23 days of living through friends and food.

In the last month, I have managed to drop the ball on my blog, let it roll down the road and into a ditch where I left it for dead. But I’m reviving it… picking it up and washing it off (a mere brushing won’t cut it). It’s been a challenging time, but I’m a silver lining kind of gal and prefer to count my blessings.

If you were to do one of those time lapses of my life over the past month, it would look something like this (minus a few thousand snapshots):

Visiting with great friends and family… and great friends who are family:

cusenbary visitevelyn

With great friends, comes good wine and good food… too much good food.

Breakfast Bowl at Tupelo Honey, South Asheville.

Breakfast Bowl at Tupelo Honey, South Asheville.

Father's Day Brunch with the in-laws: Bagel with lox and boursin cream cheese at DOUGH.
Father’s Day Brunch with the in-laws: Bagel with lox and boursin cream cheese at DOUGH.

Took my first cooking class today at DOUGH (first cooking class ever, really). Made biscuits and chocolate cherry scones from scratch!

Not embarrassed to put my name on these!

Not embarrassed to put my name on these!

Heading to Louisville next week to visit more good friends and family, which undoubtedly means more food (can’t seem to gather without it). It might mean more trips to the gym upon my return, but in the words of  the almighty JC:

“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” ~Julia Child

Amen.

Our Daily Bread: Baguette

When I’m not blogging here (which is most of the time), I help small businesses with their social media, marketing and PR needs. One of my clients runs a market that includes a bakery with pastries and breads scratch-made daily. I’ve gained 10 pounds since they opened in February — occupational hazard.

Dave and I love bread. I never even considered the Atkins diet and I pass on Passover. I’m not there every day, but each day that I am,  I’m bringing home a different loaf of bread for us us to try. Tonight, it’s a baguette. It’s actually one we’ve both tried before, but it’s just so good. I’ve heard from customers who lived in Paris that it’s the first baguette they’ve had here that’s the real deal.

We are going to eat it alongside a shrimp gumbo… swiping up the the last bits in the bowl with a crusty piece of baguette. Yum!

photo-3

 

Legen – wait for it – dairy.

So, I know that if you aren’t going to go all-out organic that you should at least buy organic milk. But the milk from the Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA, was less expensive and it came in an old school glass bottle that I couldn’t resist.

homestead creamery milk

So it begs the question: Is local(ish) milk made with no artificial hormones just as good as its organic counterparts? I found this comment written by Homestead Creamery Co-Owner Donnie Montgomery in a Whole Foods blog post:

“…we are not certified organic however, our goal is to use the resources that we have to sustain our farm in a natural way. Some of our practices include pasturing our cows and raising our crops for feed. We use our manure and waste for fertilizer, practice crop rotations and plant cover crops. These practices help with weed control, fertilization, soil erosion, and also increases organic matter in the soil. We also use natural predators to assist in fly control. Our feed is comprised of the corn…mostly in the form of silage made by chopping the whole corn plant. We also feed them [the cows] hay that is grown on the farm.”

Good enough for me! Now that I’ve gone glass, I can never go back. Homestead has ruined me for other milk. And I hear their chocolate milk is divine dairy decadence.

My husband, while very supportive, is having a lot of fun at my expense with my recent real food fascination. No, Dave, I don’t know the cow’s name who provided the milk or if she was happy while being milked that day. I don’t know whether the milk truck that delivered the milk to the store runs on biofuel. And I don’t know if the milkman personally uses any artificial hormones or antibiotics. We watch a lot of Portlandia.

Let’s talk (grocery shopping) strategy.

Today, I made my first trip to the grocery store clean food-minded. Armed with this list of 21 Essentials for Freezer, Pantry & Fridge, I figured I would wing it. I knew not to buy anything with more than five ingredients or that had sugar as one of the top three ingredients (thanks for the tips, 100 Days!) and I did my best to stay out of the aisles. I looked at the meal plans on 100 Days of Real Food, but there were too many meals that I didn’t like (I have an acute aversion to hard-boiled eggs and any salad that’s not really a salad: tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, you get the point).

I went to Earth Fare because that’s where Lisa Leake shops and I had her comprehensive guide specific to that store of what makes the real food cut. I should not have brought my son and I should not have gone on a Sunday afternoon. It was totally overwhelming. I was so busy keeping Jed from shoving his hands in the bulk bins and apologizing to other shoppers for blocking their way (Earth Fare aisles in West Asheville are narrow) that I was too flustered to check my iPhone for my lists. Not to mention I was shopping with a migraine. Surprise.

