Eating my way through Columbus

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As a self-proclaimed restaurant-scouter-outer, I’m always on the hunt for new, interesting places to try.  As such, I’m constantly asking people for recommendations.  Where’s the best Indian?  Who has the best tacos?  Where can a girl get a decent breakfast sandwich?  Here are some of my recent favorites around Columbus, in iPhone-photo dump fashion.  Did I miss your top pick?  Let me know if the comments below!

Dan the Baker.  The first time I stopped into the Toast Bar, I ate approximately 17 pieces of the free sample bread at the cash register.  No shame.  All the bread is sour dough based, and the country sour is my favorite.  I try to grab some each week at the Clintonville Farmers Market!  Pictured below is the wonderful mushroom tartine available at the Toast Bar in Grandview.

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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams!  This is, hands down, the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  You heard me.  So rich, so creamy.  My favorites include Brambleberry Crisp, Lemon & Blueberry Buttermilk Yogurt, Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks, and Brown Butter Almond Brittle.

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6-1-pho.  I wanted to check this place out immediately, solely based on the punny name.  I’m happy to report the food keeps me going back.  Most of the dishes are based on recipes handed down from the owner’s grandmother.  I love that!  My favorites include the veggie pho and the cold noodle salad with veggie egg roll and tofu on top!

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The Refectory.  I had the privilege of enjoying an eleven course tasting menu with the #cbusfoodbloggers last month — get the drool worthy recap here.  My favorite dish was the sturgeon and gambas duet with herruga caviar blinis and sun dried tomato beurre blanc.

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I did a 3-day cleanse and lived.

I’m one hour into my 3-day cleanse. I say to myself, “I think it’s working?” I do that little dance where you turn to the side and see if your belly has magically inverted. “I mean my jeans are definitely not cutting off my circulation today.”

Fast forward a couple of hours to my first FIBER SWEEP drink.  It’s somehow slimy and gritty all at once.  I make the mistake of drinking this concoction slowly, which allows time for the fiber to coagulate right there at my desk.  The last quarter literally requires chewing.

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Later, I drink my first vanilla fresh shake, a beverage that I am required to drink with both lunch and dinner.  Despite the “DELICIOUS” claims printed on the flyer, this shake is barely swallowable. I quickly learn that chugging is the only option.  Fortunately, a sprinkle of cinnamon helps ease my gag reflex.  Unfortunately, the cinnamon does not alleviate the gas.  Vanilla “fresh” … the irony.

Before I fall asleep that first night, I declare to the world (via a solitary text to my boyfriend) that I am quitting the cleanse.  Though quitting is not in my nature, I am certain this cleanse is worthy of a quit.  I am done.

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Seven hours later, I awake with renewed gumption.  I tell myself I’ll do it for science.  FOR SCIENCE, I say.

Going into this cleanse, I was mostly worried about going hungry for three solid days.  Interestingly, this was not the case. Though I ate about 1,200 calories per day each of the three days (the bulk of which came from shakes), my stomach felt unnaturally full.  I did not feel COMPLETELY REFRESHED as the box implied I would.  Honestly, I felt angry (or was it just hangry?).  As sad as this is to mention out loud, I felt like my days had lost their color.  In my world, an injection of interesting food is akin to bumping up the contrast on a picture being edited for Instagram.  Everything looks so much brighter, so much fuller that way.

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Seven Year Bloggiversary.

Each year, on the anniversary of the date I started this blog (the bloggiversary, if you will), I post a recap about all the cool things that have happened in the past year.  There were years when I did several food segments on the morning news and years where I traveled across the country for the blog, but this past year was sorely lacking in these types of exciting life events.  It was instead a year of stress and challenge, a year that frankly isn’t much fun to reflect on.

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(Check out my 5th-year and 6th year anniversary posts!)

I did go on a press trip to Hocking Hills in January, during the Whole30, at which I was served brownies for breakfast, to which I was forced to politely decline.  OH THE HUMANITY.  Honestly, I focused more on fitness than food this year, which I believe helped me from completely going off the deep end.  Well, that and my new obsession with Trader Joe’s plantain chips.  Soooo crunchy.

