I've been tinkering with the thought for some time now, a nebulous pinprick that emerged as a thought and spread slowly, like a puddle of ink, down into the depths of my gut. What started as a whisper, beckoning me toward something new and unknown, began tugging at me. That tugging turned to prodding turned to an undeniable thumping within to go! Do!
Of course, for me, it is never that easy. I have to wrestle with it first. You’d think this would be old hat by now since I’ve taken a similar leap before, here. But, no.
Making a change is multi-faceted, a two-faced animal, beaming with hopefulness on one side and fear on the other side. I’ve become adept at welcoming the latter because, well, it always shows up, doesn't it? I'm starting to believe that fear is just part and parcel of the whole "writerly malaise thing," that it afflicts anyone who has ever been to second base with a pen and a piece of paper. And, let's not forget the cleverly disguised flaw of perfectionism that shows up too, in costume, dressed as a well-intentioned planner.
All psychotherapeutic issues aside (both real and imagined), I'm ready for a new space- a blank canvas and a fresh start. The Sunnysideup has served me well these last two years. I started this blog in search of something- a purpose, contentment and long lost parts of myself. I discovered all of those things here and so much more.
It was here that I was finally able to let go of the things that blocked me and here that I found a place to nurture the things that I loved. I found inspiration in the everyday and eventually discovered my passions.
I know it sounds silly, but this blog changed my life. I came to this space malleable, a seeking soul masquerading as a writer by day and serving tables at night. Because of that, I learned about perseverance and faking it until you make it. I learned that what you do does not define who you are. I learned to keep going, even when nobody is looking. It was here that I became content to just be myself without pretense or expectation. And, it was here that I developed a voice and new interests. Through that process, I became wildly obsessed with food and stories, cookbooks and flavors.
I uncovered opportunities
, made new friends and surprised myself a time or two. Today, I make a living (not a grand one, mind you) as a writer and I work part-time with people who care about food like I do. Along the way, I got into grad school (which I eventually turned down) and I got rejected.
I lost loved ones and faced frustration. I got published
and I got married
. I cooked, I cried and I recorded it all here.
The Sunnysideup is such a special place for me. If you stopped by here, I hope that you connected with some part of it. If you did, then you connected with a large part of me. I hope you will follow me over to my new space where I will continue to nurture all the wonderful things that I discovered here, namely food and story.
The pictures above are just a few snippets of life lately. In my absence, I have been writing more and settling into a new home. I've taken photography classes and attended a writing workshop. I spent the weekend in Murrell's Inlet with friends and the Mister. We added a puppy to our teeny family and my husband started a new life in food too (more on that in the new space). In the fray of life, we have found time to be with friends and each other, to build a garden and make rainy day sandwiches. We've gone on food adventures and long walks and we've christened the new kitchen with freshly splattered grease and piles of dishes.
I've never felt the passage of time as quickly as I have these last six months. It is both exhilarating and exhausting. For now, I am doing my best to move through each day with open eyes and a wide open heart. With that in mind,
I look onward to the next chapter, to a new space with new stories and new adventures. I hope you'll come along.
The new blog begins in July. You can look for updates by following me on Twitter @keiaishungry and on Facebook where I will make the announcement on my old blog page. Until then....
Last week, I challenged myself to eating on a food stamp budget
as part of a nationwide awareness campaign called Food Bloggers Against Hunger
. I was allotted $4 per person per day which amounted to $8 per day and $56 for the week. Me, being the mathematician that I am, miscalculated and bought a week's worth of groceries for $52.
I took my dollars to the local farmers market and independent grocery store because I wanted to see if I could still eat healthy. The classic discussion is that healthy is expensive. And, it is. But, it's not impossible. I managed to purchase a week's worth of groceries and we were able to feed ourselves three (mostly)square meals a day.
