Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

July 7, 2017

Made South


MADE SOUTH
(there are others coming up in GA and KY too)


This was my first time attending Made South.  Made South hosts events that showcase local and regional growers and makers in the South.  This fits into my esthetic of supporting local and sustainable farming and makers.  There were so many talented makers and growers here, and there were some products that I was surprised and happy to see.  There were hand crafted leather makers, there was a really nice hunting accessory maker, there was a cookie maker, jewelry makers, tea makers (yes, there is an art to making good Southern ice tea), rice growers, peanut butter maker, and to my happy surprise an olive oil producer who lives in Franklin, TN.  There were so many cool attending vendors, that I will have to see them again in November.

During my visit to Made South last week, I got a chance to talk to three of the local makers and hear a little of each of their stories.

Humphreys Street - Ruben Torres-Fuentes

I did not know about Humphreys Street Coffee and Soap, located at 155 B Old Hermitage Ave, Nashville, TN, until I went to this Made South.  Humphreys Street Coffee and Soap, a non-profit, opened its doors 10 years ago at a short 1/2-mile from our new Music City Convention Center.  Humphreys Street is located in the Napier Community of Nashville, a work class part of town.  Humphreys Street is open to neighborhood kids to come and learn how to procure, roast and sell whole coffee bean, and how to make artisan soap in the traditional way.  Humpreys Streets helps kids learn a craft, makes some money, focus, and go on to do great things.  One of the recent students to learn how to roast coffee, now has a summer job roasting coffee at local coffee shop, and he is getting ready to attend David Lipscomb University this fall, and he is studying computer science.   I like the soaps a lot because they are traditional fat and lye soap with essential oils.  The soap base is coconut  and other oils and cured with sodium hydroxide (lye, a salt).  I know I can eat coconut oil, and I can eat sodium, and I feel good about putting these things on my body when I wash may face, and take a shower.  I have been have some skin allergy reactions lately, and it is helpful to have soap with ingredients I know will not cause an allergic reaction.  The soap is just lovely.   If you need some coffee beans, and some traditional soap, consider getting some Humphreys Street Coffee and Soap.  The store front at 155B Old Hermitage Ave, Nashville, TN is open weekdays from 9-5 (summer hours) and you can always order online at Humphreys Street website.



Delta Blues Rice - David and Rebekkah Arant 
I run around with some friends who think it is important to know where your food comes from and to know your farmer.  Way back when, over a decade ago, it was May, I did a local food challenge, when I spent a week eating food raised within 100 miles of my home.  I still mostly eat this way today, with most of my food coming from within 100 miles of my house, and much of it is organic, biodynamic or grown under organic practices.  I allowed myself a few exceptions, salt, coffee and rice. It was so easy to find dairy, eggs, meat, veggies, and some limited fruit, but there are no coffee plantations or rice fields within 100 miles of my house.  Most of the rice I eat is from Thailand, but all this is changing.  Before last week, I did not know any farmer growing rice, BUT not far from Nashville, is the Mississippi Delta, the perfect growing land for rice.  At Made South I met David and Rebekkah Arant from Delta Blues Rice, rice farmers in the Mississippi Delta.  They had a sample of the brown rice grits for me to try.  It was terrific and I bought a couple pounds right away.  I love grits!  I am testing whether I am allergic to corn or not, and if I am, I must give up corn, corn products, grits, popcorn, corn starch, corn syrup, corn.  The brown rice grits were delicious, had a nice texture, and are a good substitute for corn grits.  Now all I need is a good substitute for popcorn.  Anyone? Popcorn Substitute?  Anyway, Delta Blues Rice brown rice grits can be cooked to be a little nutty in texture, or really creamy, just like corn grits.   Delta Blues Rice is grown under organic practices, and David is in the process of getting Organic Certified.  Delta Blues Rice is available at some retail locations in West Tennessee, and in 17 other states right now, and Delta Blues Rice is also available online.

Delta Blues Rice - Brown Rice Grits


As I looked at David and Rebekkah, they are an adorable couple, I almost didn't believe that they were farmers.  Farming is hard work.  I mean, I take care of my 6x6 organic veggie bed and it is about all I can do to be a grower right now, and it is a lot of work.  I get most of my veggies from the Barefoot Farmer, one of the longest running biodynamic farms in the USA (about 40 years).  Jeff and all his folks are over worked, WAY UNDER PAID, and it takes a lot of time and energy to produce the majority of the veggies I eat, as well as the rest of the CSA population.  Cocky as I was, I told David to show me his hands, because I almost didn't believe he was a farmer.  And there it was, the palms of his hands, his fingers, the texture and wear on his skin, his hands told the story of the hard labor he does on a daily basis.  I asked him how he got into the farming biz, it is not something most people gravitate to after college.  He said he went to college in MS (not Ol' Miss, that other one in the State of MS), and became an civil engineer.  His wife and he moved to the capital of MS (let's play the geography game, what is the capital of MS?), he worked as a professionally licensed engineer, and was not living his authentic life for him or his family.  David's authentic life is being a farmer.   So, David and Rebekkah pack up their kids, and drive out of the city and into the Mississippi Delta to become rice farmers.  As an engineer myself, I look at David, knowing he gave up a steady life of as an engineer, a "good" life where him and his family would be able to have all the comforts of a solid life in middle America.  Rebekkah and he had the courage to gave up a steady "good" life  to be a farmer, which is a hard working life, but a real life and a real good life for them.



