A Southern Grace: June 2008

June 30, 2008

if you can't have a cuddly pet...


...a sourdough starter's the next best thing. I've neglected him more often than I care to admit (perhaps I'm not ready for the aforementioned cuddly pet...), but Eb is still getting it done for me. His latest achievement? Banana nut bread.

Even though I often claim to never have bananas too ripe to eat, it's been unavoidable with all the traveling I've been doing lately.

(banana goo, anyone?)

So, I decided to kill two birds with one stone--I satisfied my hunger for homemade banana bread and made use of Mr. Ebenezer.

In looking for a recipe, I kept coming across the same one and therefore assumed (correctly, as luck would have it) that it must be a winner. I made a few additions [cinnamon (of course), nutmeg, and cashews] and went the mini-loaf route rather than making one big brick of bread. The less time the oven is on in this heat, the better.

The end result was quite different from your typical banana bread--the sourdough flavor really added a unique and interesting component to it. The next time the fates align and I have both banana goo and a hungry starter simultaneously, you'd better believe I'll be making this bread.

Spectacular Sourdough Banana Nut Bread
(based on this recipe)

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup mashed banana (aka banana goo)
1 cup Eb
2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (we wouldn't want it to overpower the cinnamon, now would we?)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup chopped cashews
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar; add the egg and mix until blended. Mix in banana goo and Eb. Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda.
Add flour mixture and cashews to the wet ingredients, stirring until just blended.
Pour into greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan or mini loaf pan.
Bake for 1 hour (about 35 minutes for mini loaves) or until toothpick comes out clean.
Slather with peanut butter (
AWESOME suggestion, Elle!) or strawberry jam or just stick your face into a loaf and chew.

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June 28, 2008

brooklyn bridge and sweet sorrow


Our last hurrah in the city was a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan truly is a magnificent place, even under ominous skies.

As a fitting end to the trip, we went to a lovely little bakery called Crumbs. Mixed feelings abound (how can anyone hate on butter and sugar?), but I thought there were oodles of appetizing choices. After much deliberation, I settled on the caramel apple cupcake:

I got a face full of icing with that first bite, and I liked it. I liked it a lot. I also liked the surprise waiting for me inside:

(cinnamon-y baked apples elate me)(especially when surrounded by moist cake and topped with abundant heavenly buttercream frosting)

Jamie opted for the peach cobbler muffin:

(gots ta love that crumb topping)

Katie immediately knew what she wanted--the cappuccino cupcake:

(topped and filled with a rich coffee-flavored icing)(and apparently a rogue red sprinkle)

I had been resisting, but can now be counted as a fan of cupcakes.

I can also be counted as a fan of New York City (Manhattan, at least), mostly because I had an awesome tour guide, a terrific travel companion, and lots of good food.

One last food note: After putting Katie in a cab for the airport, James and I stopped at The Hummus Place on our way to the train station. What a glorious place (as many can attest), this center for all things hummus. I got hummus with tahini, and I can tell you that the people seated around me on the train were shooting me some looks, either from pure envy or a distaste for the smell of garlic. Sorry, fellow travelers--it tasted fantastic and I wasn't stopping for anything.

Thank you so much, James! In the words of my favorite he-man-turned-actor-turned-governator, I'll be back.

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June 27, 2008

bistro brunch and marvelous market


Our last day began with brunch at a classy French bistro called Pastis. We were given the choice to be seated inside or outside, and opted for the more peaceful, more people-watching-friendly outside. (After all, we were right down the street from the Food Network office space, so you never know who might stroll by...)

Still stuffed to the brim from my glorious meal at Mesa Grill, I chose a lighter meal of granola with fresh berries and yogurt:

(thick yogurt, crunchy granola, and sweet, luscious berries)

Jamie got the croque madame:

(hearty bread, plenty of cheese, and a nice, runny egg)

Katie, cheese fan extraordinaire, ordered an omelet stuffed with herbs and lots of goat cheese:

(it came with crispy fries, too)

About 85% through our meal, the sky clouded over and the rain began. Fortunately, we came prepared...

...and were able to stay relatively dry until they could find a table for us inside.

After brunch, we headed down the street to the famous Chelsea Market. There are lots of bakeries (including the Fat Witch Bakery, which offered free brownie samples and is therefore awesome), as well as multiple shops and markets.

The Italian market (Buon Italia) is full of great stuff. They have many, many varieties of cheese, which means Katie was in heaven:

I was also in heaven, for they have pretty much every bean known to man...

