Thursday, August 28, 2008

If This Doesn't Make You an Environmentalist...

...then you've got no heart. Okay. That's an oversimplification. But, HOT DAMN, my baby is cute!
We can never get a clear shot of his smiles cuz he's always moving and sticking his hands in his mouth and doing his shy guy flirts.

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Cynthia McKinney's running-mate in 2012.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh No You Didn't Make Poblano Brie Crema!

At a loss for provocative food topics for stirring the pot, I've been talking about some of the weird choices that I sometimes make as I attempt to feed my wife and myself. Anyone who has cooked with me (RVA FNB?) knows that I often wind up pretty far out on a limb when assembling my list of ingredients. For me, combining flavors that are seemingly at odds is just a matter of hopping a mental barrier into the realm of possibilities. Black pepper and honey, coffee and oatmeal, and now roasted poblanos and brie cheese.

From the get go, this meal wasn't firing on all cyllanders. I went with the tried and true way to use up leftovers: mash up the proteins with some savory filler and stuff it into bell peppers and bake them. Classic Betty Crocker pseudo cooking from the heartland. This shift to a centrist style must be the political conventions rubbing off on me. Luckily, I can't resist showing my radical true colors.

Last night's ancho-flavored cauliflower and zuchinni saute wound up mashed with some steamed tempeh, toasted and crushed cumin and annatto seeds. Mixed with shredded cheddar, it all went into some sweet peppers of mixed color varieties. While it all baked, I had a couple poblanos burning their skins to a crisp on my Rick Bayless pepper roaster. I was hoping to make one of Booby Flay's spicy crema sauces.

Now, crema is usually some kind of dairy that is whipped until it's thin and light. Flay's method is usually to add spicy chilies and that was my goal. However, I couldn't find any dairy in the fridge. I couldn't use much half and half, or I'd get in trouble when Karen has her coffee and finds the carton empty. So, I pulled out the only white cheese I could find in the fridge: a half-eaten wedge of brie. That got diced, combined with a splashes of cream and water, diced poblano, and a bit of corn for sweetness.* I heated it all up, pureed it with my immersion blender, and voila: the heaviest crema you ever tasted.

Okay, the corn wasn't really necessary and probably weighed it down. But the richness of the brie was dynomite with the roasted peppers. As for the stuffed peppers... they didn't quite get cooked all the way, but the filling was hot and good enough with that sauce on top. On the side, we had some brown rice with corn and tomatoes mixed in.

As Karen and I got caught up on our Dexter episodes on the couch, Jasper was being all fussy and taxing on his primary comforter (mom). I bribed her into watching one more episode by offering to go get some desert from the kitchen. "Ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles" was all she wanted.

In the kitchen, I looked for something to put the dish over the top. And there it was, the tail end of a slice of chocolate coffee pie that we'd picked up from Simply Southern Pies at the Farmers' Market in Forest Hill Park. Having heard that these pies were fantastic, Karen made a bee line for their table when we got the market (and we're both glad she did). The Chocolate Java Splendor pie is so powerful that we've been nibbling on it since Saturday. And on Tuesday night, I put some little slivers of the pie on top of Karen's ice cream sundae. ** Since I generally prefer ice cream to pie, this juxtapositioning seemed like an appropriate arrangement of desert components.

*salt and pepper to taste
**it seems that I may have used the same unrinsed knife to cut the pie as I did on the poblano peppers, because Karen says the pie was really spicy. Doh!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Foodie Wordle

It'll be legible once you click it. Go to for the low down.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I just poured coffee in my oatmeal... on purpose

So, I emptied my little packet of Quaker Oats into a styrofoam cup and then held it under the Diamond Springs cooler's hot water spigot. Trickle, drip, drip... Silence.

Doh! I need at least another 4 ounces of scalding hot water to make my oatmeal. Then, I look in front of me and notice that I'd just finished pouring myself a cup of hot coffee. The oatmeal was the cinnamon and spice variety. I've had flavored coffee along those lines. Why not oatmeal flavored with coffee? I generally like coffee flavored stuff: mocha (coffee/chocolate), coffee spiked rubs for grilled foods, tiramisu, etc.

The verdict: My oatmeal tased like there were one too many flavors going on. Not really disasterous, just a little off putting. The real kicker was the non-dairy creamer. Yup, I poured the coffee straight outta my mug, after I'd already mixed it up (no sugar). If you think you can detect the powdery aftertaste of non-dairy creamer in your coffee, wait til you try it in oatmeal. Blech!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Black Pepper and Honey... in my Yogurt?

