A Key Lime Pie in Winter

keylime2

There’s something so delightfully escapist about eating a slice of key lime pie in winter.

Winter is a season of slow crackling spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, with a lingering warmth to take with you into the cold.

But the citrus bite of a key lime pie in winter is a defiant shard of sun in a bank of snow; it’s a flashing yelp of joy before a wave crashes into you and tumbles you into the sand.

keylime3

The airy merengue dissolves onto my tongue like nostalgia, and I’m transported to a humid memory of myself in Key West as a kid standing next to the 90 Miles to Cuba sign, the closest I’d ever been to the land that gave me my name and a place I had felt but never seen.

I disappear into a recollection of my fingers sinking into soft wet sand behind me as I lean back and watch the waves lap my feet, until a wall of graham cracker crust brings me slowly back to reality.

The plate empties, but the sensation of this escape echoes faintly, like distant laughter lost in the length of a beach.

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I bought this pie from First Slice Pie Cafe, in Lillstreet Art Center on Ravenswood Ave. It was delicious. I challenge everyone dealing with the cold temps to enjoy at least one slice of really good key lime before the winter is over; it’ll give you hope and perhaps a pleasant daydream. If you live in Chicago, check out First Slice for great food with a mission and amazing pies and Lillstreet for beautiful art and classes.

My Favorite Vegetarian/Vegan Spots in Nashville

DCXV Mural
DCXV Mural
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I spent the past summer in Nashville for work, mostly stuck on a college campus with a mediocre cafeteria that lacked quality vegetarian options but was free for me while I was there. I quickly burned through the limp salad bar and ate more grilled cheeses than I care to remember, so whenever I got the chance I took advantage of Nashville’s numerous delicious restaurants, including a few spots with stellar vegetarian/vegan menus. If you’re ever in the Music City, give them a try!  (I’m currently deeply longing for dosa from Woodlands.) Here they are in no particular order:
Sunflower Cafe is a vegan cafe located in a small old house with two huge spools painted like sunflowers in the front. Their most popular item seems to be their veggie burger, which is no surprise. It is, no lie, one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had. In fact, I had many a veggie burger here during the summer and it definitely cost me; it was hard to leave here for no less than $13-15…but then again I was a sucker for the great sides, like the peanut noodles, and the vegan chocolate rose cupcake.  It also has a great deck to eat outside and enjoy a great summer read like Beautiful Ruins.
Sunflower Burger
Sunflower Burger
Woodlands is a cozy little restaurant tucked away on West End — and I’m not saying “tucked away” to be cute.  I completely missed it the first time I tried finding it since it is at the bottom level of a building that looks like a hotel or apartment building. The menu offers an extensive variety of Indian food, all of which is vegetarian. I had dosa for the first time here and I fell in love. A giant crepe stuffed with delicious fillings that is so huge it hangs off the already giant plate? Can’t go wrong. (Oh, and the naan and chana masala are also amazing.)
Dosa_Woodlands
The Wild Cow, located in east Nashville, is a favorite spot in the city for vegan food. I was addicted to their vegan buffalo wings but they’ve got lots of great options, like sweet potato black bean tacos. With salads, tacos, appetizers, sweets, sandwiches, and other entrees – there’s definitely a little something to fit whatever mood you’re in. Unfortunately, as many times as I ate there, I couldn’t find a picture so I’ll leave you with a drive-by of the Nashville skyline until I can visit once again.
Nashville Skyline

Brunch at Smoke

I officially became old as hell this past month: my “little” brother turned 21 years old.  For his birthday present, I decided to fly him to Dallas to spend the weekend and, of course, get him drunk in honor this milestone.  Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind, ending in brunch at Smoke and followed by a day of relaxation triggered by a euphoric food coma.  I knew before he came here that I wanted to take him to brunch (practically a Dallas institution) and eat some BBQ.  Quick research told me that Smoke would be the perfect place to do both.  I wasn’t wrong.
Walking up to the restaurant, which reminds me vaguely of a ranch house, I could already smell the smoked meats that were waiting for me.  Their seating method is high tech—no chain restaurant dry erase podium in sight.  They use a tablet to take down your name and phone number, and they text you when the table is ready.  I’m assuming this is useful when they are really packed, but we only had a 15 minute wait, which gave us just enough time to get two bloody marys at the bar that greets you at the entrance.
The bloody marys appeared in front of us like lava lamps of alcoholic joy.  With a quick mix and a sip, I could tell that these spicy cocktails would kick the hangover right out of your mouth.  The glass was rimmed margarita-style with a hot spice mixture and served with a savory garnish of carrot, pickle, and green bean.
 
