Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lunching at Lillian's

Having lunch with friends really is one of my favorite pastimes.  There's just something special about having a break during the day to enjoy good food with people that you probably don't get to see as much as you'd like, unless you just happen to work at the same place as your friends, but I doubt that's the case for most of us. (How's that for a run-on sentence!)

Recently, my friend Sarah asked me out to lunch. She suggested meeting at Lillian's on Forest Drive.  I was so delighted...a restaurant that I haven't been to!  In fact, I don't think I've ever even heard of it. But that just made it all the more exciting. Lillian's is located in a strip mall in Forest Acres.  Like a lot of restaurants in strip malls, it's easy to overlook if you don't realize it's there.

Lillian's features fresh sandwiches and salads.  I was impressed by the number of vegetarian selections they offer. I am a major carnivore but have lots of veggie friends, so I notice stuff like that. They prepare your order fresh, so it may take a little while, but I wouldn't call it slow.  The decor is a bit sparse, but it's bright and open.

Sarah ordered the chicken salad plate which consisted of a scoop of chicken salad with pasta salad and a beautiful fruit salad.  The chicken salad seems to be one of their claims to fame, if you read the reviews out there.  I'll have to try it next time. 

Chicken salad plate
I chose the chef's salad which was a large salad with turkey, bacon, cheddar and a light herbal dressing.  I liked the dressing very much. It was subtle yet very flavorful; a nice change from the usual thick dressing that most serve with this type of salad (1000, blue cheese, ranch). 

Chef's salad
 I also noticed that Lillian's has a cooler filled with "take and bake" dishes.  This is great to know for those hectic evenings when you are just running out of time to cook. Or, when you need to take food to a sick friend, this is a quick easy way to grab and go. Lillian's in at 4711 Forest Drive, in the Bi-Lo shopping center. Next time you and a friend have lunch scheduled, try Lillian's.  It's fresh and light; perfect for that lunch date. Bon appetit!

Lillian's Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Altruism Project

They say people cook with love, with the heart...

So, my petit gourmand is in 3rd grade now. She's got a really great teacher who I hear nothing but good things about...from Viv as well as other kids we know who have already had her.  That's a good sign because kids will take any opportunity to tell you how much or what they didn't like about a teacher, but they all love this lady. The class is studying altruism right now.  An assignment came home to go along with this unit.  The kids are to come up with some sort of altruistic deed that they will carry out.  Then, they have to write a descriptive paragraph about their project, how it affected the people they helped, how it affected themselves.  This is awesome and it's only 3rd grade.

My daughter heard at church that our Youth group is always asking for lunch to be donated since they meet immediately following the 11:00 service.  They don't have much of a budget for lunches. So Vivian decided she wanted to make lunch for them.  The plan was for me to act merely as her assistant and she would cook, assemble and cook a lasagna all by herself.  I took the job.  I really just stood back and gave instructions and some occasional advice.  I posed the question "Ground beef or Italian sausage?"  I was really curious to see how her thought process would work here.  She considered it and decided the sausage would have a "richer" flavor. So we made a special trip to Publix to get ground Italian sausage.  I think she made the right call!

Preparing the onions

Browning the Italian sausage

The onions started getting to her; thus the "onion goggles"

I'm here to tell you, as the proud mama I tend to be, my sweet child did this project all on her own.  She chopped onions and then added them to the skillet as she browned her sausage.  She mixed Romano, cottage cheese, mozzarella, eggs and fresh parsley from our garden.  She assembled the lasagna and had it all ready for the oven on Saturday evening.  

Putting it all together

Ready for the oven

Sunday morning, we baked it partially then packed it in an insulated container before heading off to church.  Upstairs in the youth room, she finished baking the lasagna then she assembled a Caesar salad, making sure to finely grate fresh Parmesan. 

Grating fresh Parmesan

As the youth group arrived, they all commented about how good it smelled...they were right.  As I helped bring it all to the table, it was pretty evident to me that these teenagers were impressed by what they saw.  Viv had made a beautiful lasagna and salad.