At least I have my reusable bag situation under control. I have and love the Grocery Getter bags from ENO.

At least I have my reusable bag situation under control. I have and love the Grocery Getter bags from ENO.

The tough part about my decision is that I’m doing it for my migraines. My husband and son don’t have migraines so I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to adhere strictly to the rules. Dave is totally on board for making our shared meals “clean”, but he should be able to have his potato chips and Jed should be able to have his Teddy Grahams. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or patience to trek to three different grocery stores each week to get what we need, so I either go to Ingles where they might not have everything I need/want or to a health food store like Earth Fare or Whole Foods and pay out the nose for some organic natural version of Cup O’ Noodles. Then we are members of Sam’s Club so I’d like to take advantage of their discounts, and in Asheville, we are lucky to have this store called Amazing Savings, which, holding true to its name, is ah-mazing. I will figure this out.

What I have figured out so far is that I cannot plan every meal and snack in advance for my whole family for the whole week. It’s just too much to wrap my mind around and I hate the idea of having the whole thing mapped out like the calendar we used to take home from school with the cafeteria meals for the month. Food is still fun for me, and that much planning makes it feel almost institutional. I appreciate that this is a great way to eat clean on a budget… and I might spend more without a specific meal plan (like today), but it’s just not in my gastronomical DNA.

So I went to Kath’s blog to see how she approached her grocery shopping and found this very digestible approach. She calls this her  “non-meal” plan:

THE NON MEAL PLAN

Most weeks I take inventory of my proteins (including things like beans and eggs and things in the freezer) in my head and buy vegetables that are in season to go with them. Then I mix and match when dinnertime comes around. Here’s an example of a week’s worth of dinners and lunch/breakfast staples without a plan:

 BUILDING BLOCK BASICS

  • 2-3 seasonal fruits
  • 1 bunch bananas (with green tips!)
  • 1 kind of greens (like kale, collards, etc.)
  • 2-3 green vegetables for dinner sides
  • 1 container salad mix or 1 bunch leafy lettuce
  • Carrots and green pepper for salads (if we’re out)
  • 1 kind of starchy veggie (like sweet potato or squash or corn in the summer)
  • Mental check on bulk food stock (refill anything we completely used up)
  • 1 meat (we already have salmon on hand this week)
  • Eggs/milk/yogurt (if we are out of one or all)
  • Mental check on pantry staples like tomato sauce or sardines (will venture into an aisle if I need it)
  • 1 cheese for salads, 2 if planning to use some in a meal
  • Occasional Splurges: tortilla chips, pre-made hummus/sauces, extra cheeses, more expensive fruits/veggies like berries, non-bean/grain bulk bin stuff like dried figs, fancy drinks like kombucha

This I can wrap my head around. Of course I need to take into consideration that I’m shopping for three, not two, but the overall idea just works better for me. We’ll see how it goes next time around!

What’s your shopping strategy?

Pantry Purge: Time to Start Eating Clean

In the past two years, my migraines have gone from frequent to flat-out chronic. I’ve trial-and-errored my way through a slew of daily preventives, rescue meds and pain pills. I’ve even tried eliminating alcohol (gasp!). I had an 18-month pain vacation while I was pregnant and nursing, but a) that’s no vacation, and b) I can’t be pregnant all the time. I always thought changing my diet would be a drastic thing to do, but drastic times…

An enticing pic of porridge from KERF. (Hope you don't mind that I "borrowed" this pic, Kath!)

An enticing pic of porridge from KERF. (Hope you don’t mind that I “borrowed” this pic, Kath!)

Due to a recent rodent issue, I’m having to start my spring cleaning immediately in the kitchen. It disgusts me how much money I’m throwing away as I throw out all of the food on our shelves, but eating something that’s been nibbled on by a mouse would sicken me way more.

Tonight, after a day of Imitrex, hydrocodone and canceled plans, I decided that I’m sick of relying on meds that barely act as a Band-Aid and I’m sick of being sick. So after cleaning out our pantry tomorrow (and scrubbing from top to bottom) I’m going to fill it with clean food. What is clean eating? Well, it can mean different things to different people. Diane Welland, RD, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean defines clean eating as “consuming whole, natural foods that have not been processed.” For my purposes, I’m also going to try to avoid dye-free foods and sugar (I’ve read that both can be very bad for migraineurs).

