food stuff


I have been writing the family events column for rvanews, and during my research to come up with five family-friendly, affordable, and interesting things for you and yours to do during the week I have noticed that everything has food trucks tacked on somehow.  If you’re in Richmond you know that food trucks are precious to us, and you can find a food truck court almost every day of the week and at all special events.  Art walk: food trucks; Fireworks display: food trucks; Grand opening of a new bakery in Church Hill: food trucks; Elementary school carnival: food trucks; Special exhibit opening at the Holocaust museum?  Yes, food trucks (but the somber ones).  It’s almost easier to advertise when you will not have a food truck at your event.

Food trucks are a great way to supplement my taco consumption when I’m not eating tacos at home (which is basically every day), but it’s exhausting how many options there are and they’re only growing.  By summer’s end the Richmond-resident-to-food-truck ratio will be 1:1.  Will we get tired of them?  I don’t know.  But I am afraid that I’ll open my door one morning and I’ll see a dude with a pressed sandwich cart waiting to follow me for the entire day and I will have to let the dog loose on him.

It’s not the end of the year if I don’t have a best of list, right? In no order and not including life events (becoming an aunt, duh):

Best things:

  • Microtel in Jonestown, NY
  • Stella’s in Richmond —  I dream of pastichio
  • The scene from“Louis” when he performs the Who song in the car in front of his unfazed children (Season 2, episode 5, “Country Drive”)
  • The reaping scene in “The Hunger Games”
  • Marisa Wompler’s “Comedy Bang Bang” podcast appearances and on her own Christmas special
  • Going to the houses of people who already have small children
  • This recipe (creamy lemon pasta with spinach and greens
  • My daughter yelling “COME ON, MAN” when I wouldn’t let her put on her favorite shirt which has a skateboarding hot dog on it
  • Amy Poehler’s performance this year on “Parks and Recreation,” especially the Halloween episode
  • Jens Lekman
  • C&M Galley Kitchen – It’s going to be the only restaurant we go to from now on when we’re not in the mood for something specific.  It’s so close, it’s reasonably priced, it’s kid-friendly, and I once had an apple juice/bourbon cocktail there that was very good.
  • NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts — Two or three songs performed by almost every musical act that I like
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – We went for the first time to see the butterfly exhibit and never left we have gone many times since then. I had no idea that the children’s garden existed. Definitely worth the membership fee.
  • Renting a cabin in James River State Park in September
James River State Park. COME ON!

James River State Park. COME ON!

Worst things:

  • Virginia General Assembly vs. women — Sadly, there will surely be a 2013 edition and then a special gubernatorial election edition, but we are ready.  By “we” I mean the people on Facebook who tell me where to go and quietly chant things.
  • MCA RIP
  • My last dining experience at Don’t Look Back — Seriously, the worst.   Although the waiter was nice enough, by the time I had to point out the 6th thing that was wrong I thought I was maybe secretly being taped for a reality show about pushing mild-mannered people to the edge.
  • Contraband — A movie.  A very dumb movie
  • The end of “Everyday Food” in print form
  • Rainbow Fish —  It’s like 4 pages long, one page is the fish asking a starfish why no one likes him and the answer is “I don’t know, ask the octopus.” WHY EVEN BOTHER WRITING/DRAWING THE STARFISH PAGE? Was the book just accidentally written during a lesson on how to draw starfishes?
More like RainBORE Fish

More like RainBORE Fish

Not sure:

  • Our daughter going from shouting “you butt” when she’s mad at us to “you bad boy,” because although “you bad boy” is very funny it’s still her basically swearing at us. However, she has many times said quietly to herself “you bad boy, Charlie Gown” and it’s adorable to hear.

So, the good outweighs the bad. I win this time, year!

Please, benefit from my wisdom. Here are some life lessons that have come to me from my two years as a mother.

1. Multigrain Cheerios are delicious.
2. Whole Grain Goldfish crackers are delicious.

I love Doritos.  I served them at my wedding.  And received them as wedding gifts.  And my birth plan involved eating an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos while sitting in a tub.  In fact, while I call my daughter “Jr. Associate” throughout the bjournal, her real name is D’Rita Ellen (the boy’s name we had picked out was LL Cool Ranch).  If I had to give up all junk food save one item, I would choose Doritos.

But like all good things, I try not to buy Doritos because I will eat a bag in a 24-hour period and I don’t feel the need to share.  The first few chips are the most delicious, crisp chips to ever eat.  I don’t have that part of the body that says “stop eating this!” when it comes to Doritos.  I’ll eat half a bag while leaning against the kitchen counter, and then I feel ashamed and lash out at others while covered in orange powder.