Though it was possible, eating on a limited budget required planning (READ: Time) and it required stretching the food to last the entire week (READ: Rationing). I found myself bargaining over what I could have for dinner as a way to preserve my small bounty. For example, I settled for a bowl of soup on Monday so that I could save the precious proteins for later in the week. I limited my egg intake during the week to ensure I had enough for the weekend. This would often require going without and choosing something like yogurt and banana bread instead. I would often skimp at lunch, throwing a hodgepodge of items (a slice of banana bread, maybe a few spoonfuls of egg salad or a tiny cup of soup) to make a meal.
I found myself overthinking my next meal. Having to plan so meticulously in order to care for the little we had took mental energy that most definitely occupied valuable time. Even so, I still ate. I didn't go hungry or have to deal with hunger pangs. There was no panic because I didn't know where my next meal was coming from which is the reality for millions of people.
I experienced moments of gratitude too. My local farmer discounted my eggs for me when he heard of my challenge and I came across a boon of wonderfully juicy tomatoes in the middle of the week for $0.50. A friend bought my lunch one day and my church prepared dinner on a Sunday evening. When we did make a meal with one of our prized protein sources, I savored each bite. When good things happened, I counted my blessings.
The biggest realization for me was just how thoughtless I can be about my consumption and food shopping in general. I buy whatever I want. I eat as much as I want. I buy things that look good or because I have a recipe in mind and then fail to even use what I bought. I'm wasteful. I plan poorly.
And, I'm blessed.
This challenge has opened my eyes to the harsh realities faced by so many and it was a giant reminder of just how lucky I am. My husband and I have agreed to cut our grocery budget significantly. We have adopted a "use what we have" approach to cooking rather than buying more. We're going to aim for simplicity and moderation.
I think the mere fact of just knowing that we could live on less has been a huge lesson. I also realize that having reliable transportation and real food options nearby are luxuries, things I cannot take for granted.
I keep thinking about what I can do to help. Provide transportation for others? Cook for low-income families? Grow vegetables? I don't know what it is yet, but I don't think I can live life as a food writer and blogger without paying attention to the iniquities in our society. Pretty pictures and privilege can't be the only thing that exudes from my meager corner of the internet. Wouldn't be right.
For now, I'll move on with greater awareness and search for ways to help, whether it be writing a story or seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Here are a few organizations in Charlotte that are addressing issues of hunger and food scarcity:
It's not easy stretching $52 across an entire week. But, in solidarity with Food Bloggers Against Hunger
I've decided to accept the challenge of feeding my husband and myself
on this shoestring budget for the week.
One of the best ingredients for a constrained budget is the mighty egg. It's also one of the most affordable ways to add protein to a diet. I remember many nights when my mother cooked "upside-down dinners." She would scramble eggs and make french toast to my delight. Of course, what's french toast other than eggs and bread, but I saw it as a treat and nothing more. If I was lucky, she would add a little cinnamon sugar.
I loved 'breakfast for dinner' and never knew that these were the things my mother had to do to put food on the table. Breakfast for dinner filled the gaps between other nights when we would hit up the local Friendly's or Fuddrucker's where "kids eat free." I didn't know it then, but my mother struggled so that I wouldn't go without.
Unfortunately, 16.2 million children go hungry every day
. And, many more stand to join the statistic if we don't do something about it. You can tell Congress
to preserve the programs that allow many children and families living under the poverty line to eat. Food is a basic human right and we all deserve to be well-nourished. Easy Egg Bake w/ Spiced Beef, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions
This egg bake will make a little go a long way. This pan will make eight servings that can double as breakfast or a snack. The goal for this recipe was to pack as much sustenance and nutrients into one complete meal. I make this with whatever ingredients I have on hand. If you don't have all the spices, use what you have. You'd be amazed at what a little salt and pepper will do.
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 onion, quartered thick
a few glugs of olive oil
1/4 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
One dozen eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease and oven-safe baking dish. Spread potato and onions on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with few good glugs of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Once the oven is heated, place baking sheet onto the middle rack and roast for 30 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Lower the oven to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, prepare the spiced beef. In a small bowl combine ground beef with spices and mix well. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the spiced beef to the hot pan. Cook until browned, drain and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the eggs together with a splash of water, salt and pepper. In a greased oven safe baking dish, add the sweet potatoes, onions and ground beef. Pour the egg mixture over top and then place in the oven for 35-40 minutes. You want the eggs to cook fully over top. It shouldn't jiggle in the center. The edges will puff up and turn golden when finished. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Slice into individual portions.
