Food Memories

“How is everything?” the server asks.

“Oh, she hasn’t even taken a bite yet,” my husband responds rolling his eyes as I rotate my plate to get the perfect shot.  The server smiles knowingly and promises to check in with us soon.

“Honey, can you give me some light?” I plead.

“Sure,” he says as he pulls his iPhone from his pocket.

He always obliges my need to take a picture.  That…is true love!  I take a few photos and dig in to my meal.

This is a typical scene when I dine out.  Whether I am with my husband, a group of friends, or alone–I am constantly snapping a photo of my meal.  Actually, to be honest, I take an enormous amount of food pictures. At times, my friends and family who do not understand my need to capture a meal in photos, have probably thought an intervention was warranted. My need to capture a recipe in action or the perfectly plated homemade meal or an exquisite dining experience is deep within my soul. No intervention necessary because I doubt it would work! I have found that many people are committed to capturing the meals they make and the meals they enjoy while dining out. Some want to catalog their food journey while others simply want to share the meal and the experience with others. “We eat with our eyes first.” The incredibly insightful person who originally made this statement nailed it. We see a plate of delicious creativity, and we know immediately that we want to dig in. Our eyes tell our stomachs, “This should be amazing. Go for it!”

Food is also a memory; it is nostalgia; it is fellowship. Familiar food scents often spark a memory or a feeling of nostalgia. Photographs can do this, too. I remember my travels through the dishes I ate at every destination. I recall holidays and times with my family through the meals we have created together.

But still, some may ask, “why in the world would you take a photo of your food?”  Well, for me it is about the memory.  The visual creativity of the plating.  The mouth-watering appearance of the food. The aroma of the dish.  All of these things are captured in a photo and later can evoke the memory of that meal.   I keep these photos and stroll through them, much like one would a travel diary, reminiscing about the flavors and experiences. I have never been one to keep a written journal.  I guess my journaling is through the photos I take.  I am a “visual journalizer” of sorts.  We journal what is important to us and food is a huge part of my life.  From homemade, to dining out, to special occasions–I have a photographic history of my food journey.

Sharing these photos with others is a wonderful way to connect.  Social media also allows me to see the food journeys of others.  It has been an amazing way to meet people in my community who are passionate about food, cooking, and local agriculture.  When I see a photo of a delicious homemade creation, I immediately want the recipe.  When I see a beautifully plated meal from a local restaurant I have yet to discover, I immediately want to go there.

Food memories are the delicious moments in my life.  I am thankful for all of those moments and the ones that are yet to come.

The banana turron with purple potato ice cream at Mango Hut in 29 Palms, CA. I can still taste that wonderful ice cream!

The banana turron with purple potato ice cream at Mango Hut in 29 Palms, CA. I can still taste that wonderful ice cream!

This Breton butter cake with ginger ice cream and stone fruit was decadent.  If you are in La Jolla, CA, go to Whisk n Ladle...please!

This Breton butter cake with ginger ice cream and stone fruit was decadent. If you are in La Jolla, CA, go to Whisk n Ladle…please!

My dear friend Bryanne took me to the seafood market in Washington, D.C. one October. We ate these beauties at about 10:00AM.  Crawfish are best for breakfast!

My dear friend Bryanne took me to the seafood market in Washington, D.C. one October. We ate these beauties at about 10:00AM. Crawfish are best for breakfast!

Last year, I decided to eat beef again when I could find it pasture raised.  This was a beautifully prepared hangar steak with deconstructed chimchurri from Little Hen in Holly Springs.

Last year, I decided to eat beef again when I could find it pasture raised. This was a beautifully prepared hangar steak with deconstructed chimchurri from Little Hen in Holly Springs.

My first attempt at Mapo Tofu last year.  Love those Szechuan peppercorns!

My first attempt at Mapo Tofu last year. Love those Szechuan peppercorns!

My mom gave me figs from her tree in Eastern NC.  These were perfect paired with vanilla yogurt and some local honey.

My mom gave me figs from her tree in Eastern NC. These were perfect paired with vanilla yogurt and some local honey.

One of my favorite places in Raleigh is Fiction Kitchen.  This was a lovely heirloom tomato salad they did last summer.  We dine with my bosses--loved to see them experience this place for the first time!

One of my favorite places in Raleigh is Fiction Kitchen. This was a lovely heirloom tomato salad they did last summer. We dined with Dan and Diana Saklad from Whisk–loved to see them experience this place for the first time!

This wonderful focaccia from Dough in Asheville was our lunch atop Mt. Mitchell in the midst of a thunderstorm.  Awesome!

