Peeling the Appealing

And every day when I've been good, I get an orange after food.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

I’m never nearly as determined and specific as I am when eating citrus fruit. In every instance, I find myself meticulous in preparation and care. Tangerines become challenges in which the perfect peel is the ultimate goal, with tiny uniform sections delicate yet strong with juice that bursts forward. Softball sized grapefruits require focus on thick-skinned segments that must be handled and overcome. Even lemons and limes receive special attention, ensuring that slices are even and practically transparent.

Maintaining a balanced, loving relationship requires many of the same components. There are days when the stubborn nature of a loved one seems insurmountable at first glance, but with the proper handling, can unravel and break down into a manner worth every minute’s work. People are delicate at first glance, while proving themselves much stronger than even they could have guessed. By taking the time to delve beneath the skin that can be bitter, tough, virtually inedible, and finding there the sweetest, most vibrant sensation – we unearth the ultimate reward.


Can I Get You a Beer?

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
- Benjamin Franklin

I'm not much of a beer drinker. (And before you get all indignant that I shouldn't be a beer drinker while pregnant, I'll clarify that I wasn't much of a beer drinker before I got pregnant.) I enjoy a glass or twelve of wine (again, not currently) but the love for beer solely belongs to my husband.

However, when we were driving home from eating breakfast at a new place in our neighborhood yesterday (more on that later), I noted the cold dry day and decided that it would be the perfect day for soup. A quick stop at the grocery store gave me all I needed to toss together a warm gooey beer cheese soup, and we spent a lazy afternoon watching football and playing Scrabble while it simmered away in the Crock Pot.

This recipe (and I use that term loosely) produces a good amount of soup, enough for leftovers the next day.

Beer Cheese Soup

Celery, onions, carrots, diced (about 2 cups total)
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 block 2% milk Velveeta, cubed
1 1/2 cups beer
Paprika, garlic powder, worcestershire, spicy mustard to taste

Combine all ingredients except beer in Crock Pot - I set mine to the "high, 6 hours" setting and then turned it down to low about 4 hours in. Once vegetables are tender and cheese has thoroughly melted, puree with immersion blender until smooth. Add beer and continue cooking on low until ready to serve.

I also had some whole wheat hamburger buns that were nearing the end of their shelf life, so I cubed them, tossed them with olive oil, garlic powder, salt & pepper and toasted them in a 200 degree oven for about 20 minutes. They were a great addition to the soup.

I may not be a beer drinker, but this I can get behind.


A Recipe for Success

People who like to cook like to talk about food....without one cook giving another cook a tip or two, human life might have died out a long time ago.

- Laurie Colwin
I still haven't been doing much in the way of cooking - and by "much", I mean virtually nothing. This is not to say we haven't had great meals - or that the notions of food and cooking have disappeared from my radar. I'm still obsessed with new recipes, meal planning, and consuming delicious dishes. It's simply that my obsessions have recreated themselves in a new manner of sorts.

I recently switched magazine subscriptions, so instead of my monthly Food & Wine, I now await the arrival of Real Simple and Everyday Food (not to mention the pass-along copies of Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, and Ladies Home Journal that my mom gives me once she has finished them). I have a system for reading magazines. The publications that are combinations of recipes, home tips, and stories are saved in the rack for a rainy day - but the ones dedicated to food and recipes receive a special sort of attention. I won't begin reading one until I know I have the time to enjoy it cover to cover. I dog-ear pages that I want to return to, add to my list of must-cook recipes, and make mental notes about which dishes I want to try first.

In addition to reading about food, I've taken to conducting a sort of cooking school in my kitchen. My husband loves to cook, and until recently has rarely been given the reins when it comes to preparing our meals. He is now in charge of dinner most nights, and breakfast and lunch on the weekends. This means I sit nearby, tossing out directions for the recipes he isn't as familiar with, and throwing suggestions his way that he probably doesn't need or want. The results have been incredible - biscuits & gravy from scratch, beef stroganoff, pan-seared salmon, pot roast hash with crispy roasted potatoes....the list goes on and on.

My odd cravings have also led us to many different restaurants around town - a late afternoon craving for sushi led us to one of our favorite spots, where I forlornly passed over the "real" sushi and settled for a cucumber roll. The need for smoked chicken ravioli took us to Amerigo's, the desire for a BLT and a spicy, salty pickle to a nearby deli.

Obviously, Thanksgiving weekend will provide plenty of additional food fodder - I'm responsible for macaroni & cheese and rolls at lunch with one set of family members, and pies for dinner with another. I've read many recipes, and assuming I can get my husband to help, I should be set.


A Change Will Do You Good

Life is always at some turning point.
- Irwin Edman

The past few months have consisted of many changes in our life and our routines. It obviously began when I quit my job, which affected us in many more ways than we could have anticipated - both good and bad. We went from riding to work together, working together, riding home from work together, and discussing work together, to seeing each other in the mornings and evenings and being able to discuss items outside of the other's realm.

The housework and errand system we'd set up was altered as well - since I was at home, I took care of it. Gone were the Saturday mornings trying to catch up on laundry, Saturday afternoons polishing the floors and sweeping the porch, the Sunday afternoons at the grocery store and Sunday evenings bathing the dogs. We now enjoy lazy weekends doing anything and everything we want, without guilt over what responsibilites may be falling by the wayside.

Without a doubt, the largest change we are experiencing is yet to come - but we are in the midst of preparing both mentally and emotionally for the increase in the size of our family. This not only means there are no more evenings spent enjoying a glass of wine with dinner (for me, anyway), but it now encompasses so much more.

The one thing that has been affected most by each of these changes is the way we eat. First and foremost, my being at home during the day has allowed for more home cooked meals, new recipes, and increased creativity in the kitchen. Breakfasts and lunches became more than a matter of convenience. I was able to delve into the piles of recipes in my "to cook" list.

Now, the way we eat has taken yet another turn. My queasy stomach, combined with the immense fatigue I've been experiencing, has removed me from the kitchen and put my husband in charge of meals- which has more often than not been little more than a can of soup and fruit (or whatever it may be that I can stomach at the time).

But finally - finally - I felt the desire to get into the kitchen on Friday. Our Friday evenings used to be spent decompressing from the week, relaxing and basking in the glow of knowing we could sleep in the next morning. This past Friday actually felt like that again - my husband brought home new records for us to play, we chatted about our week while we snacked on cheese, crackers, and smoked trout - all while a pot of roasted red pepper soup simmered on the stove. I got back in the kitchen, and it felt great...for a change.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
1 stick butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
2-12 oz. jars roasted red peppers
2 tomatoes, diced
14 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Basil, oregano, salt & pepper (to taste)

- Melt butter in skillet; add onion and garlic and saute until onions are tender

- Combine onions, red peppers, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken stock in large pot; add seasonings to taste and simmer for about 25-30 minutes.

