Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Beat Goes On

When I last left you, I was busy failing at making cheese despite multiple attempts with a friend from work. Fear not.  We did eventually get it right (fifth times a charm), making mozzarella that proved yummy enough sliced onto homemade pizza despite us not being able to master the round ball aspect of mozz making.

Just a few weeks later I spent some time with my kiddos in the kitchen, teaching them how to make a variety of fruit desserts.  Like all good Georgia peaches I grew up eating homemade cobblers, fried pies and ice cream. As a Girl Scout I later learned to make an excellent dump cake, which if you can get past the name, is an excellent  last minute recipe to add to the ol repertoire.  When it came time to teach the Mini Chefs, I figured a basic Peach Cobbler, a no fail Black Forest Dump Cake and a new (for me) Blueberry Buckle would set them up for a lifetime of easy desserts.

The Blueberry Buckle was attractive to me for one reason: streusel topping.  I LOVE streusel, truly I do. I'm not sure why butter and sugar become, in a fit of alchemy, an entirely new, sinful experience, but they certainly do.  And I love it.

Enter the Buckle, which turns out is essentially a cobbler with a streusel topping. Easy to make, delicious to taste, it proved a close runner-up among the kiddos taste buds which opted for the oh-so-refined Dump Cake  in droves.

Furthering the lesson on fruit desserts we then moved on to baked Banana Pudding, which despite being warm and covered in meringue, is still the yummiest way to make it.  By baking the bananas you get such a lovely caramely flavor missing from the time-saving one bowl, cold method.  The kids were game with the traditional method so we gave it a go, realizing too late that  beating meringue by hand is an exercise in torture. We did soldier on, managed to produce an excellent fluffy cloud to top the pudding and by some miracle rescued it from the oven mere seconds before "golden brown" could take the final baby step to "charcoal".

After adjusting to the warmth of the pudding, everyone agreed that this was a sweet they could get behind.  Proving their point they ate until the dish was clean and had to be restrained from resorting to licking it in search of further morsels.  Desserts? Check.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Little Miss Muffett...

On my most recent 25th birthday anniversary I received a lovely gift from The In-Laws to a little place called Amazon.  The wonder of that store is that I can literally buy anything my heart could possibly desire. There are thousands, if not millions, of items that I wasn't aware that I wanted, til I saw them on Amazon.  So when it came time to pick out my birthday indulgence, I spent a good amount of time looking at all the possibilities. Would I go traditional and buy books and music?  A DVD set of a fave TV show?  My search was long and intense, but eventually I placed the very best items in my buggy and clicked buy.

You might be wondering what I didn't buy.  The list of strong, Rocky-style contenders is varied and in true-Cactus style would only make sense to me.  A small sampling of rejected items: a case of Red Eye Gravy Instant Grits; all of True Blood on DVD; mushroom spore logs; a trailer hitch cover; a small greenhouse. Like I said, it doesn't have to be logical.

What did I end up with?  A nice assortment of lovely things.  Since the season of my religion, SEC Football, is upon us, I decided I must have some new GA gear. Most of you brought up in an SEC state know only too well that you are required to declare allegiance to a team and color scheme in early childhood. Maybe this is true in states where they play football in other conferences, as well.  I wouldn't know nor do I care.

My Mama can tell you that in an effort to rebel in high school not only did I declare myself a J.D. Rockefeller-worshipping Republican, but I also became a GA Tech fan. Don't worry, I quickly recognized the error of my ways and went right back to more traditional rebellious behaviors. Never has a parent been so relieved by a little underage wine cooler indulgence.

In picking out new fab merch this summer I decided that only a Tervis tumbler with lid and straw, sportin the big G would be appropriate for game day cocktails. To guarantee that I was well dressed on Saturdays this fall I picked out a lovely, vibrant red thermal Henley with the existential query "How Bout Them Dawgs?" across the chest.  After those purchases, I still had enough of my gift to make one more modest purchase, but what did I still desperately want?

For some time now I've been dyin to try my hand at making cheese. I asked my daddy, Mr. RTR himself for a cheesemaking kit last Christmas, but did not receive one. As my dad is not one to skimp in the gift department, I can only assume he thought I was joking.  I can assure you, I was not.  So with the last of my birthday money I finally ordered the Beginner's Mozzarella Kit from Ricki the Cheese Queen. 

I received this excellent package in the mail two weeks ago and have been impatiently waiting to make fresh mozz of my very own. Due to the fact that Fuschia and I are packing our house and relocating, as is our nomadic inclination, my own kitchen isn't fit to make a 3 minute Hungry Man in right now.  The only other option is work, which has a huge, if ill-equipped kitchen to offer. As an added bonus I could also use the milk that we buy by the case, saving myself the hassle of procuring my own.

