Friday, August 31, 2012

An All-Natural Food Guide to Tailgating

Ha. Ha. The running joke in the food revolution community is any food calling itself "all-natural."

But I couldn't think of a general description for the food I'm talking about, and "GMO-, Hormone-, Carageenan-, Antibiotic-Free Guide to Tailgating" didn't sound like a good blog title.

Tailgating is tricky because it usually involves a processed-food laden spread. Don't get me wrong. I'll be guilty tomorrow of eating some bad-for-you foods, but I try to minimize it when I can. And having junkfood every once in a while or for a special occassion isn't going to kill us. Just don't make your special occassion every day. And with a football season that stretches at least five months, six months for the NFL, tailgating food can really become a regular diet, rather than a treat.

I've been following the plight of Prop 37 on the ballot this fall in California for the last couple months.

What is Prop 37, you ask?

It's a ballot initative that would require all food, both raw and processed, to be labled if it contains genetically modified organisms (commonly referred to as GMOs). California would be the first state to require this, and many believe (hope) that if such a law passes in California, food makers would roll it out nation-wide, because it just doesn't make sense to have special packaging for a market as large as Califonia.

Studies have produced conflicting evidence regarding the safety of GMOs in our food, but either way, I really don't want to eat them if I can help it. GMOs are designed to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, so you can bet if you're eating something with GMOs in it, those chemicals have been judiciously applied. The problem is, hence the push for labeling, is that its just so darn hard to tell what has GMOs in it these days. I am pretty viligant about looking for them in my food, but I frequently and horrified to learn that they are in the foods I like to eat and the brands I buy.

Probably the best way to avoid them is to buy from the companies that are currently supportive of Prop 37. Companies like Stonyfield and Garden of Eatin' are two of those companies. Additionally, organic foods are free of GMOs by definition. Your best best are always whole foods, but these don't really say "tailgate."

One failsafe is to take a couple bags of Garden of Eatin' tortilla chips and pico de gallo. My BFF has a killer recipe for pico, which we call "pico dip" that has like 6 simple ingredients: tomatoes, jalepenos, red onion,  cilantro, sea salt and cider vinegar. Just make sure the ingredients are organic.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot of options for dips that aren't filled with chemicals. You can make guacamole to go with those tortilla chips, or even hummus. Both would be welcome at any tailgate. Also, hamburgers are a perennial favorite at tailgates. You can volunteer to bring the beef if you get it from a source you trust doesn't use antibiotics or hormones. Bonus points if your ground beef is grass-fed. Grab some local artesianal cheese, some spicy mustard, and some buns from the local bakery, and you're set. Even if all the ingredients aren't organic, you're still doing better than pre-formed frozen patties and artificially colored and flavored "cheese-like" slices. If there's not a local bakery for the buns, if you buy from the bakery department at the grocery store, you'll get better buns than if you buy off the shelf. The buns on the shelf have chemicals added to extend their shelf-life, and the buns from the bakery department most likely won't. Skip the ketchup with high fructose corn syrup and go for spicy brown mustard with only a few ingredients like vinegar, mustard seed, water and spices. With quality beef and cheese, I doubt you even miss the ketchup.

What about the beverages? Well, I'm a beer person. I'll pick a tasty dark porter over wine or spirits any day. For a long time, I have been meticulous about what I eat, but what about beer?

Ingredients aren't required to be listed on the label, so who knows what it's really made of these days. Historically, beer was required to brewed according to Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law that required only water, barley and hops to be used in brewing beer. However, few national brands adhere to this today. If you do find a beer that is still brewed by this guideline, there's a good chance it's all-natural. A few brands actually list their ingredients, such as Rogue. Obviously, organic beers are going to be free of any nastiness, but in my experience they are hard to find. Craft breweries are generally a good bet. Because they make small-batch beers, they can be more selective and discriminating when it comes to choosing the ingredients. Many craft brewers are committeed to producing an excellent product, and often more natural ingredients are best. And, pick a beer that is unfiltered, if that is your thing. Carageenan, a natural seaweed derivative, is used to clarify beers that are mass produced. Carageenan is believed to be a harmful additive that leads to gastrointestinal issues (it is also used to thicken dairy products, particularly low-fat and fat-free dairy). You can be sure you're not getting any of the bad stuff if you stick with unfiltered beer. This is a great article about how to choose a natural beer with some good tips.