- Using an immersion blender, puree mixture until creamy

- Add heavy cream and let simmer another 5-10 minutes


The Newest Addition

The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite.
- A. J. Liebling

I feel it coming back - the desire to get back into the kitchen. I have a grocery list written that does not contain ginger ale, crackers, or chicken broth - and this afternoon will be spent trying some new recipes that I'll be sure to share.

In the meantime, I have a new blog under my ever expanding belt - I'll be updating baby news there, while keeping Any Little Reason purely about food. The Littlest Reason is up and running, for anyone interested in hearing me ramble about something other than my culinary preferences.


To Eat, or Not To Eat

So where did these cravings come from? I concluded it's the baby ordering in. Prenatal takeout. Even without ever being in a restaurant, fetuses develop remarkably discerning palates, and they are not shy about demanding what they want. If they get a hankering, they just pick up the umbilical cord and call. 'You know what would taste good right now? A cheeseburger, large fries, and a vanilla shake. And if you could, hurry it up, because I'm supposed to grow a lung in a half hour.
- Paul Reiser, 'Babyhood'

At this point, I don't know what is stronger - the cravings or the aversions. The constant nausea (whoever coined the phrase "morning sickness" apparently never experienced midday sickness, late afternoon sickness, evening sickness, and in-the-dead-of-night sickness) is only eased by allowing food to pass my lips every two hours. It's the most bizarre sensation to use food to comfort a stomach on the verge - and yet, it's the only thing that works (resulting heartburn aside).

I'm snacking between meals on applesauce, crackers with peanut butter, fruit, cheese, and carrot sticks - the only things that sound appealing. As far as meals go, there is a short list of options - cereal, soup, waffles, grilled cheese - with the occasional wild card thrown in, such as tacos, beef stroganoff, german potato salad.

Enter the aversions - there are the foods that I've always loved, that have been my go-to meals in a pinch - that send me reeling at the mere mention or thought of them. Eggs, chicken, pizza, pasta...

The scariest and saddest thing for me at this point is my pure avoidance of the kitchen. I have no desire to cook, I extract no joy from planning meals and flipping through my favorite cookbooks, and I'm lacking both the energy and the capacity to stand in front of the stove while enduring the smells and sights before me.

Everything I've read and heard leads me to believe this will soon pass - and I'm encouraged that will be true.


The Days of our Lives

Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table.

- Charles Pierre Monselet

We all have them - the days that we count as significant and meaningful, that we celebrate year after year. The most obvious of these are birthdays and anniversaries, but there are others that can be included in the history of who we are.

August 25th, 2005 is the day I'll always remember as the first time I saw the man that would become my husband, while October 27th of the same year holds a place as the first time we had a conversation and I realized he was the one.

By January of 2006, we were all but living together - and we signed the papers on the purchase of our first home six months later, on June 30th.

Almost a year later, on June 6, he asked me to be his wife - and on September 29th, 2007, we stood before friends and family to say our vows and begin our lives as a married couple.

Now, we have a new date to add to the list.

June 19, 2009 - the due date of our first child.


Turned Off

Once you get into the groove of things and in the mood you are usually fine; it is before the event that you get nervous and irritable.

- John Gallagher

I am uninspired. I am uncertain as to what's causing it, therefore unable to undo it. Lately, I can only summon the energy to eat out, order in, or throw together the simplest of meals. Breakfast is a bowl of cereal with fruit, or toast with apple butter. Gone are the biscuits and gravy made from scratch, the quiches, pancakes. Lunches have consisted of BLT's, grilled cheese sandwiches, cans of organic soup heated up and eaten standing over the sink. Midafternoon snacks have returned in the form of popcorn, peanut butter & crackers, fruit, and ice cream. Dinner is Chinese takeout, a taco bar thrown together just in time for Monday Night Football, or pot pies.

I open the fridge or freezer on a daily basis, and I see brisket, tilapia, filets, sweet potatoes and fresh produce light up with the prospect of being plucked from their perch. I then plunge them back into darkness as I reach only for a bottle of water.

I hope this passes soon - I long for the day that the urge to tie on an apron and spend hours in the kitchen overcomes me. I anticipate the late afternoon question of "What's for dinner" - and instead of the blank stares I emit currently, I am eager to be filled with inspiration and desire to create something new, or at the very least, an old favorite.


Weekend Report

Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.
- Bill Watterson

* Our youngest dog, Chet, following a walk

We typically spend our weekends balancing between work and play. Despite our best efforts, we do not have the ability to simply relax and be lazy for long periods of time. We inevitably come up with a project, or we schedule plans to the point that we're going nonstop.

This weekend, however, we allowed ourselves to be completely lazy. We slept late, took long walks with our dogs, watched football, and ate. And ate.

Friday night we went to Margot, one of our favorite restaurants. We enjoyed hand-cut potato chips with creamy aioli while we waited for our entrees - pan roasted chicken with a potato cake atop creamy leeks for me, fettucine with turkey meatballs for him.

Saturday we went out to my mom's to watch football - and in typical fashion, we ate until we were stuffed. We snacked on salty roasted peanuts, spicy crab spread, tangy cheese dip, and buttery popcorn while we waited for the chili to reach its perfect harmony of flavor. Following that, I wouldn't have thought I'd be hungry for the rest of the day, but later that night we had a quick and comforting dinner of BLT's (with the last of our sweet red tomatoes) and macaroni & cheese.

Sunday morning came in the form of biscuits slathered with butter and apple butter, along with sliced strawberries. After a walk in the crisp fall air, feeling our faces warmed by the afternoon sun, we settled in for a few hours of football watching before we fired up the grill for dinner. Within ten minutes, we had a tender flat iron steak resting on the cutting board waiting to be carved, served alongside corn sauteed in lime, cilantro, and paprika, as well as edamame tossed in sea salt.

The sense of accomplishment we normally feel after a weekend of projects pales in comparison to the sense of contentment we feel today, knowing that we simply enjoyed ourselves, each other, and our meals.


The Glass is Always Half Full

There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.
- Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance

I am blessed. I am fortunate enough to have a rock-solid group of girlfriends. I can recall the exact moment I met each of them, the first time we cried together, the addresses of the crappy apartments we shared, and all of the relationships that brought us all to this point.

We are all quite different - yet all so similar that we can finish each other's sentences, can laugh hysterically at the same dumb jokes, and can annoy our spouses & significant others for the same reasons. No matter how much time has passed since we've all been in the same room together, it takes mere seconds to pick up where we left off - which usually means holding a glass of champagne.

Our tradition of "Champagne Saturdays" started years ago. One Saturday morning we were all nursing a hangover from a girl's night out the evening prior, so we decided that we needed breakfast. We stumbled upon a place that had great food and cheap Mimosas - and we sat there for hours in our pajamas, calling attention to our table with bouts of laughter and accusations about who did what the night before. After we paid our checks, we decided the best way to ease into the afternoon was - you guessed it - more champagne. I don't think a single one of us could have foreseen the impact this would make on our lives for years to come.

