Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Craving Crab

In my constant quest for variety, I've learned to obey my cravings. It usually leads to something good. A few days ago, I got a great deal (surprise, surprise) on avocados at Aldi.  They were perfectly ripe, so I needed to use them before they turned the corner. As I contemplated those little dark green orbs, crab entered my mind.  The idea was born.  Crab Louis.

Mayo, green olives, chili sauce, horseradish & lemon make a tasty dressing. Capers for garnish and tang.

 I made a dressing with chili sauce, mayo, chopped green olives, a little horseradish and lemon juice. Then, I just piled crabmeat into the cavity of the avocados, added some boiled shrimp over shredded lettuce and drizzled with dressing. I topped it all with some capers because everything is better with capers. 

Crab, shrimp, avocado and Louis sauce on a bed of lettuce. Parfait, n'est ce pas?
Super fast, super easy, super delicious. We're still in April, but the temps are already getting close to the 90 degree mark, so cold food is certainly welcome this time of year. With my leftover crab, we are looking forward to crabcakes and/or bisque later in the week.  Poor us!  Crab all week long.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Strawberry Season!

It's Springtime here in the South and that means it's strawberry time!  Honestly, this is really the only time of year that I even like strawberries.  There is just something different about locally grown fruit. 

Near our house is Cottle Farms, which has been growing strawberries in Columbia pretty much my entire life. Maybe even longer than I've been around, I'm not sure.  It's a huge operation and our kids love going out to the farm to pick their own berries.  If you've never gone, you should.  A word of caution though.  Don't let yourself get carried away and bring home 3 buckets full. It's easy to get all excited and keep on pickin' but remember, the berries go bad if they hang around too long and you can always go back to the farm when you need more!

We went out after school on Monday and the strawberries are gorgeous.  Bright red, glossy and plentiful.  Years ago, I came across one of the kookiest recipes ever.  It was in a magazine, although it's been so long now, I couldn't even begin to tell you which one it was. It was for a turkey and strawberry panini.  I know, I know.  Sounds insane, right?  Well, it's not.  It's been years since we made these sandwiches, but when I saw this year's crop, I decided it was time to bring back the panini.

Here's the skinny...Get a loaf of fresh Italian bread from the bakery.  Give it a layer of pepper jelly. Yes, you heard me.  Then layer really smoky, sliced turkey with some brie, sliced strawberries and fresh basil leaves.  Press and grill it with a panini press, waffle iron, in a pan, whatever your usual grilled cheese-technique is.  Prepare to be amazed.  It's the craziest combination of flavors and IT WORKS.  I told our friend Dottie about the sandwich and when I saw her yesterday in the school yard...well, suffice to say, she was raving about it.  Her husband loved it, kids loved it, she loved it.  I'm so glad she tried it because in the past when I've told people about this recipe, I get that sideways "okaaaay, right, Elizabeth" look. 

Dear readers, food fanatics, culinary daredevils, good food consumers, take my advice on this one.  Get thee to the farm!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy Birthday, Babs

This is my sweet, loving and beautiful dog Babs.  When she was a puppy, she got into a bottle of Advil.  We rushed her to the vet but since she was so small, her little kidneys had already started to malfunction.  Over the course of a couple weeks, we were at the vet every day for IV fluids and we returned her to health. They told me that when she got older, she may end up with renal problems so I was (kind of) prepared for that.  About three weeks ago, I noticed she wasn't eating as much and was losing weight.  Last Friday, bloodwork confirmed that her kidneys were in trouble.  Renal failure set in and she declined extremely rapidly. Yesterday I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep.  Today would have been her 11th birthday.

My daughter has been handling this situation with remarkable maturity and clarity.  She turns 10 next week.  Today, she decided that we still needed to celebrate Babsy's birthday and the fact that she is no longer sick and uncomfortable.  The child baked a cake.  All by herself.  She made chocolate buttercream frosting.  All by herself. I'm so proud of her, on so many levels.  Here is her masterpiece...

And, so, today we celebrate despite our sadness and our overwhelming feelings of loss and longing.  Babs was a very important part of our family and it will be a difficult adjustment.  We just take comfort in knowing that because we loved her so, we were able to help her and stop the sickness.  We had 11 years together and we are thankful.  And if she were here, we'd let her eat cake. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Free Range from a Friend

When you give yourself the luxury of a few minutes of quiet time to just think, you realize just how cool this life is. We all meander in and out of each other's lives; sometimes only once in a blue moon, sometimes daily. But, regardless of frequency, these relationships are truly what life on this planet are all about.

Neil and I live in an awesome neighborhood with neighbors that we've known for many years. Yeah, it's that kind of place. We move here, get to know each other and we never leave. We are Rosewood lifers.  One such neighbor is Sharon.  She and her sig-other James decided a few years ago to become farmers.  They still live around the corner but they operate Carolina Bay Farms over in the Hopkins area. As I remember, it started with fresh eggs.  But, just a few days ago, Neil ran into her and became aware that they are now raising heritage meats. He came home with a bag full o' pork chops!

