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...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We Made Sushi!

I have been dying to start rolling my own sushi for months.  I've watched videos, read articles, studied recipes.  Even Vivian has watched a tutorial on the Food Network.  Today I decided was the day, quite by accident.

As I was passing by the sushi department at Publix, I just happened to glance over at the rack of products there and nori caught my eye. As I was looking at the package, the sushi lady approached me to ask if I was going to make my own.  I said "yes" but I wish Publix sold sushi rice. She began to explain that they do, but the container on the shelf is pretty pricey, but she can sell the rice she uses to me by the pound from the sushi dept.  Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis? 

So, I bought rice from her, got some pickled ginger, wasabi powder and the nori, of course.  Viv is a big fan of California roll, so I knew that would be my first endeavor.  I prefer the sushi rolls with the rice on the outside, so that's what I was creating. Honestly, my first attempt was a flop.Too much rice, not enough filling.  So, I tried again and this time the proportions were better but I discovered that despite the awesome Global knife collection I have, they aren't currently sharp enough.  Time for a sharpening. I took this first batch with me as I picked Viv up from golf camp.  She snacked in the car and gave me not just a thumbs up, but told me this was the best California roll she'd ever tasted.  I'm 100% sure she was flattering me.

Patting the rice out onto the plastic wrap and sushi mat
The roll

Viv's After-Golf Snack

My favorite sign

 When we returned home, we got back to work together this time.  First, we put together a roll with avocado, cucumber (from our garden) and Alaskan snow crab.  We included a smear of cream cheese and a bit of wasabi.  Again, I rolled the rice on the outside and did a much better job this time on the tightness and on the slicing.  Vivian assembled, rolled and sliced a California roll with nori outside ALL BY HERSELF.  I was extremely impressed and very proud!

Patting out the rice like a boss!

She added carrot, cucumber & avocado

My baby's first California roll; proud Mama!

I did this one...crab, cream cheese, avocado and cucumber roll

Our results
 We had all of this ready and in the fridge before Neil came home for dinner.  So, we surprised him with a dinner of sushi, Teriyaki salmon, the Ina Garten corn salad (thanks to my friend Heather for introducing me to this recipe!) and some steamed pea pods. 

Teriyaki salmon, corn salad, sushi and steamed pea pods

As for rolling one's own sushi, let me say:  it's harder than it looks, but it's really not that hard.  Just today, I made 3 attempts and got better each time.  Like anything, practice makes perfect.  The fact that Viv watched one tutorial and rolled like a pro was remarkable.  She's got one heck of a future as a pro-golfer, architect, sushi-rolling, piano playing model. But, all kidding aside, I've been interested in tackling this task for a while and I'm so glad that I just jumped in today and did it.  More attempts and it will become like 2nd nature!  If you want homemade sushi, you're welcome to come here...just bring the sake.  Lots and lots of sake.

Speedy Gonpastez

Tonight was National Night Out.  After karate, the little gourmand begged me to go to the park for the festivities.  It was a great time; saw lots of kids and parents we know, Vivi had a hot dog and there was a Baskin Robbins cart...all gratis, btw! Then, as I spent some time chatting with friends, it dawned on me that the park had the splash pad turned on.  And, since I have an amphibious child, I realized, yep she's all wet by now.  Sure enough, fully clothed and wet to the core.  It was then that we took our leave.

So, by the time we got home it was piano practice time, shower time, get ready for bed time.  As all that was going on, I decided to whip up something for myself since on my first day back to "real food" I passed on the free hot dogs.  I turned to what I had hanging around in the kitchen and made a easy, fast and pretty darn tasty pasta.

I had some cute little orange cherry tomatoes that Vivi picked out at the Farmers Market the other day.  

I also had some "chicken tips" left over from Zorba's.  I use quotation marks because we all know there really isn't any such thing as a chicken "tip."  It's merely bite sized pieces of chicken. But, being from Zorba's, they were nicely marinated Greek chicken pieces and packed with some fla-vah. Here's what I did:

1.  Mince some garlic (how ever much is right for you)
2.  Grate some parm or romano (again, your amount)
3.  Halve about 2 oz. of cherry tomatoes
4.  Chop up some parsley
5.  Cook about 4oz of spaghetti

So, then heat some olive oil and the tomatoes.  Cook until they start letting off some of their juices.  

