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Tale of Three Brunches 

In order to maintain our BFF-status, I will never say to my friend Jule, “Let’s go to brunch on Sunday.” Mind you she lives 2,500 miles away so it’s kind of an idle threat. But to discover why she is (gasp) opposed to brunch culture, check out her classic column from the DC City Paper. Unlike my friend Jule, I appreciate the brunch culture and all that the spectrum of a Sunday brunch can offer.

Meet up with friends or stay in your pajamas watching a Bravo marathon. Eat a healthy omelette to make your My Fitness Pal happy or drown your pancakes in syrup. Linger over a Bloody Mary while you convince yourself that there is a veggie serving included, especially here in Charleston where they put a crudité platter in your glass. Or you can try a smoothie with ingredients you would never welcome to your dinner plate. The potential is to either have brunch be the one thing you accomplish on a Sunday, or the kickoff to getting the most out of your last day off before the work week begins anew.

My tale of three brunches includes a brunch at 492 in Charleston, Rustic Table in Pawleys Island and a Sunday brunch at home.

Review: 492

The plethora of great restaurants in Charleston makes some things very difficult. For example, I look dumbfounded when someone asks me, “What’s your favorite restaurant in Charleston?” But some restaurants make life in Charleston a little easier by including their address (or part of their address) in the restaurant name.

Charleston locals and tourists don’t need Waze to find 82 Queen (82 Queen St), 39 Rue de Jean (39 John St), Fulton Five (5 Fulton St), Grill 225 (225 E Bay St), Kitchen 208 (208 King St), Bin 152 (152 King St) or Zero Restaurant & Bar (0 George St). But just as a warning to Charleston tourists, there are exceptions, 5 Church (32 N Market St) and 167 Raw (289 E Bay St).

492 is one of those easy finds. It is located at 492 King St in a beautifully restored 1800s building. Not only am I thankful that this building was saved, but I am also thankful for the lightly fried soft-shell crab on fluffy scrambled eggs I recently devoured. It reminded me why I love brunch so much. Would I want to eat a soft-shell crab at 7 in the morning? Probably not. But in the middle of the day, the creaminess of the eggs and the saltiness of the crab ensured that every bite was the perfect brunch bite. Soft-shell crabs are only in season for a few weeks but their regular brunch menu has a soft scramble which I am sure is delicious.

My husband had the carbonara because if it’s Sunday, John must eat pasta. I was very busy with my seafood scramble so my fork never had a chance to visit his plate. But it looked very cheesy with tender pieces of short ribs. And judging from the empty bowl our server carried away, I’m surmising it was exquisite.

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Carbonara at 492

Next time I will probably order the daily special because this is the kind of place where you trust that the chef’s special really is special. Their regular brunch menu has some great options like a double bacon cheeseburger with thousand island dressing and hash with pork belly and Brussels sprouts. I am also planning to take home a sourdough sticky bun next time because I think Mondays wouldn’t be so painful if I started with that.

Review: Rustic Table

Pawleys Island is about 90 minutes north of Charleston and heralds itself as “the oldest seaside resort in America”. The 2015 census estimated the population at 107 residents. I am not sure 107 residents need all of the great restaurants they have, but I think all of the great restaurants in town are needed to feed the tourists that flock to Pawleys year-round to take advantage of the great beaches and temperate South Carolina weather.

Adam Kirby is the chef/owner of both Rustic Table and it’s neighboring sister restaurant, Bistro 217. When our current United Nations Ambassador was South Carolina’s governor, she started a Chef Ambassador program. This annual program selects chefs to represent the best of South Carolina cuisine and Chef Kirby is a 2017 Chef Ambassador. The press release for the Chef Ambassador program mentions that the chefs are selected for their “dedication to using healthy, locally-grown ingredients.”

I must have missed the menu options that were the “healthy, locally-grown ingredients” because I was blinded by the description of the Pawleys Island Sandwich. It was everything I enjoy about Southern cuisine in one sandwich: buttery toast, creamy pimento cheese, thick fried green tomatoes and two types of pork (smoked bacon and spiral ham).