Tonight a co-worker, Dr. Who, and I finally worked up the gumption to give milk alchemy a try. We faithfully followed the directions, setting out all necessary tools and ingredients, scrubbing our hands like surgery awaited.  It was a heady few moments when we began heating the milk, adding the citric acid, checking the temp, waiting for it to hit 90 degrees.  When it finally did we moved on to the all important addition of the rennet. We added.  We gently stirred. We covered the pot and waited. And waited.

Finally we pulled back the lid to discover that we, chunky milk.  The instructions said this was a possibility and to just wait longer, so we re-covered the pot and waited again.  After a respectable time for the rennet to do its flippin job we opened the lid again to find...chunky milk.  Epic fail. We quickly poured it down the drain and got to work on a second attempt. This time we made it all the way to the curd heating stage before we were forced to concede defeat. Our curds just weren't forming.

After a lengthy, bitter cleanup spent discussing how bummed we were at our inability to make the simplest cheese known to mankind, we retreated to the staff office and the soothing narcotic that is the interweb.  I immediately went to  , Rick the Cheese Queen's site in search of tech support in my cheese failure.  Almost instantly it became apparent that the real culprit is probably the chlorine used to clean the drinking water here in Louisville.

Evidently chlorine keeps rennet from working which is absolutely what prevented us from cheesemaking success. Strange that a 981 mile long vat of chemicals, human excrement and a little water would need extensive treatment to make it potable, but there you have it.  Since I attempted to make cheese with the Ohio River, post chlorine, I set myself up for failure.

Although we're officially moving next Wednesday, I still plan on getting right back to mozz-making next Saturday night.  This time, I think I'll pick up a little distilled water and see how we do.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Musings on Backpacking

The following post was written several, if not many, years ago during my days of adventure tripping masquerading as actual work.  It remains the coolest job I've ever had. 

Coming around a bend in the trail, I let out a gasp loud enough for my companions to hear.  I smile, they smile, for we all know the same thing: it is time for a break.  There could be no more perfect spot than this creek, under these trees, in the middle of a glorious, Georgia, July day; it approaches what heaven must be like.
                Here on the Gahuti trail, winding around Fort Mountain in North Georgia,   we’re a scant 2 miles into our trip.  The group, 12 beginners plus their fearless guides, is large and unwieldy and more than a little out of shape.  We’re taking it slow, walking for pleasure and fitness through the still forest.  When we happen upon a beautiful stream intersecting our path, we waste no time shedding our modern torture devices and relaxing on the best seats in Mother Nature’s house.
                For most hikers this could be a relaxing, beautiful day-hike accomplished in time to retire to town for a hearty meal.  For us, the 8.2 mile loop trail is a chance to take that initial baby-step into the strange and mysterious world of backpacking.  We’ve planned for a 1.5 day, overnight trip that breaks for the evening 5-or-so miles into the trip.  The assistant guide and I have estimated that we’ll reach our Adirondack shelter well before night fall. 
Sitting at the creek, waiting for a turn with the water filter, I’m rethinking our optimistic timeline; its approaching 3p.m with less than half the day’s distance completed.  I fill my bottle to the brim, knowing that this water will taste better than anything I’ve ever had; I’m not disappointed.  When I recover from my near religious experience, I get out the map and my luxury item, dried pineapple, to decide on a backup plan if we continue to make molasses-in-January  progress. 
                Knowing the group’s determination to complete this trip, I file away a few options in the mental folder and get to my feet; it’s time to move on.  Loading up is accompanied by extra sighs and groans as our bodies readjust to the packs.  Taking the lead, I start back up a gorgeous section of trail; humming despite my deadline concern, I’m feeling at one with the world.
                Through sheer determination and willpower, no doubt fueled by a wish to avoid sleeping scattered throughout the allegedly ghost-inhabited woods, we make our shelter with thirty minutes to spare.    Relief is apparent in the tone of the group’s voices as we set up tents and make chore assignments for dinner.  As so often happens, boundless energy arises the moment the packs hit the dirt, and we harness that exuberance to get food on the make. 
                Much later, after the group has drifted into their tents and bags, after the last headlamp has been extinguished, I sit alone with the assistant guide, soaking in the night noises.  We hear frogs, crickets, cicadas, and something much larger: maybe a bear, but probably a raccoon.  Admiring the stars overhead I think back on the pain and effort expended to get me to this place and smile, secure in the knowledge that it will all be forgotten by morning, when only the beauty remains.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cooking Rockstars

Life is not all fun, games and adventure here in Cactusland. Occasionally I have to go to work and make enough money to fund the next round of excitement. For the last two years I've been putting my undergrad to good use (novel concept, I know) by working with an agency in Kentuckiana that provides residential psychiatric treatment. Basically we're 1-2 (depending on which of our programs you're talking about) steps below a psychiatric hospital. 

