Friday, August 29, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: A Right Proper Irish Breakfast

A perfect day for me is easy. All I require to feel like all's right with the world is to kick my own ass in a hard-as-nails workout, before smashing my then-ravenous, totally-earned-it face into a big tableful of carbs and protein. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE me some vegetables. In fact, I rise early in the morning on the weekends for the sheer, cherry-popping pleasure of being the first at the grocery store to dismantle the produce displays after admiring the perfect symmetry of the stacks of crisp, ruffled-leafed lettuce, ogling dirt-crusted violet beets, and inappropriately fondling various types of fruit. However, there is nothing quite as decadent--even with some of the most astounding of dinners--as a post-workout hearty binge of a traditional Irish Full Breakfast. 

Comprised generally of a slice of grilled ham, pork sausage, black pudding, white pudding, a couple of eggs, a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, some beans, and toast (or in my case, a rather obscene amount of scones), this is the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs and gets you ready to spend the day plowing a field of potatoes, tending to some spray-painted sheep, or, you know, just dicking around the stunning countryside of the Emerald Isle. It's what I call "doin' it right."

Behold, an Irish breakfast in its classic form:


Allow me to walk you through it. Firstly, pudding is not pudding. Rather, it's a slice of warm (not hot, for some reason) sausage, the black being a type of boudin noir, similar to the blood sausages of France. Sounds rather abhorrent, right? WRONG. It is delicious. It's not as iron-flavored and metallic as the ones I've tasted in French- and German-influenced brasseries, but savory, rich, and slightly sweetened by the rice. 

White pudding is somewhat similar, minus the off-putting blood. It's a bit sweeter, with oats holding the meat together rather than rice. I liked this more, because although I'll try a lot of things and like them, it is challenging to get over the fact that you're eating sausage made of congealed blood when there's a perfectly innocuous-looking piece of beige sausage before you.

The grilled ham is an excellent, fairly lean cut, similar in texture and flavor to Canadian bacon. In fact, it's often called bacon, but I say ham because at times, I have obnoxiously American tendencies. Nothing particular to write home about, other than the fine quality of the pork. Same goes for the standard link of breakfast sausage, which is familiar and homey ... unless you happen to be dining somewhere spectacular, which I did later on, and subsequently had my mind blown by a fat, juicy sausage.

The grilled tomato is just a Good Idea. In lieu of ketchup, the slightly charred innards juice slightly and add a vegetable element to the plate in addition to the carby, lightly smoky mushrooms. This hit of acid from the tomato is refreshing after all the savory meats, and the mushrooms fill up the empty corners of your belly rather nicely, and remind you that vegetables, no matter how humble and brown, should have some kind of place in every meal.

The baked beans are also pretty standard, but a welcome addition nonetheless. Along with the juices of the tomato, it serves to moisten the palate a bit, and the sweetness of the sauce it sits in is a lovely contrast to, again, the salty richness of the many meats. They go delightfully with the farm-fresh eggs, which need no more embellishment nor bastardization than what is provided on the plate. It gives a dessert-like feeling of finishing your meal properly, the soaked beans rolling and pleasantly smashing in your mouth, leaving the ghost of brown sugar on your tongue.

Irish breakfast can also be elevated to THAT. Roasted red pepper relish, massive amounts of Bewley's fine coffee (whose tea I can find here, but why the eff not their superb coffee?!), cucumber and grapefruit water, blueberry scones the size of your fist, a gorgeous pile of perfectly fluffy, moist and buttery scrambled free-range eggs, herb-roasted, fat cherry tomatoes, gratined chive potatoes, fantastic ham/bacon, and a dauntingly fat sausage from which an aromatic, intoxicating scent of white wine seeps out from a thin casing that is simply not up to the challenge of holding this glorious pork hostage.

This is, of course, at Queen of Tarts, a shop I'm absolutely obsessed with that I would go back to Dublin for alone. I have neither the focus nor the time to go into detail about it right now, but I luff it like I've luffed few things in my life before. If heaven were a place on earth and calories didn't count, I'd never leave it. Exhibit A of my rapture: we ate there every day we were in Dublin. Multiple times a day, even. From someone who makes 17-page lists of restaurants that I "have to" try, this is a huge concession of the superiority of this restaurant above all things. Again, may I stress: Every. Damn. Day.

Day Two, in which I had some truly transcendental oatmeal, is provided below as evidence.