Tonight I took charge of dinner trying to make a variation on a curry dish from the Veganomicon. But, I made several hasty substitutions and wound up looking for something raita-like to redeem my experimental dish.

I know, it's kinda ironic to reach for a dairy product to rescue a vegan dish, but it's not like that at all. The Veganimicon recipe was one of the few in my cookbook collection that incorporated swiss chard and I'd just gotten some great looking greens and pearly white stalks from the Byrd House Market. The other two main ingredients were basmati rice and garbanzo beans. I didn't have either, instead electing to go with brown rice and black eye'd peas. From floral and light to earthy and heavy. Whups! The seasoning, toasty cumin seeds and sweet garam masala (begrudgingly purchased form Penzey's), couldn't quite brighten the flavors enough. I needed impactful condiments and garnishes.

Being a big fan of raita's cooling effects on spicy indian food, I decided to whip up something yogurt based to dollop on top of my Indian pilaf (biryani?). Rather than the usual cilantro, cumin, mint combo in my yogurt, here's what I did:

Black Pepper and Honey Yogurt Sauce
(mix it all together and let it sit in the fridge for 10 minutes, adjusting the flavor to make sure that the pepper and the honey are at the forefront)

1 cup yogurt
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp garlic powder (or one finely minced clove of garlic)
several cranks of fresh ground black pepper
salt to taste

Even though I had sufficiently made up for my main dish with a kickin' accoutrement, I wasn't satisfied. Karen needed something on that plate that would really be a treat, without any disclaimers or excuses. So, I thought about the sauce and imagined what would go best with a sweet and spicy yogurt sauce. How about crispy fried sausage? We've probably been over this before, but Karen eats meat and I don't, but oddly enough SHE has an insatiable appetite for vegetarian sausage, particularly Morningstar Farms. Today, all I had was Gimme Lean brand*, but it turned out great (meat eaters, substitute breakfast tube sausage, if you must).

I broke off bite-sized pieces of the soft fake meat and dropped them into a well oiled pan, turning them as they browned. Near the end of the cooking, I sprinkled the soysage with garam masala (truly a divine fragrance, if you haven't already had it) and smoked paprika. These little nuggets were perfect with the yogurt sauce all by themselves. I could have skipped the complicated rice and beans and greens. But, I wouldn't be full and filled with valuable nutrients.

*The Gimme Lean link features a great recipe for Southern Style Sausage Biscuits and Gravy. The first restaurant to offer this version will get my brunch money on a regular basis.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Will Dogs Be Allowed in Byrd Park?

In June, I was pushing to see dogs legalized in Byrd Park, but the issue stalled at City Council, got postponed and now there's a public meeting. I just got this email from Marty Jewell's office. If you've ever considered walking your dog around the lakes in Byrk Park, you should show up to this meeting and make your voice heard. Personally, I'm not asking for leashless access. I just want the cops to leave me alone as long as I'm cleaning up after my dog.

Here's the announcement (RSVP may be a good idea):

Hello All:

The Byrd Park Round house has been scheduled Wednesday, August 20, 2008 6:00 P.M. to discuss the Dog leash issue for Byrd Park.

I appreciate your assistance in notifying members of your respective groups who may have interest in this issue.

We apologize for the short notice, but please contact me to confirm your attendance at the number below or email back.

Thank you,

Francine P. Young
Council Liaison
5th Council District
(804) 646-5724

Pamplemousse Flavored La Croix

It's hard to find soft drinks that don't have calorie and carb loaded sugar. Fake sugar is even worse and increasingly hard to locate on the label. Karen was able to find a brand of naturally flavored sparkling water at Kroger. It's called La Croix. Every time she goes to the store, she brings home a different flavored twelve pack of La Croix cans. This time it was pamplemousse. D'yall know what that is? It's French for grapefruit, as it turns out. And, it's freakin delicious. Well, as tasty as a zero calorie sugar-free beverage can be. The lemon flavor is pretty darned good to. Much cheaper than San Pelegrino. Did I mention that the flavor is "all natural." Seriously, I am not getting paid to tell you this.

Update: Digging a little deeper, it seems that the pamplemousse may actually be bigger and sweeter than a grapefruit. Does anyone know where I can get one? Tan-A, probably. Not sure how I'd feel asking a clerk in any store for a "pamplemousse."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Guacamole Dip that Eats Like a Meal

Tonight we made a guacamole dip that rendered us unable to eat dinner. It was easy to make, nutritious, and delicious. And it satisfied like nobody's business, thanks to pumpkin seeds.* The satiating quality is a useful attribute for two reasons. Avocados are expensive and it sucks when your guac is gone in a heartbeat. This stuff, will not get eaten too quickly. And if it does, those people who eat it won't be eating much for the next few hours. That's the other benefit, fewer chimichangas.

