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