Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad

So here we are again, stumbling towards yet another Presidential election. I must confess I do not follow politics closely, and in fact, for the longest time whenever I heard the name Rick Perry, I kept thinking he was an ex-wrestler. I finally realized I was getting him confused with Ric Flair. This is what I saw in my Bobby’s World mind…

Rick “The Flair” Perry

I should add that I’m not really proud of my lack of involvement in political matters and that it’s just a sort of self-preservation method. I see what it does to people, especially on Facebook but also on the worried brows of friends and family. They have this look that says, “I’m scared of what the world is becoming.” I would agree, but I just watched an episode of Mad Men, set in the chauvinistic ’60s, which makes me slightly less pessimistic of the world while also giving me a hankering to drink bourbon on the rocks and take up smoking.

It’s a Mad Men world!

Speaking of women or girls or just a lot of estrogen, I first realized I was not cutout for politics during a little high school summer experience known as Girls State. My memory of this is rather vague, but I will do my best to explain. I was one of the two selected to attend, so of course I went, unsure of what exactly I was getting myself into. I had assumed Girls State was some kind of camp that involved staying up all night eating candy and gossiping, messy relay races, and participating in team-building exercises. I was slightly misguided in my thinking (hence, the Rick Perry/Ric Flair mix-up). I suppose you could say that I only hear/think what I want to hear/think, which is perhaps the ultimate problem with politics, or simply the human race.

Not Girls State

The camp was a week-long and was held on a college campus. Upon arriving, everyone was assigned a room in a dorm. Each dorm floor was considered a city with the entire camp itself being the considered the state, hence Girls State. You would think I would have initially figured out what the camp was all about, but it wasn’t until the second day that I finally realized what was really going on—we were simulating a microcosm of local government. When we weren’t learning cheers and songs or listening to speeches made by important state officials, we were holding our own mock elections for state legislature and municipal offices. Since we all had to run for something, I ran for the lesser of the offices…something like one of the city council members. For my speech I reworded the rap opening of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Yes, I was that girl. While I can’t remember if I got the position (I think I did), I do remember that afterwards I immediately regretted my impromptu rap. I’m rather notorious for doing things of this nature—spur-of-the-moment creative outbursts—only to second-guess myself moments later. Come to think of it, I suppose I could be a politician.

The only other thing I recall, aside from my rap performance, was that the senior counselor of my “city” telling us a story about how she discovered a guy she dated was in the mafia. If only it had been called Girls Mafia, then I may have been a little more gungho about the whole experience. Each floor could be a family, and positions (i.e. Boss, Underboss, Caporegime, Soldier and Associate) randomly assigned upon arrival. As it were, at the end of the week as well as my so-called political career, the girls in my city all cried and talked about how we were the best city ever. I remember thinking: Did I miss something? Needless to say, Girls State was not my cup of tea, and I’m still confused by the inner workings of legislature.

I know it’s good that there are people who give a darn about politics because if people like me ran the world, nothing would get done. Well, besides September 28th being a national holiday, singing being required in the workplace, and ponies for all children who eat their vegetables. Speaking of vegetables, I’ve got a delicious salad recipe to share. In honor of irony, the recipe has been dubbed Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad. This recipe was, in fact, prepared for me by Uncle Sam when I was visiting our nation’s capital in the fall. However, he is not “the” or even “my” Uncle Sam (he’s actually Lindsay’s uncle Sam), and he sure can cook! In case you are wondering my train of thought for this blob, I’ve broken it down for you: Presidential Election—Politics/Confusion—Girls State—D.C.—Uncle Sam—Asian Pork Salad. Somewhere in there, I also thought of ponies but with no direct connection to any of those things.

SIDENOTE: Could you even imagine a state of all girls? This thought makes me shudder because all I can think about is NOT pillow fights in pajamas or an never-ending manicure party, but rather an endless stream of catty [insert word that rhymes with witches] who appear on reality shows, such as The Real Housewives, The Bachelor, and dare I say it…The Bad Girls Club (I was forced into watching a marathon of this show and afterwards I found myself in a manic depressive state). No, sir or ma’am, I shall not wish for a state occupied solely by girls, unless I can hand select those who are there. Kristin Wiig? Yes! Nigella Lawson? Yes! Dolly Parton? Heck Yes! Kim Kardashian? Probably Not. Casey Anthony? Uh, No. Justin Bieber? Sure.

This blog brought to you by—Leslie Knope and this amazing clip from Parks and Rec…http://youtu.be/40Nqzx4Z1FA

Uncle Sam’s Asian Pork Salad

Salad Dressing:

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon minced gingerroot

Pork:

1 pound ground pork

1 cup shredded carrots

½ sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce

1 tablespoon Sriracha*, optional

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Salad:

8 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced

4 Roma tomatoes, halved and sliced

  1. To prepare dressing, combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, whisking vigorously. Set aside.
  2. To prepare pork, cook meat, carrots and onion in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until meat is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in next 6 ingredients (ginger through lime juice) and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. To prepare salad, arrange 2 cups lettuce on each of 4 individual plates; top lettuce with cucumber, tomato slices, and pork mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoons dressing over each serving. Reserve the remaining dressing for another use. Yield: 4 servings

*Sriracha, pronounced sir-ra-cha, is a spicy chili sauce that can be found in the Asian section of supermarkets. Be careful when using, because a little goes a long way.

