Mother’s Day Muffins

Thank you to my loving husband and father of my children, for making me Mother’s Day Muffins. And for letting me sleep until 8:15 (today was one of those mornings when your eyes open, you hear your 15-month-old crying and think Man I’ve gotta get out of bed, and then you automatically drift back into a deep sleep, only to wake up an hour later and repeat the process). I have a fuzzy memory in there of opening my eyes to see Ada right in my face, asking, “Mommy, Daddy wants to know if he can make the different blueberry muffins!?!” and me just mumbling something about sure, whatever.

When I finally did drag myself from the bed, Tim had indeed made muffins — my favorite muffin recipe, as a matter of fact (I’m still not sure what Ada’s question was about). It’s from Christopher Kimball’s The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, a fabulous country-cooking (not Southern, mind you) resource. These muffins are sturdy, not-too-sweet, well-rising, and not overly-complicated (I appreciate this deeply when making breakfast).

We are a blueberry-muffin family — we experiment on occasion, but always end up back with the blueberries. I use frozen ones when baking, and try to get wild frozen ones when I can. Earth Fare was selling a brand called Wyman’s that wasn’t too expensive, but I haven’t seen them there lately. The muffins this morning were made with Dole Wild Blueberries that I found at Super Walmart. The bag was $9, but it’s about 3 pounds and has lasted a good, long time. I also like to use at least half whole-wheat flour (more if the recipe responds well) in muffins — makes them more filling and a bit healthier, plus gives a more complex wheaty flavor. Tim wasn’t sure about the whole wheat addition in this recipe, so he used all white, and they were buttery and delicious.

Oh, and an addendum to yesterday’s post: we changed our Bacchanalia reservations to Friday night, since we are going to Atlanta anyway for the Bright Eyes / Gillian Welch show at the Fox(!). What a night that it will be! I might explode from the sensory feast.

The Anniversary Dinner

Today is our 6th anniversary. We usually try and eat somewhere new and/or exciting to celebrate the fact that we’re not divorced this day, each year. We couldn’t get a free sitter for tonight, so Monday is the time, and Bacchanalia (Atlanta) is the place. This will officially be the Most Expensive Dinner We’ve Ever Had. We’re thinking of it as the dinner we’re having because we’re not going to a B&B for the weekend.

If you’ve been there, was it everything you’d hoped for? If not, why?

If you’ve not been, check back on Tuesday. You’ll hear all about it.

Tequila

I used to work as a server at a lovely little restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was called Lula — it was started by the same people that created Tomato Head (a must-eat if ever in the city of the Sun Sphere), and could best be described as upscale, sometimes-authentic Mexican food with a vegetarian side (i.e., they served tofu in addition to chorizo and chicken). I loved Lula. It had its restaurant issues, but bad food was never one of them (well, until that day they decided to replace all the dill in the dishes with mint — I could in no way support that desperate money-saving measure). I still cook dishes that are as close as I can come to copies of Lula entrĂ©es (since I never worked in the kitchen, I never had access to the actual recipes, but between good guesses and talkative cooks, I gleaned some priceless ingredient information).

But I digress — today’s post is about tequila. The owners of Lula were very into tequila. It was serving there that the words “100 percent blue agave” first left my lips. I’ll admit that I never really got into shooting tequila — blue agave or not. But one thing I came to appreciate was the margarita. A “traditional” one (I don’t really know what this means — I have no knowledge of margarita history). It was the simplest of ingredients: good tequila (no Cuervo there), lime juice, triple sec, rocks, (no green slurpies) salted rim (upon request). It was the first time I really liked the margarita. None of that syrupy sweetness or saccharin aftertaste that you can get with mixes. Just yum — and on a summer evening, the perfect drink, right up there with the gin and tonic. Refreshing, citrusy, and of course, relaxing.