Now I've gone on at length before about my nearly equal obsession to the precious, golden, grass-fed butter. On a fresh-baked, biscuity scone (NOT to be confused with American scones, which are hard, triangular rocks of candy-drizzled nonsense), the foodgasm is nearly quite without equal. But you know what else is amazing? Oatmeal. Fuck yes, Irish steel-cut oatmeal; you surely know what you're all about.

Strawberry rhubarb below, with Canadian maple syrup (yes, how very exotic) at Queen of Tarts.
But that was the one thing that I had there that was beaten by another place: Wholesome Fayre. This place changed the way I look at oatmeal porridge forever. 

Granted, I've always loved oatmeal. It's creamy and rich, soft and chewy, sweet and decadent. These words, I like. But Irish steel-cut oats, with their toothsome, al dente texture, so different from their American rolled counterparts, mixed with magic butter and happy-cow cream and milk? My fucking God. The joy is simply indescribable.
Difference illustrated courtesy of a photo from ToAHealthyFamily.blogspot.com/.

Wholesome Fayre is a casual cafe, deli, bakery, and all kinds of other things in Killarney dedicated to farm-worthy food, and boy do they deliver. The Full Irish is damned good here, too, and of course, their hot, oven-fresh scones, but their vanilla-scented, apricot jelly-topped, honey-drizzled oatmeal is an ecstatic eye-rolling level of goodness that you'd never expect from such a humble breakfast staple. Warming to the core, there's just such a good feeling when you dig into it and feel it fill your soul with homely happiness on a typically gray Irish day. 


Obviously, I fell in deep love with Ireland, and who'd have ever thunk that it'd be breakfast--not brunch, nor dinner--that'd steal my heart?



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eater's Remorse: The Life and Lies of the Food Industry

In the food industry, mislabeling of food for marketing purposes, or simply out of sheer ignorance, is very common. Terms are played with fast and loosely, and half of things don't mean what you think they do. There's little to no regulation unless certification is involved, and the FDA allows all kinds of sneaky stuff to come through.

As someone who eats very clean (for the most part, unless I'm eating out; in which case, I have fasted, am hungry, and prepared to be drowned in copious amounts of conventional butter), I've become a diligent reader of labels.

I've learned a lot of things in my growth as a label-pore(r):

