Impromtu Date Night in Great Barrington, MA [Travel]

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The destination: Mango Lassi Ice Cream at SoCo Creamery

Friday August 26th, 2016

The day began rather late for us. We had some Blue Apron chilled chicken ramen for lunch and, shortly after, Dave crashed on the couch while I spent several hours (for some reason) rewriting our post on mead. Late afternoon descends upon us and Dave, reawakened and determined, exclaims, “I’m going out!” I blankly stare at him and respond, “Go out? (…) Where to?” “I don’t know,” he said, “Somewhere. Groceries, hiking, just somewhere!” I guess it really had been a rather unproductive day, void of interactions… “Can I come?” I asked, initially suspicious I’ll admit, but he was happy to have me join in.

And so we embarked on our car trip to… (!!!) Somewhere.

“How about ice cream?” We discussed, and mighty Google showed us SoCo Creamery in Great Barrington. Local, made from scratch. Sounds good!

On the way there, we came across a nature trail—there’s essentially a nature trail at every turn in the Berkshires—and with sunset creeping in on the horizon, we stopped the car and went for a pretty short, yet pleasantly active hike, with an alternating jog/run/walk-to-catch-your-breadth-’cause-you’re-so-out-of-shape pace. I especially love some of the hiking trails where you see the elderly couples and their dogs going for a hike on weekend mornings. It truly awakens a sense of inner balance and tranquility, if we want to go a bit new-agey on this post.

A prominent wild mushroom by a nature trail in the Berkshires
Rare shot of Bigfoot! (Also known as “Dave” in the Berkshires)

Besides the beautiful summer landscapes of the mountains, another sight you can’t miss includes the various churches spread throughout the area, standing tall with stunning facades of wood or stone and stained glass windows. I often forget to actually read the signs declaring what religion/denomination they belong to. (I unfortunately missed out on several shots of other churches and buildings on that evening’s drive. I proved too slow to make any proper captures with my cellphone camera as Dave drove by…)

Beautiful church structure during sunset in downtown Great Barrington

At last, we arrive in downtown. I immediately recognize the street as I had seen it on Google Images when I was first moving into the Berkshires—here’s one of the most recognizable ones, posted by the Boston Globe. Even if you live in other areas of the Berkshires, this quaint little street makes you feel as if you’re somewhere else in the country, or perhaps even in a little European town in the mountains.

We park past the small theater, pass a restaurant exuding the delicious scent of pizza ovens, and finally, we get to SoCo!

SoCo Creamery. Oh yeah.

We accidentally ordered two cones of Mango Lassi ice cream* instead of ordering different flavors to try them out, but sincerely, we had no regrets. This is one of the best ice creams we’ve had in a looooooong time. Usually, I find that ice creams reach a point of over-sweetness before I’m able to finish them. Not this one. This ice cream was subjected to my weird habit of biting my way through ice cream, (usually only done when I truly enjoy an ice cream). Not a drop was left. You could feel a great yet subtle balance of the mango and the delicious dairy in the constitution of the ice cream. I don’t think I can expand on how much of a crush I’ve developed for this food item.

SoCo Creamery’s Mango Lassi Ice Cream. Warning: Withdrawal symptoms might ensue.

Of course, no date night is complete without a visit to the local culinary store. We went to The Chef’s Shop, just a bit higher up in the same street as SoCo.

For your kitchenware needs: The Chef’s Shop in Great Barrington

The focus of our search: a mandolin, since Dave had been wanting one for months on end. We went with OXO Good Grips since, while the store lady said she blindly recommends Benriner for its quality and reliability—besides the fact that I love everything Japanese-made—OXO has the stand and it’s a bit more user friendly, so we went with the latter as our first mandolin purchase.

Mandolin Quest: OXO Good Grips versus Japanese Benriner

We proceeded to peruse the store with a sense of geekiness and mild overexcitement, (the sort that makes you giddy and exclaim in high-pitched “Ohhh!! Look at that!”s, without crossing that fine line where you’re scaring people away). The store attendant was really nice and informative, providing us with overviews of different items throughout the store.

