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Food Truck Fiesta

15 Jul

You know what it takes to bring people together? Barring tragedy, food and fresh air are two of the best excuses around for the people of my fair city to come together. This weekend’s food truck festival was obviously the most auspicious melding of exactly that: the most popular food trucks in Atlanta and the city’s most popular park. I got sucked into a book and sort of forgot about it for a while, so we didn’t make it down there until the last couple of hours of the party. But let me tell you… it was a party! The bad news was that by the time we looked around, several of the trucks were out of food, or at least out of their specialty. 😦 That’s no fun for anybody, but it made for some people’s perfect excuse to throw a pity party. In spite of these few (who know who they are, I’m sure), it was a lovely time.

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Yoli’s Street Food – home of what my husband called “a darn good Cuban sandwich”

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Banged Up and Mashed: so colorful, so popular!

After we’d filled up our tummies, we strolled around the park for a bit, discovering this little gem! Its a garden, used by and for teachers to help educate wee lads and lasses about the growing process! How cool is that?!? The Education Garden, which is sponsored by Chipotle, is an all-organic garden that teaches kids not only about the growing process, and sustainability, but also  organic techniques for managing some of the problems that pop up in gardens and what composting is and how it works. I read that the garden is an outdoor classroom for more than 800 kids in a year, and I’m ready to turn back the clocks and be a kid again!

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From seed to fruit, this garden is busting out all over!

The last portion of our walk before the belt line (aka the walk back to the car) was another garden area featuring fruit trees. I love to watch trees get trained!

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Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s most well-known park, and it comes with quite a storied history. The land that is now Piedmont Park was originally purchased for the meager price of $450, although that was back in 1822, and that was probably a lot of money back then. Since then, it has gone from being a forest to hosting the Cotton States and International Expo in 1895. Following the fair, there was apparently some rig-a-ma-rolling as the owners tried to sell the park land to the city. The city’s reluctance, for those of you in Atlanta, was due in part to the fact that Piedmont was considered too far away from the city! Can you believe that? The city sure has grown around it in the present time. They eventually decided to buy it in the early 1900s, and since then it has grown into what it is today.

Perfect Date Night

4 Jul

My husband can say the sweetest things to me. One of my favorites occurred early last week when pretty much out of the blue he turned to me on the couch and said something like, “I love hanging out with you. I’d rather do nothing with you than something with anyone else.” Isn’t that the best? I guess the only problem with that is that we still don’t manage to squeeze in many date nights. I’ve decided to make that a much higher priority going forward. What do you do for date nights? How often do you plan them?

We started off the night with dinner at a local “gastropub,” and this one was a keeper (in parentheses because they refer to themselves that way, but its really not as fancy as all that)! It’s called the “Bookhouse Pub” (which just sounds like it would be right up my alley). There was a wee wait for a spot to sit, so we had a drink to get started. When I saw “Hell or High Watermelon” beer on the

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I can imagine that many people would disagree with the following statement, but I really don’t consider myself a picky eater. That being said, I don’t like potato chips or bleu cheese. That sweet talker of a husband, though, convinced me

20120704-113309.jpgthat we should start our meal with this pile of gooey goodness: house-made potato chips covered with bleu cheese, cilantro, tomatoes, and chipotle. Again… a surprising winner in my book! We followed this obviously health-conscious started with burgers (mine the house-made veggie burger, his the burger named after the house) and food happiness filled us up.

After this tasty beginning, we ventured to the Botanical Garden, which is my very favorite place in the whole world of local options. One night each week during the summer, they hold an event they call “social irrigation”: Cocktails in the Garden. This summer, they are also hosting a sculpture exhibition. Sculpture is so powerful to me, even when I don’t “get it.” Throughout the garden, though, there were many really cool pieces, nicely set off by the lights.

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We wandered throughout the Garden, doing a little people watching, a little star-gazing, and a little flower gaping, and as we approached the Orchid House, we found a small exhibition of other art works, including this piece by my lovely friend Jenny! It’s so cool to see your friends do well!! Jenny is amazingly talented (not well displayed on my phone camera picture, I’m afraid).

1st signs of fruit

6 Jun

Aristotle said “in all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” Indeed, right? I felt the thrill of that marvelousness yesterday when, following the storm, a small flower of a future tomato emerged. This thrill is one of a first time gardener, seeing the first sign of fruit on a plant that has emerged from a seed as small as a speck! I feel so proud! It’s almost like seeing a child take his first steps! (I know, not really, but I ask for your indulgence here)!

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Every Sunday, we have a little routine, almost a hand-me-down tradition in my family. Sundays=burgers! I love the routine of it (did you know that having the same breakfast every day reduces stress levels?), not that I need more excuses to have french fries… We enjoyed these lettuces with our veggie burgers on Sunday. Perfect! Seriously, I really can’t think of anything more delightful or fulfilling than being able to enjoy the garden bounty. Until, that is, these future tomatoes come into my mouth!