I currently work with lower functioning clients in a group home setting, something I never could have predicted I would enjoy. Like all kids, our kids need structure and lots of it. One of the ways we provide that is to engage them in group activities, which may or may not be typical group therapy. I'm not much for sitting around talking about feelings, so when I was brainstorming ideas for a group, there was really only one option: cooking group.

In the way that all Southern women feel food is therapy, I embrace cooking as a treatment activity for our kiddos. My Mama and Mema both have shown me how much better the act of preparing a meal can make you feel; how the simple steps of a recipe can be more effective than any amount of pharmaceutical help. I was certain that if I could get them cooking, I could help them on their path to wellness.

The first meeting of cooking group had me a tad nervous, as I wasn't sure I could maintain the interest of 6-8 kids that are known for emotional outbursts.  I did spend many years teaching kids and adults, so my skills for providing informal education are there, but possibly a tad rusty. I picked a recipe for our inaugural group that I had learned on the fly with Reader several years ago: Thai Peanut Noodles. It's a homemade, decently healthy interpretation of a street food favorite and it requires a fair amount of actual cooking.

My lil cooking rockstars, 7 the first week, took to the group like ducks to water. Within our hour together they had learned how to mince, saute, boil and toss; basic ideas for an accomplished food wrangler, but heady stuff for those uninitiated into the kitchen.  After my groups had finished putting together the dish  we all sat around the table, Top Chef style, and tried that first bite together. I couldn't help but be impressed; they had gone to town on those noodles.

After a few minutes of slurping and chewing I suggested we go around the table and share any comments, constructive or otherwise, about the dish.  The responses ranged from "This is awesome" to "This is freaking amazing."  Clearly, we had a winning dish and some pretty awesome newbie cooks.

Last week we worked with eggs: scrambled, as french toast and as a fritatta.  This time when we went around the circle while sampling the food I was impressed to hear some comments that actually considered why the dish was good, what could have been better, etc. It was a great group.

This week I'm teaching them easy fruit cakes: a peach cobbler, a blueberry buckle and a black forest dump cake (unfortunate though the name may be) and I can't wait. To watch these kids that so often struggle to maintain their behavior focus on food for an hour every Sunday night is amazing. They are totally engaged, involved and on task.  I remain their fascinated, fearless leader. By Christmas, we'll be whipping up homemade figgy pudding. Trust.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Local Celeb at a Local Pub

Fuschia and I were too exhausted after our long week in FL to do much in the way of cooking this weekend. Saturday afternoon found us at Molly Malone's in St. Matthews, hoping for a quick bite.  The place was pretty much dead, something I was truly surprised by. Normally that bar is a haven for the yuppie crowd, with tons of people hanging out on the patio.  Maybe only late night draws a huge crowd, cause we were holding down the joint with no more than 20 other folks.

Like most American-Irish pubs, Molly Malone's has dark wood, fish n chips and Guinness on tap. They also have a a great space with high ceilings (a bit of a rarity in the average pub), an uncluttered feel and decently friendly waitstaff.  Fuschia and I chose the steak and onion sandwich and fish n chips, respectively, while electing to share a Magners Irish Cider for fun.

Over the years hard cider has become our go-to beverage, as neither one of us ever developed a real beer friendly palate. As most of you know, I can drink a beer or five, but I may not enjoy it to the fullest degree possible. But hard cider? I love cider. Introduced to me by my now bestie Spurs, hard cider is my fave indulgence; my beverage/dessert.  Upon trying the Magners, a blend of 15 apples, we both agreed that the dry finish and complexity of flavor was really appealing. We had no trouble finishing the pint.

Our food arrived piping hot (truly, I have a blister to prove it) and looked nearly as appetizing as pub food is capable of looking. Although I had cheated and gotten fish n roasted potatoes, I enjoyed my meal.  The roasted potatoes had a wonderful char on the skins, with a smooth interior that was perfect. They were instantly my favorite part of the meal.  The cod was beer battered, deep fried and served with two things that I detest: coleslaw and tartar.  I know, I know...I just can't make myself eat that stuff.

The fish was decent, although a tad undercooked, and I managed to eat 1.5 fillets.  Fuschia meanwhile was steadily devouring a steak sandwich that she reported to be okay.  Because she believes food is only a vehicle for condiments, Fuschia is often less than enthusiastic about sauceless entrees. That was how the steak sandwich offended her.  After applying some post facto mayo, she reported the plate a success, finishing her sandwich and my leftover cod.

