Sunday, July 30, 2006

In a pickle

Joe's the cook today. He decided to make homemade pickles with the banana peppers from the garden and some cukes.

The whole house smells of pickles.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weekend critter blogging

This snag was completely covered in woodears. Sorry the photo is blurry.
Joe and I went hiking in LBL today because the weather cooled down to the mid-80s. But the humidity hasn't let up at all, so I think my camera was having a tough time focusing through the thick air.

The trail we took was also thick; with spiderwebs and little frogs. There were the regular LBL olive-greenish frogs and then I spotted this red one. Is he a mutant? Er, is he a toad? I confess I don't really know the difference. I guess he's a toad and the next one is a...

Stripy shy frog... debating whether to blow his cover and jump back into a nearby puddle with his friends. Speaking of frogs- check out this zany picture.

It was breezier by the beach. Joe and I sat on a log, where I noticed some fossilized river critters.

And some fluttering river creatures... They loved these flowers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some pages

I know this is random, but I had this post saved as a draft for so long, I thought I'd dump two of my columns here. One is Shabu Shabu, my first column. The other is Fish Tacos, a page I didn't design (but the words and pics are mine.)

Backyard bounty

Over the weekend Joe picked a few things from the garden. I've yet to cook my purple-hulled peas. But I will. I promise.

Thai House ... of Horrors

I'm feeling a little rant coming on... Last post I wrote about disappointments and pleasant edible surprises in Chattanooga. This post I'm going to tackle a restaurant we tried in Clarksville, Tenn., our neighbor to the south.

Thai House
The menu looked promising: Panang curry, Papaya salad, Tom Kha soup, vegetarian options and several misspelled words (mudhrooms and vermicilli were among my favorites) :-)

We ordered family style: sizzling rice soup, panang curry and Thai House special noodles-- rice noodles with tofu, chili, tomatoes and fresh mint. At least that's what the menu said.

The soup was not sizzling hot and neither was the rice. In fact I'm not sure they really understood the word sizzling. Our soup had an ample mound of soggy rice lurking at the bottom of a completely tasteless "clear" broth and a hearty serving of tough beef, dried out chicken and fishy-tasting shrimp.

I guess the tip off should have been when the waitress said "Eh? You want that? Do you know what it is? I don't know what that is."

But I was blinded, deluded, by the wonderful soup of the same name prepared by the Smiling Budda restaurant in my hometown, Schaumburg, Ill. There it comes hot... the broth is light but flavorful from the tender chicken, chunky shrimp, peapods, tofu, straw mushrooms, carrots and a fireworks display of crunchy fried rice cakes that send out a sizzle that makes others' heads turn and necks crane.

I guess I could forgive them the soup. Afterall, it's not Thai. It's Chinese. And who knows why they had it on the menu... maybe a relic of a former chef?
But I expected more from the Panang. A quintessential dish- rich with red curry and coconut milk. Mine was watery and barely spicy... and I think they used cow's milk instead of coconut. Thankfully, their bathroom was clean.

Joe's dish was even more of a disaster. They got the noodle and tofu part right, but it had bell peppers and carrots and basil... not fresh mint, tomato and chilis. We thought they brought out the wrong dish.

"What? You ordered tofu. See that's tofu!" protested our waitress.
Joe read the description of Thai House noodles to her.
"I don't know. I didn't cook it. Let me take it back," she said, whisking Joe's plate away.

She returned with the same noodles, carrots, bell peppers and tofu-- but it was arranged on a different plate over a few soggy lettuce leaves and with 3 pieces of tomato tossed in.... you know to fool the stupid white guy. What do they know anyway?

I know a little ... this is me and my best bud Priscilla on a boat in the floating markets near Bangkok.

A restaurant on two boats ... probably had better food than Thai House

A view from a bridge over the floating markets

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chattanooga Food

Sicilian Salad

Romaine with tomato, pine nuts, artichoke heart, tri-color orzo, grilled chicken and a very tangy vinaigrette.

I noticed that my blog has been about 50 percent foods and 50 percent critters. Maybe I crave both equally... should I rename the blog??