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Pawleys Island Sandwich

It is our tradition when eating with our friends who met us for brunch to have ice cream every time we get together. While there was an ice cream shoppe nearby, we decided to have dessert at Rustic Table, enticed by their combinations of sweets and homemade ice creams. Homemade vanilla ice cream over warm peach cobbler and chocolate chip pecan pie with a side of the vanilla ice cream were the hits of our brunch finale.

Chef Kirby certainly was selected to represent South Carolina because of his unique takes on traditional Southern cuisine. The service at Rustic Table was excellent and we didn’t feel rushed at all while we caught up with our friends. As a side note about brunch tipping, I recommend using 20% as a starting point and increase it based on the time you sat at the table. And only stick around if there is no line of people waiting to enjoy their brunch so that the servers can turn over their tables.

Recipe Review: Cornbread Waffles

Jule once told me she considered owning a waffle iron a sign of being an adult. I think perfecting waffles is the true sign of being an adult. A few weeks ago Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for cornbread waffles which challenged me to test my adulthood.

Between segments of CBS Sunday Morning, I threw together the batter in about five minutes. The recipe is only nine ingredients and yielded four giant waffles. We ended up eating two of them for brunch and then had the other two with our dinner the next night. I had my waffle with a fried egg and salsa and John enjoyed his with the last of some real Vermont maple syrup gifted to us by a friend. I recommend giving these a try when you have that random half-used carton of buttermilk in your fridge you don’t want to throw out. Were they perfectly crunchy on the outside and doughy in the middle? Not really. But I guess I am not quite an adult yet.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Cornbread Waffle

So how does my tale of three brunches end? Sunday brunch is my favorite meal of the week regardless of if I am meeting friends at a new restaurant or at home trying to perfect waffles. But there is nothing better than just sitting at home in my pajamas, reading the newspaper, having an extra cup of coffee and hoping time will stand still so that the “tick, tick, tick, tick, tick” of “60 minutes” won’t remind me that tomorrow is a work day and I don’t have the sourdough sticky bun from 492.

I am Amy. And this is my feed.

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Review: Sorghum & Salt

I’ll save you the Google search. Sorghum is a drought-tolerant grain commonly processed into either sweet sticky molasses syrup or ethanol…quite the range! Apparently it’s cheaper to make ethanol from sorghum than corn so I imagine we will be hearing more about sorghum in the future. I am equally certain we will be hearing more about Charleston’s month-old restaurant Sorghum & Salt.

Chef Tres Jackson must have crazy wild dreams because I am not sure how else he could come up with his menu’s amazing flavor combinations. I usually like to do a little pre-planning before going to a new restaurant by reviewing the menu. But Chef Jackson’s menu demanded more than just a peek. There were all sorts of new Scrabble-worthy words.

Mizuna: an Asian lettuce with crisp green leaves

Shiso: another Asian lettuce that kind of tastes like basil

Garganelli: tubular pasta

Cremeux: dense pudding

Financier: almond cake

This is a menu written by a chef who doesn’t need to come up with clever names for his food. For example, his fried chicken isn’t called “I’m not chicken to order this fried chicken.” It’s called “Crispy Fried Chicken-Fermented Collards-Chili-Sweet Potato-Ginger Honey.” This is also a menu of items screaming to be shared with other adventuresome eaters. Luckily I was there with my husband and our foodie friend, Michelle. Neither one blocks me when they see my fork creeping toward their plates.

The menu is divided into Gardens & Grains, Meat and Fish, Larger Plates and Dessert. While we studied the menu to make our final decisions, we ordered the bread service which was a sharable loaf of brown sugar bread with pork butter. Yes, Chef Jackson combined pork with butter…which may make him eligible for sainthood. Then we each picked two items for our dinners and three different desserts.

Crispy Brussels sprouts, root vegetable bolognese and cured steelhead trout started off our meal. The order-again winner here were the Brussels sprouts. The cooking time on these must be measured in seconds because just a few more seconds and they would have tasted burnt. Instead, every bite had a crunch of smokiness  complemented with some feta and local buttermilk. (As an aside, I always appreciate when a menu correctly lists the vegetable as Brussels sprouts rather than the incorrect Brussel sprouts.)