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This year I thought about changing the name of this blog, as I have done off and on over the past seven years.  I picked the name “fervent foodie” on a whim, and it’s never seemed to fully capture what I hope for this space.  I guess that’s probably how my parents feel about naming me Mary, when clearly I’m more of a Zoe.  I mean, that’s what that online quiz I took said.

My most popular post over the last 365 days was my Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe (originally posted in 2010, most popular blog post, SEVEN years running).  Come on people.  This is followed closely by my Charlotte Foodie Guide and this HIGHLY informative post on how to make leftover pizza taste like it was just delivered.

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I’m still not eating meat, and sure as heck don’t miss it.  Except sometimes when I see a turkey sandwich with avocado and sprouts or a big fat meatball.  Or smell some North Carolina pulled pork.  Other than that, I totally don’t miss it.  This year I also learned that despite all the exercise and healthy eating I cram into my days, my cholesterol is high.  This makes absolutely no sense.  I’ve temporarily omitted eggs and shrimp from my diet.  The verdict is still out on whether this unscientific experiment will make a difference.

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When I started blogging back in 2010, I posted about 3 times a day.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner every dang day.  This past year?  I posted about once every three months.  That’s grad school for you.  The truth is, blogging takes a lot of freaking time.  More time than most people have, actually.  And I believe that’s why so many people are shifting to micro-blogging platforms (like Instagram, for example).

My lack of blogging this year freed up some time which I ironically used to start the Columbus Food Bloggers group.  With the help of Erin (the Spiffy Cookie), Jordan (Midwest Foodfest), and Stacy (Eat Pretty 614), we’ve connected nearly fifty Columbus foodies and planned more events than I can recall.  Our definition of the word “blogger” includes Instagram-only foodies (those micro-bloggers I talked about earlier), which is wonderful, otherwise I’d be kicked out of my own group for lack of posting.

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Last month, I spent a weekend in Charlotte (the city I moved away from last year), and as I headed south on 77 and the skyline finally creeped into view, I was hit with a sharp wave of sadness.  I guess it’s sort of like when a relationship ends for valid reasons, but you still love and care about that other person.  It’s easy to push it from your mind when you’re keeping busy, but there’s no avoiding that punch-in-the-gut feeling that hits when your paths do happen to cross.

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Good enough.

Though I picked the name “fervent foodie” for this blog, those of you who’ve stuck with me over the last 7 years of intermittent blogging know that healthy living is a huge part of my life, and is a theme that trickles into the posts on this site.  This is one of those posts.  [Looking for something to cook?  I recommend Potato Pie.  Because potatoes are always the answer.]

I am writing to you from my desk on campus.  It’s the last month of the first year of my PhD program.  I have just four weeks to go.  And man.  WHAT A YEAR this has been.

As I talk to more and more people who have successfully navigated PhD programs, I’m learning that it’s completely normal to feel like you’re not good enough.  And that this feeling won’t go away.  EVER.  They call it the Imposter Syndrome.  We all feel like we’re not smart enough to be here, that we were accepted by mistake, and we’re all worried that eventually everyone else will find out how dumb we actually are.  These feelings are not unique to PhD programs, of course.  When you surround yourself with exceptional people, the bar is often too high to touch, no matter how much effort you give it.

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When I started the PhD program, I knew it would be the hardest thing I’d ever attempted.  More challenging than finishing my undergraduate degree in three years or kicking the CPA Exam’s booty.  Or studying for the GMAT til midnight each night for months on end.  More challenging than working in Big Four Accounting or pursuing my Masters while working full-time.  I knew all of this, yet I had no benchmark to prepare myself.  I went into this year as I do all of life’s greatest tasks — with my head down and my eyes locked in on success.  The problem here is that unlike other obstacles I’d tackled, there is no tangible, well-defined measure of success in a PhD program.  And that, my friends, was nearly crippling for me.

