Possibly the only reason I’d want to live in Atlanta

Nothing against the city, or its people. It’s just the traffic. Enough to make you want to drive your car over the side of a bridge, just to end the misery of sitting in a sea of automobiles moving at the pace of a stoned turtle.

Anyway — this bit of news I found this morning — this is not unlike a silo of salt being dumped on the gaping wound I suffered when we left Athens and moved to Indianapolis. We still haven’t found a great place to eat. To be fair, our time and budget don’t allow for lots of looking; but still, we kind of think we’d have landed on something by now. Some place, with promise.

Oh, well. Score one point for Atlanta:
Hugh Acheson’s New Restaurant Endeavor

I should point out that it doesn’t help matters that he named it “Empire State South.”  I have long nursed a minor obsession with the Empire State Building, working on studies of its history, proportions, and unmatched beauty while completing my MFA. I have to wonder about the comparison inherent in the restaurant’s name; will it be the food that is NewYork-esque, or is it a brazen reference to Atlanta being the NYC of the southeast? If the latter, that’s a stretch, but then again, I’m not Atlanta’s biggest fan.

Sigh. Don’t leave me hanging here in the Midwest, Indianapolis. Come on, you can do it.

Homemade cashew (or almond) butter


Like so many things I make from scratch, I started doing this out of pure necessity, after I somehow managed to produce two children with peanut allergy. My 6-year old has thankfully now grown out of it, and eats peanut butter fairly regularly. But my son has not (yet… here’s hoping). I began making cashew butter for him when he was about 2 1/2.  We knew he could eat cashews, but unfortunately many of the commercial varieties have — believe it or not — peanut oil (I mean, come ON, food manufacturers — throw food-allergic people a bone, here). They are also unbelievably pricey. I figured out it had to be cheaper, making it at home.

And, of course, it is. I spend about $5 on a pound of raw cashews (more like $8-$10 if you buy organic ones, which I don’t right now), and then you just need some oil, salt, and a food processor. Buying raw nuts and roasting them yourself makes it cheaper and probably better for you; packaged roasted nuts are usually cooked at very high temperatures, destroying some of the nutrients. I use a mixture of two oils: mild-flavored olive oil and palm oil (Spectrum organic shortening).  Really, any mild-tasting oil, just enough to give the butter some spread-ability. A pound of nuts will get you about a pint jar (16 oz) of nut butter. This stuff is so good — I eat it all the time, much more than peanut butter. I’ve even sent a jar a few hundred miles via the US Postal Service, as a gift.

Almonds could be used interchangeably in this recipe; but the nuts have different oil content, so you probably won’t use the same amount of oil for both kinds. I really never measure my oil — I just pour it in until the texture seems right.

So, my somewhat vague instructions, with very imprecise measurements:

Homemade Nut Butter (using almonds or cashews*)

  • one pound raw cashews or almonds
  • about 1/2 tsp table salt, or to taste
  • 3-4 Tbsp Spectrum Organic Shortening**
  • 3-4 Tbsp mild-flavored vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300º.  Place nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, checking often to make sure they don’t brown too much (ovens vary, and nuts burn quickly). Once lightly golden and fragrant, remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Put roasted nuts in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times to begin chopping, then let the machine run for about 30 seconds, or until the nuts are very finely ground, almost to a powder. Stop the machine, and add the salt and shortening. Process a few more seconds, until the mixture starts to come together. Turn on the machine, and while running, pour the vegetable through the feed in a slow, steady stream, until the mixture looks like… well, like peanut butter (thicker or thinner, as you like it). Taste for seasoning and texture, adding more salt or oil as needed.

Scrape into a jar, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator. The mixture spreads best when closer to room temp, but should be kept in the refrigerator when not in use.

*peanuts shouldn’t be used in this recipe; they have much higher oil content, and therefore need almost no additional oil when making into peanut butter.

**You can omit the shortening and use all vegetable oil, if you’d like. The shortening just adds a little stability and is virtually flavorless, which is a good balance for the slight flavor of the olive oil I use.

Psychedelic Butterfly Queen Cake, and Blueberry Birthday Scones


Or something like that. I thought it turned out pretty cool — in a slightly off-kilter sort of way. The whole idea was saved from imminent disaster when I had an early-morning epiphany of SPRINKLES! — I had until that moment been trying to figure out how long it would take me to tint, pipe, wash out piping bag, and repeat, seven or more times for each color of the rainbow (plus borders). Once I had that magical morning revelation, I knew I could just tint a couple colors, treat the cake like a stained-glass window, and make life much easier. After an emergency morning trip to Walmart for said sprinkles (you must know how desperate I was, to take all three of my children to Walmart), we came home, put the Wee One to bed, and got to work. Truth be told, the kids did a lot of watching — it was just too hard to keep the sprinkles in the appropriate places. But they did the Jelly Belly border all by themselves.