 The finished product

I'm not sure what they were expecting, but I know they were pleasantly surprised.  They invited us to stay and eat with them which was extra cool that the teenagers wanted their chef to also be their guest.  Many, many compliments later, we had a super easy clean-up because there wasn't a stitch of food leftover!

Everyone with full tummies

I left there feeling immense pride that she took on this project and she carried it out so successfully.  She's pretty modest, but I know her. She was feeling that sweet satisfaction that a job well done brings.  I'm so excited about her work that I can't wait for her to turn it in to the teacher!  And to the 3rd grade teachers at Rosewood, I thank you for creating such a meaningful project for our kids to experience the beauty of altruism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

High Five Eggs Up

For years, yes years, my husband and I have belly-ached about the lack of breakfast places in Columbia.  And, even more so, the lack of GOOD breakfast places in Columbia.  Some have come.  And gone. Then there are the old standards.  Don't get me wrong, there is certainly a time and place for a midnight run to the Waffle House.  I have fond memories of Simple Simon's in Spartanburg after a long night of Wofford parties. But now that I am a "mature" adult (yes, I use that term very loosely) I want a sit-down-enjoy-your-coffee-and-an-interesting-menu kind of place. 

Enter Eggs Up Grill.  Yes, it's a chain, but it seems different. It seems to be owned/operated by real people who really subscribe to the philosophy expressed on the website:  

Breakfast and lunch are what we do.
family friendly is who we are.

So, they opened last week. I made it over there one day for lunch with my mom and one of her friends. I was pretty hungry, so I didn't photograph anything. But I ordered the Tuscan BLT which was quite good. Nice grilled (non-grocery store) bread. It was NOT loaded with mayo, which is a good thing, in my book.

Today, I had the rare occasion to go out to breakfast with my husband. He was really excited about getting to try out the new breakfast place especially after I told him about all the corned beef hash dishes on the menu! So he ordered the corned beef hash benedict. It consists of corned beef hash atop English muffins, perfectly poached eggs and Hollandaise. I'm still adjusting myself to poached eggs and these were really just right. The Hollandaise was flavorful yet light. I'm ordering this next time we go.
If you don't like corned beef hash, you just ain't right!

I chose the "build your own" omelet: my design was spinach and Swiss. This may sound rather boring, but I have to tell you, it was just delicious. The cheese was real. Y'all know how I am about fake cheese. The spinach was fresh. This is huge. Spinach does not belong in a can and if you serve it to me watch your head because the dishes will fly! My omelet was perfectly cooked and came with grits, again very nicely seasoned and well cooked (no lumps at all) and wheat toast. I could only eat half of it, so Neil has a midnight snack waiting in the wings.
Fresh spinach & milky good Swiss

If you are like us and have been jonesin' for a good breakfast place, rejoice in the fact that we now have one. The interior doesn't look like a diner or a greasy spoon...it's an attractive restaurant. The servers are all friendly (like neighborhood friendly) and the food is fresh and well prepared. Totally kid friendly and with the large patio, you can meet up with a big ol' group of friends. Check out the menu because it's a good lunch spot as well. I hope Columbia will support Eggs Up and it will be our neighborhood breakfast go-to for many, many years. 

P.S. My friend Stephanie is a super mom who is working here now.  Works out well to be available when her 3 kids get out of school. (There are 2 Stephanies so ask for "Stephie".) I can also vouch for Liz & Jay as excellent servers, so you really can't go wrong in the service department with this place!

Eggs Up Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Memories of Bread

As a junior in college, I "set sail" for a semester living with a family in France.  I was attending the Universite de Haute Bretagne in Rennes.  This is located in NW France.  It's rainy, gray and drab.  Why did I choose to go here?  A husband & wife professor team from Wofford had just returned from a stint there and they raved about it.  I won't elaborate but suffice it to say that their impressions were vastly different than my own.  But, hey!  I was in France!  