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Hocking Hills: Winter Getaway + Comfort Food Cruise Giveaway

I don’t know about you guys, but once January rolls into town, I don’t want to do a dang freaking thing.  It’s hard to find any sort of motivation; even getting out of bed is a struggle.  I wake up, feeling half drunk, confused why it’s still dark even though I slept in.

Thankfully, I broke this January rut last weekend and headed down to Hocking Hills.  Did you know winter hiking is a thing?

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Hocking Hills in the winter is stunning.  Who knew snow could look so good?

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The purpose of my trip was to learn all about Hocking’s fourth annual Comfort Food Cruise, a fun January-only foodie event focused on a whole lot of country cooking (more details PLUS A GIVEAWAY below!).

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Vegetarian Whole30: Week Two Menu

I just keep rambling on and on about how easy the Whole30 is, and I get the sense some of you are virtually rolling your eyes at me.  So let me be honest here.  I ate a slice of bread with butter this weekend.  It happened, and I’m not proud.  But when you get invited to a retreat in Hocking Hills and you’re too embarrassed to BYO vegetables, the Whole30 becomes significantly more challenging.  Especially when dinner on night #1 is pasta and bread.  It wasn’t even special.  Just a small hunk of cold french bread with a bit of butter to quiet my growling belly.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt angry.  It took me a bit to put my finger on it, but I realized that I was angry I’d lost control.  And that perhaps the reason I like Whole30 so much is that it appeals to my strong desire to be in control.  (Verdicts still out on whether this is a good or bad thing. . . )

Kale & Onion Potato Pie #whole30 {ferventfoodie.com}

On day #2 of the retreat, I got back on the wagon.  While my comrades indulged in biscuits and gravy, french fries, all-you-can-eat pie buffets, and 13-variety wine tastings, I ate eggs and potatoes, SALAD BAR x 100, and maybe a little too much coffee.  And I felt really good, actually.  Even when I turned down a cheese-loaded potato skin.  Even after passing on the gooey candied apple.  Even when declining the wine slushy.  Even when offered a hot gooey brownie FOR BREAKFAST. (Full disclosure:  I brought the brownie home and popped it in the freezer for post-Whole30 enjoyment.) I felt so good, I decided to start my Whole30 over again, to make up for that lousy slice of bread and butter.

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Vegetarian Whole30: Week One Menu

The idea of cutting dairy, sugar, grains, beans, alcohol, and processed goods from your diet can feel a bit… suffocating.  Granted, this a big change from how most of us regularly eat, but I’m often surprised to find how freeing the Whole30 process feels.  Anyone who has struggled to come up with a weekly meal plan or who has stressed over what the heck to cook for dinner tonight will likely appreciate these feelings of relief.  When you drastically limit the number of options, it makes the decision process simpler.  It’s like trying to select an outfit from a closet packed to the brim with hundreds of pieces versus picking an outfit from one of those cool, minimalist capsule wardrobes.  When you keep a closet stocked with only versatile pieces you love and that actually fit, picking an outfit is a cinch.

I spent the NYE weekend eating my weight in bagels and cheese and talking to friends about Whole30, and I realized one of the biggest Whole30 concerns was WHAT to cook.  To return to my wardrobe analogy, it’s as if everyone really wants a capsule wardrobe (I do, I do!), but they’re just not sure what pieces (recipes) make the the cut.

Good news.  This January I’ll be sharing some ideas for weekly menus, in an effort to get those Whole30 juices flowing.  Rather than a restrictive, all-inclusive 7-day meal plan, these menu ideas are meant to serve as a jumping off point.

First time doing a Veg Whole30?  Check out this post.  Snag the Week Two menu here.

Frittata with Simple Arugula Salad {ferventfoodie.com]

My Whole30.  

In my last post, I laid out some of the differences between regular Whole30 and Vegetarian Whole30, including all the good stuff Vegetarians get to swap in place of meat.  No matter what type of Whole30 you do, planning is crucial, and batch cooking over the weekends will make life much easier.  Things get a little more complicated when you have a variety of eaters in one house.  Say, for example, you’ve got a meat-eater and a vegetarian.  Vegetables and fats can be shared by all, but some things that are OK for Veg Whole30 (beans, tofu, tempeh, etc.) are not allowed for regular Whole30.