Just recently, I learned to set the DVR to record all of the awesome cooking shows on PBS on Saturday morning. One of those is Rick Bayless' "Mexico: One Plate at a Time." So far, my favorite episode is the one where Rick is throwing a "block party" and he invites some PBS diversity over for finger food. Oh, hell yeah. That's my kinda party. Did yall know that Barack Obama loves Bayless' cooking? Well, me too. Only, unlike the very 'presidential' Obama, I'm quick to point out the cultural appropriation behind Bayless seeing the cuisine of real Mexicans and saying, "Si, se puede." Yes, we can - make some money off of the tasty techniques of Mexico.

One of the dishes that Bayless prepares is Toasted Pumpkinseed Guacamole and I was a little skeptical when he described it to the camera. He talked about the toasty flavor, compared to his Mango Guacamole, but he didn't, however, talk about the meal replacement effects of the dip. This dish , together with my whey revelation, will help me reduce my own intake and drop a few pounds, if I can remember to make it a few times a month. He served it along side some really simple tuna escabeche tacos. You can make these together, or you can just bookmark Rick's recipe list and go to town on his awesome recipes a couple times a week.

If you're too lazy to go to the link, just make guacamole like you usually would and stir in some pureed toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

What do yall think?

*Pumpkin seeds are a superfood. Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acids alanin, glycine and glutamic acid, and also contain high amounts of zinc. Enlargement of the prostate affects about half of men over the age of 50 and including a handful of pumpkin seeds may offer some protection against the development of prostate cancer. They contain high quantities of protein, iron and phosphorous and even a tablespoon a day would be a good addition to any healthy diet, particularly for vegans and vegetarians.

Chubby Man Hands and Bottom-lipless Bug-eye

Jasper is a chubby baby with little chubby fingers. My fingers have actually been chubby my whole life, so I guess there's some resemblence there, except, I'm not chubby. Nope. Not chubby. Hmmm-mmm. Just the fingers.

Lately, our baby has been looking a little freaky. When he's not jamming his whole hand full of fat fingers into his mouth, he's taking the lazy oral fixation route. He simply sucks on his bottom lip. Perfectly understandable, not having any teeth. Combined with his frequent surprised state makes a pretty funny faced baby.

Holding true to our "nearly everything for Jasper off of Craigslist instead of retail" policy, we got the little guy an exersaucer. He hasn't really taken to tummy time, or turning over, sitting up, or crawling. Instead, he just wants to stand and jump while swing his arms around.

Here, Jasper is standing in his exersaucer, making his exclamation sounds and smiling at anyone who'll stop blogging long enough to play with him.

A couple animated gestures from mom or dad and Jasper doubles over with laughter - hiding his face and flirting. And then it's back to flipping the pages of his "book" and accidentally spinning the crystal ball.

Do you know this doggy?
I found her sniffing around my front porch today. She's very sweet, but she's got no tags other than a rabbies vaccination thingy from a distant veterinarian. Tried calling that number, but they're not open until Monday. Anyone wanna dog sit? I don't. Sorry, but we've got our hands full of our own dogs and baby right now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cookies that Make Milk

I love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, especially with a glass of milk to dunk them in.* When I got home from work today, Karen was making a big batch of'em, only with a twist. Apparently, oatmeal, brewers yeast and flax seeds all help with breast milk production in lactating moms. Karen was using Housepoet's Famous Lactation Cookies recipe that is all over the web, even posted by dads. Now, it's right here for you too. (*Silk brand soy milk is my favorite for dunking) This topic has been blogged pretty sufficiently already, so please visit the links for loads of insights.

With baby Jasper, milk is the main currency that he accepts in all transactions. So, Karen and I need to make sure that we've got plenty on hand whenever he wants it. We've got bottles and organic formula ready to go (link goes to cheapest deal online), but that's really the last resort. If I don't wanna start getting up with the little guy to bottle feed at all hours, then I better make sure that Karen is well supplied with the homemade milks (we like to pluralize the word for some reason).

Looks like cookie making is going to be my new hobby and I might even doctor up the standard recipe you see below. Of course, these cookies are chewy and delicious enough as is that anyone will wanna gobble'em up. Whether they result in lactating dads has yet to be seen. And, "who is Housepoet," you might be wondering? No idea. A prize goes to the first commenter who can clue me in.