Other snacks that will pass muster at an all-natural tailgate are, of course, a fresh veggie or fruit tray. I always look for these for something to balance out the greasiness of the rest of the food I'm eating. Nuts are another good idea, too.

If you bring any of the above items (particularly the Rogue beer)  to a tailgate to share with friends, I guarantee you won't be turned away or ridiculed for being an "all-natural nerd." Quite the opposite, probably. Let's put it this way, if someone brought some good grass fed hamburgers or homemade guacamole or premium beer to my tailgate, they would definitely be invited back for the next one!

Lastly, I couldn't resist posting a pic of my afternoon snack because it was so darn pretty!

Heirloom tomatoes with a little bit of garlic-infused olive oil and salt--the orange ones are Jaune Flamme, the yellow are Pineapple,and the red are Mountain Princess. All were grown by my father-in-law from plants that I gave him. These were so tasty! This time of year, I wouldn't complain if someone brought a platter of these and some salt to my tailgate either.

Monday, August 27, 2012

#Reverse Meatless Monday Recap Aug. 20-26th

Last week was rough. Not by the way of not eating meat--I've got this now. It was hectic and busy, and I couldn't seem to fit in time to work out. Or eat healthy. But these weeks seem to pop up from time to time, and you just have to be extra good the next week. Which is where I find myself now.

I didn't get many pictures of my meatless dinners last week because I ate out almost every night.

Monday night I made orrechiette with another batch of golden tomato sauce I made last week from the 101 Cookbooks recipe. Except I threw some other fresh veggies into the sauce like summer squash, sweet pepper and kale to make it a "primavera." It was amazing.

I put the veggies in the skillet to soften for a few minutes before the tomatoes. This sauce is so delicious and easy it's ridiculous. And it was so pretty in the skillet.

Tuesday Jeremy came home from being gone for two weeks for work (yay!) so we went out for wings and beer. (Booo!) But that's okay because it was our one day a week with meat. Wednesday, my brother invited us to go out to eat with him and we went to a local Mexican restaurant. I am a vegetarian fajitas conoisseur--even before I started this project. The vegetarian fajitas that this particular place fell flat. I think they used frozen vegetables. Gross! Jeremy had a vegetarian burrito that he said was very good.

Thursday we had leftover orreichette. I also made some kale chips for the first time. They were pretty good, but I still like my kale wilted with some white wine and bacon grease best.

Friday we went out to eat with some good friends from out of town who were in Charleston on business. We went to another local joint, The Anchor. This place is a Charleston institution. It's a bit of a dive, but the food is amazing. Jeremy and I shared a veggie supreme pizza, and it was awesome! We had never tried it before. The crust was thin and crispy, and along with the pile of diced veggies and cheese was a spice and parmesean blend sprinkled on top of the pizza, with oregano, basil and grated parm. It was the thing that set this pizza appart from an average veggie pizza.

Saturday we went to a cookout at Jeremy's parent's house for his aunt's 60th birthday. I had caprese, watermelon, tortilla chips and baba gahnoush, macaroni salad, and of course, cake and ice cream.

It's always so nice to hang out with family that we don't get to see nearly often enough. In keeping with the Reverse Meatless Monday, I made the caprese and baba gahnoush. I chalked the caprese up as a success since there wasn't any left. I was happy that I could contribute something relatively healthy that everyone enjoyed.

The baba gahnoush was a different story. It was just okay. This is the second time I have attempted making it, and I think I'm just going to write this dish off and just enjoy it at the local restaurant that serves it. Last Christmas, we got Jeremy's dad and electric smoker. I've been dying to try baba gahnoush again since then, now that I can smoke the eggplant. It was better this time. The last time when I grilled the eggplant, it was just too bitter. The smoker toned down the bitterness of the eggplant, but it tasted like it was missing something and the consistency just wasn't quite right. The problem is that I smoked a butt-load of eggplant, thinking I would freeze it so we could enjoy it a few more times. Maybe I need to go have the baba gahnoush at the restaurant again in the name of research, so I can figure out how to fix mine.