Due to having to work just a few hours later, I abstained from additional cider intake, though I could've easily done damage to that keg.  As we're paying the check Fuschia lowers her voice, cocks her head and says "look who it is".  I slyly glance in the direction she's indicated, nod sagely and say "A really tall dude and a not so tall dude." With that my lovely Fuschia, in that classic way that Louisvilles' natives reserve for those of us that just aren't from here, rolls her eyes and says "that's Pitino". 

My incomprehension may have been obvious because she followed that pronouncement with a sigh and "you know, the head basketball coach for the Cardinals. you know, they were number 2 last year."  Oh yeah, that guy.  Clearly I was expected to know just by seeing him, but what can I say.....I'm a freaking football fan.  Mark Richt I would have asked for an autograph:)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Would Fly 1000 Miles...Part Two

That night, just hours after our adventure off the beaten path, found us right back in Old San Juan at a welcome dinner hosted by Fuschia's parents. I'd actually seen this particular restaurant just a few days before while indulging in my love of No Reservations.  Anthony Bourdain had visited this place (the name escapes me) to try the authentic pina colada in its alleged birthplace. He seemed disappointed with his experience and while I've had better (hell I've made better), I enjoyed it enough to have 4 or 8. For some reason I can't remember exactly how many.

As usually happens when I enjoy the libations a little too much I provided an impromptu therapy session for one of our dining companions, became besties with the older lady next to me and became inappropriately interested in the flamenco dancers' umm, abilities.  Then it was time for the main event, the thing I had actually come to PR for: mufungo.

Root words aside, mufungo is not a mushroom; rest easy.  Mufungo is a pile of smashed, fried plantain that has been mixed with pork fat, topped with veggies and/or meat, then covered with a sauce, usually tomato based.  At the welcome dinner I had chosen the seafood mufungo, despite the fact that it would have a lil calamari on it.  Perhaps it was the hype, perhaps it was the heat, more probably it was the vat of pina colada I had consumed, but I just couldn't do justice by my mufungo.

I tried several bites, delighted each time by the savory flavor of the plantain, the freshness of the scallops and shrimp and the brightness of the tomato sauce. A wonderful medley of flavors, yet heavier than I would have anticipated for tropical cuisine.  I ate maybe a third of my plate, satisfied that I had experience this quintessential Puerto Rican dish and checked it off the mental to-do.

Influenced no doubt by the coconut rum that had replaced a majority of the plasma in my bloodstream, I was inclined to head straight to bed upon our arrival back at the hotel.  After sleeping it off we spent most of Saturday prepping for the actual wedding.  The beach was fine to stay at, but to get married at? Clearly you have to find a hacienda in the rain forest overlooking the ocean. Duh.  So off we went in rented bus: the entire wedding party, the FOG and FOB, me and the Reverend (the brother-in-law in charge of marrying us all).

We literally went over the mountains and through the woods for about 40 min before I rediscovered a key piece of information about myself: motion sickness is not just a ploy to get the front seat.  By the time we arrived at the venue I was too sick to appreciate anything other than the lack of motion.  Attempting to climb the steps up to the main part of the hacienda I became overwhelmed with the need to avail myself of a bucket or bush and quickly stumbled off the side of the path.  Realizing we had located one of the bedrooms, Fuschia helped me into one of the most peaceful, beautiful bathrooms I've ever seen so that I might refresh myself. And boy did I.

Thus reinvigorated we finished the climb only to find ourselves in an exquisite open air house that looked out over the rain forest.  With all of the features one expects in a house sans walls, this hacienda was something I could never have imagined. Instantly I understood what The Geeks had fallen in love with, why they had gone to the trouble of carting us all up the side of a mountain.  Built around an open courtyard, featuring rambling rooms, including den, kitchen, billiard room, and a hammock room, the house was definitively elegant romance at its finest.
The wedding itself was excellent with both bride and groom looking happier than I can remember ever seeing either of them.  As is typical of a reception in Fuschia's family, everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, proclaiming love to one and all before catching a charter bus back down the mountain. Arriving back at the hotel well after midnight, Fushcia and I had every intention of partying in the casino, but soon realized that the same physics problem that had overwhelmed me en route to the hacienda now threatened her composure. Faced with the certainty of an uncomfortable few hours we retired early once again.

We spent the next day soaking in the pool(s), lounging by the pool and playing the ocean. Clearly, an overwhelmingly stressful day.  Our last night on the island was spent once again watching TV, contemplating how old we were acting.

Monday morning found us walking on the beach and having one last soak in the pool before heading upstairs to attempt containment of the disaster area that was our room. An hour of diligent battle left us with one carry-on apiece, a purse each and a sudden readiness to be headed stateside. We caught the last US Airways flight out of San Juan for the day, scheduled to arrive in Charlotte, NC a scant 30 minutes before our connecting flight to Lexington, KY would depart. Even I, in my semi-comatose state, was willing the plane to go just a bit faster.