This picture cracks me up...looks like pun intended!

Add the garlic (and in my case, leftover chicken).  Toss around over medium heat.  Meanwhile, drain your pasta, saving some pasta water.  Add the spaghetti to the saute pan and add some pasta water and shake it all around to emulsify the water and olive oil.  Adorn with parsley and cheese and mangia!

So incredibly easy and it was delicious.  The cherry tomatoes that I used were orange and very naturally sweet. Red ones or grape tomatoes may change the flavor slightly but I can't think it would be a bad thing!  

As an aside:  I stopped by the Chef'Store today because I was out of olive oil.  Right now, Bi-Lo has 16oz Pompeian Olive Oil at $8.99.  That's roughly 1/2 liter for $8.99.  At the Chef'Store, I bought 3 liters for $18.58.  Let's break this down:  3L of Pompeian would be $53.94. Uhhhhh, I think I got the better deal. non รจ questo?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Surviving the "cleanse"

My sister called a couple of weeks ago to tell me she was doing the "Dr. Oz 3 Day Cleanse."  Having worked in health care for many years (many years ago), my family still regards me as the unlicensed, untrained family physician.  She called to ask me what I thought she should expect from this "cleanse."  As she started telling me all the ingredients, my first reaction was *Wow* that's not gonna be pretty.  The funniest thing of all is that the lunch drink contains 4 (count 'em FOUR) stalks of celery.  Katherine and I are lifelong HATERS of celery.  And I mean hate, seething loathing, vile contempt.  As she recounted her struggles with drinking celery, all I could do was wipe away the hysterical tears.

Not so funny now.  After this conversation, I realized I'd put on a couple lbs over the summer.  I started thinking about it, getting myself back on my regular diet and then it hit me: maybe I should do the "cleanse" to jumpstart things and get my motivation going?  So, I went online and found it.  Now, let me say that generally speaking, I don't give Dr. Oz much credence at all.  I guess he practiced medicine once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, but since he became an inhabitant of Planet Oprah, I think much of that practical knowledge has gotten lost in the backseat of his Bentley. But, I read the plan and it made sense to me, so here I am...doing it. 

As you can see from the plan, it's a series of smoothies, or drinks, whatever you want to call them.  The breakfast one is pretty darn good.  It's hard to go wrong with raspberry, banana and almond. However, lunch and dinner are different stories...

Lunch is when we have to tackle the celery issue.  But, I committed, and I remain committed.  Let me tell you this, a blender full of celery, cucumber, apple, pineapple and kale can make one THICK smoothie.  On Day 1, I really would have been better off using a spoon. On Day 2, I was really disheartened but I recommitted and hit the puree button and let her fly.  Better.  The flavor, I must admit it pretty good but it still is a thick drink o' water and you end of kind of slurping and chewing your way through it.  

That's a lot of stuff in there!

        (How you give it a spin and turn it into a "drink")

This cup is 6" high and 4" across y'all
Dinner is certainly interesting.  Mango, blueberry, kale, cayenne.  I know the cayenne is important in combination with some of the other vitamins/nutrients involved in this equation.  On Day 1, I made it exactly as written.  Now I am a spice girl, but this 1/4 tsp of cayenne almost blew my head off.  I think it took me about 45 minutes to get all of this drink down. Therefore, on Day 2, I reduced it to 1/8 tsp and it was still hot as hell.  

The main thing about these drinks is that they are HUGE. Seriously, think about it.  You're consuming an entire cucumber, 4 stalks of celery, a cup of kale, half an apple, almond milk and a cup of pineapple all in one very, very large cup.  That's a lot of food.  And, when you finally make your way to the bottom of that cup, you feel full.  Really full, almost fat. But, once it's all gone, you feel like you've accomplished something. I will also disclose that I did not make additional drinks for snacks, because I simply couldn't have "eaten" that much.