It didn’t take us long to figure out what we wanted to eat.  I confidently ordered the smoked brisket cornbread hash, having already drooled over it when I look at the menu online, and Daniel ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict, which was on every table in the room we were seated.
We were certainly not disappointed.  The brisket had a wonderful caramelized crust that gave it some crunch, and the cornbread in the hash brought out a sweet edge.  The only thing I left was the empty plate.  I tried Daniel’s pork eggs benedict and understood why it was on everyone’s table.  The hollandaise sauce was the richest and creamiest I’d ever had, and the pork was smoky and sweet with the accompanying barbecue sauce.
Smoked Brisket Cornbread Hash
Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict
I wasn’t too surprised that brunch was amazing.  Smoke and Chef Tim Byres has been lauded in high profile places.  Southern Living even named it the best breakfast in Texas last year.  I will certainly be trying their dinner menu sometime.
On another note, now that my brother has left, I am saddened to return to reality, but I’m glad to have fun new memories.  I introduced him to my favorite hamburger at Twisted Root (The Spicy Goat) and the magic that is Central Market.  We partied on Cedar Springs at S4’s drag show and Round Up.  We explored the arts district and watched The Artist at the lovely Angelika Theater at Mockingbird Station.  We ate dinner at Bolsa and bought unique chocolate at Dude Sweet Chocolate.  We rocked Alone by 80s band Heart at Family Karaoke, among other songs.  We danced among the hipsters at Beauty Bar.  We had a wonderful brunch at Smoke and we relaxed.  Not bad for a stay-cation with my not-so-little-anymore brother.

Art Crawl Dallas – Food from Trucks

I’m sitting in my pajamas in my parents’ home watching Much Ado About Nothing…and it still hasn’t quite hit me that I have a week of vacation.  I flew into Tennessee yesterday morning and the Nashville skyline with its familiar “Batman” building made me smile…and also made me realize that everything really is bigger in Texas.

I spent my last night in Dallas at the Arts Crawl downtown, which was in convenient walking distance from my apartment.  Food trucks lined Flora St, vendors sold their wares, and music pounded from a DJ in a truck selling tongue-in-cheek t-shirts.  One was printed with The Price Is Right logo but restyled with “The Swag Is Right.”

Food trucks are growing more and more popular in Dallas, and I love the concept.  My roomie and I decided to hit ssahm BBQ, a food truck that sells gourmet Korean tacos.  She got two tacos, but I decided to try their kimchee fries–french fries smothered in jack & cheddar cheese, cilantro, onion, caramelized kimchee, and spicy mayo.  It was an absolutely delicious kick in the mouth.  Right now I’m wishing they could take a roadtrip to Tennessee and park in front of my parents’ house.

We waited a while for our food since it was the most popular truck, but there was plenty of people watching to be done.  Everyone was out in their artsy best, especially with the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit just down the road at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Late Night at the Museum event.  There were young families corralling their kids, couples of all orientations having their date night, art kids being art kids, etc.

We got to the Art Crawl late so I don’t know how much we missed, but we were able to browse some of the remaining vendors besides the previously mentioned t-shirt company.  One was laalicia who sells really neat recycled accessories; another artist sold really cool jewelry made from guitar strings (I’ll have to find her name because I really liked her stuff.)  Another was The Vintage Mobile, which sells vintage clothes out of a repurposed school bus.

I was feeling kind of sick that night but I’m so glad I went out.  This thoughtcatalog post I read earlier that day was in the back of my mind.  I’m young.  I need to get out.  And while currently I’m a little bummed because I’ve come to the conclusion that grad school will have to wait another year, I’m looking on the bright side.  I can still collect experiences and learn.  Oh, and eat excellent food from trucks.

Paper Cuts and BBQ Sauce

I’ve learned at least two things today:  a friendly attitude goes a long way and getting BBQ sauce in paper cuts hurts like a BIOTCH.  Today I felt like I needed to treat myself after my last full day of work before Thanksgiving break.  The past week has been filled with a lot of late nights, which included stacks of grading, calling lots of parents, and paper work–hence all of the paper cuts.  But there were also good things like my students’ basketball games and being treated to a delicious dinner, so it wasn’t all bad.

When I got home, I scoured my Yelp app for places nearby that struck my fancy.  I came across reviews of Off the Bone BBQ and most of them were very positive, touting the great service and super tender meat.  I’ve been unimpressed with BBQ in Dallas, so I was very interested.

It wasn’t at all what I expected.  Usually when I go to BBQ places, they’re hole-in-wall places or fake hole-in-the-wall places–you know the type, with the faux down-home shack decor.  Off the Bone was a neat little restaurant with no traces of the BBQ shack look.  This is probably because they tout themselves as “gourmet.”

The reviews were right about the service.  The man at the order counter, who I believe was the manager, greeted me with a smile and was very friendly.  He turned my order of a half rack of baby back ribs and two sides into one of their special combos, saving me some change.  We chatted a bit and when he found out I was a teacher, he let me get a free drink.  I was really pleasantly surprised.  Lately I’ve felt more unappreciated than usual as a teacher so even something as small as a free drink made me feel better.  I left with my take-out order feeling good, just because of the friendliness of a stranger…and also the prospect of some delicious food.

On the way home, I felt like I hit every single red light in downtown and got stuck behind the slowest drivers in existence, but it was probably the smell of bbq sauce that distorted my perception.  After eons, I finally got to my apartment and was able to enjoy.  The back back ribs were delicious and very tender.  When I was lifting one up to my mouth, the meat literally fell OFF THE BONE.  The sauce was mild with a tiny little bite, but the meat was definitely the star of the show.

For my sides, I had honey baked beans and cole slaw.  Usually most cole slaw turns me off because of the excessive mayonnaise, but he told me that his mother (he pointed and she was right there in the kitchen) makes it fresh everyday with blue cheese and bacon, two of my favorite things.    As you can imagine, I thought it was great!  For dessert I had a brownie, also baked by his mother.  It had a soft gooey frosting with walnuts on top that reminded me of german chocolate cake.  Heavenly.  I will definitely be going back for the excellent service and great food.