Champagne Saturday has become a sacred encounter, enhanced over the years by the addition of new friends, new homes, and new recipes - and most certainly, new life phases. We've seen marriages, children, new jobs, and new pajamas - but the formula never changes, aside from the fact that we've now allowed it to fall on any given day.

Yesterday was no exception. Our friend Hillary is getting married in less than two weeks, so in typical fashion, we honored this next step in her life with a champagne brunch. I have no photos to document the spread we had, but as is usually the case, we had all the standbys - good food, amazing friends, and champagne glasses that are never empty.

(Photo courtesy of platinumplanet.co.uk)


If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Wanna be Right

Well, if you put it that way, I think you’ve got a point. Have another biscuit, sorry.
- Eddie Izzard

I hate to admit it when I'm wrong. The defiance I experience when I realize I've misspoken, or argued a point to death - only to realize I won't win the debate - presents itself in a very stubborn, pouty-mouthed apology and the admission that maybe I am mistaken.

When I was younger, my parents dealt with my ability to stand firm when I believed in something, even it were blatantly obvious to be false. They coined me "the little lawyer" and swore I'd have a career in the courtroom. One of my long-standing nicknames is "sassafras", due to my tendency to toss attitude in the general direction of anyone on the other side of the fence.

When I'm faced with the realization that I am incorrect, I have to dig deep to find the ability to step down and confess defeat. I employ distraction tactics at rapidfire speed, hoping to deter my opponent and cause forgetfulness of the issue at hand. The most surefire tactic I've found is food.

Knowing each of my husband's favorite foods, I'm prone to stockpiling the ingredients necessary on the chance that I'll be faced with the possibility of a discussion on the downward spiral. I can argue while I cook, so it's a matter of continuing to save face while I prepare one of his guilty pleasures or comfort foods. This method also allows the ability to stall, because he knows better than to interrupt me if I'm mumbling to myself about whether a dish needs salt or contemplating if it needs another three minutes in the oven.

He's like a kid who just met the Tooth Fairy when he sees me pulling out the makings for biscuits and gravy, and I can usually count on turning away from the stove to see him sitting on a barstool at our island, gazing at me adoringly and awaiting what's to come. In an instant, he's given up on trying to prove his case, and he's content that in mere minutes, he'll have a mouthful of delicate biscuits topped with a creamy peppery gravy generously studded with aromatic sausage.

So right.

Biscuits & Gravy

1 lb. sausage, 3 tbsp. butter and flour, 3 cups milk

- Brown sausage in large skillet, remove and drain, reserving drippings

- Add butter and flour to skillet and combine to form a roux, then add milk and stir constantly, scraping up the brown bits from the pan

- Once mixture has thickened, add sausage, salt & pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Serve over warm biscuits (I take the lazy way out and make White Lily frozen biscuits - they are incredibly good.)


Take Five

The ambition of every good cook must be to make something very good with the fewest possible ingredients.
- Urbain Dubois

I read today that “You’re a combination of the five people you spend the most time with.” For me, that evokes a combination of fear and relief. These emotions present themselves in the same sense that they do with my parents – being afraid that I’ve inherited only the bad qualities from both, while being glad that there are good qualities in each to which I’ve been exposed. Unfortunately, these things aren’t like items on a buffet line – “Yes, I’ll have some of the humor…but I think I’ll pass on the temper today”, but I do think it’s possible to learn from what you see in the people around you and then make the choice on whether or not to let them integrate your personality.

For instance, I know that if I had the opportunity to adopt my husband’s positive nature and ability to enter a room and change the atmosphere within seconds, thereby drawing people in and making them happier, I’d take it. On the flip side, if I am faced with taking on the characteristic of my mother and how easily she gets ruffled (that is, if I don’t already possess that quality), I’d politely decline. All in all, I know that the five people I spend the most time with – my husband, my friend Jessi, my mother and her husband, and our animals (do they count?) – I’d undoubtedly be pleased at the concoction which would result from very different and unique perspectives, tastes, and personalities.

On a similar note, think of the five ingredients you use most, or the five meals you eat most. Couldn’t these be taken into consideration the same way people are? They are based on your choosing (and I’m led to believe most of us have the ability to choose who we spend time with, as opposed to being forced into companionship); they are more likely than not all the same, or at the very least they’ll have some notable differences; they are undoubtedly called up for different reasons, based on different moods; and they are always reliable and available.

On any given day, you can look in my kitchen and find the following five items: chicken broth, edamame, pasta, cheese, and sweet potatoes. This does not include the snack staples such as tortilla chips, popcorn, and fruit. I’m talking about ingredients that I always have on hand. Now, obviously these are not ingredients that could necessarily be thrown together to create a meal. Close, but not quite…and a meal comprised of those five things is certainly not balanced.

In terms of the five meals we eat most in our house, based on convenience, ease, and most importantly, preference, I’d quickly rattle off chicken pot pie, baked pasta, steaks, salmon, and beef stroganoff. This certainly doesn’t mean we eat nothing but those five things – but on average, that’s what pops up the most. Reason? We can pull each of them together in less than 30 minutes, with little effort and minimal cleanup afterwards.

There's also the matter of the 5-ingredient meal - this has almost become a game in our home, a challenge of sorts - especially when it's time for a trip to the grocery store or farmer's market and I'm trying to cull together a meal with the odds and ends we have around the house. This recipe came about on such a night.

Steakhouse Stuffed Potato

Medium baking potatoes scrubbed and pierced several times with a fork
Steaks (any cut you prefer I used filets)
Crumbled blue cheese
Prepared horseradish

Salt & pepper to taste

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until tender, approximately 35 minutes.

- Meanwhile, grill or pan sear steaks to preferred level of doneness (I did medium-rare) and slice into thin strips.
- Remove baked potatoes from oven and allow to cool briefly, then slice the top of the potato lengthwise and scoop out the pulp into a medium mixing bowl.
- Mash potatoes with butter, blue cheese, and horseradish, and then fold steak slices into mixture.
- Scoop mixture into potato shells and return to the oven for 10 minutes or until potatoes are slightly browned on top (may use broiler function for this).


Soup's On

Between soup and love, the first is better.
- Old Spanish saying

While many consider soup to be a seasonal item, best enjoyed in colder months while bundled in thick sweaters and socks, I enjoy it year-round. I have gotten comfortable with the odd glances of disbelief at eating a large bowl of soup during eighty-five degree days. To me, comfort is measured by the enjoyment found in simple pleasures, not by stereotypes of how or when something should be indulged. I visit the restaurants that I know will offer me the depth and balance that soup provides, even in the hottest months. I get as excited as a puppy playing with a new toy when I walk into a favorite spot to find that the soup of the day is one of my favorites.

I have zero preference when it comes to consistency. I greedily consume bisques, chowders, purees, broths, and stews alike. French onion soup overpowers the strongest of hangovers. A creamy potato concoction cures a slew of ailments…the common cold, waves of nausea, a broken heart. A spicy tomato bisque is only made more exceptional by the addition of crawfish or shrimp.