...and chocolate. Lots o' chocolate:

They had oodles of fresh produce at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange--things like squasharinos...


...some questionable merchandise...

...and a few things I couldn't identify:


Update: Okay, one of my favorite Greeks, Peter of Kalofagas, tells me it's coconut. I'm slightly embarrassed. :)

There were no run-ins with any Iron Chefs, but it was still an incredible experience.

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June 26, 2008

bobby flay, ya done good


When Jamie asked me if eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant would tickle my fancy, I told her that would be an understatement. She must really love me, because she booked reservations at Mesa Grill soon afterward.

Upon being seated last Saturday night, I immediately became completely and totally captivated by the menu. There were so many options that sounded right up my alley, and, as usual, I had a hard time deciding. Don't worry, I was quite pleased with my final selections.

I apologize for the blurry pictures--I didn't want to waste time fiddling with the camera. Me and my buds wanted to eat!

The bread basket, a nice variety:

(blue corn muffin = excellent)

My appetizer was black bean soup. It was so creamy, slightly sweet yet still spicy, and utterly delicious.

Black Bean Soup with Toasted Cumin Crema + 3 Relishes of Tomato-Serrano, Avocado-Tomatillo + Grilled Red Onion

The cumin crema gave a terrific smoky flavor and the three relishes were all wonderful, with my favorites being the fiery tomato-serrano and the smooth-like-buttah avocado-tomatillo. So, so good.

(Look at that chunk of avocado. Just look at it.)

My entree was a chile relleno:

Cornmeal Crusted Chile Relleno filled with Roasted Eggplant + Manchego Cheese with Sweet Red Pepper Sauce + Balsamic Vinegar

The filling was so luscious and flavorful, and spiced perfectly to boot. I didn't need the salt shaker at all!

(the innards)

Jamie and Katie each got a queso dip:

Goat Cheese Queso Fundido with Rajas + Blue Corn Tortilla Chips


James also got the ribs:

Barbecued Country Ribs with Mango Habanero Glaze + Green Onion Peanut Relish

Katie also got a smaller chile relleno...

Anaheim Chile Relleno filled with White Cheddar Cheese, Black Beans + Rice

...and the mashed potatoes with cilantro pesto:

(the only disappointing dish of the evening--not enough pesto!)

Jamie's friend Leslie joined us and got the mushroom grits, promptly proclaiming that they were quite possibly the best thing she'd ever put into her mouth.

Creamy Wild Mushroom Grits with Poached Egg, Charred Serrano Sauce, Cotija Cheese + Blue Corn Tortilla Crisps

I don't care for mushrooms, but I have to admit that they were extremely tasty. I've often heard dishes described as complex, and now I can honestly say I know what that means. It was a lovely marriage of flavors and textures.

This was a super exciting and satisfying experience for me. Great food and great company--ya just can't beat it with a stick.

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a picnic in the park and a plethora of playthings


(Just so you know, I have no qualms about abusing my knack for alliteration.)

Saturday began with a picnic in Central Park. This wasn't just any ol' picnic, oh no.

It was, to put it mildly, a Middle Eastern extravaganza. We got takeout from this lovely little gem called Pyramida.

The fella behind the counter was more than happy to take our large order, and even recommended a white bean dip that turned out to be one of our favorite buys.

We got tabouli...

(very fresh and herbacious)


(a unique take on the classic and pretty darn tasty)

white bean dip...

(soooo very creamy and not too garlicky, with plenty of paprika)

baba ghannouj...

(not my favorite, but still yummy)


(a wonderful consistency and lovely flavor)


(thick and soft and fabulous)

and of course, baklava...

(some of the best I've ever tasted)

(a baklava beginner...it's safe to say that she enjoyed it)

(it's safe to say we all enjoyed it)

We spent a good hunk of the day lingering over the picnic, reminiscing about the past and even learning a few new things about each other. It was really great.

(I love you gals!)(Yes, that's me on the right, not some random vagrant.)

Properly fed and enthusiastic, it was time to do some walking. We saw some awesome, almost So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-worthy break dancing...

...some large jewels...

(Jamie claims she would be willing to sacrifice her education to own this ring from Tiffany's)

...and toys. Lots of toys.

FAO Schwartz is an amazing toy store. If I had visited as a child, I would've been beside myself with glee. As an adult (well...let's go with semi-adult), however, my main goal was to see The Big Piano:

James found a friend...

...and Katie found a fitting hat:

A couple of loons, these girls.

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