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Renaissance Culinaire
These days the blogosphere seems to be all abuzz over Urban Farming. And why shouldn't we get excited about connecting with nature, beautifying our environments, turning a hard, grey expanse of concrete or chemically manicured, quilt of lawns into a eye pleasing edible greenscape? With the popularity of ever consuming technological devices, there is a growing digital divide - we as a society, are becoming less in-tune with our surroundings.

The growing force behind this country-does-urban  lifestyle is the feeling of less connection with our food sources, a lack of use of our primal "hunting and gathering" skills and just an overall want to be the architects of our futures - using our hands and hearts, not apps and alerts.

Now true to everything, comes planning. You might awaken some morning and say "Eureka - I will be an urban farmer!", which is all well and good, but researching best practices and laws in your area are musts before attempting anything. In this instant gratification culture, it sometimes can be disappointing to take things slow and have a thorough plan. Depending on where you live, there are probably city ordinances specific to urban agriculture.  
Alpha female surveys the yard.
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.

In my city, here in Oregon, you are allowed 6 chickens in a brood, on your premises, within city limits. That means one rooster (male) and 5 laying hens (female) or just 6 hens.

Why am I talking chicken? My children, with me in tow, got to be urban homesteaders for a week, minding our neighbors brood, while they were out of the country. We learned the fine nuances of feeding,   habits and behavior, of these odd descendants of dinosaurs.

You might be thinking - "Chickens - in my backyard? In earshot of my neighbors? How is that possible." I can reassure you, living just over the fence. That these creatures are less noisy than a barking dog. In fact, I have more trouble with barking dogs down the street than these birds.

Getting back to my first hand account, I will tell you that the weather smiled on us this week. We were blessed in the early mornings with bright beautiful rays of sunlight streaming across the yard, throwing looming shadows in striations. And the evenings were dewy and cool.

The first thing you must remember about taking care of chickens - wear old clothes and shoes that can be disinfected. If your chickens are "free range", this means an excess of chicken excrement on any surface the chicken can walk or perch upon, which in turn has bacteria, so you do not want your shoes tracking this into your house (those that garden know first hand that chicken manure is beneficial). So, after touching eggs, re-laying hay and feed - be sure to leave your shoes on your porch and wash your hands with soap and water. Toss your clothes in the wash.

Chickens, like children, are creatures of routine. They like to rise with the sun, and be told to go to bed. The first chore of the day is to open the hen house in the early morning hours. For precautions most doors are latched at night - to ward off predatory raccoon or possums. The hen house we watched over had no ladder or ramp, the chickens just jumped into, or out of the structure.

Get To Know The Hen House.
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.

As the chickens burst out of the hen house and down to freedom, now is the time to check for eggs, or the 2nd chore.

Eggs in the nest.
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger. 
This brood shared a nest, and would take turns laying among the 5 of them. These chickens all were of different origins, which made every egg a delightful color. Chickens, depending on age will lay 1-2 eggs on average daily. 

It is important to note that fresh eggs must be washed, before refrigeration, to limit spread of bacteria. Likewise you must wash hands after this process of handling.

Did you know eggs come in different colors depending on breed? Here is an infographic of different poultry by breed.

Source: wilco.coop via Amber on Pinterest
This brood was an Ameraucana, Black Australorp, Bantam Cochin, Golden Laced Wyandott, and a Black Sex Link. And let me tell you - they each had their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. And like most "packs" there was a leader, the alpha female (seen above), the Black Sex Link. She was queen chick in this coop! She would scold, fluff her feathers and get the brood all riled up.

Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.

With the chickens and eggs evacuated from the hen house, and the pen now vacant, as the hens made their way out to the green, cool grass, for scratching and pecking, now the real maintenance could begin.

Hay spreading!
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Chore #3, laying fresh dry hay down in the brood's pen. The kids loved this part, spreading a layer of the sweet smelling straw. Chickens are programmed with certain behaviors - besides a pack mentality, pecking and scratching up their pen is the most common.  It is important to put fresh straw, to discourage pests and allow for a comfortable environment so the hens feel comfortable to do what they do. 

Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.
The fourth chore, as equally important, is fresh water. A bowl they can drink from throughout the day is especially important - dehydration can affect egg production.

Here the Ameraucana hen takes a drink of the fresh water (pic at left). This chicken resembled most it's dinosaur cousins. Such a pre-historic resemblance. The cool thing about these hen's eggs is they are naturally a blue to green tinge. If you hard boil these eggs, they have a blueish green appearance, as opposed to normal eggs. It is a trip!

Hens at Feeding.
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.

And the most important chore of all #5, feeding the brood. The hens are fed two types of food - the first type is a balanced organic feed, which has all types of ruff-age, protein and nutrients. You can either buy organic chicken feed or make your own. It is important these hens get enough protein, or it will lead to disease, leave them prone to parasites and poor egg production within the brood.

The feed is measured out and scattered among the hay, to encourage the hen's natural behavior. Once the majority of the feed has been devoured, the 2nd type of feed can be scattered (in a limited amount) which is organic layer feed or chicken treat - this brood got bits of hard corn kernels.

The most fun was observing these birds and their behavior. Did you realize chickens have a complex language? It is true. They have all different types of clucks, squawks and clicks. They will grumble when scratching for food, send a high pitched clucking when on alert and even cluck hello if you are a recognized care-taker. 

The brood was allowed to explore the confines of the fenced yard well into dusk. Chickens are very inquisitive creatures. When darkness fell upon the yard, it was sleep time. The sixth and final chore was wrangling the hens toward the pen and into the hen house. This brood was rather intelligent - they were mostly ready and awaiting the signal for bedtime. All I needed to do was vocalize "bedtime" in a soothing way and the hens would jump up into the hen house one at a time. Of course, there were some stragglers, but there wasn't much resistance.

Here are the lovely eggs we collected:

Beautiful Eggs!
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Beautiful Eggs!
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.

Beautiful Eggs!
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Beautiful Eggs!
Rights Reserved. Click to view larger.
Beauties aren't they!

  Thu, 14 Jun 2012 18:53:00 -0400
Today, let's take a look at some of the different flavors of basic lighting: Ambient Lighting, Built-in Flash, Off Camera Flash.

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” - Audre Lorde

©2012 Lee/Spinwave Photography
Click to enlarge photo.

Lighting Flavor #1: Ambient lighting

Ambient simply refers to the existing light. Ambient light can come from sources such as the sun, light bulbs, or candles. That doesn't mean the existing light sources can’t be manipulated to suit your needs. You could change the angle you shoot at, turn lamps on or off, move a candle to a different location, or use bounce cards to boost the amount and angle of the light.

To see what the ambient looks like, set the camera to “P” mode (it’s just like auto, except you can set the ISO and turn the flash on/off yourself). With the ISO set to 100 and the flash off, the Canon G12 calculated f/2.8@1/25th and took this:
With the ISO set to 100 and the flash off, the Canon G12 calculated f/2.8@1/25th
Click to enlarge photo.

That’s actually a nice photo and most people would be really happy with that (there’s a reason people say, “P’ is for ‘perfect’ “). I see gentle, mostly-even diffused light, adequate detail and texture, with enough specular highlights and shadows for visual depth.

There are, however, two things that really bother me. The first is the black-hole-ish area in the lower right-hand corner. This is a natural consequence of all the light coming in from one direction. The other is the blown-out sky that distracts you from the real subject of the photo, the food.

So how do we reduce the background brightness? The first thing most people think of is to simply dial down the exposure compensation. That’s moving in right direction, but this is a global adjustment and will darken the subject as well as the background. If only we could separate the two! Oh wait—we can, by setting the camera to manual mode and adding some light with a flash.

Lighting Flavor #2: Built-in flash

G12’s built-in flash, turned the mode dial to “M”, set the aperture to 2.8 and increased the shutter speed to 100
Click to enlarge photo.

I turned the on G12’s built-in flash, turned the mode dial to “M”, set the aperture to 2.8 and increased the shutter speed to 100 to darken the background.Whoa! Too much light on the subject! Using the G12’s menu system.

I adjusted the flash output as low as possible (1/3 power) and tried again:

With the ISO set to 25 and the flash adusted to 1/3 the power.
Click to enlarge photo.

Now that’s more like it. Increasing the shutter speed from 25 to 100, darkened the background. But now we have a different problem: the salad is only half-lit due to the position of the G12’s built-in flash.

A bounce card could help balance the lighting, but it wouldn’t get rid of the flash reflection in the window. And depending on the angle of the bounce card, a second reflection might show up.

Lighting Flavor #3: Off-camera flash

Time to bring out the big gun. Flash gun that is (or strobe, or external flash, or Speedlight, or Speedlite). I’ll stick with the term “flash“.

We could simply place the flash directly in the G12’s hotshoe. But without a nearby white ceiling or wall to bounce the flash off of (another lighting flavor for another day) this would create a similar effect as the built-in flash. We really need to get the flash off the camera body to control the direction of the light.

Flash Hot-Shoe

The easiest method of using a flash off-camera is by using an extension cord. In this case I used a Canon OC-SC2 cord (these were replaced by the OC-E3 a few years ago, but they have the same functionality). When paired with a compatible flash, all the TTL metering info is sent through the cord to the flash for a (hopefully) perfect exposure.
Flash Unit, Canon G12 and Off-shoe core.
Click to enlarge photo.
I dialed the flash down to -1/64th power and experimented with the flash in several positions, settling on 45-degrees to camera left and about 60-degrees above the plate:

-1/64th power, 45-degrees to camera left and about 60-degrees above the plate
Excellent speculars, shadows, depth, color and detail. With just a little bump in contrast and sharpness in post-production, we get the final image at top of post. (all other photos are straight out of the camera). 

Special thanks to Ed at Spring Creek Coffeehouse & Deli for the excellent Grilled Veggie salad (mixed greens, grilled onions, grilled bell peppers, grilled mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, avocado, feta, and olives) and for allowing me to photograph on location.

 My apologies to readers for the lack of set-up photos. All of my assistants had scheduling conflicts for this shoot.

 The tools: Canon Powershot G12, Quantaray QWC-900WA flash, Canon OC-S2 off-shoe cord; post-production in Apple Aperture.
  Mon, 28 Nov 2011 17:39:00 -0500
Hello all, my name is Lee and I am honored to guest-post tips on food photography for Renaissance Culinaire. We are going to try to make this a monthly feature, so send us feedback with questions or suggestions on what we should photograph next!

Avo-Tuna Cerviche ©2011 Spinwave Photo

Today's post focuses on the attention-sucking feature I like to call "black holes". While shadows are important to creating the illusion of depth, black spots with little-to-no detail will quickly suck a viewer's eye into its vortex of darkness (thus the nickname black hole). Here's how to identify and correct them:

Click to enlarge photo.

