(Trying to) Grow an Avocado Tree

Yes, I am still alive. Spring time has been keeping me very busy. Which is also the reason I had to make time to do nothing. Doing nothing is very good sometimes.

In the mean time, I've been on an avocado kick- they're so delicious! I've been putting them on sandwiches, in wraps, making guacamole and eating them salted, straight out of their peel. As fun as I find it to whack its big seed with my knife to ease it from the fruit, I feel bad throwing it away. So I decided to find out how to grow my own avocado plant.

I found this website that told me everything I needed to know- and it couldn't be easier! Carefully remove the avocado pit (minus the hack marks) and wash any residue off under the sink. Then, take three toothpicks and wiggle them into the thickest part of the seed. Suspend the pit over a glass of water, making sure to keep the base covered and the top dry. Place it in a sunny spot and in 3-6 weeks the top will begin to sprout and the bottom will grow roots. I think I can handle this!
And yes, I put mine in a crystal bowl. I figure it can't hurt. It will grow to be a very sophisticated avocado.

If you want to know what to do when your little avocado grows up, be sure to read the rest of the article. Right now I'm just hoping I don't kill a plant that hasn't even sprouted yet. I will keep you updated!


Travel Lust: Santiago, Chile

There was a No Reservations marathon on last weekend; I couldn't help but be sucked in for a good part of my Sunday. An episode about Santiago, Chile really surprised me- with its skyscrapers it was a lot bigger and more modern than I expected. After that episode, it has made it to my ever-growing to-travel-to list!
Check out that view!
 The Andes Mountains make the Rockies look like ant hills in comparison!
Santa Lucia Hill is a beautiful tourist spot...
As is the National Cathedral...
The city offers beautiful architecture, like Santiago Stock Exchange building.

Have you visited Santiago? What did you love about it?

Photos from: beachcomberpete.com, chile.ca, members.virtualtourist.com/m/6590b/17c6e8/, alovelyworld.com, dailygalaxy.com


Lunabread: Fresh, Local, Cajun

If you're not paying attention you just might miss the best thing to ever happen to you. With nothing more than a small, metal sign hanging by the road, you could easily miss your turn into Lunabread as you drive down 15th Street.
It wasn't a flashy store front or extensive ad campaign that brought me into Lunabread. It was simply their bread. I had passed their stall at the Cherry Street Farmers' Market one Saturday and eyed their goodies with curiosity; it wasn't until I saw them at the Pearl Farmers' Market, totting freshly baked brioche and French bread, that I decided to find out what they were all about.

The picturesque baguette sat in my passenger seat, begging for me to tear into it. I somehow endured the five minute ride, its aroma filling the air, with not even a nibble. Once a bread knife was in reach, I can't say it was around for much longer. The beautiful baguette, with its crispy crust and tender, chewy center took me right back to Paris.

Previously operating as solely a market, Lunabread opened its dining room at the first of the year to serve three square meals a day. With a huge Cajun influence and an emphasis on local ingredients, this food will knock your socks off! One afternoon, I decided to pop in to grab a bite to go. It was life changing. I followed my instincts and ordered the Big Easy, their ham po' boy: baked ham, Tabasco slaw, pickled okra and red-eye gravy piled atop their handmade French bread.
The first bite sent me literally skipping around the table. This was not just a sandwich, this was a freakin' SANDWICH! I didn't know lunch could be this good- it was perfectly spicy and had a nice crunch and coolness from the slaw. And how have I lived my life up until this point without red-eye gravy?! It was so packed with flavor it was unbelievable.

I ran into Chris Foster, the owner and man responsible for this concoction, at the farmers' market and professed my undying love for the Big Easy. His red-eye gravy, he said, is made in part with ham drippings, coffee and beer. Well, no wonder I love it so much! Another reason to adore Lunabread is their ever changing menu inspired by fresh ingredients. Chris went on to tell me that they had gotten in a limited batch of soft-shell crabs that weekend to fry up for another delicious po' boy. Either it was cold that morning or his sandwich talk gave me goosebumps.