  1. "All-Natural" doesn't mean shit. "Natural flavors" just mean they have occurred somewhere in nature. For instance, artificial vanilla, raspberry, and strawberry flavors may be derived from the anal glands of a beaver. They don't even have to list "castoreum." Because a beaver is a real thing, found in nature. So, that "vanilla-flavored" Greek yogurt you're eating? Yep, beaver butt. Go ahead and vom. 
  2. "Diet" items may actually be more additive and dangerous than their full-calorie counterparts. Sucralose, aspartame, all that fake shit that has zero calories and no sugar actually triggers you to want more, as well as changing your tastebuds. Harvard has even proven it's more addicting than cocaine. So do yourself a favor when you're ordering that triple from Wendy's and just steer into the skid with the regular soda while you enjoy your diabeetus. Or, you know, just do coke. (Don't do coke.)
  3. "Healthy" can mean anything. The brand Healthy Choice, for instance (and they suckered me in, too) is actually often chock-ful of sugar, and always crazy high in sodium content. There are a bajillion ingredients, many artificial or unnecessary were you to replicate it in your own kitchen, and unpronounceable. And anything can be called "healthy," substantiated by one selling point, whether it's lower in calories than its competitor, has some kind of fiber, or whatever.
  4. Random shit is in everything. There is seaweed in your almond milk, which may or may not cause inflammation in your colon and bloat. (The jury's still out on this, and there are two types of carageenan to add to the confusion.) There is Turtle Wax on your Pop Tart. (In addition to seaweed, and for those shiny frosting varieties. Click the link and look for Carnauba wax. It's all up in that piece, ready to shine your guts.) There is yoga mat in your bread, which created a MASSIVE uproar just this year when Subway announced it'd be eliminating it. (In brief, everyone's response was, "wtF?!? You guys were putting WHAT in my bread, and WHO else does it, too?!") There is a FUCKTON of salt and preservatives added to your raw shrimp and scallops. And of course, again, the beaver butt. 
  5. "No trans fats" is a lie. Okay, that's a little dramatic, and a bit of a hyperbole, but food manufacturers can legally say "0 grams of trans fats" when they taper down the serving sizes so that the nutrition label has to round down from 0.5. The key is to look for hydrogenated oils. If it shows up on the side of that box, you best believe you'll be eating some, because seriously? Who eats two cookies and calls it a day. There's a reason those Keebler Fudge Shop Fudge Stripes doesn't have a reseal. They know those palm oil-oozing, corn syrup-having things are goddamn delicious and addicting. 
  6. Sugar has many aliases. Sure, a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but sugar by any other is even sweeter. They do that because then they don't have to list "sugar" so high up on the list of ingredients, since those labels are designed to taper down proportionately. So if the first ingredient is sugar, that means it has more sugar than anything else. But if they break it up to sucrose, dextrose, fructose (or any other -ose, for that matter), fruit juice concentrate, natural sweeteners, honey, molasses, and etc., then something less damaging may float its way to the top of the list. Sneaky, sneaky!
  7. Kobe beef is NEVER Kobe beef. Now this super sucks, because you pay a premium for it. But it's actually a serious crime to import--even for personal consumption--this rare, fatty, beautifully marbled delicacy from Japan. Plus, in the U.S., were some ranchers able to get their hands on valuable Wagyu cattle, they cross-bred it with domestic cattle, creating a hybrid. Today, scant amounts are now available, but guaranteed, what you're eating is not it.
  8. Prime steak may or may not be Prime. If every neighborhood bar and franchise chain restaurant had real prime steak, it wouldn't be so prime. It'd be average. What makes a steak a real prime steak is a USDA Prime certification, which is given to only 2% of the beef in the marketplace, and reserved for fine dining establishments and affluent, well-connected consumers. There is simply not enough prime steak to go around for everyone to be offering it, which means you're being lied to. 
  9. Your food eats shit. Literally. You like tilapia, and think it's a healthy choice? Well, stay away from the farmed fish, then. If it comes from China, chances are its diet consists of chicken feces.
  10. "Food coloring" comes from the inside. Mmm, farmed salmon -- cheap, healthy, and accessible. It's great, with all its omega-3s, right? Yeah ... except that the lovely red color you see is a courtesy of feed with food dye in it. Oh, and beef is often dyed, too. So there's that.
  11. "Made with Whole Grains" is SUPER misleading. I mean, yeah, there might be a whole wheat kernel in there, or millet or rice or the like. But if "enriched white flour" is the first ingredient listed, there's only a nominal amount of the good, unrefined, unprocessed stuff. They just add enough in so that they can change the label. Smart, huh?
  12. "Protein, Fiber, Buzzwords!" Some foods splash all over their labels and boxes that they're the kings of all these good things that should be in your body. Cool! ... But the thing is, although they're touting these terrific traits (see what I did there?), the quantities are often unimpressive. Many granola bars are cheap with their fibers and generous with their sugar. As in more sugar than a candy bar. Or you might be like, "Whoa! This granola bar has 10 grams of protein!" On the other hand, you could just eat an egg. Like boil it, peel it, and you've got 6 lovely grams without all the car wax and sugar and trans fats and carbs.
I have so many more gripes and pet peeves, but this is it for now because it's been a while since I posted and Boy is haranguing me since we're supposed to be somewhere ten minutes ago. However, I highly recommend reading Eat This, Not That (any of them!), and found them personally highly enlightening, and part of why I no longer eat shit in a box. 

Okay, that's my periodic PSA. Have fun with that!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: Looking Back

I am incredibly fortunate.

It's easy to forget such simple facts when the mundanity of everyday life sweeps over you relentlessly, with chores and errands calling your name, the pressure of work weighing down upon your shoulders, and the demands of creating homeostasis in your home -- even without the added intricacies of children -- leave you drained every day. However, it is for this reason we have pictures.

It's a running joke in my family that I take pictures of food when I travel, and Boy takes photos of monuments and statues he can't identify. Both are true. However, it truly is the food that makes me realize just how very, very lucky I am.