Housepoet's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Flaxseed Lactation Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal*
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats, thick cut if you can get them
1 cup or more chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of brewers yeast** (be generous)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees F. Mix together 2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal and water, set aside for 3-5 minutes. Cream (beat well) butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mix well. Stir
flaxseed mixture and add with vanilla to the margarine mix. Beat until blended. Sift together dry ingredients, except oats and chips. Add to margarine mixture. Stir in oats then chips. Scoop or drop onto baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment or silpat. The dough is a little crumbly, so it helps to use a scoop.

Bake 8-12 minutes, depending on size of cookies.

Serves: 6 dozen cookies

*can be found at any local health food store

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If You Could Stock Your Own Corner Store...

My neighborhood convenience store has asked the local civic league for a list of grocery items that would help them change their client base as they renovate the market's building (see my list after my rhetoric). Currently, the place sells the standard stuff that every other corner-store carries: candy, lottery tickets, chips, single bottle malt liquor and fortified wine, single blunt cigars, and generic processed and packaged foods with a sizable mark-up. Does this assignment sound exciting to anyone? How would you stock your own neighborhood store? Would you want gourmet items or staples?. Does "convenience" hold the same definition for everyone?

The store has been there for 27 years. From the looks of it, some of the canned goods may be that old as well. The corner is a daily hangout for drunks and panhandlers as well as some really nice folks. Crack and heroine deals take place sporadically but brazenly in broad daylight, and it's just two blocks from the 3rd precinct police department. People say that the owners are anxious to change the atmosphere, but those who've witnessed the history say that the place has always been a hot spot and that the owners have always been complicit.

My biggest pet peeve is the constant barrage of litter that emanates from the store's customers. It sounds trivial compared to the intimidation that women feel as they approach the intersection, but the visual "crapification" by consumer waste brands the surrounding blocks as derelect and dangerous (insert obligatory "broken windows theory" reference here) and it's just plain unnecessary. These patterns are probably documented by thousands of communities, but this situation actually has an opening for public input. What do you think? Can we tackle the social issues at the same time as the commercial issues?

You are invited to help me make a list to pass on to the civic league and market owners. You are also welcome to chime in with your take on the ethics and/or effectiveness of this approach. I'm not a decision-maker here, just a citizen, but this forum will probably make a difference one way or another. Maybe you think it would make sense for the store owners to conduct a survey of current customers, in the interest of equity. That way it wouldn't be a simple swapping of lower socio-economic class of clients with the growing white middle class demographic of the neighborhood. Maybe there's a way to balance community interests here (although hopefully with less litter and drug trade). Since this is Byrd Park I'm talking about, is there a "community blog" that serves this region?

So far, here's what I've come up with (thanks in part to America's Test Kitchen's "Buying Guide for Supermarket ingredients")*:

  • half and half
  • Eight O'Clock coffee (whole bean Colombian variety)
  • tortilla chips (plain Tostino's or Utz, not Doritos)
  • garlic, fresh
  • frozen shrimp and fish in factory sealed bags
  • distro site for CSA produce shares and surplus sales
  • frozen pizzas (Tombstone and Freshetta)
  • tortillas (flour and corn)
  • breads, Pepperidge Farm rolls, sliced whole wheat, etc
  • energy efficient light bulbs
  • bread crumbs, Progresso
  • nothing passed its sell by date
  • BBQ sauce, Bulls Eye Original
  • soy milk, Silk plain
  • salsa, Pace
  • hire someone to pick up litter from store's products
  • butter, Land O'Lakes
  • frozen meat, whatever yall like
  • cream cheese, Philladelphia
  • bagged salads and greens
  • olive oil, Davinci or Colavita or Berio
  • email specials to those who sign up
  • pasta, Barilla or Muellers
  • pasta sauce, Barilla or Bertolli
  • ice cream, Turkey Hill vanilla bean or neopolitan
  • rice, white, brown, and basmati
  • better lighting and later hours
  • kosher salt, Morton's
  • canned tomatoes, Redgold and Muir Glen
  • tomato paste
  • various organic/natural products (Amy's frozen meals)
  • Morningstar Farm's fozen fake bacon/sausage/etc
  • cheese, shredded various varieties
  • Yeungling lager in 12 packs
  • stay open on Sundays

Plenty of these are already on the shelves at most convenience stores. Others would be problematic because they have a short shelf life. I think the kind of thing that is needed here are those items that come up between big grocery store trips. Stuff you run out of when you don't realize you're almost out.

Okay, let's here from Richmond...