In addition to the black holes, the light flattened the texture of the tuna and avocado chunks. So we added a foam-core reflector close-in, camera-right:

Click to enlarge photo.

That filled in the large black hole in the center of the food, so you can see the green of the avocado and a bit of its texture. But I felt that we could get a little more texture in the food with another reflector positioned at the front of the lens and angled downward. The reflector was actually closer than illustrated below--it was actually resting on the lens hood. The result:

Click to enlarge photo.

The second reflector added some specular highlights (a.k.a. "shiny spots" or "shine"), which is the other component of creating the illusion of depth. The effect is less dramatic in the photo as the light was dissipating even faster now as we approached 5pm in the city. The waning light also left one black hole that we could not fill in without resorting to flash (a future post topic).

The Tools: 1. foam-core reflectors (available at Michael's craft stores in various sizes for around $5); 2. Canon 5D MkII used for the food photos, (but any camera with a Manual mode works great); 3. Canon G12 for set-up shots; final settings for food shots are f/2.8 @ 40, ISO 2000.

Special Thanks to: Heather of Heather Bayles Photography for assisting; Shigezo Portland for allowing us to photograph in their restaurant and for the wonderful Avo-Tuna Ceviche (Tuna, avocado, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, soy sauce & wasabi dressing).
Imagine yourself on a crisp winter day - the sun streams through the half sleeping trees bathing everything above earth in a golden, unearthly webbing of light. The air is alive with a slight chill, but the sun warms where it's beams have haphazardly landed.

Photo ©2011. Renaissance Culinaire. All Rights Res.
The first bulbs have bravely climbed out of their loamy tombs, careening their paper white heads toward the sky.

You are on your way to a local eatery, with your family. You are enjoying the sun, having spent many days enduring the gray, often times rainy blah weather that comes with winter. You want to eat food which doesn't require sullying your kitchen and a load of dishes. You are aching for an evening outside of the house - you and the family have cabin fever.

This friends is not a fairy tale - this was my sentiment, this was my afternoon.

I got the extreme honor to review a Inglesina 'Avio' stroller. And this transport was perfect for having my 3yr old boy in tow, especially when taking him to a local eatery. For any parent who has ever ventured with children out into the public, there is a allot of preparation. More so when you are on foot, and parenting a 3yr old child.

What's In the Box:

When I received the Inglesina Avio Stroller in the color black, it arrived  in several parts - the seating area, harness, stroller hood and storage basket all had to be attached to the main base/ frame of the stroller. The product Manual included comes in every language imaginable. There is a rain shield included. There is also an included adapter, for those of you that have babies and want to use the Inglesina Avio Bassinet (a.k.a "Carrycot"), which is sold separately, or clip on infant car seats (brands that work: Graco, Peg Perego and Britax) .

I was very impressed with the quality of the materials used to make this stroller. Everything is solid and durable.


The Inglesina Avio Stroller is touted as 'the perfect stroller for on the go urbanites'. Translation - this stroller is best for strolling on sidewalks and smooth developed indoor or paved outdoor surfaces.

What I have discovered is that the Inglesina Avio stroller is different than allot of less-expensive non-jogging strollers in that it's wheels actually have ball bearings. This gives the stroller the ability to roll very smoothly with hardly any vibration within the stroller seat, with minimal pushing. The wheels are fixed in position, so the turn radius is not that sharp - it will make a smooth turn however, within a 5 foot radius.

Standing at 5'5", I am very conscience of handle placement. The Avio stroller's handle is in a position comfortable enough to hold, but I really wished the handle had an adjustment option.

My husband however is nearly 6 foot tall and said "This stroller is perfect for dads who are 5'11" - 6'2", very smooth ride and will put the toddler to sleep on a rough night within 10 minutes". He experimented with the Avio while taking the evening walk when our son was over-tired and fighting sleep.


Let me say that I have owned at-least 5 strollers between the years 2003-2011, starting with my first child. 4 out of 5 had the capability to be folded for stowing. The latest being a Jeep Overland Limited 'Music on the Move' Jogging Stroller.

Of all the strollers I have owned, though, the Inglesina Avio Stroller is able to fold into the most space saving compact shape of all (I am not including those cheap umbrella strollers, that are a dime-a-dozen, in this category.).
The mechanism to fold this stroller is great (see photo at left, demonstrated by my husband) - It is reminiscent of a crossbow, when pulled back it creates tension and gathers enough backward force so you can lock it into place.

Think of it like the pulling motion when starting a lawn mower, instead of a "pull cord", you are pulling a designated handle located on the back of the stroller.

If you press down sternly on the middle of the main handle (the one you use to push the stroller) with one hand, and press the red button (to unlock) on the handle base, gently, yet firmly pull at an outward-upward motion - making sure that the harness or other parts of the stroller do not become entangled into the folding parts, it will fold very compactly.

Key Points of Inglesina Avio when folded:

Cool Features:

The Inglesina Avio stroller has some very nice options.

  • Seating: The stroller seat  is washable. And very adjustable, with the harness straps position, and can recline to several lower positions, so that your child is comfortable - my son loved being able to lay down in the lowest position when he was tired.  
  • Storage: The included fabric under-stroller basket is very accommodating. I was able to fit 2 full fabric grocery bags in there, with no further adjustments. There is also a expandable drink holder located on the lower left back of the stroller frame - I really appreciate this placement. ( Most strollers with a drink holder place them above the child's seat area, which is totally illogical - what if there was a spill?).
  • For Weather: The Avio hood is constructed to be very durable, I liked the surface area it covers, the bill (like on a baseball cap) is a great feature which is nice for keeping sun out of sensitive eyes.  The included 'L'Inglesina Baby S.p.a' rain cover clips to the hood and bottom foot pad. 
  • Optional Accessories: There are a host of  accessories to buy for the Inglesina Avio Stroller. Including a mesh 'summer cover' to keep the bugs at bay; 'Winter Muff' for bundling up your lil ones; Carrying case for the stroller; 'Carry Cot Bassinet'; 'Full Rain Cover', etc.
Closing Thoughts:

My 3yr old boy is right at the cusp of saying goodbye to motherly pushes via the stroller, all together. So this year and the arrival of the Avio marks the 'coup de grâce' of strollerdom , so to speak.

My families experience with the Inglesina Avio Stroller has been pleasant, which makes the parting with strollers, all together that much more bittersweet.

The Inglesina Avio Stroller is a good fit for parents in search of a higher-end, stylish, non-jogging stroller, for either infant or toddler, with a host of options and great compact-ability, that can be used for around-the-town jaunts.

For more product info you can download the Inglesina Avio Product & Accessories Spec Sheet below in pdf format.

| Inglesina Avio Product & Accessories Spec Sheet

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Inglesina USA. I received an Inglesina Avio Stroller in exchange for my honest feedback.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.
The daily grind. Whether you are a high powered executive or working a minimum wage job, or stay at home parent - everyone has their stressors. Factoring in lack of sleep, deadlines and financial woes can make for one un-happy, sleep deprived camper.

If you watch television or read magazines you are sure to have seen the segments devoted to 'spa rejuvenation', whether or not it is geared for females, the theme seems to be pampering yourself. Popular media likes to flaunt this term, as it is conducive to the high-end, trendy "jet setter" lifestyle most average people dream of - the thinking behind it is simple, those who have the means put indulgence at the forefront.

Photo Courtesy of samthehamsmom
You don't have to be a jet setter to experience a spa style session. In-fact you don't even have to purchase expensive high end concoctions in a jar - no, you can make them yourself and be satisfied knowing all the ingredients are natural and safe for your use.

For some of these recipes I consulted one of my favorite sites, Spa Index.com

SpaIndex.com Tip: You've heard the adage "Never cook with wine you wouldn't drink." This holds equally true for home spa remedies.

Never use ingredients for your home spa treatments that you wouldn't want to eat. Your skin, the largest organ on your body, breathes and is porous. It will absorb the properties of the ingredients you are using. Don't "clean out the fridge or pantry" to create your home skincare remedies. Use fresh, high quality ingredients for the best results, and do not store the treatment longer than the shelf life of the most perishable ingredient. - This is great advice, true of beauty or cooking!

Relaxation Techniques:

The key to achieving  total relaxation  is the act of brushing aside any woes or obligations for at least 10 minutes and giving yourself time to reflect on relaxing.  There are several ways to get you started :
  1. Do meditation: something repetitive and quiet (kneading dough, knitting etc) focus your thoughts on the act, the movement. If your thoughts start to wonder, allow them to float away and get back to the task. 
  2. If you don't feel doing "something" is very meditative - then try using visualization: envision yourself in a serene spot or tropical setting, concentrate on the sounds in this setting - birds or waves crashing. Or think of something soothing, such as a favorite quilt - take time to relive the textures of the stitches and the feeling of the fabric against your skin.
  3. Rhythmic breathing is another technique to put you in a relaxed state. Lay on your back in a comfortable position, and slowly inhale, lips pursed, counting to 3 - watch / feel your diaphragm move inward. When you reach 3 slowly exhale - imagine your breath fanning outward. Repeat 10 times, allow yourself to become more relaxed each time.
Spa Props and Eats:

Once you have become more relaxed using one of the techniques above it is time now to gather some "spa props" - Aromatic candles,  relaxing music. Most of us have these things tucked in a drawer. For an even more sensual experience try fresh rose petals spread on a bed or atop the bath water. And for ideas on how to create some yummy, exotic spa eats - or mood elevating cocktails (see "Spa Index Recipe Collection").

Spa Treatment Recipes:

To create our food based "spa treatments" there are a variety of recipes. (FYI: These aren't just for women!)
Photo Courtesy of MarkAndMarina

One ingredient you may not have considered is Arm & Hammer Baking Soda - sure you know it is an ingredient in cookies, or toothpaste, but beauty treatments? Yes!

After months of bathing your hair in styling products and your normal shampoo regimen - which is loaded with waxes and plastic-like agents, your hair needs de-greasing! 