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Fall=Football=Chili

First, I must apologize to the two people who read this blog (hi, mom and dad!) for my failure to post in quite some time. Allow me to inform you of the latest endeavors responsible for my extended hiatus from the blogosphere. Since my last post, I’ve met a pygmy goat named Hector, I visited George Washington’s home and learned what a macaroni is (and I’m not talking about the pasta. See SIDENOTE), I changed my first diaper and then re-changed it after realizing I put it on backwards (Bryce, we can laugh about this when you’re older), and I created a new blog based on the strictly frivolous and mundane adventures of my new friend Monster Hands (http://mundaneadventuresofmonsterhands.tumblr.com/).

I’ve also found myself knowing way more about college football than I ever thought was possible for someone as ill-equipped with gridiron enthusiasm as me. Maybe one’s interests are like one’s taste buds in that they change every seven years. For instance, I used to not like hard-boiled eggs and olives, and now I love them, though not necessarily together. Seven years ago, if you asked me about the big game, I would have racked my brain just to figure out what sport you were referring to. I suppose it has a lot to do with who you hang out with. Because hanging out with people who have different interests than you opens you up to all kinds of new things, like zombie apocalypse survival skills, X-Men movies, Skyline chili, squinkies and Nordic crime novels.

My knowledge of current college football rankings, players, coaches, good teams, bad teams and fun nicknames for refs (zebras) is more than a bit surprising for me. However, you will not find me yelling at a television screen or hassling others based on their team preferences. Those behaviors are reserved for people who have been diehard fans for much longer than I’ve stumbled upon a forced interest. Perhaps my inability to relate to a certain level of sports enthusiasm is directly related to my lack of competitiveness. I played sports all my life, and when I was younger I seemed to always be on the losing team. Consequently, I took to heart the saying “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This made me a really good loser. As long as I did well, I never sweated the outcome. I once had a basketball coach say to me, “Marie, if you had a competitive bone in your body, you would be unstoppable.” Alas, I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body, which by default meant I was very stoppable.

The Such and Such Placeholders

I may never quite understand why people take sports so seriously, or why people say things like, “I hate such and such team” since most of the time there seems to be no logical reason, except that they’ve always known such and such team as a bitter rival. I suppose a love for a certain sport’s team is a lot like the love one has for another person. It cannot be described or explained. It just exists, and I guess I’m okay with that. On a completely frivolous note, I wish there was such a thing as the Such and Such team. Their mascot would be The Placeholders, and I would be their biggest fan.

Malicious Bowl-O-Chili

Anyways, you know what brings people together, no matter what team they pull for or against? FOOD, that’s what. What better football season food is there than a hearty bowl of chili? My ex-roommate/husband, Matt, makes a malicious bowl of chili. Unfortunately, Matt cooks like my grandmother in that he is one of those a-little-bit-of-this-a little-bit-of-that cooks. This means that measurements are never exact, but somehow it’s always right on the money when it comes to taste. My recipe is a rendition of Matt’s, and I shall share it with you right after I explain what a macaroni is.

SIDENOTE: While exploring Mount Vernon, Marisa, Lindsay and I made a visit to the Whiz Palace (aka the bathroom). Bordering the room were tiles with flamboyant colonial men painted on them and each had a name identifying them as a such and such Macaroni. One that made us chuckle was the Fumigating Macaroni. As I began wondering what the heck a macaroni was, I remembered that old ditty about Yankee Doodle and how he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni. So, while strolling through George Washington’s garden, we looked up the meaning of this macaroni on an iPhone. Oh, the irony! According to Wikipedia, in mid-18th century England, a macaroni was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected and epicene manner. So, I’m thinking that Yankee Doodle was kinda like Rachel Zoe but instead of saying, “That’s bananas” he said, “That’s macaroni!” With that in mind, I also wish there was a sports team called the Yankee Doodle Macaronis.

Go Macaronis!

Malicious Chili

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

1 pound ground meat (venison, beef, chicken or turkey)

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15.5-ounce) can spicy chili beans

1 packet Chili-O seasoning mix

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Garnishes:

Sour cream

Grated cheddar cheese

Ritz crackers, crumbled

  1.  Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add first 3 ingredients; cook for 6 minutes or until meat is done, stirring frequently to crumble.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (through cayenne pepper); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with garnishes. Yield: 6 servings

Happy Halloween!

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Coffee on the Rocks

Sneeker and I rejuvenating at Bewley's in Dublin, a hot spot for the creative minds of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.

