Say yes to lunch.

When I started this blog,  I was 25 and living in Akron, Ohio, in a house I’d bought because, well, that’s what I’d thought I was supposed to do.  Everyone else was settling down, so I strapped a mortgage on my back, and hunkered down.  I spent my first summer there in the backyard, mulching and weeding like a good homeowner.  I filled the rooms with second-hand furniture, replaced the water heater, and worried endlessly about that weird clicking noise the fridge made.  The house was a fun and infinitely stressful addition to my life, but after a year or so, it lost its luster.  I was bored.  With the house, with my job, and especially with living in NE Ohio.  And that, my friends, is when I decided to start a food blog.

I named the blog Fervent Foodie because I love food, I can be a little intense, and I love alliteration.  *dusts hands off* 

[mug by JMNpottery]

Since then, the word “foodie” has developed some negative connotation.  Eatocracy referred to it as “the other F-word” and HuffPost Taste listed it (along with “moist” and “nom nom”) as a most-hated food word.  I don’t care.  Definitionally speaking, I’m a foodie.  531798_510904095612767_717723832_n

Fervent Foodie was birthed five years ago, to the day, which is, by all accounts, the longest relationship I’ve ever been in.  That’s what this blog is to me.  A relationship.  A life partner, of sorts.  Like any relationship, there have been ups and downs, times when my blog was my priority, and others when it was a burden.  But through it all, the blog was there.  Every time life got turned on its ass, I poured myself into the blog.  My blog became my wingman, support system, and crutch.  When I wasn’t confident enough to go at it alone, I used the blog as my excuse.  We’ve even traveled together, me and the blog, to Chicago, Nashville, Birmingham, Greenville, and Seattle, not once but TWICE.

seattle with gap creek gourmet

[with Nichole (Gap Creek Gourmet) in Seattle, IFBC 2014]

Shortly after moving to Charlotte my birthday rolled around.  I didn’t have a friend in the entire city, so I sent an email to a group of random Charlotte food bloggers asking them if they’d like to come to lunch.  Guess what?  THEY CAME.  The food blogging community is incredible.

[Julie (Willow Bird Baking), Vanessa (Life Undeveloped), Katie (Honeystuck), and Jamie (Bibliophiled Away), looking like straight up babies here.]

After that birthday lunch, I implemented a new life mantra:  say yes to lunch.  If someone asks me to lunch (or coffee or dinner or drinks, whatev) I just say YES.  Even if I don’t know the person, or think we have nothing in common, and ESPECIALLY when I really just don’t want to go, I just say yes.  This is how I built a circle of friends and colleagues from scratch in Charlotte.  “Say yes to lunch” was my personal policy, but somehow it seemed everyone else was on board.  I can’t think of a time when I’ve asked someone to lunch and had the invitation turned down.  That’s Charlotte for you.

holiday party

[#cltfoodbloggers Holiday Potluck]

Looking back over my posts in those early years is somewhat embarrassing.  My views of healthy living have shifted drastically.  Back then, I was the captain of Team Fat-Free Everything.  The fewer calories, the better.  PB2?  I was all about it. For those who aren’t familiar, PB2 is basically peanut butter that they sucked all the fat out of, turning it to peanut dust, which is then reconstituted with water to a flavorless, peanut butter-colored paste.  Yes, I was ALL about that.

Cltfoodbloggers

[#cltfoodbloggers event at the Punch Room; Corri (Black Wednesday Social Co.) & Chrissie (Off the Eaten Path)]

These days I care more about whole foods than about how many calories are on my plate.  Thank god, because I don’t want to live in a world without peanut butter.  My cooking skills have improved drastically over the years, so it’s somewhat embarrassing when a friend mentions she looked up an old recipe post.  The most popular post on this blog to-date is by far the Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe I posted back in 2010.  Part of me considers this a personal failure, but ultimately, I’m just happy to contribute to game-day grubbing festivities across the globe.