Today, food bloggers across the country have joined together to raise awareness of hunger and food insecurity in the United States that affects 48.8 million Americans. 16.2 million of them are children. Inspired by the new documentary A Place At The Table, a group of food bloggers led by Nicole Gulotta of the Giving Table blog decided to come together to address this issue and work to make a difference. I chose to see what it is like to shop on the average budget for a person on food stamps which amounts to $4 a day per person. In my household, that allotted me $52 for the week.
I am not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I have a comfortable savings account or the ability to keep up with latest fashions. But, I make do. I pay all of my bills on time, put gas in the car with no problem and freely shop for quality, organic locally sourced food without a thought. I have been known to dash out of the house to pick up a missing ingredient or splurge on an artisanal product, say, a $13 jar of French mustard. On average, my husband and I spend $200 a week on food.
For us, food is our most important expense. It is medicine and nourishment. We pay now so that we don't have to pay later. For this challenge, it was important that we stayed true to our food philosophy. I wanted to buy quality meat and organic produce mostly from local farmers and I wanted to make wholesome, complete meals.
It took strategy and careful thought. My husband and I had to make a plan. What proteins should we buy? What produce will stretch across several meals? Can we lessen our portion sizes and make more?
Here's what my $52 bought me.
I spent $22 at the Davidson Farmer's Market
and the remaining $27 at the Healthy Home Market
. I went over budget by 65 cents and dug in my purse for the extra change. At both stops, I was forced to make choices.
The chicken I normally purchase at market was too expensive and so were the eggs. I was going to have to purchase the next best choice at the grocery store. After hearing about the challenge, my local farmer
ended up discounting my eggs for me. Ground beef was the most economical choice at the farmer's market. Any other cut of meat would've blown the budget and given me less options for complete meals. I also grabbed four sweet potatoes at the farmer's market, but had to put one back after careful consideration. The market was my first stop and I knew I needed to money for other items. I settled for three large sweet potatoes, a giant bundle of bok choi and two pounds of ground beef.
At the local grocery, I found chicken I could afford. Thighs to be exact, which is a cut we cook with often. It's much tastier than boneless, skinless breasts and much easier on the wallet. My husband and I agreed on cabbage for one of our vegetable buys. A whole head can easily produce for three to four meals, from soups to slaws to a tender braise. Green beans were cheap too.
For flavor components, I chose fire roasted tomatoes, Greek yogurt and onions. They can all be applied in numerous ways to add flavor and depth to each meal along with the spices, cooking oils and condiments already in my pantry. I decided that whatever was in my fridge was fair game for the week, but that I could not go out and purchase any more. Here's a look at my kitchen inventory and grocery costs.
Next up was meal planning. We had to determine the best use of each grocery item in order to maximize our food, so we came up with a menu for the week.
The menu allowed us to prepare a few things ahead of time like the egg bake and banana bread (which we will use as both breakfast and a snack) and the carrot soup (which will come in handy for lunch and dinner). We prepped the vegetables for a quick stir-fry, shredded a sweet potato for hash and made the cole slaw. The other items we'll make as we go, but the menu gives us a game plan.
With two foodies in the house, our biggest challenge is mindful consumption. That is, we are going to have to consciously think about portion sizes. For example, even though we technically have enough chicken thighs for three meals, they will be three small meals at one thigh a piece. We'll have to stretch the ground beef over several meals and use our leftovers to cover lunch the next day.
And still, I feel ashamed to even call that a problem.
Sure, living within a constrained budget is challenging, but there are so many other factors to consider for the average American on food stamps- time, access to healthy foods and transportation. There are people who work themselves to the bone to live just above the qualifying line for food assistance and still more who qualify, but cannot access healthy foods because they live in an area devoid of anything but cheap, processed, nutrient deficient foods. It's not their fault.