I lived with a family (Yves, Nicole & their daughter Christelle) outside of Rennes.  A little village called Mordelles, to be exact. There was another American (Pam from Michigan) about 3 doors down at the home of some friends of my family.  It was great having her there.  We rode in on the bus together and had most of the same classes.  We became good friends which was good for our mutual mental health since we were living with some slightly crazy people.  But aside from the meat-eating bird in the kitchen, the fact that it took 3 weeks for my cotton sweater to dry because I wasn't allowed to use the dryer, and the fact that they left me alone for Christmas, the parties were great and hey, I was in France!

All kidding aside, though, living in a little village had some charms.  For instance, they still had the specialty shops...the charcuterie, the patisserie, and the boulangerie (the bread bakery).  Every other morning, before the rest of us were up, Yves would walk to the boulangerie and bring back a loaf of fresh "pain de campagne." Country bread.  This stuff was just heavenly.  It was a round loaf and he would always have the boulanger slice it.  It was kind of chewy and stood up well to rich butter, jams or even as a sandwich.  (I almost gave Yves a heart attack when he found me loading up pain de campagne with ham & cheese for a picnic.)  He got over it but I hope he learned from me that this stuff is great sandwich bread! 

Anyway, this all took place back in 1988.  Yes, way back in the mythical 80's.  Since then, I've often thought of that bread.  I miss it.  A simple breakfast of strong coffee, country bread and butter can't be beat.  But alas, back here across the pond, I've never found any country bread.  Until now.

I found it.  I have neighbors who own Rosewood's Crust Bakehouse over near Rockaway's.  I wandered in recently just to see what they had that day.  I really love their semolina bread...also great sandwich bread.  As we checked out the daily offerings, I glanced over at the "day old" rack and there it was!  Pain de campagne!  Right there on that rack, right here in my neighborhood! I couldn't believe my eyes.  Without one iota of hesitation, I was paying the lady.  I couldn't wait to get it home and see if it could possibly be anything like the pain de campagne from Mordelles.  To my delight, it was exactly as I remembered it!  It was 1988 again and I had my own loaf of happiness.  I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was to know that someone else knows about this simple, peasant bread and is making it right here in my neck of the woods.  

OMG, I may have to get a loaf as soon as they open tomorrow!

I lifted this pic from their page; an example of some of the daily choices

If you haven't visited Crust, you need to make a point of going by.  They are real people, not a chain.  They bake different breads du jour so you can follow them on Facebook to see what the daily choices are.  I can't wait to try the bread with smoked gouda in it!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

French Toast Sticks a-Plenty

School starts this coming week.  Kids are excited, parents are excited.  Even the teachers might be excited.  But, for moms like me, there's a little trepidation.  You know us.  We are the moms who love our kids dearly and want to send them off to school happy, clean, well fed and energetic.  One problem:  at 6:30 in the morning, I am none of those things.  Seriously, who decided little kids need to be in their seats at 7:30?

So, breakfast can be a challenge in the midst of the morning mantra(s).  Get dressed, get dressed, no put on the clothes you decided on yesterday, get dressed.  Brush your hair, brush your hair.  And my favorite, eat your breakfast, eat your breakfast, eat your...

Anytime I can find a do ahead breakfast idea, I'm a happy mom.  My little one is like her mama, however.  We are variety eaters.  We get burned out on the same thing really, really quickly.  This means I have to have lots of choices in my arsenal and ones that are doable at 6:30 in the morning when I barely have my eyes open, my hair is a tangled mop and I'm not even sure yet what day it is.  

Recently, I was looking around for an idea of what to do with those ever-ripening bananas sitting on our counter.  I came across this recipe for Banana Cinnamon French Toast Sticks and a light bulb went off immediately.  Right then and there I decided this was going to be made and packed away in our trusty little freezer.  Ever so glad I made that call because not only did it turn out delicious but we have tons available for future breakfasts.

I ended up using about 1 1/2 loaves of bread

Ready for the oven

Finished product
We tried them right out of the oven with a little maple syrup and man, oh man, were they tasty!  We now have 3 bags full available to take a quick ride in the microwave on those hurried school mornings.  A victory for early-morning-zombie-moms like me!