I will always remember what my mom told me about coffee. She said and I quote, “Carol Marie Hegler Jr. (this is what she calls me when she means business), there are two things you need to know about coffee. One, it’s addictive, and two, it stains your teeth.” She thought these two arguments would dissuade me from my frequent coffee binges, but alas, I just chuckled and asked her, “Who is Carol Marie Hegler Sr., and why haven’t I met him?”

I like my coffee like I like my ninjas, strong and black! I’ve been drinking it black since I got back from studying abroad. Not that Australia turned me into the coffee-drinking machine that I am today, because quite frankly, they are way more into tea than coffee. However, I used to take the train into the town of Newcastle and spend many afternoons on Darby Street. It was like a little road in paradise with coffee shops as far as the eye could see.

Throughout college, I relied heavily on coffee to get me through hours of studying and not studying at the library. Then upon graduating, I did what every college graduate does. I worked in a coffee shop. I was surrounded by the very thing that I loved. Funnily enough, working in a coffee shop does not provide you with a lot of time to enjoy a cup of Joe for yourself, with all the serving on others you must do. Still, it was fun while it lasted, and I got to check it off my bucket list.

After the coffee shop, I decided I needed to take better care of myself and tried to cut back on my coffee/caffeine intake. To give you an idea of my addiction, during  its peak I could drink coffee before going to bed and fall right asleep. It had really lost its effect on me. I now only drink coffee in the mornings. Granted, I still down a whole travel mug most days, but I have successfully stopped all other caffeinated habits after that.

So, I drink it every morning, hot or cold, rain or shine, it’s always coffee time (that rhymed). While I usually indulge in piping hot coffee even on the most wretched of summer days, my friend Marisa, who has just recently embarked on the caffeinated glory of drinking coffee, told me she started making iced coffee. Now, there are some important details I should point out about making iced coffee. First, one should not just pour hot-brewed coffee over ice and call it iced coffee. I mean, you can, but you would most likely end up with lukewarm, coffee-flavored water. While you certainly can brew coffee for iced coffee, you must take into account that adding ice will dilute the coffee. Therefore, you should brew it extra strong. I, however, prefer the cold-brew method, which means no electric coffeemaker is necessary.

French press

Another thing to consider is the container in which you plan on using. I have an 8-cup (34-oz) French press, so the recipe is created around this little detail and the fact that I would be using one liter of water. However, you can easily do some quick math to figure out the proportion of coffee to water if you have a smaller French press. If you do not have one at all, you can easily use any container, but you do need some sort of straining method (i.e. coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth). Also, although I tend to drink my coffee black, I find that cold coffee needs a splash of milk, or Bailey’s if you prefer an adult beverage. Happy dranking!

SIDENOTE: Who has the best coffee? Hands down, Hawaii! If you are ever in Hawaii, you must buy Kona coffee by the bulk and bring it back. And no, the coffee you find in stores here that is labeled Kona is not as good as the real deal, straight from the big island itself. It’s rather pricey but totally worth it. Smooth and flavorful without a trace of bitterness, it is the best coffee ever. The synapses in my brain are lighting up at the mere mention of it. As far as what to purchase, I usually buy whole beans from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods because both offer good-quality, reasonably-priced beans in bulk. I’m not too keen on Starbucks “coffee coffee,” as in non-espresso drinks, but they do sell some good beans. My favorite only appears in stores on occasion and is called Guatemala Casi Cielo® Casi Cielo, which means “almost heaven” in Spanish, and that it is. If you are thinking there are no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods around me, I’m not going to Hawaii any time soon and you just told me a Starbucks blend that may or may not even be available right now, there’s always Folgers. Hear me out. Folgers has created a new line of coffee labeled Gourmet Selections, and they have one called Morning Café that I’m particularly fond of. It’s a pleasantly flavored ground coffee for when I feel lazy and don’t want to spend time grinding beans.

This blog is brought to you by—caffeine headaches, pillow fights and Ryan Gosling’s abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

PHOTO: thepioneerwoman.com

Iced Coffee

1 liter cold water

1 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)

Milk (optional)

  1. In a 8-cup French press or large container with lid, stir together coffee and water. Let rest at room temperature overnight or 8 hours.
  2. If you have a French press, simply plunge. If not, strain through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. In a tall glass filled with ice, pour coffee. If desired, add milk.
  3. Store remainder tightly covered in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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God Bless America and Ice Cream

Ice cream with the lovely Brandy Caldwell in The Berkshires

It’s July, and it’s already a scorcher. In the profound words of a friend’s Facebook status, “Satan called and he would like his weather back.” Have no fear, National Ice Cream Month is here, as if we need any other reason to indulge in one of America’s favorite desserts. I certainly do not. There is no other treat that can beat the often unbearable South Carolina heat quite like a cool, refreshing scoop of ice cream. Be it vanilla or triple chunk chocolate with almond slivers and a raspberry-caramel swirl, ice cream tends to generate quite the hype during the summertime, and it does so for good reason. The ice cream craze began because this cool, sweet sensation wrapped in a smooth, creamy texture could only be found in fancy cafés in Paris, where the art of ice cream making was known by few. It was a rare delicacy. Today’s ice cream, while still a delicacy, is not nearly as difficult to find or make.

