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Archive for November, 2009

Dining out in Baldwin County, Alabama

Posted by eemilla on November 30, 2009

Every year we take at least one trip to see my husband’s family near Mobile, and every single time I resolve that we are going to eat at decent restaurants.  However, it is a bit of a battle considering that most restaurants are either chains or fish houses.  Typically we would eat a meal at Mellow Mushroom followed up by something along the lines of Blue Gill, but finally this trip I quit procrastinating and did some research.

For our first night out we stumbled across Master Joe’s in downtown Fairhope as we didn’t have the time between family visits to drive to Mobile or Spanish Fort.  Although I have been trying to cut flesh from my diet, the interior looked like I could persevere and order vegetarian if I wanted.  While the interior is upscale, the space itself in tiny; they have a bar (with half of it being across from the chefs) that spans most of the restaurants length.  Divided by a narrow isle for the servers, the other side of the space has a row of banquette seats and tables with one larger (six or so) on the other side of the door (the same side as the bar).  There is not an atrium or really any space other than the sidewalk to wait, and in the next couple of weeks, they will (wisely!) stop taking reservations.  Our service was attentive and prompt; our server didn’t have a deep drink knowledge, but she readily confessed it and was willing to ask the bartender.  Being the spoiled Ashevillian I am, I was only slightly disappointed that they couldn’t make my dark and stormy, but the generous pour of my Ginicolada (a rocks pour of half Myers and half Malibu) erased any traces of ill will.

We enjoyed a heaping bowl of salty, steaming edamame for our appetizer, and I had a basic California roll and a Mexican roll (spicy tuna, cucumber, masago/roe, spicy mayo, and tempura crunchies) for my main course.  My honey enjoyed an Ocean’s Eleven (spicy tuna, crab and cucumber, wrapped with salmon, tuna, yellowtail tuna, and avocado served with  banzai sauce and tobiko/flying fish roe).  The portions were standard and in line with the pricing.

 

 

 

Embarrassingly enough, our next plan was to eat at a restaurant tucked away in the Eastern Shore Center so we waded through the Saturday log jam only to find our destination closed until dinner.  As we were both fairly hungry, we opted to cross the street into Guglielmo’s.  Of course this a small regional chain so my goal of eating at local establishments was quickly blown.  Our server, Fabio, provided mediocre service much like one would expect at a chain but without the scripted sales pitches.  I started with a caesar salad, and my husband munched on the bread.  My salad was overdressed with a passable caesar dressing and straight out of a box croutons, and the lettuce had more than one brown spine.  The bread and oil could have been so good, but the bread was obviously a frozen hoagie roll; the oil was winning with probably four diced gloves of raw garlic seasoning it.  For my main course I opted for a vegetable panini which consisted of roasted red peppers (as well as green peppers that the menu didn’t mention), onions, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and more arugula than I could have hoped for and was served with french fries (coated in salt and cheese).  The sandwich was good, but the french fries just didn’t seem to fit.  They were fine fries in and of themselves, but the sandwich was cheesy and salty enough.  My husband went with stuffed shells that were served swimming in an overly sweet tomato sauce; the shells were large and stuffed.  Another down side is that the bread refills cost $1.50, which would be fair if the bread were good.

 

After our lackluster lunch, we headed back towards to the bay and a stop at the Windmill Market.  The market promotes itself as a sustainable venture with huge cisterns out front, and of course a small wind turbine.  According to my father in law, the turbine contributes about a quarter of the electricity consumed, and their website mentions solar panels and passive solar skylights.    The vendors offered run of the mill crafts and food, but I loved my lemon poundcake from The Perfect Pear.  I was bummed that my mother in law was mistaken about the toilets being composting toilets, but the website says they are flushed with grey water.

Even though I failed to keep it local, this trip was a big improvement, and our next trip to the Gulf will be even better (we will stop in Mobile).

 

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Blessed Be!