Sunday, I made a Food Babe inspired dinner--quinoa masala patties and thai coconut rice lettuce wraps. It was so delcious. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that blog. So many good ideas, and she is very thorough and thoughtful with her nutrition information and advice. I've been trying to keep in mind that we need to have some protein from other sources, and quinoa is pretty much a perfect source of protein. It's the only non-animal source of protein that is considered "complete," meaning it has all of the essential amino acids. It's also a great source of fiber--something that anyone eating a Western diet needs more of. Jeremy and I love quinoa, since we "discovered" it a couple years ago, and we really should eat more of it since some consider it a superfood.

I made raita, Indian yogurt sauce, to put on the patties because I thought they needed something saucy or gooey. I happen to have plain yogurt, and way too many cucumbers, the two main ingredients in raita. It was perfect on top of the patties, and I also added some alfalfa sprouts. I just grew some in a jar, so I have been trying to figure out ways to use them. It turns out they are also a pretty good source of protein, because of the seed, and with the greek yogurt in the raita, this already protein-rich patty was elevated to protein powerhouse. I love the thai coconut rice recipe from the Food Babe's blog, and this time, I tried it with basmati rice instead of brown rice. It does much better with brown rice, however. The basmati is a little too delicate I think for the long simmer the recipe calls for. And that's one of the things I love about the recipe, you just throw all the ingredients in a pot and simmer it for about 40 minutes. But the rice was still delicious. Best part about this dinner was that I have leftover for lunch a couple days this week.

I'm down to my last week of Reverse Meatless Monday, and I've learned a lot already. I am also jonesin for a big, thick, juicy steak, which I'll treat myself to next week. My mouth is beginning to water...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mint, Mint and More Mint

I was a little busy with work and travel for about four weeks right in the middle of summer. While I was distracted, my garden certainly didn't slow up, especially my herb garden and all that mint.

Mint is one of those plants you definitely need to keep a close eye on. If you've ever grown it, you know how voracious a grower it can be. It will literally take over the plot it's growing in during the course of a couple months.

So, after several weeks of neglect, I took some time to prune the plants back last weekend. Other than an "air freshener" for my compost bin, what can you do with a huge pile those mint cuttings? I hated to just throw it out, and Jeremy and I can only drink so many juleps.

Two easy ways to use up a lot of mint are pesto and tea. Both require several cups of mint leaves.

Both traditional pesto, made with basil, and mint pesto freeze beautifully. It's a nice way to bring a taste of spring and summer to dishes once fresh herbs have long faded. I've recently enjoyed mint pesto on roasted spaghetti squash with some frozen peas mixed in. I have tried basil pesto on spaghetti squash before, and I think I actually like the mint better. The flavor of mint pesto is less spicy and more light and bright, and is a nice contrast with the starchy spaghetti squash. Peas and mint practically go hand in hand since the mint brings out the sweetness of the peas, and the peas soften the brace of mint a little. I've also put mint pesto on pizza with ham and mozzarella, too, which was great. With mint pesto, the possibilities are practically endless. Here's the recipe that I use, adapted from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home.

Mint Pesto

2 cups of packed mint leaves
1/4 cup of shredded parmesean
kosher salt to taste (start with about 1 tsp)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)

Place mint leaves, salt, parmesean cheese and almonds in a food processor and pulse until everything is chopped finely and evenly. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse again. Add more olive oil until mixture comes to a paste, or desired consistency. Taste and add more salt or parmesean if needed. Yield: about 1/2 cup

I've added garlic to this recipe in the past, before adding the olive oil, but I think I like it better without. Also, if you're going to freeze it, it may get a little dry when you thaw it back out. I usually add a little more olive oil and stir it well when I thaw it.