With all the other frozen treat alternatives from gelato to frozen yogurt, what exactly makes ice cream, well, ice cream? The United States’ government created certain guidelines that must be met in order to carry the name “ice cream.” The main rule being ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk fat. Milk fat comes from the milk and cream used in making ice cream and gives it a smooth texture, rich flavor and creamy body. However, gelato, an Italian-style ice cream, is creamier and richer but not because of added milk fat. Gelato is actually made with less milk fat, and its denseness comes from the fact that less air is incorporated into its mixture. I must confess that I have been known to cheat on ice cream with gelato on occasion.

One of the latest installments of Ben & Jerry's flavor conglomerate

Despite the sometimes outrageous and always increasing flavors of ice cream, vanilla and chocolate still reign as champions among consumers. Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby, Karmel Sutra, Mission Marzipan, Fossil Fuel, Cherry Garcia and Phish Food could all very well be names of 80’s hair bands, but they are actually the names for ice cream flavors created by one of my all-time favorite duos, Ben and Jerry. Ben and Jerry rank right up there with Simon and Garfunkel, Will and Grace (better yet, Jack and Karen), Kath and Kim (AUS version), Pinky and the Brain, and Bobby and Whitney (SIKE!). In my limited opinion, these beloved ice cream connoisseurs were the first to push the envelope past your normal, run-of-the-mill flavors by creating new and unique flavors with wacky names. I cross my fingers in great anticipation for the unveiling of Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles ice cream. #pipedreams (for you twitter savvy folks)

Freedom of Choice!

Buying ice cream is easy. The grocer’s freezer is filled with all sorts of brands, varieties and flavors, and a surplus of ice cream parlors are popping up all over town. Yes, freedom of choice in America is definitely made loud and proud by way of ice cream, so maybe it is no coincidence that the 4th of July falls in National Ice Cream Month. However, as the passive and non-decisive person that I am, I find an excess amount of choices makes my palms sweat. Then I remember I’m just a girl standing in front of tubs of ice cream asking them to love me. Rock on, America and Freedom of Choice!

During college and one dreadfully hot summer, I worked at Clemson’s ’55 Exchange (named in honor of donations from the class of ’55) and served up Clemson’s finest, ice cream that is. Sure, the University of South Carolina has two national baseball titles under their belt, but Clemson has ice cream and that counts for something, right? Well, in my book that’s all you really need. It was a fun job until on any given day, a gaggle of college boys with their bottomless pits for stomachs would come in all requesting large, extra-thick chocolate milkshakes, which in case you didn’t realize requires a heck of a lot of ice cream. Also, this usually requires one to switch out an emptied vat of ice cream to the one underneath, which being rock solid, would prompt the need for a chisel to make headway towards proper scoopage. Needless to say, my biceps were amazing that summer, specifically my right bicep, and perhaps it did appear rather disproportionate to the rest of my body. The point is you can purchase ice cream in a Mary Poppins snap, but what about making your own? I don’t care who you are or where you come from; homemade ice cream ALWAYS tastes better.

Because of my spidey senses, or the magnetic force that lures me into the ice cream aisle every time I step foot into a grocery store, I’ve noticed a trend in the new flavors emerging. Non-ice cream desserts, such as apple pie, banana pudding, tiramisu, and s’mores made into ice cream flavors are the new big thing. One of my favorite desserts happens to be key lime pie. I just got chills thinking about it. At Clemson if you are one of the Food Science students who works in the microcreamery (where they make the ice cream), you get to invent your very own flavor flav. Alas, I did not work in the microcreamery, but I always knew what flavor I would create. Key Lime Pie Ice Cream (recipe follows)!

Ice Cream Making Vessel

GREAT GIFT IDEA ALERT: Allegedly, there is a ball-shaped ice cream maker that your kids or somebody else’s kids can shake, pass or roll, and in 30 minutes you’ll have a quart of ice cream. Some news station out of Missouri had a write-up on the ball, and they gave the product a B-. They also gave me a chuckle with the following excerpt: “We quickly learn this ball is kind of heavy. Little Tessa has the hardest time of all. Watch those toes! This thing weighs seven pounds! Still, it is kind of fun.” Whoever came up with this idea I would like to shake their hand, as I am a firm supporter of pointless, fun inventions, like those flip-flops with the bottle opener in the sole or pajama jeans. I had to hold my tongue here when the obvious example would be the Shake Weight. It’s like this decade’s ThighMaster. Thanks for nothing, Suzanne Somers 🙂

