Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Spooky Snacks

Unfortunately my attempt to create the chocolate covered strawberry jack o' lanterns I had seen at Godiva was very, very unsuccessful. I didn't even take a picture. They looked pretty scary, and not in a good way. When I tried to melt the white chocolate it turned into a big solid mass before I could dip the strawberries in it. Too bad! Next year I'll know to just buy the darn things.

I was very successful, however, in creating some Halloween tortilla chips and guacamole bean dip, thanks to my trusty Halloween cookie cutters. It was delicious, and even healthy, since I used vegetarian refried beans, fresh avocados and whole wheat tortillas. To make the homemade tortilla chips I simply cut out the shapes, sprayed them with cooking spray and sprinkled them with kosher salt, then baked them in a 350 degree oven for five minutes.

In other Halloween news, if you saved your pumpkin seeds post-carving, try one of these "Toasted Pumpkin Seeds: Three Ways" recipes at 101 cookbooks.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Confections

I spent this past weekend in Boston with my good friend Courtney. We trekked all over the city--in high winds and pouring rain--for two days and had a fabulous time doing it. We spotted these chocolate-covered strawberries in the Godiva shop window on Sunday morning at Quincy Market, and when we returned later in the day, they had been painted with chocolate jack o'lantern faces! Of course, I'll be trying to make my own tomorrow during the post-work witching hours. I'll be sure to post photos of the results!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Writing (about food, that is)

As I was researching a wine story this afternoon a thought crossed my mind--one that often resurfaces as I'm working on food-related stories. Sometimes I wonder if I should be devoting my time to writing about restaurants and food trends and chocolates and other nonessentials when there are so many other important and monumental things going on in the world. (For example, ahem, world hunger.) At times like this I often turn to the words of venerable food writer M.F.K. Fisher, who described her motivations for writing more eloquently than I can at this hour:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.

So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one.

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?

Jeez...I read that passage and I feel kinda lame for making frozen Trader Joe's ravioli for dinner. Ah, well, it sure beats the drive-thru and I've got homemade Bailey's Irish Cream brownies in the oven!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pumpkins Everywhere

Well, it's Wednesday, which means I start the day scanning the food sections in all of my favorite newspapers. With Halloween on the horizon the pages were quite festive, and pumpkin recipes were everywhere! Many of them were predictable--lots of recipes for sweet things like breads and muffins and pies--and I had made a batch of pumpkin muffins on Monday night, relying on a great recipe from the November 2005 Cooking Light (for which I was able to use my companion's homemade applesauce) so I didn't pay too much attention.

It was the savory recipes, especially the recipes for pumpkin soup, that intrigued me. Robin Davis featured one in The Dispatch which seemed quite easy, but I'm skittish about the cup of whipped cream it requires. (How many vinyasa yoga classes would it take to negate that? More than I have time for.) The Seattle Times features a curried pumpkin-peanut soup recipe that sounds healthier, plus they have some fun Halloween cocktail recipes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Vant to Drink Some Vine

If you're looking for some festive spirits for your Halloween dinner table, look no further than these wines from Vampire Vineyards. The wine is good, the label is fun, and the cork is bright red. I picked up my bottle at World Market, but the Vampire site features a store locator so you can find a bottle near you!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Apple Picking, and a Birthday Celebration

My birthday was last Saturday, and my whole fam-damily came to visit for the weekend--it was fabulous! It was one of those gorgeous, sunny, perfect October weekends, and we spent the bulk of Saturday picking apples at Granville Orchards. (My companion and I had picked there two years ago, and we loved it!) One perk is that you can check out Denison University's beautiful campus on the way out of town. We left with bags full of Fujis, Jonathans, Winesaps, Cortlands, Golden Delicious and Romes. Now, with the exception of the Golden Delicious, I can't tell them apart! Fortunately my companion seems to have sorted most of them out, so now we can get to work making a variety of apple concoctions. I already made a quick-and-easy open-face apple pie, which I drizzled with some melted caramels for dessert.

Every year, I seem to need a refresher on which apples are good for cooking and which are good for eating. Here's a pretty comprehensive apple guide.

Wednesday Food News

A couple of interesting tidbits from today's food sections:
  • The Chicago Tribune asked celebrity chefs to sound off on useless kitchen gadgets in this article. Their comments are witty, and, truth be told, some of them have gimmicky widgets of their own! (Confirmed: Charlie Trotter owns an egg slicer.) I'm proud to say we have very few of these items chez nous. I did purchase a creme brulee torch this past summer, and though I've only used it once, I'm glad I have it. Nothing else caramelizes sugar like my tiny butane rocket. My husband did bring an apple corer to the marriage, but since he's made homemade applesauce and apple pie within the past two weeks, I'm hardly going to squawk about that.
  • The Dispatch has a nice tip for the best day to shop, given that supermarkets are packed on weekends. Evidently, "Thursday mornings are when most grocery stores are well-stocked, clean and have fewer customers." Hmm-I think getting out of bed would be much easier knowing that I was going to go to Trader Joe's before taking a seat at my desk.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Journals for Foodies

As a writer I'm a keeper of many journals. I have a journal for story ideas and a journal for spiritual writing and yet another one for travel. But my food journal is my favorite. For the past year I've kept a record of most of the meals my companion and I have shared at home. Leftovers don't warrant an entry but delicious weeknight suppers do, and evening soirees (especially the successful ones) warrant lengthier accounts.

