25 July 2010

Shopping, Cooking and Eating Local

A few weeks ago my friend K and I took a cooking class at Sur La Table.  The title of the class was "Eating Local: Casual Summertime Dinner", based on the book Eating Local by Janet Fletcher

It ended up being a tiny class with only 4 four students, so we got a lot of hands-on opportunities.  Carlos was our instructor for the day and did a great job. 

He is very passionate and knowledgable about eating local foods grown in sustainable ways.  We had tons of questions and he patiently answered each and every one. 

The menu for the day included a Yellow Tomato Gazpacho,

Grilled Country Pork Chops with Bourbon Basted Grilled Peaches,

and a Summer Squash Carpaccio with Arugula, Pecorino and Almonds.
I ended up eating all of this, plus a little more of the salad. 

To say the meal was delicious would be an understatement. 

For dessert it was a Cornmeal Shortcake with Farm Stand Berries - which I did not get pictures of because I was too busy stuffing my face.  Ooops. 

Because of this class (and Carlos' passion) we dragged brought our husbands along with us to the Urban Harvest Farmer's Market at Eastside yesterday.  Although it was a little warm outside, the trip was well worth it! 

R just a new camera this week (Canon 5D Mark II) and was itching to play with it.  This market provided the perfect opportunity.  Check out his handywork below...

M and S: Rockin' the Baby Bjorn

She loved that Mint Limeade! 

So many to choose from and they all look good.

The passion each of the farmers/vendors had for the food they were bringing to market was amazing. All of the food was beautiful and quite tasty.

We ended up purchasing some tomatoes, cucumbers (to pickle this week), a watermelon, aged goat cheese, cured pork belly, andouille sausage, free-range chicken tenders and a dozen free-range brown eggs.

The egg, bacon and cheese sandwiches we had for dinner last night were phenomenal.  It's going to be a great week!

23 July 2010

Poetry for Friday

I just finished a week at Rice University.  I attended a seminar designed to help prepare me to teach AP Human Geography this coming school year. 

It was an exhausting, yet exhilarating week full of meaty content and great discussions.  One of the fabulous new resources I was introduced to is The Writer's Almanac...which I now have delivered to my inbox daily.

Imagine my delight when upon opening the email this morning I found the following poem!
To those it offends, I am sorry. 
Well, not really.

Why I am Not a Vegetarian

by David Oliveira

It's not that I love animals less,
a case could be made I love them more—
and it's not that I love vegetables less,
I love them rare,
nothing more savory than raw celery
clawing and kicking its way down the gullet.

What I find hard to stomach is vegetarians.
If there is a vegetarian at the table, we all
get called in to be witnesses at a police lineup.
Cheese, eggs, fish,
each suspect paraded for identification—
pronounced innocent, guilty,
please take two steps forward.

And it's not like there is just one canon
for the good host to worry about.
Each vegetarian comes with a different menu.
Most won't eat anything that had legs,
though many eat fish, a fin nothing like a leg,
And eat shrimp, that have legs
which count as fins since they come from the sea
and taste so good in a Newburg sauce.
Oysters are problematic, without legs and from the sea,
but mostly eaten alive, like carrots.
A few pass on eggs because of the latent leg potential,
though pasta is usually okay,
the potential hard to realize under the marinara.
One friend doesn't drink milk
but asks for extra au jus
for his mashed potatoes. I haven't the heart
to explain what kind of vegetable the "au" is
or how many get squeezed to make a cup of "jus."

Don't misunderstand,
I admire those who stand on principle,
however vague, who doesn't admire
the resolve of, say, a Jerry Falwell,
to bear the weight of so much conviction
he can hardly walk to church.
Praise the Lord for limousines.
As my mother would say,
"Live and let live—
Just keep the details to yourself,
And pass the ketchup, please."

"Why I am Not a Vegetarian" by David Oliveira, from A Little Travel Story. © Harbor Mountain Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission

17 July 2010

White Trash Divas

We had July's Dinner Divas meeting last night and it was themed ... White Trash!

Everyone had to dress the part and bring a 'white trash' dish to share.  I struggled with that part.  I don't like many processed foods, particularly processed meats and don't do much packaged food. 

