Preparation Makes Perfect

Tomorrow is day 1 of Veek (VEgan weEK). Honestly, I’m thrilled to pieces about this upcoming week. And to get me even more excited (and prepared to thoroughly embrace the awesomeness that I expect veganism to be) I made a trip to Fresh Market to stock up on some vegoodies. (Am I over doing the cutesiness yet?)

As with all of my Fresh Market play dates, this one started with a little coffee tasting. I never pay attention to what the coffee is, but I’m yet to be disappointed. Right next to the coffee section was their usual classy and sophisticated display of seasonal candies. And as always they managed to make Peeps, Reeses’ eggs and rabbit Pez dispensers look upscale.

Behind the baskets of expertly arranged candy was…duh duh duhthe cheese section. Not tonight. For the next week it is bye-bye cheese…

…hello produce…

…and whole grains.

(This means I’ll finally get a chance to play with quinoa, lentils and barley.)

While some people that I’ve told about my little foodventure have gasped and wondering how I’ll live without meat/eggs/regular baked goods/etcetc, I’m choosing not to focus on that. I don’t care that I can’t eat cheese. I don’t eat that much cheese anyway. I’m too excited about all the new food I’m going to be nom nom nomming on to focus on what I won’t.

So instead of drooling over the bakery (like I normally do) or lusting after the dairy section (full of yummy Greek yogurt), I thoroughly enjoyed scouring the store for vegan gems. By the end of the night my basket was full (and I could tell my wallet was going to be empty) with goodies:

Organic baby carrots

(the perfect grab-n-go snack)

Edemame

PopChips

(partially because I’m going to use them in a recipe later and partially because they’re damn good)

Roasted red pepper hummus

Mr. Krispers sea salt and pepper baked rice crisps

(to dip in the hummus)

Whole grain Ezekiel bread

(I’m really excited about this because I’ve been hearing rave reviews about it for a while and now I have an excuse to shell out a few $$ and give up the fridge space. I can’t wait to try this with some of my new almond butter or hummus. Yum?!)

Dried apricots

2 Larabars—cherry pie and lemon bar

(These and the apricots are my attempt at dessert. I was hoping to find some vegan chocolate (no luck) or vegan cookies (vegan cookies, yes. Vegan cookies with pronounceable ingredients, no), but that didn’t pan out so I’ll have to make do with these. I’ve never had Larabars, but I didn’t know if my Luna bars were vegan, so this is a double adventure.)

Grocery shopping got me so completely jazzed about tomorrow I almost started snacking in the car on the way home. But I restrained myself somehow.

And now I’m sipping some Get Some Zzzs and snacking on my last regular baked good for a week—a small slice of an almond bar. Definitely a good last choice.

G’night, eaters. Next time you hear from me I’ll be knee deep in veganland.

Attention! Attention! Read all about it!

Remember that potential bit of interesting news I mentioned a couple of days ago. Well, here it is…hold on to your seats…

I’m going vegan!

Well, sort of.

After reading a handful of vegan blogs and going to a hippie dippy sandals and granola school with a vegan station in the dining hall I’m become increasingly interested in trying out veganism. Funny, coming from a girl who just recently began a love affair with Greek yogurt and muffins, and who has a long-standing love affair with meat.

But I’m always up for a challenge (and a change) so I figure now was as good a time as any to mix things up. So starting Monday I’m going to be completely vegan for 7 days. Yes, for a whole week I will swear off cookies (no matter how soft the sugar cookie are), Greek yogurt, and meat (including my usual spicy tuna sushi roll on Thursday) and (further) develop a taste for tofu, veggies and oatmeal.

Despite the vegan station, it’s going to be a challenge in the dining hall. I’m going to have to be a lot more conscious of what I eat. For example, it only recently dawned on me that 1) Honey Nut Cheerios aren’t vegan and 2) that those are the kind I have been so happily eating for breakfast. I’m going to have to become that person that asks a million questions before eating something (Were these veggies sautéed in oil or butter? Is this chicken or vegetable stock in the soup? Etc) and unfortunately, the dining hall staff doesn’t always know the answers. I’m going to have to become very well acquainted with the salad bar (but maybe that’ll force me to learn to love more raw veggies). And eating out will become exponentially more difficult.