I love flipping through the pages and remembering the grilled arugula pizza that was inspired by our trip to Italy, the pumpkin cookies I baked last September that needed more pumpkin pie spice, the sketches of the designs on the gingerbread cookies I made last Christmas. Not only is my little book now loaded with practical tips for "next time," it's a scrapbook of the many meals we've shared at the table (and sometimes, in front of the t.v. if we're fighting--heh heh).

Of course, you can use any old journal for your food-related memories, but there are some cool ones out there designed specially for this purpose, like the one from Wishing Fish I've featured here. Williams-Sonoma has one too, but it's a bit stuffy for me! My suggestion: Find one at a stationery store or bookstore with beautiful photos of food on the cover.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

More Food Shopping Options in Columbus

As if Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Fresh Market, Trader Joe's and The Hills Market weren't enough, two Sunflower Markets have opened in Columbus. (We have two of the Sunflower's four locations here in C-bus.) I visited the Olentangy Plaza location at lunchtime to check out the options. I only spent about 30 minutes there, but here's my initial impression: It's a cheery enough place, with lots of organic and natural foods to choose from, but I'm not in a hurry to go back. It was very expensive, as is Whole Foods, but Whole Foods, with its 15+ varieties of sausages and glistening seafood counter and mountains of specialty cheeses, has a "wow" factor that makes it well worth the drive. Whole Foods is a destination. I'd be happy going on a date there, in fact.

Sunflower had some nice conveniences, like little mini-carts you can use for your plastic shopping basket, meaning you don't have to carry the basket through the store. They also feature some nice specialty products I haven't been able to find elsewhere, like Amore Italian Tomato Paste in a tube (perfect for all those recipes that only call for 1 T at a time) and Dalmatia Fig Spread, which I'll be using for an appetizer this weekend. I also picked up some Hornsby's Crisp Apple Hard Cider, but that's available just about anywhere. Overall, I enjoyed my first Sunflower experience, but I don't think it's a "must try" by any stretch.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fall Flavors

October is the only month when I drink pumpkin spice coffee, and it's such a treat! I picked up a half-pound from Stauf's last week, and now it truly feels like fall! If the cool breezes, brilliant fall foliage and football Saturdays are making you crave some of autumn's tastes, here are some things to consider:

And, just in time for peak baking and cooking season, Sur la Table is offering free knife sharpening (3 knives) throughout October. (Thanks, Em, for the heads up on this!)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Let Them Eat...Ice Cream!

I'm so excited! Jeni's Ice Creams has launched a new line of flavors inspired by the upcoming film Marie Antoinette (starring Kirsten Dunst). Jeni, the wonder woman glacier that she is, has crafted six flavors reminiscent of the decadent desserts eaten at the court of Versailles. Some of the more intriguing flavors include cream of violet, orange flower with preserved fruits and chocolate, and toasted brioche with butter and jam. The brioche flavor features buttercream with brioche crumbs and handmade seedless raspberry jam. Be still, my heart! I wanted to visit the Grandview shop tonight to sample some fall flavors like pumpkin five-spice or apple cider sorbet, but when I asked my companion if he wanted to go he mumbled something ridiculous like "I've already had dessert." Huh?

Other fun news: My friends from Sugardaddy's were featured in the October issue of InStyle! Their exquisite signature 8 gift pack (a tower of brownies) was included in an article on monogrammed gifts. Felicitation, Mark and Tom!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

If you went to Notre Dame...

...and you're presented with a decadent plate of chocolates at your hotel room door airbrushed with "USC," what do you do? My companion attended a two-day workshop at USC, and the hotel put these together as gifts for the attendees. We flinched a little at the moniker initially, but not too much. I never say no to complimentary chocolate. Sure, you could say I was selling out, but they were soooo good. We just made sure to say "Go Irish!" after every bite.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Angeli Caffe in the City of Angels

When I was planning our trip to L.A., one of the restaurants that topped my list of "must visit" locales was Evan Kleiman's Angeli Caffe, the famous West Hollywood purveyor of rustic Italian cuisine. As expected, we had a delightful dinner there. I ordered the classic Pizza Angeli, (smoked mozzarella, tomato-basil sauce, garlic and fresh basil) while my companion sunk his teeth into Linguini alle Vongole (fresh clams, tons of garlic, a touch of chile pepper and hot pasta topped with white wine and herbs). Angeli Caffe was homey yet modern, and I loved the built-in wine rack that lined the top half of one of the walls. I also loved wandering around the restaurant on our way out, perusing framed copies of Evan's articles in glossies like Bon Appetit, as well as her many cookbooks.

I'm usually all for spontaneity when it comes to travel, especially when it comes to finding great restaurants, but I'm really glad I planned ahead for this meal. My only complaint was that I was semi-full already when I arrived, as my companion and I had already snacked on some fabulous lime juice-and-cilantro topped chicken tacos at the Grand Central Market earlier in the afternoon, and they were more sizeable than anticipated. (Sizeable, and still cheaper than if we had consumed the contents of our hotel mini-bar!)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back to Blogging!

I was in L.A. all of last week, and so I'm woefully behind in my blogging! But I've got lots of food and writing news to report as soon as I get caught up on my work. First of all, the October issue of Columbus Monthly just hit newsstands, and it features my story "Of Mice and OSU," an in-depth look at the July power outage that killed nearly 700 laboratory animals that were being used for medical research on everything from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer's to cancer. The outage and the animals' deaths caused a real mess at OSU: Ohio State medical researchers lost years of work, animal rights activists had a fit, and the university's less-than-stellar track record with animal care was tarnished even more. It was a fascinating story to research, and I got to tap into my academic background in biology, which I don't do too often these days. C-bus residents, check it out next time you're standing in the grocery store checkout line!