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[#cltfoodbloggers group dinner at Red Ginger]

It’s been five whole years of recipes, ramblings, and restaurant reviews.  Through the blog, I’ve written for the official Urbanspoon blog and Our State Magazine’s Food Blog, did a series of recipe videos for Tropical Foods, and appeared on the morning news to talk about sausage, not once but twice.  Yes.  I’ve made friends, found inspiration, and grown immensely.  It’s been a heck of a ride, these past five years.  That’s the thing about anniversaries–they force you to reflect.  What I’ve realized, over the past year or so, as I’ve watched friends pursue their passions and opt to take the roads less traveled, is that I’ve spent a lot of my time working toward things that I’m not necessarily passionate about, just going through the motions, doing what I thought I was supposed to do.  For what?  For who?  For why?

Cltfoodbloggers 3

[#cltfoodbloggers fancy date night at the Fig Tree – LeAndra (Love & Flour), Vanessa (Life Undeveloped), Chrissie (Off the Eaten Path) ]

My new favorite line is, “You’re in charge.”  I say it to myself and to my friends all the time.  Each of us is in charge of ourselves and our lives.  I believe that if you don’t take the time to set your priorities, someone else will do it for you.  Over my four years in Charlotte, I’ve watched from the sidelines as Charlotte’s food scene exploded.  This year, I want to get involved.  Get my hands dirty.  Work with organizations whose missions I’m passionate about.

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[ with Keia (Ink & Fork) and LeAndra (Love & Flour) ]

Because, why not?  Change is coming, and I’m excited.

Tell me a story?

One of my ongoing life goals is to get better at being present and in the moment, that is to say: mindfulness.

I’m a planner by nature, always looking ahead and assessing progress toward whatever goal I currently have my sights on, and because of these innate, Type-A tendencies, life inadvertently becomes one big set of to-do lists to accomplish, tick, and account. I find myself having to make the conscious decision to let loose. To be inefficient. Meander. This is coming from the girl who just referred to her calendar as a “time budget”… I only have so much time. I can only spend it on so many things…

a fresh start

Thinking about this, and how I miss writing just for the fun of it, coupled with the fact that I think my creative brainwaves may (finally) be unclogging, I thought it might be useful (fun, even) to look back every so often and reflect on life in the Queen City here on the ole blog. I guess you could say I’m attacking mindfulness from the backside, which isn’t being PRESENT, per se, but I hope it will help me to improve that skillset, in a roundabout sort of way.

It’s an exciting time to live in Charlotte (well, except for the annual inch worm infestation, anyway); the city is growing rapidly and there are new things to see and do and eat everywhere you look. This past week alone, I helped judge a round of the Competition Dining Series; stopped into Ri Ra to check our their new Whiskey Room; ate lunch at Draught and met Ted Williams of Charlotte Agenda in person(!); went to Tuckfest at the US National Whitewater Center, ate some awesome tacos, and saw Jason Isbell play (amazing); got breakfast sandwiches from Laurel Market (Mercado, for the win) and ate them at a tiny table on the Sugar Creek Greenway; checked out the J Crew Warehouse sale (still asking myself WHY.); inhaled too much pizza at Revolution Ale House; spent an absurd amount of money at Trader Joe’s; dined with friends at Viva Chicken; saw Spirit Family Reunion play at the Visulite; and ate my weight in barbecue pulled pork at Midwood Smokehouse.  Boom.
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Uptown Charlotte’s Swankiest New Spots: The Punch Room & Evoke

THE PUNCH ROOM AT THE RITZ

As if arriving at the Ritz for cocktails on the 15th floor wasn’t fancy enough, there’s actually a suit-wearing doorman who grants you elevator access to The Punch Room level.  It’s worth the rigamarole though, because up on the 15th floor, that’s where you’ll find Bob, Charlotte’s cocktail whisperer.  No exaggeration here—this man’s cocktails are legendary.  Even if you aren’t into cocktails, or if your prefer wine or beer, or even if you think mixed drinks are too darn sweet (that was my excuse of choice), Bob will listen to what you DO like and mix you up the best darn cocktail you’ve ever had.  The first time Bob made me a drink he made his version of The Last Word, and it permanently changed my view of cocktails.