Arm & Hammer Hair De-greaser :  
This works great! Hair feels clean and smooth!
  • Get rid of build-up by sprinkling a quarter-size amount of baking soda into your palm along with your fav shampoo.
  • Shampoo as usual, rinse thoroughly.
Arm & Hammer Ex-foliating Pedi': 
  • Blend 2 TB Baking Soda in a basin of warm water. (optional: Add a few drops of lavender oil for relaxing aromatherapy. Do not use if pregnant!).
  • After allowing your feet a nice soak in the basin - Make a scrub:  3 parts Baking Soda & 1 part water. Add one part brown sugar and mix. 
  • Using your hands or a washcloth - rub the scrub in circles into your feet, one at a time. Rinse.
  • Follow with an application of your favorite moisturizer,(or try this one below). Wrap your feet in a warm towel for 5-10 minutes.
Soothing Bath Cookies: (Not for eating!)
  • 2 cups finely ground sea salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 2 T light oil
  • 1 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-6 drops essential oil of your choice
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Combine all the listed ingredients and form into a dough. Using a teaspoon or so of dough at a time, roll it gently in the palm of your hand until it forms a ball. Form all dough into one teaspoon balls, and gently place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Consider sprinkling the bath balls with herbs, flower petals, cloves, citrus zest and similar aromatic ingredients. Bake your bath cookies for ten minutes, until they are lightly browned. Do not over bake. Allow the bath cookies to cool completely. To use, Drop 1 or 2 cookies into a warm bath and allow to dissolve. Yield: 24 cookies, enough for 12 baths.

Well, I am sure you have heard of using cocoa butter for moisturizing the skin, but how bout using ginger to invigorate it?

Ginger Skin Cream:
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons light sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons apricot kernel oil
  • 2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
  • ½ cup cocoa butter
Preheat oven on lowest setting. Finely grate the ginger just enough so that you have about an 1/8 teaspoon of ginger "juice." To obtain the juice, squeeze the freshly grated ginger over a small bowl. Place the ingredients (including the ginger) in a glass container and heat just until the cocoa butter is melted and the oils are blended. Pour into a clean, dry container and store in a cool dry place. You can add a few drops of orange or other essential oil for a nice twist.

Chocolate Facial Mask:
This creamy mask is an excellent moisturizer, leaving your skin baby soft. Recommended for normal skin.
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tsp. oatmeal
Mix all ingredients together (a bullet blender / food processor is ideal) and smooth onto face. Relax for ten 10 minutes, then wash off with warm water.

Chocolate Bubble Bath:
  • 1 cup of unscented bubble bath
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened soy milk
  • 3 oz. of grated or powdered dark chocolate
Heat the soy milk and add in the grated or powdered chocolate. Stir well until melted and blended, but do not boil. Allow to cool. Mix well again just before adding to your bath.

Beer Hair Rinse
  • 1 oz distilled or clean catch rain water
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 7 drops lemon essential oil
  • 1 ounce beer (stale works fine)
  • 5 drops rosemary essential oil (do not use if pregnant)
  • 5 drops calendula essential oil (optional, but recommended for blondes)
Mix all ingredients together. Use as a final rinse, rinse well. Beer adds protein to make hair shiny and make it feel thicker.

Coffee Body Scrub:
  • 2 cups of coarsely ground coffee 
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or sea salt 
  • 2-3 T massage oil

Mix all ingredients together. Take a hot shower to moisten your skin and open your pores. Using wide, circular motions, rub the coffee exfoliant onto your skin with strong, even pressure. Shower off, pat skin dry, and apply a thin layer of your favorite body lotion

Avocado Hand and Foot Treatment
Mix together:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 mashed fresh avocado
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon rice bran
  • 10 drops of oil of evening primrose
Gently massage this treatment onto your hands and feet, and leave in place for 20 minutes. Rinse. This natural treatment will revive your dry, wrinkled and rough hands, feet, elbows and knees. The avocado and egg nourish the skin with proteins and oils; the rice bran exfoliates dead skin cells; the oil of evening primrose contains precious gamma linolenic acids, essential for healthy hair, skin and nails. Consider purchasing a small jar of Oil of Evening Primrose capsules from your health food store. Open one, and voila...you have the ingredient for this recipe.

And for the "Man Hide" - Here is an aftershave that probably combines a few of his favorite ingredients.

Bay Rum Aftershave:
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 Tbs Jamaican rum
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • zest from a small orange
Mix together all the ingredients and place into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Place the jar in a dark, cool place for 2 weeks. After two weeks, strain liquid through several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Discard solids. To use, splash on the face after shaving.

Closing thoughts:
Hmm...what an interesting idea - for Valentines Day or a special Anniversary, try creating a 'spacation' date for just the two of you using some of the hints and recipes mentioned above. Remember that pampering yourself is not just a luxury, it is necessary. Be sure to have fun!

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.  I received an "Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Spa Gift Basket to thank me for taking the time to participate.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy
  Mon, 20 Dec 2010 16:18:00 -0500
Do you, or someone you know, suffer from CPD (Culinary Performance Dysfunction)? What is CPD? It is the aversion to cooking, in a kitchen, anything besides microwave burritos or jarred spaghetti.
Photo Courtesy of  gregpphoto © All Rights Reserved.

People who have CPD have an irrational fear that they can't use culinary techniques to crank out a fabulous tasting meal. People with CPD, when faced with cooking, in the kitchen, conjure up horrible disasters that will unfurl if they attempt a recipe. 

Ingredient experimentation is a extreme anxiety trigger for people suffering CPD. It is far worse that attempting to follow a recipe.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, there is help. As Shakespeare mused:  "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." The mind is a powerful tool, which can be both helpful and damning. But CPD sufferers can overcome their aversion to the culinary world. Exposure is the key.

In a recent article published by Globe and Mail (see "Cooking as Therapy"), Julia Belluz, delves into the emotional and psychological healing aspects that cooking affords those who are open to the subtle nuances found in participating in the simple acts of prepping, creating and presenting their food.

A wonderful cookbook that I feel can bridge the gap between "aspiring" to be successful in the kitchen, but fearing it,  and actually being successful, is Entertain Like a Gentleman, by David Harap. 

This cookbook while geared for the testosterone set (i.e men), can be a nice addition to any cooking library. David presents the recipes and contents of  this cookbook in a very logical manner.

David Harap gently eases the reader into entertaining and cooking, with the first section entitled "Entertaining 101", which gives tips on stress-free entertaining, tools, metric conversions, and even talks about the 10 assumptions of all recipes.

The next 15 sections are devoted to assembling, cooking and creating a mood in 15 different entertaining scenarios:

  • Scotch Tasting Affair
  • Super-bowl / March Madness
  • Cheese and Wine Party
  • The Initial Flame (grilling)
  • Pool Party
  • Tailgating in Style
  • Oktoberfest
  • Cooking With Kiddos
  • Double Date Night
  • Romantic Dinner (Spring/Summer)
  • Romantic Dinner Another Night (Fall/Winter)
  • Breakfast in Bed
  • Brunch with the In-laws
  • Cocktail Party Finger Food
  • Poker Night With The Boys
Each of the 15 sections include tasty, innovative recipes which include appetizers, entrées with complimenting sides, and a delicious dessert to complete the themed experience. 

The recipes are written in an easy to understand fashion, intended to help aid in a less-stressful entertaining experience.  Included in the book are shopping and equipment lists, with blank pages  after every section to allow you to jot down thoughts or notes - making Entertain Like a Gentleman perfect for the cooking inept or the seasoned culinary traveler.

So hopefully when you are looking to find gifts this season, think of those who suffer from CPD, and try to  enable them, into the culinary world, which they fear so well. Encourage them, and give them the tools to inspire confidence. But over all, be supportive.

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Parent Reviewers. I received a "proof copy" of Entertain Like a Gentleman, so that I could provide my honest feedback. Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.
The United States to outside eyes is one of the most extravagant, wasteful , "media-hore"- loving cultures in the world. But in reality what the media hugely magnifies and the general public readily eats up (mainly in a desperate need to placate humane curiosity or escape the mundane.), is a very small example , say a micro-percentage of what the other large percentage of regular people in the US really surmounts to.

However there is a problem creeping into the general population, American culture, which is fueled by the media. It is a shift, mainly a obtuse growth of false entitlement that leaves the act of daily, common courtesy let alone  important humanitarian causes, fall slowly to the wayside. Every generation now seems to edge toward a self-centered existence who feels a constant need for digital gratification.

Being a blogger I cannot help but get swept up in this culture cult. With the growing competition to set myself apart by showcasing my creativity through visual images (enter the digital camera and better tools for editing and special effects) and  social media being a driving force in the success of a blog or website (enter the smart phones to keep up with different sites), it seems that I am apart of this reality regardless of whether I choose to or not . But isn't that the clincher - technology offers society the tools to allow for further advancement in so many areas.

 I struggle sometimes to not over analyse food blogging  - there is quite a disparity between the opulence and indulgent manor that some popular food bloggers tout as food culture and the real problems that American's are facing - having to choose between groceries to feed their families, or, paying their utilities or rent to keep their families sheltered.

In 2006, 25 million Americans, including 9 million children1 were being fed annually through the help of  Feeding America's network of Food Banks. Fast forward 4 years  to 2010 - present day America, and that number has grown 46 percent1 ! Can you believe 37 million Americans, including 14 million children1 are utilizing their local food banks across the US?  These aren't just homeless individuals, these are average people, maybe your neighbors. In fact 37 percent of this total have a full-time wage earner in their household1.

If you live in the United States,  use the widget below, you can enter in your zip code and you will be taken to a page which give you statistics regarding your state on how Food Bank resources are utilized, and will give you the contact info for local food banks in your area.

As a food blogger I think it is important to get the word out about organizations that help to feed people in our neighborhoods. The is a non-profit doing just that - Share Our Strength.  They have been a driving force behind the hunger movement for 25 years. They have launched a campaign called No Kid Hungry, which has a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. They have partnered with many food corporations that have pledged to give a percentage of their profits to the campaign.  When you are shopping this holiday season, I hope you will considered purchasing from corporations that are dedicated to helping end hunger.

On that note I wanted to review one of these companies' products - Hickory Farms, which is committed to donating $5 of every purchase of their Party Planner Gift Box to the No Kid Hungry campaign. Alternatively they encourage customers who aren't purchasing the above product,  to donate $1.00 of their order to the campaign, through 1/31/2011.

The product I received to review was the Home For The Holidays Gift Box.


  • 2 - 10 oz. Our Signature Beef Summer Sausages
  • 1 - 10 oz. Italian Recipe Beef Summer Sausage
  • 1 -  8 oz. Big Barn Cheddar®
  • 1 -  7 oz. Cheddar & Havarti Blend
  • 1 -  4 oz. Three Cheese & Onion Wedge
  • 1 -  4 oz. Smooth N Sharp Wedge
  • 1 -  2.25 oz. Sweet Hot Mustard
  • 1 -  2.5 oz. Honey Pineapple Mustard
  • 2 -  Boxes of  .5 oz. Cracked Wheat Crackers, "Sesame, Caraway & Sea Salt"
  • 4 - Strawberry Candies 

The gift box arrived in a standard cardboard sheath. There was nothing between it and The gift box. The contents were positioned on a natural shredded paper filling in a heavy weight attractive cardboard box. This packaging gets a eco-friendly thumbs up. I was soo happy not to see excessive over packaging - no peanuts or plastic wrapping. You can even reuse the filling and box if needed.