And now...the disappointing part. My husband doesn't like soup. Oh, he'll eat it - but it's definitely at the bottom of the long list of things he'll consume. I've always secretly wondered if it's because he feels he's too tough to sip a delicate broth-based soup, or that even a thick stew isn't enough nourishment for such a masculine dude such as himself. (Of course, now my secret is out. Sorry, honey.) I mean, has he not SEEN the Campbell's commercials with Donovan McNabb? If his momma can bring him soup from a can - in front of all his tough guy football buddies - then surely my dear husband should be able to enjoy it.

Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh. Even though it's not his favorite, he always eats his fair share whenever I make it. Especially on a day like today, when it's been raining nonstop for almost 24 hours and the dog's water bowls outside are overflowing with the much-needed precipitation - I have a feeling he'll welcome the vegetable beef soup I have simmering on the stove for lunch. Yesterday, I made pot roast (another rainy day favorite) and we had some left over, so I tossed in some beef broth, peas, onions, carrots, green beans, celery, alphabet pasta, and some seasonings and let it go. In all honesty, it's not the end of the world if he doesn't want it - means there's more for me.

(Photo courtesy of mrbalihai.com)


Best of the Best

To have known the best, and to have known it for the best, is success in life.
- John W. McKay

If you were to ask me about my favorite place to eat in Nashville, I'd likely stare at you stupidly for about a minute before beginning to babble incoherently. You'd probably begin backing away slowly as I rambled on about how this place is great on a Saturday morning if it's a little bit cool outside but that place is sooo much better when it's raining and oh my sweet heavens, have you HAD their macaroni and cheese? I’d get on a rant about mood, atmosphere, drinks, comfort, menu variety, menu stability, hunger level, etc. etc. etc. I’d try to convince you that all of those things prevent me from choosing just one.

The truth is, I just can't choose. I know where I would go if I wanted French fries vs. Chinese vs. my favorite wine vs. sweatshirt appropriate vs. I’m-with-my-mom-therefore-I-need-a-place-with-much-exciting-atmosphere-and-conversation-starting-elements. So…yeah. I find something in everything. Because yes, there IS a way to gauge restaurants on aspects above and beyond the typical classifications such as best sushi or best family environment. I look at restaurants in a different light - such as where I'd like to have lunch with my best friend when I know I have to tell her bad news, the place with the best soap in the restroom, or the joint with the most adorable silverware in town.

Much like Citysearch has the "Best Of", I have my top picks based on what’s important to ME. And no, it’s not always about cost, whether it’s kid-friendly, or whether reservations are recommended. These are REAL categories. (And yes, ”best silverware” IS in fact a category.)

In sharing my list of favorites, I've opted to pepper in my more unusual foundations for preferences with some of the more mainstream categories, just for good measure. Obviously, this list won't do much for you if you don't live here or have no plans to visit - so in that case, use this list to think about what your favorites are in your area.

Any Little Reason's "Best Of"

Wine List: Sunset Grill
Steak: Woody's
First Date: Park Cafe
Dessert: Margot
Where to go in your pajamas: Cafe Coco
Fries: Sportsman's

Brunch: Tin Angel
Takeout: Chef's Market
Margarita: Rosepepper
Restrooms: J. Alexander's
Burger: Beyond the Edge
Artwork: Family Wash
Hangover Food: Nashville Biscuit House
Italian: Cafe Nonna
People Watching: Jackson's
Happy Hour: Broadway Brewhouse
Where you won't feel as though you're in Nashville: Blue Moon
Patio: Yellow Porch
Small Plates: Boundry
Mimosa: Mad Donna's
Plateware: Margot

Sunday afternoon: South Street
Dine at the Bar: Eastland Cafe
Sushi: Battered & Fried


A Little Goes a Long Way

Time for a little something.
- A. A. Milne

We are a family of snackers. The most innocent of family gatherings (think impromptu decisions to meet up before a movie or a lazy boat ride down the lake) turn into verifiable smorgasboards of spreads, dips, canapes and small bites.

I've never entered my mother's home without seeing the edge of her countertop fully obstructed with bowls of peanut butter-stuffed pretzels, a spicy cajun cheese spread next to a basket of crackers, and containers of her husband's famous olive salsa & tortilla chips. Likewise, I'm inclined to keep a constant rotation of dishes coming out of our kitchen whenever we have guests (and often even when we don't). There's just something about the ability to grab a handful of roasted cashews drizzled in maple syrup and tossed with chili powder, or to dunk a chip into a creamy and spicy dip, that allows for a more casual feel and in turn, more relaxing conversation and vibe.

Weekends are the prime time for snacking - especially during football season, when it's acceptable to spend 5-hour stretches on the couch flipping between games. I'm hard-pressed to find something I enjoy greater than puttering around the kitchen, constructing plate after plate of small bites with whatever we have on hand. Like this past Sunday, for example....

We somehow still had chili left over, so I filled tortilla scoops with a spoonful, then topped them with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, a morsel of salsa, a bit of sour cream and some Romaine lettuce. Spicy, creamy, warm, crunchy, and cool - all in one tiny bite.

I also had leftover pork tenderloin and cranberry-pear-mint chutney, so I spread some herb cheese on bagel chips and topped them with thin slices of the pork and a dollop of the chutney. It was a great combination - crunchy chips, creamy cheese underneath the slightly salty pork and the sweet chutney.

We love fried pickles. If you've never had them, and you're reading this right now thinking that Southerners are crazy, I urge you to try them. The unmistakable salty flavor of dill, encased in a crispy spicy batter with cool Ranch dressing for dipping - positively enchanting.

Beer-Battered Fried Pickles
1 jar dill pickles (I used sandwich slices because that's what I had on hand, but I think it would be better with thick-cut chips)
1 egg
1 bottle of beer (I used Pale Ale)
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cajun seasoning
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal

- Lay pickles on paper towels and pat them dry (this will help keep the batter from sliding off)
- Combine remaining ingredients (except oil)
- Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet (about an inch thick)
- Dip pickles in batter, allowing excess to drip off, then fry in batches until golden brown (about 4-5 minutes)
- Serve with Ranch dressing

Inspired by Obsession

Chutney is marvelous. I'm mad about it. To me, it's very imperial.
- Diana Vreeland

I am obsessed with lip gloss. It is the one thing I simply cannot leave the house without. There are tubes and pots of it scattered throughout our house - at least two per room. I used to take it to meetings along with my notebook & pen.

I received this lip gloss last Christmas from my sister-in-law. She got me the set of three - cranberry, pear, and mint. They are magical - smooth, not sticky - and they smell divine.

As I sat looking at one of the tubes the other day, I had a thought - pear & cranberry chutney with mint! What better thing to draw inspiration from than one of my favorite things in the world?