I'm a huge fan of tea in the winter. Actually, I'm a huge fan of tea all the time. But especially in the winter. Mint tea is one of my favorite teas for replacing coffee because it seems like it wakes you up a bit without the caffeine. And it's very soothing for sipping by the fire in the evening--also, without the caffeine. I've never tried to make it before, though, but even after making pesto, I still had a huge pile of mint cuttings, so I thought it was worth a try.

The last time I'd cut back my mint, I had laid it in my garage on newspaper to dry out so that I could experiment with it. I "googled" making mint tea and found a few quick articles. Basically, you can make the tea from fresh mint leaves or dried by just pouring hot water over either one. Since I wanted to preserve it, I opted for the dried. I gathered my dried mint from the garage, and replaced it with the new cuttings I had from that day.

I picked all the leaves off the stems and put them in a big bowl. I crushed them up with my hands fairly easily, but I decided I wanted them crushed more finely. I have two different kinds of mint, spearmint and peppermint. The spearmint has bigger veins in the leaves, and by crushing the leaves in a mortar and pestle, I was able to pick out most of those veins. I don't think it hurts to leave them in, but I was just being particular about my tea. I stored it in a tin. In a few weeks, I'll crush the leaves that I picked and make more. I'll probably keep doing this until the plants die off for the season. I was kinda picky about the leaves, and I didn't use any that had brown spots on them.

Since this worked so easily, I'm thinking of making tea out of my bee balm. Now, all I need is a tea infuser.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reverse Meatless Monday is halfway over!

And I have a whole chicken in the freezer that I cannot wait to make next month. And steaks. Oh how delicious meat will be once this challenge ends. I have at least succeeded in making myself appreciate meat more.

I'm doing pretty well, I think. And it's not as hard as you would imagine with all the fresh veggies from my own backyard and the farmer's market pouring in. I'm actually really glad I did this because it is forcing me to use those more that I would normally, and in more creative ways.

Although I didn't take pictures of what I ate for breakfast or lunch, it was meatless, too, I should note. For breakfast I had either oatmeal or cantelope (local, therefore safe from the recall) and a hardboiled egg. For lunch, I had a sald and vegetable soup I had frozen, or leftover beans and cornbread.

Here's what I had for dinner last week:

Late friday afternoon, I got home from Chicago. I could not wait to see what was growing in my garden. I had a couple yellow squash ready to pick and some cucumbers. I threw some sauted squash, onions and tomatoes together with some smoked paprika and called it "Spanish squash skillet." It was actually better leftover the next day after the flavors had time to permeate the veggies. I made some quick polenta on the side to eat with it. I wish I remembered exactly what I put in it. I'll try it again since it was pretty good, and put the recipe on the blog. I promise!


Spaghetti squash and mint pesto

A good friend sent me several spaghetti squash from her garden. I have had mixed results making spaghetti squash in the past, but I do like it, so I gave it a whirl again. This time I put mint pesto and peas in it--and it was awesome! Topped with a little grated parm and some cucumbers from my garden on the side. Mmmmm!

Sunday evening I had family over and made a huge antipasti spread. I had planned on making caponata with crusty bread for dinner one evening, and I had some giardiniera that I canned last summer that needed finished off. So, I bought some cheese and some soppressata (to satisfy the meateaters that were coming to visit). I toasted some ciabatta slices and put some minced garlic in some extra virgin olive oil for dipping. Volia! Dinner was served! Everyone was satisfied and full.

Monday: Penne with Golden tomato sauce, which I've made before. It's from the 101 Cookbooks blog, which I adore. And it is so easy. You can make the sauce while the pasta cooks. For real.

Penne with Golden Tomato Sauce

Good ol' beans and cornbread

Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: Pinto beans and cornbread! This is where it got a little iffy. I've never made pinto beans without bacon before. Gasp! But I did this time, and I don't know if it was that or not, but I swear, these were the best I've ever made. I diced up some carrot and onion very finely, threw some cumin, minced garlic, and a couple bay leaves, and cooked them in half vegetable broth, half water. I chopped up a jalepeno finely and put some cheddar cheese in the cornbread also.