I've had real Kaiser rolls in Vienna, and grew up on its equally delicious doppelganger, the New York deli roll (dough conditioners be damned; I'll eat yoga mats if it gives my bread that sweet, fluffy, damp crumb that is my Achilles heel). I've tasted street dumplings in Beijing for 50 cents for ten, made by hand by a toothless grandma in a hutong shop, and was raised on my dad's rendition, with house-ground pork, home-grown organic Chinese chives, and hand-rolled dough -- a painstaking method he still uses at his restaurant to date. I've had grass-fed steak in Chicago and wood-smoked brisket in Austin. Barbecue ribs in Memphis and Birmingham. Experienced the pleasure of beignets among drunkards and revelers at 4 AM on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis Cathedral looking on in silent reproach and majesty. Compared the sweet oysters of the Chesapeake Bay to those of the Gulf Coast and Blue Point. I've tasted roasted Moravian duck in a cellar restaurant in Old Town Prague, just steps from the Astronomical Clock, Long Island duckling covered in cherry sauce, and Peking duck in both Beijing and Flushing. Berkshire pork in the Berkshire mountains, and smoked to perfection in Brooklyn. I've had a seared tuna burger fresh off the dock in Honolulu, the salty Pacific air adding more flavor and a sense of joy in the simplicity of being and eating. Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel, where it was invented, and at Demel in Vienna, the confectionary that served the Hapsburg royalty for generations, and pretty much invented the art of pastry-making. Gyros, Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian in the most unexpected of places. Croissants in Barcelona, Rome, Cannes and Marseille, for comparison, yet not Austria, where it was invented and brought to Paris by Marie Antoinette. Goulash in the Czech Republic and Austria, yet not in Hungary, home of this stew. Shepherd's pie and Guinness in Ireland, in pubs whose woods have been glossed to a rich patina by age and recipes have been unchanged for centuries. 

Every one of these experiences have changed me in some little way, and it is through taste that I experience a world and a culture. It is to satisfy my literal appetite that I travel; my belly inspires me. 

And every once in a while, when I have occasion to glance through the hundreds of digital memories that mark the places I've been, establishments I've patronized, and food I've had, I can't help but thank the roads in my life that have led me to the roads I've thus far traveled, and become even more excited for what the future holds. With my thirtieth birthday coming up, it is with pride that I look at the map I bought Boy for our tenth (dating) anniversary and the many pins marking where we've been, jutting out of its surface like a Voodoo doll, and think to myself, "Man, am I one lucky betch that the best is yet to come." And that for 13 years, I've been with a Boy with a similar voracity for Epicurean Adventures and dreams of a lifetime of stuffing our faces, hand in hand.

"I do believe it's true,
But there are roads left in both of our shoes,
And if the silence takes you,
Then I hope it takes me, too."
- Death Cab for Cutie

Cinnamon sugar chimney bread in Vaci Utca, Pest.

Sweet rapunzel and Styrian potato salad with pumpkin seed oil, spinach and cheese dumplings, and the real, original Wienerschnitzel at Figlmuller's in Vienna.

Bakery of the kings, Demel, in Vienna.

Fresh roasted Prague ham with pungent mustard, fresh rye bread, and sauerkraut spaetzel, accompanied by a giant cheese and ham crepe, from food stalls in Prague.

Breakfast at the famous Cork English Market, where every ingredient served is sourced locally from the bustling marketplace downstairs.

The Temple Bar ... in Temple Bar, Dublin.

Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives-recommended hot dog stand in the International Marketplace in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu.

Dumplings in a delicious dump, just outside of a hutong in historical Beijing.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ignorance May Be Bliss, But Knowledge Is Power

I'd taken some time off blogging and freaking out about delicious foods a while ago due to a horrible and crippling chronic inflammation in my esophagus that had, after many tests, been determined to be GERD, an acid reflux variation that--in layman's terms--sets up residence in your throat. Awful.

Every day, it felt like there was a fuzzy tennis ball in my throat, physically holding it open while also obstructing airflow. Hiccuping-type burps would embarrassingly emerge in fits from my throat, with low growls and the constant flow of air and gasses trying to push themselves out would actually make me physically nauseated and lightheaded. I would have to push into my stomach or neck to try to force burps out, but because these episodes didn't stem from the gut, but rather from gas bubbles trapped in my throat, they weren't satisfying belches. Instead, my esophagus would become further trapped in the "open" position and the cycle would continue until it became a night of sleepnessness and discomfort. In fact, I became afraid to eat and try things (a fate worse than death for a foodie), not knowing the exact triggers; the usual suspects that are culprits to regular acid reflux didn't cause a reaction for me.