There are children who believe ketchup is a vegetable and millions who go hungry each day. Food education is part of it, which is why I am using these $52 to demonstrate that healthy meals can be prepared on a budget but there's still more that needs to be done. Federal programs are in danger of being cut and our nation is underfed and hungry for nutritious food. Private sector programs and charities aren’t enough. The only sustainable solution is for government policies to change, so we must make our voices heard.
I urge you to watch the trailer below and to tell Congress that federal nutrition programs are crucial for hungry children. Click on this link to take action now
. In today's world, hunger and obesity stem from the same problem- access to nutritious foods. Let's work to change that today.
To watch the movie in its entirety, check the listings
to see if A Place At The Table is playing at a theater near you. If not, the film is available on demand through iTunes
. Follow the hundreds of other bloggers on Facebook at The Giving Table
and on Twitter by following the has tag #takeyourplace. Want to learn more about SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges? Head here
for more information.
I'll be blogging my recipes throughout the week along with my thoughts as this week's challenge unfolds. I hope you'll follow along and more importantly, take action to end hunger in our nation.
I was recently invited to a non-traditional Passover Seder with some friends down in Rock Hill. As it always is with this group, I enjoyed a meal that surpassed my expectations and delighted me on so many levels. From a beautiful table to warm company and a sincere rich goodness imparted to me through story and fellowship, I left inspired and thankful.
The dinner was actually held the Wednesday before Passover since the host and his wife are expecting a baby any day now. The meal was equal parts ceremony and celebration. We went around the table telling the story of Exodus, reading passages aloud, singularly and in unison, recalling the story of liberation and hope. The table was filled collectively, too, with contributions from the group.
Poco, the eldest woman at the table, brought a gorgeous chicken from her farm, roasted to perfection. Lamb was served, too, along with chicken gravy, lamb jus and cumberland sauce straight from the Joy of Cooking. I brought my new party trick, roasted butternut squash with tahini and za'atar spice
and the host, Stephen supplied the charoset, a traditional Passover dish made with apples, figs, wine and local honey. Of course, we munched on bitter herbs, salt soaked parsley and matzo during the Seder ceremony.
For dessert, we had coconut macaroons studded with chocolate chips. They were some of the best macaroons that I've had. Something about the texture made them extra special. They were crackly on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. We were told to only have two and I, of course, snagged a third. Don't tell anyone.
The evening was special as I am told every Wednesday is for them. We shared a meaningful evening of feast and faith. I never tire of being welcomed into a home and given a place at the table.
To learn more about our celebration, visit WFAEats where I share an interactive experience of the evening with audio and video that explores the tenets of the Passover Seder.
I think I found my new party trick. I knew it too, when I tested it last Saturday. The Mister and I took the first bite and dammit if we didn't polish off the entire plate by ourselves. This dish is a crowd pleaser and one of the tastiest things to come out of my kitchen in the new year.
I'm not surprised, though. It came from a cookbook that has been rocking my world since it came out last October. Jerusalem
was pre-ordered for me as a wedding gift and I have had my nose in it ever since, which might explain why I have yet to cook from it until now. It is captivating on all accounts. You can find praise for it here
and just about everywhere in the blogosphere.
Jerusalem is written by Yotam Ottolenghi
and Sami Tamimi
, the two amazing chefs who head up the famed Ottolenghi in the UK. Both hail from the city of Jerusalem, Ottolenghi from the Israeli side and Tamimi from the Arab side. The two returned to the old city to explore the flavors of home and brought back a breathtaking compilation of stories, recipes and images that transport you there every time you open th.
For me, it has been a total sensory adventure. I find myself flipping through its pages for the images one day and then reading its stories the next. I think the reason I have yet to cook from it is because I have wanted to cook everything. Before I take on a recipe, I am already enthralled with another one at the turn of the page. And, so it has been for several months.
