Some might think it sacrilege to discuss eating rabbit when the Easter Bunny is coming to town, but not me. I hate Peeps and Cadbury Chocolate Eggs. Rabbit on the other hand...Yum!
Admittedly, I've never cooked one, but when given the choice of "pets or meat" in the infamous scene in "Roger & Me," analogy to GM's treatment of its workers aside, I'm a carnivore all the way. And, when presented with dishes like the succulent Rabbit and Dumplings (pictured above) from New Orleans' Cochon, I am utterly convinced that bunnies taste good. Real good.
Sealing the deal, tonight I'm headed to my pal Chad's home for Easter supper. The entree? A Glazed Ham? Roasted Leg of Lamb? I think not! It'll be Braised Rabbit, of course!
So, let the Easter Bunny hop along leaving Jelly Beans and Chocolates in his wake. I just want to make sure that at some point he hops into a pot on Chad's stove.
It was a good weekend. It was a very good weekend. Late Friday, I stepped off the train at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, grabbed Mama Vamp and headed straight to the Center City outpost of Federal Donuts. The place isn't much to look at: a few seats, a counter with a friendly cashier and a couple of guys manning a couple of fryers. But, oh, that chicken.
My pick, pictured above, was a half order of Fried Chicken dipped in a honey-ginger glaze. Each piece was beautifully moist with a shatteringly crisp crust and glossing of sweet honey with a light gingery kick. I like to think the wee side of Japanese pickles could count as a vegetable to off-set the decadence that was the chicken. But, even if that was the case, there was the still-warm-from-the-fryer Honey Donut for dessert. All I can say is, hot damn, that donut was good.
And after being sated in such a fashion, how could Mama Vamp and I do anything else, but go take in one of the world's most lauded collections of impressionist paintings? We made sure to grab wet naps and wipe our greasy fingers thoroughly before hitting the Barnes Foundation, where we ogled luscious Renoirs by the dozen, not to mention breathtaking works by Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Degas, Cassatt, Gaugin and more. Post-impressionist and modern art also shared the spotlight, along with African sculpture, Pennsylvania-Dutch decorative arts and Native American textiles and metalwork.
I found myself needing to stop in-between the galleries for a "palate-cleanser" for my eyes. Stopping in a hallway or two for a breather isn't exactly the visual equivalent to a bracing sorbet course, but it did the trick.
Fried chicken, donuts and the Barnes. The new ultimate Philly trifecta! Just make sure to have a wet nap or two on hand.
You might've guessed that the photo above is of the former, not the latter, when it comes to the title of this post. This was some tasty Fried Chicken, accompanied by rich Mac n' Cheese and Stewed Cabbage, along with a piece of Spicy Cornbread. It was had about an hour outside of Nashville in Leiper's Fork at the original Puckett Brothers Grocery & Restaurant. It was quite a lunch. Worthy of the birthday girl.
Joined by partners in crime, in the form of Missy K and Nashville's own Stacy (better known as "the bride" in my earlier Nashville adventures), I had a birthday weekend to whoop and holler about. Highlights included:
*Celebrating in style at Merchants, tucking into a luscious Pork Osso Buco glistening in Bourbon Jus, sprinkled with Smoked Pecan Brittle, and served up with an altogether decandent Sweet Potato Casserole baked up with a Rosemary Marshmallow on top.
*A swell of patriotic pride as a group of military men walked into legendary honky tonk Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, inspiring the band to break out into the Star Spangled Banner.
*Breakfast at Cracker Barrel, complete with a gigantic needlepoint portrait of George Washington, and Country Ham.
*A visit to Opryland that somehow just didn't seem gaudy enough for the holiday season.
*Waking up to a warm from the oven Biscuit with Butter and local Honey at the Hermitage Hotel.
*Sipping on a Jack and Ginger at LP Stadium, listening to Phil Vassar sing up a country storm, right before the kick-off between the Titans and the Jets.
Would you be surprised if I told you that I'm already talking to Missy K about our next trip to Nashville? Somehow, I think not.