I could simply resign myself to a week of plain rice, lettuce, bananas, and soy milk, but the idea behind this little foodventure is to experience all the potential awesomeness veganism has to offer, not to deprive myself for a week so I can say I did. So I’m going to battle the hot food line in the dining hall and I’m going to ask the questions and I’m going to go out to eat. And I’ve never been more excited about food in my life.

Will I continue on the vegan path after this week is over? Who the hell knows. I could end up loving everything about it. I could realize that I miss too many of my favorite foods. Maybe I’ll become a vegetarian. Maybe I’ll be watching the clock and have a steak sandwich and yogurt waiting to feast on the minute my week is up. Only time will tell.

The only expectation that I have going in to this experiment is that I hope to become more aware of the food I eat—how it is prepared, how it tastes, what it consists of and how it makes me feel. If I can achieve just that, I will consider my foodventure a success.

Anything else is just icing (Duncan Hines, because it’s vegan) on my (eggless, milkless, butterless) cake.

Friday Lunch: Fresh Market

I think Paula Deen’s show yesterday had more of an impact on me than I thought because last night for dinner my sushi salad just didn’t interest me. Instead I nommed on (among a few other things) a banana and Fresh Market peanut butter. I was really grooving on it—the soft, subtly sweet banana mixed with the slight crunch of the peanut butter—until I ran out of peanut butter. Talk about meal-kill.
Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to go to Fresh Market today and buy some more.

That errand (and a slight lack of time due to midterm studying) inspired Friday Lunch:

The Fresh Market prepared food section.

For some reason, I love a good prepared food section in a grocery store. I guess it’s kind of like going to a restaurant, but getting to see the food before you choose it. Like a delicious, hygienically packaged (and not all-you-can-eat) buffet. And Fresh Market’s prepared food is certainly no exception.

I lust over it every time I go, but with the exception of a soup or sandwich on the odd blue moon, I’ve never indulged that desire. So upon entering the market, with dining partner in tow, I was thoroughly excited to get my grub on. We walked up to the display case full of pasta salads and other random things and I began (secretly) drooling. I just couldn’t decide, especially since I knew there were other cases of yummy, ready to heat and eat food. A lap (or two) later we were finally ready to make our decisions:

½ lbs honey lemon bow tie pasta salad

I’m a huge pasta salad fan, but all too often it is doused is too much vinegar, especially mass-produced pasta salad. But with a name like “honey lemon” it had to be good. And it was! Oh boy it was!

Al dente bow ties mixed with just enough sweet-but-not-too-sweet dressing, sunflower seeds (which we all know I love), red onion, green bell pepper, and a few bits of sundried tomatoes. I could have definitely filled a feed bag with that. Good thing I chose to share.

2 pesto chicken empanadas

Chicken and pesto baked inside a flaky pastry crust. Are you doubting why I picked these?

In actuality, though, the crust could have been a tad flakier. But the filling was to die for. It had a slightly more Indian flavor, than the Spanish or Italian I expected, but I didn’t mind. (It was even better after a drop or two of Man Sauce, which I’m sure is straight blasphemy).

1 container of pork dumplings

These are a classic, and therefore had a lot to live up to. As much as it pains me to admit this, they weren’t as good as I was hoping. The wonton wrapper was a little thicker than I usually like (I want to be able to practically see the meat through the dough). And the pork was…well…creamy. Don’t get me wrong, the flavors were on point, but the whole thing had no texture. It was one of those dishes that I could envision in a nursing home cafeteria, because it could easily be gummed by the elders. I prefer my meat to be a little more firm and crumbly. The dipping sauce, though, was amazing. It was thicker and tangier than the usual dumpling dip. Just a little dab and I was in flavor heaven.

(I also had a small spinach salad with mushrooms, to ensure I got something veggie-based.)

I wanted to try the corn soufflé, spicy angel hair pasta with asiago, mini meatloafs, eggplant stacks and barbeque ribs, but I decided to show a little restraint.