Anyway, Chattanooga seemed to have a lot of wonderful restaurants and we ate at some of them. Here's my reviews. The salad above was from an Italian restaurant... I think it was called Tony's, in Chattanooga's art district. When I think art district, I think Chicago's extensive River North district. Well. This is not like that. It's a quiet area with a view of the river and a sculpture park featuring changing exhibits. We didn't find any galleries that were open on a Saturday evening, and really, we didn't see many galleries in general. But they did have several cafes with patios and umbrellas. Tony's (I'll have to call it that until I retrieve the real name from my faulty memory) was a very busy eatery featuring freshly made pasta and wood floors that refracted the din of voices in every direction. So much so that our server confessed at least five times that he couldn't hear what we said. In their favor: ample artisan bread, served warm with olive oil and parmesan for sopping; pretty view of gardens outside; menu with both create-you-own combinations for pizza and pasta as well as house specialties. While my Italian mom said the sauce was not as good as hers, and I found myself sprinkling sugar over my salad to cut the dressing's overt zing, Joe and my Italian dad liked their pasta dishes.

Another popular joint: Easy Seafood
Easy Seafood Company has New Orleans-style cuisine with prices and sodium a little higher than I'd like.
I will say the mussels were delicious... but tiny! And not as good as the mussels Provencale at Shaw's Crab House (a franchise I haven't seen since we moved South)
Joe enjoyed his shrimp Po' Boy. But I think the hoagies we can get at Po Boy's in Hopkinsville give better bang for our buck.
I ordered one of the specials... sea scallops with organic heirloom veggies and new potatoes. All ingredients that I really like. The waiter informed us the restaurant paid top dollar for the produce, but sadly I couldn't really distinguish the taste of the string beans from the vidalia from the baby summer squash (and we all know I've been tasting a lot of squash lately). Even the scallop's natural sweetness was completely drowned out in a heavy pool of extra-salty butter sauce.

Sniff. I was really cranky about this. I even took to blotting each fork-full with my napkin like I used to do to pizza when I was a skinny teenager who thought she was fat. Now I don't care so much about the calories ... but I felt robbed of the experience of all those delicate but distinct flavors that my meal, on the menu, seemed to promise.

Garden Walk Inn
I must end on a happier note. The most satisfying and satiating moments of our Chattanooga trip were the breakfasts. I'm kicking myself now for not taking pictures. We stayed at the Garden Walk Inn, a B&B up on Lookout Mountain. The proprietors, Ed and Erma, were out of town and their friend Pam was subbing.

As some of you know, my digestive track and dairy don't get along. But before you jump to the conclusion that I don't like milk, let me say I grew up drinking gobs of the stuff and my very first coherent word, before mama or dada, was "chee" (translation: "give me another Kraft American Single, please.")

Another thing you might know about me is that I LOVE BREAKFAST. So staying at a B&B that only serves dishes chock-full of moo juice can really ruin my mood...and the moods of everyone else around me. So my dear mom-in-life talked to Pam before we made reservations to see if she could sub soy milk in her recipes, or even just serve me cereal and soy milk. She could, she said, and so we booked our cottage.

Well, the evening we arrived, Pam suggested I could write a recipe using soy and she'd see what she could do. Pancakes were on the menu for the following morning.
So I wrote down a recipe I created and know by heart:

Banana Soy Silver Dollars
2 bananas mashed
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups silk (soy milk that actually tastes good)
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Add wet to dry and stir till just moist, but still lumpy. Add vegetable oil to skillet on meduium heat and drop spoonfuls into pan. Flip when bubbles form and pop.

The next morning, while others were eating their big chocolate chip flapjacks from Sam's Club pancake mix... I was eating homemade banana soycakes. Mmmmm. There were extra, so I took them in a baggie and ate them in the darker parts of the Tennessee Aquarium. :-) Kudos to Pam at Garden Walk Inn!

Monday, July 17, 2006


Finally, I'm able to get one photo on this silly blog (but only in HTML mode). It's been over a week since I've been able to get any pics up.

These are the two hyacinth macaws at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, where Joe and I were this weekend. The birds were sqawky and mildly obsessive compulsive-- chewing on their feet and, occasionally, each other. But their coloration is stunning!

There was also a butterfly garden. Joe got a little spooked by this fella, because his wings have the face of another critter... do you see it? It looks like it sees you.