The Chef’s Shop: The most massive cutting board I’ve ever seen so far. (I do not believe the image does it justice).
Wall of knives at The Chef’s Shop.
The Chef’s Shop and fermentation equipment. “People are big on fermentation right now,” said the nice store lady.

Next, a few more shenanigans around town.

Nighttime: The elegant, old-timey town clock ensures those with uncharged phones can still tell the time of day.
‘Murica Swag. Had this store not been closed at the time, I’d be several moneys poorer right now.
Caught a Horsea on its way for a stroll in the town.

The evening wrapped up with a dinner on the patio of Xicohtencatl. We had a couple of drinks, nachos, and a horchata drink (a sweet drink made out of rice) that made me exceedingly nostalgic of Venezuelan chicha (another sweet drink made out of rice, which is at the very least awfully similar to horchata**). Interestingly, this horchata had a bit of coconut flavor to it. Reeeaally good. I kept hugging the drink, (many more weird habits to go around).

Tortilla chips and spicy drinks at Xicohtencatl in Great Barrington
Horchata with a hint of coconut (Kika’s hugging the drink has been removed from this frame)

One thing I especially recommend and that others had boasted about in Yelp, is their mole poblano.*** It was actually here in the Berkshires that Dave first introduced me to mole, first at Pancho’s and then at Xicohtencatl. If you haven’t yet tried this divinely-inspired sauce[3], you should. Just sayin’. No pressure.**** Overall, mole is a rather complex concoction with about 20+ ingredients on average, (though some mole recipes have way more ingredients), a deep smoky flavor and often with a hint of chocolate. Pretty awesome and the star of the dish.

Word on the “street” was that Xicohtencatl had an amazing mole sauce. This “word” spoke truth.

So we ended up doing a lot more that evening than we expected, especially based on how late we started. Nothing too much out of the ordinary, sure, but even in our underdressed outfits, it was a lovely impromptu date night. Last item on the list: grocery shopping for the next day’s work picnic salsa recipe.

The Price Chopper fresh produce section, with incorporated thunder sound effects during veggie misting, which cannot be appreciated through still image.

* “SoCo’s Mango Lassi ice cream is based on the traditional Indian drink enjoyed by many as a way to beat the summer heat.”

** I mean, there’s different variations all over the place, and although the wikipedia article on horchata says that horchata is made with rice while Venezuelan chicha is made with rice flour, most recipes I’ve seen for Venezuelan chicha use just plain rice, and they both use cinnamon, milk, vanilla… I actually found a recipe for chicha I really want to try out[2].

*** [I should stop overusing these asterisks] Another place that has mole in the Berkshires is Pancho’s in Pittsfield, which they bring over plantain-filled corn tortillas with cheese and sesame seeds. While both are delicious, I personally feel the mole in Xicohtencatl has more depth and is a culinary experience to try, but I do enjoy better the overall dish at Pancho’s over simply chicken. If you’re in the area and willing, I’d suggest you try both.

**** PRESSURE.

References

[1] “Great Barrington blends small town with trendiness” by Alison Lobron of the Boston Globe, August 2014 https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2014/08/09/what-like-live-great-barrington/N03CoG1QYVYIcA2FSzdtsO/story.html

[2] “{All Around Latin America} Venezuelan Chicha Rice Milk Beverage in Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month” by Bren Herrera, October 2014 http://brenherrera.com/all-around-latin-america-venezuelan-chicha-rice-milk-beverage-in-celebration-of-hispanic-heritage-month/

[3] “Mole Poblano: Mexico’s National Food Dish” by MexOnline.com (includes recipe links) http://www.mexonline.com/molepoblano.htm

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Mead: What is it and how do you make it?

We got the Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine half-hiding there on the left side. Locally-made in Western Mass by Green River Ambrosia.

Mead! The ancient drink. One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and the reason behind the word “honeymoon”—good thing Dave and I did not drink it after the wedding, if the mead had been “proper,” we’d currently have a bun in the oven! (Side reminder that Dave and I need to learn how to make our own bread).