That restraint lasted until we passed the barrels of yummy nuts, dried fruits and other little goodies. That’s where I saw the yogurt covered raisins. They were a staple of my childhood and it had been so long since I had any, so of course I just absolutely had to get a small bag.

I had some as dessert today. They were creamy and sweet (almost too sweet) with a tasty, plump raisin in the center, just like I remember. My only complaint (as is my complaint with a lot of chocolate/yogurt/other substance covered Fresh Market goods) is that they go a little heavy on the covering. These would have been just as delicious (and probably a bit less sweet) if there wasn’t so much yogurt. That didn’t stop me from eating a handful or two.

(Check out my ridiculously old, wrinkly hands. Can anyone read my palm from this picture?)

And then there was the actual reason for the outing—peanut butter. The freshly ground, all-natural, one ingredient peanut butter that I love so much was calling my name. So I went over to grab a tub and what did I see? 20% off freshly ground, all natural, one ingredient almond butter!

Now, I have a confession to make. A rather sad confession. I…have never…oh this is hard to admit…tried almond butter. There! I said it! Please don’t stone/shun me!

For some reason, despite the fact that people have been raving about it since what seems like the beginning of time, and growing up there were a few occasions when we had almond butter in the house, I have never eaten it. There’s really no logical reason. So I took this golden, reduced cost opportunity and bought a tub of each.

Normally, I would have rushed home and tried a taste (or two or three) of the ever-popular almond butter, but 1) I didn’t have anything to try it on and I would have liked to be able to try it straight and with something and 2) I was nicely satiated from lunch. So the taste test/realization that I’ve found my new love will have to wait until I can snag some crackers or a banana from the dining hall tonight.

Verdict: Like you don’t already know? Of course I loved my Fresh Market lunch. Of course I’ll be going back (since I already have a list of things to try). This is a no-brainer.

Paula Deen, the Queen of Church Potlucks

Today while eating lunch I had the opportunity to watch some TV, so I turned on Food Network. Paula Deen was on and she’s always amusing, so I settled back with my usual deconstructed sushi salad and listed to her thick Savannah accent (it reminds me of home more than I like to admit).

When I tuned in she was dipping halved bananas into some sort of syrup before dredging them in corn flakes and baking them. Typical Paula.

After those came out of the oven looking golden and crispy, she moved on to her next recipe.

This one began with her placing slices of heavily buttered crustless white bread on the bottom of a heavily buttered baking dish.

I saw off to the side more heavily buttered crustless white bread, milk, cream, and eggs. So the first thought that popped into my head was that she must be making a bread pudding. Based on the massive dishes of bananas that filled the background of her kitchen, I assumed this was a banana themed show and thus the bread pudding would have bananas in it. So far it didn’t look too terribly bad. Then she pulled out the ham.

She took a plate full of thick-sliced deli ham and began layering it on top of the bread. Now I was getting intrigued.

After the ham was in place she picked up a banana and sliced it on top of the ham. Then another. Then another. Then another until the ham was thoroughly covered in banana slices. Maybe this wasn’t a bread pudding, but an interesting take on an Elvis sandwich.

That assumption sort of held up as she put another layer of heavily buttered crustless bread on top.

Maybe the peanut butter was coming later, like the bourbon sauce on top of a regular bread pudding.

That idea got shot to hell, though, when she pulled out the cheese—a giant bowl of shredded cheddar cheese. She “sprinkled” the whole thing on top.

From out of nowhere (presumably where she hid the ham) out popped a big plate of crispy bacon. This was quickly crumbled and “sprinkled” on top of the cheese.

This was getting weirder (and fattier) by the second. And it wasn’t over yet.

The next ingredient to magically appear was a big bag of potato chips, which were crushed and “sprinkled” on top.

Now I assume most people would object at this point, but as a girl who grew up in the South being dragged from one friend’s church potluck to another, crushed potato chips were the most normal part of this concoction.

Once all of that was done she whisked up the milk (whole milk, of course), heavy cream and eggs.

That got poured over the trifle/bread pudding/heart attack/casserole right before it was popped in the oven.

