July 20, 2009

Border Town Coffee Delivers

Ok, so it doesn't deliver in a literal sense but certainly in a figurative one. This coffee shop (http://www.bordertowncoffee.com) just a few steps from my office is by far one of my favorites ever, in any city. The atmosphere is comfortable, not at all cliche', and soothing. The coffee is above average (so it can't stand up to a titan of coffee like Gimme Coffee - http://www.gimmecoffee.com/ - but few coffee shops can). Most impressive of all though are the pastries - homemade, in-house Border Town lovingly crafts breakfast breads, muffins, and scones that are wonderful. In particular, try their chocolate scone if available. I had a Chocolate Almond scone today still warm from the oven. It had a flaky exterior with just a slight bit of crispness from a sugar crust, which yielded to a light textured, almond flavored crumb and scattered, small blips of melted chocolate. Amazing! You have to check it out!

April 13, 2009


Hops - the wonderful flower of a vining plant that gives beer its distinct aroma and flavor. In fact, I would dare say that, above all else, hops define what makes beer, beer. Hops are to beer what peated malts are to scotch or wild yeast strains are to lambic. They are its quintessential characteristic which make beer taste like nothing else on earth. Rumor has it that they are also reasonably easy to grow and produce in a small space, which is why, as a home brewer, they were one of the first things planted in my garden after we moved into the house. That was last spring and while they put on some growth, they did not impress in their first season. That's why I was so curious to see how they overwintered. Fortunately I was not disappointed. While the sprouts pictured are small, all six rhizomes planted survived and seem to be getting an early start on growing this spring. The sprouts are also considerably thicker than they appeared last year when they sprouted which gives me hope that the vines will be considerably more robust this year. Stay tuned for more updates as the growing season really kicks into high gear.

April 1, 2009

Urban Maple Syrup

The Heavy Table just did a post on a woman making maple syrup from the trees in her yard in Minneapolis, which I think is awesome. You can even learn how through the DNR which has been offering workshops at some State Parks (including Fort Snelling) about how to make Maple Syrup (as of 4/1 the workshops were starting to wrap up with the end of the season but there's still a few left further north in the state).

It got me thinking about an idea I had awhile ago - why not create a sugar shack in the city? It would take some work but I think it would be worth looking into. You could make artisan syrup and sell it locally. Transportation costs for your finished product would be small and you could even do sap collection via human powered transport, enabling you to establish some green cred. The most difficult thing might be getting access to enough maple trees within a reasonable distance of the shack, but perhaps that could be made possible through agreements with home owners. Even better, set up the shack as a co-op and allow members to get a certain percentage of production based on how many trees they contribute to the effort or how much sap is collected from their trees. If only I had more time I'd be all over this.

Collecting Vino

For the past several years I've been dreaming of collecting wine. In fact I have this scheme to build a cellar in the basement, buy a case of collectible wine of the same vintage as Liam's birth year, and stash it away until he's 21 (not sure if I'm going to share it with him when he turns 21 - maybe it will just be a celebratory gift for me and Stacy). I haven't built the cellar yet, but it's getting closer in my mind's eye and in my list of house projects, which is why the following two articles are so timely. Earlier this week the NY Times published a great article about the world of wine futures and in particular they talked about the current tastings going on of the 2008 vintage as relates to futures sales. At about the same time, The Heavy Table published an entertaining post about an oenophobe (aka The Heavy Table Editor James Norton) and the efforts of three local wine gurus to bring him into the fold of wine lovers via an evening of tasting some solid, cellared wines with some years behind them. These stories just raised my interest level more. I've got to learn more and get ready for the 2008 vintage to go on sale in a couple years.

March 12, 2009

Dealing with the Financial Downturn

There's an interesting article on the Boston Globe site about the CEO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and his attempt to try avoid layoffs at the hospital, particularly among the lower paid, lower skilled workforce. The article got me thinking about the state budget situation and the actions the U has been taking to address it. The U has been taking many of the same steps (e.g. pay freeze for executives and now it's expected that pay will be frozen for most if not all the workforce, reducing the Regents scholarship tuition benefit from a full subsidy to a partial one, not filling most vacancies) as well as looking for ways to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. If you're interested in learning about what the U has done and what employees are suggesting check out the web site the "The Economy and U."

March 9, 2009

Breakfast at Citizen Cafe

We went to Citizen Cafe for breakfast this weekend with my in-laws. Citizen Cafe is located on 38th street and 24th avenue in South Minneapolis. The atmosphere was decent, tables were close but not too close and the noise from the kitchen and conversations around us created a nice ambient buzz. On the minus side the gloomy weather outside didn't mix well with the colors of the place creating a sort of washed out, hazy, and drab visual experience. Food was also decent but not amazing. I had the corned beef hash and a pancake. I also had an opportunity to sample my wife's biscuits and gravy and some muffins and scones which they delivered complimentary to the table. The baked goods were flavorful, light, fluffy, and delightful. I agree with Brian at East-Lake.net that the biscuits and gravy are some of the best in town (but nowhere as good as anything one could find further south). The hash was very different from what one might typically see. Their corned beef is made in-house and cut in large chunks, and the whole ensemble is coated in a cream sauce. Sounded good in the description, not so good in reality though. Overall, I think there were enough positives that we would go back, but maybe not before trying some other establishments first.

March 6, 2009

Financial Situation 101

For anyone looking to better understand the current financial situation - I refuse to call it a crisis, not because I'm in denial. I'm just tired of people throwing around the word and being defeatist - I would highly recommend the program Bad Bank on the NPR show This American Life. Ira Glass got a few people from the NPR Planet Money Blog to do a very concise and easy to understand explanation of the financial situation. I think the program has something for neophytes and the knowledgeable alike. There's also some interesting perspectives from various experts about the solutions employed so far by the US government and the inadequacy of those actions given the situation.

Welcome to my blog

As a way of collecting and sharing the random assortment of information that I absorb each day I'm creating this blog. There's no real unifying theme as my interests are eclectic but there are sure to be entries about food and dining, the environment, energy, innovation, homebrewing, hockey, wine, politics, and human resources (the last item being my current profession of choice). If any of these items are of interest please feel free to tune in.

Why "Canadian Spy?" I have my friends Josh and Chris to thank for that. I grew up on the Minnesota/Ontario border and as a consequence I know a fair amount about Canadian culture, history, and politics as well as knowing or being interested in things that would be particularly of use if you were Canadian (according to Josh and Chris anyway). Consequently Chris and Josh became convinced that I am a Canadian Spy and the moniker stuck ever since. Just don't tell anyone eh?