IMG_1211Leave all your punch preconceptions at the door; these are unlike anything you’ve had before with complex flavor combinations and only the slightest bit sweet.  The punches come in 2, 4, or 6 person servings, and are presented to you in large, handleless glass pitchers with long glass stir sticks.  It all feels a little Willy Wonka, in the best kind of way.  I tried all the punches on the opening menu, and each one was delightful, but my favorite is the Top of the Hill with blackberries, Earl grey tea, and rosemary simple syrup.  There’s also a full list of specialty cocktails handcrafted by Bob himself.

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There’s more than just booze at the Punch Room; the small plates menu features some surprisingly good dishes, like the crispy duck sliders with date “ketchup,” pickled shiitakes, and shallots.  This is my new favorite CLT small plate, and I don’t even like duck.

IMG_1323I’m a big fan of the oysters with collard greens, kimchee purée, sweet potato pearls, and pickled apple.  That’s a mouthful.  (Not complaining.)  You also can’t go wrong with the Quail Scotch Egg (house-made chicken sausage and smoked paprika aioli) or the cheese and charcuterie, but you already knew that.

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The Punch Room pulls off the drinking-den vibe; it feels upscale but cozy, with beaded curtains, dim lights, leather couches, and smoking chairs.  Sort of like a mash-up of a posh library and cigar lounge, minus the smoke.  I can see this becoming a go-to spot for all sorts of get togethers.  Date nights, girls’ night, guys’ night, after-hours business meetings, etc.IMG_1324

Punch Room on Urbanspoon


EVOKE AT LE MERIDIEN

Le Meridien took over the building previously occupied by the Blake Hotel.  $20 million+ of renovations later, the hotel doesn’t look much different on the outside, but inside it’s nothing but modern glam, with floor-to-ceiling windows, sleek seating areas, interesting light fixtures, and bold yellow accents throughout.

lobby

Evoke is Le Meridien’s onsite restaurant, a “new-age steakhouse” featuring dry-aged prime cuts of steak, housemade pastas, and intricate crudos.  I went to the opening event with fellow Charlotte food blogger Chrissie (check out her review here).  Both of us agree:  you absolutely cannot go wrong with Evoke’s gnocchi.  Smoked pancetta, jumbo lump crab, and buttery melt-in-your-mouth pillows of dough.  In my eyes, this was the standout dish.  The sweet potato ravioli with browned butter was too sweet for my taste (I’m sensitive to sweet and savory combos), while the beef tenderloin madeira bucatini was good.  I must say that all the housemade pastas were cooked well—toothy, just how I like it.

ScallopsThere are six intriguing varieties of crudo on the menu.  The sea scallop with orange and toasted pinenuts is mild and light, and the peruvian ceviche is served with crunchy sweet potato chips.

ceviche

The prime, certified black angus steak selections include 21-day dry-aged NY strips (with a nice salty crust), bone-in tenderloin, 36oz ribeye, and 40oz porterhouse.

Other delights on the menu:  crispy fried oysters with caviar and creme fraiche; artichoke parsnip bisque with truffles and a seared scallop (poured tableside); seared scallops with butternut squash risotto, parmesan, and chanterelles; and a frissee salad served with lardons, sliced pears, a light mustard dressing, and a perfectly poached egg.

There aren’t many four-dollar-sign restaurants in Charlotte, and thus Evoke’s menu offerings stand out from the competition.  It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for, and at Evoke that’s quality meats, gourmet pastas, and beautiful crudo, in a swanky setting.

Evoke on Urbanspoon

 

Cauliflower rice will rock your world.