*Brand names listed for items where a higher quality can be purchased for relatively similar price as other brands.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sweet and Smokey Grilled Tomato Salsa

Salsa should be easy to make: chop some fresh ingredients, stir together, and eat. But the result too often tastes of hasty preparation, watery and one dimensional. There is a way to make sure that your dip has a deep and satisfying flavor, but it takes a little investment of time. Lucky for us, Cooks Illustrated did all of the research and published detailed instructions in their May/June 2006 issue. If you save the back issues like I do, you'd be well advised to dig that one up. Otherwise, you'll have to buy a membership to their online archives; a good investment if you like to find recipes online rather than in books or if you like to review product comparisons before purchasing kitchen appliances. Their findings on grocery store coffee blew me away (gist: buy 8 O'clock brand Colombian beans ASAP... mmmmmmm)

The toms are best when some of the water has cooked out and their flavors become concentrated.

Since I've become a big fan of the "Sweet and Smokey Grilled Tomato Salsa" recipe from America's Test Kitchen, I'll share the basic tenets with you in hopes that some of you do some experimenting of your own. One of my main motivations in growing tomatoes is to make this salsa, but the magazine says it's actually designed to make use of out-of-season roma/plum tomatoes. Whatever your angle, this is worth it. Make a lot and give some to the neighbors.

Check out that smokey 'mater pot liquor.
Some garlic got grilled in this batch too.

1) Chop in half at least two pounds of plum tomatoes and toss them in oil to coat and put them face down on a hot grill (any toms other than roma/plum will turn to soup on the grill). Do the same with a couple jalapenos or whatever peppers you've got in the garden (if you wanna skip the fresh peppers, use a couple of those canned chilpotles in adobo).

2) Turn them over after they've gotten slightly charred. Toss some wet wood chips on the fire (in smoker box if using gas) and cover the grill (do NOT use mesquite chips - flavor is too heavy). Watch neighbors come outside with noses in the air as they detect the smell of delicious smokiness.

3) When the tomatoes have shrunk slightly, and they're charred on both sides, put them in a bowl to cool (repeat 1-3 until all tomatoes/peppers are cooked)

4) Blend tomatoes and peppers (with or without seeds depending on desired spiciness) with chopped red onion (a couple tbsp per lp of toms), lime juice, fresh cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper - all to taste. Tasting and adding more of this or that is the fun part. Serve after at least 10 minutes (maybe overnight) so the flavors can mingle and mellow.

Flash overexposure. It's really a much deeper red.

If this abreviated recipe is still too compicated for your cooking chops, just do the trifling two-step: Grill a bunch of salsa veggies and blend'em up. Nuff said.

What do you think of this grilled salsa? I think it ranks right up there with another grilled recipe that I like to make.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This is Why I'm Hot

The title to Mims' song predates Jasper's birth,
but does this guy look like he cares?

Saturday's Adventures Play-by-Play

This past Saturday was so action packed that I had to write down the events for posterity. Some of these items may serve the public interest. You be the judge:

9am: Walked with Karen and Jasper to Carytown for coffee. Stopped at Cartwheels and Coffee, just west of the Byrd Theatre (coffee shop that is geared toward those of us with little kids). Drank coffee and played with Jasper in their infant area with some of the house toys. Read a bit of backstory on the coffee shop. Interesting. Hint: No wonder they're closed on Sundays. The kids play area is $4 per visit. If they stay open, we'll hit that up in a couple years. In the meantime, I recommend that they keep the half and half on the counter so they don't have to take it out of the fridge every time someone buys a cup of coffee. Whatever. The coffee was good. Are there more places like this one? Just curious. How long until they offer a baby-sitting service while parents shop in Carytown?

11am: Still on the same walk (stopped at Can Can for snacks, Agees to help Piet find a bike, and Walgreens for some new headphones for my iPod), headed to the Jonny Z festival (Bizarre Market) on Sheilds and chatted with old friends. Bought a painting of Zapatistas, handmade plush toys, and some local music CDs.

12pm: Karen craved huevos rancheros after reading my blog. So, I whipped up a batch.

1pm: In-laws arrive and I find work to do outside. Tangle with my withering tomato plants (found this cute squash was ready to pick) and some back-breaking dirt shoveling. You see, there's all this dirt in the alley up against my garage. Years ago, the home inspector said that we'll want to get it away from there or the wood will rot. Well, I procrastinated. Besides, where do you put 500 lbs of dirt? Not in a supercan, as it turns out. Anyhow, I saw a truck in the neighborhood that said stump removal, etc, so I called. The dude was just waking up around noon. He came by and I showed him the job. "Not interested." I couldn't believe how forthright he was when we hadn't even talked terms. "I do tree work. That's shit work." Alright, man. "But I'll leave my truck here and you can load it... um, twenty bucks." After coming to terms with the idea that I'd be shoveling in the hot sun for the next few hours, I made a brief attempt and then the wheels started turning. I put down the shovel and walked a block to the intersection where guys hang out by the convenience store and I introduced myself to a guy named Curly. He agreed to work along side me for an hour in exchange for $15, a cup of ice water and two cold beers. Come to think of it, I'd take that deal any day. With Curly's help, we knocked out the job quick: me breaking up the dirt/weeds and both of us shoveling it onto the truck. Three and a half years of procrastinating and the work only required $35 and an hour or so of sweat.