SIDENOTE: Although what I’m about to reveal may very well solidify the stereotypical statements made in unison about cows and Clemson, I would like to proudly state that in college I was inducted into the National Dairy Shrine based on my 5th place standing at the National Dairy Products Evaluation Contest. Yes, I was a dairy judge. You may be wondering how does one receive this prestigious honor. Well, I basically heard my adviser say, “Blah, blah, blah…you get to go to Chicago,” and decided I needed no further explanation. I was in, and this meant I spent many early mornings tasting oxidized milk, scorched butter (which actually tastes like caramel candy), and grainy cottage cheese. So, what does a competition look like? A nerd fest! For real, we carry around clip boards, wear pleated khakis and taste 8 samples of each of the following products—milk, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheddar cheese, and ICE CREAM, of course. Technically, you are supposed to spit out each sample as you taste, but whenever it came to ice cream, I could never spit it out. I just love it too much to do so.

PHOTO: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Jan Gautro

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

1 ½ cups 2% reduced-fat milk

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon key lime zest*

2 cups heavy whipping cream

½ cup key lime juice**

Dash of salt

8 graham crackers (2 cookie sheets), coarsely crushed

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk, granulated sugar, and zest until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in the heavy cream, juice and salt. Pour the mixture into freezer bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in graham crackers and transfer to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze for 2 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving. Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

*Key lime zest can be substituted with lime zest.

**Key lime juice can be substituted with lime juice.

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Ireland: The Fat Finding Mission

Flight Club: Ireland ’11

To encompass our mutual desire to travel more, my friends and I decided to start an informal group called Flight Club. Matt had never been out of the country and was dying to do so, Lindsay needed a vacation, a real vacation, Heather wanted an adventure to put to use all her multifaceted travel accessories, and I had not been out of the country since studying abroad, which dawned on me as being quite a while back in doggie years. Back to the real question—Why Ireland? Well, here’s the abridged version—They speak English there, Heather has been there several times, and Matt is a redhead. However, it was a conversation between Heather and me that brought the trip to fruition. She casually mentioned that on one of her previous trips she visited a place called Baltimore (in Ireland) and saw posters for a Fiddle Fair that had just passed. When she said this, I immediately became obsessed with going to this fiddle festival in Ireland. The seed was planted, and thus, began my campaigning for the trip. I made posters and PowerPoint’s, which turned out to be needless because everyone was game for getting out of dodge. So, the first trip of Flight Club was finalized…Ireland!

Expectation 1: Touch a baby sheep!

I’ll be honest and say that I was not really expecting such an exceptionally delicious food adventure in Ireland. I should also add that I had no real expectations, except to see and maybe touch a baby sheep. Luckily, our tour guide, Heather, and fearless navigator and driver, Lindsay, allowed us equally non-contributing members of Flight Club, Matt and myself, to all have over-the-top, fantabulous meals in Ireland. Yes, we did partake in the stereotypical Irish cuisine, like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and meat pies, but it was not necessarily those traditional foods that caused our mouths to water and our bellies to smile weeks after returning home. There were more than a few food destinations that I still dream about to this very day. Thanks to the awesome cameras and photography skills of Matt and Heather, I shall provide sufficient evidence that Ireland is not only a destination of beautiful scenery where sheep and castle ruins speckle the vibrant green countryside like boardgame pieces, but it is also a land where the appetite can be satiated and satisfied.

Those tiny white specks are sheep

Since the four of us share a love for all things food, Heather did some pre-trip research to assist in our pursuit of superb dining destinations by scavenging media outlets and consulting her travel guru, Mr. Rick Steves. Another means of stumbling upon edible gems was by asking the locals. Irish people are extremely nice and will most likely point you in the right direction of good eats. However, we learned to always ask women for directions because for some strange reason the men tended to give us directions that had us driving around and around roundabouts. Another thing to keep in mind is that Ireland closes whenever it feels like it. Just because a restaurant has a dinner menu does not necessarily mean that it will be open for dinner. Okay peeps, hold on to your seats and loosen your belt buckles because I’m about to take you on an unforgettable five-course meal, Irish-style.

First Course: Dublin

In Dublin with our new Dutch friend, Sofie

If you visit Ireland, you pretty much have to go to Dublin. However, regardless of what others may tell you, you do not have to visit to Limerick. Dublin is the quintessential Irish city. Everything there is old and beautiful. There are castles and churches dating back to the 13th century and a history that entails Viking raids and settlements. So yeah, apparently Vikings really existed and are not just a fun football team mascot, which gives me hope for the unicorn. Speaking of unicorns, Ireland has a thing for them. You can see unicorn symbols all over Ireland. In fact, the Lion and the Unicorn represent a time-honored symbol for the United Kingdom (which includes England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Enough about unicorns, let’s get back to the food.

