Singles Night at Central Market; Brunch at Cafe Brazil

I am really bad at having a life.  Another weekend has passed without much of anything interesting.  Friday night I was excited to go out with a couple friends, but when I got home all I wanted to do was sleep.  And that’s what I did.   And that’s pretty much what I do every weekend.

Teaching is tiring.  I admire how my roommates, also teachers, have recently gotten the energy to meet people and go out on dates and such.  While my roommates were out on Saturday night, as most people my age tend to do, I decided to check out Central Market, a natural supermarket a la Whole Foods.  I had never seen or heard of Central Market before moving to Dallas, and I was bored and hungry so I figured, why not?

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Central Market was that it’s not set up like a regular supermarket.  The aisles aren’t linear, but more like a maze.  You have to go through most of them to get to check-out, like Ikea.  Their products are pretty much the same kind you’d find at Whole Foods:  lots of organic, natural options and “gourmet” items.  Being a food nerd, I had fun browsing the shelves.

As I was checking out the couscous, a man I had passed in the previous aisle came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re cute.  What’s your name?”  He obviously didn’t read this ehow article on the proper grocery store pick-up strategy.   I said thank you and gave him a name.  Not my name, but a name.  After indulging him in two minute conversation, which was difficult because he had a thick Nigerian accent, I found out he’s a doctor who recently moved to Dallas.  He asked for my number.  I said no.  It’s always funny when you tell a guy no because for some reason they always think you’re joking at first.  After realizing I was serious, he gave me his number instead and I awkwardly escaped into the wine section.

I left Central Market feeling “meh” about it.  Maybe it was the traumatizing pick-up attempt, maybe it was the disembowelment my wallet endured upon checkout…but I’m not convinced I’ll go back.  It’s pretty much a close cousin of Whole Foods, which is closer to my apartment anyway and no one has ever hit on me there. : )  Now, I’m not opposed to meeting people at supermarkets, cliche as it is, but dating isn’t really at the top of my 40 mile long to-do list.  Eating always is.

I also went to Cafe Brazil this weekend to do a little lesson planning and had a delicious egg and chorizo stuffed pepper and smores hot cocoa for brunch.  Cafe Brazil has a delicious extensive menu of Latin inspired dishes, great coffee, and a 20% discount for teachers.  I actually came here during the week too for the crepes I like:  chicken, spinach, mushrooms, cheese, and a spicy jalapeño cream sauce–which was also on my stuffed pepper.  Good stuff.  And that discount keeps me coming back.

Smores Hot Cocoa
Breakfast Relleno

I’m baaaack…

Wow, I’m sorry for the 6 month long absence.  I promise I have a good reason…I graduated from college (bittersweet) and immediately embarked on the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life:  teach.  I am living in Dallas now and single-handedly teaching **9** grades of Spanish.  That’s 18 classes and 293 kids, folks.  Needless to say, lesson planning and figuring out HOW to be a teacher to an entire school of children has consumed and continues to consume my life.  But something happened recently…I realized that people might be stumbling across this blog and *gasp* reading it!

I have Teleburst at So You Want to Be a Waiter to thank for my return.  He wrote a very lovely post about this blog that motivated me to crowbar it back into my packed schedule.  Muchas gracias.

I like Dallas so far, though I’ve been too exhausted to really explore it.  On the food front, I started off the school year buying things the farmer’s market, cooking my own meals, and all of those wonderful things.  However, due to the stress of this new career, I have unfortunately fallen off of the slow food wagon and watched it disappear on the horizon.  Finding time to eat healthy wholesome foods and cook them is my new challenge.  It’s even been tough venturing out to explore Dallas’s food scene, and with highest restaurants per capita in the country (supposedly), I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

But I’m back.  And it’s about time I made a little tiny bit of space for myself and return to two things I love:  food and writing.

Feels nice.

Spanish tortilla with Dallas farmer's market ingredients...back when I cooked...




Baking a Coconut Cake for John Egerton

My Southern Foodways class culminated this evening with a class dinner at the lovely home of one of my professors [writer Alice Randall–read her new book, Rebel Yell! :)].  Our honorary guest was Southern food writer and scholar John Egerton.  We read his Southern Food for class, so it was great opportunity meeting him.  My professors asked me to bake my coconut cake, which is a recipe adapted from Consuming Passions: A Food Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West, one of my mom’s favorite books.  I make it with local and organic/natural ingredients and tweak a few things here and there.  It was a big hit when I baked it for my class earlier in the semester, but I was nervous about making it for THE John Egerton.

My coconut cake was only a small part of a wonderful vegetarian “locavore” Southern meal that my professors put together.  First of all, the dining room was decorated beautifully.  I felt like I was in a magazine.  We started with three little bread crackers that were spread with three different local pepper jellies.