Another big hit-- the 'petting zoo' portion of the aquarium. I also had to touch them... sting rays are quite slimy. But the cute thing was that a couple of them would stick their snoots out of the water to get their forheads scratched--so says the guy in the staff shirt at least.

My favorite part: Jellies. Relaxation personified. I also could watch the seahorses for hours, but my photos are all too blurry.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mint tea

I'm just so happy I can finally get these photos up... but I don't have a lot to say. This is mint. It's an invasive species at the Parrino's in Cleveland. But in my neck of the country, it's a sickly, gangly, stemmy plant drooping out of a small flower pot on my patio. But the good news is that it's making a come back and I plan to make some fresh vanilla mint tea by the end of the summer.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

More uses for squash, and other recipes

I made several snacky things Saturday and I wanted to share the recipes.

1. Pan-fried Summer Squash

My dad used to cook yellow squash this way... I guess maybe he still does-- Do ya, Dad? When my mom heard that I still had some of that 5+ lbs of squash left from the farmer's market, she suggested I used them this way.

5 baby squash, sliced long-ways.
Flour, black pepper, salt and basil for dredging. Amounts are up to the cook.
Olive oil for pan frying.

I put the flour mixture in a bowl and dabbed the squash pieces around in it. Meanwhile, I had olive oil in my skillet on medium. I put as many flour-coated squash pieces in the pan as I could fit and let them sizzle a while before flipping. At this point most of the oil was sponged up into the flour coating, so I sprinkled the skillet with water just to get it sizzling again without adding too much oil.

2. Blooming Onion

Mr. Morris's leeks have turned into full-fledged onions now. So I peeled one cut it into eighths--leaving part of the bottom intact. I placed the onion on some heavy foil, separated the "petals" a little with my fingers and drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt.
Wrapped up the little foil package and stuck it in my toaster oven at 500 for maybe half an hour. Not as good as the deep-fried restaurant variety, but very tender and sweet.

3. Fresh Bruschetta

My basil is really growing bushy. Before pesto production begins, I thought I'd use it for another Italian favorite.

1 small bunch basil, leaves torn into small pieces
1 large ripe tomato, chopped finely
~3 Tbs sweet onion, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/4 cup black olives, also chopped.

Mix it all together and serve over toasted Italian bread.
I usually cook all that with olive oil, and add salt. Cooking will mellow the garlic, basil and onion and sour up the tomato. I was in the spicy mood though.

4. Balsamic Chicken Bites

Had to use two chicken breasts and this is how I did it.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks.
Flour, salt, pepper and basil for dredging.
Olive oil, balsamic viniagrette for pan frying.

I had flour mix leftover from the squash, so I thought why not? To add a little more flavor, I added a few splashes of the dressing to the frying pan. It also helped the chicken brown nicely.
Took maybe 5 minutes per side to cook? I always cut a few of the fatter pieces to check for doneness though. Joe enjoyed dipping these in a pineapple-mango-coconut sauce that his folks gave us.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Emily's first demolition derby

Western Kentucky State Fair
I really didn't think it possible that little ole quiet me could enjoy something so noisy, smokey and violent. But I did...
A nice powdered-sugar dusted funnel cake did ease my transition from homebody to fair fanatic.


My visit with Joe and Mom Parrino to the Cleveland Botanical Garden near my Alma Mater, Case Western Reserve University, was full of excitement. I used to frequent this little green oasis when I was an undergrad and when it was free and walking distance from my dorm. My senior year they began construction on a butterfly rainforest. Happily it was open on July 3rd.

Roy Peter Clark over at Poynter (all you journalists know who I'm talking about) just gave an example of a great journalist who recorded the names of 55 of 56 butterfly names while reporting for a story. (or something silly like that) I on the other hand, only remember one name, the Blue Morpho, and I'm not even sure how to spell it. Joe's mom and I spent all our time swinging our lenses around trying to capture this elusive creature that much prefers gliding and flitting to resting and sunning.

Blogger has not been cooperating with me of late. For a week I couldn't post any photos. Today it decided to work for a little while... there are a few other shots that didn't make the cut though! Maybe it will be in a more obliging mood tomorrow!