Posted by eemilla on November 25, 2009

This year I am once again thankful for my loving husband and my four legged fam!  I really love coming home to all five of these wonderful beings!  I am also thankful for us surviving a full year as a one car household; it is so much easier than we thought, but it certainly makes me thankful for safe (ignoring the speeding cars and scant sidewalks and lighting) streets and working so close to home.  No matter how much I want to smack her father, my niece is such a wonder.

We are blessed to have the freedom to travel, and I am looking so forward to strapping into my skis.  Speaking of skis, I’m posting a honeymoon picture (ah 2007 started soooo well!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What’s in your trash?

Posted by eemilla on November 24, 2009

This time of year is the perfect time of year to think about how much trash you produce considering most Americans are gearing up for their annual end of year spend and waste orgy.  The Change the World Challenge from Reduce Footprints this week asked to keep your trash in site; rather than carry the bag around with me I dutifully logged my trash for the week.  Although I ate out more than I typically do, I ended up using and throwing away items that have simple, reusable alternatives like tissues, napkins, paper towels, and to-go containers.  I’ve finally gotten into the habit of taking cloth bags everywhere so now I just need to remember to bring my own to go containers, napkins, and handkerchiefs.

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Tamarind Thai

Posted by eemilla on November 24, 2009

After almost two years of hearing rave reviews from a handful of people, I finally coerced my husband into eating lunch with me at Tamarind Thai.  Off Airport Rd in a mostly empty strip mall and across the parking lot from two large national chains, it is a softly lit little spot with comfortable booths and well spaced tables.  Our service was attentive without being overbearing.  I am not certain where the fans are eating, but the food was far from exceptional.  We started our meal with the spring rolls for $5.95; we received four fairly short skinny rolls with a gelatinous, saccharine sweet sauce.  The rolls were filled with cabbage, carrots, and clear noodles so they really needed a strong sauce to save them; I would have preferred a spicy peanut sauce, but even plain old tamari would have been an improvement.

The main course provided much more food for the price (I don’t recall seeing an entree over ten dollars); however, I did take issue with being charged a $1.50 for requesting brown rice in lieu of the white rice that comes with the dish, especially when I declined the choices of chicken soup or salad with ginger dressing that come with all entrees (our sever, to his credit, was explicit about the fact that I would be charged).  We both opted for medium heat, but my prik khing (chili and snap peas) was clear the sinuses hot compared to my husband’s truly medium pad thai.  I longed for the soothing creaminess of coconut milk or refreshing crispness of cilantro, and I cursed having to go back to work because I am certain a colbeer would have eased the heat.  Regarding the pad thai, it was just as greasy as one expects when ordering pad thai, but it too needed the crisp clean taste of cilantro or coriander.

Relative to its surroundings Tamarind Thai is a fine restaurant, but there are many restaurants within a short drive in the other direction that serve better food for about the same amount of money.  I feel compelled to try Thai Basil and possibly even uber-divey Wanpen.

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How Many Light Bulbs Do You Need?

Posted by eemilla on November 14, 2009

For this week’s Change the World challenge please remove a light bulb from a fixture with multiple bulbs.  For example, in our ceiling fans we have one out of three sockets filled (with compact fluorescents of course).  At work I am fortunate enough to have a south facing window, so on sunny days I don’t use my overhead light.  If you’re up to it, join the challenge and spread the word; for more ideas check out the honor roll.

 

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Sazerac

Posted by eemilla on November 14, 2009

Sunday after Green Bay lost to the Bucs, I coaxed my honey into a trip downtown to spend some money in the local economy.  I love roof top bars, and the Sazerac is Asheville’s second entry.  The rooftop is spacious with plenty of little tables for Biltmore Avenue people watching, but the Sky Bar has the better view by miles.  What Sazerac lacks in views it more than makes up for with their superior drinks and food.  The cocktail menu is a handful of classic (and labor intensive) cocktails: mint julep, gin fizz, French 75 (with gin), sidecar, negroni, (my favorite) kir royale, Pimm’s cup, and of course the namesake sazerac.  While it may not have had as much alcohol as one would want, my honey’s mint julep tasted so much like a good old Southern sweet tea I had to take another sip to catch the bourbon at the end.  I enjoyed the French 75 I ordered before I saw my usual champagne cocktail; although towards the end I had to dump the ice so I could finish the drink.  Much to my chagrin, they ran out of champagne before I could try their kir royale.  I moved to the gin fizz, which was a disappointment in both presentation and taste.