I haven’t been one to order a margarita much, since the days of Lula (I regret to say the eatery is no more — they closed the doors several years ago, and I’ve mourned the loss on many an occasion since then). But my friend Kristin and I wanted margaritas, and after feigned attempts to really think of all the options, we agreed that, really, the best option for a good margarita was 5 & 10 (ok, I can’t speak for Kristin, but my attempts at least were somewhat self-manipulative). So we met at the bar there, and can I just say that I love even the bar at 5 & 10? In my somewhat limited experience, the bartenders have always been friendly, attentive, and good at making mixed drinks. And really, just sitting there is a pleasure. The restaurant’s eclectic decor and warm atmosphere are an aesthetic treat. And, I am happy to inform that the margarita itself was in no way a disappointment. They actually have a “summer drinks” portion of their bar menu, and list a classic margarita. They have a special one, too, with the additions of orange juice and Campari, but we both ordered the classic (Kristin added a shot of Grand Marnier). Patron tequila, lime and lemon juices, triple sec, rocks, and a coarse-salted rim. It was perfect, most exactly what my heart desired.

Now, you should know that if you’re going to drink the best margarita in town (ok, I know, I know — I haven’t had very many other Athens margaritas to compare, but I’m just guessing here) you’re gonna be $9 less rich. Before tipping the helpful bartender who gives you a taste of Campari so that you can make an educated decision. But if your experience is like mine, you will have so thoroughly enjoyed it down to the last lime-hinted shaving of ice, that it will have been well worth the double-digit price tag.

Mama’s Boy

When Mama’s Boy first opened last spring(?), we hurried to try it out. Tim’s folks were in town, and we’re always trying to force them (in a respectful, loving way, of course) outside the box (read: prison) of the chain restaurant (woa — I’m just seeing the fabulous pun there!!) vicious cycle.

Disclaimer: Despite my above cheap & easy attempts at humor, this website was not designed to make moral judgments about eating at chain restaurants. I have my complaints about them, as I’m sure do many people, but I also frequent a handful of them, they are what they are, and have a purpose. Plus, if a person truly enjoys the food they eat at one, then by all means that’s all that matters. I have a feeling a future post could address this subject in more detail.

Anyway, our first experience was nice, but not fabulous. It was their opening weekend, and you could tell. Tim did get an incredible plate of fried chicken, but I got a vegetarian dish that was so unremarkable I can’t even remember it. We ordered a milkshake that took about half an hour to make (no exaggeration), so long we got it comped at our server’s insistence. Plus, we felt the whole meal was a bit overpriced for the product they were selling. We have not been back — not because of any ill-feeling, but just because we haven’t made much effort.

Until this morning. Earlier this week, Tim attended a meeting where his boss brought everyone egg biscuits from Mama’s Boy. He was quite taken with this biscuit, and suggested we give it another shot, specifically for breakfast this morning. We hit it at the perfect time — maybe it’s the overcast weather, but we were immediately seated in a partially-filled dining room, arriving at about 9:15 (I would’ve thought the place would be packed by then, it’s become notorious for a packed house, especially for Sunday lunch).

Let me first comment on the helpfulness and friendliness of the staff. Not in a sugar-coated way; but genuinely helpful and seemingly quite content to be there, serving good breakfast to hungry people. Now, nice servers don’t make bad food good, but a bad server can sometimes sour an otherwise lovely meal. (Tim and I have both been servers before, so while we are good tippers and willing to forgive many restaurant mishaps, we have little patience for snootiness, laziness, or huffiness.)

As is our usual custom, we order two entrĂ©es with the intention of splitting both. And, as is our usual custom when eating out for breakfast or brunch, we order one savory and one sweet. Now, my eyes immediately landed on the Salmon Cakes Benedict. You can guess the description — salmon cakes, topped with a poached egg and dilled hollandaise. But we went to get the biscuit, and we can’t break with custom, so Tim suggested that the salmon cakes wait until our next visit. And yes, that means there will be a next visit. I will hold him to it.

So we had the savory dish figured out — a good ol’ bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. That left the sweet dish, and the winner was chosen for two reasons: 1) it was quite highly recommended by my friend Gretchen, who had it a month or so ago, and 2) there just aren’t that many sweet choices on the menu. No pancakes (to Ada’s great disappointment), no waffles. There was a chocolate cake (yes! on the breakfast menu!), but that’s a little over-the-top for me. So the sweet choice was the Georgia Peach-stuffed French Toast.