At $50.00 per Box, I would say this is a good idea if you have the budget to purchase this. I used some of the meats and cheeses to create a holiday tray, over Thanksgiving, to bring to a family members. People were nibbling pretty frequently and it didn't survive the whole evening. I still had meat and cheese that I hadn't cut up in the fridge. There is allot here to work with.

  • Sesame, Caraway and Sea Salt  Crackers: I must be honest, I am not a huge crackers-with-caraway fan, most crackers are so over powered with this potent spice that it is off-putting. I was leery of trying these crackers. But after some thought, I wanted to offer my opinion, so I moved out of my comfort zone. These crackers were great! They have a great cracker texture that holds up and doesn't crumble under the weight of cheese - they have snap. They are slightly buttery and the sesame gives a nice nutty after taste. The sea salt rounds out the flavor and the caraway adds a very distant earthy note. I especially enjoyed them with the Three Cheese & Onion Wedge,  and Smooth N Sharp Wedge.
  • Beef Summer Sausages:  The Signature Beef Summer Sausages were full of hickory smokiness. There are notes of white wine vinegar and the peppercorns really accentuated the overall flavor. They have a nice mouth feel.  
  • Italian Recipe Beef Summer Sausage,  To my surprise, however, I really enjoyed this. The flavor reminded me of my grandmother's meatballs. You take a bite and flavor notes of an Italian deli meat explodes in your mouth. Whites pepper gives it a kick on your tongue. It also reminded me of the whiff I took smelling my Great-Grand parents icebox , who would cure their own meats such as Cappacuolo. Very nice and pleasing to the palate.
  • Sweet Hot Mustard - You can only go so far with mustard and honey. This mustard is a cross between the Chinese mustard you get with BBQ pork at restaurants and the horseradish condiment you would receive at a steak house with your prime rib. 
  • Honey Pineapple Mustard: This mustard tasted to me like someone mixed mustard, honey and not yet solidified Jello Brand Orange Jello, I couldn't get past that jello after taste. Not my cup of tea.
  • Three Cheese & Onion Wedge - This cheese had  a nice onion flavor. It reminded me of French onion soup. The onion notes were not of a spicy onion, more like one that has been roasted to release it's milder taste. There were bits of green onion throughout that added a freshness to the overall flavor.
  • Big Barn Cheddar® - This cheese is what you would expect from a standard cheddar. Mild flavor, smooth texture.
  • Cheddar & Havarti Blend - This cheese was really mild in flavor. It lacked the intensity that aged Havarti could have given it. White cheddar generally has a nice bite, but this cheese didn't have any of that. It was a bland cheese.
  • Smooth N Sharp Wedge: The paprika gives this a nice tang. Out of all the cheddars in this box, I enjoyed this the most. The taste was reminiscent of a Cheese Ball .
If you are looking for a gift that is varied from a company that supports a good cause and that has limited packaging, the Home For The Holiday Gift Box has something for everyone. Although the mustards weren't spectacular, the majority of the contents were pretty tasty.

1Hunger in America 2010 National Report. Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The views expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of  Hickory Farms. I received a "Home for the Holidays Gift Box" in exchange for providing my honest feedback. Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.
  Tue, 10 Aug 2010 18:02:00 -0400
What is Baking mean to You? Here is a poem I just jotted down in an effort to get back to food blogging again.  I want to hear from my readers --- is baking a smell, a sight or sound? A memory?


It is patience
It is understanding 
 Of ingredients
Of Environmental factors 

It is flirting
with formulations
to achieve
the ultimate
in taste combination -
that result achieved
quite complicated.

Baking is 
the warmth of a stack oven
Of the freshly
de-panned product.

Baking is
 the satisfaction
Of creation.
 Of the tears 
well in their eyes
when a taste, a smell
of home,
Of a loved one
passed on.

Baking is
the alcoholic fumes
from a container
your starter -
your poolish -
your biga -
your mix.

Baking is intoxication.
 Amber ©2010. All Rights Reserved

I also experimented with a new add-on  for GIMP called "Polar Inversion" - so I used it on the pic below. I think it encapsulates production quite well, you know, the total process seems full circle.

I have had an overwhelming response to my previous "You Be The Judge -Who Wins Best entertaining Tip", the current comment count is 155, but I have about 212 comments that await moderation.

I would like to thank everyone who voted, or who noted their choices and especially to those of you who added your own entertaining tips. This was a pretty successful contest, and I plan to do more like this.

As a recap I wanted to give you a snippet of the original post that spurned this contest.
The most successful host & hostesses have an arsenal of tricks they have tucked away in their little entertaining hats. Cabinets and pantries stand at attention year-round, stocked with dinnerware, decorations and edibles. These entertaining geniuses can layout their hospitable spreads within moments of a surprise pop-in or short notice dinner party.

If you are one of these people - lucky you, you have mastered the art of snatching a mini quiche from the masters' hand IMDB. For those of you who aren't entertaining gurus - you have much to learn, and remain the grasshoppers W of social hospitality. - Dec. 11 2009
That was really the spirit behind this contest -  with 12 bloggers inputting a total of 16 entertaining tips, I asked readers to vote for their favorite tip. The tip that stood out among the rest  for readers was YESIamblond's second contribution.

"Buy Fortune Cookies. Have each guest read fortune out loud to group adding "in bed" at the end of reading their fortune, as in "You will find much prosperity...in bed". Makes for a funny gut-busting mixer, really gets the party rolling."

YESIamblond has won a coupon for a  free Nancy's Frozen Appetizer. Congratulations & thanks so much for participating in the "Entertaining Guru" contest!

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy
On the first week of December 2009, I had written a review on Nancy's Appetizers and challenged readers to add their best entertaining tips in the comments.  If they posted correctly, I promised I would publish their tips including a link to their site, and create a poll that you the readers would vote on, to chose the best entertaining tip from those submitted. The Best Tipper will win a free Nancy's Appetizers product.

The most successful host & hostesses have an arsenal of tricks they have tucked away in their little entertaining hats. Cabinets and pantries stand at attention year-round, stocked with dinnerware, decorations and edibles. These entertaining geniuses can layout their hospitable spreads within moments of a surprise pop-in or short notice dinner party.

If you are one of these people - lucky you, you have mastered the art of snatching a mini quiche from the masters' hand IMDB. For those of you who aren't entertaining gurus - you have much to learn, and remain the grasshoppers W of social hospitality. - Dec. 11 2009

                                                                Photo credit azrainman

Here are what the self-titled  entertaining gurus recommend:

"Buy Fortune Cookies. Have each guest read fortune out loud to group adding "in bed" at the end of reading their fortune, as in "You will find much prosperity...in bed". Makes for a funny gut-busting mixer, really gets the party rolling."

"Mini Olympics. Take whatever games you have ping-pong, Foosball, Wii, gameboys, darts, etc. and set up a mini Olympics for a party. Tell people that they must have a different partner for each game and that they must try to play against different teams each time. Give them a tally sheet to record game played, Won or Lost, and score. Tally up who won and award a girl and guy prize. Excellent way to get people mixing!"  -YESIamblond

"Once a year I have Wild Women Day. Each friend brings a friend, a food that begins with the same letter as her first name(ie Julie brings Jello) and we bring new and gently used children books that I donate to a Detoit Public School." -Diane Baum

"I always pick one signature cocktail so as not to become a bartender for the evening. I also have white & red wines available."

"I hate to run out of appetizers, so I always have extra put away in the freezer. If I see I am running low, I can just pop them in the oven." - DEBIJOT
"A 15 ounce an of refried beans, a cup of shredded, sharp cheddar cheese, a tablespoons of hot sauce, and 1/4 cup of milk can be combined and heated to make a quick and popular dip."-Belinda

"Soft music is always nice to have playing as there may be lolls in conversations by the guests and the silence will have been broken"

"Always have finger foods readily available and in convenient places to take along with napkins and small plates" - electricisland

"Download a whole selection of music onto your mp3 player specifically selected for your theme or your particular guests. Then play it during the party. Mix it up and be eclectic, go from slow ballads to instrumentals to dance music to keep your party moods changing and bubbling." - heaventrees

"Some cut up velvetta and a can of chili beans (drained) heated up in the microwave makes a fast and easy dip. Doesn't taste that bad either. Adding meat makes it better but that also adds to the time to prepare."- Barb

"I think it's fun when there's a theme. For instance for a Superbowl party you could have everyone dress in the colors of the team they're rooting for, make a cheese ball shaped like a football, give the foods football names (touchdown tacos, half time ham, field goal fajitas, kickoff kabobs, etc). You can even play a game where everyone guesses the final score! Of course there's lots of other themes, too!"- Pamela S.

 "Have a fun potluck dinner with friends. Put the names of dishes in a hat and then have each guest pick what they will bring. You can have main dish, dessert, side dishes, drinks etc." - Gianna

"On a counter in my kitchen is a three tiered stack of plates and silverware. Next to it is a wine holder that holds On one counter in my kitchen we have set up year roun2 bottles of wine and glasses. I keep appetizers made up in freezer. We can have an impromptu party in a hurry."
"I also have a drawer with different kinds of fun napkins" - rosannepm

"When I throw a party I always have music on in the background and candles lit in the main rooms. If it's cold outside I'll have the fire lit.If it's hot outside I'll make sure the house has fans on in each room,(we don't have AC)! Nancy's quiches are part of the menu every party,so simple and delicious!" - grapegoddess

"I wouldn't say this is entertaining, but sure it's fun: when my friends and I are in the mood for something sweet we have a "blender party"; we blend all kinds of fruits with all kinds of ice creams and drinks, and some of the mixtures are really good.:)" - cary

Below you will find a poll  widget - please scroll through the quotes and chose which tip you feel is the best entertaining tip. The deadline to vote is 12 a.m Pacific Time Jan. 14th 2010. Once all the votes are tabulated I will announce the winner via post and get the winner's address info to mail their prize. Please - one vote per person!

This Poll is Closed

For most food bloggers, showcasing their food images is a thing of pride and mostly of beauty. People have a love affair with food and photography.

plated desserts 035Throwing scone dough onto the bench.I like polished shots (my pic on upper  left), but I think I get a real kick out of food in action - such as motion blurs from the act of creating scones (my pic on bottom left), or a mixer in a hardcore whirling motion.

The act of creating food, sparks my interest maybe more that tasting it. I love to see the way that true culinarians immerse themselves in their work - it is something very magical, echoed in the expressions and precise movements of their hands and in their body movements.

I acquaint it to a dance. Working in close quarters among a crew in  a commercial kitchen or bake shop, it takes the best choreography,  to make time most efficient and productive.