After Sandy and before Tday, I was in dire need of a getaway. So, getaway I did -- grabbing my passport and heading to Mexico's Playa del Carmen. My game plan? Total R&R, including daily swims, lots of fresh fruit, reading, naps, workouts, massages, and absolutely, positively no alcohol.
You're in shock, I'm sure. But, if you recall, I've gone dry before. Besides, this was just a short south-of-the-border jaunt. Not that the tequila selection at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba Resort wasn't impressive, but I was able to resist. I had other temptations to please my palate and quench my thirst.
The temptation that helped me stick to my detox regimen? Glass after glass of Jugo Verde. Pictured above, I surrendered to this magical elixir as my morning, noon and nighttime salvation. The resort actually offered two versions of this heavenly sweet-tart concoction -- one a combination of chaya, cucumber and honey, and the other an addictive mix of chaya, pineapple, orange, celery and cucumber.
I understand that it's hard to find chaya in the States, but I think spinach might make for a suitable substitute. Now, all I need is for Santa to bring me a juice extractor. Or, better yet, St. Nick should just bring me a plane ticket back to Mexico and book me a room near the juicer at Mayakoba.
Either way, I'm off the wagon and wondering how Jugo Verde might taste with a splash of tequila. We'll see if holiday retox wishes come true!
Off the plane, checked into the Mansion on Forsyth Park, and gussied up for a night on-the-town, we headed to one of the city's culinary grande dames -- The Olde Pink House. Moments after entering the stately rose-colored 18th century mansion, we settled into one of the restaurant's numerous candlelit dining rooms and were immediately overwhelmed by the menu. Too many enticing choices and too little time during this weekend sojourn.
It was a tough call, but I must admit that the dishes we ended up ordering were marvelous. From the Sautéed Local Shrimp with Country Ham Gravy and Cheddar Cheese Grits Cake, to the final sweet touch of Key Lime Pie, Mama Vamp and I were smiling with glee. But, there was one standout dish that had my head reeling: The Olde Pink House's celebrated Crispy Scored Flounder with Apricot Shallot Sauce, Creamy Grits and Collards. It was a crunchy-meets-tender, sweet and sour revelation.
The Southern hospitality whirlwind had just begun.
The next day I parked myself on line for lunch at the legendary Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room. I waited for two and a half hours. Mama Vamp joined me for the last 30 minutes. When we were finally presented with a table, we sidled up with eight strangers to a groaning board brimming with a platter of golden Fried Chicken, bowls of Barbecued Pulled Pork and Beef Stew, and sides aplenty, including Cornbread Dressing, Squash Casserole, Snap Peas, Candied Yams, Black-Eyed Peas, Rice with Andouille Sausage, Collard Greens, Cucumber Salad, Macaroni & Cheese, Mashed Rutabagas, Butter Beans, and so much more. The photo above doesn't even begin to capture the family-style spread set out before us.
Fueled by over two-hours of edible expectations and midday hunger, we gobbled down the feast all too soon, only to be informed that it was a Mrs. Wilkes tradition for guests to bring their dirty dishes and silverware to the kitchen for cleaning -- just like family would do after a big sit-down meal.
Other memorable bites were had at the Gryphon Tea Room, a jaw-droppingly beautiful restaurant festooned with stained glass and amiable servers who are all students at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). And, after taking in a whoop-worthy Bonnie Raitt concert, Mama Vamp and I met a bartender at Casimir's Lounge who gallantly searched the just-closed kitchen for sustenance, emerging as our knight-in-shining-armor with a heaven-sent bowl of Savannah She Crab Bisque.
I think Savannah more than lived up to its nickname and reputation with this trip. Mama Vamp and I bore witness to true Southern hospitality. Long may it live, thrive and rustle up a mean dish or two (or three) from the kitchen!
Sometimes when a Brooklyn gal is in the country -- in Brooklin, Maine to be exact -- she longs for a few things: a freshly cracked lobster; an ice cold gin & tonic; a slice of tender blueberry pie; bug repellent that actually works...
All these things were had (except the latter, of course), but there was still one item left on the list: a seriously good cup of coffee.
