In My Backyard

I am a south Jersey redneck all the way, born in wonderful downtown Camden in the year of the dragon 1964. When I was around 5 years old, (I remember that because I started kindergarten) we moved to West Berlin New Jersey. A big house with a huge yard, and enormous woods, this was the edge of the New Jersey Pine barrens. Back in those days when the 2 best toys any boy could have were outside and imagination, this was a dream come true.

I could leave the house in the morning, and not return until dinner, and nobody needed to worry much. Things were much different back then. For me, it was like being Ponce de Leon on the hunt for the fountain of youth, or Columbus discovering the Americas. I fought dragons, foiled criminals and discovered new lands in those woods. I caught frogs and turtles and chased fox and raccoons, I got wet, I got dirty and I had fun.

This was the time in my life when I developed my love of the outdoors, and nature. I could spend the whole day just wandering through those woods, watching the animals, listening to the sounds, smelling the smells it was like I was the only person in the world and this whole place was just for me. I can still spend a whole day just hiking in those woods, listen, watching and photographing.

There at the edge of the Jersey Pinelands, this was my playground. As a boy I learned many things in and from those woods, and the experiences I had there. I learned to respect that which is wild, and it in return will respect you. I learned to always trust my instincts, as I watched, listened and absorbed the forest. This time in my life is most certainly that which inspired in me the Explorer soul and photographer spirit.

The spirit that pushes me to discover and explore, to go to places most people don’t, and do things that most people won’t.  Like hiking the Appalachian Trail from end to end, not something I have been able to accomplish but something on my bucket list. I can however say that I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail, in every state through which it runs. Now I know that’s not exactly the same, but it is mine, and I gotta own it! How about hiking UP the Kaibab trail, from the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Yes we did it, why? Because we could, it was  there and that’s what those woods gave me.

That was many years ago, I am now a grown man living in the city. I visit the Pinelands every chance I get, because for me it is home. I carry with me everyday many things I learned in and from those woods and will take to my grave some of her secrets. The New Jersey Pinelands may be home to the Famed Jersey devil, and the legendary Pineys, but for me it will always just be my back yard.

Something from nothing

It is my personal belief that more people than not, survive living paycheck to paycheck. There are many people living just one small disaster from being in a very precarious situation, from which it can be nearly impossible to recover. This belief based mostly on my own interaction, and experiences with people.  I grew up in my early years, in a poor household. I learned a great deal about frugality in those years, how to make something from next to nothing.

This is a lesson that is especially useful when it comes to preparing meals. It is absolutely possible to make a meal that tastes great, and the family will enjoy without draining the wallet. As I sit here writing this, my stomach growling, I myself am preparing a nice low-cost meal. Potato and cheese Pierogies, sautéed with onions, total cost $2.35. Now granted this is just for me, cooking for a family can be just as easy and cost-effective!

I believe the key to creating great tasting meals, is having several key ingredients ALWAYS on hand. Adobo all-purpose seasoning, made by Goya is first and foremost. There are very few meals I create, into which adobo is not added. The second thing would be garlic, fresh is better but granulated works just as well in a pinch. Then we have Coriander, sage, cumin, thyme, and rosemary and of course black pepper.  Sofrito tomato base, also by Goya is standard in my fridge as well as Worcestershire, and soy sauces.

If you keep those few things always on hand, you can make a damn piece of cardboard taste good! Not that anyone would, nor am I suggesting you try but hopefully you understand the point. A few other things I always keep on hand, fresh onions, bell peppers, potatoes and tortilla shells. Of course there is always the need for other ingredients as well, but with just those few items it is possible to make anything you are cooking taste and smell fantastic!

I cook for just myself a lot, since I am single and live alone. Cooking for one can be harder than cooking for a family sometimes, especially if you love to cook as much as I do, and enjoy eating as much as I do. I often times find myself making enough food to feed a family in order to actually make what I want to eat. But I do have my few little items that work great for one; anything stuffed into a tortilla shell is great. Hot dog chimichangas are one of my favorites, quick easy and no real clean up.

One of my favorite things to both make and eat is sausage potato casserole; cost next to nothing to make and can feed a family of 5 for under $10. Take 8-10 medium red skin potatoes; boil until cooked but not soft. Let them cool until you are able to slice them. Slice all the potatoes thinly. Lay the potato slices on the bottom of the casserole dish and up the sides, creating a “crust”. Put in a layer of shredded cheese, flavor of your choice. Add a layer of potato slices, then a layer of thinly sliced cooked sausage (I use Hillshire farms beef hot links), another layer of shredded cheese, potato slices, sausage, and top with the remaining potato slices. Cook in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes. Remove and top with another layer of shredded cheese and cook for about another 5 minutes.