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Brussels sprouts, bolognese and trout…oh my

Next up were the panzanella, a smoked carrot and lamb ragu and the aforementioned fried chicken. Now fried chicken would be the last thing I would order from this innovative menu but thankfully my husband ordered it. It was hands-down the best bite of the table. It was the true trifecta of good fried chicken: sweetness from local honey, heat from the chili and juicy, perfectly cooked boneless chicken. No remorse over leaving a tasty morsel trapped on the bone. The whole, golden, crispy, sweet/hot delicacy was devourable. The panzanella was definitely not your traditional Italian bread cubes-tomato type panzanella. It was a little on the fancy food spectrum but it was fun to try different flavor forkful combinations with the creamy ricotta, the sweet bread cubes and different types of lettuces. The ragu was a very rich dish and the serving was huge for something that wasn’t on the “Larger Plates” section of the menu.

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Panzanella

For dessert we ordered the beet cremeux, the blue cheese cake and the chocolate cake. The chocolate cake was the one dessert not on the menu but it’s definitely the one that should be put on the permanent menu. The beet cremeux was the texture of pana cotta and didn’t have a strong beet taste. Which I guess is a good thing in a dessert but I was hoping for a more intense flavor. The blue cheese cake had the opposite problem…it was TOO intense. It was reviewed by our friend as “something better served at the beginning of a meal with some crackers and a nice glass of wine.” It was more blue cheese and less cheesecake. We attempted to morph it into a dessert by combining it with the beet cremeux and then with the chocolate cake but it just didn’t want to grow up to be a dessert. But it would be an amazing first course. The chocolate cake, served with pistachio butter,  was the perfect ending to this meal and thankfully my husband knows how to share.

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Aptly named Cheese Cake… definitely not Cheesecake #allspacesmatter

Sorghum & Salt’s concept is to highlight local ingredients in innovative ways. This isn’t your typical farm-to-table restaurant. Chef Jackson is more of a “Buckle up, you farm fresh ingredients. I am about to take you for a ride.” Our server (server name on the receipt said Babes) was exceptionally friendly, knowledgeable, funny and charming which always makes a great meal even better. Chef Jackson even stopped by our table to welcome us and share a little bit of his story with us.

I will be keeping my eyes on their website to see when they change their menu each season so I can make a return visit. And as an extra bonus, I am pretty sure I will pick up some more Scrabble-worthy words.

I am Amy. And this is my feed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Noble Meal Fit for a King

Chef Jim Noble opened The King’s Kitchen & Bakery  in 2010 as a non-profit restaurant in downtown Charlotte, NC. Chef Noble’s concept is to provide job training and other life skills to folks who may need a second (or third) chance. He donates 100% of the restaurant’s profits to feed the poor. With all that goodness in the backstory, I seriously doubted that there was any goodness left for my plate.

I have never been so happy to be so wrong.

I was a guest at a group dinner.  We ordered from a pre-set menu, which is a good thing because I would probably still be there deciding what to eat. Chef Noble prepares southern cuisine with (mostly) local ingredients and he keeps the preparations simple and the flavors delicious. This isn’t fancy food with drizzles and smears on the plate. Who needs fancy when you can have your choice of: mouth-watering, juicy fried chicken named after someone’s Aunt Beaut, no-knife-needed pot roast or perfectly grilled Wild Alaskan salmon?

Side dishes were served family style in large bowls; generous mounds of black-eyed peas, smashed sweet potatoes and collard greens. Living in Charleston, I have had my share of those three classic sides. They can sometimes be over-prepared with someone trying a little too hard to make them something they aren’t. But these sides were prepared with limited ingredients so you actually tasted the black-eyed peas (rather than smoked ham), the smashed sweet potatoes tasted like sweet potatoes (rather than brown sugar) and the collard greens tasted like greens (rather than bacon). I did add a little hot sauce to the collards so they wouldn’t taste too healthy.

Like any good southern meal, we ended our meal with some dessert. The two choices were banana pudding served in a little mason jar and a three-layered coconut cake. I had the banana pudding which could have done without the large heaping pile of toasted marshmallow cream. But the pudding tasted homemade, the Nilla wafers weren’t soggy and who doesn’t love a dessert served in a little mason jar?