The decision for this one was easy. I had recently picked up some za'atar spice from Savory Spice Shop
which I had been using recklessly and unabashedly on everything from eggs to meat to avocados. By the way, za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that is typically made of sesame seeds, salt, thyme and sumac . The sumac lends a tangy, almost citrus like flavor that I chase like the setting sun. If you're looking to make your own, you can find a great recipe for za'atar here
Anyways, this recipe was destined to happen because, well, the za'atar and the fact that I just so happened to have everything I needed in house which almost never happens. The dish is incredible. Onions and butternut squash wedges are deeply roasted and caramelized before pairing up with creamy tahini kissed with garlic and lemon. Something magical happens when the sweet vegetables collide with tahini. Prepare yourself.
I recently brought it to a dinner with friends to see if it would hold up to a crowd. By golly, I left that place with new friends solely based on the merit of this dish. If you are socially awkward or have people skill issues, make this dish. You don't have to do a thing. Just let this dish make your first impression.
Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onionwith Tahini & Za'atarever so slightly adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami TamimiThe original recipe calls for pine nuts which are gently fried in olive oil. I was out, so I left them out. I think pistachios would add a lovely color and crunch to the dish and might try those next time around. I also added more water to the tahini than the original recipe called for. The consistency was still thick and creamy, however, the application became a little less "gloppy." I would also recommend extra tahini because you never know when you might want to eat it by the spoonful.
1 large butternut squash, cut into 3/4 by 21/2 inch wedges
1 large red onion, cut into 1 1/4 inch wedges
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 1/2 tablespoons water
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon za'atar spice ( I got mine from Savory Spice Shop)
Fresh chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash and onion with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and spread onto two baking sheets in a single layer. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes and then rotate the baking sheets, being careful to turn the contents of each tray so that they gain color on all sides. Roast another 20 minutes and check on them once more, removing any pieces that may be taking on too much color. You want good caramelization, but some of the onions might need to be taken out sooner than the squash. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the tahini sauce, place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until the sauce is smooth, with a consistency similar to pancake batter.
To serve, spread the vegetables on a large platter and drizzle the tahini over top. Sprinkle the za'atar and parsley and serve.
I once dated a flamenco guitarist during a very confused and dark period of my life. Not to say that dating a man with fingernails longer than yours is necessarily the hallmark of a life spiraling out of control, but it was a rather good indication for me. He was sweet and kind and fragile, just like one would picture a musician of the flamenco variety. Except he had blonde hair and blue eyes and wore t-shirts that could barely fit a baby. I was confused, I tell you. But, I sure did like a good head scratch from that one hand with the fingernails.
That gypsy guitarist and I met at a Peruvian restaurant where I served tables and he played guitar. This place, Selva Grill,
served some of the best ceviche I have ever had. Ceviche is a dish, popular in Central and South America, that essentially "cooks" raw fish in a citrus marinade.
My little Latin(ish) lover was inspired to make his own ceviche for his Chilean princess (that's me!). His hands, effeminately soft and unworked, would meticulously squeeze each lime by hand, a testament of his unrequited love. That ceviche turned into his signature dish and probably the only good thing that came out of that odd and mismatched relationship. I bulldozed the kid; ripped his tender heart out, cut it into little pieces and threw it in a blender for good measure.
But, you know what? I have never, ever stopped loving ceviche.
Fast forward to last weekend when the Mister and I, who knows not a thing about flamenco music, invited some friends over for a Latin feast. Naturally, ceviche was on the menu. We minced, chopped and shimmied our way through the afternoon blasting Celia Cruz and Tito Puentes while we prepared our menu for the evening.
On a side note, the Mister met the flamenco guitarist once. I was actually still dating him when we ran into each other one night, not knowing that we would one day marry each other. I remember the Mister being visibly annoyed. He couldn't understand how Mighty Mouse could pull a chick like me. I tried to explain the power of the guitar and long fingernails. To this day, he still makes fun of me.
It all worked out in the end. I traded in the talent of a flamenco phenom for a Mister that only listens to hip hop music circa 1988-1992, but has an embrace that makes me feel small and owns t-shirts that I can wear as a nightgown. A fairy tale ending, in my opinion.