That casserole is not for everyone, but just an example of one of the tasty meals you can put together for under $10. I also do much of my shopping at discount food stores, such as save-a-lot. I don’t buy everything there, but dry goods, vegetables I will use within a day or two, and spices and sauces are a staple I purchase at discount stores. The dollar stores often carry discounted food as well, but one needs to be aware of what the expiration dates on anything purchased in those stores is on some items.

Get a store awards card for any supermarket you frequent, and pay close attention to deals. If you are able to, purchase dry goods and such in bulk when they are deeply discounted for using the store card. One of things I always buy when there is a special is butter; I will purchase 10 Lbs of butter when it is on sale for $1.99Lb and freeze it, rather than pay $4.99Lb every week. Over the course of a year that is about $150 savings for me, of course I use A LOT of butter.

The point of this whole rambling is quite simply, you really can make something from nothing with just a little planning. In these times of economic uncertainty, any chance we have to get by without spending more money than necessary to survive is sometimes an absolute godsend. Please subscribe for more money-saving ideas, recipes, and general silliness of the Epicurean Technologist.

The Philly Warmth Project

Philly Warmth has been happening as a personal project for about 17 years. It started with Robert Bleattler (49), collecting coats, hats, scarves, etc… from friends and family, and taking a car-load up to Independence Hall, and Love Park on Christmas morning to give the donations to anyone in need who showed up. Over the years more and more people donated, and his son Robert (A.) Bleattler (22) joined in on the project.
In 2011, with the help of Genesis Healthcare in Kennett Square, and the employees of KML Law Group, over 1000 articles of clothing were collected from employees, friends, and family. The response was so unexpected that many of the donations had to be taken to local shelters and other charity organizations to avoid having extras left over.
After facing some tough family financial decisions, the house where the donations used to be stored was no longer available, and since 2011, it has been impossible for us to take any donations from friends and family, simply because of the lack of space, and time.
Our goal is to establish a financial foundation allowing us to have a property (or storage unit) to store all donations, create, and maintain a working website, and spread the word about PhillyWarmth.Org year round!

Above written by Robert Anthony Bleattler

From my perspective, it all started on a cool May night in 1995. I was in the city with some friends, out on the town having a good time. It got late I lost track of time, and missed the last train out of the city! I wasn’t about to pay for a room and it was too late to call for a ride, so I figured I would wander around for a few hours until the first train in the morning. Well that few hours ended up being more like 10 hours, and totally changed the way I looked at life. It made me more humble and very thankful for things I have, a roof over my head, food, and warmth. Things I had always taken for granted, that they would just always be there.
I had been to the city many times, but I had never wandered the subway concourses, and the alleyways of the city, on foot at night, alone. It was an eye-opening experience for me; I had seen homeless on the corner from time to time but never imagined the whole outdoor culture that existed. I met close to 50 people that night, and every one of them had a story about how life lead them here, and most were happy to share those stories. Many of these people were normal people like you and I, living paycheck to paycheck that had one bad fall just snowball out of control leaving them here, that could very easily have been you or  me!
I slept for a good 12 hours when I returned home the next morning, but dreamed of nothing but those people I had encountered. I thought about it a lot, what could I do to help? I do not have the resources to help all those people, or even any of those people. As the months passed, and summer was ending the thought of those people I met being outside in winter really bothered me. So I started asking everyone I knew to clean out their closets, and give me any unused hats, coats, gloves, scarves,etc. I could at least make sure they were warm!
Now here we are in 2013 headed for 2014 and we are ready to take this project to the next level. After 2 years dormant, things are getting back on track and we really want to take this up a notch or 5. My son Anthony (yes we call him by his middle name) has started the Phillywarmth.org funding project to help us make this project what it should be, a fully functional, self-sustaining not for profit agency that helps those people on the streets, who want the chance to be off the streets, and return to pursuing their American dream. Because I cannot imagine it was ever any persons dream to live on the streets!
Please help us spread the word, and donate in any way that you can
https://www.razoo.com/br/causes/Phillywarmth-Org-Funding-Project

Your donation will aid in several parts of this process:
• Establishing the project as a licensed and functioning Non-Profit organization
• Securing the funds to obtain a piece of property (or large storage solution) to store donations
• Securing advertising for the foundation
• Securing transportation for donations to be delivered on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other dates yet to be decided
• Create relationships with community out-reach programs, businesses, and media personalities in order to spread the word
Your donation is helping a great cause; keeping people warm in the frigid winter months, when many people simply have nowhere to go but outdoors.
Once we have established everything, we will be reaching out for volunteers, and everyone (non-anonymous) who donates will be acknowledged.
We hope to have this project off the ground and FLYING before next winter, which is why we’ve set a deadline for August 31st, 2014.
With an unemployment rate of 11% (August 2013) and over 12,000 homeless recorded in 2012 in the Philadelphia area, there has never been a time when programs like this one are more necessary.
If you have any questions, or would like to contribute to the cause in some other way feel free to contact us.