Was this the most memorable southern food I have ever eaten? Maybe not. Is it one of the most memorable restaurants I have ever been to? Absolutely. Will I be coming back to King’s Kitchen in July when I return to Charlotte? You betcha.

Maybe then I can find out who Aunt Beaut is and get her recipe for the pan fried chicken that everyone was raving about.

I’m Amy. And this is my feed.

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Fit for a King (or a Queen) Indeed

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Decisions…Decisions

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Sometimes You Just Need a Cookie

I am a Brownie dropout.

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My one and only badge ceremony.

My Brownie troop met in the cafeteria of Villa Marie Elementary in Erie, PA on Saturday mornings. I remember thinking that I would be doing the “cool” activities like my brother did in the Boy Scouts. You can imagine my disappointment (and that of my feminist mother) when our activities involved baking and crocheting unusable oven mitts. So after months of home-ec-ish activities, my mother gave me the option to change our Saturday morning ritual from Brownie meetings to visiting our library. Books beat Brownies.

I never made it to that coveted green uniform with the pageant sash. I never went through the rite of passage of guilting my parents’ friends and coworkers into buying cookies. And I always rolled my eyes a bit in the spring when I walked by Girl Scouts selling cookies.

Eight years ago this month while I was at work, I found out my mother died. My coworkers rallied around me offering me everything they could to comfort me, including one sweet woman who had to write for me because my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t hold a pen. I came up with my immediate plan for the day which was for my best friend to drive me to my mom’s apartment and my boyfriend (now husband) would meet us there.

But we weren’t able to leave for about an hour. I had no idea what I was going to do for an hour. I couldn’t just sit in my cubicle while my loving coworkers looked at me with such sad eyes.

My boss at the time had suffered the tragic and sudden death of his wife less than a year prior to my mom dying. I had watched him stoically deal with his own grief yet I was avoiding him because I didn’t want to hear the adages that spill out of well-intentioned people during times like these. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “It will get easier with time.” “She isn’t in any pain anymore.”

But my boss asked me into his office and after sitting quietly for a few minutes staring out his window, he asked me if there was anything he could do. I looked around his office and saw boxes of Thin Mints. I asked him if I could have a cookie.

He opened up a sleeve of cookies and I began eating them…the whole sleeve. Maybe he had a few. I’m not sure. I just remember sitting in his office, staring out his window, eating Thin Mints and neither of us saying a word. When it was time for me to leave to go to my mother’s apartment he handed me two boxes of Thin Mints which I gladly accepted and neither of us spoke a word.

Now every spring when we see those girls with their moms selling cookies outside of the grocery store, my husband (who is the last person I know who carries cash) picks up a few boxes of Thin Mints for me. This past weekend we picked up some cookies on the last day of sales.

At some point this month, I will have a sleeve of Thin Mints with a cold glass of milk. I will toast my mother for all of her quirks, flaws and mostly for how much she loved me. And I will toast my former boss for knowing exactly what I needed that day…just some cookies and some quiet.

I am Toni’s daughter. And this is my feed.

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My mom and me being ironic at the Juliette Gordon Low house, the First Girl Scout Headquarters, in Savannah in the ’90s.

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Chicken Soup for the Soul and the “I’m not sick”

I hate being sick. I hate my husband being sick even more. He is empathetic and caring when I am sick making sure my pillow is cool, bringing me ginger ale and leaving me alone on the couch to watch random shows on Bravo. I wish I could be his Clara Barton when he is sick. But he never stops working long days and frequently says, “I’m not sick” as if admitting he was sick was the actual cause of his illness.

This time around he got some meds from the doctor early on but this creepy crud just won’t go away. Paging through the March issue of Dr. Oz’s The Good Life magazine, I found a recipe for “Chicken Soup with Lemon and Orzo” which reminded me of the soup found in Greek restaurants. With most of the ingredients on hand, I decided to give the “feed a cold; starve a fever” adage a whirl.