Melissa and Craig Margolius - Syp Coffee

And I met Craig of Syp Coffee.  I stood there for a long time looking at his product.  And then it wasn't so busy,  so I got to talk to him a little.  Craig has a few coffee growing farmers he sources from, and he has been to all the farms (except one, but that biz trip is up and coming).  If you really want to know what you are eating, it is important to know your farmers, know where your food comes from, know how your food is grown, and know what your farmer has to do to get your food to you.  It is important to fairly treat and purchase from your farmers.  The coffee is as fair and equitable as you are going to find in Middle TN.  You can buy Syp Coffee in the Nashville area at BatchSavory Spice and All Things Co and you can always go online at Syp Coffee.  For those in and around the Franklin, TN area, same day shipping is come soon (and possibly less than 2-hr delivery!) because Syp Coffee just got its own Syp-mobile to deliver to you some fine coffee.   

Syp Coffee Gift Box
As I talked to Craig, I found out he moved here with his company, one of the largest auto makers in the world that made Nashville it's North American headquarters.  He was going along with his corporate job, living a life that some may envy with great cars, great house, great food, great travel, and more.  Then both of his parents passed away, and it made him reflect upon his life and what really matters, who he cares about, how he shows his love to his loved ones, and what he was doing with his life.  Craig had an idea about Syp, and life is short, so he quit that corporate job and started Syp.  The motto for Syp is "It is a beautiful thing, this life, and it moves quickly, which is way you deserve to savor every moment fully and completely."  Craig has beautifully crafted gift boxes, they are wood boxes, with a hand written card from him in every box.  He wants recipients to feel the love and care that went into the gift givers decision to send this coffee package (instead of flowers, or with flowers!) and to feel the quality and integrity of the gift.  He hopes that when the coffee is brewed and ready to drink, the recipient will take a moment for themselves, reflect on the beauty of life, reflect on their loved ones, think about the love around them, and enjoy the flavor, texture and aroma of each sip.  Everything that went into that cup of coffee was made with care, from the coffee bean grower, the box maker, the sugar maker, the candy maker, and Craig for bringing all these craft and artisan people together to create this product, Syp Coffee.  

I really enjoyed meeting these three vendors at Made South.  They all have come to a point in their life, and what they do to bring meaning to their lives,  as well as our lives.  I sense their courage for what they are doing.  I feel their authenticity.  They are all inspiring to me.

Just in case you need a hint, the capital city is Jackson, Mississippi.

June 8, 2017

TKO Fusion


Recently, from a "food expert" of Nashville, it was said that he wishes fusion food would go away because it doesn't work, and then goes on to point out Chinese fusion really doesn't work.  I beg to differ. I hope FUSION IS HERE TO STAY!  But then again, I have no choice, this is what I cook at home, and I make some really boss, really bad a$$ dishes I love, and you would love too.

There are more Chinese restaurants in the USA than there are McDs, BK, KFC and Wendy's combined (Jennifer 8. Lee, The Hunt for General Tso TED Talk 2008, Fortune Cookie Chronicles, 2008).  These Chinese restaurants we, as a nation have come to love, is all fusion.  What is not to love about some beef and broccoli with brown gravy over rice, or sweet and sour pork, or General Tso's chicken, or some veggie lo mein?

Beef and broccoli was thought to have originated in Jefferson City, MO over 50 years ago (from a NYTimes food article some 5+ years ago).  The Chinese restaurant owner was not having luck getting customers in a mostly white USA town.  Then he thought about what his friends like to eat, roasts, broccoli, potatoes and gravy.  He then created a Chinese fusion dish that had the components that his friends like, and beef and broccoli was born. He thought his friends liked beef, and rice looked a lot like mashed potatoes, and his friends liked gravy on the mashed potatoes, and his friends liked the Chinese fusion version of beef and broccoli.  Word spread and his restaurant became successful because of his Chinese fusion dish. There is nothing about beef and broccoli that is Chinese food because broccoli did not exist in China.

General Tso's chicken, is also a Chinese fusion dish, which has great appeal in the USA.  What is not to love about a crunch deep fried chicken nugget covered in a sweet and spicy sauce?  This dish also is not a Chinese dish, but it is a successful fusion dish which I order on occasion.

According to my personal knowledge, most Asian refugee and immigrant families who came to the USA in the 1960s -present did a lot of fusion cooking at home.  Using traditional Chinese cooking techniques, and I must say are as valid as any cooking technique, with USA ingredients is a valid form for dinner.  My family's dinners, and my 1st generation Asian friends families' dinners were and are delicious, and are mostly fusion because there isn't access to all the Asian ingredients that my mom, dad, and grandparents are use to from the old country. I love some of the fusion dishes I make at home, and I would not trade these dishes for anything.

As I said, I  hope FUSION IS HERE TO STAY!