Lindsay and I posing in the “artsy fartsy” courtyard at The Cake Café

While in Dublin, we ate breakfast at a little hidden café recommended by Bobby Flay, who recently did a television special on Ireland. I’m not joking about the café being tucked away. It was like trying to find Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾. After making all sorts of twists and turns down and up roads in Dublin, we finally stumbled down beautiful alleyway lined with bicycles to find The Cake Café. There we had a magical breakfast that included Soldiers and Eggs (strips of buttery toast served with a ramekin of poached eggs) and a pleasantly strong elixir, also known as coffee. My only complaint was that the buttery strips of toast were NOT actually shaped like soldiers. Since it is called The Cake Café, we could not help but indulge in dessert after breakfast with sampling of chocolate cake and lemon squares. (http://www.thecakecafe.ie/)

My tiny traveling companions enjoying some cake crumbs

Second Course: Beautiful Baltimore

Lindsay and the serenaders (sounds like a band name) at Glebe Gardens and Café

What else can I say about the quaint fishing town of Baltimore, but that it is Lindsay’s heaven on earth. This is where the entire Ireland trip began as a mere twinkle in my eye.  We scheduled our trip in order to be in Baltimore during the last day of the Fiddle Fair. That faithful day, we ate outside at the glorious Glebe Gardens and Café with the rare Irish sunshine on our backs, the food coming straight from the gardens surrounding us, and fiddles, banjos and other instruments serenading us. The atmosphere and food were as close to perfection as I have ever gotten. (http://www.glebegardens.com/)

A pasty (savory turnover filled with meat or fish) served with mixed greens,  marinated cucumbers and chutney

As a dessert selector connoisseur, Matt showed off his skills with the selection of this lemon meringue pie, his best work to date.

Third Course: Killarney

A “romantical” carriage ride through Killarney National Park

Ireland has amazing seafood, most of which is caught and prepared within a stone’s throw away. I had the best piece of salmon EVER in Killarney. Nothing really special as far as preparation was concerned, but it was in its simplicity that it exceeded deliciousness. The restaurant responsible for this mouth-dropping experience was Trevyvauds (http://www.treyvaudsrestaurant.com/). As a word of advice, always order the seafood chowder if offered…ALWAYS! While visiting Killarney, we also went to a ice cream place called Murphy’s, which has several locations throughout Ireland. Here we had our first taste of sea salt ice cream. Before you get weirded out about salty ice cream, think of yogurt pretzels with their sweet and slightly salty notes. The sea salt ice cream sundae served with caramel sauce and peanuts was a memory maker. (http://www.murphysicecream.ie/)

Heather and Matt enjoying Murphy’s sea salt ice cream

Forth Course: Dingle (It’s our kind of town)

I kissed a goat and I liked it

Besides being a funny name for a town and a forefront runner for the name of my first puppy, Dingle was another fishing town that tantalized all my senses. The people were exceptionally nice, and The Goat Street Café provided an incentive to return with its lunch special of hake fillet (type of fish) in a chili, coconut, and ginger broth and served with jasmine rice. (http://www.thegoatstreetcafe.com/)

Fifth Course: Gallway

Ard Bia at Nimmos Restaurant in the Spanish Arch

Our last supper tablescape at Ard Bia

Saving the best for last, our last meal in Ireland was the by far the best. Just like the scenery when driving, we kept thinking it couldn’t possibly get any better. Then we would round a turn and BOOM…there would be sheep in front of a castle in front of waterfall in front of a mountain. Ooh’s and ahh’s would ensue. The food was the same. We would have an exceptionally delicious meal, and then the next would totally trump the previous. While searching for a place to dine for our last supper in Ireland, we first embarked on disappointment. The restaurant we intended to go to “had closed down but served gorgeous food,” said the peppy jogger we questioned. Heather had Ard Bia at Nimmos Restaurant listed as another possible dining experience, and after discovering it had moved and then finding it, we sat down at 7:00 and did not leave until 10:30. We indulged ourselves in every possible course and beverage starting with smoked trout pate and wine, followed by individual entrees that included grilled brill (Me), spiced mayo lamb rump (Matt), a cured seatrout served with clam barley risotto (Heather) and a rib-eye steak with stout mustard (Lindsay), and then ending with coffee and a wide array of desserts—chocolate and Tuscan olive oil mousse (Me), pistachio ricotta cheesecake (Matt), rhubarb crumble (Heather) and lemon posset (Lindsay). It was the perfect end to a delicious trip. (http://ardbia.com/)

SIDENOTE: We drove in Ireland on the opposite side of the road and on the opposite side of the car. Correction—Lindsay drove in Ireland. Matt took the passenger seat position, which would actually be the driver’s seat here, and Heather and I occupied the backseat of the Volkswagen Golf, also known as Crumb Castle (reasoning follows). For the most part, driving in Ireland went rather smoothly. We only got lost a couple of times, but we did have an incident of almost running out of gas after seeing this beauty, the Cliffs of Moher…

Cliffs of Oh Sweet Mother

It was after 9 pm, and we had not eaten dinner yet. We were in search of a gas station because apparently 20 km on winding country roads is very different than 20 km on a highway. We were hungry, which at this point had never been an issue. We spent a majority of the trip full as ticks (as Matt loves to say). Luckily, being the always-prepared person that Heather is she had purchased a garlic cheese ball and crackers from Cheesemongers in the last town. We finally found a gas station, but finding food proved to be impossible at that particular hour and location, Middle of Nowhere. Alas, we succumbed to eating that garlicky ball of goodness as a celebratory snack for finding a gas station. This feasting made the car smell like a garlic sock and left the backseat known as Crumb Castle for the remainder of the trip. As the messy snackers that we are, Heather and I knighted ourselves as Lady Crumbly and Princess Crumbleton of the lavish Crumb Castle. And everyone lived happily ever after.