The plan was to enjoy a cocktail and checkout the roof, but after glancing the menu over we both agreed we should dine so I could enjoy a few more cocktails and he could watch the Panthers almost beat the Saints.  I started with the Blue Pear salad which starred bleu cheese and a lovely poached pear with spring mix and walnuts.  The serving size was good with a nice balance to the cheese, nuts, and fruit; my husband believes a restaurant’s gumbo tells the entire tale so he opted for the duck gumbo, which he greatly enjoyed.  The duck was in addition to the crab and andouille, and he applauded the okra’s preparation.  For the second course, I decided to stick with salads and chose the Asheville (butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and quinoa over spring mix with a lemony vinaigrette).  Overall the salad was good, but I think I would have enjoyed more cherry tomatoes (shame on me for wanting to eat so much out of season); the quinoa was fluffy, and the squash was roasted and yummy, retaining a nice texture.  For his second, he chose the Crepe Myrtle: a crepe stuffed with a dirty rice pilaf and served with béchamel and avocado and a side of spinach.  I thought the couple of bites I had were bland; nothing really stood out as either good or bad.  If the rice had been more flavorful or if the sauce had carried the punch, this dish might have worked, but as it is, it is just another sad, boring vegetarian entree.  The dessert menu looks strong, but we opted to finish our local spending spree at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

The bar itself is sleek and sophisticated with reclaimed (looking) wood slats over the lights and plenty of shiny metal; for the sports fans they also have two huge televisions to service each end of the long bar.  If you are looking for a more romantic or cozy spot, head upstairs for the second floor bar or the rooftop.  I really loved the bathrooms; they were so chic in red, black, silver, and a huge mirror on the door.  My husband even commented about how cool the john looked.

At the time of our visit the bar had been open about a week so staff is still getting used to the menu, and as I mentioned above the drinks are labor intensive as they are made to order rather than being poured from mixes.  Our service reflected this, but it seemed to get slower and slower as the time passed (even though the bar stayed at about the same capacity).  However, the food and atmosphere were good, and even though the cocktails were refreshingly resurfaced classics and good, I have hopes of a stronger pour in the future.

 

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Shame on you, Congressman Shuler!

Posted by eemilla on November 11, 2009

Abortion is legal.  The best way to stop abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Before Roe v. Wade, well heeled women went out of the country to have their abortions performed, and less well off women went to illicit abortion providers who may or may not have been medically trained.  As a result, women died.  It is infuriating that Congressman Shuler (and the other representatives) would vote to restrict a right that is so intensely personal.  Every child born should be a wanted child.  How many children have you adopted or fostered Mr Shuler?

Congressman Shuler issued a press release stating that HR 3962 doesn’t provide enough reform or control enough costs.  However, if that were the case why bother with voting in favor of the Shupak amendment that would restrict access to abortions for ostensibly less than wealthy women.  Why didn’t Congressman Shuler present anything to the Small Business Committee that would have provided better cost controls or more reforms?  What reforms are Congressman Shuler looking for?

His press release states that he supports “many of the provisions in HR 3962”, but other than cost control he doesn’t specifically state where the bill’s reforms fall short.  On his Small Business page he points that healthcare costs have almost doubled since 2001 and that businesses are facing the decision of whether to pay for health insurance or lay off employees, but his solution on that page is to allow businesses to band together to create coops which would work within the existing system that Shuler says is “laden with waste, fraud and abuse” (from today’s press release).