(Un)fortunately, I had to turn off the TV before I could see this culinary masterpiece/cardiologist’s nightmare come out of the oven. But I can only image the look of bliss that must have been on her face as she took a bite.

For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about this creation. All day it nagged at me. So, of course, as soon as I found the time (and was safely in the privacy of my room, where no one could see what I was looking up) I found Paula’s recipe for: Cheesy Ham and Banana Casserole.

Just looking at the recipe made my arteries clog. I almost had to unbutton my pants. I just had to A) submit this to This is Why You’re Fat (it made it on the website) and B) know how many calories this whopper packed. So I consulted the calculator at Spark Recipes and what I found…didn’t shock me at all.

For one serving (1/9th of the dish):

Calories: 728.9 g

Total fat: 48.8 g

Cholesterol: 182.9 mg

Sodium: 1,042.2 mg

Total carbs: 52.9 g

Protein: 22.9 g

Calorie-wise, I would expect nothing less of Paula. But the whole thing kind of reminded me of a dish I would see at the lower class church potlucks. Certainly, not something I would expect someone with a cookie show to be making. That’s just my opinion. (I’m a Barefoot Contessa kind of girl, anyway.)

While I would never make this dish, I encourage you to, if only so that you can see how (some undefined and probably fat) other half lives. Just be prepared to sew the buttons back on your pants.

Semi-Unfulfilled Expectations

My first thought upon waking this morning:

I really want an apple.

Luckily, I nabbed one yesterday so that got dropped into my already stuffed backpack as I headed out the door for a tall ½ caff and some studying.

What started off as a lovely morning for my walk to Starbucks—crispy, chilly refreshing air—had turned to a wintery mix by the time I left. And this wasn’t any wintery mix. In the 5 minutes it took me to walk from Starbucks to my dorm I walked through rain then sleet then snow then hail. This was the Mother of Wintery Mixes, and it’s not even that cold. North Carolina weather is so confusing to me.

After dropping my too heavy bag, I decided to have the second course of my breakfast. Not long after an apple popped into my head this morning so did some Greek yogurt with honey and mixins’. As luck would have it I bought some Fage 0 (fat free) yogurt yesterday. And last time I was in Chick-fil-A I helped myself to a couple of packets of Sue Bee Clover Honey. That with my ever-present stash of mixins’ sounded like the perfect entrée to my apple-tizer.

After thoroughly loving the Fage 2% with honey I had last time I couldn’t wait to try the fat free. Upon seeing the parchment paper lining inside the cup, I got even more excited because I felt like I was opening a present. I squeezed my packet of honey and a scoop of mixins’ onto the yogurt and began stirring.

Uh-oh. I could already tell this yogurt was going to be a little more on the thick side than I would prefer. But I persevered and once everything was nicely mixed I took my first tentative bite.

Definitely a little more custard-y than I usually go for. And it has more of a tang than 2%, but the honey balanced that nicely. And the mixins’ were their usual mix of wonderfulness.

Verdict: This is definitely going to be a fridge staple. The only question is if I’m willing to get used to something thicker (was that an innuendo?) to save some calories and fat, or should I be slightly more indulgent? The jury is still out, but I’ll let you know what I decided.

The snow continued for the rest of the morning, but nothing was sticking. After walking back and forth in it I was ready for a warm lunch: a few bites of leftover pizza (regular crust, tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, red onion, bar-be-qued chicken; though I took off most of the cheese)

and a salad of Bib lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, water chestnuts, mushrooms, green bell peppers, red onions, pepperocinis, broccoli, sprouts, baked catfish, red pepper flakes and sriracha sauce.

Both were super filling and just the “warm” food I was looking for.

The continuing snow drove me to drive to Barnes and Noble for another afternoon of studying, this time with some tea. I was really hoping for a hot cup of Vanilla Rooibos, but Barnes and Nobles only sells Harney and Sons tea, so instead I got a cup of some kind of flavored green tea with ginger or something of the sort.
I’m not a fan of green tea, so I don’t really know why I ordered this. It definitely wasn’t as delicious as I had hoped.