I had unfinished bags of Cool Ranch & Nacho Cheese leftover from a party this past weekend, and I had finished them both by Tuesday evening (if I didn’t have to work they would have been finished by 9 a.m. Monday).  On both Monday and Tuesday I went straight to the chips after work, and since I have a child, I had to share (ugh) because she has learned to say “chip, please,” and even I can’t refuse that.  I dug through the bag to find her a broken chip — because whole ones are unsafe? — all the while eating probably a serving of whole chips, and when I handed her a chip she thanked me (well, she actually thanked her babysitter, whose name she’s says after every “thank you”).  She squealed with delight after each chip, and basically reenacted the warehouse scene from “Footloose” which caused her to get an orange film on everything.

By the time I was ready to pack up the bag she had orange face and fussed when I cut her off, and I felt guilty that I was getting her to love junk food.  It is totally within my power to keep her from eating chips, but I let her because it’s something I do.  And it’s not one of those things that I can say “as kids we ate junk food all the time and we’re okay,” because we’re not — we’re fat and sick and can’t handle the concept of portion control. Because I can’t give up bad habits I’m passing them on to my child.

So, parent lesson #212 – eat chips alone, preferably after everyone is asleep.

Nevermind that I also will eat a cantaloupe with the same zeal, and if I learned anything from being pregnant it’s that cantaloupe has the same nutrients as a leafy green vegetable.  I also feel like I should add a disclaimer that I feed my child well-rounded meals in addition to pumping her with Doritos.  Obviously I do, otherwise I wouldn’t care that she eats chips.

 

For those of you who don’t live here, Richmond’s food scene is very important to us.*   New restaurants and food trends get a lot of attention, and it seems the newer the restaurant the more locally sourced the menu, to the point that I’m sure in the next six months, let’s say a doula and her artist husband will open a place that uses herbs grown in coffee mugs on the tables and serves all but the fur of a goat that was water-birthed in the kitchen sink (this just in – it’s closed).

When I heard about Burger Bach I was amused how non-local its mission is.  Burger Bach serves beef that is shipped in from New Zealand and I think the fries are cut from potatoes grown at the foot of the Alps.  You could say that the traveling fees are incorporated into the price ($10 for  the cheapest burger, wha?) but it’s worth it.  We have only been once but I really liked it.  I ordered my burger with American cheese, and I felt really self conscious about that (I will stand up for American cheese, though, because it melts really well and it’s AMERICAN).  The cheese, mustard, and ketchup combination reminded me of the burgers of my youth, like McDonalds and Fuddruckers, that I know now aren’t good.  It was basically the delicious version of those.  I liked the fries and dipping sauces, the burgers come with salad (yay), and the atmosphere works well for parents with a mostly well-behaved toddler (meaning it’s loud enough that people probably don’t notice her and the booth is big enough for her to move around).

I haven’t had my previous favorite burger (Dot’s Back Inn) in years (though the Meat on the Street burger was pretty fantastic, but my associate recreates that at home).  There are so many new places to try that I get anxious that I need to try them all and that keeps me from previously enjoyed meals.  We also have a short window of time for fuss-free meals with our Jr. Associate, which means that eating out isn’t the leisurely activity it used to be.  Although there is a glut of new places to visit, it’s easier to start sticking to the places we already know that are kid-friendly but also good.  I can see now why parents resort to fast food places with Playlands. (Please ask me about “Kid Pit,” which I’m trying to bring into public spaces to make eating out better for everyone)(it’s basically a padded pit for corralling babies and there’s a prototype for a portable, fence version in the works.  I’ll send my Kickstarter link soon).

More important to me than burgers, Dixie Chicken opened up nearby and makes really good fried chicken for take out.  Even the kid eats it, which is sad because I don’t want to share but I guess good because I don’t have to cook anything else for her.

Food pouches have been great for eating out, but I’m sure they’re probably terrible

*Although I enjoy eating out and reading about restaurants, I’m not sure why we should be as informed as we are about food trucks.

I am on the finishing hours of a 4-day weekend, and it has been very nice.  I spent some great time with my child & co-parent.  For all working parents who miss their kids a little, I urge you to take long weekends if you don’t already.  I definitely feel like we love each other two days more than we would have if I was at work on Thursday & Friday.

Other good things happened: saw old pals, met new babies (well, just one, but I sat near a pregnant woman, so I guess that counts as a new baby, too), cooked/ate, watched not that much “Friday Night Lights,” and saw a crazy, crazy bug on the side of a building.  It had the body of a moth and the head of the end of the world.  I didn’t have my camera telephone or I would have Twittered it to cyberspace.

Here’s an itemization of my life these days, as requested by no one.