All that said, this brings me to TKO, a new-ish restaurant which has been open for less than one year.  TKO uses a lot of local, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic ingredients and uses a traditional Chinese wok method to cook many of the dishes.  The way the wok is used at TKO, is truly a traditional method, and Ryan Bernhardt (chef and owner, who is not of Chinese decent) really makes the dishes and recipes sing with the wok, the wok essence, the wok hay.   Having any food Ryan cooks in a wok makes me weep with joy.  The 1st dish I ever ordered from TKO was a stir fried bok choy dish, and the smoky aroma, flavor and wok hay (the essence of the wok) just reminded me of all the homey deliciousness of my childhood.  I have not had that aroma, and flavor in TN anywhere, except from TKO and Ryan's cooking.

Seating
 For years, TKO's  Ryan and Ann Bernhardt have been working with some of the heavy hitters in the culinary world of Nashville including Margot McCormick and Tandy Wilson.  Margot is a pioneer for getting the East Nashville and 5-Points food scene going.  Tandy has been nominated every year his restaurant has been opened, and he is a James Beard Award Winner.  Ryan and Ann understand the food and beverage industry here in Nashville.  For the most part, restaurant-goers in Nashville like a smart crafted cocktail menu, and good food that is not fussy.  I think that I, and many others in this town, take it for granted that if I walk into a local chef-driven restaurant in Nashville, I can come in an easy outfit of jeans and loafers, have a nicely crafted meal (not pre-made by a food distributor), and beverages that I can't get most anywhere else.  This is what you get at TKO.  There is nothing here that is from a food distributor.  There is no soda-gun.  Everything is house-made, house-cured, and cooked fresh to order.

Congee - rice porridge with fermented pickled greens
 One thing I love about this place is that it is NO TIPPING, and every single employee gets paid a living wage.  Yes, you read that correctly. This restaurant is no tipping and everyone gets paid a just wage. I think that this restaurant is a good value, and it is not awkward at all when I don't have enough change or small bills in my pocket to leave a tip.  So working out a the conventional cost of a meal, for example the Mystery Dinner for 2 is $55, or it is about $23 per person for dinner.  The meal comes with multiple courses, usually including a congee - rice porridge soup, multiple intermediate courses like a salad or mixed veggie dish, a rice dish, a fun dish, and a large main entree dish.  They last time I was there, as part of the Mystery Dinner for 2, I got a whole 1/2 of a Springer Mountain chicken marinated in various Asian spices and roasted.  That Springer Mountain chicken dish would easily have been $20-30 at any other comparable restaurant, and I got four other courses on top of the chicken.  So, the whole meal for me was $23 + $4.50 tip = $27.50 total for a 5 course meal. This is a very good deal.  Try going to any other restaurant, getting a homemade soup, a salad with house made Asian spiced bacon croutons (which comes from a a heritage free range, antibiotic-free hog) and locally sourced and organic veggies, a fun and inventive appetizer, a heap of fried rice made with house smoked meat and locally sourced vegetables,  and a main course entree with sustainably sourced or locally sourced meat or fish for less than $23.   You can't do it anywhere else, but you can at TKO.

Wok hay prawn and bok choy

The menu changes here with the seasons and what is available from week to week.  Over the winter months, TKO had a wok-ed cooked prawn and bok choy dish that made me weep with cherished memories of my childhood and for my loved ones who have since passed on.  You know how some distinctive smell or aroma from your childhood will snap your mind back to that time and place?  This dish did that for me.  The aroma and flavor took me back to a very happy time in my life as a young child.  The wok hay aroma, the wok hay flavor, the texture of this prawn, the flavor of the bok choy dish immediately took my mind to a place and time I have not remembered since moving to Nashville almost 2 decades ago.  This wok hay aroma and flavor is what I want all my Chinese and Chinese fusion food to have.  It reminds me of a time when both my parents were young fun and healthy, and we lived in a lovely sunny home in S CA with a backyard overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  My mom planted these plants that made cone shaped flowers that attracted hummingbirds to our yard.  We had lots of jack rabbits who came to eat our lawn.  We had a concrete patio which we used chalk to draw hopscotch courts.  My parents planted some tall junipers, and we would play around them pretending we were miniature people (like Alice in Wonderland), and the junipers were giant asparagus. Before I was school aged, my mom and I would decide what lunch we would have, and then she would make a special lunch for us everyday.  My mom was amazing in that she would get up super early and make hot breakfast for us everyday, and have a hot dinner ready every night. We had our dad who would often take us to the park on weekends (probably to give our mom a break from us) and we would get Jack In the Box for lunch. When I first tasted the TKO's prawn and bok choy dish, there was this big rush of memories, the sounds, tastes, sites and smells all rushed into my brain.  That dish makes me long for those days gone-by, when we were all young, and having a good time in sunny S CA living the beach culture.

Salad with Chinese flavored bacon croutons
I think I make a good case to keep fusion food around for a good long time, or forever, for at least myself, and for those who had Asian fusion dishes like kung pao chicken and lo mein as kids, and those dishes bring back fond memories of their youth.

February 27, 2017

Food for Thought Fundraising Dinner



https://bha.ticketleap.com/fft2017/


Benton Hall Academy is a non-profit organization and a school which provides education opportunities to students with all sorts of learning styles, and helps students have a bright and productive future.  This delicious fund raiser will help Benton Hall Academy provide a quality education to a wide range of students, and help Benton Hall Academy  get a permanent home.

