Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Places to Shop in Boston for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is a movement organized in response to Black Friday that reminds shoppers not to give all their holiday gift money to big box stores. I was a little disappointed to find out that it's organized by American Express, but that's a conversation for another day. Here's a list of indie shops in Boston (who sell online as well if you're not local) where you can get a present that's a little more personal than a TV.

Penzey's Spices

photo credit: Penzey's Spices

With an online store as well as brick and mortar location in Arlington, Massachusetts and Norwalk, Connecticut, Penzey's is a great place to shop for anyone who love to cook or bake. Pick up one of their pre-arranged gift boxes, or put together your own personalized collection.

Follow the Honey

Harvard Square is a great a place to get almost all of your shopping taken care of, whether you're shopping for toys, books, clothing or jewelry. While you're there, don't forget to venture a little farther down Mount Auburn Street and stop into this little shop for a fantastic assortment of honeys, plus candles, soaps, cookbooks, and more. Plus, you'll be supporting beekeepers that are keeping our pollinator population intact.

Pemberton Farms

photo credit: Pemberton Farms

From unique jellies and small batch liqours to plants and gardening supplies as a reminder of spring, Pemberton Farms in North Cambrdige is your hookup for outside the box yard and kitchen needs. And while you're there, you can even save a trip and pick yourself up a Christmas tree!

Taza Chocolate

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Somerville's very own chocolate factory makes its bars right on the premises with ethically sourced beans and no preservatives or unpronounceable ingredients of any kind. If you've got family visiting for the weekend, take them on a $5 tour, and pick up a hot chocolate set complete with mugs and whisks at the gift shop on your way out.

The Hempest

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Hemp is more versatile than people realize for use in textiles, skin care products, and even food. The controversial alternate material is an important plant to have as part of a healthy polyculture. You can find an assortment of great hemp-based gift items online or at The Hempest in Burlington Vermont, or any of their three Massachusetts locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Northampton.

Are you observing Small Business Saturday this weekend? What's on your list?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Chef Boston and Cooking in Pop Culture

Contestants pick out produce at Whole Foods Maket in Lynnfield, MA.
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Reality shows aren't going away any time soon, and neither are the programs in the sub-genre of cooking reality shows. Food and cooking are becoming more and more visible in pop culture, from controversy over the word "foodie," to CSAs and farmers markets gaining popularity, to everyone suddenly brewing their own beer. Does the entertainment media have a responsibility to portray a responsible food system? And if so, how are they doing with that?

Bravo's Top Chef filmed its current season, which is airing now, right here in Boston, and it's gotten some of us locavores raising eyebrows at what the producers have chosen to showcase.

A recent interview with Top Chef judge Gail Simmons focused on Simmons' personal preferences for food that is healthy, seasonal, and ethically sourced. In fact, almost every judge and contestant on the show has, in a private interview, mentioned something to the effect that these issues are important to them in their own cooking, but they rarely come up on the show itself.

The Boston season, like most seasons of Top Chef, features the contractually obligated trip to Whole Foods in nearly every episode, which never bothered me until I thought about all of our great local grocers, butchers, and farms that would have made for way better local color than the strained Revolutionary War references they insist on weaving into every episode.

We can hope that Whole Foods was chosen because of its quality, but this is never really stated, and we're left wondering whether Whole Foods just did a better business deal than Stop and Shop or- gasp- Market Basket. We know that there are a lot of advantages to the way that Whole Foods sources its products, but either this topic never comes up when the cameras are rolling, or it gets edited out in favor of the personal squabbles that give Andy Cohen something to get excited about.

What are your thoughts? Do cooking shows help or hurt the problems with our food system? Or should we look at them in a vacuum, as pure entertainment? And if you're watching Top Chef Boston, who do you hope will win?