Food

I made moon pies.  Making marshmallow was pretty cool, but I only recommend making it yourself if you want to tell people you made your own marshmallow but don’t want to lie about it.  I was pretty grumpy about the amount of time I spent making these, but I would probably make them again but use marshmallow creme and add an egg to the cookie part. I also made zucchini brownies (in cupcake form) which were delicious and I ate about 100 of them, but they were made with applesauce and whole wheat flour and vegetables, so it’s okay.  I also made carrot cake for the first time.  It was incredibly easy and also great, and possibly the only vegetable I ate that week.   Please note that this all happened in the last month.  I don’t have the steam to make three big desserts in one weekend.

I still enjoy cooking and sometimes enjoy baking, but it does take up a lot of time that I can be spending on home improvement projects (just kidding — watching TV and playing with the baby).  My love for making things from scratch is slowly being taken over by love for dropping a jar of salsa on something and calling it a day.

A mooned-pie

Non-food

Like many people in this world, I am also watching “Friday Night Lights,” (we’re in the middle of season 4).  Jason Katims (one of the producers/writers) also does “Parenthood,” and wrote for “My So-Called Life,”  which are good to great shows.  FNL is filled with tired TV tropes, but what makes it most enjoyable is the character development.  I have had some “what would Tami Taylor do?”* moments lately when I have needed some strength, and I love how the Taylors treat people, especially the way they talk to their daughter (I’m taking notes).   Also, “Riggins” has become an all-purpose word here.  He’s something special.  And little Matty Saracen has definitely been my favorite non-Taylor character.  I think I cry during every episode.  And have definitely been guilty of reading FNL fan fiction (but over someone’s shoulder).

Also, of the few podcasts that I listen to regularly, “Who Charted” has become my favorite.  I wasn’t familiar with Howard & Kulap before (though Howard was on that show “Austin Stories” on MTV years ago that I remember liking) but they are so delightful. When I listen to it at the gym I laugh so hard and feel like I might pull a muscle if I tried not to.  Maybe it makes me run faster?  Do yourself a favor and at least listen to the Bob Odenkirk episode from a few week’s ago.

In summation, I have had a good summer but look forward to the adventures to come during this school year.  Texas Forever.

 

*other than say “y’all”

 

I bought my umpteenth bottle of Mexican Coke this weekend and I wondered if I would actually be able to tell the difference between it and American Coke in a taste test (answer: probably), but then I wondered, is Mexican Coke marketed to people like me who would pay 30% more to drink Grass-fed or Organic Coke but it doesn’t exist so instead we drink Mexican Coke? Am I being marketed to?  Every time I pay $2 for it I feel like I’m being played for a fool.  Ugh, it is so much better, though.

HECHO EN MEXICO. SEE THE FLAG?

I’ve always been irritated by places touting craftsmanship from other places.  It seems like an insult to where you are.  Specifically, the whole “New York does everything better” claim is one thing, but it’s annoying when a place like where I live advertises NY-style food as if our own food isn’t good enough.

Since it’s a giant city that is the drop off point for other countries and has a big enough population for an Ikea, NYC can probably claim the best things.  I don’t know personally.  The bulk of my NY experiences have been 24-hour trips with my family where my dad would spend the day at an optical convention and the rest of us would go to Times Square, and we’d all eat someplace like the Hard Rock Cafe.  With the exception of some good meals last summer during our Brooklyn visit, I had never experienced the best of New York-style anything other than what places out of the city claim.  New York bagels, New York Pizza, New York Yankees, New York Philly Cheese steaks — foodwise, it’s probably not so much a New York-style but Old World recipes that were adapted by people who ended up in New York.

These feelings come from a place of bitterness because I have lived in Richmond all of my life and the only thing we do better that any other city is generate “best of” lists in local publications.  We’re a city that needs constant attention from ourselves, where as a city like New York needs attention from everyone else.  Where are some cities we can live one day that are modest but interesting and will only tell you where the best place for brunch is when asked?

VA State Fair NY-Style Pizza

p.s – wait, are there other cities in the US where 90% of local restaurants serve macaroni and cheese?  M&C as a side dish on every other menu might be a Richmond thing, too.  Maybe I should have my own travel show where I go to other mid-sized cities and see if those cities also have the same 10 musicians/restaurants/bloggers that pop up all the time in local news.  Do other cities have Internet celebrities?  Oh, Richmond.

p.p.s – my associate made NY-style pizza that had the best sauce ever and was best on other accounts, too.  That’s what had me thinking of this.  I don’t know why I’m fighting that NY is home to delicious pizza.

I have realized that a huge part of my intellectual laziness recently is due to my addiction to bookmarking recipes online.  My interest in food isn’t extraordinary.  I wouldn’t call myself a foodie — I think that’s a term like “hipster” that people want to avoid even if it applies to them.  Let’s just call me “hungry.”  But, hungry for food, and not for knowledge, which is why I fall short on having discussions about current events and such.