Garlic, onions, tomatoes ... still tremendously enjoyable. Cake, sometimes would cause a reaction, but I could still eat to obscenity and feel okay. Stonyfield and Chobani (more on this cheating, sugar-loaded, fake "healthy" brand here) yogurt? Terrible. But meanwhile, the Fage (however gross the new, supersweet Fruyo blended line is--24 grams of sugar is more than a candy bar!) was fine, except when it was expired and there was too much liquid up top. Coffee would lead to incidents as well. Cream cheese was a guarantee of misery afterwards, but mascarpone was 50/50 (mmm, tiramisu ...). So I thought, maybe it's dairy? Lactose sensitivity? I am genetically predisposed to it; a whopping 90% of the Asian population is lactose sensitive or intolerant, which makes sense since it's not a food found in the ancestral diet.

This terrible affliction that affected my day-to-day living to an incredible extent was initially what triggered my workout spree, motivation to lose the unhealthy extra poundage that I was carting around after moving back to lonely Long Island and working a miserable, disreputable, thankless, soul-sucking day job that made me even sadder about giving up my life in New Orleans. However, through my commitment to lose weight, fat in my midsection that was definitely affecting my digestion, squeezing my poorly functioning organs whose very DNA protested becoming squished in fat, I was able to slowly but surely get this GERD-like thing under control.

I'm sure dropping 40 pounds helped tremendously since my innards now had some room to move around and do stuff. Being active again definitely contributed to helping those internal gasses escape in a healthy way. I thought I was fixed.

But then, I was confused when after I started counting calories and eating healthier, the burps came back. There didn't seem to be much in common with the things I was eating, and like I said, I suspected dairy. But ... it also happened when I didn't have any moo juice products. So I thought it could be oil and/or fat that upset my overly sensitive stomach. But cutting down on healthy fats just led to my nails flaking apart and skin drying out. And I would still have some bad days.

However, I think I've finally figured out what the REAL culprit: artificial sweetener.

When I started experimenting with eliminating and tracking food intake and my body's subsequent reaction, Splenda with my coffee would kick this in. Every. Time. I started reading labels more closely, not just for calorie and nutrition counts, but for ingredients labeled as that tricky bastard sucralose. The added fake sugars to my low- or non-fat food (which, by the way, they do to compensate for the loss of richness in flavor to the reduced fat product)? Always.

Apparently, although I had to pay hundreds of dollars to doctors to not tell me this (seriously--why do specialists just send you to other specialists and labs? Do they get kickbacks from them? Wtf goes on with this medical game?!), using my own body as a guinea pig was the best way to figure out that this was the toxic thing. I mean, yes, too much dairy inevitably leads to gas and throat burps, but that's because I have a tendency to sliiiiightly overdo all things comestible. But without exception, sucralose led to misery ... and still does. No matter how much I work out, how healthy I eat. And now, after finally identifying it, I'm finding more and more evidence that Splenda and other chemically-made artificial sweeteners are TERRIBLE for you. Not only does it create more of an addiction to sweets and increasing your tolerance for it, but it actually increases the amount of bacteria in your gut.

Not good. And I could go on and on even longer than this, ranting disconnectedly (yes, I am openly acknowledging the poor writing quality of this very stream-of-consciousness post), but I won't.

Seriously, just Google "Splenda" and "Is Splenda bad for you?" You'll be shocked and appalled.

So why am I talking about this? Well, in case anyone else out there is suffering from this, since all the message boards I'd ever read researching "throat burps" came up with nothing. Yes, I know that's gross, but this was really an experience that sucked the joy out of my eating life for over a year--misery.

Also, to reinforce the importance of quality, real ingredients in food and what a difference it can make not only to your diet, but to your life. Prilosec, Prevacid, and all that shit didn't work for me. You know what did? Eating pineapple (the bromelain enzymes help to you digest better; it's not always about the acid in a food!) ... and eating whole foods. Cooking at home. Committing to eating local and taking fast food and chain restaurants completely out of the equation. Going to restaurants that believe in farm-to-table and sourcing locally, letting natural flavors shine through. Visiting other countries that default to local produce, non-genetically modified food and grass-fed/pasture-raised/free-range meat sources ... all of which, by the way, taste significantly and noticeably better and are more concentrated in flavor than conventional American whole foods.