This will not be easy and I will no doubt find myself at the McDonald’s drive thru getting a regular Coke within the month (I don’t know why, but their Cokes are the best), but I’m going to try.

So far, I’ve found these sites and bloggers as great resources and inspiration for my new diet.

KERF

100 Days of Real Food

Die, Food Dye!

More than a change in diet though, it’s a change in lifestyle. A recent bout with the stomach bug combined with relentless migraines have kept me from the gym, but regular exercise is just as important as root veggies.

I’m not ready to give up my morning cup of coffee (and perhaps never will be), but I’m going to start to try drinking it black… baby steps.

Have you had success cutting out processed foods? Do you have a favorite site, blog or book you swear by on the subject? Please share!

Chef Mike Fisera of LAB Wins 3rd WNC Chefs Challenge

For the past three Tuesdays, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the WNC Chefs Challenge experience via tweets and Facebook posts for the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. I’m thinking of changing my professional tagline to “will tweet for food” (non-paying social media gigs don’t get any better than this). Every Tuesday, two top local chefs go knife-to-knife, creating three courses each, all of which contain a secret ingredient revealed to the them the day of the dinner. It’s like participating in an exciting food reality show (think Bravo, not Fox), only the focus isn’t on flaming tempers and kitchen disasters… it’s all about what it should be—the food.

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At the third dinner on Tuesday, Chef Mike “Mikey” Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery faced off against Sean Fernandez of Ruth’s Chris. Their secret ingredient? Eggs from area agrarian darlings Hickory Nut Gap Farm.

While awaiting the first dish, Bob Bowles “cracked us up” with his “yolks”. Even I couldn’t resist describing the menu as egg-cellent.

Chef Fernandez and his team turned out the first two dishes. He used the secret ingredient twice in his egg ravioli, both in the homemade pasta and again with the rich egg yolk that filled it. The second dish was the top-rated dish of the evening and also my favorite. Braised pork belly and local cheese grits (from Adluh) topped with a poached egg and hollandaise demi made for an elevated breakfast bowl–transcendent both in form and flavor.

LAB rolled out the next two dishes, a lobster Quiche and filet tartar. The standout on the Quiche plate for me were the greens. The crisp chard were reminiscent of the more mainstream crisp kale (kale chips), which crunched nicely mixed with the asparagus. Chef Fisera used eggs three ways for his tartar with a beautiful egg-shaped flash fried pasta bowl, a fried caper aioli and of course the yolk, which judge Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine described as a “beautiful explosion of deliciousness.”

Ruth’s Chris ended on a sweet note with a mango creme brulee, a great success despite the deep dish. As Bob Bowles said at the end of the evening, “Food is for nourishment, but also an art form.” If food is an art form, than LAB’s dessert was the evening’s piece de resistance. From its whimsical presentation to the playful textures, team LAB’s tarte took the cake.

In addition to delicious food, we have the pleasure at the judge’s table of meeting fascinating people each week in the food industry. Vinny Scully, Chef Joe Scully’s older brother, served as a special guest judge. With 20 years of cooking experience, he’s proud to see his younger brother follow in his footsteps. Vinny says he and his brother have more in common than cheffing, citing their sarcasm as a family art.

Zoë and Mark Clarke of Hickory Nut Gap Farm brought their youth and charm to the table. Mark graduated last year from UNC-Chapel Hill. He puts his English and creative writing degrees to work for his family, posting for the Hickory Nut Gap blog and working on a project for the 100th anniversary of their family farm coming up in 2016. Zoë ‘s NPR aspirations and engaging nature have her well on the road to becoming the next Diane Rehms (only a few octaves higher). The whole table enjoyed listening to the sibs talk about family life on the farm, from egg-gathering duties to the dynamics of the Clarke dynasty.

What was served:

Chef Sean Fernandez and Team Ruth’s Chris

  • Herb Infused Egg Ravioli with a Jalepeno Cure Salmon and a Saffron Beurre Blanc
  • Braised Pork Belly with Local Cheese Grits with a Poached Egg and Hollandaise Demi
  • Mango Creme Brulee with a Vanilla Grand Marnier Mascarpone

Chef Mike Fisera and Team LAB

  • Filo Baked Lobster Quiche with Fennel and Bacon, Crisp Chard, Shaved Asparagus and a Sundried Tomato Hollandaise
  • Filet Tartar with Egg Yolk, Flash Fried Pasta, Charred Grapefruit Arugula Salad, Fried Caper Aioli with Spiced Honey
  • Tarte au Citron, Blueberry Ice Cream and Marcona Almond Tuile

What I learned: The hundred pleats in a classic chef’s hat symbolize the 100 different ways to cook an egg.