In my house, we have a meat-eater who likes to regularly eat meat-free and a part-time pescetarian who prefers a veg-based diet with occasional seafood (1-3 meals per week).  So, our version of Whole30 is  a blended one:  Veg Whole30 plus occasional seafood (meat for the carnivore).


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How to do a Vegetarian Whole30

Nearly every year, somewhere in the weird limbo land between Christmas and New Years, I get these strong put-my-life-back-together pangs. I think about January, the new year, and how I’m going to finally fix everything I’ve been doing wrong. Eat less, exercise more. Stress less, sleep more. Waste less, wash my sheets more. My internal monologue is filled with lots of LESS-of-this and MORE-of-that, and visions of me emerging from January skinnier, shinier, and noticeably more muscular than I entered it.

You feel me?
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The last few Januarys I’ve succumbed to this self-imposed pressure by voluntarily committing to a January Whole30.  For those who aren’t familiar, Whole30 is a nutritional reset program. Thirty days of super clean eating to help you cleanse your body (and your mind) and get your eating habits back on track. The simplest, shortest way to explain Whole30 goes a little something like this: a lot of vegetables, meat, and healthy fats and… nothing else. That means no grains, no beans, no sugar, no dairy, no processed what have you’s, no Paleo baked goods (or other technically-Whole30-approved “junk food”), and NO BOOZE for thirty days.

That’s right, just vegetables, meat, and healthy fats. There’s just one problem. Over a year ago, I quit meat. It wasn’t planned, and it may not last forever, but for the foreseeable future, I won’t be putting any land animals in my mouth. So, what happens when you take meat out of the Whole30 equation, and all you’re left with is vegetables and fat?

According to the official Whole 30 book It Starts With Food, you can’t really do a vegetarian Whole30.  Pescetarian?  No prob.  Vegetarian though…  First, the authors do their best to convince vegetarians to just “give up” their meat-free ways for 30 days, like it’s as simple as deciding you’re not going to eat ketchup anymore.  If you aren’t up for such a sacrifice, a vegetarian diet will require some Whole30 modifications to ensure your food intake is balanced and wholesome.  It’s called Veg Whole30.

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Here’s what you get to swap in for all the meat when you do a Veg Whole30:

  • Limited dairy from pastured, organic, fermented sources (like yogurt and kefir)
  • Minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto
  • Organic edamame
  • Nonfermeted soy (extra-firm tofu)
  • Legumes (soaked for 12-24 hours, rinsed, then boiled for at least 15 minutes to reduce anti-nutrient and inflammatory compounds)
  • Whey protein powder from grass-fed organic sources
  • Hemp or pea protein powders

The authors caution to avoid all grains and grain products, including seitan and quinoa, while doing the Veg Whole30.  Likewise, they suggest eating beans and tofu in rotation (i.e., not eating them every day).

When you quit meat, people often wonder how the heck you get your protein in.  It’s a good question, though, I think most people are eating way more protein than they need each day.  I recently read a series of posts on No Meat Athlete, which argue that only 10-15% of our daily calorie intake needs to come from protein.  Say you eat about 1800 calories a day.  That means at least 180 should come from protein, which is the equivalent of at least 45 grams of protein a day.

#vegwhole30 {ferventfoodie.com}

Here’s an example of how to easily hit 45g of protein by lunch time under Veg Whole30:

Breakfast:  2 eggs* + 1 cup sauteed kale + 1/2 cup lentils  = 23g protein

Lunch:  3 oz tempeh + 1 cup broccoli + 1 med banana + 1 tbsp almond butter = 24g protein

*Note that if you don’t eat eggs, you could easily double the kale/lentil combo and exceed the 45g protein goal.

At risk of sounding crass, Veg Whole30 isn’t really that hard.  Sure, it takes dedication, planning, and more time spent cooking than most folks are used to, but I actually enjoy all that stuff.  I like the excuse to get into the kitchen, and I think it’s fun to make every darn thing from scratch.  Whole30 isn’t meant to be a long-term “diet” — it is a 30-day reset.  Which, in January, feels especially welcome after weeks of holiday overeating under our bulging belts.  Speaking from the other side, Whole30 will change the way you eat (and drink) long term, far past the end of January.