Don't let me mislead you, Lunabread is way more than just sandwiches. Sample the ettouffée of the day, a cup of tomato bisque or maybe try their chicken fricassee. Next time you make it to the market, stop by their stand for a breakfast treat while your peruse the produce. On my most recent visit I tried their crab cake po' boy with a side of Cajun fries- another success- and their crab boil potato salad is far from ordinary (i.e. delicious). If you're feeling thirsty grab a handmade ginger cream ale- refreshing and mighty tasty.
Crab Boil Potato Salad
Recently, Lunabread has begun serving dinner, prepared by chef Paul Wilson. Visit this review to read more about it. If you're looking for a fine dining experience, they have that, too! Opal is a 3, 7, or 9 course menu complete with wine parings by reservation only. You can visit this review to read more about the experience.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, I urge you to visit Lunabread and support their amazing food. Just be sure to leave some red-eye gravy for me!

Lunabread on Urbanspoon


Fruit and Herb Soaps

My sage plant, though beautiful with its velvety leaves and purple blossoms, is starting to take over its pot. I love sage, but I don't think I would use as many leaves as it has now in an entire year- and it's still growing! I was wondering what to do with it until I saw this article in last month's Martha Stewart Magazine. With very few ingredients you can make beautiful handmade soaps in the blink of an eye- it was the perfect thing to do with my herb forest!

From citrus fruits to berries to fragrant herbs, there are endless possibilities for delicious soap combinations. The article shows beautiful soaps made with thyme, basil, mint, sage, tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry. I decided try a few mixtures- sage, sage and lavender and sage and grapefruit. All sound wonderful! To begin, you simply puree the herb you are using in the food processor, adding water as needed, and wring out excess moisture using coffee filters. While berries can be added whole, citrus fruit must be zested. I did cheat a little and picked up some lavender fragrance at the craft store!
For soap molds, you can use any container you have around the house. I cut the tops off cream cartons, but you can use plastic containers as well.
 Fill the clean containers with water to the level you would like to pour the soap, then measure this amount. Melt the soap in the microwave in 30 minute bursts, adding more soap as necessary until you have the amount needed to fill the mold.
Now for the fun part! After the soap has cooled just slightly, stir in your ingredients of choice. Martha suggests about 1 teaspoon of puree or zest per cup of soap, but you can adjust it to your liking. For berries- just eyeball it! Stir the mixture frequently until it has cooled so that the ingredients are evenly dispersed.
Dry your molds well, spray them with cooking spray, and pour in the soap. To eliminate bubbles, you can spray the top with alcohol but I skipped this step. Let cool for 20 minutes to one hour then freeze for two hours to help loosen the soap from the mold. After removing from the molds you can trim up the edges with a knife or slice it into smaller pieces.
I found the soap with only sage not very fragrant. Next time I would add more herb or maybe some additional essential oils. The soaps with the grapefruit and lavender fragrance, however turned out really well. I would also like to experiment with an olive oil soap base and the other herbs in my garden.
Now you have beautiful, handmade soaps that make great gifts. Next time your herb garden is overflowing, you know what to do!


What's in Your Garden?

Oh, how I love spring. The days get longer, things are green again, and you can grow delicious things right in your back yard. This is what's growing on my back deck:
From Garden Trug I picked up some sweet basil, and lavender...
And some thyme and dill...
Also cilantro, Italian parsley and mint from Urban Garden...
Let's not forget the tarragon I got at the farmers' market:
  Little did I know, some of the herbs I planted last year were perennials!
The sage and chives came back in abundance, both bearing flowers. Did you know sage flowered?
And slowly, but surely the rosemary and oregano are making a comeback.

I'm debating also planting some meyer lemon trees. I never seem to have a lemon when I need one!

What's growing in your garden? Do you have any green thumb tips?


Travel Lust: Outer Banks, North Carolina

Just a quick trip to the Atlantic coast. It's been ages since I've been to the Outer Banks in North Carolina but I always remember it fondly. The sandy dunes make the beaches there picturesque! 

The Whalehead Club

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 
I remember the cute Sandpipers all over the beach.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Hope you enjoyed the trip to the beach!