The Senate is next so pick up your phones and call your Senators daily to remind them how you feel about our healthcare system.  I’ll be reminding mine that unlike them I don’t have free healthcare.  I don’t get to choose my doctor because my health insurance company does that for me.  For my annual physical, I have to schedule my appointment about six months out, and then I should expect to wait one, two, or more hours to be seen by the doctor.  Due to the huge price difference between the group and individual market, my employer choses my health plan.  If I were on the individual market, my only real option for health insurance company would be Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC; although they are not considered a monopoly BCBSNC collected over 96% of individual health insurance premiums in North Carolina in 2008.  I’ll also be sure to mention the millions of uninsured (like our friends who work forty plus hours every week, but still cannot afford health insurance) that the private market has failed.  I’ll voice my support for moving away from the fee for service paradigm and moving towards the rewarding healing the sick one; I’ll also share my dream of taxing the hell out of those prescription drug ads that harass me constantly to ask my doctor to please give me a prescription which might help the selectively fiscally conservative get on the bus.

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Smitten Kitchen Cakes

Posted by eemilla on November 8, 2009

My first SmittenKitchen baking attempt was a disaster; I thought Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes would be perfect for St Patrick’s Day, considering my love of Jameson, Bailey’s, and stout beer, but my attempt ended up severely stuck the silicone (i.e. notoriously non stick) cups.  However, I was determined to enjoy some of the delicious cakes I’ve seen since I started reading her site.  My second recipe was chosen by my husband for his birthday in August (although I ended up making the cake a few weeks later).  Thankfully he chose a single layer affair without any fancy decorations.  The results were delightful and sentimental (it tasted so much like a torte from the old, but now defunct, Old Europe that I used to eat on our early dates).  This cake was easy, but it tasted like a professional effort.  It is definitely one of my favorite cakes for both its appearance and taste.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

For our third legal anniversary, we pondered and agonized over several delectable cakes, and we ended up with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.  The original recipe is for a three layer cake, but I only have two round pans so I made two layers and some cupcakes.  Although I tried to eyeball it, the batter distribution between the pans wasn’t equal which resulted in one layer being much thicker than the other.  I did not overfill the cupcake tins, but the silicone cups were not again not as non stick as I thought they should be when I purchased them.  I also tweaked the recipe a bit: unsweetened not too smooth peanut butter (in lieu of smooth commercial peanut butter) and an entire cup less of confectioner’s sugar for the frosting (next time I will probably knock it back an additional cup).  Deb at SmittenKitchen provides a page of layer cake tips as well as advice with each recipe that have really helped me make better looking cakes.

3rd Anniversary

cupcake

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Weekly Green Challenge (triple dose)

Posted by eemilla on November 4, 2009

Last week’s challenge was to give your car some loving, and below I’ve given couple of simple and obvious suggestions.  Check out the honor roll for more ideas.

With the time change and checking your smoke detectors’ batteries, you should also think about getting the car a tune up.  In addition to saving gas money, routine maintenance will either help you over the 200,000 mile threshold or help you get a better trade-in credit.  Of course keeping the air filter and oil changed is important, but also be sure to have the tires rotated and their pressure checked.  Proper tire inflation helps with their wear and your gas mileage.

Our household is into our sixty-second week of being a one car household!  With our one year milestone and our return from walking hilly San Francisco, we decided to park the car one day a week.  If you have public transit, use it!  Not only will it reduce your footprint, but you are also providing a good job to someone in your community and decreasing the congestion for someone else.

This week’s challenge to have zero food waste is second nature for me, thanks to my mom’s super frugal habits.  Dinners’ leftovers became either lunch or a late night snack, and I carry on the tradition in our home.  If I don’t eat it, my husband will most likely throw it in a burrito wrapper with cheese to finish it off.  My biggest problem with food waste are those ingredients I buy to make special recipes then fail to incorporate into our weekly meal plans.  This week I have a portion of cream cheese left over from the super awesome peanut butter chocolate cake I made for our wedding anniversary, but other recipes include my favorite golden sesame tofu that leaves me with pineapple juice or the plethora of recipes that call for just egg whites or egg yolks.

Regarding the reclaimed or recycled challenge, I did go for Marcal’s Small Steps because it was half the cost of the Seventh Generation pack, and I don’t mind it (and my honey hasn’t complained yet either).  Thanks for your thoughts!

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