I hope you come and join me for this event. Some of my favorite restaurants are participating to help this delightful school, the students, and the staff.  City House, TKO, Martins, Mas Taco, Jeni's Margot, Monell's and Smoke Et Al are a few of my favorites.  I am look forward to all the delicious offerings from these excellent restaurants.

Also, there is a really great silent auction.  Special signed guitars, wine, great getaways, gifts, restaurant gift certificates, sporting event tickets, and more have been donated for the silent auction.  Believe me, there is something special for everyone.  Last time, I got the perfect English Tea Set which I enjoy most everyday.  I can't wait to see the full list of goodies.  

Click on the flyer above, and get your tickets today.  Better yet, get a ticket for a table of 4 or 8, and bring your favorite 3 to 7 friends with you.

See you there!

November 12, 2016

Breakfast at Home

Breakfast at Home
Over Medium Egg,
Vegetable lamb bacon sauce
Grits


With my work schedule, it has been really hard to get home and cook.  I like to have time at home to cook because, I like cooking when I have the time, it saves money, I get to use good quality ingredients, and I get to use food I preserved from seasons prior.  It is the ultimate slow food.

My breakfast today was hearty, and farm house good. I think that if some of the nice brunch restaurants in Nashville served this dish, they could probably sell it for a healthy price because it tasted like a million bucks.  I will be eating this for lunch as well and tomorrows breakfast.  Just delicious!

Here is how I made this dish:

Grits:  Boil grits as directed.  Add organic cream, garum and organic cayenne (from my organic garden) to taste.

Egg:  Over medium local free range farm egg.

Vegetable lamb bacon sauce (make this ahead of time, like the day before):  Homemade preserved biodynamic tomato sauce (6 cups frozen from this summer) made with a variety of heirloom tomatoes (Bells Bend Farms), carrots and onions boiled to concentrate and pureed;  smoked Williamson County 4-H lamb bones (1+lb bones left over from dishes I got from City House); diced country ham (Clifty Farms); diced uncured apple wood smoked bacon; biodynamic diced onion, cubed beets, basil, garlic, and jalapenos (Barefoot Farmer); Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley (1 cup Matanzas Creek Vineyard); toasted and ground pecans (Produce Place); and garum.  Dump all the ingredients into a slow cooker on high for 4 hours.  Pull out lamb bones.

Bon appetit!

September 15, 2016

Riverside Grill Shack



It has been quite a while since my last blog post.  I have been quite busy doing other things than food blogging, and I have been doing work to be ok with the passing of my mother.  It has been a process, and I am back to blogging about the food I love.  I will start off with the Riverside Grill Shack.

the sign on the shack

The Riverside Grill Shack is a little bit off the beaten path, is not in the trendy East Nashville areas, and is a little shack.  There are many benefits for Riverside Grill Shack to be out of the trendy area, and some are: low traffic, a BIG gravel parking lot, free parking, and fairly easy to find because the shack is off on its own and you can't miss it!  Yes, you read that correctly, low traffic, Free Parking, and PLENTY OF PARKING!  Can't get that around those trendy areas.

burger and fries
My friends and I have been planning this outing to Riverside Grill Shack for months.  Finally, our schedules allowed us to go get dinner at Riverside Grill Shack.  We got burgers, a wedge salad, hot wings, Cajun dry rub wings, and uber tuber hand cut fries.  

1st, the beef is local and grass fed beef, and there is a delicious meaty flavor you can't get from grain fed beef.    The bun is toasted, and the perfect size for the hand pressed patty.  The burger is packed with toppings on the side, so the bun does not get soggy.  This is the perfect burger to eat right away, or take-away and enjoy at home or at another location.  This is by far the best hamburger I have had all year.  I have to say 2nd, the fries are freshly cut potatoes and then deep fried, and very lightly sprinkled with salt.  These are the best fresh cut fries I have had all year.  There are almost as good as the twice fried Belgian fries we used to get when Claire owned that dairy dip shop on the west side of town.  The wings and wedge salad are just as solid as the burger and fries. 

As I end this post, you East Nashville friends know who you are, I did blog about Riverside Grill Shack.  I know you wanted me to keep this burger joint a secret because you want it all to yourself, especially on weekends when this place can get really crowded.  I have to say, you are right, and Riverside Grill Shack is too good to keep it a secret.

February 28, 2016

My Mother

My mother passed away two weeks ago on the 8 day of the Lunar New Year.  She went on her own terms.  She had a life that I do not envy, but she came from hearty stock, and she worked through the hardships in her own way, and she survived.   

She overcame a great deal, the Japanese occupation of China, WWII in China, the internal civil wars in China, drug wars in China, all the atrocities that come with occupation and war, and her ultimate escape to the USA in hopes to have a safer life and better life for her children.  Thank you mom (and dad) for your long journey over seas and land, which gave me and my sisters a better life, a life of autonomy, a life of free will, and the right to pursue happiness.  Thank you mom.