The biggest disappointment was the cake itself. I used this recipe from Cooks Illustrated online — one originally published in the magazine 10 years ago. I’m not sure what happened. I have had good success with other CI cakes and baked goods (case in point: the scones pictured below). Everything seemed fine with the batter, right up until they went in the oven. But the cakes baked lopsided, and seemed pretty thin. It wasn’t until we cut into the cake that we saw they were indeed pretty dense layers, with a line of  concentrated batter through the middle of each layer. The texture was dense and a little dry. Not the light, fluffy, tender yellow cake I was going for. It could have been a fault as simple as old baking powder — I go through a can relatively fast, but we were at the end of one, scraping the bottom, getting every last caked-up bit.  I didn’t test it beforehand (I’ve actually never tested my baking powder, though this experience might change that stat for the future), and it’s in the trash now, so there’s no way to know for sure.

The icing, however, was fantastic. The best buttercream recipe I’ve ever worked with or tasted. Also from CI online, the recipe has variations for several flavors; we used orange. It was delightful, and made the disappointing cake edible. It was whipped to a good volume, and made for very easing spreading and smoothing while icing the cake. It will be my new go-to recipe for cake icing, for sure.

The birthday girl was happy with her cake, which we enjoyed at her small party on Friday night. Since her actual birthday is today, we decided on a secondary celebration via her choice of breakfast. She chose scones (always her favorite, and unfortunately the breakfast we bake the least). I had recently viewed yet another CI recipe for blueberry scones, and upon a second sleepy look this morning realized with joy that we had all the ingredients (the blueberries were frozen). I’d never tried this recipe because it’s an odd way to go about making scones. It calls for grating frozen butter, which I decided not to do, since my butter was not frozen. So I skipped that step, opting instead for the old-fashioned method of cutting chilled butter into my dry ingredients using a pastry blender. Although I didn’t do a blind taste test comparing the two methods, I would confidently say that my scones lacked nothing by going the conventional route. Several other steps in the recipe, however, also seemed unconventional, but I stuck with them. It called for folding the dough several times after rolling, freezing it for a few minutes, and re-rolling it before adding the blueberries. This, I did. It was a little awkward and messy, though, and I wondered aloud to Tim as I put the pan in the oven whether it would be worth it in the end.

They might have been the best blueberry scones I’ve ever tasted. So delicate, so buttery, such an amazing and light texture — it totally made up for what was lacking in the birthday cake. They are indeed rich, but aren’t heavy at all. It’s definitely a special-occasion scone; I can’t do breakfast of all that white flour and sugar without crashing an hour later — but for a birthday it was a worthy treat:


A Technicolor Monarch Butterfly Cake?

Somewhere along the way, I decided it was a good idea to let my daughter choose her birthday cake. She has pretty good taste, I think, so I’ve never feared baking a bubblegum cake or something similarly horrific. Last year, sometime before her 5th birthday, she and I ate lunch one day at The Grit, and she saw in the dessert case a “Barbie’s Chocolate Dream Cake.” It was imprinted on her mind; that was her request come birthday-party time. She remembered it in vivid detail; much more so than I. When it came time to create Barbie’s/Ada’s Dream (can I mention here that this occurred a mere two weeks after delivering my third child?) I went totally on her memorized description, so I have no idea if this was anywhere near the original inspirational confection:


Now, look. I’ve never claimed to be good with a piping bag. It tasted good, even if my ribbons got a little wonky (and you’re looking at the good side of the cake).

This year, my almost-six-year-old has come up with a new idea. I will be making, over the next 48 hours, the following:

A yellow layer cake, with orange buttercream frosting (this much, I like; I actually gave her the choice of orange or chocolate buttercream, and she chose orange). As for the decor, the cake is to have “a rainbow butterfly, wearing a tiara.” More ribbons are to adorn the side of the cake (as in Barbie’s Dream, above). She made it very clear that the butterfly is to have rainbow-colored wings; it’s not supposed to be a butterfly with rainbows scattered ’round.

Right. Sounds a little like something we should be eating while watching The Wizard of Oz and listening to Pink Floyd, but sure, I’ll do it.

You guys.

Don’t worry — I’ll take a picture.



This is the view from the kitchen window, in our rental house. Pretty spectacular, I think. Makes ever-so-slightly easier work of washing an endless, self-multiplying inventory of dirty dishes.

Good-For-You, Delicious, Not-Dinner-Party Soup


This was a recipe tried out of pure necessity. In one of my last CSA boxes — I’ve lost count as to how many more I’m supposed to get — I got nothing but greens. And a kabocha squash. But still — a box full of greens. More than I could fancy eating.

Thankfully, our CSA farm sends an email each week with suggested recipes. One of them was for Cream of Greens soup — something I’ve never even heard of. But I’ll eat just about any kind of soup, and I did have a bounty of greens. So I set to making a pot.