This wonderful focaccia from Dough in Asheville was our lunch atop Mt. Mitchell in the midst of a thunderstorm. Awesome!

Thanksgiving Dessert: Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars

It is tough to eat locally in the winter.  Squash, greens, root vegetables, and sweet potatoes–that about sums up the winter harvest that starts in November and takes us into early March. It’s a long time to eat the same thing over and over again.  Being creative is the key to embracing the limited choices at the winter farmers markets. So, let’s talk squash.

Acorn squash has a similar taste, texture, and sweetness to pumpkin, so why not use it for desserts? It will be around long after the pumpkins are gone from the market tables.  If the urge hits you to bake more pumpkin bread in January, you don’t have to turn to the canned stuff.  You can use acorn squash or butternut, too.  As for for the gluten, I am not a gluten-free eater.  I love bread.  I love pastries.  I love pasta.  I am thankful that I can eat these things without issue. I know many people who cannot.  Eating gluten is harmful to them.  Gluten-free is more than a fad or a choice.  For many people, it is a health issue.  I have had some amazing gluten-free pastries and cookies.  I am still learning how to adapt recipes to make them without wheat flour.  I have found that almond meal or almond flour works well for more dense cakes like these bars.

My family had no idea these were gluten-free when they devoured the first batch.  I’d call that a success!

Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars with Mascarpone Cream

  • ½ c. acorn squash puree
  • ½ c, brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almond flour or meal
  • ¼ c. arrowroot powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Place dry ingredients: almond flour, arrowroot, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl. Using a whisk, combine thoroughly.
  3. In another bowl, combine squash puree, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.
  5. Line an 8×8-baking pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into the pan and spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until springs back when lightly touched.
  7. Cool on a rack.  When completely cooled, cut into squares.

For the Mascarpone Cream:

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 3-4 tbs. powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Place ingredients in a chilled mixing bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Spoon into a piping bag with a star tip.  Pipe on to each bar.  Grate a little nutmeg or sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over the top and serve!

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Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Today’s bloggers have recipes for dessert and after-dinner drinks, as well as ideas for eating leftovers.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

Friday, Nov. 14

Dessert

Grandma’s Pecan Pie from The Wetherills Say I Do

Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting from My Cooking Spot

Gluten-Free Apple Berry Crumble from Twin Stripe

Paleo Pumpkin Pudding from Wit Wisdom Food

Cranberry Almond Coconut Bars from Love & Flour

Torched Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie with Olive & Sinclair Chocolate from The Local Forkful

Poached Pears with Salted Maple Caramel Syrup from Home at Six

Sweet Potato Pie from Think Fruitful

Nutella Pumpkin S’mores Tart from bethcakes

Gluten-Free Acorn Squash Spice Bars from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.

Drunken Pecan Pie Bars from The Speckled Palate

After-Dinner Drinks

Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider from A Savory Feast

Cranberry Bourbon Granita from Feast + West

Leftovers

Cheesy Potato Croquettes from Hello Little Home

Leftover Stuffed Egg Rolls with Cranberry Dipping Sauce from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Freezer-Friendly Turkey and Rice Casserole from Betty Becca

Turkey and Cranberry Quesadilla from Glamour Girl Gourmet

Stuffed Crescents with Thanksgiving Leftovers from My Cooking Spot

Sweet Potato Crunch

A Thanksgiving staple in our home growing up was sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallow topping.  The sweet potatoes were actually yams..from a can.  My mother doctored them with extra brown sugar and butter.  Then, she adorned them with mounds of marshmallows and carefully toasted them under the broiler.  It was a family favorite.

I have graduated to a more homemade sweet potato side dish albeit one that is just as sweet as my mom’s old standby.  I believe you need a little sweet on your plate at Thanksgiving–but don’t eat too much–save room for the pie!

Sweet Potato Crunch

  • 8 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

Topping:

  • 1 cup chopped raw pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  1. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into cubes.  Place in a stockpot of water and bring to a boil.  Boil for 15-20 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are fork tender.  Drain and place in a food processor.
  2. Process the sweet potatoes until smooth.  Pour into a bowl and add the butter, spices, salt, and maple syrup.
  3. Spread the mixture into a 12″ cast iron skillet or 9×9 baking dish.
  4. Mix the pecans, brown sugar.  Sprinkle over the sweet potato mixture.
  5. Bake in a 350 F oven for 25-30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are bubbly and pecans are toasted.