But when you are able to capture those flashes of  creativity and of proficient knowledge, the outcome of your photos become all that more interesting.

If you are a woman aged 21 yrs or older (regardless of your foodie status) , living in the US, and have ever dreamed of taking your blog or picture taking abilities to the next level - the SOAR! Scholarship from ME KA ROH Photography can do just that.
The three SOAR! recipients will be given thousands of dollars of camera gear, services and mentoring. But throughout the next twelve months, they will also be given something you can’t quantify. They will be given the gift of guided challenge—challenge to CLIMB heights they have never imagined. They will gain strength which will lead to empowerment. When they have made the leaps of risking over and over again, our goal is that they will be empowered to catch the wind. And we will not only witness them take flight, but we will see them SOAR!

Imagine being a winner and having not only pro photography gear put in your hands, but tons of professional software (like photoshop CS4), pro classes and training, mentoring and your own PR - see the whole list of prizes.

For me this would be a dream come true, I would love to delve into professional photography, and have all the expensive tools and be empowered to use them.

There will be 3 grand prize winners chosen on January 1st, 2010. The winners will have an intensive 12 month schedule aimed at sculpting them into photography business pros.

All you need to apply is fill out the application, then submit a 2 minute video on "why you are worthy of receiving the SOAR Scholarship"

You can learn more about contest rules/regulations, by visiting http://www.soarwithmera.com/ .

  Mon, 21 Dec 2009 16:48:00 -0500
Teaching Kids The Value of Money, Sustainability & Eventually Food Costing. When kids look at food they only see the visual or sensory aspect of foods - the thought that ingredients or that a meal costs something couldn't be furthest from their minds. Children see food as a either a thing of joy, or as a yucky substance to avoid. Even though there are quite strong feelings toward food, children are however for the most part, ready and willing to learn about where the food they eat comes from.

Where to begin?  Lets start with teaching the concept of money. Trying to talk about money right out of the gate might be a little preachy and not quite as interesting. Kids are interested in rhythmic melodies and beats and research shows melodic song improves and stimulates how children's brains absorb knowledge (See: The Mozart Effect). 

Knowing that I was about to bridge this theme, I was thrilled to be able to review and introduce a great video that accomplishes teaching the value of money in a melodic fashion : Munchkin Math: Counting Money.

  • Format: Animated, Color, DVD, NTSC #
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Ages: 3-9yrs
  • Run Time: 22 minutes
  • ASIN: 0979901332
  • Website: http://www.munchkinmath.com/
Wendy Miller, the creator of Munchkin Math, teaches unique rhymes, chants and hand motions to enable a lasting impression while making the subject of money entertaining, with the help of her kid assistants.  The main objective of this DVD is to help build "The Money Worm" using different US coinage, as illustrated on the cover .

My 6yr old , who is really getting into money lately (she got an electronic piggy bank as a present) was very interested in the video - she thought that having the older boy (which I am guessing is 10 yrs old) in the video, was very "cool", and thought learning the songs was fun. She got into the mathmatics - shouting the answers to the screen. The first time she watched the DVD, she was moving with the beat and had learned the words on the 3rd go around. Even my 2 yr old had mustered a decent attention span - enough to point out the quarters & follow along with the narrated ques.


Through rhythmical, visual and kinesthetic cues this video will help your kids absorb the core information - such as US coins - shape, size and values ; Plus math formulas they will use throughout school and life.

It is short enough to interest even the shortest attention spans, keeping kids engaged and entertained.


I found the sound quality very good, but recorded at a very high volume (even louder than most videos) - be prepared to to adjust the volume immediately when hitting play.


If you are looking for ways to educate children aged 3-9 yrs old, about US coinage, while providing a fun and entertaining way for learning, then Munchkin Math: Counting Money is a good DVD to invest in. It will present core math and money skills that will make a lasting impression.

More Teaching Money Resources:

  1. Money Instructor: TEACHING KIDS MONEY SKILLS "We have money worksheets, money lessons, money lesson plans, and interactive money exercises to help". This site is great. There are age appropriate sections for preschool through 10th grade.
  2. Kids.gov: Money - A whole lot of links dedicated to different facets of financial education. Great resources!

Once your children have a basic understanding of coin values, then you can move onto teaching more complicated subjects - such as ingredient or grocery costs. Have some insights into teaching children the value of money? Share them!

Be on the lookout for the next article in this series: Teaching Kids The Value of - Food Sustainability.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are lucky to have such lovely forests, as I mentioned in an early post, I found a mushroom hunter from Eugene, OR - who was interested in guest posting here on Renaissance Culinaire. Please note the orange icons with skull & cross bones, these reference poisonous or un-edible species of mushroom. Here is his post:

Hello, chanterelle hunters! The problem with yellow footed Chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiacaW) is that when they are plentiful, the price falls.

Everyone with a vehicle is suddenly a Chanterelle hunter. Get 'em while you can, because soon you will not see a chanterelle until next fall. I love hunting chanterelles, but making money with them is hard. When Chanterelles are abundant, more people go picking and the price drops.

For me, mushrooming is not about money. It is about finding those perfect beautiful patches in the forest. Hunting is about finding one chanterelle and then looking around and seeing a hundred more chanterelles. It is a beautiful sight. Hunting is about getting our side in the rain and being active. There are easier pickings in the mushroom patch than chanterelles, but this takes more knowledge.

 In the fall, what  I go after is the Common Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris W -) that grow on lawns and fields. Meadow mushrooms are abundant between rains when the soil humus takes off.

(photo right - credit Lee Norris)

The Meadow Mushroom is listed as choice by the National Autobahn Field manual. The manual says that they grow in late August and September, but I have found meadow mushrooms much later in the season in late September throughout October.

The National Autobahn manual does not say anything about meadow mushrooms growing in rings, but I have seen them growing that way.

Do not confuse the Meadow Mushroom with California Agaricus (Agaricus californicus). Both are similar in appearance but California Agaricus will make you sick.

 (On  left Photo by Lee Norris; Right, Photo  Credit © Fred Stevens)

As you look at the two pictures, the left has older  California Agaricus mushrooms and the picture on the right features a  younger version of California Agaricus - this species  has a very noticible identifier - a ring (looks kind of like a skirt) higher on the stalk (which may appear broken or ragged as the mushroom matures), this is the best indication as to what variety they are. The Meadow Mushroom has a half ring, faint ring or even no ring, where the California Agaricus' ring is much fuller.

The Felt Ring Agaricus (Agaricus hondensis Murr),Yellow-foot Agaricus(Agaricus xanthodermusW)and Western Flat-topped Agaricus(Agaricus meleagris) are other species confusable with the Meadow Mushroom that are poisonous.

Sometimes mushrooms can be identified by the odor, feel and even the mass. Some grow on in fields and lawns and others only in wooded areas. If you go out and identify, you will get to know what they are.

(photo credit Wikipedia)

I like Waxy Caps. (see: Hygrophorus Agaricales W, Hygrocybe coccinea, Hygrophorus chrysodon, Hygrophorus occidentalis). Waxy caps favor colder weather and grow much later in the season. Waxy caps have a slimy cap to the touch and there is no other species confusable with the same cap. Waxy caps are not too tasty, but waxy caps kill my appetite and are good for weight loss. I like to cut up a few waxy caps and put them in scrambled eggs in the morning. I can go until supper without feeling hungry.

(photo credit Wikipedia)

Slippery Jacks (Suillus luteusW) are edible, but their appearance in the field is unappetizing. Slippery Jacks grow mainly later in the season when it is cold and wet. I always think that I will build a dryer and dry a lot of them because they are so abundant. The manual says that you can get diarrhea from eating the slime on the cap, so it is best to peel the skin off after they are dried. I have put dried Slippery Jacks in meatloaf, and they have a sweet taste.

Bon appetite, But do not believe anything I say about wild mushrooms. This article is not meant as a field guide and do not trust anyone else’s word for identification. Years ago, a knowledgeable mushroom hunter died in Eugene. He did so because he trusted the identification ability of one of his students. The student was a knowledgeable hunter who got a   Destroying Angel, a.k.a Death Cap (Amanitaceae Agaricales see: Amanita phalloides , Amanita virosa ) ,a very poisonous species, confused with a Western Lawn Puffball, which is edible. He did not check out what he was eating.

“Know thy mushrooms for thyself!” There are people that know what they are doing with mushrooms but there are also many that think they do. Research your wild mushrooms for yourself, and leave alone what you do not know.

This brings me to the second axiom of mushroom hunting. You can generally trust field manual like the Autobahn Society, for what mushrooms are edible. I say generally but not always. For example, many people really like the Yellow Footed Chanterelle. I am a person that can not eat Chanterelles. If I eat Chanterelles, they will likely come right back up. Go slow with any wild food that you do not know.

By Lee Norris*

Lee Norris can be found contributing on http://www.stimulusbike.com/ and on Helium. His personal website - Sadlebutts Corner is a cycling website.

For More Info On Forgaging - Check Out These Great Guides:
*This article has been edited, formatted and embelished with links & additional pictures by Renaissance Culinaire's Owner. All text & photos, copyright stays with the respective author(s) .

This post references cookbooks,  publications, lectures and industry focused literature - on foraging Edible Plants. I was re-reading a previous post Harvesting, Foraging and Mushrooms - Oh My!, and thought I should split up the Foraging , Truffles & Mushroom Hunting Publication list into 3 posts (Truffles, Mushrooms and Foraging Edible Plants, so that it would be more user friendly. Enjoy!   

Sweet Potato Plant, a Tropical Vine with an Edible Tuberous Root Art Giclee Poster Print, 24x32

Wild Edible Plants Harvest & Identification
Wild Edibles Industry Focused:

Pacific Northwest / West Coast  / North Central  Edible Plants

Mid West - Edible Plants

North East / South East / East Coast - Edible Plants

South West / South - Edible Plants

North America / Canada - Edible Plants

South America


Edible Pants

ASIA / South Pacific / Asia-Pacific

Pacific Islands - Edible Plants

Africa / Middle East - Edible Plants
This post references cookbooks,  publications, lectures and industry focused literature - on Mushrooms. I was re-reading a previous post Harvesting, Foraging and Mushrooms - Oh My!, and thought I should split up the Foraging , Truffles & Mushroom Hunting Publication list into 3 posts (Truffles, Mushrooms and Foraging Edible Plants, so that it would be more user friendly. Enjoy!