I put a plea for ideas/help out on Facebook and was overwhelmed (in a good way) at the responses.  The suggestions ranged from 'Easy Cheeze' (the stuff in a can), to Spam, to fried chicken, to potato chip casseroles, to jello molds/salad and even things like chitlins and tripe.  I ended up taking my cousin's idea and bringing the components for Frito Pie.  (Homemade chili though, not the canned stuff.  I just couldn't bring myself to go that far). 

I also was perusing Foodgawker and came across this fabulous blog post featuring 'Gourmet Potato Chips' - potato chips painted with caramel, then dipped and chocolate and finally sprinkled with bits of Heath Bar.  

The only tedious part.

They need about 30 minutes to set.

Then they get dipped in the chocolate and sprinkled with Heath Bar bits. 

These are super easy, they use processed foods and are chock-full of calories and fat. Yep, they meet the 'white trash' food criteria!  They ended up being a huge hit.  I didn't I even got to eat one. 

Here is our spread for the evening:

Cheetos and DingDongs were very popular...
as were the fried chicken strips you can kind of see in the top right corner. 

Grilled wieners with ketchup, but no buns.

Dipped Chips, served in a cheap Tupperware container.

And for dessert:
Dirt Cake complete with trashy fake flowers. 

Drinks included wine coolers, Jungle Juice (purple Kool-Aid w/ vodka) and of course it wouldn't be a white trash party without the boxed wine...

We played several ridiculous, but incredibly fun games.  I even won one of them!

Here is my fabulous prize:

You know, sadly, these brought back memories. 

Thanks, Mom. 

08 July 2010

Eating my way through vacation ... Snacks & Shops

One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to go to grocery stores.  Historical sites, grand works of art, picturesque landscapes - those are all fine and good, but I'll take a market over a masterpiece any day. 
(Don't tell the Hubs though, it's heresy to say things like that in our house)

I also love little snacks.  Traveling is hard work and I am in constant need of sustenance while exploring a new location. 

Here are a few of the snacks we consumed and little stores we checked out while in Italia and Espana. 

In Montecatini Terme we went out for a stroll around the town and stopped for a drink.  We had the usual -  gin and tonic for me and Campari with orange for the Hubs.  While the drinks were refreshing, my favorite part was the tray of bar snacks we received. 
(From left - homemade corn nuts, spicy mini rice cakes and some dried/baked bean.)

Of the three my favorite was the beans.  Partly because of the flavor, but partly because if you look at them closely they are really cute.  There is a thin piece of the 'skin' left on the middle of the bean, but the rest has been stripped away. 

You can never go wrong with gelato in Italy.  I think one of my favorite things visually about gelato is that it always appears as if it is on the verge of turning to liquid.
These are two of the students' cones - mint and lemon, respectively.  (I always order mine in a cup) .  It was hot this day in Cinque Terra and the girls were very kind to let me take a photo of their treats!

While walking around Firenze I happened upon this little bakery with the most fabulous window displays.  I wanted so badly to head inside and check out the rest of the goodies, but knew if I did I would be powerless to resist their sugary siren songs.  I had to settle for photos through the windows.

Before we boarded the ship that would take us across the Mediterranean from Livorno to Barcelona we were taken to the local supermarket, Supermercati PAM, to stock up on food for the journey.  We only had about 30 minutes, but I could have spent 3 hours.  Luckily, the Hubs and I are very practiced at grocery shopping in Italy and knew exactly what we needed/wanted, which freed me up to wander for a little while. 

Part of the meat counter -

And in addition to the meat counter there were stacks of pork everywhere.  This must be what heaven is going to be like... mealtime will be a buffet of lovely cured pork products.

And to carry our food purchases on to the ship I bought the most adorable reusable grocery bag.  How can a mozzarella ball dressed up like a little person not bring a smile to your face?!?!

Because of a series of unforeseen incidents, our arrival was delayed by about 5 hours, meaning we needed to eat one extra meal on the ship.  Here is the drink I chose to have with my dinner - wine in a juice box.  Not sure if it's sheer genius or the epitome of white trash...