Thursday night some coworkers and I had planned to go to happy hour at our favorite local bar. And it was what is affectionately known as "meat night" there. This place does lunch and does dinner on Thursday nights only. It's actually pretty good. They have a giant charcoal grill and you can place and order for ribeye, chicken breast, or sides only. I was thinking of getting sides only, but a coworker asked me to split a ribeye with her. These ribeyes are too big for one person to eat, anyway, so I did. This ended up being the only meat I ate all week, and it was delicious! Charcoal grilled steak has a special place in my heart. The real star of the meal here is always the sides. They do outstanding potatoes au gratin and grilled vegetables. We had grilled asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes on the side, with a garden salad and garlic bread. And it was nine bucks!



Saturday I went to my mom's house to pick blueberries from her blueberry bushes. I got almost a whole gallon, but there are still quite a few unripe, so I'll go back in the next couple weeks and load up again so I can freeze them. I love them in oatmeal in the winter. I had planned to make stuffed zucchini earlier in the week, but ended up having leftover beans and cornbread, so I took it to her house to make for us. I also had bought stuff to make tomato and goat cheese crostini as a light meal one evening with a salad, so I threw them together. We did have a salad, and she had some leftover quinoa and rice pilaf. The tomato and goat cheese crostini were really good, but a hassle to make, so I probably won't repeat that recipe. It was from my Beekman Heirloom Cookbook, which I really like so far, although some of the recipes are a bit time consuming. The stuffed zucchini recipe was from the Meatlover's Meatless Cookbook I recently ordered and have tried a couple recipes from. This was a nice healthy meal.


I was planning to cook something, but I realize I somehow ended up with a lot of salad for lunches this week, so I just had one for dinner. Sunday afternoon, I also made soup for lunch this week. I made vegetable lentil soup, a Mark Bittman recipe from his Food Matters cookbook. I love this guy's column in the New York Times. For only a few simple ingredients, the soup is surprisingly tasty! I hope it gets better as leftovers!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday.

I think it's pretty clear how her legacy transcends and how well loved she was because of all the social media activity commenorating today. There was a facebook page dedicated to today and a twitter feed. She was even trending on Bing this afternoon.

Celebrity chefs and home cooks alike are paying homage her many accomplishments. She is the person credited with redefining cooking television into what it is today. She co-authored a comprehensive cookbook unlike any other before. She also inspired a generation to get into their kitchens and cook with abandon and enjoy it immensly.

I think that she made it okay for eating to be a primal pleasure. We should savor food that's put in front of us--especially if it's lovingly made from fine ingredients. It's evident from watching clips of her tv show and from interviews that she really did love everything about food--shopping for it, preparing it, and especially eating it.

If you've ever flipped through her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you'll see that some of the recipes have only a handful of ingredients. As a matter of fact, the very first recipe I made in my copy of the cookbook was potato leek soup (like Julie Powell). The best way to describe it is simple. But delicious. Some of Julia's recipes were no doubt complicated, but many of them, are simple and straightforward. This is really the essence of French cooking, even though it's often seen as snooty and fussy.

If you're a home cook interested in expanding your horizons, honing your kitchen skills, or looking to entertain, I cannot emphasize enough that you need to pick up this book. It is quite thick and comprehensive, but it is indespensible in the kitchen. Julia not only outlines recipes for classic French dishes, but there are notes on wine and vegetable pairings for meat courses, basic techniques for skills that carry over to other types of cuisine, and pages and pages of information about different cuts of meat. I've found it to be particularly helpful when I buy meats from the Monroe Farm Market that I don't have any idea how to prepare. There is an answer to virtually any meat product you can find. I used it when I bought sweetbreads from the farmers market, and I'll use it again now that I've ordered calf liver this week. Many of the recipes have a number of variations, so once you master the basic recipe, you can keep trying it new ways. Also, there are many drawings of step by step directions to the more complicated techniques. It truly is a book that you can pick up and learn to cook with.