My kind of tea party (e.g., this is not a political post) + Cranberry Scone recipe

3 Jun

As the blog-o-sphere as rightly noted, there is nothing like a Diamond Jubilee to provide the excuse for a good party. A lovely friend of mine – Jenny (and admittedly, she is more of a royal-stalker than I) decided that the Queen’s Jubilee was the reason she needed to host a tea party. Is there anything more lovely than gathering with your girlfriends, wearing a cute  sun dress, and eating gorgeous pastries? I’m not sure that there is anything better.

The tea was tasty (and beautifully served), the muffins were moist, and the petit fours were perfect. The tradition of tea supposedly comes from the need to supply food to hard-working souls who struggled to maintain the energy from one meal to another, so sugar and caffeine and foods like pastries or sandwiches hit the spot. Our little party didn’t have anything to do with sustenance, but it was a delightful way to spend a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. It inspired me, as well, to look at other tea-inspired recipes in honor of 60 years of Queen Elizabeth. Scones are biscuit-like bread hailing from Scotland and SW England, that are either sweet or savory. Here are my favorites – almost Alton Brown’s Cranberry Scones:

(makes 12)

2 c all-purpose flour (+ a little more for the work surface)

4 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1/3 c granulated sugar (optional: add more for topping)

4 T butter, in small pieces

2 T shortening

3/4 c cream

1 egg

3/4-1 c cranberries (I like my scones to be fruity, so I tend to add more)

1. Heat oven to 375.

2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

3. Cut in butter and shortening.

4. In a separate bowl, combine cream and egg, and then add to the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in fruit.

6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and then roll out the dough. Cut the dough with a biscuit-sized cutter or into the scone-shaped triangles. (sprinkle with additional sugar if you are adding that.)

7. Cook for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack (unless you like them hot, like I do, in which case, serve immediately).

A Paean to the pancake

25 May

A pancake has a certain Je ne sais quoi that spells happiness. I love them. A weekend just isn’t the same without them. That’s not to say that I can’t live without them, but why would I? 🙂

Last summer, I found pancake perfection. At a local restaurant in Bay City, MI, Heather’s (where they bill themselves as a specialty foods restaurant), they have mastered all that is the perfect pancake. Here’s the kicker: they are baked!

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Even though we returned for lunch today, I couldn’t resist the pancakes. I really love this place though- friendly and cheerful with a sense of humor. What could be better?

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Dining (almost) alfresco all day+ Priest strangler recipe

13 May

The Horseradish GrillOne of the best parts about living where I do is the amazing variety of restaurants right around every corner. And… when the weather is as it has been, dining on the patio is definitely where you’ll find me! Yesterday was (almost) the perfect day for it, too. I had the pleasure of brunching with a good friend of mine at The Horseradish Grill, situated across from a golf course, in a spot that has a long history. Its current owners have had it for about 17 years, but its been a part of the social and culinary landscape of the neighborhood for years and years and years before that. My friend said that she’d heard that it is the oldest continuously run food establishment in Atlanta. I kind of don’t think that’s true (I think its Atkin’s Park, although that is technically a ‘tavern’), but in any case, the restaurant absolutely captures the very essence of what brunch is all about and what southern dining is supposed to be like. We started out on the patio, but the light sprinkle of a southern rain chased us indoors. Inside is also pretty perfect – the amazing windows are such a seamless transition from farmhouse to garden.

Biscuits, of course, are the centerpiece of breakfast in Atlanta. These were somewhat underwhelming, honestly. A smidge on the salty side (and I know that a good baking soda biscuit should be a little bit salty, but these were even more so to my tastes), and they just didn’t hit the proverbial sweet spot on my biscuit target.

We started out with fried green tomatoes, which were perfect. The ones there are served with warm goat cheese, remoulade sauce (which is the perfect complement for fried green tomatoes – love the kick it gives), and spiced pecans (another little kick in the pants). These are some of the best fried green tomatoes ever, honestly. Not over-fried at all, and there is still that sweet resistance of the tomato itself.