      

Some links that may be useful:

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5-Minute Fancy Cheese Plate on a Budget

Being able to throw together a solid cheese plate in a short amount of time is one of the keys to adulting.  It’s also key to making a night at home feel like a special occasion, even when you’re short on energy and the budget is tight.  Sure, you could eat the cheese on crackers pulled straight from the box while standing in the kitchen mindlessly trolling Facebook, but why not take five minutes to make the whole cheese and carbs thing a little more special?

In my experience, the secret to making a great cheese plate is variety:  contrasting flavors and textures make all the difference!  So, let’s talk cheese.  I like to think that there are four main categories of cheese:  soft, hard, stinky, and the wildcard.  Other folks may use stuffier categories, but this is what works for me!  When picking cheese, I try to select only one from each category.  For example, I might pick a brie (a classic, soft cheese that deserves a place on any cheese board), Manchego (hard), Gorgonzola (stinky), and smoked Gouda (wildcard).

Good news.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a good cheese plate–with just one nice cheese and some inexpensive accouterments, you can create an impressive spread for less than ten buckaroos.

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For this simple cheese plate, I picked a rich and creamy goat milk brie ($2.79 at Trader Joe’s), gluten free rice crackers ($2.50 per box), a handle of almonds I had on hand ($FREE), and several goodnessknows snack squares (half a box = $2.50). That’s a fancy, filling cheese plate for less than $8! As an added bonus, this combination is totally gluten free.

Sure they call it a “cheese plate” but I think it’s really all the OTHER stuff that makes a cheese plate shine.  Rather than spending tons of money at the grocery store, take a look in your pantry and your fridge, and pull out anything and everything that looks good for nibbling.  Pickles of any variety, dried fruit, chocolate, honey, fruit preserves, mustard, nuts, cured meats, fresh bread, crostini, croutons…  I realize this sounds like a big hodgepodge, but, assuming you only keep things on hand that you actually enjoy eating, I don’t think you can go wrong!  One of my favorite stumbled-upon combinations, for example, is goat cheese Gouda + dill pickles + stadium mustard.  THE BEST.  The odds-and-ends plate is where it’s at.

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It’s all about the “O”

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the case of the macaron vs. macaroon.  I have eaten both macaroons and macarons in my day, and though I’ve pronounced both as maca-two-o’s-oons (despite their obvious disparities) not once has a server indicated that I was pronouncing the daintier dessert (pictured on the left below) incorrectly; in fact, I believe they, too, pronounced the name wrong.  It’s sort of like how we’re all in denial and order “brushetta” even though we’ve learned the proper pronunciation is “brusketta.”  Same goes for gyro and “year-ro” I (grudgingly) suppose…

But back to the case at hand.  Both of these similarly named confections start with meringue:  egg whites and sugar whipped to glossy stiffness.  That’s where the cookies reach the fork in the road, the whisk in the peaks, if you will:  the difference lies in the execution.

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Macarons are of Parisian decent, and (to further complicate things) are sometimes referred to as “Parisian Macaroons” (note the 2 o’s).  Luckily, macarons are easily identifiable by the sandwich-style presentation, the buns of which are light, airy almond meringue cookies.  Macaron filling options are limitless; buttercream, fruit preserves, and chocolate ganache are frequent choices. The cookies and fillings are typically dyed in bright and fashionable coordinating colors, and the hue arguably makes a bigger statement than the flavor of the delicate cookie itself.  It’s confection couture at its finest.

Notoriously difficult to prepare (Sally’s recipe requires two hours of prep time), traditional macaron recipes require advanced planning and aging of the egg whites.  The whites are separated from the yolks and left to age in the fridge (sometimes for several days), and are then incorporated with almond flour and sugar.  The batter is piped out with precision into round, flat, equally-sized discs, and as the cookies bake, a ruffled “foot” forms at the base, later serving as a frilly filling garter.

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