Posts Tagged ‘food’

My head is full, this time of year,

with mucus and with Christmas cheer.



LUKE 1:26-27

The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Silent Serendipity

After posting Silent Night yesterday, today brought a serendipitous encounter with a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “Keeping Quiet.”  It was posted on the Brainpickings website (which I very much enjoy).  The recording leaves out a bit of the poem, so follow the link to get the full text, as well as Maria Popova’s post.




Along with the post on Neruda, BP posted an item on Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Indicator Kit.”  This showed up on my Facebook feed, just a few spots down from a “New Age ‘BS’ Generator.”  Perhaps it’s the season for that, as well, as religious-y and science-y people become involved in the ongoing and ridiculous battle, based on the logical fallacy of the False Dichotomy (or False Dilemma), of who is wrong.  I say who is wrong because the battle is usually fought using strategies that involve attacking the other.  I love critical thinking, logic, rational thought.  I really think it should be used more often.  I also think the following caveats ought to be observed:

  1. That it be applied across the board, not simply as a tool to attack or shut down the opposition.  That is to say, that we do not while demanding only logical argumentation on the part of the opposition, allow ourselves the luxury of relying on rhetoric or emotion to support our stance.  It should go without saying that likewise we do not demand absolute adherence to logical rules while we, ourselves, employ fallacies.
  2. That it is understood not to be the sole method of discussion, and certainly not of gaining understanding or knowledge.

What does this have to do with cookies?  I found another Generator at WAPO that I thought would be less apt to suck us into the aforementioned battle: A Hoilday Cookie Generator!  So if we can’t all walk in quiet with Neruda or speak civilly and rationally of the many and wondrously varied thoughts and feelings of the human race, at least we can share cookies!  [To my diabetic, vegan, gluten-free, etc., friends, no offense intended.  Please take this in the spirit it was offered.  And, btw, this generator has vegan and gluten-free cookies, too!!]


Cookies, by DerGraueWolf


World Nativities

One of my favorite Christmas-y things is nativities.  I collect them.  I also enjoy finding things of beauty in cultures other than my own.  So, it stands to reason, that I would love a site that blends the two, and does some good besides.  From their Project page:

Along the way, we started buying extra Nativities from artisans around the world. We sold the extras to our interested friends. We thought it would be a small project, but the response has been so high that we have sold thousands of Nativities from hundreds of artisans since 2005. Profits are given 100 percent to charitable causes and micro-credit projects in Third World countries that benefit the poorest people on the planet.

A few of my favorites from World Nativity




A recent writer’s conference in Little Rock allowed me to check out a couple of local restaurants.  My friend and I arrived in town Thursday evening and wanted something quick and tasty and our Urbanspoon led us to

Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

Layla's Gyros & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Located in a strip mall, this small greek “diner” has exactly what I look for in an ethnic eatery: great food, great people, and great prices.  In fact, this was the best Greek food I’ve ever had.  My friend, Tamara, had the Goat Plate.  Her first time eating goat was a triumph.  Not only did she enjoy the food, she ate it efficiently.  According to our server (who I think was also the owner), you’ve got to use your fingers.  There’s just no way to get the meat off those goat bones with a knife and fork.  He congratulated Tamara for doing it the right way and we giggled over folks who work too hard at being polite.  [Yes, I was laughing at myself.  I will admit to attempting the knife and fork approach.  It was too much trouble, though, and I resorted to the more appropriate finger method.]

My choice was the Mubarak Plate.  Delish!  And there was so much, the doggie bag I took back to the hotel provided lunch for the next 2 days (with the addition of a salad)!  Gyros and Shawarma are old favorites, but I had never had Kifta Kabab or Kibbeh before.  I was very pleased with my introduction to these dishes.

We had to order Baklava for dessert and I’ve never had better.  It was a bite of pistachio-laden, honey-coated heaven.

Layla’s also has a small selection of grocery items available.


Brave New Restaraunt

Brave New Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I have to say that this is probably the strangest location for a restaurant I’ve seen.  I can understand a unique, whimsical setting–an old warehouse, a boat, the top of a UFO-like building–but this one was downright confusing.  If we had not read in Urbanspoon that it was hard to find, we certainly would have thought we had the wrong address.  Don’t be deceived by it’s location on the second floor of a nondescript building in the middle of a nondescript business park.  This place is fabulous.  After riding the elevator up and following signs posted down a dull, industrial hallway, we were met with a cool, inviting dining room boasting a beautiful, riverfront view.  If the restaurant owners’ intent was to surprise, they succeeded, and their success didn’t end with the atmosphere.