I love to cook and eat, and read books and magazines and watch shows about food (I’m not the greatest baker, so I tend to just think about someone else making sweets for me).  I think about food all of the time (specifically what I will make for dinner and how great it would be if I had a potluck brunch to go to any given weekend).  In fact, all people that I see everyday look like fried chicken drumsticks (except for my daughter, who has those big, doughy cheeks that babies have that lead to the invention of words like “nom nom”).  Anyway, I will attack your fried chicken heads at one point.

I take cookbooks to bed as reading material, bookmark and print more recipes than I can possibly have time to cook and eat in a lifetime, and work on my grocery store list all week.  I look forward to cooking with my kid/s and if she/they are picky about anything I will take it personally.

I am pals with many good cooks and eaters.  I have written an award-losing essay about cooking in my life and how no one eats what I bring to work potlucks and holiday dinners.  I don’t see how a conversation about food isn’t like a conversation about a book or a movie.  Food is a shared experience.  I can talk about Trader Joe’s or Everyday Food as well as I can talk about the movie about Trader Joe or the book about Everyday Food which I am going to start writing immediately.  It’s called “Have You Tried . . . LOVE?”

Seriously, though.  I need to knock it off with looking up recipes.  I blame thekitchn.com.

But since I’ve already done the work, here are some links.

Spinach calzone — I made this last night and it was really good.  The dough didn’t rise but that didn’t seem to make a difference.  I chopped up a few cloves of garlic in the dough.

Macaroni and cheese — I admit that I have always loved Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in all of its orange glory.  But now that I found this version, which when made straight up according to this recipe takes about 10 minutes more to put together than a box of m&C, I will never go back to the box unless there’s an emergency.  Or I’m lazy and that’s all I have to eat.  Next time I make it I’m going to chop in some kale and use better cheese than Sargento.  And I used a tablespoon of mustard since I don’t have mustard powder.

Chinese No Claypot Chicken — I added carrots to this and will probably make it again.  It was a nice and simple Sunday night dinner that lasted a few nights.

Chipotle rice — Except that I used brown jasmine rice and haven’t figured out how to adapt the water/time for brown rice, this is pretty spot on for Chipotle’s lime rice.  I also made a barbacoa beef recipe from this site.  It was good but not great.

Granola — I add 1/4 cup of ground flax seed and use almonds instead, but this is hands down my new favorite cereal.  I love cereal and the fact that I can make my own means that I am allowed to be a little more smug than usual.

I also bought Faith Durand’s casserole cookbook (she’s an editor for thekitchn).  I’ve made a few recipes from it but nothing that spectacular.  I like the book, though.  It’s pretty open to adaptations.  Casseroles are my thing now because they feed us for days.  I will gladly spend a few hours in the kitchen on the weekend just to not have to make dinner on a weeknight.

I will restrain myself and not post the 400 links of things I would love to make.  Just know that I’m not joking, I’m pretty sure there are 400.  I do, however, want everyone to look at this and then think of the appropriate event for me to make them and share.

I went back to work after 10 weeks of testing Hulu Plus and caring for a newborn baby.  Thoughts: Hulu Plus still has commercials and a lot of glitches but we’ve watched many enjoyable shows on it through Roku (the same device that we use to stream Netflix through the TV).  Televised high fives to my new favorite shows “Modern Family,”  “Cougartown,” and “Raising Hope.”  Oh, and the baby’s cool, too.

Life is at its new normal.  We’re up a little earlier and the evenings are packed with taking care of lots of little things.  My new demands have cut into my spare time dramatically.  I’ve stopped wasting time by looking at the sites/profiles, etc. of people I don’t like (hate lurking?).  By default I’m now a better person.

I had two things that I wanted to happen before returning to work.  I wanted my baby to smile at me, and I wanted to have time to cook something.  Both things happened.  She smiles all the time, and probably laughs, too (I guess — the baby version of most things is different from what I had expected).  And I have cooked a lot.  Richard has made several fancy holiday meals, and I’ve made time with some back issues of Everyday Food* and Mark Bittman’s “Kitchen Express.”  I love the paragraph/loose directions format for his cookbook.  My one flaw is my inability to read a recipe before beginning to cook.  With his style I not only read the text but because it’s all estimates and up-to-yous it’s hard to mess up (or know that you messed up).  It’s just my speed.  I’ve made some good soups from it.

Also, my New Year’s resolution is to learn how to properly use commas.  During late nights with the baby I read through older entries of Burgerphone and clearly, I, don’t, remember how to use commas.  Commas and recipes!  I have two flaws.

*I got the December issue of Everyday Food a few weeks after getting the Jan/Feb “light” issue.  Going from broiled and steamed low-calorie dinners to pancakes stuffed with bacon was such a shock that it made my eyeballs gain weight.

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