We hit the terminal running in Charlotte; I couldn't help thinking of the scene in Home Alone (you know the one). Pushing people aside, we really worked our quads trying to make that last flight to bluegrass country. Finding ourselves at the necessary gate we were, how can I say this politely, taken aback, to discover that our flight, already getting us home close to midnight, would be delayed by ninety minutes.  Turning to the only activity available in most airports, we ate some classic American junk food and read the newest People magazine while waiting to board.

Finally hearing our gate being called we headed outside (that's not a typo) to get on our plane.  Having in the past flown primarily in and out of Atlanta, I wasn't aware that planes were ever actually boarded outside (except in movies, of course).  But here we were.  If that wasn't confidence crushing enough the plane also happened to be my favorite variety: school bus with wings. Seating roughly 49 people, these commuter jets are the only thing capable of inducing claustrophobia in yours truly.  The universe was obviously having a laugh at my expense that night since the pilots appeared to be twelve and no more capable of flying a plane than I am. Perfect.

Having sobered up by now I was mildly alarmed when our flight started out a little bumpy, but I tried mightily to focus on my Southern Living.  The real problem came after drinks were served and our flight attendant received a phone call from the pilots. Like any highly paranoid person , I'm attuned to nonverbal mood indicators and this woman was screaming stress. She immediately sat down in the jump seat, strapped herself in and began pounding ginger ale. 

Turns out we were flying through a rager of a storm system battering the East Coast that week.  Lucky us.  Our lil plane bucked and shimmied, even heaving occasionally as the turbulence played kickball with us.  Fuschia, fearless Fuschia, turned an alarming shade of green and began gripping the armrests. Strangely it was a look being sported by a majority of passengers. And just like that I became the fearless one.  Concentrating all my efforts on helping her feel better, I forgot that I was scared, forgot that my Sprite was sloshing violently and just comforted my partner.

As you may have inferred by now, our plane did land safely in Lexington, though that 40 minutes in the air remains the longest 2/3 of an hour I've ever spent.  While I still gaze longingly at travel pieces featuring the Maldives, Tahitti or New Zealand, one thing is for certain: I'm never flying in a toy plane again. 

I would fly 1000 miles...Part One

Anyone who knows me, really knows me, is aware that there are three things I fear above all else: sharks, serial killers and flying.  In no particular order. Our latest adventure involved only one of these, although it happens to be the one that is statistically the most likely to do me harm.

Fuschia's brother and his fiance, The Geeks if you'll recall, decided roughly a year ago that they simply must exchange their vows in a tropical destination.  Hearing this, I was stoked, thinking maybe a visit to the Keys was in my near future.  This optimism lasted roughly twenty-four hours before I was awakened from my road-trip fantasies and informed that I would be traveling to Puerto Rico for the nuptials. 

I have no problem with traveling or with wanting an exciting wedding.  I do have a problem with strapping myself into a metal capsule that's being hurled 3 football fields per second roughly 5 miles above the surface of the earth.  That I most certainly do have a problem with.

For months I researched alternate ways to get to PR.....bridge? takes too much government funding.  boat? cruise ships will let you have a day pass on the island, but refuse to act as taxi cab.  kayak?  see earlier comment on sharks.  Clearly if I was going, I was flying.  So for love of The Geeks (and honestly fear of Fuschia), on a sunny day in late May, I headed to San Juan armed with an iPod full of Jack Johnson and enough sedative to knock out an elephant.

I assume we had two uneventful flights as I was actually higher than the airplane for most of those 5 hours.  Exiting the airport we were assaulted by the kind of muggy heat I associate with Savannah in August. Tropical had a whole new meaning.  We took a particularly speedy taxi to the El San Juan resort on Isla Verde, just north of the airport and arrived at a pretty swank hotel.  The lobby reminded me of movies about Cuba in the 1950's with red velvet and dark wood attached to every permanent surface.  Elaborate carving, dramatic chandeliers and it was basically like the set of a soap opera. On Telemundo. Our room was so South Beach as to give me a definite case of cognitive dissonance; 1950's Cuba in the lobby, 2012 Miami in the room. 

After having a hearty laugh at the minibar price list and the room service menu, we suited up and headed down to the pool.  Most hotels dig a hole, line it with concrete, fill it with water and call it a day. Not the good people of Hilton.  The pool at The El San Juan was actually several, maybe as many as many, pools in various sensuous, serpentine shapes.  We would even discover later that there was a waterfall that had a pool at the top of it with coexisting hot tub.  Amazing.  Covering every available surface were the most plush beach loungers I've ever seen; they in turn were covered in an assortment of mostly tan, mostly scantily clad guests.  Ahhh, the good life.