Medicinal Mushrooms Cuisine Poster Print, 24x36

Mushroom Hunting & Identification:

Publication - Spanish - Espaniol

Pacific Northwest / West Coast  / North Central - Mushrooms
Mid West - Mushrooms

North East / East Coast - Mushrooms

Pacific Islands  - Mushrooms

South West / South /South East - Mushrooms

North America - Mushrooms

Canada - Mushrooms
Canada Publication - French - Français

South America - Mushrooms

Europe  - Mushrooms
Europe Publication - French - Français
Europe Publication - Finnish
Europe Publication - Croation

ASIA / South Pacific / Asia-Pacific - Mushrooms

Asia - Mushrooms - Industry Focused

Africa / Middle East - Mushrooms
This post references cookbooks,  publications, lectures and industry focused literature on truffles. I was re-reading a previous post Harvesting, Foraging and Mushrooms - Oh My!, and thought I should split up the Foraging , Truffles & Mushroom Hunting Publication list into 3 posts, so that it would be more user friendly. Enjoy!

Specialty Fungi - Truffles

Truffles - Black Truffles

Truffles - White Truffles

Book Language: Italian - Italiano

Book Language: Spanish - Espaniol

Book Language: French - Français

Truffles - Industry Focused

Truffle Editorials & Lectures

Truffles - North America
Truffles - Europe
  Thu, 17 Dec 2009 19:40:00 -0500
I am lucky to live here in Oregon, where the ancient forests sprawl down into the valleys , whose spindly branches of Oak, Myrtle, Maple and evergreens outwardly stretch, as their canopies tower above roadsides - whose greenery throws shadows onto cars -  filtering sunlight into a flickering dance of light onto the winding roads which disappear into the green mossy-lined darkness.

Among those trees hidden in the shadows and bark of decomposed logs, or livestock pastures  and typical wasteland -  little gems of edible goodness are lurking. Mushrooms! I have always wanted to go foraging for them and the other forest edibles, but haven't gotten a chance yet. So as one of my resolutions for the New Year is to learn to identify edible wild plants and forage.

And to celebrate this theme, I have found a mushroom hunter, Lee M. Norris, to share some of his knowledge on edible mushrooms found in Oregon. Even though he mentions some species found in Oregon - his comments on hunting them as a whole are not Oregon specific, and anyone interested in foraging might learn some helpful tips.

While editing his guest post: A Foraging We Will Go, Mushroom Hunting in Oregon, I thought it would be lovely to give some links on guides for mushroom hunting, which led me to a list cataloged by region, continent and by specialty.

Hopefully these list of books will give everyone a new perspective of those little fungi  and other plants growing and thriving around us.

Medicinal Mushrooms Cuisine Poster Print, 24x36Edible Fungi: Parasol Mushroom 20x30 posterMushrooms Poster PrintCavallini Les Champignons Mushrooms Gift Wrap Paper Decoupage Poster, One

See the Foraging , Truffles &  Mushroom Hunting Publication list in it's entirety. Read: Part 1 - Truffles, Part 2 - Mushrooms, Part 3 - Foraging Edible Plants 

A growing trend for established trusted brands seems to be going green or at least trying to add some Eco-friendliness to their image. As more and more consumers become aware of ingredients and chemicals used to manufacture many of the products on grocers shelves, a new urgency to find natural based alternatives has moved from what was once considered a frivolous choice to a well thought-out lifestyle change.

Clorox, a well known manufacturer of household bleach and disinfecting wipes, heeded the cries from consumers for a laundry detergent and line of cleaning products that were natural, safe and effective. Their product line Green Works, with new formulations full of plant based derivatives helped to propel their brand  into the Eco-friendly arena.

Green Works Natural Laundry Detergent

Available in 3 different scents Original Scent, Lavender Scent and Free & Clear.
Green Works Laundry Detergent boasts an impressive list of why this detergent is eco-friendly.

  • Made of plant based, biodegradable ingredients
  • Never tested on animals.
  • Container: made of 25% post-consumer recycled plastic, classified as #2 (HDPE)W 
  • Recognized by the EPA for safer chemistry.
  • Safe for all machines including  High Efficiency.
  • In partnership with Sierra Club, signifying Clorox's commitment to sustainability.

Green Works Natural Stain Remover

Available in Original Scent.Not only is this stain remover natural, it has earned the prestigious Good House Seal.

  • Made of plant based, biodegradable ingredients
  • Never tested on animals.
  • 99% natural
  • Container:  classified as #2 (HDPE)
  • Recognized by the EPA for safer chemistry.
  • In partnership with Sierra Club, signifying Clorox's commitment to sustainability.

Green Monster

Green Works product line is creating a green buzz - like something fierce. I liked that both the Laundry Detergent and the Stain Remover have plant based ingredients. Recyclable and recognized by the EPA as safe chemistry make for a product you can feel good about purchasing.

Cleaning Machines

Green Works Natural Laundry Detergent worked better than I expected. It loosened ground-in dirt and made the clothes feel soft - unlike some other eco detergents I have tried, which used heavy amounts of starch, and made the clothes have a stiff scratchy feel. It was extremely concentrated, which will save you money in the long run.

Green Works Natural Stain Remover rivaled one of my favorite enzyme based stain fighters - I was pretty impressed by it's ability to break up dried-on stains - and  remove them, without a second run through the wash cycle.  The scent was pleasant and subtle.

Skin Friendly

I have mentioned before in my posts about my eczema, which makes my skin sensitive to different chemicals, essential oils or perfumes. Both of these products did not cause my eczema to flair up - which usually happens if a product contains harsh ingredients. Even when I added too much to a load - it still didn't irritate my skin.


Concentrated Means Business

Read the directions carefully - Green Works Laundry Detergent is very concentrated - use the amount specified for the size of your load. The essential oils used to scent this product can become very strong, when cycling through the wash.

I found this out the hard way and accidentally used a full cap instead of half of the cap, and the overpowering smell gave me a headache.


Clorox Green Works Natural Laundry Detergent and Natural Stain Remover are products showcasing Clorox's commitment to sustainability and the needs of consumers. You can feel good about purchasing them and know that they are safe for your family and the environment. These products may be well suited for you or those in your family with skin sensitivities.

The most successful host & hostesses have an arsenal of tricks they have tucked away in their little entertaining hats. Cabinets and pantries stand at attention year-round, stocked with dinnerware, decorations and edibles. These entertaining geniuses can layout their hospitable spreads within moments of a surprise pop-in or short notice dinner party.

If you are one of these people - lucky you, you have mastered the art of snatching a mini quiche from the masters' hand IMDB. For those of you who aren't entertaining gurus - you have much to learn, and remain the grasshoppers W of social hospitality.

Photo Credit WordRidden
I mentioned quiche - what is quiche? In French cuisine, a quiche (IPA: [ki:ʃ]) is a baked dish that is based on a custard made from eggs and milk or cream in a pastry crust. Usually, the pastry shell is blind baked before the other ingredients are added for a secondary baking period.W Generally quiche are savory flavored with herbs, meats or vegetables.

O.K, entertaining grasshoppers - listen up and rejoice, have I got a trick for expanding your entertainers' hats. Frozen appetizers. Some of you out there are cringing as you read those two words - fear not, no-one will shun or chastise you for taking a shortcut every now and then.

Even caterers and other culinary professionals have shortcuts they utilize when in a pinch. Rule one is to always have a backup plan - in case a disaster happens.

Before I start the reviewing of a product, I always like to do a little background on the company.

Nancy Mueller started in the '70's making appetizers in her own kitchen. People started referring her to their friends and eventually she started small production, supplying them to local grocers in San Fransisco, Ca.

In 1977, Nancy's Specialty Foods was born, ever since they have been producing on a large scale the company has successfully established partnerships with leading grocers & warehouse clubs nationwide. Nancy's has a full product line of frozen appetizers, desserts and entrées.

The Review:

Today I am reviewing Nancy's Petite Quiche, in the Lorraine (Swiss Cheddar & Real Bacon) and Florentine (Swiss & Spinach). I served these to family, which varied in ages 2 - 62yrs of age, while we watched U of O Ducks & OSU Beavers' civil war football game.

The quiche were packed in their own plastic recyclable tray with individual cups holding each mini quiche. There are microwave (for softer crust) & oven (for flakier crust) directions. I chose to use the oven directions which asked for a preheat of 375° F. Onto a cokie sheet I placed them 1/2 " apart. They baked for 14 minutes. After cooling them a bit they went on a serving tray.

Appearance:They looked edible, the crust was a nice golden brown with hints of carmelization in the right spots , the crust didn't sag. The filling looked appetizing and you could see pieces of the spinach and bacon laced throughout.

Texture / Mouth Feel: The crust was very flaky and light, when bitten into it was thin. The quiche filling had a good texture - you couldn't distinguish whether these quiches were commercial or not just by biting into them. The bits of spinach, onion or bacon was obvious, and natural.

Taste: Both quiches had a buttery crust with just enough salt. Thin crust enough not to overpower the quiche filling. Eggy-ness did not envelope the overall flavor, each quiche had a distinct flavor profile.

  • Lorraine (Bacon/Swiss): Very nice flavor, the filling had minced onion but that didn't overpower the other ingredients, just aided in accentuating them. The bacon could be tasted slightly throughout with nice smokiness, but definite bacon flavor when a bit landed in my mouth. Chives punctuated the onion. The Swiss added a nice flavor note and tied everything together. Nicely seasoned, not to salty.

  • Florentine (Swiss Cheese & Spinach): Small bits of spinach. Had a garlicky taste throughout. Nicely seasoned.

    I liked both of them, but I liked the Lorraine best. They were received well by the guests, everyone except my kids, because let's face it - quiche looks and sounds kind of funny to a 2 & 6 yr old. My mother-in law thought they tasted very flavorful. My husband didn't like the flaky crust and thought they were a bit dry and needed more flavor --- I disagree.

    These were in good form and didn't taste like a frozen appetizer. I will be honest and say that I wasn't expecting these to taste very good, I figured they would have a chemical taste and be greasy and bland.

    I was pleasantly surprised. I would be happy to serve these on the fly if I didn't have time to prepare anything from scratch. So give them a try and stock some in your freezer for those unexpected entertaining moments.

  • The Contest :

    Think you have what is takes to prove you aren't an "Entertainment Grasshopper"? Got some tips in your entertaining hat that could make or break an evening? Want to educate the Grasshoppers? Share your top 2 tips in the comments - The best tips will be featured in a post with your linked site url , such as below:

    Make tamales & freeze them, for easy thawing. - provided by Tamales Rock
    I will be choosing the best 60 quick entertaining tips from this post's comments, to be featured in the post. The Best of those tips - voted by you, the readers - will win a coupon for a free Nancy's Entree (good until April 30 2010), that will be mailed via snail mail.

    Make sure you link to your blogger profile or site url in the comments (please no anonymous), so I can contact you if you win.

    This is a great way to get PR for your site, as well as a back link. The contest starts now December 4th 2009 and will end at 12 a.m pacific time on Tuesday, December 8th 2009.