By the time I had hit a wall studying it was time for me to head to rugby practice (a gym workout today). In preparation for my workout I nibbled on two whole-wheat crackers with Fresh Market peanut butter. I didn’t want to fall out on the treadmill during my lovely 20 minute varied speed and incline run. It really amazes me that just this summer I was shocked beyond belief when I could run for more than 3 minutes straight. Now my usual 2-minute intervals just aren’t long enough.

After my cardio I tried to lift weights (and I was able to do some), but the gym was just too packed with teams that monopolized large areas (which always seemed to contain the machine I wanted to use). And it seemed like half the free weights, medicine balls, and Kettle Bells were missing. I quickly got frustrated. So I finished up with some yoga and left. Better luck tomorrow.

Dinner was…an experience. I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the dining hall menu in the morning so I can tell if there’s anything (besides the usual salad stuff) that I may want for later (ie-if I should bring extra containers). So image my intrigue when I read that for dinner they would be serving “mulligatawny soup.”

I may be completely out to the soup loop, but I’ve never heard of such a soup. If you’re equally uneducated about this soup, allow me to educate you:

This is an Anglo-Indian soup and the name means “pepper water.” It is made of a chicken broth base, contains several Indian spices (cumin, curry, garma masala, coriander) and usually contains (along with basic celery, leeks, etc) either long grain rice or lentils and sometimes chicken or lamb.

The soup the dining hall was serving was definitely Indian and contained some of the spices and the basic veggies. It had chicken. No rice or lentil, though. And not enough of the spices. So, of course, I doctored mine up a bit with carrots, mushrooms and red pepper flakes. That improved it somewhat.

With this I had some yummy raspberry vinaigrette dressed salad and an oatmeal raisin cookie.

After another long-ish day I can definitely foresee a shower, a cup of Get Some Zzzs and a Thin Mint in my future (or a shower and baking some peanut butter and Fluff brownies).

PS-Keep your eyes open for a potential bit of interesting news in the next few days.

Feed Bag Full of Carbs

After an early bedtime, I woke ready to start the day this morning. First on my agenda? Donning my tighter-than-tights as motivation to get my ass to the gym after breakfast.

With that (and a stolen almond muffin and some peanut butter waiting for me in my room) in mind I was planning on just munching on some (non-grapefruit) fruit at breakfast. That went right out the window when I saw the return of…breakfast couscous.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this stuff is awesome. It’s unbelievably sweet and buttery, with some plump dried cranberries giving it a shock of tang. After a few buttery bites I had a sneaking suspicion that my yummy bowl of breakfast couldn’t possibly be as virtuous as I hoped. That gnawing worry motivated me to ask one of the lovely little lunch ladies how they cooked the couscous. Imagine my happy surprise when I found out it’s just couscous, water, a little brown sugar and cranberries. The brown sugar may not be the best thing in the world, but it was so much better than I was expecting. Hooray for a semi-healthy conscious dining staff!

On the side of my couscous I had some really juicy pineapple.

From there I headed to the gym where, to my great dismay, I realized I forgot my iPod. Cardio without an iPod sounded like torture, but I couldn’t let the tights down so I hopped on the treadmill and pushed through, while listening to the gym’s far less then favorable music. Even without music my 20 minute varied speed and incline workout felt amazing. I would have kept going, but I was short on time. After class and a little bit of running around on errands I enjoyed another delicious pizza lunch:

a slice of leftover veggie pizza drenched slightly less then normal in Texas Pete, a stolen salad (Bib lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, sprouts, green bell peppers, red onions, water chestnuts, and a little roasted corn salsa topped with sriracha sauce), and a Thin Mint to cool my tingling taste buds.

From lunch I ran out to another class, this time dressed adorably in a dress (instead of my sweaty gym clothes). This is the first time I’ve been able to wear something besides pants during the day in months and it is such a wonderfully liberating experience. Not to mention it is finally dry enough for my lovely leather boots to reemerge. After looking for these boots for 2 years I wasn’t going to take any chances with getting them wet. Them wet means me crying myself to sleep at night.

When it came time for dinner I was in a weird mood. I had some baked catfish (with Texas Pete and pepper flake) and braised cabbage (because I honestly love it so much).