So… What do I mean by all this nonsense? Let’s start from the beginning. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water, with at least 50 percent of the fermentable sugars coming from honey.[1][2]

And what was all that about the bun in the oven? Well,

“Mead was a part of the rituals of the Celts, AngloSaxons and Vikings. It was believed to have magical, healing powers even capable of increasing fertility. The word honeymoon is derived from the practice of the newlyweds drinking mead for one month (a moon) after the wedding. If the mead was “proper,” a son would be born nine months later.”[1]

If you would like to read further on the topic, you can read the rest of this cool article on the Art and Science Behind Making Mead. The article provides you a background on mead as well as (perhaps more importantly) a guide on how to brew it yourself for those enthusiastic home-brewers—we’re looking at you, Varun—including basic mead recipes/formulae and several variations with diversified flavors. Interestingly, mead-brewing equipment is similar to that used in brewing beer, even though the current licensing for brewing mead classifies it as a wine.[2]

We stopped by Nejaime’s Wine in Lenox last weekend and got some Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine. My first thought upon tasting mead: “This tastes like the best beer I’ve ever had!” Even though it’s obviously not beer per se, but that’s what my mind decided to feed me on instinct. The alcohol content felt comparably mild at first, though, and after a few sips it felt as strong as regular wine, and then as strong as vodka—you will not find a high tolerance to alcohol in this household… Mostly because we fall asleep before being able to “tolerate” it.

The labeling behind this sweet alcoholic nectar can spark a bit of controversy, though, since mead is often considered to be a specialty beer and there is some discrepancy between honey wine and mead, so that some consider them to be the same thing while others emphasize their differences, with mead having a higher percentage of honey, often having grain or herbs, and being aged longer than honey wine.[3] On a less technical note, Dave and I found that after leaving our honey wine open for a while and/or overnight in a mug in the fridge, the flavor of honey becomes a lot more prominent. (Not sure whether there were other factors—perhaps even involving perception—involved. Will have to further test this hypothesis.)

Found the National Honey Board site if you’d like to “Discover the natural wonders of honey”!

References

[1] “Making Mead: the Art and the Science” by the National Honey Board http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/makingmead.pdf
[2] “The Alchemy of Mead” by Dawn Hibbard at Kettering University, 2006  https://news.kettering.edu/news/alchemy-mead
[3] “What’s the Difference Between Mead and Honey Wine (T’ej)?” by Joel MacCharles of WellPreserved.ca http://www.wellpreserved.ca/whats-the-difference-between-mead-and-honey-wine-tej/

Fruity Smoothie: Attempts at Healthy Living

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(Feeling healthier just looking at this picture)

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Thursday August 4th, 2016.

I sat in my desk in anxious wait for the end of the work day. After coming across before-and-after pictures of K-Pop singer Park Boram, I was finally determined like never before to lose weight and strive for the life of health and fitness celebrities have bombarded me with. Dinnertime comes, and sure enough I fall victim to Wendy’s temptations and order a cheese and grease mini fest of fries smothered in cheese, spicy chicken nuggets, and a Jr. Cheeseburger.


Friday August 5th, 2016.

First day of attempting my “diet” of a smoothie for breakfast and lunch. I’m proud of myself, you see, because, overcoming my typical disdain for grocery shopping, I purchased nearly all of the ingredients for four different smoothie recipes on the phone app I recently installed, very simply called “Smoothie Recipes,” which parades a green icon with a mason jar.

“What ingredient(s) is/are missing?” Might you ask, enveloped in your rising fascination for my daily routine. I will tell you. It was only flax oil, which Dave and I were unable to find. Nevertheless, we got ahold of the well-renowned chia seeds, whose purpose eluded me until yesterday’s purchase, when Dave informed me of their usage as a dietary supplement. “Ahh, they’re not consumed in the hope that you might grow a well-trimmed topiary in the shape of a cartoon icon in your very own stomach,” I wish I had said. The rest of the list was comprised of rather typical smoothie ingredients, such as strawberries, bananas, blueberries, tropical fruits, citruses, spinach, beets, the Cali-worshipped kale, as well as both coconut milk and coconut water.