As I get more and more into reading labels, uncovering the dirty secrets of food manufacturing in America (and believe you me, they are DISGUSTING, filthy secrets), and continue to fix my sad guts by cleaning up my act with clean eating, I just wanted to write a bit about my personal struggle with manufactured and chemically altered/created food and encourage others again to get out of the chains and into local restaurants and markets. Stop eating at Applebee's with their frozen, microwaved mediocrity, or Cheesecake Factory's sodium bombs when there are adorable hidden gems in your community. Don't head to a Hard Rock Cafe on your Hawaiian vacation when you could be enjoying local seafood, fresh from the docks from a mom-and-pop joint right on the pier. Shop your local farmer's market and support the little guys while rewarding yourself with fresh-picked produce rather than buying that super-shiny apple shipped from the other end of the country ... or continent, in the cases of some citrus and other stuff. Join a CSA and be adventurous, discovering new recipes. And most importantly, support your community.

Your stomach, health, and town will thank you. I know mine did.






Friday, January 31, 2014

Food Fit for a Cleanse

So, as I'd mentioned, I've been doing a sugar detox/low-glycemic eating kind of deal through my box gym, Primal Strength, and have since graduated to being able to add protein since I successfully made it through my first week. Here are some lovely things I've made that are vegetarian, low-oil, low-fat and high-flavor!
Eggplant, zucchini, garlic, tomato, and baked garlic ricotta towers

Fresh mozzarella marinated with red onions, tomato and balsamic, with red peppers on mesclun
Balsamic and rosemary-roasted portabellas with shaved red onions, roasted red peppers on arugula
Mesclun topped with beefsteak tomatoes, roasted red pepper, Golden Delicious apples, shaved red onion and cranberry goat cheese on arugula
Roasted sweet potato with apple-cider roasted Brussels sprouts and homemade tomato and carrot soup

Roasted zucchini with fire-roasted tomatoes and carrots (stewed together), topped with fresh basil

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Adventures Abroad: Leprechaun Gold

Lovely town of Kenmare, right on
the outer edges of the Ring of Kerry
I recently had the good fortune to be able to visit the magical island of Ireland, a destination I'd had on my list since I'd contemplated studying abroad there during college. The rolling, verdant pastures all sparkling in 40 shades of green; the colorful, jaunty villages painted in joyous hues as to defy the gray skies above; crumbling stone castles and manor homes covered in sheets of English ivy; the wilderness of the cragged shorelines as Atlantic waves pounded mercilessly against stoic limestone. These were all the things I'd envisioned when I'd pictured Ireland's treasures, and this country did not disappoint.

Cliffs of Moher. No photos can do
them justice.
A part of the magic of this land is in its virgin landscapes, a sense of ferality that lies as an undercurrent against the domesticity of black-faced sheep, patiently spray-painted blue, purple and red. For Boy, the spell of enchantment was woven most tightly around him in the exhilarating links golf courses, cleverly camouflaged between swells of ocean grass, rising above vertical-drop cliff faces as a comforting "thwack" marks a crisp morning.

However, even with all this, Ireland had dropped to a lower bracket on my bucket list due to its (undeserved) reputation for abysmal food. How could I justify a jaunt to Europe where the feast would be more for my eyes than my mouth? 

See? ADVENTURE! The so-called
"best" fish-and-chips in Ireland,
(I didn't agree) but all the fun was
in the field research and search.
Well, for $700 round-trip for a direct flight to Dublin, and great industry rates for a rental car and 4- and 5-star hotels, I justified it. With the Gathering and all, 2013 was a hot time for travel to the Emerald Isle, so the time was ripe and the deals were staggering. Boy wanted to play golf; I wanted to do something a bit different. I have grown tired and bored of all-inclusive, somewhat generic gluttony and after our cruise to the Western Mediterranean, I've discovered that there is joy in the hunt. I still research the crap out of places to make sure I'm going to the most notable restaurants, and that I don't miss any epicurean hubs, but the getting there and the getting -- that's what gets me going. 

I'd love to go on longer and talk in depth about my trip, but one singular thing from this vacation inspired this post: the gold at the end of an Irish rainbow.

Many say this is myth, fable, tall tale or what-have-you. But I just want to share that it's true. There are indeed pots of gold to be found in Ireland, in brown barrels, brown bread and everything in between.

I'm talking, my friend, about the BUTTER.

The glorious, unimaginably sweet, rich, bright gold butter of Ireland is a treasure against all of the land's wonderful, underrated treasures. The incredible difference grass-fed dairy presents! I'd known that Ireland's cheeses and milk would be exceptional, but the butter was an epic experience every time I had it.