We had friends over Saturday night, so I decided to make the chutney - and a pork tenderloin to serve with it. Oh, and am I glad - this pork was perfect, and the combination of tart cranberries, sweet pears, and fresh mint was a great match.

I marinated the pork for four hours in a mixture of olive oil, honey, chopped green onions, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt, pepper, sage, and rosemary. I roasted it for 25 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduced the heat to 375 and continued cooking it for another 20 minutes. I let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it. It turned out succulent, with a crust on the edges.

For the chutney, I combined fresh cranberries and pears (peeled and chopped) with diced mint, sugar, and a bit of water and boiled it slowly until the fruit was tender and the mixture was thickened.

I served it with crisply steamed sugar snap peas tossed in garlic, sesame oil and sesame seeds, and sweet pearl onions simmered in garlic, salt, white pepper and cream - and we dove in.


Pretty Pleasing With Cherries on Top

That last cherry soothes a roughness of my palate.
- Robert Browning

I can say with the utmost certainty that our household is a pleasant one. We share responsibilities, we are polite to the point of being sickening at times, we spoil each other - and we always say "please" and "thank you".

Being raised in the South, I grew up accustomed to saying "please" and "thank you", as well as "ma'am", "sir", and the like. If I simply answered my mother or father with a "yes", I immediately heard "Yes WHAT?" in return.

All of this to say that no matter what I cook, I always feel appreciated - even if it came from a box. The photo of the plate above does not by any means represent an inventive meal (yes, it's Kraft Macaroni & Cheese - a guilty pleasure in our home) or a pretty meal, but it was delicious. I ask kindly that we focus on the pork chops. Please?

Cherry Pork Chops

Pork chops, boneless or bone-in
2 tbsp. oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup herb cheese, such as Boursin or Alouette
1/2 cup dried cherries

- In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the oil and then add pork chops, cooking throughout (time will vary based on the thickness of the chops), then set aside and keep warm
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil (you can use the same skillet, which will allow you to scrape up the brown bits from the chops) and saute the onions until tender and translucent
- Add the herb cheese and cherries to the onions, stirring until the cheese has melted
- Spoon mixture over the chops and serve


Happy Enchilada

That's the way that the world goes 'round. You're up one day and the next you're down.
- John Prine

We love John Prine. It's the first conversation we ever had, when I noticed a Prine poster in my now-husband's office, and used it as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. I had just started working at the ad agency where he also worked, and I'd been trying to figure out a way to approach him. Our first dance at our wedding was "In Spite of Ourselves", which is not a very traditional first dance song - but it was very fitting. One of my favorite Prine songs is "That's the Way That the World Goes Round" - the chorus is as follows:

"That's the way that the world goes 'round.You're up one day and the next you're down. It's half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown. That's the way that the world goes 'round."

I was at a Prine show once and a woman kept screaming "Play the 'Happy Enchilada' song!!" - turns out, she thought "half an inch of water" was "happy enchilada"...

I think of that every time I make enchiladas - so I call these "Happy Enchiladas". Loaded with chicken, cheese, green chiles, and green onions, they will undoubtedly make you smile.

Happy Enchiladas

1 lb. chicken tenders
2 tsp. oil
1 tsp. flour
3/4 cup half & half
7 oz. can chopped green chiles
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup queso blanco
1 cup shredded monterey cheddar blend
1/2 cup salsa verde
1/2 cup Mexican crema

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees

- Heat oil in large skillet and saute chicken tenders until cooked throughout, remove from skillet and set aside

- Add flour to oil in skillet and stir until thickened, then add next 4 ingredients, stirring until fully combined.

- Chop or shred cooked chicken and add to cheese mixture

- Spoon mixture into tortillas and fold to form a pocket, then place seam-side down in a glass baking dish. Bake for 12-14 minutes, then spoon salsa over each, top with shredded cheese, and bake until cheese melts, about 3-4 more minutes.

- Remove from oven and drizzle Mexican crema over each, and serve on top of Mexican rice (I use Vigo)

We were satisfied after our meal, but in the mood for something sweet. We opted for a quick and easy version of sopapillas.

A sopapilla is a traditional Mexican dessert - and although it is prepared many ways depending on the region in which it's served, the basis is fried dough, usually drizzled with honey or syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. For these "sopapilla chips", I cut up tortillas into triangles, fried them in a mixture of butter and oil, and tossed them in cinnamon & sugar.

Forbidden Fruit

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
- Martin Luther

Why do we always want what we can't have? There is such appeal in attaining the things that are just out of our reach. The desire to obtain those things stays with us throughout our lives. When we are children, we want the other toy, the pink crayon, the yellow clay - as long as someone else has it. As we get a bit older, it's our friends' cashmere sweater or video game that we'd do anything to have. Dating brings about feelings of conflict when a relationship ends - even though we don't want to date a person anymore, we don't want anyone else to have them either. Jobs, cars, houses, vacations - all things that are much more desirable when they belong to someone else.

The term "forbidden fruit" is most commonly associated with apples, due to Adam and Eve's inability to turn down an apple, resulting in the loss of their innocence. Luckily, this apple recipe is something you can have without consequences, and with incredible ease. It transforms a basic blueberry muffin mix into something a bit more special by adding sweet apples and a crunchy topping. I made this in a loaf pan and then cut it into squares, but it would be great as muffins also.

Apple-Blueberry Bread with Brown Sugar-Oat Topping

Blueberry Muffin Mix
2 medium apples - peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup each brown sugar, oats, melted butter

- Prepare muffin batter according to directions
- Add chopped apples to batter
- Bake according to directions on package, removing from oven about 5 minutes before bread is done
- Pour brown sugar mixture over bread and return to oven for final 5 minutes of baking, or until mixture is bubbly


It's Getting Chili Outside

Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.
- the dying words of Kit Carson

Everywhere I turn, I am hit with signs of Fall - an increase in the number of amber and saffron-hued leaves in our yard and on our sidewalk, being able to open the windows and smell the scent of burning leaf piles, the need for a long-sleeved shirt on the evening walk with the dogs.

More importantly, I am hit with the urge for chili - spicy and sweet, studded with tender ground beef and delicate beans that practically dissolve on the tongue.

This chili recipe is a breeze to make - and while I've listed the spices and ingredients I toss in the pot, I couldn't begin to cite quantities, as this is something I do by memory, taste, and an innate knowledge of how I've adapted it through the years. I have always preferred chili with a hint of sweet spice from nutmeg and a cinnamon/sugar blend, ever since I had it that way at a friend's house when I was 9 years old. Pork & beans may also seem an unlikely candidate for chili, but they also add a salty sweetness that's just barely detectable.

Sweet & Spicy Chili

2 lbs. Ground Beef, browned and drained
28 oz. can of tomato sauce
16 oz. can of pork & beans
1/2 cup beer (I use a Pale Ale)
Chili powder
Red Pepper
Black Pepper
Garlic Powder
Cinnamon/Sugar Blend

(Bowls can be found here.)