Ceviche de Pescado slightly adapted from Laylita's Recipes
Ceviche can be made with all types of seafood- shrimp, oysters, lobster, scallops and all types of fish. Ceviche de pescado is a traditional preparation with whitefish and straight citrus. Feel free to play with a variety of citrus. I find that the use of oranges helps to balance the acidity of the tart limes. Ceviche is a feast for the sense so don't skimp on the peppers and herbs. The more, the merrier. Also, don't forget to drink the juice. It's one of the best parts of having ceviche!Ingredients
20 limes, divided
Juice of 2 oranges
2 lbs of white fish (I used tilapia but you could use any whitefish- corvina, grouper, sea bass), cut into 1-inch pieces
3 jalapeño peppers, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into small dice
2 bell peppers, 1 orange and 1 yellow, cut into small dice
4-5 large shallots, sliced paper thin
2-3 tablespoons of a mild tasting olive oil
Salt to tasteDirections
Take 10 of the 20 limes and roll each one on your countertop, pressing down gently to release the juices inside. After you do this, juice the 10 limes and then add to a bowl along with the orange juice. In a large, non-reactive bowl combine the raw fish with a pinch of salt, jalapeño peppers, garlic and a tablespoon of the chopped cilantro. Cover with the lime juice, making sure to submerge all the fish in the citrus. This is how it "cooks". Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. The fish will turn opaque in color once it is completely "cooked." Ceviche can become too cooked if you let it go too long. Four to six hours is a good time frame.
While the fish cooks, prep the tomatoes, peppers and shallots. Soak the sliced shallots in a bowl of water for 10 minutes to eliminate any unpleasant pungency. When the ceviche is ready, remove it from the refrigerator, drain the cooking juice and remove the peppers and herbs. Rinse the cooked fish in water and place back into the bowl. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers, shallots and cilantro and toss well. Pour the juice from the remaining 10 limes into the bowl and drizzle in the oil. Salt, to taste and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.
We served our ceviche with (green) plantains sliced thin and fried in coconut oil.
Well, look-ee here, folks- we've got a toddler on our hands! On March 1, The Sunnysideup celebrated two years in existence which is to say, decades long in blog years.
No, really, it's something to be proud of. I know so many people, myself included, that have started blogs with gusto and promise only to let them fizzle out in a matter of weeks or, conversely, update them once every turn of the century. Starting a blog is easy. Maintaining a blog is the challenge.
Now, this blog isn't perfect, mind you. It's not expertly budgeted out into a neat and tidy schedule. It doesn't have a crazy good readership. It's not winning awards or receiving national attention (or local attention, for that matter). I haven't made a penny nor have I been invited to travel the world to eat beautiful food and share my infinite wisdom with an adoring public. Although I am still (and always) available to do that if anyone needs me.
None of these things have happened, but I'll tell you what has occurred. Starting this blog has changed me.
When I began, I referred to the blog as an "exercise in happy living" although it was really more an act of courage than anything else. For so long, I flirted with countless ideas and plans, things that I was "going to do" that no sooner left my mouth and evaporated like cigarette smoke, spindling off into the air in well-intentioned curlicues, eventually disappearing into nothingness.
The truth is, I was afraid. I was afraid to start something that could possibly fail. I was afraid of what people would think or that they wouldn't think of it at all. I was afraid to put myself out there. I was afraid I wasn't good enough.
But, I decided to do it anyway and so, made a beginning
. I decided that I was going to start this blog for me and no one else. I would leave my expectations out of it and simply take action, baby steps, one post at a time. I began writing and posting. I started taking pictures. I took a stab at various columns and let myself post whatever it was that inspired me. I began to see the world differently and each time I pressed "publish" I became a little less afraid.
For an entire year, I allowed myself to freely explore the world I lived in without rules or limitations and after my first year
, I began to notice an affinity for the kitchen. I was cooking more. My camera contained an inordinate amount of food photos. I obsessed over beautiful food photography and developed crushes on food bloggers. I gardened. I grew vegetables. I discovered my passion!