Today of all days, I should have done a blog entry featuring a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But a Junior League event and a pile of leftovers made it impractical. So, this weekend, I promise to make it up. Flipping through the cookbook though, I just haven't decided what to make yet. The possibilities are definitely endless.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sweet home, Chicago

So, last week, I was at a conference for my job in one of my favorite cities of all time--Chicago. This was my third trip to the Windy City, and every time I've been there I've found more and more reasons to fall in love with this city.

Chicago is one of my favorite food cities. Everyone knows about famous Chicago-style pizza, and it is definitely a thing to behold, but did you know that Chicago also does hot dogs a distinctly Chicago way, and Italian beef is pretty much the best thing ever? Of course, you know that if you read my blog on the regular! Chicago is also home to one of my favorite beers of all time, Goose Island 312.

While I didn't stick to my Reverse Meatless Monday completely, I did okay and still enjoyed my favorite eating city. Many of my meals were provided through the conference, and luckily the people who put on the annual conference, the National Conference of State Legislatures, know how important it is to showcase the host city for attendees.

The day I arrived, I had a few hours to kill and I hadn't had lunch yet. As I was getting off the plane, I knew I would head to Chicago's own celebrity chef restaurant, Frontera, or the more casual sister restaurant XOCO. But they were closed. Boo.

Luckily, a few blocks from my hotel, which was right across from Grant Park, was a Lou Malnati's location. What better way to welcome yourself to Chicago than with deep dish pizza?

I had "The Lou," which was roma tomatoes, spinach and cheddar, mozzarella and parmesean, all in the famous "butter crust." Even in the six inch size, or maybe perhaps of it, the crust was perfect--crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. And a yelper recommended the house salad (a good idea while you wait for your pizza, which they tell you upfront, takes 30 minutes) with the homemade gorgonzola dressing. It was pretty amazing. Of course, I washed it down with a 312 on draft.

Much later that night (the pizza really sticks with you), I had met up with two coworkers to visit Navy Pier. We listed to an awesome cover band at the beer garden and then rode the ferris wheel and swings ride on the pier. We rode the swings right at sunset, and it was stunning.

From there, we walked up to the Hancock Building.  One of my coworkers happened to catch a profile of The Signature Room on the hotel channel in her room that features tourist attractions and wanted to check it out. The Signature Room is a fancy pants restaurant on the 95th floor, and we were wearing shorts and sandals, so we opted for the more casual lounge area, where tappas and appetizers are served, along with a number of featured drinks. We split three appetizers, duck tacos, chips and guacamole and a BLT with shaved smoked salmon on it. The food was pretty outstanding and the drinks were amazing--as well as the view.

The rest of the week went by too quickly, probably because most of the day my butt was planted in a chair in a convention center listening to topics relevant to state legislatures. After the conference wrapped up for the day, we took in as much as we could of what Chicago has to offer. I went to a White Sox game (the Cubs weren't in town until later in the week), which was a surprisingly exciting game--it was neck and neck until the bottom of the 8th when the Sox hit a homerun and surged ahead. The next night, a group of us took a Chicago Architectural Foundation river cruise, which was wonderful! I highly recommend taking a couple hours to do this.

The tour guide was outstanding, and not only identified the buildings we saw, but gave us a good bit of history of the city and interresting factoids. Everyone totally enjoyed the cruise, although that could be in part, because it had an open bar. Still trying to get a taste of Frontera, we planned to get dinner there as a group earlier in the afternoon, but it was already too late to get a reservation for that evening.

The last day of the conference, I left the convention center to find lunch, and finally got a taste of Rick Bayless's genius that is fresh modern Mexican food known as Frontera. In the interest of time, I opted for the Frontera Fresco, which is the quick and casual lunch spot located inside Macy's. The trip through Macy's to get there was pretty remarkable by itself. The Charleston location of Macy's really leaves a lot to be desired.

I had the smoked shrimp torta with roasted chilies, goat cheese and arugula. Pretty much anytime something says it has goat cheese and arugula in it, I'm in. If the quick lunch place is this good, I can't wait to go back and try the real deal.

I had chips and guacamole with my sandwich, but since it was lunch and I had more conference to attend in the afternoon, I did not opt for the margarita, which I'm told is hand squeezed made-from-scratch. Next time, Mr. Bayless, next time.