Welcome, Fall. I've been waiting for you.


Lazy Days

I don't think necessity is the mother of invention - invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.
- Agatha Christie

I am going through a phase. I'm not sure if it's the change in the weather that's causing my inability to focus on anything - knowing that just outside the door, the sun is casting warmth and radiance on everything it touches, while a cool breeze competes for attention. Maybe it's the distractions of the football season & fall sweeps resulting in my reluctance to hole myself up in the kitchen. It's possible that our weekend spoiled me. Whatever the reason may be, I have been lazy the past few days when it comes to cooking.

This laziness is defined by my brief glances at the contents of our fridge, pantry, and freezer - and ignoring the feelings of inspiration in exchange for a quick and easy meal so we can curl up on the couch and watch tv, or sit on the porch and listen to the medley of barking dogs that is so common in our neighborhood.

Store bought smoked turkey wings, alongside sweet steamed baby peas and a quick bake of pineapple, cheddar cheese, shredded crackers, and butter - dinner on the table in 15 minutes. Laziness never tasted so good.


Neely Perfect

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
- John Ruskin

These days, Pat & Gina Neely are best known for their double presence on the Food Network ("Down Home with the Neely's" & "Road Tasted with the Neely's") - but to those of us who hail from Memphis and/or Nashville, we know them for much much more.

Neely's Bar-b-que began in 1988 in Downtown Memphis, launched by four brothers with a penchant for hard work and a passion for barbeque. Within four years, they expanded their business and opened a second location in East Memphis. They entered the Music City food scene in 2001, and the rest is history.

We have pretty much found ourselves ordering the same dishes every time we go, and this most recent trip was no exception.

The large chopped pork plate holds enough barbeque for a hearty lunch or dinner, as well as leftovers to be enjoyed later. The pork is tender, with a robust smoky flavor and the slightest hint of tangy vinegar. It comes smothered in their famous sauce, which is a classic combination of sweet and hot, accompanied by thick texas toast and choice of two sides. We decided to carb-load on the sides, and opted for potato salad and macaroni & cheese. Their potato salad is divine, with perfectly cooked potatoes and a creamy mustard-based sauce. The macaroni & cheese is exactly how it should be in the South - creamy, cheesy, and rich.

We also had the chopped pork plate with cole slaw and barbeque spaghetti. I am very particular about cole slaw, and Neely's hits the mark - cabbage that is crunchy and not soggy, dressing abundant without being sloppy. I've spoken before about my love of barbeque spaghetti - and this is the driving force behind it. Perfectly cooked pasta, tossed with tender barbeque and drenched in that heavenly sauce.

I've saved the best for last. I am a woman obsessed with nachos. I have been since I was a child, and that was the snack I requested every single day when I got home from school. These nachos aren't anything fancy, simply pulled pork, barbeque sauce, and cheese sauce heaped atop salty tortilla chips and finished off with a sprinkling of their signature barbeque seasoning- but they are comforting, full of flavor, messy, and delicious.

Beyond the dishes above, the menu is full of other amazing items, such as smoked sausages, turkey, ribs, wings, and true Southern desserts (think Pecan Pie & Peach Cobbler). The next time you find yourself craving true barbeque, look no further than Neely's. (Aside from the 3 locations, they have a presence at FedEx Forum in Memphis and Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville - and they offer the option to order sauces and seasonings online.)


365 Days Later

An anniversary is a time to celebrate the joys of today, the memories of yesterday, and the hopes of tomorrow.
- Author Unknown

Today is our one-year anniversary. Much like birthdays, which are far more enjoyable spread over the period of several days, our weekend was an ongoing celebration.

We started out Friday evening with cocktails at Rumba, the location of our first date. We then walked next door to Stoney River for dinner. We shared a bowl of velvety lobster bisque, and then moved on to our main courses - a filet with au gratin potatoes for him, and twin tenderloin tails alongside a tempura fried lobster tail for me.

Saturday morning, I made his favorite breakfast of biscuits & gravy, which is also what he had for breakfast on the morning of our wedding. This was a precursor to our dinner, which was a recreation of the meal we had on our wedding night - chicken breasts in a delicate mushroom cream sauce, tender steaks, green beans simmered slowly in bacon, and creamy potatoes au gratin - followed by a tiny white cake with white icing.

Over the past year, we've shared many meals and many moments together. We've had exotic vacations and exotic dishes, tender steaks followed by tender kisses, intriguing appetizers with the intriguing people we've met along the way. We've enjoyed pastas chock-full of fresh ingredients and evenings chock-full of laughter, sweet desserts and sweet words, intense flavors and intense love.

I look forward to each coming day, full of anticipation about what's to come - in the kitchen and beyond. As I learn substantially more about ingredients and techniques, I hope to also gain a greater knowledge about what it takes to make this marriage stronger day by day. He is the person I will share all of my meals with, and he is the greatest inspiration I've ever known.



I don't waste my sponges on just anybody...
- Elaine Benes, Seinfeld

This is not about cooking per se, but rather about what happens following cooking...

I adore these sponges. Seriously. I know it sounds bizarre, to fawn over a sponge, but there is something about them that makes me so happy. I love that they come in a cute little package. I love that they store easily because they are so small prior to use. I love watching them grow like little yellow sea monkeys.

I originally bought these for my husband, who likes to do dishes. He actually enjoys doing dishes. I don't understand it, but I sure as hell won't question it. However, I use them for everything - they are all natural, super absorbent, hold together well (and don't fall apart like some), and the best part - they are dishwasher safe, so you can clean them!

It doesn't take much to please us around here.


Pantry Raid

In the end, your creativity - perhaps even your outrageousness - will determine the final result.
- Bobby Flay

If you drive through our neighborhood on any given weekend, you will be inundated with neon signs posted to telephone poles advertising yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, antique sales. No matter the verbiage, they all mean one thing - someone needed to get rid of the junk in their home.

I take the same approach in our kitchen. Every so often, I do a scan and make a note of the items in our freezer and pantry, and then I brainstorm ways to use up those ingredients. It usually results in some interesting meals, some better than others.

Club crackers wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and baked in the oven for 2 hours at 250 degrees. The result is a crisp salty buttery snack, perfect with a cold beer. Next time I make these, however, I'll use less bacon and possibly a different type of cracker - maybe a Wheat Thin. I think a lighter cracker (not to mention bite-sized) would be a better fit.

For this dish, I combined rice with frozen mixed veggies, fried egg, and tilapia, tossed with teriyaki, soy sauce, and sesame oil - and served it with crab rangoons I made with leftover won ton wrappers, crab meat, cream cheese, and chopped green onions. This was simple, delicious, and used up a good portion of ingredients I had on hand.

I always keep tuile cookies in the house - they are the perfect accompaniment to ice cream or sorbet. I combined brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and chopped pecans, brought it to a boil, then drizzled the mixture over the cookies and baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. After they cooled, I broke them up into large pieces. These are gooey, with a crunchy bite from the cookies.