So, here I am on Day 3.  I admit upon waking this morning, I was questioning whether I could make it to the end.  But, I just struggled through my last Dr. Oz lunch drink (at least for quite a while) and I feel good knowing I have just one more cayenne caliente dinner to go and then I can actually chew something up!  Of course whenever you mention the word "cleanse" people automatically either think or even ask about what goes on in the bathroom.  Yeah, that's not me.  I'm not a bathroom talker, but I will say that in the last 2 days, I've dropped 6lbs.  I'm sure that's water weight, which always happens anytime you start any dietary change.  But, hey, I don't care.  I'm pumped, motivated to get my butt back in gear and my pants are fitting better!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Southern Belly

Barbeque is to the South as big hair is to New Jersey. Of course I realize we Southerners haven't cornered the market on barbeque.  All regions have their own style: Texas is all about beef and red sauce, here in the Carolinas we're all about mustard based sauce and black pepper & vinegar, and (apparently) in 'Bama, they are into white sauce.  As a born and bred Southerner, I know good bbq when I taste it, and when I do, I appreciate it.  But, I don't really seek it out.  I can't remember ever saying "hey, let's go out for barbeque."  When the 4th rolls around, it's only natural to go get barbeque, but again, I can't remember ever contemplating going out for a bbq dinner.

(fascinating aside) You know, I once worked for a doctor who was a barbeque fanatic.  You could name any town in SC and he'd tell you where to get barbeque in that town.

Well, this past July 4th, my daughter and I decided to get bbq by the lb at The Southern Belly on Rosewood Drive.  I'd driven by this place daily since it opened and started hearing really good things about it.  We were all most pleased with our J4Q so when the subject came up tonight of getting takeout, I suggested we try some of their sandwiches.  You see, this isn't your typical barbeque joint...there's no macaroni & cheese, nor fried chicken, nor green beans, no banana pudding.  They serve inventive bbq sandwiches with a variety of homemade sauces.  The sandwiches are simply served with cole slaw and chips. Click here to check out the menu.

I chose the Southern Belly Dipper because I was curious about this white bbq sauce.  This sauce really just came onto my radar in the last few years. I'd never even heard of it before but have been interested in trying it ever since I first read about it.  

This sandwich is composed of smoky, lean pulled pork with swiss cheese, bacon and the Alabama white sauce.  Since we ordered takeout, the meat and cheese was packaged in foil so I could put the sandwich together myself.  This eliminated the possibility of soggy bun. And what an awesome bun it was!  Not a regular ol' hamburger bun like most bbq sandwiches, but instead, a fresh, crusty bun. Such is a detail that can make or break a sandwich. 

The sauce was quite a surprise.  I guess I was expecting it to be thick and mayo-y but instead discovered a pourable, slightly sweet yet creamy sauce. Combined with the bbq and swiss, it was a really delicious sandwich.  And while I love bacon as much as the next guy, I really found it unnecesary on this sandwich.  I didn't feel like it added much depth or flavor because the meat, cheese and sauce were working so well together.

Here's the zinger...the coleslaw.  As a kid, making me eat coleslaw would have been like a punishment. I'm mellowing in my tolerance of it as I age and I've actually even sampled a few preparations that I've liked.  For instance, the slaw I had on a hot dog at Dupre's at the Market and the coleslaw at Tony's over on Knox Abbott Drive are both really tasty.  But I have to tell you, the slaw from the Southern Belly is amazingly good.  I mean, I could see me actually buying a big container of the stuff to serve at a picnic or take to a potluck.  It was so good, I wished the side that came with my sandwich was twice the size.  

In case you have yet to try the Southern Belly, let me also tell you that the place itself is adorable!  It's like a rustic little cabin.  They have smokers outside in the parking lot, porch seating and a couple long picnic tables out front.  They serve some cool craft beers and have some bbq awards adorning the walls.  I think I found a place that will now make me seek out barbeque.  In fact, I've already decided that next time, I'm ordering the "traditional" (just pulled pork with your choice of sauce) which for me will be the white sauce and that coleslaw is going on the sandwich!  When you go, turn onto Rosewood at the fairgrounds and you'll see the Belly on your right as soon as you pass under the RR trestle.  Get your pork on!

Southern Belly BBQ on Urbanspoon


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