Blueberry scone, with layers of sweet flavor
only quality butter can impart.
Boldly gold, its color was initially off-putting, as was the ease of which it transferred to my spreader. Soft, molten, I spread it on my first scone (another revelation--I'd go back just for the scones alone!), where it gave way like a docile maid and attached itself to the crumb of the pastry, yet taking nothing with it when I pulled the knife away. The lightness and lack of grease in taste and feel was startling, given the deep flavor of the butter. It was sweet, creamy and decadent, yet not heavy; it clung to your memory more than your tongue, leaving only a shadow of a pleasant sensation, like a dream in your mouth.

From first bite, I was obsessed. And although I generally eat very clean, I felt no guilt about indulging in this purest form of butter. It FELT clean. It TASTED clean. And as lactose-sensitive I may ethnically be prone to be, I felt like a million fucking bucks every goddamn day.

So this is what real butter is like. This is what it's supposed to be like, how it's supposed to feel. Free of chemicals, additives, preservatives, antibiotics from diseased teats and subsequent pasteurization, straight from the well cared-for udders of happy, free-roaming, grass-fed cows.

Naturally, upon my return stateside, I became a butter snob. No more Land O'Lakes or Breakstone's for me! It was Kerrygold imported FTW!

Unfortunately, it doesn't taste quite the same here as it did there, but it'll do for now. When you can't get 24 karat gold, you have to settle for 14, right? But until next time, because leprechaun gold be damned -- I found the real stuff and it is GLORIOUS.


Raspberry scones and raspberry meringues from one of my favorite places in
the world, Queen of Tarts. More on this place later!





Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gratuitous Sexiness: Grits, Almighty!

I heart brunch. I heart it so much and so hard that my actual heart might explode from so much hearting.

I especially heart when brunch blends Southern comfort food with New American touches and elegant plating with outstanding, farm-fresh ingredients.

This is an example of perfection on a plate, my breakfast brunch last month at Tabbard Inn in Washington, DC. Cheesy grits, beautifully fried sweet oysters, perfectly poached eggs and a crisp pork belly, accented with microgreens and scallions. *Dies.*

(I Yelped this here if you want to check out the main points of dining here, but it's not the love letter it deserves. I need blog space to do that, so this goes on my to-do list as well.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cleansing Free From Sin

I tried a cleanse.

These are perhaps the four most unexpected words to come out of my mouth (or from my fingers, for that matter) in the the history of ever, and just thinking about what I went through makes me physically cringe. 

Granted, it wasn't a typical cleanse, like the cayenne pepper nonsense (who LIVES on that?!) or a juicing spree (I love chewing too much to ever try that), and I could eat unlimited vegetables and still keep fruit, but it was a solid week of no grains, carbs, starches, sugars, caffeine, and all the things that make life worth living. 

Don't get me wrong -- I love me my green stuff. (Not that green stuff; a food addiction is quite enough to contend with, without adding anything unsavory -- *HeHe* -- to my list of fatal flaws.) But I didn't realize, eating mostly clean and healthy these past few years and probably too lean, that protein was actually more important to me than I'd thought. Seared beef steaks, the aroma of butter rising from it as a vibrant, cheery scarlet streak of juice swirls into pink happiness on a snow-white plate. Gamey bison burgers, with its toothsome feel and substantial heft as the granules of meat distribute in my belly. Flaky, pastel-hued salmon, which teases with initial resistance as you flake the chunks off, only to have it give in at the last into beautiful morsels of healthy omega-3s. Even chicken, that least pretentious of meats, with its subtle charms and people-pleasing personality, yes-ing you agreeably by taking on the personality of the sauce it's dressed with. I could write an ode to all of these things as I try to forget the horror of the cleanse.

It was definitely a learning experience; I found out quite few things about myself during this period, with one of them being a renewed sense of joy in meat that I'd lost through years of calorie counting and calorie-saving for empty, meaningless snackies, like pretzels and chips. 