The main course was a hearty soup of collard greens, black-eyed peas, and more, swimming in Alice’s special sweet potato broth. (It’s so difficult to photograph soup in an appetizing way, but I can assure you it was delicious!)  A cornbread madeleine accompanied the soup. (You can see it on the plate in the picture above.)

Afterward, we had pears poached in a local wine, along with local goat cheese and honey.  The pears looked like jewels and were absolutely delicious.  I am definitely going to try making this sometime because it’s so simple and elegant.

Finally, it was time for dessert, strawberries, caramel cake, and my coconut cake.  I cut the first slice for Mr. Egerton and to my delight he loved it!  He said it was gorgeous and delicious, and that his cake wasn’t as good as mine.  Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic.  My classmates also enjoyed it; one guy exclaimed, “HOW DO YOU DO THIS? IT’S SO GOOD,” and one girl joked that she wanted to marry me.   One of my professors took a slice home to her husband so he would experience what she’d been raving about since the first time I baked it.

Egerton had lots of interesting stories, and he was so kind.  He even gave me the contact info for his son since he lives in Dallas, where I’ll be moving to in the summer.  So now I sit in my room, with inflated stomach and inflated ego.   Can’t think of a better way to finish a class.

Walnut Hills Farm

Sometimes I don’t like people–when I’m driving, for example—but I have met some of the nicest people while working on my southern foodways class project.  Doug and Sue of Walnut Hills Farm are some of those people.  They raise natural grass-fed beef that has developed quite a following in Nashville.   The Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville 2009 named it “Best Beef.”   Sean Maloney, who is a loyal patron and wrote the blurb, said, “Their ground beef on the grill, over hickory hardwood, will make you forget every other hamburger you’ve ever had—and their steaks eclipse anything you’ll ever find at the grocery store.”  I bought their ground beef patties last week, and I definitely have to agree.

I had the opportunity to talk to Doug and Sue at the Farmer’s Market and learn more about them and their business.  Doug and Sue started their own farm, Walnut Hills, about seven years ago. They had never intended to become farmers, but after their mission work in Africa, they discovered that they loved being outside.  They wanted to stay and work there, but their vocations weren’t in need.  Back in Nashville, their children had grown up and left home, and their neighbors were encroaching closer and closer, so they decided to look for a farm.  Three years later they found some acreage that seemed to have a lot of potential: great views and the land had not been chemically treated in years.

Although they had always been outdoorsy, they had to learn a lot of agriculture knowledge.  Doug knew a little bit more than Sue because he was very involved in 4-H as a child in Indiana and worked on farms throughout his teenage years.  The decision to raise grass-fed beef was not an intentional decision.  They had bought the most efficient breed of cattle, meaning that they put on muscle very easily and didn’t have a lot of fat.  Doug chose this breed because his family has a history of heart disease, and he wanted to eat and sell something healthier.  The feed for the cows was expensive, so one winter he decided that he was just going to feed the cows grass.  He stockpiled grass, not quite sure of what he was doing, and checked on the cattle periodically.  “They looked as good on that grass as they did with me putting them in a barn and throwing high dollar food to them,” Doug said.  There was a clear economic advantage to raising them, so he asked himself if there was a market for grass-fed beef.  He discovered that there was a demand so Walnut Hills Farm took off from there.

The cattle are treated with respect and live in happiness.  “We want to make sure they have a happy life when they’re on our farm.  We want them to have the least amount of trauma,” Sue said.  She described that many farms, for example, will castrate some bulls to create steers.  Castrating decreases testosterone, which helps them grow, so castrated bulls are often given hormones to make up for lost testosterone.  “It’s like cutting off the end of the blanket and sewing on the other end to make it longer…we just leave them intact and they get along just fine,” she said.

When I asked them where they get their groceries, I was happy to hear that they buy their vegetables and fruit at the farmer’s market and get some basic staples that aren’t easily available at Kroger or Publix, such as Doug’s “pop.”  Understandably, they hardly ever buy protein.  They’ve learned, Sue says, that the money used to purchase from local sources stays local and helps people stay employed, where only about 20% of purchases stay in the community.  “It’s better quality produce,” Sue says,  “And we want to support Tennessee.”

Doug and Sue are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and their products are of the highest quality.   Knowing where the beef came from, how it was raised, and who raised it was a truly satisfying experience that I’d love to have with most of my food.

I’ve struggled back and forth for a long time about whether or not to become a vegetarian, but if I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that had a happy, healthy life on a farm.

Carol Fay, Loveless Cafe’s “Biscuit Lady,” Passes Away

I was very sorry to hear that Carol Fay, the “Biscuit Lady” at Loveless Cafe, passed away yesterday after a three-and-a-half week hospitalization.  I raved about her biscuits only a couple weeks ago.  She will be sorely missed.  My condolences to her family and her family at the Loveless Cafe.

Here is a short article from The Tennessean.