In the end, Chef Fernandez had the winning dish with his cheese grits, but Chef Fisera came out the winner in a very close competition (48/52).

Next up: March 5, Chef Brian Ross of DOUGH vs. Chef Michael Marshall of Harrah’s Cherokee Resort.

Sweet Migraine Remedy

I have migraines on the brain today… quite literally. My friend Aleigh told me that she heard on The People’s Pharmacy that drinking an ice-cold milkshake to try to induce brain freeze can cut through and lessen migraine pain. I can’t think of a better reason to hop in the car and head to The Hop… if I could drive right now. Or make this amazing strawberry balsamic milkshake from The Kitchen is My Playground… if I could stand the sound of blender right now.

milkshake

Strawberry balsamic milkshake from The Kitchen is My Playground.

Artichoke and Crusty Bread Kebabs, Discovering Barramundi

Last night, we went to our friends’ house for Father’s Day. It was very modern meets nuclear — the women worked away in the kitchen while the men drank and the children frolicked. But they were drinking microbrews, not scotch neat. And we were not wearing ruffled aprons and getting lightly slapped on our bottoms by gin-blossomed, cigar puffing misogynists. And because I was charged with the grocery shopping, we ate fish, not steak:) I guess it wasn’t so much nuclear as I was actually doing the cooking for a change. Some women make dinner for their families every night. I’m not one of those women.

This month’s Whole Living has a great collection of grill recipes, and I decided last night was as good a time as any to try one out. Usually with kebabs, I get stuck in a rut of green peppers and onions with either chicken or beef. But we did the Artichoke and Crusty Bread Kebabs last night and they were delish… and so easy!

Photo from Whole Living. Artichoke + Bread kebabs, all the way on the left.

I just followed Whole Living’s very simple recipe:

Artichoke + Crusty Bread: Skewer two 15-ounce cans artichoke hearts (drained) and 2 1/2 cups torn crusty bread. Generously drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning, until lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes.

The best part? Unlike other kebabs, there wasn’t any chopping, slicing or dicing. The hearts come out ready to skewer from the can, and you simply tear the pieces of bread from the loaf (I used ciabatta). I can’t wait to try the others!

We also grilled up some yellow peppers and onions from my friend’s garden, a bulb of fresh garlic (tastes great spread on the bread), and a whole eggplant, which my friend seasoned after it was grilled with tahini and fresh cilantro. It was a-MAZE-ing. Like grilled baba ganoush (also good spread on the grilled bread).

And then there was the fish. It was an Australian white fish called Barramundi, which isn’t well-known here, but is very popular down under. I admit I chose it because it was on sale, but I’m glad it was, because it’s now on my fish list. Apparently, it’s Dr. Oz’s number one super food, being very high in Omega-3’s. I’ve seen it called “the sustainable sea bass” because of the way it is harvested, but whatever you want to call it, it has a wonderful, rich flavor that you don’t want to over power with a marinade that’s too strong. I don’t know all that my friend mixed into her marinade, but it was gooood. She combined tahini, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, red pepper flakes… and I lost track from there (cooking with wine will do that to you).

All in all, an amazing Father’s Day feast. At least I think it was. I forgot to ask Dave what he thought:)

Bloody Mary Smoothie Recipe

There’s nothing I like better on a weekend morning than brunch, bluegrass and a Bloody Mary. During our stay  in Isla Bastimentos, Panama, when you run out of Bloody Mary Mix, a quick run to the store is not in the cards. But it ended up being the greatest thing that could have happened, because Lloyd came up with this Bloody Mary Smoothie:

Ingredients

  • fresh tomatoes
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • salt + pepper
  • lime juice (we squeezed from fresh limes!)
  • ice
  • vodka
  • Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce

Method

Add ingredients to taste and blend.

Notes

We used Belvedere Vodka (my migraines make me a liquor snob by default). If I could have run to the store, I would have added celery salt. You can also use tomato juice instead of whole tomatoes. We probably would have, but again, used what we had. And it turned out I was glad we didn’t have canned tomato paste, bloody mary mix or tomato juice, because using all fresh ingredients made it taste truly (big surprise) fresh! Necessity truly is the mother of invention.