Through the lens anew

In 1974, I was 10 years old and I received my very first camera. It was a little Kodak 110mm film camera, nothing special just something I could take some home pictures with. I have always owned a camera since that time, and have taken 1000’s of pictures. Most of those pictures really bad, some not so bad and the few that I am particularly proud of, not to mention the many rolls of undeveloped film. Photography has come a long way since I received that first camera, and so have I. I now use a Digital Single Lens reflex camera, or SLR.
I don’t have the best camera on the market, probably never will but it serves its purpose for me. I use a Nikon D60 body accompanied by one Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm lens, which came with the camera when I received it. I also use one Tamaron 70-300mm lens and Neewr 0.45x super wide angle, all lens are Macro. I would like to add an 8mm fish eye, and a 150-500mm to my tool set but both are well out of my budget at the moment. Since I acquired my first digital camera, (a Sony Mavica which recorded on 3.5 inch floppies and did not even have a megapixel rating) I have amassed close to 24,000 images.
Most of the images are probably of family, or mundane events thought to be worthy of being documented. Within this trove of digital wonder is the world as seen through my lens, my perception of the event, person, place or activity, the world through my eyes. I have begun the monumental task of actually organizing all of those images, and beginning to share my world, with the world. This is who I am, this is how I feel, and this is how I see. Everywhere I look I see a photograph; everywhere I go has a story. Follow me as I weave a story that can only be told; through the lens anew.

FOOD! The great connector

FOOD!
The Great connector
Food, it is the one thing that connects all living creatures together. It is the primal instinct to eat, to find food so as not to perish. Regardless of culture, ethnicity, class, geography, or even species we all must eat in order to survive. What separates us as humans is the fact that we can choose what we eat and when we eat it. We possess the ability to cook, cure, spice, and flavor our meals.
I have often found the quickest way to find comfort with someone is through food, if I can cook something that another person likes, it creates a first bond. A quick connection, one that can open many doors, but one must be careful which door one opens. Some food can be an aphrodisiac, and that may not be the desired reaction. So be careful what you serve to whom!
The type of foods we eat, and the ingredients used to flavor those foods are often a consequence of geographic or socio-economic circumstance. What I see as normal cuisine may be seen as bizarre to some, and things I never would have thought to put in my mouth are easily digested by others. Never say no, say maybe, it might just be delicious.
Sharing a meal with someone is a very social event, bringing people together. The aroma of food cooking, the texture of the wine, the ambiance of the moment, can make or break a friendship and has been said to have started wars. I was always told a well cooked meal was the way to a woman’s heart, perhaps it is really the way to anyone’s heart. Maybe food really is the great connector that holds it all together, that keeps it from just fading away into the great nothingness of nowhere, probably not.

Keep on eating and remember It really is OK to put that in your mouth

Non-Traditional

In 1978, when I was just a young lad of 14 years I experienced one of the most non-traditional Thanksgivings I can remember. As I wandered around on T-day as I usually did back in those days, I came across a schoolmate standing in her front yard. We began talking, and before long I was invited in to partake of the cornucopia of taste that was being served on that fine cool afternoon.

Several things made this experience unique, the first being that most of the people in the house were strangers to me. That really did not matter very much as they all made me feel as welcome as if I were a member of the family. The second being that this was a black family, I myself being Caucasian had never experienced a different cultural thanksgiving, but I was certainly about to and it was one of the most memorable I have ever had.

One of the first things I remember noticing was that there was no turkey. What? No Turkey on Thanksgiving? Nope none, nada, it was all about the ham! Now don’t get me wrong we had ham WITH turkey at grandma’s house, because some family did not like turkey. I had never seen Ham served as the primary dish for T-day. It was by the way, the best ham I have ever had, even to this day.