Unfortunately, since it was Sunday when we were in Barcelona all of the food markets were closed.  Oh well, we still made time for snacks drinks while strolling Las Ramblas.  The joint was called Cerveceria Catalana and these really might have been the best Sangria we have ever had... or maybe I just thought they were really good because they were so cold. 

07 July 2010

Eating my way through vacation ... Rome & Florence

We had a fabulous trip, but I am glad to be back home.  Keeping track of 14 teenagers is exhausting, even when they are all 'good kids'. 

Traveling with a large group and doing the 'tour' thing is much different than the way I have always traveled and took some getting used to.  On one hand it was nice to not be the one in charge of reservations and scheduling, but on the other hand it required me to give up control. 

And that is something I am NOT okay with. 

Especially if you're asking me to give up control over what I am going to eat

Because the meals had to accomodate large numbers of people, several of whom were very picky, our meals were pretty blah.  I don't want to sound ungrateful or snobby, please don't misunderstand me, I wouldn't trade this trip for the world.  I'm just used to eating cheap, local, non-processed food when I travel and for the most part that's not what we got. 

Thankfully there were a few bright spots sprinkled in those meals and for a couple of the lunches we were able to choose our own restaurants! 


My basic pizza in Vatican City, complete with the requisite Peroni.

R's prosciutto covered pizza in Vatican City.  This pizza embodies everything that is good about salty foods.

Here is our favorite pizza counter in Roma.  It's located on the side of the Pantheon and is to die for.

And this is our favorite Italian birra to drink with their pizza. Yes, this is me being white trash and drinking it from a can.

Finally, and on a healthier note, we saw gorgeous, fruit-bearing olive trees everywhere. 

The Mercato Centrale (right next to the Medici Chapel) is the place to be at lunchtime.  Why?  Because that is where Nerbone is located.  It's a fast-paced lunch counter with some of the most delicious food.

Everything is good there, but I'm a sucker for their roast beef.  Specifically the roast beef sandwich. 
There are no words to describe the tender, flavorful meat and then those heavenly juices that soak in to the crispy bread, softening it just enough to make it edible.  I always enjoy mine with a small carafe of house red wine. 

To avoid going in to a food-coma after lunch, a leisurely stroll around the market is a must.  So many beautiful counters to check out and so many foods to sample. 

There are meat counters,

fresh produce stands,

dried fruit stands,

and when it's time to let that wine or beer out, there are restrooms too.  Available for a small fee, of course.

After a 460+ step climb to the top of Il Duomo (to burn off all of those lunch calories)

we were certainly ready for this decadent primi piatti - penne with cheese and peas.  This wasn't a white sauce, simply several delicious types of cheese and a dash of cream tossed with the pasta and peas.  Divine.

Oh, and remember all of those olives growing everywhere? 

This is how they end up - delicious, salty gems just begging to be consumed.

01 July 2010

Paris and Comfort Food

As an experienced traveler, I typically laugh at those who make "rookie" mistakes while on the road.  I, sadly, made one of those rookie mistakes the other day.  I left my purse on the plane we took from Houston to Paris. 

As soon as I realized it was missing I began trying to recover it, all to no avail.  The Air France agents were very helpful, but the purse never surfaced. In it was my drivers license, insurance card, 2 credit cards and a tiny bit of cash.  Fortunately, I never travel without wearing my money belt, so my passport and 400 Euros were on my body.

This was both disheartening and humiliating at the same time.

So to cheer myself up during our 5 and a half hour layover at CDG I visited a delightful little pastry shop. 

The window displays were absolutely gorgeous, but I was not allowed to take photos of them.  My only other option was to purchase a few treats for myself and photograph them...

Macarons were all the rage and there were countless options.  Enough in fact to truly paralyze my decision making abilities.  So I did what I always do in that situation, ask for recommendations from the person working the counter. 

Her choices for me were a Currant and Violet flavored macaron and a Salted Caramel flavored one. 

Aren't they gorgeous?!?!?

 I liked the Currant and Violet flavor, very interesting.  I'm not a big jam or preserves person, so I didn't like the filling of that one as much.

But the Salted Caramel one... Oh. My.Word. 

I felt much better after these.