Tonight we cooked those little babies. Neil is big on really tasting the flavor of meat, so all we did was salt & pepper them. I seared them in my grill pan for about 2 minutes/side on high heat then transferred them to a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, I made a mushroom/white wine sauce to serve alongside.

In a word...perfect.  The pork is so flavorful without a lot of "flavoring."  No need to marinate, is what I'm saying.  The time and method of my cooking resulted in a perfectly cooked yet moist pork chop, which you all know can be quite a challenge at times. I toasted some good Italian bread and served our chops with mushroom sauce over the bread and green peas on the side.  As Wayne & Garth would say, SCHWIIING!

So, if you have not heard about Carolina Bay Farms, please check them out.  Thankfully, Columbia is hot and heavy (finally) on the farm-to-table and eat local movement. Sharon and James are doing good things just 20 minutes from town. Seek them out, support them and eat good pork chops!  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Local and Loving It

Rosewood Drive is one of Columbia's major thoroughfares. It's a retail/commercial corridor that those of us living in Rosewood and Shandon traverse and rely on daily. Our kids go to school on Rosewood, we shop at our Publix on Rosewood, we eat and shop in the Rosewood Market, treat ourselves at the Dairy Bar and Pelican's Sno-Balls, some of us even live right on Rosewood Drive. I can pretty much make my way up this street and get every errand accomplished and run into several of my neighbors along the way.

This is exactly what my friend Stephanie Bridgers identifed and banked on when she decided to open The Local Buzz at the corner of Rosewood & Shandon Street. Stephanie loves coffee.  She loves to serve coffee. She loves to bake. She loves her 4 kids and she loves all the kids they go to school with too.  So, her idea for her coffee shop took on a shape that most business owners don't consider.  It's the LOCAL buzz.  See, that's significant for a few reasons.  Obviously, she's a local.  She sells other local businesses' wares (Double Trouble doughnuts, Silver Spoon Bakeshop, Sweet Cream Co. ice cream).  But, what really sets The Local Buzz apart is Steph's vision and desire to make it a local hangout. 

And, she's been successful in achieving it. Kids and parents come in after school to tackle homework and eat ice cream. The morning crowd comes in for coffee, leaves their personal cup behind and the staff washes it and hangs it back on the wall for tomorrow.  There is a little free library.  She hosts "Rosewood weekends" where she donates some of the proceeds of Rosewood families' sales back to the PTO.  She's hosted movie nights.  And today was no different.  As the kids left school for Spring Break, they were invited in for an Easter cupcake decorating party.

The kids were given a blank "canvas" cupcake, supplied with various decorating supplies and were then given free reign. 

As you can probably imagine, the kids were in heaven.  Add in banana, strawberry and pineapple smoothies and you have a successful kid gathering! 

If you haven't made it to The Local Buzz, put this on your calendar.  Preferably on a day when you can take your time, relax on the big sofa, read a book or just chat with friends.  The coffee's great, the sandwiches and soups are homemade and the atmosphere is all community.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beef, I mean Pork, with Broccoli

Friends, I have been away.  To give you the short version, my mom had brain aneurysm surgery at the beginning of January and unfortunately, suffered a stroke during or right after. She's spent 2 weeks in the hospital and is now in a rehab hospital. She's improving everyday but it's a long road we have been set upon.

Here's something I can tell you:  if you're a food lovin' fool like I am, it's really, really hard to assist someone you love with a "mechanical soft" diet.  Know what that means?  It's not pureed, which is gross on a whole other level, but it's not much of an improvement. It means whatever is on the menu gets chopped up beyond recognition.  Tastes the same, but presentation goes out the window.  And bless her heart, I think my mom has been served mashed potatoes at every meal.  I mean, everyone loves mashed potatoes, but if you want to kill that for someone, just serve it to them meal after meal after meal. 

My dad and I spend every day at the hospital, helping with therapy, hypothesizing with the doctors, watching and observing.  I have to hand it to Neil; he has really stepped in and taken the wheel many a night on the dinner front because after spending a day in a hospital, you return home a victim of the mental time suckage vortex.  You hardly know your own name and all you want is wine.

Today was a really good day and I was excited about cooking tonight.  I mean, that's my hobby, right?  I had a beautiful pork loin that I had already cut up into chops. (Used part of that yesterday for a crockpot going all day at my dad's pad and one here!). The remainder I used tonight for stir-fry.  For some reason, my mind settled on the "beef with broccoli" idea but with my boneless pork.  So, I followed my basic Bw/B recipe and just jazzed it up a little.

I sliced my pork into thin strips and marinated it in 1/2 cup soy sauce, 2 Tbs cornstarch, 2 Tbs Sherry cooking wine and 2 tsp sugar.  I then stir-fried chopped onion, small broccoli florets, & julienned carrot. I took those out of the wok and then added chopped ginger and the pork. After a couple of minutes, I added my veggies back in, added the marinade liquid and some chiffonaded (is that a word "chiffonade-ed"?) spinach.  Served it over fragrant jasmine rice and we were happy little people. 

You know, if I were to chop up the pork, I bet this could qualify as "mechanical soft." It sure as hell looks better than what mom's been getting at the hospital! 



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