The conference had a closing reception in Millenium Park for attendees that was a mini Taste of Chicago with a live band. Unfortunately, it rained for the first 45 minutes of the reception, but finally the sky cleared and everyone had such a good time, we forgot about the bad weather at the beginning. Having been to the real Taste of Chicago a couple years ago, this one was just as great, if not better because the food was free and the crowd was much smaller. The Taste of Chicago is a three day festival with food vendors and restaurantors from all across the city setting up booths to give out samples in exchange for tickets guests by at the gate. I sampled food from all of Chicago's neighborhoods. I couldn't decide if the macaroni and cheese and pork BBQ from Southside or the Middle Eastern dumplings were my favorite.

There were so many things I wanted to do, but didn't get time. I want to go to a Cubs game because Wrigley Field is so iconic. I would totally channel Ferris Bueller. And, while I was up by Wrigley Field, I'd swing by Hot Doug's, hopefully on the day they have their famous duck fat fries. I still am jonesin for Frontera, and I really want to tour the Goose Island Brewery. And visit an old school steakhouse. These are things for a trip with the Hubs, since I know he'd hate to miss out on those. So maybe it's a good thing I couldn't fit them in this time.  Chicago is a short plane ride away, or even better, and overnight train ticket away. A long weekend might just be in the Hubs and my future in the next few months.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reverse Meatless Monday: The first "half" week

So far, so good!

I haven't even noticed that I didn't eat meat the first half week. I even went out to an in prompto dinner with a group of people, and it was a breeze. The Hubs is doing well, too. He went out to lunch to a "mom n' pop" pizza joint with coworkers and had veggie pizza, which he likes anyway. It does look like he's going to have to travel this month for work, and he has little say in the meals since many of them are provided and he'll be in a group. But I think that while he and I are home and making our own meals or eating out at places where we have choices, we are making a huge impact on our health and the environment, even though we eat meat one day a week.

Hopefully, we are playing a small part in paving the way for more choices and mainstream acceptance of eating less meat, since we're "voting with our forks." While, this challenge (experiment) is probably a little more of a committment than the average person would undertake, it wouldn't hurt anyone to fill up their plates without using meat one meal a week.

Grilled eggplant caprese from
The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook

Fried green tomato sandwich at
The Greenbrier Cafeteria at Tamarack
Grilled peach and mozzarella salad and grilled potaotes and stuffed tomatoes.

Friday night, we were headed to visit both our parents' homes, so we grabbed a veggie pizza from Pizza Hut. Not the healthiest thing ever, but it was quick and easy. Saturday, I was "yard selling" with my mom and we had a huge lunch of fresh produce. We grilled some squash, new potatoes and onions with olive oil and rosemary. We also had caprese and grilled corn on the cob.

That is exactly why I love this time of year. I could eat fresh tomatoes and corn everyday. But eating seasonably makes me appreciate them more since you just can't have tomatoes like this in January. It's just not possible. We're going to try like hell to enjoy them while they're here until we're sick of them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A week in paradise

I recently saw a quote on Facebook. You know, one of those that is a little picture with a quote printed on it? It said "Travel is the only thing that you buy that makes you richer." I just spent a week on a fabulous vacation. One of those that you might only get the opportunity to take every handful of years or so. And I kept trying to keep that quote in the back of my mind.

We just got back from Antigua, a tiny Caribbean nation and cluster of surrounding islands. I have always been a little hesitant to go to an all-inclusive resort since they seemed a little bit "touristy" to me. And, as a foodie, I was horrified about what I read about the food offered at the resorts--Italian bistros, American steakhouses, and so on. Are you kidding me? I didn't just fly 2,000 miles to eat the kind of food I can get up the street at the Olive Garden!