Goat Cheese Mousse

Goat Cheese Mousse

We started our meal sharing an appetizer of Goat Cheese Mousse.  My husband called in the middle of this course and I had to rush him off the phone.  I wanted to make sure I got my fair share!  As you can see, the mousse was so tempting we forgot to take pictures before diving it.  Delightfully light and tangy, the perfect way to wake up the taste buds for our entrees.

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill












The entrees were preceded by 5-Onion Soup for Tamara and a dinner salad for me.  Tamara ordered the Pinenut-Encrusted Salmon.  I chose the Mixed Grill.  We each also had a Scallop.  My favorite elements of this meal were the scallop and the quail.  This was the second best scallop I’ve consumed.  No criticism intended here.  I have eaten many scallops in my life; I’ve only afforded two the honor of “consummation.”  (The other was presented by Sepia.)  BNR’s scallop had a lovely buttery texture, sustained by a perfectly weighted sauce.  It was one of those dishes that require you to save a bit with which to end the meal.  The Mixed Grill was very good.  It was ample enough that I had to take some home with me.  It was at home the following day (after a reheat) that I found the delight in that adorable little quail, and learned a life lesson about eating really good food.  I was lunching on my leftovers with, I suppose, the attitude of “I’ve lost the opportunity to relish the fresh-made essence of this food” when I took a bite of the quail.  It was not my first bite; in fact, it was the last.  And it nearly made me cry.  It was that moment when all the elements of a dish come together to create a near-spiritual experience.  I know that’s a little over-the-top.  But seriously, I was left wondering what this little fella would have tasted like in the restaurant, freshly prepared, in a setting that allowed my attention to be on the food rather than on whatever stupid TV show I happened to be sitting in front of.  Ah, the marriage of the musky warmth of the stuffing with the wild, gamey richness of the bird!  I cursed myself for not paying attention earlier, but that didn’t stop me from savoring that one final morsel.  When I return to Little Rock and BNR, I believe the choice will be between Stuffed Quail and Trout with Spinach & Crab.

I did not take a picture of our dessert.  It was gone before I realized I had neglected it.  Tamara and I shared a Chocolate Crème Brûlée.  It deserves a comment as well.  When I think of crème brûlée, I imagine a light custard, the perfect end to a somewhat heavy meal particularly on a warm evening.  This dish was not that dish.  The carmellized sugar crust was slightly thicker than expected.  The quality of the chocolate used in its preparation was evident; this wasn’t a melted Hershey bar.  Rich and strong, not too sweet and only slightly bitter.  The texture was much heavier than I am accustomed to in crème brûlée , like a dense yet not heavy cross between a flan (the kind my friend makes, not the milky pudding thing you buy in plastic containers in the refrigerator section of the grocery store) and ganache–velvety, but without the near-liquid aura or somewhat gelatinous texture of your average flan or crème brûlée.  (Or maybe I just have never had a really good CB before?)


I look forward to another trip to Little Rock.  The problem I foresee is wanting to try something new when I have already discovered places I want to return to.  I suppose there are worse dilemmas.

Our trip to Chicago would not have been complete without Chicago-style pizza and Chicago dogs.

Friday brought pizza. While there are apparently a multitude of specialists, we chose to eat at Pizzeria Uno, reputed to be the original home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I liked the buttery, flaky, pastry-type crust, a true pizza “pie,” unlike the yeast bread crust I’m used to. Most of my family prefer the bready style; I remain conflicted. Inside the crust, I was expecting a few toppings floating in a sea of mozzarella, and was pleasantly surprised with a decent amount of vegetables (I had the Spinoccoli) and a sparser share of cheese. It was a meal even my dairy-sensitive digestive system could manage. I was quite satisfied with my first exposure to Chicago’s pizza scene. As I mentioned, however, there are many pizzerias rumored to be must-visits, and Giordano’s is on the list for next time.