I do my best to avoid making wide-sweeping statements like “this cauliflower rice will rock your world” or “this cauliflower rice will blow your mind” but dangit, cauliflower rice DOES ALL OF THESE THINGS.  Since doing my first Whole30 in January, cauliflower rice has found a regular spot in my weekly meal rotation.  I cook a big batch once, if not twice, each week.  Did you know an entire average-sized head of cauliflower is only 150 calories?  Numbers don’t lie, guys.

cauliflower rice close up

Since no two cauliflowers are the same size, this is one of those non-recipe recipes.  I’m encouraging you to stand at the stove, and taste as you go; find the mix of seasonings and flavors that make you do a happy dance right there in the kitchen. (more…)

Whole30 – Notes from the Other Side

In my whole 30 years, I’ve never gone on a diet.  Actually, come to think of it, there was that one time, back in college, when I challenged myself to eat nothing but raw fruits and vegetables for three whole days.  SO.MANY.GRAPES.  I also had a brief stint as an uncompromising calorie counter, and while that helped me limit the amount of food I consumed, it was more about calorie give-and-take, like having a sensible lunch so I could calorically finagle a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dessert.

Diet is a dirty word.  It makes me think of limitations, restrictions, sacrifices and, ultimately, unhappiness.  And thus, I’ve avoided all of them.  Because food is my THING.  My everything, really.  Without it, I don’t know who I am.  And I mean that literally, in the least dramatic way.  Without food, I don’t know how I’d spend my time or my thoughts.  I’d feel empty, physically and mentally.

Over the Christmas holiday, my mom asked my thoughts on the Whole30.  I’d never heard of it, but a little bit of research told me it was basically an extreme 30-day version of the Pal1969415_10102575857932084_8226543047997873534_neo diet meant to help participants nutritionally reset–to find the mix of food and nutrients that made their bodies feel and operate optimally.  This “nutritional reset” idea resonated with me because I’ve been on downward spiral since my big 30th birthday in July.  Lots of travel, lots of fun, and lots of eating with reckless abandon have accumulated in a 7-pound gain I’m not planning to keep.

And so this self-declared carbohydrate connoisseur said yes to the Whole30, and gave up grains, sugar, beans, soy, dairy, and booze for thirty whole darn days.  I was scared at first, mostly because it had taken me a lot of time and effort to find a mix of foods that kept my low-blood sugar in line throughout the day, and I was hesitant to mess with that “magic” formula.  But I went forth and swapped my normal egg and Ezekiel toast for a veggie frittata and roasted sweet potatoes.  Oatmeal got the axe in favor of coconut milk chia seed pudding.  My lunches weren’t all that different–a salad with protein, just no cheese or quinoa as I’d normally use.  Buh bye mid-afternoon protein bar, H-E-L-L-O roasted broccoli and cauliflower rice (OBSESSED).  Dinners weren’t much different either.   Meatballs and marinara over zucchini noodles, mixed greens topped with carnitas or baracoa plus guacamole, stir-fry with ALL THE VEGGIES, burger-salad-what-have-yous. (more…)

5 Healthified Southern Dishes plus HAM!

Last month, I spent a good bit of time working on five healthified southern recipes for Our State Magazine’s online food blog.  For me, recipe development starts with research.  I look at recipes online, brainstorm, bookmark, flip through cookbooks, and talk to my foodie friends, all the while scribbling down notes and ideas.  Then comes the testing.  I lay out the ingredients and get to work, jotting down notes (usually on the back of some random envelope from the recycle bin) as I go, tasting and adjusting continuously.

Obviously, one of the perks of developing recipes is eating the wares.  Well, after you’ve snapped approximately 3,000 photos of each dish, that is.  Normally, I incorporate whatever recipe I’m working on into my weekly meal plan.  No sense in wasting food!  But, at the time of this healthy southern recipes project, I also happened to have a a whole ham to cook for the North Carolina Pork Council.

Want to throw a successful holiday party?  Just add ham.

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Barbecue Pulled Pork Tacos {recipe}

Ladies and gentlemen.  I gots the fever.

BBQ Pork Tacos

Barbecue pulled pork.