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Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Be sure to check out today’s recipes for entrees, salads and side dishes.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

 Wednesday, Nov. 12

Salads

Pomegranate & Goat Cheese Salad from Feast + West

Persimmon & Pear Salad from Wit Wisdom and Food

Roasted Butternut Squash & Gorgonzola Salad from Hello Little Home

Entrees

The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey from My Cooking Spot

Roasted Turducken from The Speckled Palate

Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Orange-Cranberry Reduction from Home at Six

Beer Brined Turkey with Bacon Gravy from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Smoked Mushroom Steaks with Herbed Bread Crumbs (Vegan) from Betty Becca

Side Dish

Turkey, Apple & Sweet Potato Pot Pies from Love & Flour

Creamy Pumpkin Apple Pasta Bake from My Cooking Spot

Mushroom Spinach Farro from Think Fruitful

Bacon and Cornbread Stuffing from Chez CateyLou

Sweet Potato Crunch from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.

Blue Cheese & Bacon Mashed Potatoes from A Savory Feast

Sausage Stuffing from the Wetherills Say I Do

Butternut Squash Grits from Homespun Seasonal Living

Wine

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings from Twin Stripe

Thanksgiving in a Cocktail

Happy Blogsgiving!  What is that, you say? It’s a pre-Thanksgiving blogging event that takes place this week.  I am honored to participate.  I am certain you will enjoy meeting the other bloggers and love the great recipes they are sharing, so be sure to read down to the end of the page.   Now…on to the cocktail!

This cocktail is so simple it is almost criminal…seriously, S-I-M-P-L-E. This is mainly because the liqueur of choice is The Brothers Vilgalys’ wonderful elixir, Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur. It has become the Thanksgiving cocktail of choice in our family since we discovered it two years ago. It has all of the flavors of fall and packs enough punch to make you forget any drama that may happen around the Thanksgiving table when the whole family comes together. Trust me, this…I know.

If you don’t have access to Krupnikas (I am so sorry), you could use vodka and spiced honey simple syrup. The key to using these ingredients is steeping the spices in the honey simple syrup for a long time. You want the spices to be bold in this cocktail. After all, it’s Thanksgiving—the holiday celebrated with cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg.   Cheers!

Krupnikas Ginger

3 oz. Fentimans Ginger Beer (or any other strong, full-bodied brew)

1 1/2 oz. Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur

1 lime wedge

Place the Krupnikas Honey Liqueur and lime wedge into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a glass filled with ice and add the ginger beer. Stir gently and garnish with a slice of lime.

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Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Today’s courses include cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and soup.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

Monday, Nov. 10

Cocktails

Carolina Apple Sidecar from Think Fruitful

Bourbon Cranberry Lemonade Fizz from bethcakes

Krupnikas Ginger from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.

Appetizers

Cured Meat Platter from Wit Wisdom and Food

Baked Camembert with Cranberry Walnut Crust from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Ginger Cran Apple Chutney from Love & Flour

Brandied Grapes with Cheese from Glamour Girl Gourmet

Shrimp Sweet Potato Mousseline from Home at Six

Cranberry Goat Cheese and Butternut Squash Crostini from The Wetherills Say I Do

Maple Pecan Baked Brie from My Cooking Spot

Sassy Salmon Dip from Betty Becca

Baked Brie with Cranberry Chutney from The Speckled Palate

Butternut Squash Crostini from Chez CateyLou

Gluten Free Holiday Cheese Board from Twin Stripe

Soup

Butternut Squash Soup with Cornbread Croutons from Club Narwhal

Creamy Wild Rice Soup from Hello Little Home

Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Roasted Chickpeas from Feast + West

PepperFest: The Amazing Pepper Festival

Do you love peppers? I mean, really love them? Then put PepperFest on your 2015 calendar—you won’t want to miss this event. Early fall brings the end of the pepper harvest, and to celebrate this event, Abundance NC, the Briar Chapel community, and countless local chefs and food purveyors come together for PepperFest. This event has grown over the last seven years to become a destination for foodies, those who support sustainable living, and anyone who loves a creative dish made with peppers. PepperFest is located inside the Briar Chapel community of Chapel Hill. This community is a sanctuary for people who want sustainable, green living. Newland Communities has created a neighborhood that offers its residents amenities like nature trails, open spaces, community gardens, and a lifestyle that supports green living. Abundance NC, an organization with a mission to support “a North Carolina where people increasingly meet their needs locally and sustainably,” is the perfect partner for PepperFest.