 My mom worked hard all her life to provide for me and my sisters.  It was my hope that during her retirement, she would have a good and full life that she deserved.  It was a slow start into her retirement because all she knew was hard work, she didn't know leisure or doing fun things for herself.  What she did know was that she had to learn how to make retirement successful.  There are four basic pillars of a good healthy life: nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, and community.   My mom always tried to eat healthy with mostly a plant based diet with some seafood as her favorite protein, and Chinese snacks (preserved plums and candied ginger) to sweeten the deal.   She walked a lot.  In Boston, it is easy to walk because there is great public transportation, and daily conveniences (grocery, drug store, etc) are all within walking distance of more residences.  She was an avid reader, crossword puzzle fiend, and Scrabble player.  Her mind was as sharp as a tack through the day of her passing.  She also made a ton of friends at the Brookline Senior Center, which seems more like a university student union for retired folks.  The friends my mom made, the activities she did and the trips she took with the Brookline Senior Center makes me want to move back to Brookline when I retire because it is all so fun!

It is my wish that if anyone would like to honor my mom, please consider contributing to the Brookline Senior Center (a 501 (c) 3 non-profit) by going to http://www.brooklineseniorcenter.org/ and clicking on the "How to Help" tab.
 

At the Brookline Senior Center, there are dozens and dozens of activities daily like yoga, painting, seminars of all kinds, book club, computer class, movies, and flower arranging to name a few.  My mom, every Thursday morning would go do flower arranging.  She loved this!  Her and her three besties would get the leftover flowers from Trader Joes, and make flower arrangements to place around the Senior Center, and take arrangements to other seniors who may be under the weather and could not get out on that day.


A couple days per week, she would meet her friends at the Senior Center and then go out to lunch.  She loved to dine out (as well as I do)!  She loved trying new places, and eating new foods.   She often went to Asian restaurants within a couple miles of the senior center with her besties.  One place she went with her besties on a regular basis was Jo Jo Taipei up near Boston University.   She really liked the mapo tofu dish, a spicy silken tofu that goes well over rice. 


 When my sister or I would get up to Boston, we would also go and dine at some of the best that Boston has to offer.  We would spend time in Chinatown at the newest and best Chinese restaurants, or go to the best lobster (lobstah as a Bostonian would say it), or go to the best deli.  One deli my mom really liked, as well as Anthony Bourdain liked, is Michael's Deli.  It is the best corned beef you will ever have in Boston.  The sandwiches are huge, so have half now and half later.  The dill pickles are made the traditional way through salt brine fermentation to give a healthy dose of probiotics with lunch.  This is what I did last on my last day in Boston, I went and had lunch at Michael's and ate 1/2 my sandwich.  Because my flight was in the evening, I had my second 1/2 as my dinner on the plane.  Yeah, made some folks jealous as they stared at their 0.5 oz bag of honey peanuts which taste a little chemically.  


One little place me and my mom went to, and always kept a secret from everyone, including other friends and family, was the Daily Catch.  The gig is, I did blog about this place once a couple years ago, breaking the code of silence of all my friends in Boston.  It is very hard to get into this place.  It opens at 4 pm, there are no reservations, and there are 6 tables of 2-tops and 4-tops.  If you get there, the line is outside.  You wait outside.  There is no where to wait inside.  Rain, sleet or snow, you are waiting outside.  It is equal opportunity for people to wait outside, including kids, adults, and retired folks.  Every time I was in Boston, my mom and I had a secret 4 pm dinner date on one evening of each visit, and WE TOLD NO ONE.  Last year, some extended family asked if we could get together one night for dinner.  It was hilarious, my mom and I looked at each other, and said I was busy with friends and couldn't make it.  It was really because of our secret 4 pm dinner at the Daily Catch.  It was our secret, as to not have competition for one of the 6 tables.  We would get there at  4 pm as they opened, to stake our claim to one of the 2-top tables.  She really liked the clams they made fresh to order.  She also liked the flavor of the squid ink pasta because it reminded her of a Chinese shrimp paste which is full of umami. 


For me, I just can't make a trip to New England without getting a steamed lobster.  Every visit, my mom and I would go and get me a lobster.  Before my mom downsized to her 1 bedroom condo, and she still had the house with a big-@ss kitchen, she would go to the docks and find the best deal on buying lobster direct from the lobstermen.  It was cheaper to get "chicken" lobster, the lobster with 1 claw, and she would boil up 2 lobsters at a time for me.  She would make a Chinese style vinegar dipping sauce for me. It was so dang good!  The last few years, we went out for lobster at Legal Seafood.  Regardless of its status as a chain restaurant, the Boston version of Legal Seafood is still true to making a great steamed lobster. 


I saved the best for last, Bernard's Restaurant in Chestnut Hill.  For decades, we had at least one meal at Bernard's Restaurant in Chestnut Hill for every visit I made.  Bernard's is a Chinese Restaurant that is appealing to a wide range of folks, from the newbies who want more traditional Americanized-Chinese food (ex General Tsao Chicken) to a more traditional Chinese-Chinese food like tripe in fermented black beans.  I think my mom liked this place because it is so easy to get to from I-95, Rt 128, Rt 9, Boylston St, and the T (Chestnut Hill T stop Green Line D).  There is plenty of free parking.  I think she also liked this place because it does have real Chinese food (there are plenty of items that are true to a Chinese Cantonese tradition), and Bernard's has a really great Chinese style ginger-scallion lobster.  When I head to Boston next time, I am going to Bernard's for the ginger-scallion lobster, as I think about it time and again.   I like Bernard's too, because of the food, and it is also near the Shake Shack for a delicious concrete (frozen custard with mix-ins).   It is also near the Container Store, which I could wander around for hours and hours looking at ways to organize my stuff.   

