Category Archives: pork

Bluff City and Home of the Blues

Memphis.

What side of this city did I see? Several, actually. I had two trips there for work, one in March and one in May. I met the nicest, funniest hotel staff at the welcome and valet desks both times. I observed the pieces of the city’s history that residents refuse to let go, such as the trolley, the horse carriages, and bygone symbols of its fame and glamour, like the named music notes in the sidewalk.

I also experienced Beale Street, sort of. Not in the rip-roaring, guitar-wielding, flam-doozling way someone else might have (it was with work, after all), but bar-hopping and cooling my heels in the shade listening to the street hawkers and the wildly cacophonous competing music venues in the small space was certainly a unique experience. Plus, good company.

And oh yeah, I found plenty of good eats. I did my exploring online beforehand, as well as through friend networks. They all pointed to one place: Rendezvous.

The place was happily down-home, with random knickknacks, lots of tourists, and a we-don’t-take-no-guff attitude at the front desk. Only open for dinner (not lunch) during the week- that was odd. Their specialty was most certainly the “Dry-Rub Ribs,” but my coworker’s brisket was mighty tasty too.

The ribs were pretty addictive, and quite unique- it’s kind of like tasting a really salty food- all the crystals tingle in your mouth- but then you realize they contribute to a seasoned, earthy  flavor, not just salt. Who needs sauce, anyway?
It turns out the seasoning mix contains oregano (a main Greek spice) because the immigrant family that started the joint was from Greece! I love when food connects back to the travel theme…of course it always helps your food when it’s got history and whole-heartedness.
Another place I had to stop at was The Little Tea Shop- I mean, come on. Tea. Home cooking. This was a place I found by reputation online. Their most touted items were the vegetarian turnip/ collard greens and the corn sticks: “crispy on the outside yet flaky and buttery on the inside.”
The Little Tea Shop, in its position as a local institution/ legend, deigns to be open for lunch only. And its waitresses tend to be a little short (with their words, not their height), which I chalked up to cultural differences. Oh, and neither their cash register nor their credit card machine was working, so the woman at the front had her hands full trying to make change for people out of spare change she had in a PAPER BAG. It was wildly endearing, and made for a great story.

So, besides the barbeque (sort of) and Beale Street, what other sides are there to Memphis? Well, there are the fun new ‘cuisine-y’ type places popping up (Local Gastropub comes to mind as a place where we had great food, but slow service), and you’ve got your music history pathways to follow.
But my antennae went up as the cab driver from the airport said he knew how to direct us to “any number of diversions, from used bookstores to-“
“Hold up, did you say used bookstores?”
*Done.*

I found one or two downtown, and went on a bit of an adventure to Midtown, a short drive away from the downtown, and home to Memphis’ hipsters and dive monkeys, to find another one, pictured below. Heaven! (Loved the quirky aisle caps consisting of chairs with vintage typewriters)

And how could I forget the fried chicken! Gus’s Fried Chicken was very low-key, and although “Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken” is its full title, I didn’t find it spicy. And I’m a wimp, soooo… Gus’s didn’t have the kind of sustainable sourcing policy of the places I usually find on these trips, but the chicken was so tender and juicy, I went back twice!


Ohmigod, and just like in Omaha, TRY THE FRIED PICKLES. Gus’s were entire spears, and had a spicy crunchy coating- dee-lish.

Besides these neighborhood attractions, a group of the people in town for the meeting had a fun round of friends’ poker (no betting in the state) in the hotel lobby. It was EPIC.

Thanks for the memories, Memphis!

Land of Pioneer Courage / Molecular Gastronomy

Omaha, Nebraska

Why Omaha? Because anywhere can delight your senses, my dear readers. It’s all up to you. Well, mostly.

Omaha had a lot to offer a business traveler with only a couple evenings to spare. I did my research in advance, choosing two places that would represent different slices of the dining scene (so I thought): The Grey Plume and Boiler Room.

The Grey Plume was first, and a taxi ride out of downtown in a swish new redeveloped neighborhood called Midtown Crossing.

It started with a surprise: an amuse-bouche consisting of apple-huckleberry mousse, coffee panna cotta, rye crumble, and pickled apple slice, sprinkled with coffee powder (not iocane powder, although…)
I didn’t know I’d found the seat of molecular gastronomy in Omaha! But here it was, and compliments of the chef.
It was interesting, but when I asked about the coffee powder, I learned that it was basically tapioca starch that had been infused with coffee aroma- that doesn’t seem so frou-frou, now, does it?

The next dish (this one I ordered) was duck fat fries with fried egg and aioli. Yes, loads of fat in this one, but I shared. I did!
The waitress recommended upgrading to the goose egg, but this place was already expensive enough without add-ons, so I declined the up-sell. It was deliciously salty, runny, umami and all as it was.

My ‘main’ was pork 3 ways, served with nettles: a piece of leg, slow-roasted on a puree of spaghetti squash; a piece of loin on a spaghetti squash ‘coin;’ and pork belly 2 ways: a meaty, pinkish cut, and the more traditional glazed classic pork belly, served with baby fennel.
Hot mama. I loved the slow-roasted leg and the classic fatty pork belly. I didn’t love the chewy loin or other type of pork belly.

The next night I organized an excursion to Boiler Room, located downtown near the Old Market center.