What can I say? If I’m writing about the experience, it had to be good. Case in point: a friend’s daughter, just turned 13, was here to help me with the kids on a crazy morning while I got tried to get caught up. It was lunchtime, and I had fixed her a grilled cheese sandwich. I didn’t even think to offer her the soup — it had been simmering on the stove — because I mean, c’mon, it’s greens, and she is less than thirty. But she, after stealing a few curious glances at the contents of my dutch oven, asked if she could try it. I gave her a small cupful; she made quick work of cleaning it out. She sat shyly, and talked about how good it was. I told her she could have as much as she wanted (still thinking she’s just being polite, surely she didn’t actually enjoy it), and before the words were out of my mouth she was back at the stove. Later, her mom told me that she had not been home for half a minute before she was telling her she simply had to get Mrs. Carter’s soup recipe.

So, there you have it. Teen-tested, mother-approved. I changed the original recipe a little; it called for way more liquid than seemed necessary or beneficial. I used vitamin greens and bok choy; but I really do think you could use any greens you have, or a mixture (save salad varieties, but who knows?). As always, I think the soup goes from good to fantastic if you use your own chicken stock (it’s easy! look here!). Don’t be afraid of the heavy cream; it adds a lot, and a little goes a long way. This soup is not terribly unlike Cream of Broccoli, if you need more of a taste reference; and while it might not make a great first course at your next social gathering, it will warm you to the core on a stay-at-home, still-warding-off-H1N1 Thursday night.

Cream of Greens Soup

  • 3 cups chopped greens (any kind)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, or 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth & 1 quart water
  • 1 large potato, sliced
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a stock pot or dutch oven. Add onion, salt to taste, and cook until translucent but not brown. Add greens, potato, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 25 minutes. Purée the soup using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Return to heat, add cream and nutmeg, and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately (it also freezes well).


Slow Food USA

I’m not typically one to join organizations, but I did recently decide to join Slow Food USA. I’d been wanting to participate in some of the local Slow Food events, and membership made them cheaper or free. Plus, I do like the cause.

As a further instigator, for the month of September, the regular membership fee of $60 was waived, and you could join for making any donation. I just received an email that the offer is extended through October 15 (tomorrow). So if you’ve ever been interested, now’s the time:

(click here to be redirected to SlowFood USA)

First Autumn Gathering October 10, 2009



I think I’m still full.

It’s been a full 17 hours since I stopped eating at the very first Seasonal Gathering, held last night at the home of The Benefactor. Since I’m still so full (as is my husband), I’m thinking that somewhere along the way, our “tasting portions” got a bit bloated.

But what an evening! Thirteen people, a hundred dirty dishes, conversations ranging from food-and-wine-centered awe and joy to tear-shedding, side-busting laughter; getting to know new people, understanding new and old friends in enlightened ways; it was the kind of night that made you think world peace could be grasped if everyone could just have a meal like this.

I don’t think I’m seeing the night or the food through rose-colored glasses; we were still able to be critical, and at the end of the night there was that matter of being unbearably full (not the result we sought). The actual menu, with last-minute additions and wine pairings, looked something like this:


butternut squash soup with mapled creme fraiche & balsamic drizzle


spinach salad with pears, buttered pecans, maytag blue cheese
& shallot-thyme vinaigrette



pumpkin ravioli with sage butter reduction


apple-ginger sorbet


seared scallops with wilted spinach, arugula, & orange salad


norwegian cedar-grilled salmon with dill, sweet peppers and arugula


orange-glazed pork belly with winter couscous
& balsamic roasted brussel sprouts



grilled eye of ribeye with whipped potatoes, chimichurri,
and simple jus



pear streusel pie with vanilla ice cream
pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce


In what is perhaps a gross understatement, I will say that I don’t know much about wine. Except, of course, whether or not I like what I’m drinking. This is why I am so happy there are people out there who do a good job picking your wine for you. We rarely go to a restaurant where the server has helpful tips on wine (only because we don’t often go out to really good restaurants); anytime we ask, and the reply starts with “well, I always get the…” or “the most popular one is…” then we politely listen, and then take our own charge, because the server will be of no help. When you come across a server who knows what they’re talking about, you might as well try what they recommend, based on your food order. Even if you end up ordering a wine that you haven’t typically bought for home consumption, chances are you’ll have a better match than if you order that old standby.