Can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

I blame it on Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite barbecue spot in town, which I frequent at LEAST once a week.  I bounce back and forth between the pork cuban (authentic Cuban bread, hickory smoked pork, thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, and dill pickles… I die!) and the pork and brisket tacos.  And when I’m lucky enough to have some meat leftover, I make barbecue pulled pork omelets the next morning. (more…)

Crazy Easy Crustless Quiche with Arugula Salad {as seen on WBTV}

Now that fall is finally here, it’s time to bust out some comforting cool-weather breakfast recipes.  I’m a self-declared morning person, but when I wake up with a grumbling tummy, the less hands-on time required of a breakfast recipe, the better.  That’s why I love baking eggs in the oven.  Call it a casserole or a crustless quiche (or a frittata if you start the cooking process on the stove top).  The method is simple:  eggs are whisked with a little milk (or half-and-half or cream, whatever you have on hand) and then combined with one to two cups of the fillings of your choice—sausage, leftover veggies, cheese, whatever sounds good–and baked for 30 minutes.  Breakfast done.

Turkey Sausage Crustless Quiche 4To take the dish up a notch, top it with a simple arugula salad tossed with an olive oil and lemon dressing.  Not only does the arugula salad add extra veggies, but the tartness offers a nice contrast the richness of the eggs.  Plus, look how fancy! (more…)

Chinese Baby Back Ribs {recipe}

When I think of ribs, I think of my dad.  My dear ole dad.  Grilling has always been HIS THING.  Even if it meant standing in the driveway with a golf umbrella during a tornado warning with occasional hail (yeah, that happened).   Even in the middle of those brutally long Ohio winters when temperatures dropped so low the inside of your nose would most literally freeze.  Even after that one time he got a little carried away with the lighter fluid and singed off half his beard, even then, dad was out there grilling.

Chinese Baby Back Ribs 2When dad makes ribs, he slathers them in barbecue sauce, tucks them tightly in foil packets, throws them on his Texas-style offset smoker, and lets them hang out for HOURS . It’s a simple, straightforward technique, but it’s pretty much impossible to replicate this sort of perfection in a tiny apartment kitchen with nary a smoker to be found.  Remember that first time I made mussels and they were an embarrassing abomination?  Well, true to form, my first attempt at making ribs was a complete and utter failure.  When I lifted the crockpot lid after ten hours of slow cooking, I found the meat had shriveled so much I could see more bone than brown.  I was irrationally optimistic as I pulled a bit of meat off with a fork and sampled the day’s wares.  It was, undoubtedly, the dryest meat I’ve ever laid tongue on.  Ten hours in the crockpot and a little liquid smoke seemed too good to be true.  This just in:  it was. (more…)

French Silk Pie with Lemon Fennel Cracker Crust {IFBC 2014}

Last week, at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle, hundreds of food bloggers from around the globe (yes, it really does have international reach) gathered in Seattle to talk blog.  There were sessions on the creative aspects of blogging (story writing, recipe development, and wine pairing) and the technical aspects (like Google+ and SEO—that’s search engine optimization, totally nerdy, totally cool), plus plenty of opportunities to network with other bloggers and with national brands.  I was one of the lucky few who sat down with Lesley Stowe, creator of Raincoast Crips, to talk about her career path and how her Raincoast Crisps, which started as a minute part of her business, grew to become her company’s main (incredibly delicious) product.

Mini French Silk Pies

At the IFBC, Lesley announced their newest product, the Lesley Stowe Raincoast Flats, which come in two varieties:  Lemon & Fennel and Kale & Walnut.  Both the Raincoast Crisps and the Raincoast Flats are no-brainers for cheese plates and dips (check out my Cheese Plate 101 post for cheespiration), but the lemon-fennel combination immediately  had me craving chocolate.  I don’t know why.  I’ve learned not to questions these sorts of things.

Mini French Silk Pies 2

Earlier in the summer, I made Food 52’s (now infamous) Atlantic Beach Pie, which uses a combination of crushed saltine crackers, sugar, and butter as a crust.  I used this same technique here with the Raincoast Lemon Fennel Flats, which resulted in a crispy, flavorful crust, the perfect base for the light and silky chocolate topping.

french silk pie 3

 {beautiful turquoise platter by jmnpottery}

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