But, I had an opportunity to get a decent deal on a package at a charity auction I as at earlier this year, and the Hubs was really wanting to try one out. His style of traveling is to just go somewhere to get away and chillax, and I want to see and do and take in the local flavor. So, off we went to Antigua It was easy to get over the antsiness I had about going to an all-inclusive when this is what the surroundings look like:

And, pretty much the whole time we were there, I was on on the hunt for authentic cultural experiences. This picture is of Long Bay Beach, a stunning public beach, around the corner and a 200-yard walk from our resort. Imagine if you never ventured outside the grounds of the resort--you'd never get to see this (It was way more beautiful than the beach at our resort, for the record!). While we were there, a group of local kids were having races on the beach, starting on the sand and swimming out to a point in the water and then back. It was really neat to see the locals enjoying a day on the beach.

At the restaurants, when local food as highlighted, I took it over the standard menu choices. We got spiny lobster, which is a Caribbean specialty on the night we ate in the upscale restaurant on the property. Also, one night the other restaurant had a local special, which as stewed goat with coconut rice. It was similar to what I got at the Jamaican restaurant that used to be Charleston, but better. If you've never tried goat, don't be afraid to. It's has a wonderful rich gamey flavor. I tried the local brand of ice cream a couple times, and it was very good (how can ice cream be bad?). Of course, we drank lots of beer from Antigua's only brewery, Wadadli.

spiny lobster with garlic and butter sauce
One night, the buffett was themed Caribbean Night, so we sampled ox tail and fried plantains, roti and stewed tomatoes and spinach. I was disappointed that I didn't get to try any authentic calalloo, since I'd tried my hand at making it earlier this summer. But I think I might try to recreate the roti. Roti is a lot like a burrito; a meat or vegetable filling wrapped in a flatbread. The term "roti" generally refers to the bread itself, but the dish is also called roti. Roti is eaten throughout southern Asia as well as the Caribbean, although it's thought to have originated in Nepal. The defining characteristic is that bread is unleavened. We had both beef roti and vegetable roti. The filling was basically a curry filling, although it wasn't really spicy. I think it would be easy enough to make the filling, I'm just not sure about the "roti skin" or the bread.

I realized while on this trip that when traveling, in order to get an authentic experience, you have to go and seek it out. This is true whether you stay in a sheltered resort that has limited cultural offerings, or if you stay in the heart of downtown. It's a shame that some places don't celebrate the local culture, and instead create an experience of what it's thought might be familiar and comfortable to the guests. The very basic premise of traveling requires us to let down our guard and experience something that is unfamiliar. It is when we become good at doing that, that we have the very richest and unforgettable experiences.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Farmers' Market at the Capitol

Hooray for farmers' market day!

For a few weeks in the summer, our local farmers' market sets up at the Capitol one day a week during lunch. It's wildly popular with employees, as you can imagine. In addition to selling fresh vegetables, a vendor also brings a variety of ready to eat salads, which always sell out quickly.

A few years ago, a former First Lady pushed for the farmers' market days at the Capitol in an effort to promote health of the workforce. It's also nice because the market is another choice for lunch. They're are only a handful of eateries within walking distance to the Capitol. Driving to get lunch isn't always feasible, since parking lots for employees are generally pretty far from the building. With a hour for lunch, walking ten minutes each way to get to your vehicle takes up a huge chunk of lunch break. We do have a cafeteria at the Capitol, but most people simply brown bag it most days.

Customers looking over fresh local melons and peaches.
Today at the farmers' market, the Commissioner of Agriculture was giving away freshly grilled local corn. A long line formed right away, but it moved pretty fast.

Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass handing out ears of corn
I love it that some people think it's important enough to go through the trouble of organizing and setting up a farmers market at the Capitol to offer local and healthy food to employees. I know it must be a lot of work. I also think it's great that so many employees look forward to the market days, and take advantage of the offerings. Many buy items to take home and cook for dinner like green beans, squash and new potatoes. The prices are reasonable, and while normally I bring my lunch, I'll take it over buying something at the cafeteria any day.

My delicious lunch
For lunch, I had a free ear of corn, and a juicy and delicious yellow tomato. Today is the first day of my August Challenge, Reverse Meatless Monday, so this was the perfect lunch. The corn was so sweet! I didn't even put any butter on it. I am really looking forward to many meals just like this one this month!