We eventually caught up with some of the other wedding guests, as well as Fuschia's family.   Luckily, their whiteness acted as a beacon among all the decidedly caramel flesh.  After a dip in the ocean, a walk down to a local taqueria and a shower we sat down to rest for just a moment.  Instead we rested for roughly 12 hours.

The next day found us exploring Old San Juan, although due to somebody's (ahem, Fuschia) reluctance to scale hills, I will never know what is at the top of that particular city.  We quickly discovered that the only possible way to stay cool in the intense heat was to stop every 400 yards for another pariagua (snow cone).  I tried tamarind and coconut, as well as a few other more mainstream choices.  After inspecting a good number of the fort walls and assorted armaments, warning Fuschia of feral cats' rabies potential and scouting out a food truck featured on the Travel Channel it was finally time to head back to the hotel.

Our brilliant plan, cooked up in our overheated tourists brains involved saving $17 and experiencing the real PR by taking the city bus back. Check and check.  As always, I had managed to lead others on a tour through the local ghetto.  Keepin it real has always been my strong suit.

Part Two to follow.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Truckus Ruckus, Berry Pickin' and Za

My favorite ladies from the Deep South did visit in late April, just in time for the annual Kentucky Derby Festival.  True to my family's style we participated in none of the Derby activities on offer, choosing to forge our own itinerary for the weekend.

Without a doubt the highlight was a trip down to the Louisville Food Truckus Ruckus.  It was exactly what it sounds like: a roundup of all the local food trucks into a mobile food court.  All our faves were there:Lil Cheezers (gourmet grilled cheese), Grind (burgers) and Holy Mole (very interesting tacos).  A few trucks we had never patronized participated including one that was selling crepes with a staggering variety of filling options.  Although I had to stick with the tried and true Lil Cheezers, I did seriously contemplate the Peanut Butter and Nutella Crepe.

The day of the Ruckus Louisville was in a pissy mood, retracting spring and giving us midwinter instead.  Colder than seemed normal for April 25, we shivered our way through a walk around the parking lot to decide upon a worthy lunch.  While Fuschia, Mama and Mema all opted for some Texas style BBQ I kept the faith and waited, shivering and alone, for my delicious grilled cheese. Lil Cheezers never fails to satisfy me with their thick wheatberry bread, real butter, interesting toppings and hand cut kettle chips with curry catsup. This particular day I enjoyed the Courtney Jo, a hearty thin sliced roast beef, provolone and mushroom hot sandwich. 

Needless to say my sandwich was WAY better than their BBQ, but I graciously allowed them to a try a bite of the Courtney Jo as a consolation prize. 

A few days later I was in a baking mood, a rarity for me despite my culinary aspirations, and made use of a lazy person's no-knead bread recipe. This was a simple white, yeast dough designed to make boules (free form loaves). 

As you can clearly see, the loaves may have been less than impressive looking, but I swear they had a better crumb than I would have ever imagined.  Moist and flaky without the extreme density that so often accompanies homemade bread. Fuschia and I devoured the first boule in a single day, leaving me no choice but to bake two days in a row.

A few weeks after Mama and Mema went back down South and I had (shockingly) lost interest in baking bread, I realized that it was finally strawberry season here in the semi-frozen tundra.  Dragging Fuschia along, I headed out to a local farm in Southern Indiana.  As usual we had big plans to pick several gallons of berries, make jam and bake pies.  None of that would come to pass.  Due to my severe allergy to Kentuckiana I was incapacitated almost immediately upon arrival at Huber's Farm.  Settling for pre-picked strawberries (and paying 2x the price) we headed back down into the smog choked valley where I can breathe easier.

Along the way we decided to sample the berry bounty, picking out a ripe looking strawberry apiece.  If you've ever experienced fireworks made of champagne and ambrosia exploding repeatedly in your mouth, then you have some idea of how these tasted.  I've never, ever had such perfectly ripe, succulent, tasty strawberries in all my years.  After a hurried discussion about the importance of fresh fruit in a balanced diet we promptly devoured a quart of berries, staining our hands, chin and tongues a delicate shade of stuck-pig red.

Feeling the rush of all that natural sugar and the call of our  bellies, we debated all the way back down the interstate about our dinner plans.  I've been on an Italian kick lately, searching out excellent calzones, pastas and cannolis.  Occasionally I find myself weepy at the very thought of being hundreds of miles away from my three fave Italian places in all the world:  Gargano's of Albany, GA is owned by actual Italians and makes the most interesting, most authentic pizza I've ever had; Tomatino's of Montgomery, AL was the favorite haunt of my dad, Mr. RTR (that's Roll Tide Roll for the unenlightened), and myself for many years; Figo of Decatur, GA is a great Italian bistro with innovative salads and a wonderful create your own pasta menu.