These were my shortcuts to the recipe below. I know it’s cheaper and more flavorful to do some things differently. For example, I have been given about four different “it’s so easy” types of stock recipes. But I am still emotionally scarred from my last attempt at stock where I absent-mindedly poured the hours-in-the-making stock down the drain rather than in a bowl. So boxed stock it is for me.

  • I had purchased pre-chopped celery and carrots earlier this week for snacking so it made it super easy to prep the celery and carrots.
  • My husband doesn’t like onions and since this soup was for him, I kept them out.
  • I used regular orzo rather than whole wheat orzo.
  • I used prepackaged stir-in paste dill.
  • I used a grocery store lemon pepper rotisserie chicken and boxed chicken stock.

The result was lemony delicious and it tasted better the next day (as all soups do) even with mildly soggy orzo. Next time I will cook the orzo seperately and just add it to the broth per serving. The dill paste made the broth taste delightfully dilly fresh without dill specks getting stuck in my teeth. And (best of all) it took only about 20 minutes to throw this together, but it had the flavor of something cooking all day. I credit the rotisserie chicken from Publix which I patiently stalked the deli counter for in order to get one fresh from the oven.

I wish I could say that John said he felt instantly better after a big bowl of this soup. But that would mean he would have to admit he was sick. And that’s about as likely as it is for me to make my own chicken stock.

I’m Amy. And this is my feed.

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Chicken Soup with Lemon and Orzo

Serves 4 

Ingredients

1 Tbs olive oil

1 onion

2 celery stalks

1/2 cup diced carrots

1 tsp coarse salt

3/4 cup orzo

6 cups chicken stock

dill (to taste)

juice of 1 lemon plus 4 thin slices of lemon

pepper (to taste)

2 cups baby spinach leaves (I used an 8 ounce bag of spinach)

Directions

Heat oil over medium heat. If using onion, cook for 4-5 minutes and then add the celery, carrot and salt. Cook until all the vegetables are soft (about 5-6 minutes).

Add the orzo, stock and some dill. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the orzo is cooked (about 5-10 minutes). This gives you time to pull apart the chicken.

Add the shredded chicken, lemon juice, lemon slices and some pepper and simmer until the chicken is warmed. Throw in the spinach until the spinach is wilted. Give it a taste and add some more dill if so inclined.

Recipe adapted from: Spungen, Susan. “World’s Best Chicken Soup.” Dr. Oz The Good Life 4.2 (2017): 97-101. Print. .

 

 

 

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Happily Ever AFTTR

Most nights I am cooking for just me and my husband, John. Aside from having to finely mince onions so he doesn’t see them in his food, he truly will eat anything I put in front of him. His tolerance for new recipes is why I became confident in cooking after decades of only using recipes with a maximum of five ingredients.

While this blog is the first hobby I have ever had, John has had a lifetime of hobbies including reading about military history, collecting fire service memorabilia and working on his HO scale model train board. When I started obsessing about not having a hobby, he encouraged me to try painting the model figures for his trains. But that’s his “thing” and I am pretty sure I would go mad painting a figure on a 1:87 scale.

John includes his other hobbies on his train board with a few fire stations and a war memorial with cannons. He has also built two buildings incorporating our adventures together at home in Charleston and while on vacation. The first structure is a greenery green restaurant named AFTRR, Amy’s Farm to Table Restaurant & Market. It is loosely based on the Stono Market and Tomato Shed Cafe located on John’s Island minutes from our house and a few other places we have come across on our travels like the Franklin Mercantile Deli in Franklin, TN. Folks inside AFTRR are enjoying their lunch while the chefs are on a break on the back porch and a farmer is delivering some deliciousness from his pick-up truck. Next to AFTTR is a winery, Amy’s Winehouse, with friends enjoying a tasting amid vats of wine. The truck parked next to it is from the Napa Valley Wine Train that we went on a few years ago.

Model training and food blogging are pretty much solitary hobbies. But just as John includes memories of our life together in his hobby, I hope to do the same with this blog. I am pretty sure you will enjoy getting to know him but please don’t let him know about the onions.

I’m Amy. And this is my feed.

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Yes, I sing “Rehab” every time I see this.

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My happily ever after