Talking to my mom's friends this past week, and thinking about my mom while writing this blog post, I realized how much we shared in our love of good food, and dining out with friends.  Talking to mom's friends, they all mentioned their time with her and finding new or delicious restaurants to try.  Thinking about my mom, I realized we are very similar in this way.  Neither of us are flashy or extravagant, neither of us are clothes or shoe horses, rather most of our disposable income goes to food, good food, from a humble bagel to a magnificent lobster dinner.  To my friends here who have asked what you can do to support me during my time of mourning: break bread and dine with me and share with me delicious stories of good food and friendship. 

February 14, 2016

Happy Chinese New Year of the Red Monkey

Happy Chinese New Year of the Red Monkey!  May you have health, wealth and wisdom all year long!  For the majority of the world, Chinese New Year is like New Year's Day, Rosh Hashanah, Eid, and Christmas combined.  It is a time of family, care, giving, and joy.  It is a time of rebirth and a time to plant.  It is time to thank those who came before us, who paved the path of a better life for us.  It is a time to give sweets to children.  It is a time respect our elders. 

Main Chinese New Year celebrations start on the new moon, February 8, and runs for two weeks to the full moon and Festival of Lights on February 22.  Feel free to send me any New Year's wishes, as I am still celebrating!

Here in Nashville, there isn't too much going on to celebrate this world-wide holiday, but I managed to find small but sweet celebrations.  The Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville (CAAN) was founded by Jen-Jen Lin, a woman who wanted to bring Chinese art and culture to Nashville.  I got to celebrate the New Year with a traditional Dragon Dance, Lion Dance and various Chinese arts demonstrations.  CAAN also sponsors a 10 course Chinese New Year meal every year at a local Chinese Restaurant.  This year was at Lucky Bamboo, and the special menu included harmony mixed salad, duck bao, and lucky whole fish.

I also celebrated New Year's Eve weekend with the Chinese Culture and Language group, which is a group of people who enjoy speaking Mandarin and talking about China and Chinese Culture.  We went to Lucky Bamboo restaurant for a multi-course chef's choice dinner.  We had 2 tables of 10, and each person pays a fixed price (tax, tea and tip included), and Jack, the owner provided a lovely 10 course meal for us.  The meal included Hong Kong style roasted duck, crispy shrimp, and "bird's nest" delight.  The bird's nest delight is a crispy basket (in the shape of a bird's nest) made of taro strips (a root veggie with a more earthy flavor and sturdier texture than red potatoes), filled with a light seafood and fresh vegetable mixture.  Bird's nest delight is one of my favorite dishes of this New Year season.

I also celebrated Chinese New Year with close and new friends at Asian Corner Bistro.  My friends and I enjoyed many dishes here too, including handmade dumplings, spicy squid, special spicy pork belly with ginger and garlic, gai lan with oyster sauce, crispy green beans, spicy eggplant, cumin lamb, and crab corn soup.  We chatted and talked about our Chinese New Year traditions.  My favorite tradition is to do spring cleaning for the week prior to Chinese New Year day.  Then on Chinese New Year Day, and for two weeks, there is no house cleaning.  It is about spending time with family and loved ones, eating and celebrating, not cleaning and frittering away the time.  Yes, that is right folks, I am not cleaning the house for 2 weeks :)  Cleaning will resume next week.

One other great thing about Chinese Lunar New Year, is that it is a good time to re-evaluate those Solar New Year, January 1, resolutions.  Did they fall off the wagon?  Chinese New Year is a perfect time to either say good-bye to resolutions which do not serve you well, or maybe pick up those resolutions that might have gotten lost over the past 6 weeks or so.

No mater how use celebrate Chinese New Year, may your Lunar New Year be filled with happiness, health and prosperity! 

Please enjoy some of my photos from Chinese New Year 2016 Year of the Red Monkey!







November 29, 2015

KC Q



 Q39 is the best barbeque in the whole Kansas City area.  Before eating at Q39, I went to the the Yelp #1 KC BBQ place, and I originally thought that the Yelp ranked place was some of the best BBQ I have ever had, until I Q39. I had the pleasure of hanging out with a decades long grand champion barbeque judge over the summer.  He said that the #1 Yelp BBQ place is good, it is good for tourists, and they serve a lot of BBQ.  But, if I really want to try the best barbeque KC has to offer, I needed to go to Q39.  Yes, he is right.  Q39 is so dang good.
 
brisket and ribs
 
 Q39 is in a strip mall in midtown KC, MO.  The interior of this place has a nod to a rustic country style dining room, but the tables, chairs, bar and design is sophisticated, and inviting at the same time.  All of the dishes appear to be custom pottery made for this restaurant.  Q39 also has a full bar including soft drinks, craft soft drinks, cocktails, beer and craft beers.  

ribs and sausage

 The owner of Q39 has been leading a barbeque team for over a dozen years, and he has been multiple Barbeque Grand Champion over the years, as well as Brisket, Chicken and Ribs Grand Champion as well.  This is one place which knows how to Q.  Not only does the owner know barbeque, he knows how to conventionally cook as well, having graduated from CIA, and worked in the restaurant field for years.

onion straws

 Over the course of a few months, and multiple visits, we tried the ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage and pork belly barbeque.  The pork belly was one of my favorite dishes.  It is low and slow  barbeque smoked pork belly, then it is finished on the grill to get the outside a little crunchy.  The pork belly is served with stewed white beans and onion straws.