Fuschia and I finally recalled a little place we'd heard about that would do for our dinner: Come Back Inn of Jeffersonville, IN.  The quaint downtown is lined with historic buildings, each seemingly deserted at 5:30pm on a Saturday.  We headed inside the restaurant only to discover the place was jam packed.  Turns out the locals love it.  Totally casual, yet lacking the kitsch of most Mom n Pop eateries, this place had the relaxed atmosphere we're both so drawn to.

A heated debate regarding entrees ensued, leaving Fuschia with no clear idea as to what she would order.  Gallantly offering my services I ordered for both of us: a mushroom and pepperoni pizza, Caesar salad and the Italian roast beef sandwich. Our shared feast appeared quickly thereafter, piping hot and wafting smells that can only be termed heavenly.  We went for the sandwich first, a delightful drippy mess of thin sliced beef, au jus and provolone.  Each mouthful was better than the last, no doubt, but I was really stoked about the pizza.

Family lore has it that Mama ate pizza almost daily while carrying me and it seems that I have food memory of those 8.5 months.  Pizza is my absolute favorite food: thin crust, pan pizza, red sauce, white, Chicago, NY, whatever.  I love pizza. I live for the stuff.  Our 10" shroom and pepperoni selection had an excellent crust in that it was almost nonexistent.  Toppings were piled right up to the edge, with cheese and sauce making an appearance.  It was fantastic, or at least the 1 piece I ate was.  Turns out the stomach can only hold so much au jus soaked bread and meat before it closes for business.  My pizza pie would have to slumber in the fridge while I recuperated enough to finish the job.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ahh Life

Fuschia and I had gotten pretty spoiled with a relatively slow paced life, but not anymore.  We've been boobs to the wall for a month now with no signs of slowing down.  Of course, we still have our priorities straight: naptime is encouraged, long contemplative walks are an excellent way to avoid chores, and veggies must be eaten (particularly if deep fried).

Just to give you an overview of what we've been up to:

 We hosted a small St Pat's Day do complete with deviled eggs, homemade pickles, balsamic shrooms, fruit kabobs, and a lime punch.  What makes you think I've been Pinteresting?

A couple of weeks ago I was awfully homesick, so I channeled my Mama and made a serious Southern feast.  Cornmeal battered tilapia, carrot souffle, butter beans, green beans and new potatoes, plus fried corn bread.  Yummy.

 This past week I stumbled across a Top Chef recipe I've been wanting to try: Honey-Scallion Potatoes.  These were so easy and so delicious that I'm tempted to make them everyday.  Unfortunately they contain a couple of items not intended for daily usage: bacon, oil, butter and sugar.  Maybe I could come up with a baked version....

We're all caught up for now, but with Mama and Mema coming to town I anticipate new adventures to relate next week...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In true believer style Fuschia and I made a seasonal pilgrimage to the temple of stylish, yet cheap Swedish home goods this week.  Like any good church, the folks at Ikea held me up for a considerable tithe.  Hey, I might be $400 poorer, but at least I communed with the one god that all Americans share: consumerism. 

This is something I've engaged in a remarkable amount this year, which just goes to show that Biggie (and my dad) was totally on it when he said "mo' money, mo' problems" or at least "mo' money, mo' shopping".  No doubt only privileged folks in the so-called first world have these sort of qualms over indulging in material goods.  Seems like a lot of the world would be excited to have some water, rice and a few health clinics.  So basically no matter what I feel silly and guilty.  For spending money on luxuries in the first place and for worrying about doing so. 

Funny that buying a few lamps, chairs and a dresser can bother me this much considering all the people in this country who spend thousands on their furniture, luxury cars and designer clothes.  At least I can tell myself I'm not as ridiculous as those people. Or maybe I can console myself with the thought that one day I can join them in an even more enthusiastic spending orgy.  It could go either way....

Despite the buyer's remorse, the traffic headed into Northern KY and the slight shadiness of the Covington, KY area, there was at least one experience from this Cincy trip that left me satisfied.  Fuschia's brother and fiance (the  self-named Geeks) were kind enough to offer us a trip to their favorite Korean restaurant.  I was deeply hesitant about this, as my one previous Korean experience ended with me in a Chik-fil-A drive-thru.  You might say my hopes were not very high...

Despite some initial challenges getting in the door (a very confusing double door situation), I immediately liked the feel of the space with it's long, high-ceilinged main room and classic Asian (not red lacquer) decor.  Noticing the traditional seating on the right, I was happy to see that our party was being seated in a booth of the sort plump Americans tend to prefer. 