***Here’s a good tip when dining out in somewhere where you need to watch your budget but everything looks scrumptious: try two appetizers instead of an entree. This gets you more variety, hedges your bets if you end up not liking something, still fills you up, and for about the same amount of money.
Here I tried the octopus galette and the tagliatelle with goat sugo- these are things I will likely not see again, so they were calling out my name…

The goat sugo was very good, the tagliatelle vaguely disappointing (too al dente for my dente), but the octopus galette was my favorite. Basically a seafood pancake at any Korean restaurant, this was stood out because it used octopus, and marvelous flavors as accompaniments: pesto, hazelnuts, and ‘claytonia‘ (which I was informed is ‘like a lilypad’, also known as miner’s lettuce). Very tasty.

I also enjoyed the decor of the place: very 2000s-loft-converted-warehouse, but with the special touch of matching, facing staircases. The waitors were forever scampering down one and up another, their upper bodies not seen to be moving, which amused me very much for some reason. Perhaps it made me think of the octopus moving along…

  
–While in town, we also had lunch in Old Market, at a place called Twisted Fork: a bar-restaurant with its own cheeky and less pretentious fusion creations. I actually didn’t get to eat much here, but I did grab a few of their fried pickles, and they were quite good. 
I’d say it’s a tie between these and the fried pickles at Upstream around the corner. And I always appreciate clever menu phrasing, which Twisted Fork had in abundance (e.g. “Things You Don’t Rope,” including chicken and salmon dishes). God bless those cowboys with a sense of humor.
 And give thanks for that pioneer courage (a phrase from the monument above) too–
a swell place, Omaha.
Have you been to Omaha? Are you from another place with Pioneer Courage? Let us know in the comment section, so we can come visit!

The First Literary Tea ‘salon’

If you read this blog fairly regularly, you may have noticed a gap over the last month.

Not too much content.
Not so big on the typing of words.
Not even pictures for a distraction!
Distracting.

This may be all the more disappointing after the momentum I had built up in December. Sorry, folks, for dropping the ball. I don’t think the fractured arm completely accounts for it, either. I switched gears from an external, writing-focused effusion about upcoming changes in my life to an internal and social-based incubation of projects to prepare for those upcoming changes. So the stew is still stewing, I just turned the heat down and put the lid on- ya follow me? (another metaphor?!)

So, what have I been doing with my time? Not much cooking, unfortunately. I probably could be doing more, but that would entail visualizing each step of the cooking process in advance and then arranging for someone to do the parts that I can’t manage (chopping, mixing, jar-opening, etc.) ahead of time, which is just too much planning, even for moi.
Mujaddara

I made mujaddara (found first here, before it became a celeb and was posted here), a dish long on The List, and appealing in its super-easiness. Highly recommended.

Braised Fennel with Balsamic

And then a couple of weeks ago, I had to follow through on an idea I had back in November, involving a fair amount of cooking and advance shopping. In this case, I did have to ask a friend over to chop some onions and fennel and wash some dishes… The reason I felt so committed to hosting this soiree was that its goal was to raise some funds for a non-profit that was having real difficulties financially. It was founded by a good friend of mine and three other education reformers who were looking to take stock of where we are in the U.S. and around the world, and make education systems better for all those involved (donate here if you believe in the importance of this cause!).

I had a great theme for the party too: a Literary Tea. I was reading about bygone food cultures when a tossed-out reference to Literary Teas of the 1960s caught my imagination. It described them as cocktail hours for the New York publishing world, another pushy scene where writers and agents and publishers acted out the social version of Darwinism. Ech. Not my crowd. But ‘Literary Tea’ had promise, and I crafted my own theme, reclaiming and repurposing the name for better use.

I had grand plans for cooking soups and baking breads and whipping up desserts, but in the end, I admitted it was not realistic to think I would make all these things for 9 people- the max that would fit in my living room!  So I did some make-ahead things (twice-baked shortbread, Saltine toffee bars) and then relied on 1) fire-under-the-feet inspiration, fueled by 2) clean-out-the-refrigerator spirit. It worked out great! The stew (main course) that resulted included the following ingredients, roughly in order of throwing in:
onions
vegetable broth
chopped carrots
tomato paste
cooked butternut squash
microwaved sweet potato
Trader Joe’s precooked lentils
hot Italian sausage (farmer’s market find!)

I asked my friends to contribute what they would have spent on bringing something to the dinner party, since I was taking care of everything (and replacing wine with tea, an AWESOME idea), and they went far beyond that, which was amazing. I was proud to contribute the amount that my friends had pitched in, topping it off with my own contribution, which amounted to $355. Amazing.
Along with the food and drinks, this salon was literary-themed, meaning:
I broke the ice with softball questions about favorite books of all-time and current books being perused. That went pretty well. After that, we dove into a long, involved round of The Origin of Expressions, which I was very excited about for this group. The game requires 1) the ability to bring forth useless factoids of world history and/or 2) the ability to fool people into thinking you know what you’re talking about. Perfect activity for all these friends from grad school days, where you hone both of the above skills. One round was enough because of the complex scoring process, then we were on to Boggle, which a friend had brought- several lightning rounds ensued, and in closing, I can’t believe I never played the game before. Awesome.

I hope you didn’t think I’ve been idle. I hope you knew there must have been some close-to-the-heart reason that kept me from updating this blog more closely, because there was. But my Literary Tea was a success! and soon there will be lots more where that came from.

**cast coming off in 1 week! Happy Valentine’s, indeed!**