3pm: Started a long session of roma tomato grilling for my favorite salsa (recipe to follow in subsequent post). Drank two cold beers in order to weather the heat that goes with babysitting the smoldering charcoal.

6pm: Dinner with in laws. Venician shrimp, garlicky green beans, and heirloom tomato-heavy salad. We served some homemade peach ice cream too.

7:30: Went to the ABC store and bought my favorite bourbon: 10 year old Evan Williams Single Barrel.

8:15: Pureed the tomatoes, red onions, garlic, jalapenos, guajillos, cilantro, etc. Tasted, adjusted, and tossed it in the fridge. Did some dishes and hung out with Karen.

10pm: Drank a bourbon and coke and watched fighter Roger Huerta (one of my faves) lose in a boring bout on the UFC. Had to adjust to the reality that WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar is going to be a force to contend with in the heavyweight division. On the bright side, George St. Pierre proved to be one of the most dominant MMA competitors and all around athletes to ever get in the cage. And he's got class.

12:30am: Read in Urban Views about Nathan Burrell, City Parks Dept. Trails Manager. Really liked his point of view about the need to integrate more time in nature into our lives and into the priorities of our city. Turns out he's married (and has 1.5 children with) an old friend, Tracy Brockwell. Gotta say hey one day.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Black Sheep: a Tardy Take

I've been sitting on this entry for too long. When The Black Sheep opened, I didn't want to join in on the fanfare, or as Piet says, the "Lemming Parade." But, sometimes the masses are right. A coworker of mine gave the only negative review that I'd heard, saying that "different isn't always better," after listing a bunch of gripes. But he's since been back twice and now he's swearing by every thing he eats there. So, I sought out to make up my own mind.*

In fact, I went to the Black Sheep four or five times in a pretty short period. My graduate course was giving me fits, so I took Wednesdays off from work and had a couple breakfasts there under the pretense of doing homework. Around that time, I was contemplating writing an entry comparing the outstanding Community Coffee of Black Sheep with the fair trade organic brew from Common Groundz around the corner on Broad. They're both winners, really. Only one place is cozy while the other is cavernous (and the food is worlds apart, of course, since coffee shop fare is just that). Anyhow, that post didn't manifest. Instead, I turned in a 35 page paper and a 13 pager final exam, thanks in part to the time I spent working on my laptop in both locations, drinking coffee. When school is back in session, I'm sure there'll be more of this going on in both spots and I'll have to find more original hideouts.

The breakfast food:

The first time around, I had the huevos rancheros, because I am unable to order anything else if I see this dish on the menu. Put huevos and falafel on one menu and my head will explode. These huevos were kinda prettied up (although, still hearty) compared to the dish you might get at your average Mexican restaurant. Funny, cuz this dish gets messy no matter how pretty it's delivered. Maybe that's just my eating style. Major points for the rich and spicy green mole stripe down the middle. Style took issue with the corn tortillas beneath the pile of beans and eggs. They've since replaced the tortillas with cheese grits (can't wait to try that). Either way, my request would be for those tortillas on the side (steamed and wrapped in foil as you'll get at a Mexican joint) or maybe a couple hunks of their yummy buttered bread. Anything to mop up the inevitable huevo's mess that results.

With the second breakfast I really just wanted sides: buttered toast, "smashed browns," and a couple eggs over easy. These elements weren't on the menu as a standard breakfast plate, but my server said it was no problem. The buttered bread was delicious, thick, toasty and chewy. The taters had similar characteristics (but not chewy). The best part was the savory crust where the grill had seared saltiness into the spud. But the taters were BIG, like halves of yukon golds, cracked at various points around the perimeter from having been literally smashed on the grill. So, the size and thickness meant more unseasoned potato insides and less crunchy exterior. This isn't really a complaint, cuz the quality of the produce really came through (were they yukons, which I never splurge on for my own cooking?). Just a matter of taste. Either way, heads and shoulders above the frozen hash browns you'll find at DeLux even better than the underwhelming brunch side from Booby Flay's Mesa Grill (just wanted to get that link in).