Being a veteran in the food wars and a strong Asian cuisine enthusiast, I assumed (wrongly, as it were) that I would be able to divine my food choices through a quick menu perusal.  That idea was put to rest in short order and I happily allowed The Geeks to guide me in ordering.  We started with a delightful vegetable pancake called Ya Chae Pa Jun. Unlike American pancakes, this one had no starch base and seemed to fall more in the fritatta or quiche category.  Since I lack Korean heritage, I'll concede that they can classify their food however they choose....even when they're so obviously wrong.

Our main course, Dolsot Bibim Bab, was served in a style reminiscent of the Mexican restaurant fajita, only in a stone bowl that had been heated to a temperature somewhere between lava and solar flare.  I know this because I was dumb enough to touch it, but luckily no one could hear the sizzling of my flesh over the sizzling of the meat we were meant to be cooking.

This molten bowl of rice, chicken and veggies was truly tasty with just a hint of the spice that you find in other Asian foods.  I found the flavors to be milder than those of China, less complex than Japanese or Thai food, and much less fragrant than their sub-Asian cousin, Indian cuisine.  I was not initally convinced that this Korean fajita bowl was going to please me; it honestly took at least 5 bites to get there.  But then something happened, a neuron fired, a sensor pulsed and I realized "hey this is pretty good". 

As a bonus/side item we were served an interesting assortment of little pickled things.  There were radishes, kimchi, mushrooms, and some sort of candied potato.  I only tried a few of them, as my tolerance for vinegar is limited.  What these little dishes really did for me was illuminate just how much Korean cuisine is involved in stimulating the umami taste in my mouth.  What it lacked in saltiness, sweetness, and spicyness it made up for in this unique flavor so prevalent in Asian cuisine.  I found myself wishing that I had more interest in lacto-fermentated foodstuffs, as I'm sure this takes the Korean experience to a different level.

Overall it was a truly excellent meal, although I'm not convinced The Geeks believed my enthusuasm for the place.  While my heart still belongs to Thai and Indian, I'm not afraid to take the occasional foray into Korean food.  That alone was worth the drive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And Then It Was January

Oh how fleet the wings of time grow in the winter...which sounds like Wordsworth, but isn't.  November and December passed Fuschia and I by with a random assortment of relative-oriented activity, an unprecedented indulgence in seasonal consumerism and that nasty little Christmas Day virus that my sister, Typhoid Eeyore, managed to gift the fam with.

Already 3/4 of the way into January 2012 and I can't stop writing 2011 on everything.  Occasionally I regress and write 2009 or 1993. Clearly, the Buddhist ideas about being here now are almost impossible for me to experience.  What is happening here and now in the tiny metropolis of Louisville: we're experiencing a winter unlike any I've seen.  Rain, snow flurries, freezing temps, tornadoes, thunderstorms, highs in the 60s, lows in the teens....we've got it all covered.  What I'd  like to see is some deep powder so we can do some old fashioned, death-defying sledding off the side of the Cherokee Park golf course.  That's what winter should be all about:  potential head trauma, a frostbitten ass and good friends. 

Fushia and I've managed to squeeze in a little adventure over the past few weeks and as usual it's food-centric.  One of the first things we did this year was get back into the swing of dumpster diving.  Technically it was the last thing we did in 2011 since we pulled 30 bouquets of fresh flowers out of the local trendy grocery dumpster just 15 minutes til midnight on Dec 31.  Hauling our bounty back to the apartment,  I was skeptical that we would find any use for them, but Fuschia proved me wrong.  She got right to work arranging artful, dramatic and a few cottagey buckets of blooms to brighten up the house.

A few days later, in a fit of inspiration, I woke up early on a Saturday and set about channeling Julia Child or, at the very least, Rachael Ray,  into a gourmet breakfast for 2.  After ODing on Top Chef and Chopped over the holidays I really felt the need to flex my culinary muscles.  Twenty minutes later saw hand cut sweet potato fries roasting in the oven, French toast browning in a pan, and me leaping and laughing while deglazing bananas in bourbon and brown sugar.  On a technical note, don't leap with a pan that's on fire.  Even Chef Falkner can't do that and neither should you.

 I wanted pictures before the plate was mostly empty, but sadly neither Fuschia nor I could resist chowing down.  Glad though I am to please us with a tasty breakfast, my favorite compliment was from Oberon.  After trying a small bite, he stood at attention for 25 minutes hoping to score just a tad more.  That's dedication.

We've got a new project in the works in our kitchen and for once it's not edible.  We're learning to make soap and other assorted bath products.  I'm so stoked to be expanding our homesteading skill set!  Now we basically just need a farm and we're good to go.