Here are some of my discoveries:
  • I don't mind being told what to do, but heartily resent being told NOT to do. And immediately think about doing it. Options, people; I like having my options!
  • Hangriness causes me to question my relationships. Paranoia ensues. Annoyance results. 
  • When given the choice, after a week of vegetables, I choose meat over simple carbs and grains. Who'da thunk, especially after a season of pignoli and rainbow cookies galore?
  • Deprivation makes me depressed. Literally. I was a big gray cloud of despair and abject sadness, pathetic and joyless in all things. 
  • I should be quarantined when cleansing/sugar detoxing (which this actually was.)
The only thing that kept me from quitting in a storm of tears and temper is my trust in my trainer, Tristan Phillips, who I'd been working with since I'd moved back to New York and has become a personal friend. After logging in many hours at his box-style gym, Primal Strength doing hard-style kettlebell training, kickboxing boot camp, and Primal Move (he's the only one on the Island certified for this interesting, to say the least, program) and seeing amazing results, he advised it was high time for me to separate emotions from food. In hopes that it'd make me a better, more objective rather than hedonistic writer, and more in control of my cravings rather than vice versa, I reluctantly agreed.

So, this sugar detox is still going on. I still can't have simple carbs, but rather than restrictively counting my calories, I'm filling in little Scantron-style bubbles (which the nerd in me loves) that lets me check off how many veggies I'm eating. Believe it or not, I'm dropping LBs like Eminem drops rhymes (I know! I just SAID I was a nerd ...) and eating more than I ever have before in terms of volume and quantity! Also, it's made my cooking FAR more inventive, and appreciate my Chinese roots that allow me to eat very veggie-centric, with no scruples about meal-appropriate foods. 

Unfortunately, that means my posts about cake will have to be reminisces until further notice, but don't worry -- I never forget what I eat. But for now, that means I, along with you, dear reader, will be eating vicariously as well. So cheers to that!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

BBQ to BRAAI

So in keeping with my promise from my last post, I received this a press release about the Wines of South Africa's "from BBQ to BRAAI" 2014 US Road Series. Why is it cool? Well, basically, it follows the journey of South African Chef Hugo Uys through 10 domestic destinations to seek out local chefs, food personalities, farmers and musicians "with the goal of a 'cultural' barter between American and South African traditions," according to a press release I found when looking for more details on this.

Although here in New York, it's already made its Brooklyn pit stop in December, it's now headed to NOLA Saturday, February 22nd at Falstaff Beer Garden, located at 2600 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA. Billed as a "large scale, low-cost ticketed consumer event," all proceeds from the affordable $20 per person event will actually benefit the New Orleans area's Habitat for Humanity. This is a great deal especially since you'll be able to taste wines, try South African dishes, and party to a soundtrack provided by conceptual artist and DJ Xander Ferreira. 

So sign up and call it dinner. It runs from 2-5 PM, prime time for snacking!

Have a good time, y'all!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

NOLA Love from LINY

As the weather gets colder ("Polar Vortex," anyone?) here in this snowy sandbar, it's harder than ever to ignore the cheery Facebook posts from old friends in New Orleans. "Jazzfest lineup announced!" "King cakes now available!" "Broke my tooth on a plastic baby!" ... and the like. 

I've now been away from my heart's city for a long two years, and it genuinely hurts my soul to think about how long I haven't been a resident of one of the most incredible places I've ever been privileged not only to visit, but to have been a part of its lifeblood. 

It seems that much has changed, and it was an honor to help and promote the businesses I so believed in reach the heights that they've soared to. I remember when Sucre was brand-new, limited to one darling location on Magazine Street. I still recall the first time that I met Chef Michael Stoltzfus of (only, at the time) Coquette, who then provided my wedding party with the most memorable dinner of that weekend. It seems like just yesterday that Boucherie was just a purple food truck; Mahony's just another newcomer who hadn't sorted out their fried green tomato po-boy to perfection yet; and Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery wasn't a TV celebrity with his own Wikipedia page.

It's even harder to realize that I've been out of touch enough, through this blog's email not being synced up correctly, to miss thousands of announcements, press releases, and the incredible opportunities this amazing city had to offer. So although it hurts my heart a little to see it (I literally couldn't even watch Top Chef this season because it made me too mopey and homesick), I do enjoy the little friendly waves of "hello" I experienced when I went through each email, one by one today. 

Although I no longer live there physically, there's a part of my consciousness and being that will live there always. So that being said, I'll do my best to continue to post things I hear on the grapevine about this captivating city, and instead of being sad and nostalgic, longing to be on the steps across from Jackson Square eating a greasy Central Grocery muffuletta, I'll keep cheering on this scrappy city that has only gotten better year after year.

Because, YES ... #iknowwhatitmeans.
#504ever