Armed with that knowledge, I pursued adventures in the kitchen and started gobbling up food writing and food journalism wherever I could find it. I started reaching outside of the blog and pretty soon, things began to change. The Mister had to point it out one day, "Do you know that you're a writer?"
Some days, I can say "Yes, I am a writer" and some days I still don't see it. I still have days where I am less than inspired and it feels like creativity and humor have permanently left the building. And, yes, I still get afraid.
But this blog, this simple act of putting myself out there regardless of the outcome, post after doggone post has changed me in ways I could not have imagined. I found courage here and new parts of myself. I am grateful for these last two years and all that this blog has given to me. It has been an incredible gift and for those of you who have stopped by, thank you.
Well over two weeks ago, the Vietnamese community rang in the lunar New Year, or Tet, with a lively celebration at St. Joseph's Vietnamese Catholic Church. The two-day festival brought thousands to the church grounds for a festival that celebrated culture, family, faith and food. I won't lie, I was there for the food.
The selection was a feast for the senses. Tables of Vietnamese delicacies lined the main tent from one end clear down to the other with nary an empty spot in front of each vendor. Families sat around large round tables eating and talking over the blaring entertainment coming from the fellowship hall. Vietnamese singers dressed in dazzling evening gowns and tuxedos performed for the captivated crowd while children and adults played games midway-style in the adjacent tent.
I met up with Kseniya Martin (@inthequeencity), a Twitter buddy cum real life friend, for our inaugural food adventure. Choosing what to eat was a tad overwhelming. We paced the tables trying to sort out our strategy and decided to share a few plates. We settled on Chao, a Vietnamese rice porridge filled with liver and blood sausage. The soup is served with a spoonful of black pepper, fresh chives and crispy onion bits. We also got a plate of Banh Tom, sweet potato and shrimp fritters which came with a side of Do Chua, Vietnamese pickled vegetables (carrots and daikon) and a fish sauce for dipping. For dessert was Che Nhan Nhuc, a beverage/dessert made of water infused with pandan leaves and filled with logans(similar to lychee), lotus seeds, seaweed and gelatin.
The best and most unexpected fun of the day was the Pho Eating Contest which my brave new buddy, Kseniya, decided to enter on the fly. Contestants were challenged to eat as much of the contents of a nine pound bowl of pho over the course of eight minutes. There was some stiff competition including the Mouth of the South, a gargantuan professional eater who gave a gross display of his
gluttonous prowess. The audience was both amazed and horrified. Kseniya whom I assume is always a lady did the best she could, taking diminutive sips and daintily tackling the giant bowl of soup. In the end, she was first loser but the day was a win in my book.
To read more about the wonderful food and deep faith of the Vietnamese community in Charlotte, check out this post in Creative Loafing
where I discover the heart of the church and the soul of its famous noodle soup.
This was a happy accident. While making this dessert
for friends over the New Year and once more for a friend who just gave birth to her second beautiful daughter, I stumbled about a deeply rich, salted pecan butter. The original dessert called for a pecan crumb to layer the bottom of a warm apple pie pot. Salted and roasted pecans were pulsed until warm and crumbly and then layered with honeyed apples and whipped cream. Never one to leave anything at the bottom of a bowl, I scraped the remains of the food-processed pecans and struck gold! I had made nut butter and it tasted better than anything I had ever bought at the store. The intensely satisfying flavor lingered on my mind until I was able to make a full-on batch. This time, I added a little wildflower honey and slathered it on apples, pears, whatever I could find. Then, I ate it by the spoonful until it was gone. That, too, was a happy accident. Roasted Pecan Butter
2 cups raw pecan halves
1 tablespoon of ghee
4 tablespoons wildflower honey
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium pot, melt the ghee. Add the pecans and toss to coat completely. Spread pecans over a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over the pecans, about 3/4 teaspoon. Place into the oven and roast 10-15 minutes until they deepen in color. Be careful not to overdo it. Pecans will go from perfectly roasted to black, burnt and bitter in an instant. Keep a close eye on them. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely. Place pecans into food processor and process until a thick paste forms. Add honey and process some more. Taste and add more salt or honey according to your preference.