Pictures from: http://www.generationytravel.com/outer-banks-travel-north-carolina-vacation/, outerbankslife.com, http://www.miltonheiberg.com/postings.htm, gnpc.org, freeimageslive.co.uk, fineartamerica.com


Talking Southern with the Lee Brothers

It all started with a pot of boiled peanuts in a tiny Manhattan apartment. Two James Beard Awards later, Matt and Ted Lee have become the go-to guys for Southern food- satisfying home cooks with both the comfort of grandma's fried chicken as well as fresh, updated southern recipes for modern living. During their trip to Tulsa, I was able to steal some time with this captivating duo to learn more about their career before a question and answer session at the Philbrook Museum of Art.
Though experts in their field, the Lee Brothers do not hail from deep Southern roots, rather they were born in New York. As young adolescents, their family moved to Charleston where the rich food culture created in them such strong ties to the South that it laid the foundation for their unforeseen journey into the food and travel world. After completing college and moving back to New York, a longing for southern delights such as boiled peanuts and fig preserves inspired Matt and Ted to track down and boil up a fifty-pound bag of raw peanuts. Although they identified an apparent niche, boiled peanuts did not become "the snack of the 90s" as they had hoped. Rather, this treat, curious to those unfamiliar, appealed to expatriate Southerners strewn across all parts of the country inspiring their mail-order catalog of southern pantry staples- The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue.

The Lee Brothers said they couldn't see where they were headed when they started- and how could they? The catalog, with its hand-drawn illustrations, would lead to a travel piece and future contributing editors spot in Travel + Leisure, which further lead them to food writing and ultimately their first award-winning cookbook. 

It took Matt and Ted Lee a whopping six years to compile over two hundred recipes into the nearly six hundred pages that make up their first book, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. Originally a fraction of the size and lacking a traditional fried chicken recipe, the cooks went back into the test kitchen until they had created a masterpiece inspired by traditions stretching across the entire Southern region. Taking home two James Beard Awards, best in breed and best in show according to Matt, as well as two IACP awards, their hard work paid off. From punches to pickles, Southern Cookbook is packed with both updated classics and lesser known treats, such as pickled peach fruit salad gelée, all set amongst fascinating stories that serve to make this more than a cookbook- it’s a southern experience in itself.
Their latest cookbook, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern, gives southern food the facelift it so much deserved. True to its title, this book is packed with easy to put together recipes featuring beautiful, fresh ingredients. “Fresh” also describes the Lee Brothers’ updated perspective on the cuisine, still emphasizing a key attribute of southern cooking- resourcefulness. While helping in the kitchen, Matt and Ted learned make do with what was available; they recount a memory of one of their influences, described as an old southern sage, using yogurt in her biscuits because she was out of buttermilk. Though unappealing to the eye, they made for the most delicious biscuits she had had in her many years.
Between their two books, the influences behind both their southern food education and delicious recipes are well illustrated. While speaking with the chefs, I got to hear more about the cookbook writing process itself. A true collaboration between the brothers, they follow their nose, whether it’s playing around with the shad roe that’s in season or a recipe from an old cookbook that tickles their fancy. In the test kitchen, they hash out recipes and exchange drafts, deciding whether they will take a traditional or updated approach. After investing plenty of time in developing the recipe, Matt and Ted say the delightful stories throughout the book come easily, the brother with the most relevant and entertaining anecdote writing the headnote.
Though Ted’s English degree has obvious benefits, I was interested how Matt’s studies in art history influenced his food writing. Both focusing on aesthetics, he found the two arenas actually quite similar. Having had to dissect over dozens of pages works of art most of us would find difficult to give a dozen words, Matt found food writing easy in comparison. The challenge with food writing, he describes, is fitting a surreal experience into the limited word count required by the magazine and newspaper world. Also credited with influencing their writing is their mother. A school headmistress, she was constantly mapping connections and histories amongst her pupils, a skill the Lee Brothers apply when connecting food to interesting characters and local history.

Avid collectors of American cookbooks, the brothers turned me onto a local gem that has been hiding right under my nose, Cleora’s Kitchen. This cookbook has everything they look for- a sense of place, personality and history. In fact, they tell me that this book was the first in the genre of autobiographical cookbooks and it all took place right here in Oklahoma!