Of course, by the time I’d sampled and enjoyed all of that goodness, I really didn’t have enough room for the main event, which in my case was the goat cheese, asparagus, and smoked mushroom omelet, which were accompanied by “hash brown” potatoes. It was super-fluffy, and I loved asparagus in the eggs! I’d never had that before, but I really enjoyed the firmness of the asparagus against the softness and creaminess of the eggs and cheese. The “hash brown” potatoes were really more like chunks of potatoes sautéed with parsley (I think). And they were perfect. Just the right amount of browning, and the brightness of the herb paired very well. I will *hope* to recreate this dish at home. I may add a little flavor to the omelet, but if I only get what they produced, I will be doing very, very well.

the blowing a joint birthday cake

May is a big month in my family – Daddy’s birthday is May 2, my sister Laura’s birthday is May 6, and then Mother’s day is almost always the next weekend. My mother and I were both out-of-town for their birthdays, so we had a delayed celebration for the birthdays last night at my family’s favorite restaurant, Portofino. We go there every year for my sister’s birthday. Its got an amazing patio for dining (the sprinkles had scattered and we were left with a perfect night for patio dining).

the patio at Portofino

We started out with an order off of their monthly special menu called “Priests Strangler.” The waiter (who I was very impressed with) came up with some creative possibilities for the etymology of such a dish, but who knows… (upon searching on the internets, I understand that it comes from the name of a pasta – strangolapreti or strozzapreti, which were historically dense enough to choke the relatively delicate constitution of a priest, or that they were so irresistible that the priests would eat until they were choking on them) What I do know is that it is amazing! Honestly, it set the bar impossibly high for everything that followed. They are essentially dumpling size gnocchi made with spinach and served in a browned sage-butter sauce. I do mean A-MAZING.Awesome Priest Stranglers!

here’s a recipe: (adopted from honestcooking.com)

Ingredients
  • 8 ounces (225 g) stale bread, turned into bread crumbs in the food processor or blender
  • 1 cup (.25 l) milk
  • 16 ounces (450 g) fresh spinach, thick stems removed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup (75 – 100 g) white flour
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 6 whole sage leaves, plus 4 sage leaves finely chopped
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and cover with the milk. Combine to thoroughly moisten bread.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and season with salt. Add the spinach, and blanch until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain well, and immerse the blanched greens in ice water to halt the cooking. Remove from the ice water, and drain in a sieve, squeezing well to eliminate as much of the water as possible. Chop well.
  3. Squeeze any extra milk out of the breadcrumbs (there should not be much, if any), and place in a medium bowl. Add the spinach, eggs, flour, and grated nutmeg. Combine until the mixture just binds together and holds, adding more flour if necessary, but don’t overdo it. It will be very wet. You want to add as little flour as possible, to keep your strangolapreti as light as possible. Its tempting to add more flour to make it more of a dumpling, but its a better result if you resist.
  4. Flour the counter. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 equally sized pieces. Coat your hands with flour, and take one of the pieces and place it on the floured counter. Using the palms of your hands, roll the piece out into a 1/2 inch thick log, which will be about 18 inches long. Cut the log into 1-inch lengths, and place the individual strangolapreti onto a sheet pan that has been dusted with flour. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  5. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt the water. Working in small batches, place the strangolapreti in the water – don’t overcrowd them. Cook until the strangolapreti rise to the surface; using a slotted spoon, remove them and place on a sheet pan in a single layer.
  6. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallots and chopped sage leaves. Continue to cook, watching carefully, until the butter solids begin to brown and smell nutty. Remove from heat, add the strangolapreti, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter.

Back at Portofino, they also make their own mozzarella there, which rendered us helpless but to sample the mozzarella salads and antipasti. Mike enjoyed the “fried mozzarella salad” while several of the rest of us sampled the “fresh mozzarella salad.” Both feature the housemade cheese and several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, as well as basil and a balsamic drizzle. We tried to get the wait-lady to share their milk source for the mozzarella to no avail. She told us that they use unpasteurized milk, but… Mike and I have made cheese a bunch of times, but the milk sourcing is so inconsistent! As my tomato and basil plants thrive, the homemade mozzarella is looming in my mind. In any case… back to the restaurant!

Their website indicates that they are a seafood-oriented Italian restaurant, and Daddy and Mike both thoroughly enjoyed their fish. Mike had the trout, and Daddy had the grouper, and if I were a fish-eating kind of gal, I probably would have joined them. Mike’s was served with spaghetti squash, and when he put it in his mouth, I could feel his happiness! Daddy was nearly mute after his entree was served, which can mostly be attributed to how good his was. That and that my mother had a glass of wine too much and was talking A LOT. 🙂 (I do love how passionate she is, though).

Aside from the amazing, untouchable, really better than anything else all day Priest Stranglers, my other main take-away was something that I’d learned before. Handmade pasta is definitely the way to go. My dish (with a pesto sauce over tomatoes), Laura’s (lamb Bolognese), and my mother’s (Cavatelli all’Amatricana) were super-tasty, but I think that the thing we all were most impressed with was the pasta itself. Exactly al dente, but SO much more flavorful (sauce or no) than anything you’ll ever get from a box. Must look into what I need to do to get going on that…