On the days where I'm attempting to clean out the freezer, fridge and pantry in anticipation of a trip to the grocery store, I think about those yard sales - and how someone's trash is another person's treasure. It's all in how you look at it - and what you do with it.


A Recipe for Disaster

Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life.
- Georges Blanc

I’m ridiculously bad at following recipes. I love to read cookbooks, study recipes, but as opposed to using them exactly as they appear, I prefer instead to gain an understanding of complementary ingredients, proportions, and methodology. This failure to adhere to the formula results in my being equally bad at translating recipes. I’ve had friends and family ask me to tell them the recipe for a dish they’ve loved…and I give them this blank look and usually mutter something along the lines of “Oh, it’s pretty easy…all you do is…” as my way of attempting to avoid the inevitable questions of “Well, how MUCH salt?” or “But how long do you cook it?”

I cook by taste. I prepare meals based on an innate sense of temperature, cooking lengths, scent, sight, and personal preference. While over the years I’ve established my own routines and basics, I by no means can state that I’ve never had…mistakes. There have been experiments that resulted in turned heads, closed eyes and the inevitable stories to follow years later...when someone thinks that enough time has passed to laugh about the time I tried to make a certain dish and failed miserably. Don’t even get me started…

All of this is to say that when I run through a recipe here, I am sometimes horrible at explaining. When I describe the steps I take, I somehow do so on the assumption that you’ve taken residence in my brain, my kitchen, and my skillet. It’s not for a lack of trying…it’s not my laziness taking over my keyboard. It’s my inability to accurately describe and lay things out as seen in every cookbook I’ve ever read. Oh, and my incredible lack of patience may have just a tad bit to do with it as well…

Loaded Pork Chops

6 bacon slices
2 apples, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup diced onion
1 pkg herb cheese such as Boursin or Alouette
6 boneless pork chops
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of each pork chop liberally with salt and pepper. Once butter and olive oil have melted, add pork chops and cook 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove from heat and keep warm.

- Heat butter in medium skillet over medium high heat until melted, add apples and onions and sauté until tender, approximately 4-5 minutes.

- Spread herb cheese mixture evenly over each pork chop. Top with apple and onion mixture and then wrap each pork chop in bacon slice, securing with a toothpick.

- Place pork chops in baking dish and cook in oven until bacon is crisp, approximately 12-14 minutes.


Germantown Cafe

Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour.
- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

For Nashville Restaurant Week, we elected to head to Germantown Cafe since they were offering most of their full menu, as opposed to several places that had more limited options. The $20.08 prix fixe menu included choice of soup or salad, entree, and dessert. I adore Germantown Cafe and have been dozens of times - my husband had never been, so I was curious to see if he'd love it as much as I do.

We had a reservation, and although we arrived early due to an overzealous (read: insane) cab driver, we were seated immediately. We opted to start with the squash fritters while we enjoyed a drink and perused the menu (at least, I pretended to peruse - I knew what I was ordering before I ever arrived). The fritters were served with buttermilk cream, and were approximately the size and appearance of hush puppies. The crispy breading was not greasy at all, but crunchy and gave way easily to a tender center of sweet creamy squash. The sauce was tangy and rich, but light enough to keep the dish from being too overbearing and filling.

We both had the garden salad with blue cheese vinaigrette, and while the greens were crisp and fresh, there was too much blue cheese for both of our tastes. However, knowing there would still be an entree and dessert to come, I didn't mind letting half of my salad go uneaten.

For our entrees, we both went with fish dishes. My husband ordered herb-crusted tilapia served on top of sweet potato risotto, drizzled with a light caper-citrus-brown butter and paired with asparagus. I had my standby, coconut curry salmon with creamy risotto, sauteed spinach and asparagus. In both instances, the fish was cooked perfectly, pan seared crisp and tender inside. The sauces complemented each cut of fish by allowing the flavors to complement the fish instead of masking it or overpowering it. The spinach and asparagus were also delicious, and the portion sizes were just right. Germantown's risotto is always perfect, and this was no exception. No matter how many times I try, I just can't get mine quite like theirs - creamy, tender but not mushy, and perfectly seasoned every time.

Once our dinner plates had been cleared and the option of dessert came around, I was practically twitching with excitement. The key lime pie at Germantown is the best I've ever tasted, and once I knew it was available, I jumped on it immediately - leaving my husband staring at me with eyebrows raised and a hint of a humored smile. He ordered the apple dessert with vanilla ice cream, which was decadent and comforting, albeit a bit too heavy following the meal we'd just had. The key lime pie, on the other hand, is light and fresh, creamy and sweet with the perfect touch of tangy lime.

The only time I haven't been to Germantown Cafe is for brunch - soon to change, because my husband loved it as much as I do. We'll definitely be back.


Football Fantastic

The reason women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public.
-Phyllis Diller

Football in our house is sacred. It’s fortunate for the two of us that we’ve both grown up accustomed to an entire day in front of the tv, flipping back and forth between games during the commercials. I dated a guy once who didn’t like football. Seriously. He “didn’t get why it was such a big deal”. I won’t say that’s THE reason we broke up…but it didn’t help his case.

Now I get to share my home and my life with a man that loves it as much as I do. Not only that, I’m partial to college ball…more specifically, I'm a born and raised Georgia fan. He’s partial to pro ball…and a die hard Colts fan. Soooo, this means that we are never fighting over what game to watch. I get Saturdays, he gets Sundays. We have a Colts dog collar and a Bulldogs dog collar...and when it’s your day? You get to choose which dog wears it. We have a sponge brick that has been in my family as long as I can remember, reserved for the utmost anger. Most importantly, we have respect for each other. Your team? Your world. You get waited on hand and foot so as not to miss a moment…you can say or do anything imaginable and get a free pass. There will never be a fight on a game day.

This chicken recipe is simple to make, and turns out juicy and full of flavor. Serving it with white barbeque sauce adds a tangy bite and a hint of spice.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken

6 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt & Pepper
6 Bacon Slices
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 tbsp. Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp. Sage
1/4 tsp. Smoked Paprika

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt & pepper
-Combine garlic powder, brown sugar, sage, and paprika and rub chicken generously with the mixture.
-Wrap each breast with bacon and secure with toothpicks.
-Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and chicken juices run clear.

White Barbecue Sauce

1 cup mayo
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. spicy mustard
2 tbsp. bbq seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. Creole seasoning
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. hot sauce

Football and food have a relationship that has long since been consummated. Much like the comfort that comes when you wake up knowing you’re next to the person you love, there is a sense of knowing that with one comes the other. The best thing about football food is that there is no staple. There is no common meal as you might find at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, or even a summer cookout. For each and every group of people at a gathering, with different and unique perspectives, relationships, backgrounds, and stories, there is a menu that combines taste, preference, and ingredients to provide a balanced mix…of spicy and cool, sweet and sour, hot and cold.