Thankfully, another Brooklynite had recently ventured to Brooklin with the same longing. Former Kings County barista David Dillon up and moved his family from New York City to the wilds of Maine and took his passion for coffee beans and dry-foam cappuccinos along for the fully-caffeinated ride. The name of his new artisanal coffee roastery?
David doesn't have his own storefront as of yet, but shares space with Brooklin's The Cave, a specialty gourmet market brimming with handmade chocolates, regional cheeses, locally grown and harvested produce, freshly baked bread, and more. (BTW, by "more" I mean wine, wine, and even more wine!)
Don't think I'll be trekking up to Maine every time I need a latte, but David may just be hearing from me soon. Bambi-schmambi can wait for his cup of Joe. I need a bag of Bucklyn's Ethiopa Harrar Oromia Organic beans shipped to me right quick!
Above is a snapshot of an idyllic the seaside cottage in Brooklin, Maine. This is where I just happened to stay on my recent sojourn to "The Pine Tree State."
Pretty, ain't it? It was a wonderful -- not to mention ironic -- getaway from the heat and humidity of Brooklyn, New York.
Take a moment to be jealous.
Then take a moment to imagine horseflies ready for saddles and rough n' tumble mosquitos that scoff at Deep Woods Off! and citronella candles.
OK. Now, get ready to be jealous again.
Take a glance at the sight beckoning below...
Oh, yeah baby! One look and my pal Karen and I pulled over with her four fair-haired boys in tow. We made way into the stop's ramshackle garage and the boys' eyes widened at the huge tank filled with red-clawed beasts. Brave souls that they are at ages 2, 5, 8 and 11, lobster-petting commenced.
After a requisite amount of fawning over the crustaceans, weighing and bagging began. Six lobsters were gathered.
Then it was time for my eyes to widen. How much did you say? Did I hear you right? How much do these six lobsters cost all together?
I heard right. $26 for six 1 and a half pound lobsters. That's cheaper than chicken folks.
I think Maine needs a new state nickname: "The Lobster State."
Who's with me? I think Karen and the boys are in. Maybe I can rally the horseflies and mosquitos to join in too. Goodness knows that they seem tough enough to canvass for the vote in Maine!
If all has gone according to plan, I am currently in Maine, land of lobsters, blueberries and beautiful rocky coastal beaches.
I understand that the state also offers opportunities for whale and puffin watching, but I think I'll put a pin in those two activities. Instead, perhaps, I'll choose to ruin my manicure by going on a clam digging expedition on the shoreline.
Then again, I do like my manicure and it would be nice to help the local economy by supporting Maine's clam digging professionals. Hmmm...
Well, we'll see what happens on the clam front, but I can assure you that lobster and blueberries are a must!
Promise a full report when I return.
I know what you're thinking: Where's the Windy City glam? Hot dogs, ham sandwiches and crawfish aside, where is the culinary spectacle?!?
I may have skipped out on the city's molecular gastronomy glitz and showmanship, but I got plenty of elegant eats, including White Sturgeon Caviar with Blini, Creme Fraiche, Chopped Egg, Red Onion and Capers. As pictured above, this grand nosh was had at Pops for Champagne, accompanied by a bottle of sparkling Rack & Riddle Blanc de Noir.
I also made sure get my cocktail fix in with a visit to the bar at Sepia, where Josh and Bill shook and stirred many a libation, including a beauty with a painful name -- Death & Taxes. This lovely was so darn easy going down, a careful composition of Sheep Dip Blended Malt Whiskey, Metaxa Brandy, Oregano Earl Grey Syrup, lemon, grapefruit and Creole Bitters. Potent and altogether perfect.
And to ensure that I didn't get too tipsy, we also ordered a few savory nibbles off the menu, such as Grilled Baby Octopus with Olives...
But the height of Chicago sophistication was truly found at the heights of the John Hancock Center, when Gourmet Rambler whisked me to a party at a pal's high-rise home on the 66th floor. Needless to say, the bubbly was iced and the view was mesmerizing...
If only I'd had a Hot Doug's Chicago-Style along with my flute of fizz, while I watched the skyline twinkle and took in the fireworks off of Navy Pier.
Now that would have been elegance at it's highest form -- not unheard of, and to my thinking a future must-do combo in the Windy City!