Peppers for this event are harvested by local growers and supplied to chefs, breweries, coffee roasters, and more. These talented individuals create a recipe with their peppers, and festival-goers walk through sampling these delicious treats. Spicy peppers and sweet peppers made their way in to everything from beer and hot chocolate to soups and desserts.   PepperFest showcases chefs and restaurants that support farm-to-fork cuisine from around North Carolina.

Sustainability and green living were the themes woven throughout the festival. From Larry’s Beans Veggie bus (a mobile coffee shop run on used vegetable oil) to the compostable cups and plates, it was evident that PepperFest planners wanted to stay true to their mission. We were given one wooden spork at check-in and asked to use it more than once. I proudly surrendered mine to one of the many recycling bins at the end of the day. I like the thought of reducing waste through this small gesture, and I love that everyone participated.

PepperFest was a delicious way to celebrate the end of summer harvest. I will be back for more next year. I hope to see you there!

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Vimala from Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles.  Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Vimala from Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles. Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association was there.  This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

Chef Jay Piere from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin.  Spicy goodness!

Chef Jay Pierce from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin. Spicy goodness!

Last Call Before Fall

Fresh tomatoes simply do not happen in my house during the winter.  I just cannot bring myself to purchase those tasteless, mealy tomatoes they offer in the grocery stores in the off season.  Blech!  Often, I am tempted.  In the past, when I have caved, the disappointment is painful.  I turn to canned tomatoes once the fresh ones disappear from the farmers market tables.  This year, I had high hopes of canning my own tomatoes.  Then, work, life, and a million other things got in the way.  Here we are–at the end of the season–and I have not canned a single tomato. So, to the Internet I went.  Search terms: freezing fresh tomatoes.  There is an enormous amount of information about freezing tomatoes on the web.  After reading 10 different articles that provided 10 different opinions, I decided to just do it.  Worst case scenario: tasteless red liquid.  I figured it could still have some culinary use.  With field tomatoes at about $.99 per pound, it was worth a try.

The differing opinions in the articles I read mostly focused on peeling or not peeling, whole or pureed, and fresh versus cooked.   I opted for pureed, with the skins on, and to simmer the puree slowly to reduce it a bit before freezing.  I have a Vitamix, so leaving the skins on was not an issue. This machine will completely obliterate the skins, which have a lot of the nutrients.  One necessary item: my skimmer.  I love this culinary tool (purchased at Whisk, of course).  I used it to remove the tomatoey foam that is produced when the tomatoes are processed in the Vitamix.  Five pounds of tomatoes later, I have several containers of frozen tomato puree that I will be using in soups and sauces this winter.

The mornings are foggy, damp, and cool.  The nights give us a little shiver.   It’s the last call for tomatoes.  Fall is upon us–bring on the pumpkins!

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Final Fruits: North Carolina Apples

I have enjoyed every bite of sun-ripened tomato, juicy peach, sweet buttery corn, and spicy pepper from the summer harvest. I will miss these delicacies in a few short weeks. The stockpile of frozen summer produce that fills my freezer won’t last long—it never does. It’s okay, though. Fall brings special treats, too.

The first sign that fall is approaching? Apples! They are such a versatile fruit. I add apples to butternut squash soup for sweetness and acidity. They pair perfectly with pork, so I use them when roasting a pork loin or braising a pork belly. And, of course…apples are perfect for dessert. Apple pie, apple crisp, apples and caramel, apple gallette, and apple dumplings are just a few of my favorites. Apples are the final fruits of the year here in North Carolina. They are celebrated in the mountains and savored for as long as possible. It will be quite a while before we’ll see any fruit at our farmers markets once they are gone.

Recently, I visited Six Forks Cheese in Raleigh. If you like cheese, and you haven’t been there yet, please make plans to go. You can thank me later. It is a cheese-lover’s paradise. They generously let me taste any cheese I was curious about. I bought some amazingly mild blue cheese from Denmark that was the perfect pairing for the North Carolina Honey Crisp apples I had purchased the day prior. This afternoon snack had me dreaming of other apple and cheese combinations. My favorite go-to cheese is chèvre. Apples and goat cheese…perfect snack or—wait, what about an appetizer? A crostini is simple and will let the flavors shine. Let’s do this!

First, I toasted baguette slices by brushing them with olive oil and letting them get golden in a 350 degree F oven. Once they were cooled, I spread each one with Goat Lady Dairy chèvre. Let the chèvre sit out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to soften it and make it more spreadable. I diced up a North Carolina grown Honey Crisp apple and placed it atop the cheese. A little drizzle of local honey, some chopped toasted North Carolina pecans, and a sprinkling of dried thyme completed my masterpiece. Well, okay—maybe not a masterpiece, but it was delicious.

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