After my plate of good health my weird mood really came into play. On the way back from getting a bowl of goodies (salad and fish) to fill my Tupperware with for tomorrow’s lunch (sorry I ruined the surprise), I passed the dessert cart. Normally, I check to see what “interesting” concoctions they’re serving, poke a few sugar cookies to see if I can find a soft one (today they were so over cooked a friend asked if they were sugar or peanut butter cookies, which is a horrible sign) and walk on. Not today, though.

I saw bread pudding. Sounds less than appetizing, right? Well, not tonight.

Sweet, soft, slightly mushy bread baked with cinnamon and raisins sounded like just what the doctor ordered so, despite a slight stomach ache (from what, I’m not sure), I served myself 2 helpings and sat down with a spoon, not to leave until my stomach was almost killing me and my plate was clean. From there, things got worse.

I got back to my room and enjoyed a Samoa (or two). Then I finished off ½ of that stolen almond muffin with peanut butter (and not my good Fresh Market peanut butter, either). Talk about strapping on a feed bag.

Where are these crazy carb cravings coming from? I admit I haven’t been eating as many carbs as some people would probably say I should lately, but I haven’t been denying myself carbs (which is what usually spurs a themed binge like this), I just haven’t really seen any appealing ones.

I refuse to blame this on my lady buisnatch, either. That’s always felt like a cop-out to me.

I’m normally so good as moderately indulging, too. Tomorrow will be a better day, though. Especially with the stolen lunch that’s waiting for me in my fridge. I’ll try to make breakfast and dinner exciting to make up for spilling the figurative beans on lunch tomorrow.

Manic Monday Munchies

I think it’s finally happening. The unthinkable. After weeks of eating a grapefruit a day to keep the doctor away I think I’m finally getting sick of them. Too bad I still have 1 ½ in my room to eat. But I can power through for the sake of not wasting perfectly good stolen fruit. After that, though, I’m going to lay off for a while.

Breakfast was full of almonds and peanut butter. Originally, I was excited for the prospect of some oatmeal with slivered almonds, peanut butter and bananas. Unfortunately, there were once again no bananas to be found and the oatmeal was far too sticky, no matter how much water I added (I like mine a little on the soupy side). So after a few bites I gave up and instead grabbed an almond muffin, which I iced like a cupcake with peanut butter.

+=

So damn delicious! I felt like I was eating a decadent cupcake. I complimented this with ½ a grapefruit.

Lunch was a slice of my leftover veggie pizza from Pie Works (liberally doused in Texas Pete), ½ a grapefruit and a Samoa cookie.

The crust was a bit stale and the chicken was getting tough, but everything else was still delish. I need to hurry up and eat the rest of the pizza before it goes bad. I’ll probably have some more for lunch tomorrow (so I apologize in advance for a semi-repeat lunch tomorrow). Maybe I’ll pawn some off on my friends.

It appears the universe is into balance, too, because after a beautifully warm and sunny weekend it was slightly less warm and rainy today. I didn’t mind too much, because it inspired me to head to Barnes and Noble for an afternoon of homework.

While there I had a cup of coffee (since I skipped Starbucks this morning) and a few wheat crackers with pepper jack cheese.

It always amuses me how some of the simplest, most common foods (like cheese and crackers) can be so yummy.

Dinner was another simple, but yummy food: chicken and shrimp stir-fry. It really hit the spot. And the lady in the dining hall made it just for me, which made it even more special.

And now my day, which started when my alarm went off at 7:45am, is finally drawing to a close. To unwind after such a long, tiring, but highly productive day I plan on drinking some Get Some Zzzs and munching on a Hershey’s Kiss (an award I got for a recent well-liked newspaper article I wrote) and another Samoa while I watch an old episode of Iron Chef on YouTube.

G’night, eaters.

Balance

Balance is the name of the game and for once I feel like I’m not in last place.

Before the clan left town we met up at a diner across the street from campus for our last meal.

Brunch (heavy food): 1 egg over easy (with a splash or 2 or 3…of Tabasco), 2 slices of wheat toast, 2 small slices of Canadian Bacon, a couple bites of hashbrowns, and a cup of coffee.