Our planned destination for hot dogs was the storied Hot Doug’s. It comes highly recommended by everyone from personal friends to Anthony Bourdain. We scheduled our visit for Friday so we could indulge in their Duck Fat Fries. We plotted our dogs ahead, intending to share: The Dog (of course), the Game of the Week (whatever it was…), and one of the other fascinating concoctions on the Specials menu. Sadly, the time demon caught us, and we placed Hot Doug’s on the catch-you-next-time list. While it wouldn’t be quite the same, we were going to the Sox game that night and were sure we would at least be able to get a Chicago dog there, if not buffalo or rattlesnake. Take note: Chicago-style hot dogs are not available at US Cellular Field. Or if they are, we were not able to locate that particular concessionaire. This was a great disappointment, but somehow our trip to the Windy City was complete and fulfilling even without the encased meat.

So that’s it. We did eat other food, obviously. We were in Chicago for a week. I did want to make one final comment about eating on vacation. If you want to eat well on a budget, you have to make choices. If you want to go to pricier restaurants, there are ways to save money on other meals (that free hotel breakfast, for instance) and places you can cut expenses. We live within a day’s drive of Chicago, so we took our car instead of a plane. The money we saved more than covered the price of our out-of-normal-budget meals. We walked when we could and took public transportation when we couldn’t, shaving a few more dollars off. We even opted out of some activities because we preferred to spend our time and money on amazing food. This won’t be our only trip to Chicago. Some of the activities we skipped will make up the memories of our next visit. And a couple of new and wonderful dining experiences will definitely be on the menu as well.

Other stops on the food tour:

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit. And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences. I’d love to hear from you.

I held no expectation of anything surpassing Sepia.  Indeed, at this level of sophistication, I feel unqualified to make judgments or assign positions.  Still, I think Naha  topped the list of dining experiences on our Chicago trip.  I don’t know that every dish was superior to those we had at Sepia, but overall I liked the food better.  Perhaps that was in part because we did a tasting menu.  Unbelievable.   We had 4 diners and 7 courses equating to 17 different dishes (not each was unique).  Don’t worry.  I won’t go through the whole dinner.  Just the highlights.

The French Kiss Oyster was aptly named.  A single bite of heaven.  I was also  lucky enough to get scallops again!  I doubt I’ll ever consume their equal.  They were perfectly cooked; the dish wonderfully orchestrated. It’s a good thing this was so well-prepared, or my husband might have lost his Summer Corn Soup, another near-indescribable dish.  The Arctic Char was a favorite—the epitome of surf and turf, without any meat.  The surf element is obvious.  The turf accompaniment of Jerusalem artichokes, wheatberries, mushrooms, spring herbs & greens was earth all over.  And the morels I snitched from my husband’s salmon were not a distraction from my own fish.

I experienced another first at Naha as well.  Duck Breast and Foie Gras–actually a double first; I’d never had either before.  The worst part of this is that at home I’m stuck with chicken.  Duck is so much more to my taste, a wonderful flavor composite of poultry and game.  It’s not readily available in my area, and if it were, I know I couldn’t do it justice.  Foie gras?  Not even going to try.  That’s the dilemma of eating at truly excellent restaurants.  Subsequent meals rarely measure up.  Approaching this as an experience, rather than a new standard, is the only way I cope.  And with time the memory fades.  I may still be able to eat scallops.  Someday.

In the weeks before our Chicago trip, I visited Naha’s menu several times.  I wanted to have my order planned before I got there.  When my husband suggested the tasting menu, I thought it was a great idea.  I’d had a difficult time deciding what I wanted to eat, and this would solve that problem.  I did hope I would get a few things that sounded especially appealing.  The oyster, scallop, and foie gras were on the tentative list, and I was thrilled when presented with the Lamb Osso Buco, one of the finalists in “entree. ” I actually may have clapped my hands.  I know I did that at one point during the meal, much to the amusement of our waiter.  The lamb was very nice, but I think I may have enjoyed the accompanying marrow toast as much or more.  Strange how something so simple can sometimes hit the spot.

Dessert was interesting.  I guess they assumed that I, being a middle-aged woman, would go for the chocolate.  I admit it was tasty, but I had a very difficult time not hijacking my daughter’s Rhubarb and Almond Tart, Orange Blossom Ice Cream (which I liked better than my own pinot noir version), and Almond Meringue. 