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Smoothie supplies with bonus aloe vera (recipe inclusion pending)

Back to the “diet,” smoothies are rather delicious* and a source of nutrition I trust highly to extend—or at the very least not shorten—my lifetime, much unlike protein meals that require I drink them nearly-immediately after mixing with water. I soon found out that might be due to the terrifying odor of insecticide emanating from the drink when you leave it in the sink for about half a day, sitting in its container, nervous the stench might expose its devious plan to slowly assassinate unknowing fitness enthusiasts.

Smoothies on the other hand, I trust them. A few of the more new-age-fad-like ingredients might seem more suspicious, but for the most part, they’ve ascertained their place in our evolution and food chain. I even feel highly revitalized already. We live in the mountains, but I’d often turn and say to Dave, “Camping!? We’d die! There’s bears and wolves and coyotes and raccoons and fungi, Dave! It’s utter darkness against the elements and we’re original city [suburb] dwellers!” Even when Dave was perhaps sitting quietly staring at his phone screen.

There’s no way I would’ve considered camping previously without the presence of a well-trained, Rambo-like camp (…) man (?). Smoothies change things. I feel outdoorsy and near-instantaneously savvy in the workings of nature. Purchased fruits, veggies and seeds? Why not camping equipment? Scratch that, climbing equipment. If my exceedingly-fit cousin with an extensive side career as a rock climber in Colorado can do it, why can’t I? I will tell you, I can. I drink smoothies now. I will let nature guide me into becoming the nature guide that guides others away from their own demise. Health as my path, deliciousness as my sword.

All kidding aside, I have decent hopes for this new lifestyle—the one about drinking smoothies, not rock-climbing; we’ve established I’d die in that one.

*They can also be chewy, like today’s smoothie, made with beets that I liquified rather poorly in our Ninja brand blender. This chewiness makes it feel as if I was chewing on an actual breakfast, making me half-forget it is in fact a drink, and nulling my usual need for consumption of bread items. More typically, a toasted bagel** with everything.

** Unfortunately, toasting a bagel with everything burns the garlic bits, making it slightly more bitter, but which I found to be a necessary evil against New Yorkers’ wishes to not toast their bagels, (but then again, their bagels might be far different from the ones I get at work here in the Berkshires).


Saturday August 6th, 2016.

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Mango Mint Green Smoothie prep. (Do not let the outside fruits deceive you, those were merely for decoration)

Dave and I had a Mango Mint Green Smoothie from the Smoothie Recipes app. I replaced a third of the mango portion with papaya and added the two [edit: Tbsp] of chia seeds. I poured mine into a mason jar based on pop culture traditions and Dave had his in a regular glass, due to his mild resistance to “Hipster” culture #Cristi. Dave said it was so delicious he’d be willing to pay a significant amount of money for this. I said, “How about $12?” to which he replied, “maybe $8 [for the glass].” Worth it.

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$8-valued glasses of Mango Mint Green Smoothie with decorative fruit and aloe vera plant.

[Edit | Sunday, August 21st, 2016] : I would definitely recommend purchasing the ingredients listed for 4-5 recipes if you’re planning on making one a day, since some fruits can spoil rather quickly. (Made the mistake of purchasing 3 peaches and 3 pears without prior plans for them… Only one of the peaches made it in less than a week, hoping the pears will make it to tomorrow. Tragic). So yes, learning to be a responsible consumer of fresh produce is part of the process. Here are some of our favorite recipes so far:

  • Mango Mint Green Smoothie. Mild tweaks:
    • Mango: 1 Cup (instead of 1.5 Cups)
    • Papaya: 0.5 Cup
    • Chia Seeds: 2 Tbsp (which the author suggested as optional)
  • Blueberry & Mango Immune-Boosting Smoothie. We didn’t have baobab powder, so I didn’t use that, but added the following:
    • Chia Seeds: 1 Tbsp
    • Coconut Milk: 0.5 Cup
    • Papaya: 1 Cup
    • Kale: 1 Cup
  • Kiwi Mint Smoothie. Delicious, just a bit tart, so we added:
    • Banana: 1 whole one (if it’s a large banana, you can use half)