork burger was juicy, flavorful with minced ginger and black bean sauce, and the spiced green beans were a nice Asian-inspired accompaniment.  You can see the original recipe card with photo and my rendition next to it!  My dinner was ready in about 30 minutes. At approximately  $10/serving, it’s competitively priced and if you factor in convenience, less food waste, and less general angst about meal planning, I think I would give it a whirl.  My one comment is the packaging.  While very cute with pint-sized bottles of rice vinegar and sesame oil, there’s a lot of plastic with each ingredient wrapped and packaged separately (please recycle responsibly).  Others have also commented that the portions may still need some adjusting.  I give Blue Apron an 8 out 10.  I had a home-cooked meal that was easy to prepare, had an interesting flavor profile, tasted good, and I have left-overs for lunch tomorrow!

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For anyone who lives in Central Illinois this book is especially thought-provoking because it’s all happening in your backyard.  I don’t know about you, but I seem to have this misconception that farms are those things over there and far away.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s because farming is such a foreign occupation to me and one that seems almost quaint and antique.  Shows how far I live from my food, huh?  Well, after reading Seasons (and several other farming books) I’m getting the picture.  Henry’s Farm is located in the Mackinaw River Valley and the book follows a full year of the growing season on the farm – planting, growing, harvesting – with a healthy dose of personal anecdotes and family history.  Written by Henry’s sister, Terra Brockman, the book was nominated for a James Beard award in 2010.  This was a “get your hands” dirty read.  I felt like I was there in the fields picking beans myself.  Eye-opening and very read-able.  I would recommend it as a good place to start on a path back to where our food really should come from.

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