Also, we added ice after we blended and served on the rocks but decided it would be best to blend the ice into the Bloody the next time around. It’s the perfect refreshing, savory summer cocktail!

What’s your favorite summer cocktail?

Mother’s Day Gifts for the Mom Who Wants Nothing

This is not to be confused with the mother who wants for nothing.

I’m talking about the mom who feels guilty getting gifts from her daughter. She only feels comfortable on the giving end of the relationship. She can’t enjoy anything extravagant (read: more than a card) because all she can think of is how much money you’ve spent… even if it’s just $15 for a magazine subscription, forget a bouquet of flowers. This is my mom. And if it’s your mom, and you still want to show her your appreciation beyond Hallmark, try these guilt-free twists on traditional Mother’s Day gifts.

Instead of flowers, try MINT.

Photo by (and “borrowed” from) Nina Eve Zeininger at thingsimakeandfind.blogspot.com. Thanks, Nina:)

If you don’t have some growing in your own yard, ask a gardening gal pal to clip some out of her yard to share with you… trust me, she’s got plenty of this quick-growing herb. Get crafty and pot it in something like a coffee mug (sneaky double gift) or my favorite, a mason jar. Finish off with a ribbon or piece of twine tied in around it in a bow! Unlike a bouquet of flowers, mom can use the mint for cooking, in her tea or to help her headaches. Perfect on a window sill in the kitchen or planted along the sidewalk.

Instead of chocolates, make your own CHOCOLATE-COVERED PRETZELS.

Photo by Elly in Canada.

This super easy recipe over at Food.com got rave reviews:

Serves: 4

Yield: 22 pretzels

Ingredients:

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

22 miniature pretzel twists

Directions:

1. Put chocolate in small bowl.

2. Microwave for 35 seconds.

3. The chips will still look whole, DO NOT MICROWAVE ANY LONGER! IT WILL BURN, instead stir for 20 seconds and all lumps will be smooth.

4. Lay out a piece of foil.

5. Dip pretzels with fingers in chocolate scrape off excess and lay on foil.

6. Wait 30 minutes to cool (Better if not put in fridge or freezer, they melt when they come out).

You can go organic with your ingredients, or substitute dark chocolate chips. Lots of room to play with this one!

Instead of a spa certificate, try this DIY SUGAR SCRUB.

Source: letbirdzfly.blogspot.com via Dawn on Pinterest

We found this amazing sugar scrub recipe via Dawn at Indigo + Canary’s Reader Pinterest Board (Thanks, Dawn!). Created by Bailey at Let Birds Fly, it’s quite simple to concoct. While all the ingredients might not be in your cupboard, once you gather them, you’ll be able to whip up this gift for birthdays and holidays in a snap. The perfect healthy indulgence, all natural, and SO pretty!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tbsp sea salt, finely ground

3 tbsp refined coconut oil, melted (refined = no coconut aroma)

1/4 cup refined safflower oil (or other mild flavored oil, NOT olive oil)

20-35 drops of essential oil of choice OR a few drops of extract of choice

a few drops of non-toxic food coloring

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients, then add coconut and safflower oil. Add in essential oil (or extract), and mix well. Scrub should be wet and thick. Add more safflower oil by the teaspoon if needed. Add food coloring, mix well.

Makes a little over 2 cups.

Tips:

- Do NOT used unrefined coconut oil. The aroma is too strong and will not go well with the scent you choose, unless you choose coconut, of course!

- Do NOT use olive oil. The flavor and aroma are too strong and will not go well with the scent you choose.

- Try not to use vegetable oil or canola oil. This is a healthy scrub, meant to add good oils to your skin. If you cannot find safflower oil, try grape seed oil or flaxseed oil.

- You might need even more essential oil than recipe calls for. I used about 35 drops (big drops), but I wanted the scrub’s aroma to be very strong.

What scents could you add?

Try these essential oils: almond, juniper, cinnamon, ginger, guava, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen, lavender, rose, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, or tangerine.

Or try these extracts: vanilla, pineapple, strawberry, coconut, banana, cherry, lemon, lime, orange, almond, mint, or root beer (hehe)!

LL NOTE: I do not have all the links in Bailey’s recipe that she has on her blog. To learn more about essential oils, etc, go to the full post on her website.

What are you giving mom for Mother’s Day?