Some of the other foods I experienced that day for the first time, Collard greens, Rice and beans, corn bread stuffing, bean soup, and sweet potato pie. There were some of the standards I knew such as; Macaroni and cheese, stewed tomatoes and candied yams but even those all made with a slightly different twist. I had arrived early enough to see some of the foods being prepared, and noticed my friend’s mother pouring what appeared to me to be grease into everything, so I asked and it was, Bacon grease!

As I ate that afternoon I paid special attention to the taste of everything I ate, to see if I could taste bacon. Although I could not actually taste the bacon, it certainly made everything quite tasty! To this day there is always a container of bacon grease near my stove. One of the things that really stood out to me that day was the real sense of family that I felt. When it was time for grace, it went around the table with everyone giving thanks for the meal and the opportunity to spend the time with family. I was absolutely humbled by it all.

When I left there that day, I went to the normal family get together I always attended, a little late and much, wiser. I truly learned the meaning of Thanksgiving that day, and the importance of family. I carry those lessons with me every day now, and am thankful everyday for the crazy dysfunctional mess that is my family. Take not today for granite, tomorrow is not promised, and yesterday is only a memory. Carry not with you, pain or grudge for those you love, they may be gone tomorrow, today may be your last chance.

Like every Picture tells a story, so does every recipe

Rod Stewart sang about it, many artists have muttered it, and everyone knows the saying “every picture tells a story”. So does any recipe that exists, have some story about how it came to be, or how it has been passed from generation to generation without any real knowledge as to where it actually originated. But they all originated somewhere, in some kitchen with someone trying to make a meal for themselves or someone else.

Seeing how as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I though why not the story of how some of the standards came to be the standards for Thanksgiving. You Know, Turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn and even Ham! So I started doing some research and low and behold I found an overwhelming amount of information from a variety of different places. I also found that there were some really conflicting stories about WHY we eat what we eat on Thanksgiving.

So why do we eat turkey, on Thanksgiving then?

It helps to know the history of Thanksgiving. While the idea of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest was popular in certain parts of the country, it was by no means an annual national holiday. There was never a direct mention of having eaten Turkey at the First Thanksgiving during the autumn of 1621.

In 1856 when colonist William Bradford’s  journals were reprinted they found a receptive audience who wanted Thanksgiving turned into a national holiday and since turkey is an American bird, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Moreover, there were many reasons for eating turkey rather than,  chicken at a feast like Thanksgiving. The birds are large enough that they can feed a table full of  family members, and unlike chickens or cows, they didn’t serve much purpose like laying eggs or making milk. Unlike pork, turkey wasn’t so common that it didn’t seem like a suitable choice for a special occasion, either.

There was no cranberry sauce, or Pumpkin pie either

While the cranberries the Pilgrims needed were probably easy to come by, making cranberry sauce requires sugar. Sugar was a rare luxury at the time of the First Thanksgiving, so while revelers may have eaten cranberries, it’s unlikely that the feast featured the tasty sauce. What’s more, it’s not even entirely clear that cranberry sauce had been invented yet. It’s not until 1663 that visitors to the area started commenting on a sweet sauce made of boiled cranberries that accompanied meat. There’s the same problem with potatoes. Neither sweet potatoes nor white potatoes were available to the colonists in 1621, so the Pilgrims definitely didn’t feast on everyone’s favorite tubers.

It may be the flagship dessert at modern Thanksgiving dinners, but pumpkin pie didn’t make an appearance at the First Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims lacked the butter and flour needed to make a pie crust, and it highly unlikely that they had an oven in which they could have baked a pumpkin pie. That doesn’t mean pumpkins weren’t available for the meal, though; they were probably served after being baked in the coals of a fire or stewed. Pumpkin pie became popular dish in the 17th-century, though, and it might have shown up for Thanksgiving as early as 1623.

 

Stay tuned tomorrow when I delve into some Non-traditional Thanksgiving traditions

Post #1 Epicurean Technologist

Welcome aboard the Epicurean Technologist Blog. 11/26/2013

This Blog is intended to be a Blog revolving mostly around Technology, Photography, and Food. Through my ramblings I hope to bring to you my world, through my lens I intend to show you my soul, and through your pallet I shall bring to you the flavor of life.

I hope that everyone finds my ramblings to be somewhat entertaining, and occasionally educational(imagine that). Today is a Tuesday, and quite cold and damp in the greater Philadelphia area. So I am currently Unemployed, not a good place to be so close to Christmas. That being said,I am not as worried as I think most people would be. I have spent the last several days contemplating my next moves and working on making this site functional, and usable for myself and my readers. Not quite where I would like it to be yet, but a couple of weeks of tweaking some of the finer aspects of the site and I think it will be where I want it to be.