After two and a half hours enjoying the amazing offerings at Naha, we ventured back out into the July heat.  We had walked from the hotel to the restaurant, and we returned the same way.  We traveled a little slower on the way back, not because we were overfed, but because the experience had been like many others we had in Chicago that week.  Something to contemplate, to remember, to re-enjoy, if only in our minds.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

Small portions are what I expected from the two out-of-budget restaurants we visited.  The wonderful thing about this is that I can really enjoy the flavor without feeling stuffed.  There is still plenty of food, and the nuances of each bite automatically slow me down to savoring speed.

The first upscale establishment was Sepia.  (Their website is beautiful.  When you click the link, make sure you have the sound on.  They have great music.) Their decor is rich and relaxing, an understated mix of the architectural and the artistic, the old and the new.  The blending of wood, stone, steel, and glass is evocative of what I’ve come to expect from Chicago’s skyscraper heritage.  The photographic elements appeal to me as much as to my photog husband.

Their menu is not expansive, but when you present food of this quality, it doesn’t need to be.  I know you are dying to hear what I consumed: sea scallops for starters, followed by the Lamb Loin and Crispy Lamb Neck, finishing with the strawberries and Basil-Black Pepper Ice Cream.

Sea scallops are one of my favorites.  It is amazing how much an ingredient can change depending on what it is combined with.  These were excellent, especially paired with the other elements in the dish.  One of these, the smoked paprika lardo, was a revelation in itself.  (Check out the menu to see the full description.)

I’m glad I went with the lamb for the main course.  The contrast of the two was very effective.  Surprisingly, I preferred the neck slightly over the loin.  I didn’t realize this until I took my last bite, loin, and realized I was disappointed not to have just a touch more of the crispy neck to finish on.  I discovered something else along the way.  My daughter had the Carnaroli Risotto, which she loved.  But it was accompanied by baby morels, which she did not.  I tried them—another first.  So much earthy flavor packed into such a tiny package.  I now have a favorite mushroom.

As for dessert, I don’t eat it often.  I love it; I’m just wary of empty calories, however deliciously packaged.  And, honestly, I’ve eaten enough really excellent desserts that most of the places I eat out at just don’t measure up.  I’m glad I broke my rule here.  The best part of the dessert was the ice cream.  I prefer rich or savory ice cream to sweet and this concoction was incredible.

The only other comment I have on Sepia is kudos to the staff.  The talent and ability of the chefs and kitchen staff is attested to by the amazing food.  Those at the front of the house were wonderful as well–cheerful, helpful without being intrusive, constantly on-point.  For the first time I realized how a really skilled waiter can raise the experience from nice to delightful.  Thanks to the people who do their job so well.  You are noticed and appreciated.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit to Chicago.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share you favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, the joy of a good meal.  I admit it.  I love good food.  So does my husband.  In fact, Chicago’s foodie reputation is so powerful, it was one of the motivating factors in our choice of destination.  He researched restaurants for a couple of weeks before we went. Again, most were in the area of our hotel due to the demon time constraints. We settled on two upscale, way-out-of-our-normal-budget restaurants, and picked a few other in-budget possibilities based on food “genre.”  We were not disappointed.  In fact, the food was so amazing, that I overloaded the post I’d intended to cover this aspect of our trip.  I decided to break it down into bite-sized pieces, rather than serving up the whole banquet like I did in An Outsider’s View of Chicago, Pt. 1.

Our first night in town, we decided to go light.  Sushi, a family favorite.  We’ve eaten a fair amount of sushi of varying qualities, though admittedly never in a place that has any reputation for excellent seafood.  We’ve even rolled our own, so to speak.   Ai Sushi was the best to date.  We did not have blowfish, although they do prepare it on occasion.  I was tempted, but I think the Columbo episode, “Murder Under Glass,” caused a permanent fugu phobia.  That and the fact that they serve it in December and we were there in July.  I did have the Sake Ceviche.  I thought it would be an interesting experience to have South American acid-cooked fish in a Japanese raw fish restaurant.  It was tasty, as was my main course, the Chirashi Sushi.

The surprise of the meal was the uni.  I had never eaten sea urchin before, and the texture and taste I find extraordinarily difficult to describe.  It looks something like a tiny, turmeric-infused tongue, though the texture is nothing like that.  The feel of it on my own tongue was fascinating.  The softly gelatinous morsel literally melted in my mouth.  The flavor started out light, then deepened into a rich, somewhat musky, mineral-toned aftertaste that my sushi-loving daughter did not relish. Not at all fishy.  I liked it, but it was strong.  Sometimes a small portion is enough.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit to Chicago.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.