    That gives you 4 days to post your top 2 quick entertaining tips here in the comments, for a chance to win. Good Luck!

    What do you want out of life? What do most people want out of life? Some kind of happiness --- whether that means finding the love of their life; having small attainable goals, or doing something meaningful in society - like working with the hungry and poor.

    Throughout life there are a lessons learned and embedded into our psyche; Ones that leave a lasting impression and that shape us as individuals , dictating choices we make for the future.

    These impressions come from a variety of sources - the neighborhood we lived in; people in our lives - from our parents, friends or teachers - to that stranger on a street corner. Each memory is a misshapen piece that indelibly will coincide and be interwoven with other pieces to complete the complex puzzle, of the self, in each of us.

    Yet it isn't just impressions that shape us - it is more primal than that. Our makeup is derived by genes who are manipulated and tousled, surviving generations after generation. Where do these genes come from? From our descendants - passed down from our families.

    For allot of us, even in the most dysfunctional of circumstances - family means allot. Having a need for family to gather around us in celebration is a need that is echoed across cities, states --- for that matter across the globe.

    But it can be those same joyous occasions with the right conditions that can trigger a deadly domino effect. When you have a family, their safety is important. When tragedy strikes it can rock your world. No one wants to be affected by an intoxicated driver. Yet everyday in the United States 36 people die and 700 people are injured from alcohol related crashes1. Those statistics are sobering.

    I have first hand experience of a loved one being injured by a drunk driver - It doesn't matter the extent of injuries or there severity. Once an unknowing car is struck - whether broadsided, T-boned ,clipped or Rear-ended ---their lives and their families lives are changed forever.

    The scary thing about alcohol is that teen drivers are the most vulnerable. Teens push the envelope when it comes to vehicle safety, there is a tendency to underestimate and not recognize dangerous situations4. When any alcohol is involved , teens risk of crash /fatalities is far greater than any older age groups2. In 2005, 3 out of 4 teens who were killed in alcohol related crashes were not wearing their seatbelt3 . In 2005, male drivers aged 15-20 yrs old who were involved in fatal crashes %38 had been speeding and %24 had been drinking5,6.

    Because of the importance of educating our teens, MADD - a non-profit organization aimed at giving needed support to DUI victims and preventing underage drinking, has stepped up to the plate this season, conveniently as this December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month to unveil their campaign entitled: The Power of Parents.

    Did you know - %74 of teens turn to the parents for guidance on drinking? The Power of Parents campaign aims to give parents of teens tools, and access to resources which can help empower them when talking to teens about underage drinking.

    You will find on The Power of Parents site: Expertly written videos, guides and pamphlets available via download. There is also "Ask an expert" section for all your questions, plus an online community where you can network with other parents and share experiences.

    Right now as of the recent launch, there is a section specifically for parents of highschool aged teens. But check back soon because there are several sections planned for: Elementary parents , Middle School parents, and College parents.

    The site is very user friendly and you can also participate in the conversation via Twitter: @maddparents, or Facebook: Power of Parents Fan Page .

    If you have time, I have 2 pamphlets in pdf format, available for download from The Power of Parents campaign.

    Download Page

    Links for More Information:


    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).


    The words and opinions expressed here are my own. The facts and statistics all have sources (see below). I wrote this post while participating in a blog campaign (about the launch of The Power of Parents site) by Mom Central on behalf of MADD. A donation was made to MADD in my name to thank me for taking the time to participate.

    Hopefully the statistics, and links I provided will help educate you, your family or friends. Be safe this holiday season!

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
    2 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers 2005. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2006 [cited 2006 Dec 1].
    3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2005 [Online]. (2006b). National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (producer). Available from: URL:
    http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/yrbss/CategoryQuestions.asp?cat=1&desc=Unintentional.* [Cited 2006 Nov 28]
    4 Jonah BA, Dawson NE. Youth and risk: age differences in risky driving, risk perception, and risk utility. Alcohol, Drugs and Driving 1987;3:13–29.
    5 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2005: speeding. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2006a [cited 2008 March 28]. Available from: URL: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2005/SpeedingTSF05.pdf.
    6 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2005: young drivers. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2006b [cited 2008 March 28]. Available from: URL: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.govf.

      Wed, 04 Nov 2009 02:48:00 -0500
    I know that this site hasn't been updated for a while. But readers kept leaving comments & sending me feedback. And following RC - whether it was through feedburner, google friend connect, or Twitter, or via the Renaissance Culinaire facebook fan page , the followers don't quit. I would like to say thanks - I really appreciate it.

    I have big plans instore for this blog, and my goal is to update everyday - starting now. So be on the look out for new content. I plan to have some giveaways soon too!

      Thu, 22 Jan 2009 00:30:00 -0500
    January is the month of revival, whispers all around of a better year - aspirations held for those resolutions you have either penned to paper, or kept quietly in your thoughts.

    According to data published from various studies published throughout the last 5 years, every January, roughly 40% of Americans vow to change something in their lives, in the form of a resolution. One of the top 3 resolutions is to lose weight1.

    A study published in 2002 by Scranton University1, shows statistics for the percentage of people who had made New Year's resolutions, as the resolve to keep those resolutions dwindles steadily over time:
    • Resolutions held past the first week: 75%
    • Resolutions held past 2 weeks: 71%
    • Resolutions held after one month: 64%
    • Resolutions held after 6 months: 46%
    The Study gathered data on the usefulness of resolutions made in January. To gather data, 2 groups of subjects were followed over a 6 month period and interviewed. The groups were made up of:
    1. People who had NOT sat down and made resolutions.
    2. People who DID make the effort to create resolutions.
    The Study found that after 6 months time 46% of the people who HAD made resolutions were successfully accomplishing their resolution goals - compared to only 4% success rate of those who did NOT create resolutions .

    This is good news for people who have reachable aspirations this year. For those of you who are seeking to shed extra pounds this year, it may be in your favor to write down a resolution or two. By keeping your resolutions in an accessible place, you create a reviewable bookmarklet of your goals. This will help improve your willingness to keep your word, as well as serve as a constant reminder of what you are working toward.

    Once you have established your basic goals for weight loss, it is time to confront the barrage of seemingly frustrating obstacles, some are - portion control, peer pressure, advertising, self esteem, cravings and lack of motivation.

    One of the biggest problems dieters face is curbing cravings for high calorie foods. The salty, crunchy and mostly grease laden mass produced items like chips, are readily available via retail shelves and can be found virtually everywhere - vending machines, break rooms and parties etc.

    What can be done about cravings? Deprivation - The act of denying oneself access to these treats? Well studies also reveal that denying cravings only results in more weight gain, because most dieters succumb to the internal turmoil caused by the denial, and then start the binges. Binges are mainly eating large amounts of high calorie foods for an extended period, disregarding portion control or the caloric values. This can create an ugly cycle with dieters. It can be quite disheartening.

    I think one effective method to ward off cravings is to find a similar food - one that is close to the texture, and taste of that high calorie, unneeded food you might crave. The key is to find the version that is the least in calories, yet still as tasty.

    Thankfully flavor technologies are starting to catch up with the science of creating and marketing low calorie products. The bland, obviously doctored tastes of diet foods past seems to have dissolved, much like the once bad after tastes.

    So keeping in tune with this post, I wanted to share that I discovered something recently, that was pretty nifty. Kellogg's brand 'Special K ' has started marketing low calorie snacks as part of their pro-low calorie product line. I think by far the multi-grain crackers they just released are one of the tastiest store bought crackers I have had in a while.

    The closest retail comparison I could think of is "Wheat Thins". Now I have not been a fan of "Wheat Thins", the crackers are a bit too substantial for my taste. And they have an overpowering taste that competes with anything you add to them. Plus I find that I get this odd after taste when I have had a few at a time.

    But Special K's multi-grain crackers surprised me. They have a very light & airy texture with bits of whole grains - but can still hold their own when used with a thicker dip or soft cheese. The taste of the cracker comes off very pleasant, with a slight hint of onion. Very buttery.

    I honestly can say they were extremely good. Something I will keep in my pantry.

    There is a second variety of Special K's crackers I tasted. The flavor is Italian Tomatoes & Herb. Now if you are someone who loves the taste of tomato bisque or sun-dried tomatoes - you will appreciate this variety.

    I am not a fan of tomato bisque. I love marinara sauces and sun-dried tomato but something about that kind of soup just doesn't do it for me.

    I did taste the crackers enough to get a sense of their flavor. The tomato flavor is pretty heavy in these crackers. IThe crackers actually reminded me of tomato soup with an aged cheese melted into it.

    My husband (who happens to be an avid tomato bisque consumer) loved these crackers. As did my 20 month old. Plus they passed the "picky eater" test with my 5 yr old.

    So if you are looking for something to curb your cravings, these crackers seem like a win-win. Per serving of 17 crackers it is only 90 calories. They come in individual portion controlled .77 oz pouches, or you can purchase a box of 6 pouches, and for larger amounts, the 8 oz carton is great for parties.

    You can view more about the crackers , such as the nutritional & allergy info, by clicking on the above links (which point to Kellogg's website) or visit their product pages:

    Special K Multi-grain Crackers:
    Special K Italian Tomato & Herb Crackers:

    Related Posts:

    1Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers, by John C. Norcross, Marci S. Mrykalo, Matthew D. Blagys , University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 58, Issue 4 (2002).

    The market for alternative sweeteners has started blossoming into quite the selection - no longer are consumers tied down to shopping at obscure health food stores or sending away bulk orders to specialty shops to find alternative ingredients, now super markets and even corner stores are following the trend which is shifting toward using natural whole ingredients.

    While our quest for natural ingredients may have started as a trend, it may --- as a result of decades of digesting over processed, convenience type foods that saturate the market and whose establishments flood food courts and tend to cluster urban sprawl --- be a necessity to help reverse the ill-effects we have brought on ourselves through poor food choices.

    There are many reasons to want an alternative sweetener, some include lifestyle choices - from Vegans who want to avoid bleached all-purpose sugar that may be processed using animal bones, to Raw Foodists who believe that all food they consume should be in the closest state to nature as possible (i.e minimally processed through heating), to those who are required to follow restricted diets such as those who suffer from Celiac Disease, or those who are diabeticsW. There is a great pdf document that you can download that touches on both Celiac Disease and Diabetes - outlining the connection between the two diseases and foods you consume.

    In this post I want to concentrate on sweeteners that are suitable for diabetics. Those sweeteners that are low-glycemic. I will show some examples of each category of low glycemic sweeteners: unrefined, sugar alcohol, artificial, and herbal sweeteners.