The end.

 This blog is brought to you by—Trish! and our hero Rick Steves…

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Propasta

My dad’s side of the family is German, and my mom’s side of the family is Irish. However, if I could choose any heritage strictly based upon food, it would most definitely be pasta-wielding, pizza-throwing Italians. This is not to say that my fellow Germans and Irishmen don’t possess worthy food traditions. I’ve always been partial to Lucky Charms and a bratwurst though not necessarily together. With Saint Patrick’s Day just behind us, I should be writing about corned beef and Guinness, but I shall save those delightful little morsels for after my trip to Ireland. I just booked a trip there to discover half of my food heritage and to search for me pot of gold. While that’s in the near future, today I would like to expound upon my deep infatuation for pasta.

The shape of Italy is a BOOT!

I’ve had a love affair with carbs for almost 26 years now or at least since I began eating solid foods. Remember that horrible fad diet that excluded all carbs, including pasta? Yeah, me neither. Talk about a heart-breaking world to live in. A world without pasta is no world for me. Pappardelle bolognese, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti carbonara and so on all ring like music to my ears. During an interview for an internship, I was asked, “If you could eat at any restaurant in the world, where would it be?” My response was “at an Italian grandmother’s house.” This was before I knew any of those fancy schmancy restaurants owned by former contestants of Top Chef or those other Food Network celebrity chefs, who may or may not actually be chefs. Yet, my answer would remain the same to this day. I’ve never been to Italy, and maybe it’s because somewhere deep down inside, I know there is a great possibility that I would never return home. I do look forward to the day when I unite with that beautiful boot country, and I can live out my fantasy of the real never-ending pasta bowl. Let’s face it—the best part about Eat, Pray, Love was the Eat portion. Why? Italy, of course, where the pasta flows like water. I really could have put the book down after that section and been completely satisfied.

This deliciously super-fast pasta recipe was modified from Cooking Light magazine. Don’t worry, I didn’t modify all the lightness out of it. It pairs sweet cherry tomatoes with peppery arugula and savory sausage with nutty cheese. For those of you not familiar with arugula, it is a salad green that has a slightly bitter taste. If you have trouble finding it in your local supermarket, you can easily substitute it with some baby spinach but not grown-up spinach. Actually you can use grown-up spinach; it’s just not as cute. This recipe is a quick fix, so you should have everything out and ready to go to make the process smoother—mise en place [MEEZ ahn plahs] if you will, which is a French term that refers to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to cook. Last but not least, ENJOY!

SIDENOTE: Here’s an interesting tidbit about my favorite people, Italians. The first course of a traditional Italian meal is called “antipasta,” which sounds horrific to me. However, it literally means “before the meal” and includes cheeses, cured meats, olives, smoked fish and marinated vegetables but no pasta. This idea is comparative to our appetizers, the French’s hors d’oeuvres, and the Spanish’s tapas. Today, more and more restaurants are offering entire meals based on this “small plate” notion, or bite-sized portions to be shared amongst a group. Once I was telling my mom about going to one of these types of restaurants, and this is how it played out:

Me: I went to a tapas bar last night.

Mom: You went to a topless bar?

Me: No, tapas. It’s like a restaurant where they serve a lot of appetizer-sized dishes that you can share with your friends.

Mom: Oh, and people still wear their shirts, right?

This blog brought to you by—Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits (on vinyl), reading novels that I should’ve read in high school when I only read the Cliff’s Notes and “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which takes the boo out of taboo.

Turkey Sausage, Tomato and Arugula Fettuccine

1  (9-ounce) package refrigerated fettuccine

8  ounces hot Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings

2  teaspoons  minced garlic

1  pint grape tomatoes

¼  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

2  cups arugula leaves or baby spinach

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid.
  2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Break sausage into bite-sized pieces and add to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently to crumble. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and pepper; cover and cook 2 minutes. Mash tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up. Cover pan; reduce heat to low, and cook 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add pasta, reserved 2/3 cup cooking liquid, and arugula; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 4 servings

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There’s Always Room for Cake

If you ask any kid what their favorite food is, I would be willingly to bet that 1 in 3 will say, “Cake!” Grown-ups will most likely not say cake, but grown-ups lie. It isn’t so much that kids say the darndest things as they do the most truthful of things. As an adult that identifies more as a child, I can proudly say that I, Marie Hegler, do love cake with all my heart.