For those interested in pursuing a career in the travel or culinary world, the Lee Brothers advise following your passion and developing it as fully as possible- with a little fine tuning it just might lead to something. Finding that they have worked backwards to reach their current destination, they learned that there is no set path leading to a particular career. Neither trained cooks nor entrepreneurs, their story inspires you to follow that itch.

In the works is their third book, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, projected for October 2012.  Chronicling growing up in the city’s rich culture with its strong connections to food, the reader will get both a taste for its contemporary scene as well as its past as they bring to life untold Charleston stories with reinvented recipes. Also of note is their line of cookware offered through HSN debuted this spring. The Lee Brothers take their career day by day but express hopes of making a bigger presence in the TV realm; they excite that their career has no expiration date- they can cook, eat, and write about food and travel until they die!

Next month, the International Association of Culinary Professionals will announce its awards, for which Simple Fresh Southern is nominated. While Ted will celebrate in Austin, Matt will be unable to attend though they both agree they can let someone else win this time. Unable to attend in 2007, the brothers remember dining at the Five & Ten restaurant in Athens, Georgia when they received the call that Southern Cookbook had taken home two awards.

If you're looking to have an inspiring food experience while in Charleston, the Lee Brothers advise you to experience their city at both ends of the spectrum- rural and urban, high and low. Seek out not just local restaurants but also interesting producers. They suggest visiting Bowens Island where oysters provide a far from luxury experience that is wonderful in its own right. For a more refined dining experience they suggest Hominy Grill or McCrady’s, which takes an inventive approach to southern cuisine.
From Simple Fresh Southern: Creamy Asparagus Soup with Grilled Asparagus, Radish Butter, Curried New Potato Salad, and Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts
If you are not able to visit the south for an authentic experience, you can always pour over the pages of Southern Cookbook and Simple Fresh Southern and picture yourself transported to a place where food is central and as much a part of history as the people making it. Try your hand at some of their recipes and you will find not only the tastes and smells but also the warmth of the south itself infusing into your kitchen.


The Sweeter Side of Brady Tavern

Though far from short on trips to Brady Tavern, I have yet to make it to the end of the meal with room for dessert. While dining at their chef's table back in the kitchen for my birthday, I figured it was not an option at this point- I would manage to fit a sweet treat in somehow! And a perfect night to indulge it was as numerous diners allowed for greater sampling of the dessert menu!
Though the menu at Brady Tavern changes frequently, it seems some items have stayed longer than others. One of them being the butterscotch bread pudding. And there is good reason for that.
Stealing a bite across the table, I had instant dessert envy. This is the best bread pudding that has ever touched my lips. The pudding was perfectly gooey  and with just the right amount of butterscotch as to not overwhelm. Served along side a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a shard of brittle,  it was love at first bite.
Also appearing on the menu this night was a mascarpone cheese cake decorated with gorgeous mixed berries and starfruit. The presentation was so captivating that even the waitress was taking photos of this stunning dessert. Differing from your traditional cheese cake made with cream cheese, the mascarpone made for an incredibly dense cake with a texture that felt intriguing on the tongue. It was so simple and yet so elegant.

One dessert did not make it into a photograph- the meyer lemon tart topped with a lemon crème chantilly. It smelled so good that seconds after hitting the table it would not have made for a pretty picture! Being sweeter and less acidic than a typical lemon, meyer lemon gave the tart a brightness in flavor that almost made you forget you had already eaten a huge meal. It is the perfect springtime dessert.
If you are looking for a lighter sweet treat to finish your meal, the sorbet du jour is the perfect option. On this evening, strawberry razzmatazz was the delicious flavor that sent spoons launching from all corners of the table. Cool and refreshing, it would go perfectly with a glass of some bubbly!

If you've yet to visit Brady Tavern, you are missing out! With an ever changing menu focusing on what is fresh and in season and with ingredients selected from Tulsa's own farmers' market, this restaurant really focuses on respecting food. And it keeps me coming back for more! If you are interested in having a behind the scenes look at their operations,  call and reserve the chef's table at no extra cost for parties of six or more. It is quite the experience!

Brady Tavern on Urbanspoon