    There are many choices for alternative sweeteners. Natural, unrefined low-glycemic alternatives include:
    • Brown Rice SyrupW, which comes in different grades and gluten-free versions. It is normally used in cooking or baking ,by substituting a ratio of 1 1/4 times BRS to 1 amount of honey, molasses, or all-purpose (refined) sugar called for in a recipe [if using BRS to substitute for AP sugar - reduce liquids in your recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of BRS used]. The main component of BRS is maltose and several complex carbohydrates - which are absorbed very slowly by our bodies, making it a good low glycemic W choice.
    • Agave NectarW or Agave Syrup, is produced commercially in Mexico. Juice is expressed from the core of the agave, called the piña.[1] The juice is filtered, then heated, to hydrolyze carbohydrates into sugars. Sources I have read say: "It is not manufactured from starch, but rather from fructans. [6] Due to its fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index only measures glucose levels, agave syrup is notable in that its glycemic index and glycemic load are lower than many other natural sweeteners on the market. [5] When using Agave, substitute 25% less for sweeteners called for in a recipe (ratio of 3/4 Agave to 1 cup refined sugar or other sweeteners), you will need to reduce your liquids by as much as 1/3. If using for baking make sure to reduce your oven temp by 25 F°.
    Other low-glycemic Sweeteners options consist of Sugar derived alcohols such as:
    There are many more sugar alcohol alternatives. Most are great because they actually prevent tooth decay, and they can be used in producing hard candies and confections. (seen allot in dental offices) The downside to these sweeteners is after a certain amount is eaten - it produces a laxative effect.

    Another option and maybe the most well known category of low-glycemic sweeteners are those that are artificial. These artificial sweeteners have been largely used in commercialized products.
    • SplendaW , a.k.a Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar),[4] twice as sweet as saccharin, and four times as sweet as aspartame and can be found in 4,500 products. Unlike aspartame, it is stable under heat and over a broad range of pH conditions and can be used in baking or in products that require a longer shelf life.
    • AspartameW This sweetener is marketed under a number of trademark names, including Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel, and is an ingredient of approximately 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide. It is commonly used in diet soft drinks, and is provided as a table condiment in some countries. However, aspartame is not always suitable for baking because it often breaks down when heated and loses much of its sweetness.
    There is a lot of controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners. and the safety of longterm ingesting. For those who cannot have sugar otherwise, these artificial sweeteners bring hope. Artificial sweeteners tend to have an unwanted aftertaste after ingested, and like Sugar Alcohol based sweeteners , they too have a laxative effect if eaten in large quantities.

    The last category of low-glycemic sweeteners are herbal based. These sweeteners generally come from the parts of different herb families:
    • SteviaW The species Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. As a sugar substitute, stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar. With its extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives.
    People have told me there is a learning curve with Stevia - you have to acclimate your tastebuds to the actual taste of stevia - it is sweet, but the ratio needs to be just right or you find a bitter after taste.

    Recently the Food and Drug Administration (a.k.a FDA) approved 2 Stevia derived sweeteners, a first for the United States. One of the approved sweeteners Truvia, was developed by Cargil and The Coca-cola company.

    Beverage brands such as Odwalla and Sprite's New "Green" line of sodas, all are planning to feature Truvia as the main sweetener in their products geared toward eco-friendly and diet soda buying consumers.

    I got a chance to try Truvia. I was pretty interested because of what people had told me about Stevia, and that made it a challenge, plus the approval of this sweetener is pretty huge in the world of herbal ingredients.

    Truvia comes in packets, much like Sweet 'n' Low, or regular table sugar you find at restaurants. Each packet is equal to 2 teaspoons of regular all purpose sugar. Truvia is also a Certified Kosher ingredient.

    In the realm of eco-friendliness - The box and packets themselves are all recyclable paper and printed with Soy ink (big bonus there).

    I tasted a few grains of Truvia by themselves, and noticed a very light vanilla note, and hints of tapioca. The aroma of Truvia is also similair to tapiocca custard. The look and texture is similair to fine sugar used in professional bakeries. I got a slight tingling, almost effervescence like sensation on my tongue once I tasted the Truvia grains.

    Truvia did not pass my "coffee" test. I added it to my normal brewed coffee w/ half 'n' half and got a definite bitter aftertaste, similair to that of Dandelion greens. I would say that the ratio of one packet may be adjusted according to personal taste - I would use much less.

    But maybe I need to acclimate my taste buds slowly to get used to the taste of Truvia in my coffee? I consider my morning coffee a sacred practice and I think I am not yet ready to change it. My favorite alternative to sugar in coffee is Agave Nectar - this stuff is great, I prefer the light colored agave syrup, as this has the least amount of flavor profile between Light Agave syrup and Amber Agave syrup varieties. If you taste the light agave syrup on your finger, it is very similair to normal sugar in taste.

    Truvia preformed well however in my baking tests. I looked through the recipes found on the Truvia website. Some of the recipes include:
    I decided to try the Classic Cheesecake recipe. It was not that bad, the taste was not as different as I had expected - texture was slightly affected, not as firm as traditional cheesecake formulas, but overall if you were looking to cut out refined sugar and calories this version might be a good bet. This cheesecake recipe has 270 calories and 4 grams of sugar per serving as compared to regular cheesecake that has 310 calories and 20 grams of sugar per serving.

    Overall I would say that Truvia is pretty pleasant to the palate when used in baking and is great when trying to use a natural low glycemic sugar substitute, similair to sugar in quality. The ratio of Truvia to sugar might need to be adjusted when substituting in recipes - but you can use a combination Truvia with Agave Syrup to cut the aftertaste of stevia, as they both are low-glycemic sweeteners.

    You can visit the Truvia website for more info: http://truvia.com/index.html

      Fri, 02 Jan 2009 13:41:00 -0500
    Chocolate in bar form, from it's humble production years at the turn of the century, has gone hand-in-hand with military rations throughout history. From the America's first World WarW , when soldiers were given chocolate bars in abundance, as a cheap source of energy and nourishment. The unfortunate thing about chocolate is on it's own is most definitely guaranteed to meld into a puddle of chocolaty goo in the palm of your hand, or if carried close to your body too long.

    During the Spanish Civil War , an innovator of Mars candy company saw Spaniard soldiers had been given chocolate encased in a sugary coating, which kept the chocolate from liquefying in the hot sun - which led to the development of the first M&Ms and a patent filed March 3, 1941, with actual production of the first M&Ms sold to consumers in paper tubes . M&Ms have been known the world over.

    Custom M&Ms

    22 Colors

    Recently M&Ms have launched a very cool site,
    so that you can create a campaign of custom
    From birthdays to weddings - you choose from
    22 colors and a variety of fonts to get your
    perfect message on that candy coating.
    The ordering process is very simple you choose
    your colors,font and type in your message.
    Once you have selected all the custom info,
    you can see a dynamic demo in flash giving
    you an idea of what your m&ms will look
    like, featuring your colors & message.
    Not only is there custom printing options
    for the home consumer - But for businesses
    as well.

    I went ahead and ordered some for my husband's organization. He holds an elected office position and using the faces-on-m&ms option, I chose the organizations colors, then put his face on one side and his office title on the other side. The process is just as easy as the basic custom message - Upload your picture, crop it if you want a closer image, then their site techs will get the image resized so that it has the best appearance on the m&ms. I also ordered some basic m&ms with my personalized message.

    I really liked the interactivity of m&ms site. It's a really neat service. Great for making an event even more special, or for advertising your business or organization. http://www.mymms.com/

    I did these blackberry curd & fresh fruit napoleons a while back for restaurant baking. I wished I would've had time to get better pictures.

    This recipe is more suited for summer, but when winter rolls around, and the holidays have past - it is refreshing to see desserts that awaken memories of summers past - and that reminds you summer is right around the corner.

    Fresh Fruit Napoleons
    This recipe yields 20 servings.

    16 sheets of frozen phyllo dough
    1 cup butter (melted) [you can substitute "butter flavored" baking spray or earth balance sticks]
    1/2 cup crystal sugar
    2 cups blackberries
    1/2 cup water
    1 teaspoon orange zest
    1 cup sugar
    4 tablespoons cornstarch
    2 tablespoons cold water
    4 1/2 cups mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blue berries)

    Whipped topping,
    or hand whipped cream,
    or sweetened whipped marscapone cheese

    Pastry Procedure:

    Preheat oven to 350 °F.

    Now as stated in my former post (Recipe: Banana - Rum Napoleons) you need to work fast and follow certain guidelines when working with phyllo {Tip: When you are working with phyllo dough it is best to have a tray to lay out the sheets, then keep totally covered, under a damp kitchen towel. If exposed to air, the moisture from the phyllo dough will be wicked out and it will become dry and brittle - which means non workable for you. So work quickly.]

    You will need 2 half sheet pans (jelly roll) lined with parchment, to bake 10 sheets on each pan.

    Place a sheet of phyllo onto a jelly roll pan, brush with melted butter. Sprinkle crystal sugar. Top with another phyllo sheet and repeat these steps until 10 sheets are used. Make sure to repeat butter & sugar on the last (top piece). Repeat with second sheet pan.

    Using a ruler - score each pastry stack with a pastry wheel or sharp paring knife into squares or rectangles of equal measurements. Bake in the preheated oven 10-12 minutes (pastry should be golden and crisp). Allow the baked pastry to cool. Do not handle the pastry until building your napoleons or the baked phyllo squares may crack.

    Blackberry Curd Procedure:

    In a sauce pan combine the blackberries, 1/2 cup of water and orange zest. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes more. Scrape berry contents into a food processor and pulse until smooth. (if you don't have a food processor, you can place the berry contents in a sieve over a bowl and using a ladle , gently push and rub the contents against the mesh, repeat this until most of the contents have been filtered through the sieve into the bowl. This will leave behind seeds and a few skins from the berries).

    Return the berry contents back into the sauce pan (on medium heat) - stir in 1 cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of butter.

    Combine the cornstarch & cold water in a small bowl stirring briskly. With a wire whisk add the cornstarch mixture to the berry contents in the saucepan . Stir until thick and bubbling. Stir for 3 minutes more. Remove from heat , scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap - allow to cool for 2 hours or over night.

    Napoleon Assembly:

    Place a small dallop of blackberry curd onto the center of your serving plate.
    Place a baked phyllo square (sugar side down), add 1 tablespoon of curd onto the center of the pastry square. Add (by pressing) enough of the mixed berries to cover the blackberry curd.

    Finish by piping or adding rounded dollops of your favorite topping (Whipped topping,
    or hand whipped cream, or sweetened whipped marscapone cheese) then add another pastry squared (sugar side up) to top.

    There are many ways to finish this dessert , you could make it much fancier than this- drizzling berry syrup onto it, or around the base, using pastry cream on top of the blackberry curd - the combinations are endless.

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