Normally this amount of food that early in the morning would kill me (I’m talking major food coma), but somehow I survived with only minimal side effects. And it was all so good (especially the Canadian Bacon, which I’m usually not a fan of) that I was willing to put up with the drawbacks.

I had every intention of going to the gym today (or at least doing some yoga in the wonderful wonderful sunshine), but instead I went to Caribou Coffee, drank a cup of decaf, and knocked out a good amount of homework. Better luck tomorrow on the workout, I guess. At least I was productive.

From there I stopped by Teeter to pick up some kale. Since I was at Caribou the most convenient Teeter wasn’t my dinky little college Teeter, but the Teeter in the nice, rich shopping center. You know what that means? Amazing free samples!

I know. I know. Free samples are bad because you never realize how much you’re eating, blah blah blah. But they’re free and I’m cheap. I sampled (medium food):

An orange (Teeter almost always has orange samples and they’re always wonderfully sweet), some sprouted wheat bread with roasted garlic hummus (the hummus was yummy, but the bread just didn’t do it for me), and a Teeter cookie (for kids of all ages).

I think I showed quite a bit of restraint, considering there were plenty of other samples to be had.

When it came time for dinner, I was thoroughly prepared with tons of food I stole from the dining hall that morning.

Dinner (light food): salad with Bib lettuce, cucumbers, sprouts, red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, sriracha and a fish cake.

After missing out on crab cakes at dinner Saturday I was thrilled that the dining hall had fish cakes. Sure, I realize this probably wasn’t the healthiest addition and they weren’t jumbo lump blue crab and they certainly had more filling than I would have liked, but it was still damned good on my salad (especially after it spent some time wrapped in a napkin to soak up some of the grease).

After dinner I grabbed my kale and started pre-heating the oven because I was going to try my hand at making kale chips.

What are those, you ask?

Well, it’s a recipe I got from Tina over at Carrots N Cake. They’re pieces of baked kale that are very reminiscent of potato chips, except a hell of a lot healthier. So, of course, I had to try them.

I tweaked the recipe a bit by adding a light sprinkling of cumin and a lighter sprinkling of cayenne (I was sharing with a non-spicy person).

Verdict: Amazing! Like you have no idea! They really do seem like potato chips, except with more natural flavor. And they’re such a wonderful nearly-blank slate for seasoning that I will definitely be playing around with spices next time I make these. I definitely insist you make some (they’re the simplest recipe ever).

A while later, as I was doing even more homework, I started getting a tad hungry. Earlier in the day I was dreaming about eating some of the ice cream or gelato in my freezer (thoughts spurred, I’m sure, but the lovely weather), but that no longer appealed to me. Neither did my unopened box of Samoas. You know what did?

Dessert (lightest food): Get Some Zzzzs and ½ a grapefruit. For some reason that just sounded far more decadent to me. Go figure.

Like I said, a day of balance. I’m quite proud and quite exhausted.

Family Dinner 2

While walking downtown a week or so ago I passed a small restaurant store front. It was an unassuming place. The menu was posted in the window, so of course I had to take a look. By the time I finished reading the appetizers I knew that I absolutely must eat there. Unfortunately, I could tell it was out of my price range. Solution:

Go there with my family when they visited.

Genius, right?

I sure thought so.

So Saturday night we had a reservation for 6 (the family and I plus a special friend of mine) at 223 South Elm.

Upon walking in I was shocked by how large the dining room was. From outside it certainly looked a lot smaller. The focal point of this large room was a proportionally large stained glass window. Very classy.

Between reading the menu when I discovered the place and reading it again when I recommended it to my father, I already knew exactly what I wanted:

The table was going to start with an order of the fried calamari with creamy horseradish greens and spicy chive aioli (it’s a favorite of my sister and mine). Maybe also an order of herb fried green tomatoes with truffled tarragon Vermont white cheddar spread and mango champagne sauce (if we were extra hungry). Then I was going to enjoy another goat cheesy salad—organic spinach with Vermont goat cheese, blackberries, scallions and lemon hazelnut vinaigrette. Since sampling two appetizers, maybe a little bit of bread, and a salad were probably going to get me close to full, I was going to order an appetizer as my entrée—baked gluten free fusilli pasta with blue crab meat, chives and goat cheese cream (yes, more goat cheese and another foray into gluten free).