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

I eat merely to put food out of my mind.
- N.F. Simpson

I used to wake up every morning with the instantaneous thought that I would soon be in a place where stress was high and rewards were low, where tensions and annoyances climbed steadily during the day and peaked early, not to subside until the final exit. At the end of each day, I sat in the car on the way home one of two ways: either quietly reflecting on the lack of fulfillment I felt, or loudly ranting about that lack. I don’t know how I didn’t get kicked out of the car on a weekly basis. However, despite my intense emotions and my inability to contain them, he never got annoyed with me. He always listened and offered the right words, words that weren’t rehearsed or practiced, that were never clichés, never condescending, and were always dead on.

Finding a way to transfer my love of food into a career is not coming easy. I’m experiencing once again the sensations I felt during and directly following college. I’m witnessing myself going through the phases of discovery, of unease and uncertainty, and of constant internal debate. There are multiple things that are intimately affected by whatever choices I make, both physical and metaphorical. The need to feel on course and successful is only furthered by the person who depends on me…by the person who will be affected most, yet who is most supportive of any choice made.

I'm at a place where I am welcoming change, and willing to endure the fear that accompanies it. I have to be rational and realistic. I also knew something had to give, and even though it meant stepping out on a ledge...I can do it with the knowledge that I have someone that will talk me back in if I get too far out there. That knowledge keeps me going, and brings enough solace to allow me to enjoy this phase. What better way to enjoy it than with warm chewy cookies?

These cookies are incredibly easy to make, and versatile enough to be adapted based on individual preferences. The recipe below incorporates dried cherries and chocolate chips, but I've also made them with a combination of dried cranberries & white chocolate chips, as well as dried apple pieces with butterscotch chips.

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

2/3 cup softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups oats
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 oz. sweetened dried cherries
2/3 cup chocolate chips

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Combine all ingredients in medium bowl, mix to combine well
- Drop onto lightly greased cookie sheets (teaspoonful) and bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown


Today's Date

Whenever I want a really nice meal, I start dating again.
- Susan Healy

Dates. Early-in-the-process-of-meeting-someone-and-getting-to-know-them dates. And oh my hell, first dates. In as much as dating is supposed to be fun, and exciting, and basically what most people pinpoint as the gateway bridge to the rest of their lives…it always brought me to a level of panic and dread similar only to that associated with the dentist. There is something about attempting to put your best foot forward, trying to avoid revealing too many of your eccentricities too soon, that feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

Despite the above mentioned loathing, I will say that I did always handle a date more easily if I cooked. Whether it was a way to control the environment, the pace, and most certainly the menu, I’m not sure, but it worked. Because on dates? You judge. Which means you are most likely being judged in return. I was always far more comfortable putting my food on the table than any of the skeletons in my sizable closet.

This is a great dish to make for a date night. The combination of salty smoked salmon and creamy tangy goat cheese is basic in concept yet complex in flavor. It's decadent and rich, and simple enough to put together ahead of time, so you can get ready without worrying about your date showing up to find you sweaty-faced and frantically trying to finish dinner.

Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Gratin (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

5-6 peeled potatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 cups milk
8 oz. smoked salmon
1 cup goat cheese

- Preheat oven to 350, then boil potatoes in salted water for about 5 minutes, drain.
- Saute onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add flour, salt & pepper and milk; stir until thick and bubbly, then remove from heat.
- In a greased dish, layer half the potatoes. Sprinkle the smoked salmon on top of potatoes and then cover with half of the sauce and half of the goat cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes and sauce. (Save remaining cheese.)
- Bake covered for 35 minutes, then uncover and add remaining cheese. Bake an additional 35 minutes and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

I do not miss those days. I couldn’t be more elated that I’ve found the person that is right for me, that fits me and gets me and puts me in my place when I need it. If I needed one more reason to add to my never-ending list of why I love him, it would be that he pulled me out of the pool.


Ain't No Thing

Left wing, chicken wing, it don't make no difference to me.
-Woody Guthrie

In college, I found a verifiable gold mine - Slick Pig BBQ. They are well-known for their smoked wings, and for good reason. These meaty wings are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a rich smoky flavor I've never experienced elsewhere. In my search to avoid the hour-long drive every time I am craving them, I tried to find ways to recreate them at home.

Enter the Crock Pot BBQ Pit. This countertop slow roaster is one of the favorite appliances in our kitchen, and used as frequently as the set of wooden spoons given to me by my mother-in-law. It allows for the most amazing meals, with such minimal effort it's almost shameful.

We've used this cooker to make wings, ribs, whole chickens, pork shoulders - and all have been wholly successful. The result is inevitably succulent tender meat, juicy and filled with a salty smoky bite. The best part? It's so incredibly easy, you can do it in your sleep. The cooker comes with a cheat sheet for cooking times based on types of meat, cuts, and amounts - so there is no guesswork. The timing guides take into account the amount of slow roasting needed to allow even the toughest meats the opportunity to break down, transforming them into mouthwatering dishes. The cooker is also compatible with any type of seasoning method - dry rubs, glazes, basting sauces, or marinades.

For wings, we use a simple basting sauce of worcestershire, hickory smoke barbeque sauce, and liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is the secret to providing the woody flavor found in outdoor smokers and professional grade pits. I rub the wings with garlic powder and seasoned pepper, brush them with the sauce, and then roast them for 5 hours on high, basting halfway through and then again right before serving. The aroma filling the air is heady and tantalizing, enticing us and preparing us for that first heavenly taste.


When it Rains, I Pour

I love a rainy night, you can see it in my eyes.
-Eddie Rabbit

There is something extraordinarily comforting about a rainy night...the sounds of fat drops against the window pane, combined with the dance of leaves rustling in the gusts of wind and the sweet smell of wet earth. When it's chilly outside, and the rain is falling, there is nothing more appealing than a hearty soup to warm you from the inside out.

The last time it rained, I ransacked the kitchen to find the makings of such a soup. I was lucky enough to have crawfish meat, so away we went. This crawfish bisque is certainly not fancy, nor is it difficult to make, but it was the perfect way to enjoy a chilly dreary evening - a pot of bisque bubbling away on the stove while we sat on our porch, catching up on our day.

This is the only picture I took, simply because once it was ready, we were too eager to dive in and couldn't be bothered to grab the camera. This bisque had a kick of spice, offset by the smoothness of sherry and half & half, and loaded with fat bites of tender crawfish meat. We sat barefoot on the porch swing, silent except for the sounds of swallowing and murmurs of content - and, of course, the rain hitting the ground around us.

Crawfish Bisque

1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of onion soup
2 soup cans of water
1 7 oz. can tomato sauce
1 package frozen crawfish tails, thawed
1 tbsp. seafood seasoning (such as Old Bay)
1 tsp. blackened seasoning
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. cooking sherry
¼ cup half & half

-Combine all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.