Relax, it's just chocolate!

Cake is the food of celebration. Why do you think people always serve cake at weddings? Because if they didn’t, nobody would bother to attend such a candid display of love and commitment. I’m kidding. Cake is also the main event of birthday celebrations. Remember the time when your Great Aunt Mildred took you to Ryan’s for your birthday. You specifically told her not to tell the waitress that it was, indeed, your birthday. But before you could butter your yeast roll, the Ryan’s team had surrounded your table clapping and chanting in a disturbing, cult-like fashion. Though you resented the singing and utter embarrassment of that moment, you knew Great Aunt Mildred’s coconut cake awaited you, so you politely smiled it off. Never underestimate the power of cake.

On the health spectrum, cake falls at the far end with other guilty pleasures that are considered unacceptable by someone named Jenny1 or Jillian2. Jenny and I are not friends, and my fear of Jillian climbing atop my back and making me run up flights of stairs has also prevented a budding friendship from forming. However, I do have a friend. Her name is Marisa. She is pretty. She also makes people cakes for their birthdays, which may or may not be one of the main reasons we are friends. For my ex-roommate/husband’s birthday not too long ago, Marisa and I teamed up and made one exceptionally malicious cake. This cake was first prepared for me by my friend Heather’s mom, Sheila. Sheila possesses the same entertaining poise and grace as the one and only Ina Garten (see SIDENOTE). During this blessed cake-consuming experience, the heavens opened up and made their glorious presence known.

The heavens are calling...they want their cake back!

Needless to say, Marisa and I jumped on board when given the chance to make this awe-inspiring cake for a special lad’s birthday. Lindsay helped by opening a few packages. The cake we prepared did not turn out nearly as…um…pretty or put-together as Sheila’s. It sort of fell apart upon cutting. Thankfully,  it was as delicious as it was messy. Allow me to break this cake down for you—four delicious layers of chocolate cake each topped with a mouth-watering, brown sugar-butter-walnut concoction and then freshly-made whipped cream.

We carried the cake in all its glory with us to a restaurant for my ex-roommate/husband’s birthday celebration. The first thing our fabulous waiter said to us was, “I’m gonna go ahead and get you guys some bread and waters, cuz I wanna a piece of that cake.” He was given a generous slice and so was our gracious hostess. As we departed the restaurant with bellies full and hearts warm, a few other waiters confessed to snagging a bite of the cake and commented on its superiority and decadence. I must add that this cake makes other cakes look like pudding snack packs, but you don’t have to take my word for it. You can ask Sheila, Lindsay, my ex-roommate/husband, Marisa, Heather, Brooke, our waiter, our hostess, a couple other waiters and Anna. So, the next time you and your entourage are dinning out, and the waiter asks if you’ve left room for dessert, don’t lie. There’s always room for cake.

SIDENOTE: Ina Garten with her trademark popped collar, bob and bangs haircut and nervous giggle is the queen of all things overly delicious and expensive on the Food Network. She is also known as the Barefoot Contessa. The name is really equivalent to a stage name since her cooking show is called Barefoot Contessa, the name of the gourmet store she once bought and operated in East Hampton. The store had been named by its original owner in tribute to the 1954 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Garten decided to keep the name when she took over, believing it represented her idea of an “elegant but earthy” lifestyle.

1Jenny Craig- a weight loss company that has centers across the U.S., most of which are located next to a Marble Slab Creamery

2Jillian Michaels- a fitness trainer who will make you cry off those unwanted pounds

This blog is brought to you by—Sheila’s cocktail hour, 14-year-olds portraying 14-year-olds in films (Ex: True Grit), and the Puppy Bowl.

Chocolate Praline Torte

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts

1 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup butter or margarine, melted

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil’s food cake mix without pudding (we tested with Duncan Hines)

1 ½ cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Garnishes: chopped walnuts, chocolate shavings

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine first 4 ingredients. Sprinkle about 1 cup walnut mixture into each of four ungreased 9-inch round cake pans, pressing lightly in pans.
  3. Prepare cake mix according to package directions; pour batter evenly over walnut mixture in prepared pans. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let layers cool in pans on wire racks 5 minutes; remove from pans.  Cool layers completely, nut side up, on wire racks.
  4. Beat whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixture until foamy; gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Place 1 layer, nut side up, on a serving plate. Spread 1 cup whipped cream over layer. Repeat with remaining layers, ending with whipped cream. Garnish, if desired. Serve immediately or cover and chill 1 to 2 hours. To serve, slice torte with a serrated knife. Yield: 1 (9-inch) torte.

Sheila Says: Sheila says she uses disposable cake pans in the size as close to 9 inches that she can find. She says they are usually smaller, but it’s close enough. Also, Sheila says when she assembles the cake, she puts a wooden skewer through the middle to help keep the cake together because it has a tendency to slide with all that whipped creamy goodness.

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