Anyway, the people who teamed up to pair our wines with our courses knew much more than I. And overall, I believe all guests were pleased with the results, and also in general agreement about what worked well and what didn’t. As a whole, the group was not wild about either of the wines with the first two courses (both whites). That being said, most of us admitted that we just don’t feel capable of discerning complexities as much in a white wine as in a red. It didn’t help that, after the two disappointing whites, we all tasted an unbelievable red from Michigan: the Grand Traverse Gamay Noir (this was worth every penny and more of its $12 price tag… to me it tasted like a much more expensive bottle of wine). I dared pipe up that I thought it might rival the Silver Oak (which I’d had at our last fun food gathering with our host), but I was swiftly and gently put in my place. I personally was beginning to feel a bit discriminatory against white wine when we moved on to the Estrella Damm beer experiment. For those of you familiar with El Bulli — the restaurant in Spain that has won “top restaurant in the world” a record five times in the past seven years — it was their team of sommeliers and chefs who created “the world’s first beer specifically created to accompany food.” Upon first taste, it reminded me of a wheat beer, and I just wanted a squeeze of lemon. Or something. But then, we actually began eating the scallops with it, and the beer changed. We thought it was an excellent pairing — even our host, who wonders aloud at times whether they still make beer, enjoyed it.

When the Lafite Blanc was served, we moved on to another realm entirely. This was the wine that kept me believing in whites. The complexities here, we could all taste, and it was lovely. From there, back to two more exceptional reds (yes, The Oak was still a crowd-pleaser), and then to the reason we all came: the yquem. We were served a taste of the ’03, which we immediately noticed was paler in color than the ’94 we had enjoyed back in August (apparently, white wines become richer in color as they age). The taste revealed many of the same modifiers we discovered with the other vintage, but we were noticing a lack of earthiness as well. As we continued to sip and ponder, while also enjoying the delicious desserts, our host brought out a second bottle of yquem — a revisit to the ’94. He opened it, and we were able to instantaneously compare the two vintages. It is probably safe to say that this is something I will never do again in my life. Those of us who were still throwing out our opinions seemed to agree that we liked the musty earthiness of the older wine. Sort of like a blue cheese; there is something immediately slightly offensive about the taste of decay, but then as you drink you come to appreciate it for what it is, and relish the process that takes something that is rotting and turns it into something exquisite. It is metamorphosis of flavor, an altogether unique transformation.

As far as the food goes, it was — really — all so delicious. Even with most of us preparing foods we’d never worked with before (Kimberly attacked pork belly for the first time, with success; and Wolfy took a maiden voyage in the art of homemade pasta for his pumpkin ravioli), there were no duds. Not one. I think this is pretty amazing, considering the sheer volume of food. From our first taste of the sweet, creamy butternut squash soup to the last finger-lick of caramel sauce from our dessert plate, we consumed the month of October.

We enjoyed ourselves so much, we’ve tentatively planned to make the dinner a seasonal event. I’m sure the follow-through on this will be difficult, considering the number of lives that must find a way to align for one night; but I do hope it can happen in one form or fashion. I’ve found myself wondering, more than once, if all these lovely people who participated are stage actors hired by my husband to woo me into being utterly charmed with this city; but then I remember that it goes against my dear spouse’s nature to hire anyone for much of anything — he would rather pull an Eddie Murphy and play all the characters himself. Too good to be true? Doesn’t seem to be; we’re just here, counting our blessings.


A mighty thank you to our hosts — MB, the Lady of the House, and their team of All-Stars.

Where has the week gone?

Good grief. I seriously have a lot to do before The Feast. It’s in t-minus 43 hours and counting.

I promised a menu, so a menu I will deliver. I could say that it was a team effort, but that would be a lie. I pretty much took the wheel and sped forward (leaving no doubt in the minds of our new — and hopefully still — friends what a complete control freak I can actually be); I didn’t hear any comments from back-seat drivers, but I also had the music turned up really loud. You might — if you live in Athens — notice some similarities between a few courses here and some recent offerings at certain restaurants there. I steal unabashedly; I still sleep at night because I’m not making any money from it, and how else am I going to get my fix?

I am not yet privy to the wine pairings (although we will be providing a bottle of Inedit, the new beer created specifically to accompany food — those wacky molecular gastronomists!); except, of course, the unrivaled and highly-anticipated dessert wine: the ’03 Yquem.

Thankfully, while the menu was my own joy ride of autonomy, the cooking is not. I’m making the sorbet and a host of side-dishes, and will be teaming up to finish off the pork belly. But overall, it is a group effort, and we all look forward to a little chaos in our host’s ample kitchen.

The actual dessert is still TBD; but will apparently be inspired from this month’s copy of Bon Appetit.

butternut squash soup with mapled creme fraiche and balsamic drizzle

spinach salad with pears, buttered pecans, maytag blue cheese and shallot-thyme vinaigrette

apple-ginger sorbet

seared scallops with wilted spinach, arugula, & orange salad

tangerine-glazed pork belly with winter couscous and balsamic-roasted brussel sprouts

grilled eye of ribeye with whipped potatoes, chimichurri, and simple jus

I think I get hungry every time I look at that menu. This might be a crazy night.