Saturday, August 16, 2014


I'm happy to say that Columbia's "Soda City Market" is definitely alive, well and thriving.  What started small has grown to become not just a weekly market, but an event.  Today the venders were so numerous that they spilled over into Boyd Plaza at the Columbia Museum of Art.  

Ran into Grandma & Grandpa there

Boyd Plaza outside the art museum

Me and my sweet baby girl

Kettle corn samples!
The three of us enjoy going not just to check out the produce but to eat.  The food vendors now range from restaurant favorites like Rosso & The Oak Table to the other awesome street vendors serving delicious tamales & empanadas, African foods, soba noodles being stir-fried in giant woks, the BBQ bus, the Wurst Wagen, huge kettles of corn and my new favorite...Mary's Arepas.

 I'd never heard of arepas until today.  I approached their tent and saw two griddles with what looked like johnny cakes on them.  I had to ask.  

Arepas on the griddle
It was explained that this is a food from Colombia, South America.  It's a cake made from corn flour, butter, milk and fried on the griddle.  Then, it's sliced and filled with various yumminess.  Today's choices were a vegetarian mixture (eggplant, peppers, onions, etc.), chicken or beef.  They had already run out of chicken by the time I got there, so I chose the beef.  It looked like it was a combination of ground beef, onion and carrot.  I watched as the lady (Mary?) sliced about halfway into the arepa and spooned the hot beef filling into in then topped with a bit of cheese.  I'm always intrigued by anything I've never heard of and so I was truly excited to receive mine.

Fresh and hot right off the griddle!

Pretty disappointed I only ordered one; that means I have to share

The arepa is a lot like a johnny cake but it's much more tender and soft than the old Southern classic.  The outside was crispy & golden and then the soft interior cradled that beef filling.  In a word, it was fantastic. Neil and I shared one and afterwards I declared that next Saturday we're going back for another one, if nothing else.

The market itself was really fun today.  The awesome violin player was there.  So was the balloon artist.  Vivi got a nice rendition of "Frozen" face paint.  

In the artist's chair

Complete with jewel between the eyes

Glittery and Frozen
We got a sample of the kettle corn, which was really great (bringing some of that home next time.)  They use gourmet popcorn that pops up big and round and perfect.

Kettle Corn Fresh & Hot

 We had Vivi's favorite: the pork tamale & a beef empanada. She used her own money to purchase a ginger lemonade and a rice Krispie treat on a stick.  

Rice Krispie Pop

The Wurst Wagon was serving schnitzel today.  I would've loved to buy that too, but after sharing tamales, empanadas and arepas, I was about at the limit.  Next week, though, if schnitzel is on the menu, I'm there.  I've also never tried the BBQ bus, which I really want to do.  Oh yeah, that soba noodle booth was rockin' the house too.  

Island noodles rockin' the wok

Clearly, next week I need to fast after noon on Friday and just go to the market to binge eat on Saturday morning!

If you haven't put Soda City on your weekend calendar, you need to get a pencil right now.  I overheard a man today telling someone on his phone that he was at "some kind of festival."  I whispered to him, "It's the weekly local market, every Saturday."  He stopped and the face paint lady, Neil and I kept feeding him other details which he then relayed to his phone friend.  That's right, Columbians, it's EVERY Saturday.  Come load up on fresh veggies, homemade pasta, homemade goat cheese, local honey, handmade jewelry, birdhouses, art, photography, science demonstrations, freshly made juices, and boiled peanuts!  

Beautiful 'shrooms

Neil and Viv in market euporia dream sequence

We love the blue-haired peanut lady!
Don't forget, the businesses along the way are there for you too...Wine Down, Mast General Store, Good Life Cafe & Paradise Ice.  The market is held every Saturday in the 1500 block on Main Street, just outside the art museum.  If it rains, don't worry, they just move into the nearby parking garage!  See you next week at the market...


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