Two lunches:

The real reason I was drawn to Black Sheep was to try one of those big baguette sandwiches. Being a frugal guy, I couldn't resist the temptation of a guaranteed second meal of leftover lunch sammich. I got the Cumberland, which had various pickled veggies and grilled eggplant on it and just for a taste of adventure, I had them add sardines. What came out took me back to my childhood. Growing up, there was always baguette in the kitchen. And when I needed to feed myself (picture a finicky 12 year old), I would cut the biggest piece that I could imagine eating. Slice it down the side and layer slices of processed cheese and ham. The whole thing would go into the microwave or the toaster oven, sometimes in two pieces so it would fit. Then, I would spend an hour so so gnawing and chewing on the monstrosity. Just as in my old memory, the filling kinda played second fiddle to the chewy bread. The veggies were tangy and the fishies added satisfying flavor, but it's a pretty bready affair. I'm not saying that they were stingy with the filling. For the price, it's too be expected. Baguette is just a really substantial bread to use for a sub role. Next time, I'll get the hard boiled egg addition to the filling. If I ate meat, I'd be all about that sweedish meatball sub.

This memorable experience is why I asked my wife to take me to The Black Sheep for my birthday lunch so I could order their most expensive sub, featuring grilled Mahi Mahi. To my surprise, the Mahi had been relocated to a dinnertime fish taco platter. Instead, there was a shrimp sub with artichoke hearts and green olive tapenade. The combination sounded weird, but tasted good. I'd probably get it again. However, the sub was actually the low point of our celebratory meal. Why? Because everything else was freakin' amazing. Karen ordered the Spice Trade salad and totally fell in love with the creamy curry yogurt dressing and occasional sweet bites of pear. A really unique dish. It paired perfectly with the tomato and curried lentil soup, which was spicy and hearty. We've been pining for both of these since that day.

Notice what's missing from this story so far? Baby Jasper was a darling during the meal. At one point, Karen did some precautionary public nursing in our sorta secluded booth and he went right to sleep. Servers passed the test by not staring for too long (Jasper is allowed to stare, as you can see). For dessert, it was a no brainer. I had previously jumped at the white russian brownie and was unimpressed. Maybe it's just not good breakfast food. But, my server brought a sliver of peanut butter pie as a consolation. I almost politely declined, cuz I don't generally like cake or pie as a rule (weird, I know). This thing blew me away. The fluffy pie filling was supernaturally spiked with the essence of peanut butter. Since Karen is a big peanut butter fan, I knew that seeing her dive into this dish would be a great birthday present. And it came true. I've never seen her happier than when she's got a superlative worthy dessert in front of her: the perfect high point finish to a fantastic birthday meal. The only thing I would change is this blog entry. I asked Karen to write up her kudos as a guest blogger birthday present to me... still waiting. Maybe she'll comment here instead.

Obviously, we need to go back for dinner. Those fish tacos will be on the table, for sure. And there's a veggie stroganoff that has me curious to see how it stacks up to my version. So, I guess I'm a lemming. But it's pretty out of character for me. Stay tuned and I promise I'll write something really harsh about a Richmond restaurant world demi-god sometime soon. It's been a long time since I've played that role.

ps: I did order deviled eggs. Going into the experience, I had convinced myself that there is no such thing as a good or bad deviled egg. Mayo and mustard makes it adequate and I'd never had any additions that elevated it much (although pickles can ruin them, come to think of it). Anyhow, the Black Sheep version is pretty darn good. Not sure why. Maybe salt. You tell me.

*For some fascinating background on the restaurant and it's chef/owner, check out the The Black Sheep's website. I'm really inpressed with the list of kitchen's he's cooked in, especially since it includes the Governor's mansion under Warner and Kaine. Oh, and the place is closed on Mondays and a bunch of the teen-dates in August (can someone clarify those dates in the comments?)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Where do Brussel Sprouts Come From? (and other gardening tales)

When I first posted about growing your own food(ie), I didn't know what to expect from my baby brussel sprout plants. Even as they ballooned into impressive bushes, I confused them with the collard greens, cuz - duh! - there were no sprouts to speak of.

However, as the plants got tall and unruly a few weeks back, a friend of mine pointed out the little fruits growing in the armpits of the stalk. Now, the question is, when do I pick'em?