Sounds like a delicious meal, right?

Well, that didn’t exactly happen.

Yes, we got the calamari.

Then we got some assorted domestic and imported specialty cheeses with “today’s surprises” (blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, most of which I quickly grabbed) and crackers. That wasn’t a bad second appetizer at all.

I got my salad and it was full of as much goat cheesy goodness as I expected.

But when it came to the time when I expected to be ordering my gluten free pasta there was a snag. It wasn’t on the menu. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’d spent a week dreaming of this pasta and I was thrown for a serious loop when it was MIA. So instead, I ordered the bacon wrapped beef tenderloin with tomato goat cheese tart, asparagus and black truffle sauce.

The tart was delicious, but I would have liked a more intense tomato flavor (since that was the main ingredient). The asparagus was a bit tough and flavorless. And the tenderloin left a lot to be desired. I ordered it medium rare, but it came out practically mooing. Yes, it was tender and had a melt-n-your-mouth center with a crusty outside, but for some reason it just didn’t ring my bell.

In hindsight, I probably should have once again followed my stepmother’s lead and gotten jumbo lump blue crab cakes, slow cooked collards, chive mashed potatoes and spicy pimento mayo.

I tasted a bite of her’s and they were pretty damn good. Maybe a little heavy on the filling, but nothing I shake your head at.

Verdict: I would definitely return (maybe even for lunch because their lunch menu looks pretty delicious, too), but next time I’ll be more flexible and order my meat a bit more cooked than I normally would.

Tailgating Done Right

Saturday was a men’s rugby day, which meant I got to kick back with the family and enjoy a nice warm, sunny afternoon tailgating at the game. This wasn’t your typical tailgate event with a bucket of KFC and a few cans of Bud. Oh no, we’re classier than that.

Iron Hen Café, a new local soup, sandwich, salad place that’s connected to a Quik Mart and specializes in local foods, provided our lunch.

This was a place that I’d driven by one day while lost and gotten intrigued. I looked it up later and found some pretty amazing reviews for it. So of course, I had to check it out while I had the chance to not have to pay.

This tiny hole-in-the-wall shop was packed when we got there around 1. That didn’t deter us, though. Not after we saw the menu. Stepmother and I both ordered the same thing:

Fried goat cheese salad with mixed greens, grilled pineapple salsa and a balsamic reduction.

Holy hell! This was quite possibly one of the best salads I’d ever had, and I’ve eaten a lot of salads. The greens were fresh and chopped to the perfect bite-size. The grilled pineapple salsa, which also contained red onions and tomatoes, was a nice addition. The balsamic reduction was in no way overpowering or overly sweet (like reductions can all too easily become). All that was great, but the hands down, without a doubt, no contest best part of this salad was the fried goat cheese. Served as a single large patty in the center of the salad, it had the perfect crispy, golden fried crust, complete with char marks. Can you ask mouthsex? The cheese on the inside was smooth and creamy; everything you expect from a good goat cheese. There was also a slight bit more tang to this cheese, which I found perfect in contrast with the reduction.

This salad was so good I didn’t feel an ounce of envy for my brother’s fried catfish sandwich or for my father’s Carolina bar-be-que one.

In addition to her chicken fingers and fries, my sister grabbed a gluten-free brownie for dessert.

As far as I can remember this was my first gluten-free baked good experience, but if all gluten-free baked goods are as good as this brownie I’m about to start saying gluten who? It was moist, chocolaty, decadent and fell apart in my hands. What more could you want from a brownie?

To wash all this down the fam and I split a 12-pack of Yeungling Lager bottles.

Despite Yeungling being the oldest operating brewery in the country, it only recently reached Down South. So, as a young, impressionable high schooler who was accustomed to drinking Piss Water, this beer quickly became my “classy” favorite. And apparently that’s something Father and I have in common because he was all too willing to buy some. While I’m sure a true beer connoisseur would disagree, I think it went perfectly with my salad.