The ribs were so tender, had a nice smoky essence, and a perfect stick to the bone.  I was told that the perfect competition rib always the judge to bite into the rib with a semi-circle teeth marks, the meat sticks to the bone just enough to allow teeth to go through the meat, and the meat does not pull or shard.  The subsequent bites can remove the meat from the bone with a little tug, such that the meat isn't adhered to the bone, but it is not completely falling off the bone either.  It is a perfect tackiness to the bone that could be the difference of a grand champion or not.  These ribs were as close as I will ever come to the perfect rib.  These ribs were cooked slow and low, that the moisture in the ribs did not boil off (if heat it too high), the meat was tender enough that I could bite through the meat and leave a semi-circle teeth mark, the meat was just sticky to the bone without being adhered, and it was a perfect slight pull to remove the meat from the bone.  

pork belly

 One meat of note is the sausage.  Q39 house makes the sausage with their own secret spice mix.  What makes or breaks barbeque sausage is the sausage itself.  You can have the best wood, the best temperature, the best equipment, but if you start off with a bad sausage, the dish is going to be bad.  I love the house made sausage at Q39.  It isn't overly salty or spiced, and has a nice texture.   Because the sausage is so outstanding, it is likely that they could cook the sausage in a pot of boiling water or microwave, and the sausage will still taste terrific.

The chicken and brisket were also cooked perfectly.  The chicken skin is bite-able without pulling the whole skin off (as it happens sometimes).  The chicken is also still moist and juicy too.  That means the chicken is also cooked low and slow, as to not boil off the moisture in the meat.  Brisket can be tricky to cook, but Q39 does that well too.  The brisket is served trimmed (most of the fat is cut off), there is some resiliency to the sliced brisket because it was cooked low and slow, and the meat is tender.  The brisket was cooked at the right temperature to keep it moist and tender.

The best part of the barbeque here is that there is a nice wood smoked aroma and flavor to all the meats, but it is not completely over powering.  It is the level of smoke that makes you want to come back for more.

mac and cheese
The last things I want to blog about this place are the sides and apps.  All of the apps and sides are house made, with excellent execution.  Some BBQ joints fall short on the sides because they are so focused on BBQ and not really thinking much about side.  Q39 really thinks well about the sides and apps.  The house made mac and cheese is so luscious, with perfect texture and nice cheesy flavor.  I am not sure how they do it.  It is likely that the macaroni is cooked, and right before serving, it is tossed with cheese sauce and baked in the oven to make it bubbly and creamy.  We loved the onion straws too.  I recommend the onion straws for a table of 4 or more.  We could not finish that app because the portion was so big.  One of the options for a side are fresh seasonal veggies.  I did opt for the fresh veggies during all visits.  The fresh veggies is not a typical picnic or BBQ side, but it fits well with what Q39 seems to be trying to get at.

Q39 does well with traditional smoked barbeque, and is the best Q in all of Kanasas City, IMHO.  I also like that Q39 sides and apps are perfect to accompany barbeque.  Q39 is so popular, and there is a buzz throughout the region, that I recommend a reservation if you want to go eat at Q39.  All I know for now is that when I am next in KC, I know where I am going for lunch and dinner, and that will be Q39.

October 20, 2015

Wine Down Main Street

Come join the 15th Annual Wine Down Main Street in Franklin TN on November 7th, 7:00 - 10:00 pm!  There will be 40 shops opening their doors to you, and hosting over 170 wines, and tasting plates from some of the best local restaurants the the Franklin/Nashville area.  Many of my favorite restaurants, such as Saffire, Rodizio Grill, Chauhan Ale and Masala House, City Winery, Amerigo and more! will be providing delicious bites for you to try.

Chauhan spicy lamb chili with cucumber sauce and papadi chips


VIP and Premium VIP tickets include an exclusive experience at The Red House, complete with special food tastings and a full bar. Premium VIP will also include a gift bag and “FastPass” credential that allows guests to bypass the line at select wine tasting stations.  All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle TN.

I got to speak with some staff and the President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle TN, and hear what this organization means to them.   The answers ranged from fun to saving lives.  Dan Jernigan, President and CEO said his Boys and Girls Club in his home town saved his life.  When he was growing up as a little towheading and bright eyed boy in the Midwest, he did not know his father (until later in life), ran with a rough crowd, and most of those rough crowd kids did not finish junior or senior high school.  He started doing some bad stuff as teenager, and much of that bad stuff is not what you want your son or daughter to be doing.  Then, he joined his local Boys and Girls Club.  He loved his time after school at the club, he met new friends, got hangout with some of his already-friends, got to play with his friends, learned new things, and focus on his future.  The director at his club, helped Dan focus on going to college, have acedemic success and do the right thing as citizen of his community.  His said all his old friends and neighbors who did not join the Boys and Girls Club did not go to college, and some got arrestedHappily for Dan, he did go to college, and then worked his way up to President and CEO of this organization, with a focus of giving back to the kids of our communities, and help more kids have fun after school, learn new things and focus on their future of success.  Dan attributes his life success to his Boys and Girls Club.  