Today, I pulled this head of cauliflower, as it was just a little passed due. It was fantastic in a red curry over brown rice. Bringing it into the kitchen I thought, it had better be good cuz my other three plants didn't make any veg, just leaves. (if anyone has clue about this, please chime in)

At the Maymont Herb Fair, I bought a zapotec Mexican heirloom tomato plant from Amy's Organics cuz they said the fruits were really gnarly looking. Well, they were right. Can't wait for one to turn red.

As soon as I bragged about my "Green Giant" tomato plants growing to 7ft, the thing shot another foot into the sky and half of the branches turned brown and brittle. Weird, huh? It's been watered (not too much or too little). Parts are growing while others are dying. I don't get it. I know, there's always fried green tomatoes.

Aint' these peppers cute? They come in black and then they turn red. And, they're really spicy. Can anyone identify them? We lost the tag. I'll settle for recipe suggestions.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Problems with Blogger and My Camera

A month or so ago, my beloved digital camera stopped working. Now, it's a pain in the ass to post pictures. Help me get my beloved back. Another problem I need help with is Blogger. For some reason, pictures keep disappearing from my posts. Not just pics that I stole from other sites, but my personally snapped pictures. Why?

Okay, back to my Fuji Finepix V10. Everyone loves this camera, but it's got this common, totally unprovoked failure, that costs a fortune to fix. I wish the irony was adequate consolation. Instead, the camera taunts me. I turn it on and it says "focus error" after making a bunch of clicking noises and the lense won't come back in. That's all it will do. Some sites say to reformat the card a certain way and then it will fix the camera when you put it back in. Well, I don't know how to do that, even though I bought a card reader, just for that purpose.

I tried customer service, but there doesn't appear to be such a thing with Fuji, just a circular group of links and dead ends. So, I'm looking for an alternative. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Scariest Food Gatekeeper on the Web in Richmond

The past week has shown how quickly online comments can escalate into finger-pointing and personal attacks, polarized groups and childish taunting (in chronological order, see here, here, here and now right HERE!). Things cooled down as quickly as they heated up, but I can't help but feel a degree of spillover trepidation about my variety of truth telling and the potential for hostile feedback from multiple angles. And even though I really don't wanna participate in any kind of blogging popularity contest or gossipy bullsh*t in general, I know that it can't feel good to be on the receiving end.

So, I'm posting this as a reminder to think before I "speak," but in the end, I'm not gonna hold my tongue if I have something to say. If it gets people talking, well, that was kinda the point.

On to the real presence on the web to worry about:

This bad boy (or girl? about 2" across) was waiting for me on Saturday morning when I went into my tomato garden to pick the ripe fruits before a road trip. There were upwards of twelve tomatoes being guarded by this spider.

I got all the tomatoes, thanks.

ps: Does anyone know where I can buy some spinach plants? I don't wanna start from seed.

Naked Hottie on a Hotel Bed

Caught you lookin!

Seriously, though. We went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia to see hundreds of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs at Pigs, a Sanctuary. I've been there almost ten times since 1995. Richmond Food Not Bombs used to sponsor a hairless pig there named Spanky. He had outlived his usefulness at a skin grafting research lab and they were going to send him to the rendering plant.

There are lots of heart-wrenching stories behind each of the 400 animals at this non-profit utopian farm. Pot-bellied pigs became popular in the late 80s - early 90s when the media got ahold of the dubious story that these cute little guys (as babies, mind you) were better than dogs as they were friendly house-trainable and fairly independent. Well, once everybody ran out and got their own pig, they saw them grow up into less cute 150 lb hairy beasts.

They were still domesticatable, but as hearding animals, they needed a hierarchy in their life. So, the pigs challenged their owners, charging them and swinging their little tusks at human shins. Ouch! Infuriated owners sicked their dogs on the pigs, fired shotguns at them, set them loose in the wild, and tried to carve them up and eat them (too fat, no meat). Hence, they've been popping up at SPCAs, rendering plants, and found wandering around suburban streets. These conditions have created a need for places like the Pigs Sanctuary in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Thanks to the stupidification pushed on us by the main stream media, people turned their excitement for pigs into malice. The mistake was to bring them into a house without other pigs to socialize with. And they really need to have access to outdoor space (not unlike your dog, but more so). If you can truly provide those conditions, Pigs would love to place some little porkers with you. Otherwise, you're welcome to visit the pigs (and many other animals) where they're all living out their lives with nothing to fear - where a pig can be a pig.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Jasper's Road Trip Pics

Can a daddy really be secure with his masculinity in a Maya wrap?

I'm secure in my Maya wrap. Mascu-what?

First time swimming. Think he likes it?
Long day of swimming in an over-clorinated hotel pool.

Found the ideal spot for a cold beverage in Shepherdstown, WV.
Excitement ensued.