I’ll start with the biscuit. It wasn’t fussy, wasn’t primped, wasn’t garnished. But it was a home-run combination of flavors, and totally hit the spot. The biscuits are a little sweet, sweeter than most I’ve had. And normally I might be wary of a sweet biscuit — I mean, that’s what honey and jam are for, right? But combined with the thick bacon and smoked — this is key — smoked cheddar, the sweetness was perfect. So I inhaled my half-biscuit, scooped food into Townes’s mouth in-between bites, and moved on to our breakfast-dessert.

The french toast was not what I expected. I was thinking, thick slices of ripe peaches stuffed between layers of egg-coated bread. It was more like a peach sauce — you could still see tiny bits of peach, but it was almost minced, and thinned. So it wasn’t bursting with peach flavor. But topped with the vanilla whipped cream, it was about as much as I could ask from french toast. And I do mean that as a compliment. It didn’t need a single drop of the syrup that came on the side, and between myself, Tim and Ada, we practically licked the plate.

Tim was still hungry (splitting and sharing your meals with your 3-year old doesn’t always make for a full belly) so he ordered a biscuit with gravy. I was stuffed, and didn’t taste it, but in his words, “it was a good filler.”

One of the best parts was that the meal was very reasonably priced. We got out of there with $15 less in our pockets, tip included. We didn’t have coffee (I had my required 2 cups before I was able to dress and leave the house), so I couldn’t use my previous post as a segway, nor can I comment on the quality. But overall, I say, if you’re in Athens, and want breakfast, skip BCB for once and go to Mama’s Boy. ‘Cause somewhere around these parts, a boy is making his mama proud.

Coffee

It seemed appropriate that the launch of my ever-so-anticipated (ahem) food blog should begin with a post about the very thing with which I begin each day. Without fail. Or rather, with dire consequences if for whatever reason it is withheld.

Quite simply, coffee makes me happy. I recently participated in one of those mass-email-narcissistic questionnaires where I pass on to a list of unsuspecting souls a barrage of unrequested personality tidbits about ME! ME! ME!, and one of the questions was about my favorite sound. Many of my fellow mothers-of-young-children responded with a truthful, heartfelt description of their children laughing. And, while after reading those answers I realized I could honestly give that answer as well, that was not my first thought. My very first thought was, the sound the coffee maker makes when it’s done brewing. And, really, it’s right up there with the sound of my adorable children laughing.

I know we could enter into a discourse about the originations of coffee, the Mayan (or whichever) civilization worshiping the beans (or something like that), etc. But really, let’s just talk in the present. What is it about coffee? Don’t say caffeine. Well, maybe it’s that for you, but not for me. I don’t want a coke first thing in the morning. Or hot tea. Or a RedBull. And while I know caffeine has something to do with it, it’s more than that. I need want a strong brew, from freshly-ground beans, with half-and-half (don’t get me started on fake “creamer”), no sugar.

And on the subject of half-and-half: I have always wished that I enjoyed my coffee black. It would be easier, in a couple of ways. First, saving that step of adding the creamer — the perfect amount, so that it’s the color of a piece of cellophane-wrapped caramel. Second, in the event that you are forced to drink coffee in a place that (insert gasp) has no half-and-half; no big deal, you think, because I take my coffee black. I had heard an urban legend that if you drink your coffee black for two weeks, you’ll never look back. My father, personally experiencing this phenomenon, albeit adding a week or two, underscored the possibility. So I gave it a shot. For almost EIGHT WEEKS I drank black coffee. Each day, hoping to wake and actually look forward to it. Not only did I not look forward to it, but my customary 2 cups of (half-caff) coffee slowly dwindled to one cup (forcing me to acquire a caffeine boost via black tea, somewhere mid-morning… did I say it wasn’t the caffeine?). Shouldn’t eight weeks be enough time to acquire a taste? It took much less time than that to start liking beer. Approximately 7 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours, and 30 minutes less time.

I suppose I should also disclose details, since I’m hoping this blog will focus a good bit on that type of thing. What brand of coffee has won the Carter household taste test? Well, keeping in mind that the Carter budget has a variable in this equation, we are currently using two whole-bean varieties from Sam’s Club: both are the Marques de Paiva label, an organic decaf and fair-trade french roast. The price is unbeatable, especially for the flavor.

Got any thoughts on coffee? Want to share?