You can make a difference in kids lives simply by participating in Wine Down Main Street!  Yes, it is that easy, buy a ticket and attend the Premier Williamson County wine and food tasting event in Downtown Franklin. Wine Down Main Street has raised $1.5 Million since the event has begun.  Every sip and taste you take will help kids like Dan become successful and contributing members of our communities.  To learn more about The Boys and Girls Club of Middle TN, Click Here.

October 4, 2015

My Breakfast


I like breakfast, from an easy cup of Joe with a side of banana, to a nice brunch with bacon, eggs, toast, fresh churned butter, fruit, coffee etc.  I love a simple fruit and coffee or a nice hot breakfast.  I love a good bowl of oatmeal or grits.  I am not one for cold cereal.  I never loved cold cereal for breakfast.  I don't like soggy cereal in milk.  I don't like super sweet things, which some of the popular cereals are corn syrup and sugar as the 1st or 2nd ingredient.  I also like a hot lunch.  I love dinner leftovers for lunch.  I was never one for sandwiches, and I especially dislike peanut butter and jelly on white bread.  I don't like conventional jelly (think $muckers) because it is pure corn syrup/sugar and I hate that feeling of eat too much sugar.  It makes my teeth feel like they are rotting, and it makes the sugary acidic coating in my mouth and throat.

Because I am not one for conventional breakfast or lunch (cold cererals and plain sandwiches), I have to work a little harder to to get breakfast and lunch on the table.  Today, I made homemade ramen for breakfast.  It is lamb broth, fresh noodles, Chinese broccoli, and medium hard boiled duck egg.  It is a luscious hot meal on a cold, rainy, gray day here in Nashville.  My soup was so darn good because I started out with really good base ingredients.

To start I made the lamb stock.  The original lamb bones came from the Williamson County 4H sheep club which shows at the Williamson County Fair.  The lamb bones were roasted in the City House wood burning oven.  Roasting bones (fish, meat, or shrimp shells) provides a deeper richer flavor for broth or stock.  I took the roasted bones and put it in a large crockpot with carrots, onions and garlic (from the Barefoot Farmer biodynamic farm), one cayenne from my organic garden (original seed from Tana at Eatons Creek Organic), and some salt.  I got my duck eggs from Bells Bend Farms.  I went to InterAsian Market and got some Chinese coriander (ngo gai, sawtooth coriander, Thai coriander, long leaf coriander), and put 6 leaves in to pot  The Chinese coriander gives a high end bright note (almost citrusy) and and East Asian green aroma and flavor you want in an East Asian stock.  I did not put celery or a bay leaf in the broth because I really don't like what bay leaves offer, and celery does not give a flavor I want for a ramen stock.  I let that go overnight.

The noodles I got from InterAsian Market.  The noodles are fresh mein noodles located in the refrigerated case in the back left corner of the market.  The case is the right most case of the cold refrigerated area.  Each pack is enough for 4 servings.  These noodles are nothing like the convenient fast food ramen (although I like the $0.25 style noodles as well).  These fresh noodles only need 30 seconds in boiling water to cook, so it is faster and more convenient that those brightly colored dry ramen packs (3 minutes).  There is an ramen, and that is udon.   King Market makes  fresh udon noodles and are on sale near the cash register.  Fresh made noodles are so much tastier than processed and dried noodles.

The veggies I used for my stock are from my CSA Barefoot Farmer.  The onions and garlic taste so good and they are really potent in aroma and flavor.  The benefits of using biodynamic garlic is that there are no chemicals used on the produce.  Conventional garlic is sprayed with chemicals to arrest the development of a sprout.  Chinese garlic, where most conventional garlic comes from, uses bleach on the garlic to keep the garlic white, and sprays unknown chemicals on the garlic to keep it from sprouting.  With all the press about Chinese bait and switch (selling rat and decade old meat as good beef and pork, fake eggs, fake rice, using leaded gasoline to dry tea, avian flu etc), I am not interested in buying food with origin China.


The duck eggs are new to Bells Bend Farms.  Livestock is a new addition as of the last year.  Bells Bend Farms is a biodynamic farm as well, and they raise livestock humanely.

The above paragraphs are my thoughts about base ingredients.  My ramen soup recipe is really simple, but to get to the point of making the soup is an arduous path.  There are many people, and growing seasons that had to happen to make the soup.  After getting all the ingredients together, I would say my soup cost me way more than $0.25.  In an NPR radio piece about making chicken soup from SCRATCH, it will take about $15,000 because the chicken coop and chickens need to be raised, a well for water needs to be dug, wheat for noodles and veggies need to grown, salt needs to be harvested, fallen trees for fire needs to be gathered, etc.  I am not going that far to make noodle soup, but I do like knowing where my base ingredients come and have the ingredients be fresh.

Here is my recipe.  It is deceptively easy because to get to this point of assembling the soup, there are many steps to take to make the soup.
1.  Medium boil a duck egg (7 mins-ish)
2.  In a pot, put a generous cup of stock, and small diced gai lan Chinese broccoli and simmer
3.  In a 2nd pot, dip fresh noodles in boiling water for 30 seconds (or until desired toothy-ness)
4.  In a big bowl, place drained noodles at the bottom
5.  Pour stock and broccoli over the noodles
6.  Peel and cut open the duck egg and place on top of the soup
7.  Enjoy